Backyard blooms, berries and beyond

Backyard blooms, berries and beyond

Following on in the “B” theme, look in this blog post for a bull frog, blue damselfly and Indiana dunes beach….

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The butterfly weed is in bloom.  We are waiting for the monarch butterflies to visit…

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Veronica spicata Spike speedwell ‘Royal Candles’ a little bit past its prime.  Red hot poker flowers in the background.

IMG_8523Kniphofia red hot pokers in front of miscanthus ‘morning light’ ornamental grass.

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The view from the patio.

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Aruncus goat’s beard does well on the north side of the house.

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The first gaillardia blooms.

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Bright yellow yarrow, and in the background salvia ‘blue hill.’

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The alyssum re-seeds itself each year and is starting to bloom now.

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Does cauliflower count as a flower?  I cooked this up in a soup today!

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The collards are looking nice and we are trying to keep up with eating them before the cabbage worms do their munching.  This plant does not look too chewed on.

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We haven’t had to buy lettuce for a few weeks.  This leaf lettuce is nice, but the romaine is starting to bolt with the hot weather.

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In a bowl this morning from our yard – serviceberries, strawberries, mulberries and raspberries.  I enjoyed them with my oatmeal.

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Ripening serviceberry.  I am competing with the birds for these now.  The robins are often in the serviceberry tree.

IMG_8530Unfortunately this berry loving cedar waxwing died after crashing into our kitchen window!  I saw a big serviceberry in its mouth before it died.

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A downy woodpecker has been visiting the birdbath.

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There seem to be a lot of wasps in the yard this year.

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Blue damselfly on miscanthus ornamental grass.

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We visited Indiana Dunes State Park last weekend.  We hiked for a couple of hours in the dunes before enjoying our lunch with the crowd on the beach.

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A little cactus along the prairie trail.  This state park has quite a few endangered species.

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Tomahawk Slough in the Palos Forest Preserve, where we hiked last Sunday.

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One of many bullfrogs at Tomahawk Slough.

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There were also a ton of little toads or frogs hoping around near the water and on the trail.  I guess it is time for them to head out on their own and see if they survive.

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Great blue heron at Tomahawk Slough.

Birding:  I signed up for a birding blitz in the Palos Forest Preserve for June 17th.  I am just an amateur birder, so I was looking forward to going out with someone who could identify a ton of birds.  I showed up in the parking lot at 5:30 am and then remembered to check my email on my phone.  The blitz had been canceled for weather reasons, as thunderstorms were predicted.  I could hear all the birds around me, but the expert birders were not there.  We did not get any rain on Saturday as I guess the rain fell somewhere else.  But it was probably a good thing that I was not involved, as my foot has been giving me some trouble after all that hiking last weekend.  So it is a good weekend to just rest and recover and get this blog post done!

 

Cauliflower, Broccoli, and Strawberries

We have been eating lettuce for a while, but yesterday we cooked up some soup with our first head of cauliflower, and we need to harvest the first head of broccoli today.  We have been eating a lot of strawberries this week.  Actually Dan reached his limit of strawberries, but I still have room for more!

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This cauliflower was a lot smaller than the ones last year, but probably about 7 inches across, so big enough.  The soup we made also had asparagus and mushrooms from the farmer’s market.

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It looks like I need to pick this broccoli head for super.

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Potato flowers.  I planted red potatoes this year, but these potatoes came up from whatever we missed getting out of the ground last year.

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Backing up you can see the same potato plants on the left, next to some flowers  – Penstemon digitalis (foxglove beard tongue), a native plant.  In front are wax beans that are getting crowded out by the potatoes.  I can always plant some more wax beans, if I get around to it.

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Tomato flower.  These are “Amish paste” tomatoes, that were so good last year.

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I have been picking one to two pints of strawberries a day.  Rain and heat help.

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Strawberry rhubarb sauce.  I have made three batches this year.  I realize how much rhubarb I threw in the compost pile the past years…  Of course, it requires a lot of sugar, but other than that there is no cost to me.  I have been enjoying it with some yummy ice cream.

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Our neighbors cut down some weed trees, and with them the raspberry canes.  Raspberries come on second year canes, I believe, so they are growing back for raspberries next year.  And now we have some growing on our side of the fence, the right side, too!

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I think this is oakleaf lettuce.  We pick leaves off and more grow back.  We have romaine lettuce and some baby kale for salads and smoothies, too.

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A few flower pictures, too…  Blue hill salvia, max frei geraniums, and penstemon digitalis.

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The alchemilla lady’s mantle plants have been big this year.  Behind them the catmint is blooming.  On the right in front is the caryopteris and the baptisia australis is in back.  I could get rid of some of these plants, but I don’t have to pick weeds here, or at least I don’t see them, when the plants are big like this.

