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.

Viburnum Leaf Beetles and Catbirds

I have a Blue Muffin Viburnum just outside my office window and noticed that it was being defoliated and the leaves were almost bare, so I did a little research.

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Larva of viburnum leaf beetle.  Once I learned about this I went out and found many larvae on the underside of the leaves of the viburnum.  Apparently these beetles have moved into the Chicago area and viburnum dentatum cultivars, of which I have four bushes, are highly susceptible.  One can prune the bushes in the winter when you can see where the beetles have laid eggs on the twigs.  Otherwise, what I did was to brush the larvae into a bucket of soapy water.  There were maybe 30 that I brushed in the bucket, but I am sure I missed many.  Currently this bush is in bloom and was only defoliated on the back branches.

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Another Arrowwood viburnum dentatum I have is a cultivar ‘raspberry tart.’  This one was almost completely defoliated before I noticed it.  I hope it survives until next year, but it may have the same problem again….  One result of all these larvae is that I think they attracted additional birds this year.

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This year is the first year I have seen catbirds in our yard and they seem to be hanging around.  This catbird was finding larvae in the viburnum leaves.

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This catbird spent some time poking around the strawberries, too.

So I am not sure of the future solution for the viburnum.  I will see if we can get ahead of these beetles, but if not we may need to plant other cultivars of viburnum that are not as susceptible to them.

Mid-May Meandering

When I get outside I never know what I will catch my attention.

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This week I saw several white crowned sparrows.  This one was at Lake Katherine.

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This white crowned sparrow was hopping around our backyard.

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I always visit the ephemeral pond near Lake Katherine to see what’s happening.  This mallard duck was having a quiet evening moment on the bridge there.

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Mallard posing at ephemeral pond.  When the weather heats up the pond dries up, but meanwhile it is great for dragonflies, tadpoles, and water skimmer bugs.

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Posing mallard

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Other ducks were enjoying the evening around the lake.  I was enjoying a nice stroll myself.

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What kind of duck is this with fancy head feathers?  Or is there some molting going on?

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Song sparrow

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I took the kitchen scraps to the compost pile and came upon this brown snake.  What a wonderful place to get a meal of bugs and then rest in the sun.

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I disturbed the snake enough that it slid out of the compost and into the chives.  I think it was maybe 14 to 16 inches long and one of the bigger ones I have seen in the yard.  Look at the strawberries and oregano go to town!

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Snake resting in the chives.

Well, these are a few things I saw this week!

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!

Indian Summer

The weather has been warm this October.  After the frost last weekend some of the plants are finished, but some are sending out beauty into the autumn days.  Will we have more warm days?

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A slow-moving moth on agastache hyssop blue fortune.

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The agastache is looking pretty dried out, but the bees and other pollinators are still visiting.

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Pink mums are blooming now.

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The pollinators seem to like the flowers past their prime.

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Still a few yellow mums left.

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Another unknown yellow flower is blooming in our meadow.  It looks like a sunflower, but not sure what it is.

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Marigolds were still giving a fine show last week, but have pretty much finished now.

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One more yellow spot – spice bush leaves.  The bushes in the yard are turning various colors now.

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Bee balm in fall colors in the little meadow.

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The parsley plants are so full.  I keep grabbing bunches, chopping it up and freezing it.

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There have been strawberry blossoms all over the yard these days.  But without much water and not enough sunlight I have a lot of green strawberries that will probably never ripen.

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Pearl crescent on butterfly bush.

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I finally zoomed in to catch a picture of the chipmunk who has been resident in our yard.  I have seen quite a few in the neighborhood.

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Sunset at Lake Katherine last night.

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.

Bees, Birds, Butterfly and a Toad

I have been watching for migrating birds in the yard.  The trouble is, it is hard to get good pictures of them.  Still I am entertained and enjoy observing and learning.  After a busy day of gardening it is fun to get out the camera and take a closer look at what is visiting the flowers.  So here are a few creatures I saw this week.

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Bombylius major – bee-fly.  This little brown bee-fly with a long proboscis is enjoying nectar from the strawberry flower.  It is a fly that is a bee mimic.  No stinging involved here.  The wings were flying very rapidly so it could hover above this flower.

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I have some pink strawberry flowers, too.  It looks like a lot of strawberries are coming soon!

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I can never remember the exact name of these blue bulbs, here visited by what looks like a mini-bumble bee.  It was hard to focus on both the flower and the bee, so I took a lot of shots.

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Here the same blue flowers are below the birdbath where a male goldfinch is coming for a quick drink.  There have been quite a few goldfinches in the neighborhood.

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I think this is a white-crowned sparrow.  If I have this wrong let me know.  They are not in my book of birds of Chicago, so I think this guy is just migrating through.

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Often from the kitchen window it is hard to know what I am seeing across the yard.  Is this still the white-crowned sparrow, a palm warbler or something else?

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Or this slightly blurry bird snacking in the chinquapin oak tree.  Is this a palm warbler migrating through, or something else?  My camera was focusing on the beautiful oak leaves and catkins hanging down.

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A red admiral butterfly has a great camouflage with closed wings.

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Red admiral butterfly

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Back in a weedy part of the garden a toad hopped to get out of my way and try to blend into the surroundings.  I am so happy to have toads in the yard.

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We enjoy our chinquapin oak tree so much, as do the birds.  Our laundry poles keep me from getting a very good shot of it, but once warm weather comes the laundry can dry so quickly outside.

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I planted garlic for the first time and it seems to be doing well.

Seeds Sprouted:  All the bush cucumber seeds sprouted so maybe I will try making pickles this year.  The wax beans are sprouting and I saw two zinnias emerge.  The lettuce needs to be thinned and nibbled on.

Sightings:  We saw quite a few large bull frogs at Lake Katherine today, and could hear them, too.