Wednesday, September 21, 2005

4 August 2005 The Milkweed Patch

The Milkweed Patch
Seed-pods are green and the milkweed plants are taller than I am as the summer gets on. The locusts and crickets make a racket, telling of harvest and summers end. A few Monarchs visit once in a while, fewer than in July, still laying eggs I assume. They fly around here and there, liking places that are far away from the ground and sunny. These magnificent creatures do not live on the ground like we do, preferring the air, riding currents and drafts. Their habitat in the forests of Mexico, where they go in winter is also in danger. I do not know how they find milkweed, here in the city. My neighbors don't have milkweed. Never the less, Monarchs somehow find the little patch behind my house.
I didn't raise any pupae in my house this year. There was a moment last year when I looked into the eye of the monarch with the deformed wing. There was a time when I thought it would have to stay all Winter, that somehow we could find a way to keep it alive in our house in January. I did not see anything familiar in that eye, am processing that moment still.
I put that Monarch's aquarium out in the sun one beautiful day, came back later and the Monarch with the deformed wing was gone. It took its chances in the updrafts of the little envelope of air that looks as thin as an egg shell to shuttle astronauts, who can also see deforestation and environmental devastation from space.
We live here on the ground. The birds and creatures of the air have a very different view of the world. Some live right through cold Winters. Many species head south, finding no less environmental devastation there. In Spring, they come north, manage to find patches of milkweed and have children. Those children live only one year.
Their mothers lay eggs on the one kind of plant that will support them and move on. When the eggs hatch, the little caterpillars chomp and chomp, growing from a tiny fraction of an inch to over three inches long. They consume milk weed alone, then move off and make a chrysalis, hanging upside down for about two weeks. When it is time, the creatures emerge as butterflies with amazing eyes, and do what they have been programed to do, find others of their kind and fly south. Milkweed has an alkaloid in it and that makes it and the Monarch that eats it poisonous.
What has evolved perfectly over the years now has a danger; loss of habitat. Sometimes I think of this when tending my milkweed patch. I don't tend it, really. We kept the milkweed that seeded itself in the crack of our driveway a few years ago. The seed flew here from somewhere on its gossamer. That fall, it seeded itself in the garden, decided to stay. In spring when I'm weeding beds, some little milkweed plants are not pulled. They grow by themselves, don't need water or compost. Pollinators of all types sip nectar from the fragrant flowers. Almost it looks like the milkweed is moving, there are so many. Then butterflies come out of the sky to lay eggs. I like to fancy they are visiting me, but then I remember looking into the eye of one with a deformed wing, and I know they are visiting the milkweed.

