Tuesday, August 12, 2008

tomatoes in disguise

In yet another backyard beautification disaster I've chosen function over form. This is my ongoing experiment in squirrel deterrence, which kind of seems to be working.
I covered a few plants in cheap, mesh laundry bags which gather at the bottom.
The ones that aren't covered have broken stems and only the tiniest of tomatoes before they disappear completely.
The covered ones do have a few larger tomatoes that get a chance at ripening on the vine.
So I'm going to go with it and cover the rest.
I need to remember to pull the cord at the bottom, though. This morning I found a squirrel inside one of the mesh bags, going after the biggest fruit I presume.
He found his way in but couldn't get out and freaked the closer I got.
I pulled up the mesh bag (from an arm's length plus some), and he shot out like a cartoon character, leaving a cloud of smoke and a tomato.
He made it to the roof, turned and began a string of squirrel expletives at me.

Adding to the wildness of my postage stamp was this scene from a few days ago:

I'm pretty sure this is a peregrine falcon that landed in the back yard. It's flapping caused me to look up and notice it's very big self.
Google told me it is the fastest animal in the world and it sometimes nests in some very urban environments.
Did I mention I live in the city of Chicago?
He/She hung out for a while, long enough for a few fuzzy pictures, then hopped into the bushes.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

What I've learned

this summer about water barrels.

1. They don't have enough pressure to water with a hose, but are great with a watering can. I tried to attach a soaker hose but that didn't really soak.

2. They fill up fast in heavy rain, and can overflow without an extra hose...

3. Or even with two. This will need three hoses to really ensure no more overflows. It's amazing how quickly this fills up in a rainstorm.

This has nothing to do with barrels or rain, but I take the powers of nature wheres I can find them. I found this ant party on the front stoop:

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


It's been awhile since I participated in the garden bloggers' blooms day, not for lack of blooms nor intention. Mostly for a lack of calendar-awareness.
I thought I would focus on blooms from seeds I started earlier this year.

Pansy 'Morpho Blue'

Amaranth 'Oeschberg' variety

Teeny, tiny multi-colored coleus

Castor bean plant and it's developing seed pod

Nasturtium-'Black velvet' , not quite black, but ...

And finally, the first of the tomatoes-'Cherokee purple' heirloom variety

There are also some black violas that need to re-bloom but that might have to wait 'til next time.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A tale of two amaranths...

'Oeschberg' variety, started from seed at the same time, same seed pack, both transplanted to pots right next to each other.
I've tried trimming back the lilly and liatris foliage for more light, and I feed both plantings with worm poop.
Still pretty sad.

Exhibit B in the Nature is A Wondrous and Mysterious Thing category:

Aside from the usual 'squirrels ate everything but my baby' scenario, I'm not sure what happened to the bottom pot. Both were planted with nasturtium seeds, zinnia seedlings, and some garden center annual. Same amount of light, worm poop,etc.
I'm going to try transplanting a couple of those big amaranths.

On a more even keel is the 'Cherokee Purple' heirloom variety tomato seedlings.
They've done quite well, even in their fashionable 3 gallon buckets.

I remember being told by an old neighbor, a long time ago when I grew my first tomato plants and fretted everything, 'Honey, this is Illinois. You can't not grow tomatoes'.
So I won't chalk this up to any sort of green thumb.

I really like these plants. Their first sets of leaves had a purple tint on the underside which has unfortunately dissipated. But now their fruits are making up for it with a sort of double blossom.
What really matters with these, though, is how they taste.
I can't wait.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

my own private...

Ok, maybe not my own, nor private, but still Idaho. Really lovely country. And if I knew anything about goats or cheese I'd like to herd some then make some. Or go back to our nomadic roots and gather or hunt or just make some art in caves like somebody else did (hundreds? thousands?) of years ago:

After indulging my romantic tendencies we headed a bit further west to Portland. I have no pictures but I really should have taken some to recall the gardens that just about everyone had. They were all so lush and diverse. What is it, temperate rain forest? Certain plants were strikingly different than here in Chicago. Lavender grew to my hip, and those 'marmalade' coral bells that never come back were twice as large as anything I've seen here. And the conifers...

When we returned I was struck by how Southern Chicago looked. The yard needed a machete. I guess there were a few deluges, and ten days without care caused some kind of weed revolution.
At least the tomatoes are still feisty.

I'm going to end with a dewy lupine.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

irrigation, pre-columbian style

Last November I attended a workshop on soil health organized by the Chicago Park District.  I learned so many things I haven't tried yet let alone write about them, a sure way to forget them.  
The presenter, Mike the worm guy, gave lots of composting tips I'll go into when I try them. (Hopefully soon) 

He also mentioned clay pot irrigation.  
This is an irrigation method that's been around for millenia that involves burying clay pots filled with water next to your plants/crops and letting the porous nature of unglazed ceramics do the rest. 
It seeps.  You refill.

