Plum, Serviceberry and Water Striders

Plum, Serviceberry and Water Striders

Spring is happening everywhere you look now.  I took so many pictures this weekend I will try to put them in two different posts.

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The American plum tree is blooming now and the fragrance is wonderful.  This is a great native tree to attract insects and birds, and a great boost to the ecosystem.  The down side is that it suckers a lot.  But we just mow over the new shoots in the lawn or clip them back.  The fruit has sour skin, but tastes good inside.

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Red admiral butterfly on plum blossoms.

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Amelanchier laevis, Allegheny serviceberry. This is a small tree, but a favorite in our yard.  If we don’t eat the small June berries the birds will, so they are never a mess.  Serviceberries like partial shade.  I wish more people in our neighborhood had this lovely tree, but the nurseries don’t do much with native shrubs.  We got this at Possibility Place in Monee when it was less than 2 feet tall.

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We also have three small Regent’s serviceberry cultivars on the west side of the house.  They should not get over 6 feet, but they are not quite 3 feet yet.

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Close-up of Regent’s serviceberry blossoms.

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Yesterday we went to the Palos Forest Preserve at Cap Sauers Holdings, where I have been volunteering with a team to remove invasive honeysuckle.  I wanted to show Dan where we have been working, so we came in on the trail and then headed up a hill off the path.

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It was a beautiful morning and we came to this stream where we listened to the morning bird noises and observed the flowing water.  All the shrubs with green leaves are the honeysuckle bushes that we are in the process of removing to open up the forest to more sunlight and native species.

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The trees, which have not quite leafed out yet, were reflected in the stream.

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We noticed a lot of water striders in the water, and they mostly seemed to be in the process of mating.  I think I sometimes call them pond skimmers.

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Here is a closer look.  There are two of them here and you can see the extra legs….

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We wandered down a horse trail we found that was sometimes very muddy.

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This looked like a cozy hollow log for some animal.

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Can you see the moth?

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We often stopped to look at huge old trees.

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Soon these branches will be filled with leaves.

If I have time today I will put out another post with all the wildflowers and birds I saw this weekend!  Happy Easter!

Berries and Goat’s Beard

Berries and Goat’s Beard

After a poor start on the strawberries, I got ahead of the birds and bugs by picking strawberries once or twice a day.  We ate out first raspberry on Friday.  We are working through the cool weather vegetables now, eating a lot of lettuce and kale, starting on the collards, and enjoying a few peas.

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I picked this small bowl of berries yesterday and ate them with a little vanilla ice cream.  Yummy!  It includes strawberries, raspberries, mulberries and service berries, also called June berries.

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We tied the raspberries canes to the fence and they are just getting started bearing fruit.  Once the raspberries are eaten we will cut back those canes and tie up this year’s new canes that will have raspberries next year.

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Aruncus dioicus Goat’s Beard.  Since we have moved the goat’s beard to this location it keeps getting bigger each year and I can enjoy it from my office window.

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Close up of the goat’s beard flowers which have been attracting a lot of pollinators, especially some really big bees.

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So far it looks like we have one red hot poker flower coming.  A month ago in Washington state I saw a lot of these blooming, so maybe that climate is better for them.  You can see one small blue petunia on the ground.  The rabbit nibbled down all the petunias when we first planted them.  We finally got rid of the rabbit, for now, so the flowers are getting going again.  Also in the picture are gaillardia, spike speedwell, ‘little bunny’ pennisetum fountain grass and Russian sage.

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Spike Speedwell Veronica spicata ‘Royal Candles.’   These plants are on the decline in my garden, but I enjoy them for a little while each year.

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We have a little bit of leaf lettuce in the yard, but we are mostly eating romaine lettuce these days.  I love eating fresh lettuce in my daily salad.

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Curly kale.  We just made some bean and vegetable soup.

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Wild kale.  I bought the seeds for the wild kale from Seed Savers Exchange.  I don’t like the flavor of all the types of kale so I weeded out those and was left with the mild kale I like.  It is blooming now, since I planted it last fall, but I just keep taking off the flowers.

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Pea flower.  I think these are sugar peas.

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The pole beans are just starting to climb.  We should have flowers on those before long.  The compost pile in the back has shrunk way down.  It is probably soon ready to spread around the garden.