27 July 2005, Ground hog, Rain and raspberries, Seeds, Vegetables

This time of year in the garden is filled with surprises. There are the best laid plans that didn't work out. Pet projects get scrapped or sometimes work very well. Back burner items often come through, somehow making the garden headlines. Things are maturing, time moving on.
It is time to begin collecting seeds. This has become a pleasure in recent years. There is a lot we don't take into account about raising growing things. I read yesterday about UV light and the spectrums, red and blue. Red light causes the plant to grow small and sturdy, extreme red light causes it to grow very tall. Our sense of wonder at sunsets and love of color, we can talk about these things in terms of wave lengths, if we want.
Every seed has different DNA and if we could grow every one, we'd have the power of God to decide the future of the universe grow them all and choose. But my garden has only so much space, and I have limited time on earth. I did get some mixed red and yellow Snap dragons. Some of the yellow Pansies mixed with the small violet ones to make a lovely purple with a yellow center, but they don't make seeds.
The tomatoes, Pruden's Purple and Kellogg's Breakfast, four Super Sonic and some Italian Paste that volunteered from the compost are taking off. The Tomatillos and Sweet Potatoes like the warm weather and are cascading over the sides of the three feet high, plastic garbage cans they are planted in. I will grow more if these garbage can gardens on the east side of my house, where the drive way is next year. The driveway, after all was designed for the wide cars designed in the 60's. Our little cars scoot right by the large pots. The concrete and brick collect the sun's heat in the morning. Mediterranean climate plants thrive there. Plus it is a handy place to put weeds that I have pulled. I don't need to go all the way to the compost pile out back, as the solicinae and sweet potato plants don't mind growing in the nitrogen rich, moist green flotsam.
I have had visits by many Monarchs and several Browns. One lovely small lavender butterfly with spots captivated me while it visited. I have quite a few white Cabbage Moths. I am not raising monarchs in the house this year, as I'm afraid I'll be away when they hatch. There is plenty of Milkweed for them in the rain garden, and they are pleased to visit. Butterflies seem to spend most of their time in the air on wind currents and drafts.
I put beans and squashes in the middle of the Milkweed to put the GH off them. He ate most of the Sun Flowers back by the fence, even if I did plant them late in the season, hoping he wouldn't remember how good they are. He likes young succulent things. He ate my neighbor's beans. A took off his fence cages too soon, I guess.
Looking at the devastation over at A's house, I recall why I grow vegetables in the rather unconventional way I do, in circles and mixed beds. The ground hog loves long straight rows of succulent greens, he figures they are put out just for him. My old dog used to do in baby ground hogs, but even so, the families would do their foraging in my garden. My old dog corners the GH now. Then she will use her alarm bark, expecting her pack to come and help. I do not encourage this. I don't have a gun and am not interested in ground hog stew. I could try traps, but there seem to be too many of the varmints. I haven't seen the coyote in a couple of years. Either they are overwhelmed by all the varmints, or they have been hunted or otherwise moved on. The groundhog problem was less for a few years when the coyotes were vigilant. Now it is back.
I also use my round cages to good effect. I grew peas, beans, cukes, and zucchini this year, unmolested in my round cages. Recently, some winter squash that was looking sad in a pot near the house found a hospitable environment in a chicken wire ring, full of leaves from last fall. Squash roots need room to roam, just like the leaves do. I have opposing thumbs, and the GH doesn't so I sometimes win. It helps to send the dog out early for her perimeter patrol, as the GH is active at dawn and dusk.
It was a good raspberry season this year. We got thunder storms that kept the berries producing for a long time. I might even have to put in drip irrigation, we get so many more when they are kept moist. Usually they are all dried up by now, but there are plants with berries out there, even now.
I don't think the Lilies like so much rain. The Asiatic ones, seem to be wilting before they bloom. Geraniums, which evolved in Australia, are getting snails in their pots. They will rebel if things stay wet. Driving across the state, every place seems quite lush this year. The vistas are green and there is a haze in the air from all of the respiro-transpiration of the trees. Bills for air-conditioning are down this year. We did have two hot days in a row- 93 degrees. The rain has cooled everything off today. The grass is long and too damp to cut. Many people don't like the humidity, but I do.
Beans and cukes are coming along in perfusion, so we have them for dinner every night, as they have to be picked every day. The best snack in the world is cucumber fresh from the garden. I'm about to get out dilly bean recipes.
Dill is ripening. I pick the heads when the seeds start to turn brown. Then I put the heads, uncovered in a quart container and let them dry. Later in the fall, I'll take out the non seed parts and put the dill seed in a jar. I put some basil to dry on my cupboard door handle hangers. The mint I dried earlier in the season molded and I had to throw it out. I guess I didn't let it dry enough. Mint is flowering now. The pollinators love it so, I'll wait until fall to dry more, after it is finished flowering.

22 July 2005 Deadheading

My pruners usually come with me in my forays around the garden this time of year. The late lilies are in full tilt. Cone flowers and Guillardia are putting on a show. Geraniums, Nasturtiums, and the spring planted Zinnias, are coming along. Then there are the beans and cukes that have to be kept picked. One has to be constantly on guard, lest the Zucchinis get out of hand.
If any of these are allowed to go to seed, they will be done for the season. Sure, you can let the beans mature. Then you'd have dry beans. If you had a monster Zucchini, you could make Zucchini bread. The winter squash that seems to be taking over the garden can be deadheaded so only five or six big ones develop. You can let it go, but come fall, you'll have some immature squash and pumpkins.
It's a mini Handmaidens Tale out there. I choose lots of blooms, fewer seeds and small, tender beans. Yesterday, after the rains, there were even some late Raspberries. The out of hand weeds that were allowed to get large and whose roots will disturb if they are pulled can be cut off. They won't make so many seeds then. The gardener becomes divine, gets to chose what comes to fruit. Don't forget to deadhead or trim those Snapdragons. They will keep up a show through the fall.