He suggested using terra cotta pots and plugging the hole with a wine cork or some other plug that won't leak. You bury them up to the rim and place them near your plants.  They should be filled to the top with water and have a lid of sorts, maybe a tile or even the pots' dish to keep out mosquitoes and slow down evaporation.

This sounded genius to me, especially for containers and new plantings when we're out of town, which will be soon.
This will be be a bit of an experiment but better than nothing.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

seedlings, continued

Although I'm still not convinced that seeds are the way to go completely, it is exciting to plant the little sprouts. They're a little spindly and probably should have been planted on a couple weeks ago, but a little neglect might get them used to this garden.

The bottles contain blue violet, amaranth, nasturtium, zinnia, and some too spindly to count bells of ireland.
The peat pots are mostly tomatoes, with some very tiny coleus.

More amaranth, tomatoes (an heirloom variety), mini foxglove, black viola, and the three large seedlings are castor bean plants.
I've planted some but hope to finish up all seedlings tomorrow.

I had to include some pictures of the 'Grace' Smokebush I planted last fall to fill in the ugly chain link fence gap.
Even though it's leafing out in a really systematic manner, (top first, then bottom, maybe middle soon?) which gives it a bit of a strange look, the leaves are so delicately bronzed I'm really happy with it.
The bit of green in front belongs to the 'endless summer' hydrangea. I like the color of the new leaves, but I'm never sure about whether to cut down last season's branches. I know it's supposed to have new growth on old wood as well as basal, but I haven't seen any this year or last. It looks pretty scraggly. And I only got one bloom last year. And I have two of them.

On top of its lovely bronzed leaves, the smokebush is also beginning to bud.

It's tough to see, but crammed in on either side of the smokebush is some transplanted joe pye weed that looks like it made it. This was much easier to transplant than the baptisia I wrestled with last weekend. Which is also, last I checked, still alive.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

my misery, my everything

Thought I would include some photos from last year's saga of Miep (the cat) vs. squirrel.

The forces of nature are upon her again and the squirrels are in their glory. They are fearless. They've begun their pot digging and we must shut all doors and windows in defense of the pantry and Miep's food.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

all in

Things are growing. This is good.
But some are things I haven't asked for, (hello mr. bindweed)
and some I can't find (chocolate joe pye weed?)
I attacked the front bed, my back can attest, and I'm about 1/4 of the way through it. How did people work the fields from dusk to dawn without the miracles of ibuprofen?
I had 3 batches of false indigo, two were great but one was pretty sad under the growing shade of the neighbor's Kentucky coffee tree.
So today, after an hour's digging, I moved it.
Afterwards I read about its strong tap root and resistance to mobility so I hope it recovers. I can live with no blooms this year, but its foliage would be missed.
Next up, 'Gateway' joe pye weed is taking a trip to a sunnier spot. I hope this move isn't as intense.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

may day

It was the first trip to the garden center that did me in. The tiny seedlings I was so happy with two days ago look hopelessly small and unsatisfying compared with the greenhouse grown offerings.
I was pleased with the two leaves my bergenia seedlings were sporting, until I saw them fully grown and flowering for only $12.99.
I dismissed my dad's grumblings about the futility of seeds in a season as short as Chicago's as a lack of commitment. But I get it.
Next year, grow light.
Commit to the contraptions, and order by January.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

oeschberg amaranthus, amaranthus oeschberg

This packet of amaranth came with 13,500 seeds. Really.

Seeds are new this year to me, and it could still be a bit of a wash, but with 13,500 seeds I may as well take the Mrs. Amaranth-seed approach and scatter, scatter, scatter.

I potted them up in old soda bottles, a la mr. brown thumb's ghetto greenhouse, along with a few other seeds.
Roughly two weeks later and they look pretty good. The seedlings already have a deep red tinge to their leaves:

Now comes the hard part. The few times in the past I attempted growing from seed, I usually reached the germination and tiny little seedling stage.
Then something happens.
Once it was rot, a few times an inexplicable wilt.
Usually it could be connected to neglect on my part, but sometimes it was a mystery.
So I'm trying again this year. Here's my recipe:
ghetto greenhouse
some peat pots
(both in a tray that can hold water)
warm on kitchen radiator
damp damp damp
spritz spritz spritz
move to sunny back porch
take lids off
bless with more spritz spritz spritz

If any actually bloom this year, I'll be happy. If not, I may have to stoop to artificial lights and the rest of the deal.

Friday, April 18, 2008

April 14th, Part 2

Even though I feel this is really a partial picking, one blossom at a time, it still counts.  Right?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

April 14th, 2008

This is the day of the partial picking of the hyacinth.  Photos to follow soon. 

Thursday, April 3, 2008

People like trees

and sumac even.

It is spring break, a really welcome one. But there is something to be said for the lace work of bare branches. Granted, it's usually against a pervasive concrete sky, but still...
I was out on a ride to gather more of something for pre-planting prep work; (worm poop, pots, bulbs, pea gravel, it's endless really), and I couldn't help but feel I needed to document the bareness. It's stark and bleak and I'll be so happy to see some color soon, but the silhouettes were really getting to me.