Plum Blossoms and Cow Birds

Plum Blossoms and Cow Birds

There is so much going on in the garden now it is impossible to capture it all.  Here are a few things that caught my attention this week, as spring enters the Chicago area with gusto.

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The two American plum trees, native trees, have put on a fantastic fragrant show this week in the yard.

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All kinds of tiny pollinators swarmed to the blossoms.

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We had quite a few plums develop last summer.  The skin was sour, but the inside flesh was very good.  There are many suckers growing around the base of the trees that need to be cut back or they would form a thicket.

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I noticed a spider making a web between the plums trees and the yew bushes nearby, hoping to snag some of the pollinators.

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Looking out the kitchen window we can just see the plum trees between the crab apple tree, that is just starting to bloom now, and the yew shrubs.  The yews have formed a nice privacy area in front of the patio.

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The serviceberry Amlanchier laevis finished blooming last week.  Now that it is taller it is a little harder to reach the berries in June, but the birds have no trouble with that.

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The three Regent Saskatoon serviceberry bushes, Amalanchier alnifolia ‘Regent’, are blooming now on the west side of the house.  When we planted them they had the shade of the silver maple, but now with that gone they get more sun, so we will need to water them now and then.  They are supposed to get no taller than six feet.

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One day I looked out the kitchen window and saw a bunch of cow birds in the chinquapin oak, that is just barely beginning to leaf out.

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Handsome male cow birds interested in something in the chinquapin oak tree.  Notice the bird in the bottom left.  Is it a female cow bird?  Or some other bird?

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Here is another shot of that bird.  Since it was in the tree with the male cow birds I assumed it was a female cow bird.  They lay their eggs in other birds’ nest.  The eggs hatch early and tend to get more food from the foster mother bird than the smaller baby birds in the nest.

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I got 21 heads of romaine lettuce planted in the garden last week along with a dozen kale and collard plants.  Organic vegetables are expensive to buy in the grocery store, so hopefully these will keep me supplied with greens for a while.

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The grass is growing quickly.  After Dan mowed I swept up just the grass on the sidewalk and threw if on the compost pile, where Dan mixed it in to get the pile heated up.  To the right you can see strawberries starting to blossom.  I finally finished cleaning up all the strawberry patches and putting straw from last year’s ornamental grass under them.  It looks like we have a bumper crop of strawberries coming.

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The house sparrows keep trying to build a nest in this bird house.  But this house is not for them….

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Shagbark hickory at the end of the block starting to leaf out.  I am trying to bet better at identifying different native trees.

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Spring Beauty Claytonia virginica.  These wildflowers are also blooming in the green space at the end of the block.

Forest Preserve Event:  Yesterday I went to the Palos Paddock area of the Forest Preserve for a special event that the Friends of the Forest Preserve put on.  They are looking for volunteers to help in the restoration of the forest.  Invasive plants, such as honeysuckle, have filled in the undergrowth and suppressed native plants.  We went on a walk in small groups and it was a fantastic time with like minded people as we identified plants, saw butterflies, and discussed conservation.  I would love to join them now and then and learn more about native plants, the forest, and how best to do restoration, though my schedule and garden keep me very busy.  But it was so much fun because they were a group of “my people” who love plants, nature, and being outdoors!

Serviceberry, Lettuce, and Wild Creatures

It’s that busy time…  There is the lawn I am trying to overseed and water, weeds to pull and mulch to put down, and of course it is time to start planting some vegetables.  But each day it’s fun to watch the trees that are starting to bloom.  The first shrub is the serviceberry, or Juneberry.

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Serviceberry amelanchier laevis.  I can’t wait for the yummy berries in June.

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The petals were starting to fall today.  It is easier to see the beauty of these blossoms when there is a dark background like an evergreen.  I have a hard time getting good pictures of the whole bush in the spring, when the surrounding vegetation is sparse and the background is a white garage.

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American plum trees ready to bloom.  Last year I had only one blossom on both plum trees!!  The previous year the bugs had really been chewing on the brand new shrubs.  Now they have obviously recovered and are getting ready for a show.

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Last year I planted asparagus for the first time.  Maybe the plant was not in such good shape because this year I only got one shoot that has survived so far!   A few other shoots are trying a little, but don’t look so good.  In the back the chives are going strong and will bloom before long.  The strawberries are doing their thing and the oregano is coming back to life on the right.