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Straight through the opening in the last picture – the spike speedwell royal candles are blooming and the gaillardia are getting going, too.

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Geranium ‘rozanne’ with lady’s mantle in the background.

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The joe pye weed on the right is starting to get tall.  Last year I pinched them back.  I think I will not pinch them back and leave them with some supports this year and see how tall they get.  In front are white foxgloves, liatris getting ready to bloom, and foliage of the turtlehead flowers.

Sightings:  A chipmunk that seems to be under the hostas or the irises.  The rabbit persists.  We are learning to live with it, but give it chase now and then.

Autumn Vegetables and Ornamental Grasses

Last Sunday I pulled up the tomatoes, beans, and zucchini, and after the hard frost last night I pulled up the cherry tomato plant, the eggplants, and the peppers.  Still, there are vegetables to eat until the really cold weather comes.

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I left some stumps when I pulled out my really huge cauliflowers earlier in the year.  The leaves are still edible and this week I noticed all these baby cauliflowers starting to form.  I’m not sure how big they will get before I will need to eat them, but it was fun to see!

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Winterbor kale.  The leaves will die when it gets really, really cold, but so far each spring the stalk has started sprouting again, for a second season of kale.

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We have four lacinato kale plants around the yard and they have kind of a tropical feel to them.

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Here is what the lacinato kale looked like after the frost.  However by late afternoon the kale was looking normal again and is not giving up that quickly.  We cooked a big pot of kale soup yesterday.  Of course it had a lot of other vegetables and beans in the soup.

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I left a half-dead turnip in the ground earlier in the summer and while I was not paying attention it grew big.  The leaves are looking a little tired at mid-day, but this made some nice soup, earlier this week.  You can tell we eat a lot of vegetable bean soup!

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The brussel sprouts also don’t mind a little frost.

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I have been cutting of 6 or 7 sprouts every time I make soup, but there is a lot more to eat all the way up the stalk.

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Frosty turf grass.  We used the mower to mulch up all the leaves on the grass and got the compost pile heaped up again.

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The little bluestem grass, a native grass, turned red/orange recently and has been capturing my attention.

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The ‘morning light’ miscanthus grass must have been about 5 feet tall this year.  The seed heads are red now.  We have two of these large plants in our yard.  They add privacy, beauty, and provide straw for paths and the strawberry bed in the spring.

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The sparrows decided to move back into the bluebird house again.  One of the bedding materials they love are the seed heads of the zebra grass, which are quite soft.  The sparrows perform some interesting acrobatics bending the grass stalk and trying to break off a bit of the fluffy stuff to carry away.  The zebra grass is probably 7 or more feet tall.

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Sparrow gathering zebra grass seed head for nest.  They don’t seem interested in the crabapples.

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The squirrel was interested in crabapples though.

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Sparrows feed on burning bush berries.  One day I was sitting at my office desk and heard a scratching sound.  I was curious enough to pull up the shade and I found a flock of sparrows gobbling up the red berries on the burning bush – Euonymus alatus.  These plants are somewhat invasive locally, so I really want to get rid of them, but have not gotten around to it yet.

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I noticed this black swallowtail caterpillar, that did not look like it made it, on my parsley this week.  However, I was listening to “Nature” this week on TV and heard about caterpillars in the arctic that freeze and thaw for 7 years before they are finally ready to turn into moths, so I wonder about my little guy.  If he is dead I hope a bird had a good meal.

Winter Vegetable Hoop:  I probably won’t be putting the hoop up when the snow flies.  The kale that was under the hoop last winter has grown large and is spreading over the lawn, so I don’t think I can corral is back to the area where I put the holes for the stakes for the hoop.  Still, we will see what happens.  I might just throw the plastic over the kale and hold it down with some rocks to keep the kale edible for as long as possible.

Cucumbers, Tomatoes, Zucchini, and more

All of a sudden I am seeing red show up in the garden and the tomatoes are coming.  It is time for the summer vegetables and they are coming quickly.

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Marketmore cucumbers.  The vine went through the fence and we have cucumbers hanging in the easement.  Phil and I are each eating about one a day.  We peel the skin and remove the seeds and it is a refreshing summer food, whether in a salad or just as a snack.

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This tomato is called “Amish Paste.”  I expected a smaller plum tomato like I see in the supermarket, but all the tomatoes are huge in my garden, it seems.  I also planted “gold medal” tomatoes that each weigh a lot and are yellow.  It looks like I will be making spaghetti sauce next weekend.

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“Black beauty” zucchini flower.  There are three bugs taking refuge here, a bee, possibly a cucumber beetle, and a really small bug of some sort.  I had two zucchini that got really huge before I saw them and I just threw those in the compost pile.  Otherwise we are trying to catch up on eating the zucchini.  Now that we have finished eating all the cauliflower we can probably get to these.  There are also a lot of green and wax beans in the fridge.  I have given some away and put bunches of them in cauliflower soup.