8 July 2005 Garden walks, Brambles, Fall gardens

Ecological Gardeners had a visit to JV's garden. It is an oasis in the city, the eastern side of Oak Park, surrounded by mature Pines with a large maple in the back yard. Paths of limestone wander around front and back. There are a few Japanese Maples here and there. JV has been gardening for years, says this began as a low maintenance landscape, but she has become interested in ecological gardening and is replacing Pacasandra and Myrtle with native ground covers. Plumbago competes with the Myrtle in the front yard and seems to be winning.
I noticed the elegant pruning right away. It creates a dappled shade that is not oppressive, lets the air move in and around. Proper pruning creates a shady oasis. There is a little patch of grass in the back. JV says this takes ten minutes to mow with a push mower. She moved to this spot twenty years ago and made this magic place over twenty years. At the back door on the north side is a patio of limestone with large pots of coleus, which she holds over inside in winter, and a few sumptuous annuals. In her sunniest spot, along her neighbors fence, are three hanging pots of geraniums. Today, during lily season, the front yard is blessed with many colors of lilies. There is a Holly growing next to the house on the east, looking untrimmed and some Korean Dogwood, interesting in it's growth habit, lots of lower limbs left.
The pond in back was there when she moved in and has goldfish, although her favorite one was stolen by a crow for his dinner. She watched the crow fly off with the fish in it's mouth. There were areas mulched with leaves in the "back 40" with wild columbine and butterfly weed.
Gardeners mentioned that the feel of the place was like being "Up North". Amazing because the lot was maybe 50' wide with close neighbors on either side. The neighborhood has mature trees, planted along with the houses in the 50's or early 60's. But JV's garden is timeless, an oasis.
There didn't seem to be anything in the garden that was done for just one reason. Mulch, for instance, cuts weeds, enriches and makes the soil more absorbent , feeds earth worms and microorganisms. Paths make a place for walking so the beds aren't compacted, separates and defines areas, provides places for chairs, furniture and pots, provides the basis of the design. The garden itself is an ecosystem.

It was another day to pick raspberries. We got thunderstorms in the afternoon. I started flats for the fall garden, a flat of Early Green Broccoli and Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce, one of Charlotte and Broadstem Green Swiss Chard and Lutz Salad Leaf Beet, and a whole flat of Provider Snap Bush Bean. I transplanted the last of the Zebrina Mallow plants out to the front. I have two containers of Salvia left to put in when I get the front walk done. It feels good to finally have everything in the ground. I took photos of the high summer garden for my garden archives too. I really like the scented geraniums in a large pot on the porch. Come winter, I don't know what will become of all the over flowing exuberance. I'd love to root the geraniums and make potted plants for the world, or maybe just the rummage.

28 June watering,deaheading, weeding, picking strawberries, raspberries, cherries, peas

Things have gotten away from me in the garden. They tend to around this time of year. I have started some bean and lettuce and broccoli seed for the fall garden.
We got a soaking rain yesterday. The dog days are early, the cats are rags on the ground in the shade. We are still eating lettuce, but it is rapidly going to seed, must start more.
It seems like there is not an inch anywhere to start anything. But there are weeds. Also I will soon pull spent lettuce. The trick will be to start new far enough from the roots of the old so the new won't get pulled with the old. Or cut the old off at the roots so as not to disturb tender plants. I have to grow lettuce in stacked pots, GH would eat lettuce in a minute if they could. Fortunately GH doesn't come up by the house.
My neighbor, the farmer has neat rows of beans and corn and squash, beets and tomaotes. The GH frames came off earlier, but I notice they have been laid back on. His backyard farm is a sight to behold, very beautiful and productive. On the other side of us, the smell of granulated lawn chemicals wafts over. I try to stay away from them. Coincidence that I usually have health issue this time of year? I think not.
I'm looking at bags for the possibility they might become hanging gardens. Then they could compliment the stacked pots. You can't let these things dry out, watering is a constant job when the mercury rises above 90 degrees. You can see things respirotranspire in the heat. Trees and woods look positively hazy on Ozone action days.

12June, Seeds, pot stacks, Perennials

I fell rich with the bounty of seeds. Like wise composting. I didn't spend much in garden centers this year. I ordered some perennial seeds from Pinetree Garden Seeds. I transplanted the last of the perennials raised from seed this year, except Lavender, that is waiting for fall. Perennials went in down at the church too. I am busy using seeds saved from last year. Kale is going great guns, tomatoes are mostly saved seed, Snap dragon, Calendula, Pansy, Cosmos, Marigold, as well.
The strawberry pyrimids and the stacked pots are a lovely addition to the patio garden. I took apart a pot that lives on the window ledge in an east window in the winter. It has Scented getaniums, Impatiens and Kalenchoe, along with Baby's Tears. I like to tuck in little pots in the bare spots between plants in these potted extravaganzas.
In summer the sky is the limit for pot stacks. They do fall over. If they are too tippy, I like to dig them lower into the base pot. Keeping scented geraniums from year to year is fun because the stems get large and make shapes. They like to cascade and wind around, taking on personalities of their own. Like wise, Impatiens root easily, so get placed here and there in pots.
My small suburban lot is coming alive with rain gardens. Most of our rain water is now retained on sight.