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Romaine lettuce and rhubarb.  I have big plans for the vegetable garden this year, so I have to pace myself.  While the weather is cool I try to get some lettuce going.  I planted a few spinach seeds yesterday.  I have some tiny leaf lettuce starting to grow from seed also.  It won’t be long before I will make some scrumptious rhubarb sauce.

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I picked up a 6 pack of Georgia collards and planted three of them here in the new bed I created from the silver maple mulch from the tree we cut down.  I just dug three holes and put soil around the seedlings.  Eventually the roots should go through the newspapers at the bottom and penetrate the soil below.  Hopefully…

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Looking through the front window I saw a brown bird pecking in the lawn.  After zooming in I saw that it was a female northern flicker, a type of woodpecker that apparently does a lot of pecking on the ground.

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This picture of the female northern flicker is not much better, but it was really fun for me to see her in the yard.  I saw a flicker couple at the bird bath once last year.

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This morning I saw a bug I did not recognize on the lawn chair.  I believe it is a western conifer seed bug.  Since we have conifers in neighboring yards that makes sense.  So many intricate details…

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Last week when we went for a walk at Lake Katherine along the new Cal-Sag bike route we came across this dead snake.  My guess is that it hibernated before all this netting was put down over grass seed next to the newly paved path.  Then when the snake came out in the spring it got caught in the netting.  Maybe someone killed it at that point.  I believe it is a northern water snake, which are apparently fairly common.

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Male northern shoveler duck at Lake Katherine.  The green head looks like a mallard, but the rest doesn’t, so I tried to zoom in and get a picture.  They stay in the middle of the lake and seem more shy than mallards.  This morning I saw a couple of northern shovelers again.  I also saw the pied-billed grebe again.  It is fun to start being able to identify different waterfowl.

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Common cattail gone to seed.  Apparently this fluff was once used in pillows…

It is raining this evening.  April showers bring May flowers!

If you have any interest in seeing how my garden has developed over the past five years you can visit pardonmygarden.wordpress.com.

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.

Chinquapin, Catalpa, and Berry Season

Trees help take up carbon from the atmosphere and are such a great habitat for wildlife.

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Our chinquapin oak has been growing about 2 feet a year, since we planted it in 2009.  The branches grow so quickly in the spring that they were hanging down to the lawn.    We may have to trim off more lower branches, but we like the low branch look.  We are zone 5B and this is a zone 6 tree, I think, but with global warming and a protected backyard it seems to do well.

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This week when we looked out the kitchen window we noticed that the catalpa tree was blooming in our neighbor’s yard and the flowers all over the tree are so stunning.  This tree is very fast growing – maybe four feet a year – but won’t be long lived like the oak.

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One or two baby robins seemed to have hatched in the robins’ nest and she is busy feeding them now.  The nest is in the crabapple tree outside our kitchen window, but we can see the babies a little from our upstairs bedroom window.

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Robin in the birdbath on a hot day.  The beautiful dark green chinquapin leaves are in the background.

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The raspberry tart viburnum bush is in full bloom and attracting a lot of bees.  On the right is an arborvitae bush.

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The mulberries are just starting to ripen.  I had some for breakfast in my cereal with strawberries and the first serviceberries.

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I try to pick the serviceberries before the birds get them all.

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We have been picking a bowl of strawberries most days now.

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The beautiful yellow yarrow is blooming around the garden now.  Here it is next to turnips and loose leaf lettuce, that we are eating as fast as we can before the weather gets too hot.

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Potato flowers blooming.  In the back is the blooming clematis and the tomato cages.  I was straightening out one of the tomato vines the other day and the smell was wonderful.

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I was looking at the parsley plant to see where the caterpillar was and I noticed this familiar looking plant sticking out of the container.  Then I remembered that for some crazy reason I put potatoes in the bottom of the crazy cornflower container.  I guess I won’t be able to get the potatoes out for a few months, but I don’t think it will hurt anything.

Tree stories:  Our church was planting trees to replace ash trees they had to cut down.  We purchased an American sentry linden tree – Tilia Americana – to add to the new line up and helped shovel in a little dirt today.

Also, we found a hickory tree growing in a corner of our garden and moved it into a new place to see if we could get it to grow.  After one week it is not looking too good, but we will keep babying it to see if it will take root and grow.  I think it is a shagbark hickory.  It had a long tap-root and we heard these are hard to transplant, though it was only about 18 inches tall.