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Speaking of cauliflower, I was finally cutting back the old cauliflower leaves and putting them in the compost.  I noticed that beside most of these plants there are new cauliflower plants coming up from the roots next to the mother plant.  I am not sure if I will get cauliflowers out of these, but may get some nice greens to use.

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The brussel sprouts are coming along well.  The little sprouts are forming along the stalk.  We will see if the little tomato cage will be able to hold the weight.

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Jimmy Nardello sweet peppers.  I love these!  These long peppers turn bright red and are a great snack.  I ate several last week.  I ordered my peppers and tomatoes as transplants from Seed Savers.  I like the variety they have a little more than what I get locally, though I sometime end up with local transplants, too.

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It looks like I have a few “Ichiban” eggplants to throw into some recipe.  I have another eggplant, an American variety, that seems to be producing its first fruit now.

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This interesting picture is not from a visiting cat or dog.  They are mushrooms on the sight of our former silver maple tree.  Mushrooms are fungi and this is the above ground representation, maybe like a flower or fruit.  I am happy to have mushrooms in the yard and I think it is a good sign of life in the soil.

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Viburnum dentatum ‘Christom’ blue muffin berries are ripening for the birds.  Keeping the birds fed is part of the plan in having an ecosystem full of biodiversity, that works without pesticides or herbicides.

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While cleaning up this weekend I came across this caterpillar which I think might be a silver spotted skipper caterpillar.  When I first saw it I thought it was a cabbage moth caterpillar.  But when I looked at the picture of the butterfly it looked like a butterfly I had taken a picture of earlier this past week that I could not identify.

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Silver spotted skipper butterfly on agastache ‘blue fortune’ giant hyssop.

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The zinnias have been attracting a lot of wildlife this week.  This very bedraggled swallowtail butterfly has been visiting all week.  I know it is the same one because it is missing a good part of its right wing.  I read this week that butterflies only live 8 – 10 days.  Then another website said that swallowtails live about a month in the summer. In about five minutes yesterday afternoon I saw four different kinds of butterflies in the yard.  I can’t get pictures of all of them and they are all so different.

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The bees also love the zinnias.

Empty birdbath:  The birdbath has been completely empty this week.  No robins, sparrow, finches, starlings, or any other birds visited it, as far a I noticed.  I changed the water several times.  I seem to remember something like this happening last August.  Where have all these birds gone?  I saw a few sparrow gather on the fence yesterday, but then they flew off.  Is there something else exciting happening?  Is it pesticides?  However I do have two kinds of birds visiting in the yard.  The cardinal couple have been around all week making clicking noises in the bushes on the northwest side of the yard.  The goldfinches are also busy working on the zinnias and other flowers they can pick apart for seeds.  The mulberry tree continues to attract birds, but they are far up in the branches.

Fall vegetable planting:  I got out today and planted several patches of lettuce and kale.  It is a little late, but hopefully we will get this plants going so we can have a nice late harvest before the snow falls. I would plant more, but the garden it full!

Snake:  Dan said he saw a little brown snake in the yard by the unmowed grass yesterday.  Glad to know they are still around!  If you made it this far in the blog – Thanks!

Standing on Holy Ground

Sometimes stepping into the garden on a summer morning is a little like stepping into something holy, or sacred, or mystical, or magical, or whatever word you would use.  I like being out around 9:00 am once the dew has mostly disappeared and the bees and butterflies are actively feeding on all the sunny flowers.  It’s full of life.

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  Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Summer Sun’, Agastache blue fortune – anise hyssop, and Russian sage.  It might be a metallic green bee on the heliopsis.  The bees and flies are starting to discover the agastache – which will soon be a huge attraction in the garden.  This arrangement is in my “drought garden” right off the patio.

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If you want to see butterflies, moths, and other interesting creatures head to the northeast corner of the garden where coneflower, joe pye weed, and liatris spicata are blooming.  These native flowers are always buzzing with life.

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Joe Pye Weed ‘Gateway.’  Once the bees start working the flowers they look a little frazzled.

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Quite a few times this week I have seen clearwing moths – hummingbird moths – on the liatris spicata.  It is hard to get a good close-up.  They move quickly!

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A small brown moth was carefully working over this purple coneflower – Echinacea purpurea.  Can you see the tiny yellow flowers at the tips of the cone spikes?

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It looks like some kind of skipper butterfly is resting or sunning itself on a bok choy leaf.

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The black-eyed susans are starting to bloom now.  Here a fly is resting.

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Speaking of flies..  In seven or eight spots on the asparagus plant the flies seems to be having some kind of orgy or group experience of some kind.  They have been in this position for the past 24 hours….