I did tromp around in the muck and found a few breaks in the beige (taupe?) of the back yard.

If I knew how to add those cute arrows I'd have them pointing to the green pointy bits poking out of the leaf litter. Those are some purple hyacinths I found half-dead and on sale at the big box last June and threw them in. It really shouldn't surprise me that it's the throwaways that seem to make it more than the pricey, tastefully considered ones. But it does.

I'm not all that crazy about hyacinths, but they've become a harbinger, or a bone of contention, depending on my mood.
Somebody planted a large white(?) hyacinth in the front of the house, right by the sidewalk. It's always the first thing up, and I know it's really spring when it disappears.
It always gets picked right before its color blooms. Every year. I should note the date and place bets, like people in Alaska watching the ice breaks.
So rather than bemoan the pitfalls of urban gardening, I will pick my own purple ones under lock and key, and savor the scent, and probably decide I'm not all that crazy about hyacinths.

One more harbinger to be...

My first water barrel is ice free. Not the prettiest, but think of the joy one can have manipulating the water cycle for fun and profit.

I bought it through a city program ($40-ish) last fall and now that our porch is re-built, the best contractor in the world put the finishing touches on a once-straight gutter for me, and thar she blows!
I hooked up the soaker hose at the top because it was already full, but judging by the other spout and the spigot I'll have many watering options this summer. For free!
Here's the link: http://egov.cityofchicago.org/city/webportal/portalContentItemAction.do?BV_SessionID=@@@@0530326553.1207261639@@@@&BV_EngineID=cccdadedkefkjgdcefecelldffhdfgk.0&contentOID=536925773&contenTypeName=COC_EDITORIAL&topChannelName=Dept&channelId=0&entityName=Environment&deptMainCategoryOID=-536887205&blockName=Environment%2FRecycling%2FI+Want+To

Saturday, March 22, 2008


and all that entails.  Yes, that red blur is a cardinal and yes, that white stuff is snow.  Pretty sure it's officially spring, but the signs are few and far between.

Here's a close up of one sure bet, the Hamamelis.  I honestly can't remember the variety, but this is its second spring and these blossoms started showing mid-February both years. 
I love the scent as well.  It's a lot like Fruit Loops, without any dusty cardboard.  It's not as fragrant as last year, which I'm chalking up to a frigid February.   

No, there really isn't any sign of spring in this picture.  It's just documenting the river birch we planted last fall and my hopes for it to bud, leaf out, and eventually screen most of the view into and out of the back yard.  

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Of beans and Irish snakes

These things have something to do with each other according to an old Chicago adage I can't quite remember. I know it has something to do with St. Patrick's Day and when to plant your beans. This is what most of my gardening knowledge sounds like, muddled directives involving plants I don't use.
I am truly thankful for the internet.
And so I think it's getting to be that time. This year is the first in a while I am going to start seeds and lay off the garden center binges. It's never really worked out that well in the past, but I'm going to try again anyway.
Even though many people much more experienced than myself don't recommend it, I'm planning on starting seeds in some old pop bottles in the enclosed back porch. No lights, no heating pads.
There's a lot of east light though, and the windows are very new and very sound. Somewhere in the anthology of old gardening chestnuts there's got to be a hint that this is ok, and if it isn't then I'm only out a few seeds. Right?
I plan on starting most seeds this Friday, it being Good and a day off, but I'm still missing some seeds that I ordered online back in early February. I don't think I'll be ordering from them again, but I might just buy replacements (if I can find them) at the garden center.
I waver between worries of too late and too early, but I think mid-March will be fine. I should just take a page from my Dad's gardening book and throw a few seeds/ bulbs in sheltered pots in March, then come back from Florida in late May and see what made it. Most do, even the tomatoes.
Speaking of tomatoes, I ordered some heirlooms from the esteemed JL Hudson, (see earlier post). They're going to have to go in pots with barbed wire around them (urban squirrels are serious tomato connoisseurs), but I'll try anything to have my share.

Another grand plan for this season is to really try to improve the soil quality. Back in November I went on another field trip to a soil workshop hosted by the Chicago Park District. It was presented by Mike Flynn from Green Quest, ("committed to sustainable cycles of transformation"), and he showed us some easy ways to compost/help the soil.
I'll post again later with all the details, but I'll end this with his email:

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Hiatus or Hiati?

Whichever is the plural form of a blog free seasonal affective disorder. Last I knew it was November and I hurriedly did this...

to some canna lilies and elephant ears.
Then a little bit of this happened...

and a lot of this...

I've got a few seeds outside stratifying, and the rest will be tended to indoors in a few weeks if everything goes as planned. Part of the plan includes a few seeds from J.L. Hudson, Seedsman whose site,
www.jlhudsonseeds.net/ really should be seen.
Manifestos aside, I'm looking forward to some prehistoric-like castor oil plant seeds. Even though I know they won't be, I'm expecting something very sci-fi or at least comically large.