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Juvenile robins being territorial or bossy.  I usually post pleasant pictures at the birdbath, but there is a lot of ‘king of the hill”  that happens here.  As I sit in my home office during the week I have a good view of the birdbath, and it is interesting to see who is waiting in line and who is being bossy.

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These zinnias are also easy to see from my office window.  I have both shorter and taller zinnias planted here.  They bring in gold finches and butterflies, but right now they are not nearly as exciting to the wildlife as the native flowers.  Still their beauty across the yard really cheers me up while I am working and they bring beneficial insects near the vegetable garden.

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The vegetables need to be picked and dealt with every day now.  This was probably the fifth huge cauliflower we picked and cooked.  It is purple from the nearby mulberries where the birds had been visiting.  Today I had a big bowl of cauliflower soup with new potatoes, kale, and green beans from the garden, mixed in with some cans of beans and a few other ingredients.

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We still have some everbearing strawberries blossoming, since we have had a lot of cool, wet weather.  The delicate colors caught my eye as I walked by.  Most of the berries are done now, though I have still been trying to forage for mulberries in the easement each morning for my cereal.

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I picked up a cheap white table on sale yesterday to put under my umbrella.  Now I can sit and read in the shade at lunch without balancing things on my lap.  I also repotted some of my house plants yesterday.  It was a good day to play with water from the hose as I cleaned up.  No problem having a green lawn this year.

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Ducks at Lake Katherine, where I take walks several times a week.

If you have made it this far you know that I put in a lot of pictures this week!  This was because I did not blog last week, so I was choosing from 179 photos that were on my camera.  It is a beautiful time of year and impossible to capture and share everything that is going on.

Feasting From The Garden

A big goal of our garden is to feed ourselves.  We have been eating a lot of lettuce recently, but now the spring vegetables are coming to and end, and the summer vegetables are getting going.  As far as berries go, the strawberries are mostly done, but all the other berries are abundant.

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This is a picture from about a week ago, so we still had quite a few strawberries.  Today I picked a bowl of serviceberries, mulberries, raspberries, and a few blueberries.  We usually add them to our oatmeal in the morning, but sometimes I eat them in the evening with a little ice cream…  The view from the kitchen window shows you the change from those winter snow pictures!

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Juvenile robin in the serviceberry bush – Amalanchier laevis.  There were several robins in the serviceberry bush having a great snack this morning.  Now that the bush is becoming a tree, and there are a lot of plants near the base, it is hard for me to harvest all the berries without getting eaten by mosquitoes.  Anyway, I am glad to share this abundance with the birds.

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The neighbor’s raspberries are ripening and I am getting a handful each day.  I eat the ones on my side of the fence and sometimes reach over for a few on the other side if they don’t seem to be eating them!

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The vegetable garden is getting crowded now.  I need to clear out some of the spring vegetables to make more room.  In the patch in front that was covered by the hoop over the winter we are still eating a little of the kale and some lettuce, which is starting to bolt.  I have planted a cantaloupe, and if it takes off I will clear out some of these old plants and let the melon take over.  In the main garden you can see how tall one of the tomato plants is already.

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Looking closer in the garden you can see the two tomato plants to the left of the path.  I did not plan very well this year and the zucchini is already blossoming and filling up its spot to the left of the tomatoes.  It is going to be a challenge to get in there to harvest!  I plan to clear out the turnips and lettuce on the right of the path soon.  I am thinking of making a turnip salad, sort of like potato salad, and see how that goes!  On the front left are brussel sprouts and in the very far back the cucumbers are blossoming and getting going.

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Tokyo cross turnips.  It looks like I’d better get these harvested!

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The other day I brought one of these big turnips in for Dan to cook along with his kale and collards.  When I started washing it, four little earwigs crawled out. So we always have to watch what we bring in the house with us.

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Here is a sink full of bok choy we sautéed up with some garlic and soy sauce the other night.  It looks like an earwig or spider was on the back of one of the leaves on the left, too.

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I thought I had bought a nine-pack of collards this spring, but when I got home I noticed the little cauliflower label I had missed earlier.  We ate the leaves as collard leaves for a month or so, but now are leaving them as a little protection for the cauliflower that is developing.  Some of the plants have white cauliflower that looks ready to eat pretty soon.  I have never grown this before, so I need to do some research.

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I planted my pole beans on the usual green teepee poles I have used the last few years.  But every year the teepee gets too heavy and it all starts falling over, so I bought some large stakes and we put up additional material for the beans to grow on.  The incrediball hydrangea is looking great right now.  In the back you can see the orange butterfly weed, which had a visit from a monarch butterfly today.

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I planted a lot of bush beans, that are yellow wax beans.  There are a lot of bean flowers and little beans developing now.  I like these little yellow marigolds, too.

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I was hoping to put some compost on the vegetables this weekend, but it was not quite ready yet, so I turned it and with the coming hot weather it should be ready before long.