Eat, drink, (garden, knit, quilt, think, fix, read) & be merry

2012 in partial review.


Blueberry picking in July.  Life doesn’t get much better.


I shook hands with Bill Ny*e!


I gave up growing carrots because of root knot nematodes (which result in carrots like those above)


But then I accidentally grew these.  Aren’t they gorgeous?


We went to Red*wood National Park.  This fulfilled a childhood dream.  Amazing.


It was the Year of the Fruit in my garden.  70+ lbs of strawberries, rivers of raspberries, and even some blueberries (but those ones at the top were picked at a PYO farm)


Diablo cosmos stole the garden show this year.  The bees loved them, as did I.


A childhood friend got married and had a potluck reception.  I adore potluck receptions.  YUMMY.  I made this lovely fruit salad with heart-shaped watermelon slices and edible flowers from my garden.


I finally graduated from college!


I did this at a county fair.  No regrets.


I learned how to make bath bombs.  And bath salts (not the scary kind).  And body butter.  It’s been a good year in the homemade cosmetics department.


My soybeans nodulated beautifully.  Lots o’ nitrogen fixing going on in those bumps (a non-nitrogen fixing plant shown for comparison above).


The garden.


Sorry for the crummy photo.  It’s dark.  Anyway, I’ve been experimenting with various terrariums.  They’re much more aesthetically appealing in real life.  Promise.


I ruthlessly battled japanese beetles.  They loved my roses, and demolished the flowers before the buds even opened.  Sigh.


Ellie and I did a lot of knitting.  And she developed some very expensive health problems (entirely unrelated to the knitting).  Fortunately, they seem to be under control and the medication itself is very affordable.


We did a great deal of cooking, baking, and eating.  These cuties are homemade ice cream sandwiches made to commemorate P’s 31st birthday.  One is chocolate basil and the other is coffee chocolate.  SO GOOD.

Raptor Release

Raptor Release

We attended a raptor release this fall.  Several hawks, two bald eagles, a peregrine falcon and other rehabilitated birds were released to the skies.  A very moving event.

We also remodeled our bathroom, I started grad school, and we traveled to Mexico and the Redwoods.  But this is a start.  Cheers, friends!  I hope to be back several more times before school resumes in early January.



Hey friends.

The business and busyness of school has started.  But that’s boring.  So let’s talk about something else.  Here’s a little photo catchup.

Scores of bees have been visiting the gardens.  This photo was taken on P’s birthday when we took our birthday breakfast out to the patio and welcomed the day with the bees merrily collecting the nectar and pollen.  This striking flower is the Diablo Cosmos from See*d Savers.  They were planted in a sandy, barren patch of sand and they’ve put forth weeks of prolific blooms.  They’d look a lot nicer if I cared enough to deadhead them, but I don’t have time for fussing.  I’ll grow these again.










Speaking of the patio/pergola, here it is, ready for a dinner with some friends.  Lovely, isn’t it?  Next year it will be covered with hop vines.  


The garlic was harvested late.  And then it sat curing in the garage for months.  I finally got around to cleaning it a few weeks ago.  Disease damaged many of the heads (not sure what it was yet), but they’re still edible.   Last year we grew enough to last us the entire year.  This year we’ll probably fall short.  So it goes.


Here’s the seed garlic, all ready to go back into the ground in about a month.  I do think I got enough seed garlic.  Thank goodness!


I made another pillowcase for a birthday present.  Isn’t it cheerful?


Well, that’s enough procrastinating for now.  Back to the homework!


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“Leave it be”

That’s my general policy regarding insects in the garden.  I strive for balance.  I believe strongly that a relatively diverse habitat, void of harmful insecticides/fungicides/anti-biotics, provides enough support for a variety organisms and no one population can entirely over-throw the others.  And generally, that’s true.  I can see it each year as the aphids appear in alarming numbers on my roses and tomatoes.   Soon after the lady beetles arrive and the aphid populations plummet.

But two of my major nemeses are Japanese beetles and squash vine borers, and I kill every one of those I can get my hands on.  The former are relatively new to Minnesota, but I’ve found them destroying many of my plants.  They’ll eat almost anything – annuals, perennials, woodies, food crops, ornamentals, etc.  I’ve seen them on everything from the asparagus to the zinnias, but it’s the roses they love the most.  Especially my new Graham Thomas rose.

They completely cover any new flower buds and destroy entirely destroy them.

Many people say they’re beautiful but I can no longer appreciate their iridescent green.  They just make me mad.  This is the aftermath of several devoured buds.

And no doubt within minutes of clearing off the beetles, dozens more arrived and finished off what was left.

This, of course, is what the blooms looked like before the beetles hatched out in late June.

As much as I loathe the Japanese beetles, the squash vine borers break my heart every year.  I should just stop growing squash, but I do it compulsively and every year I regret it.  In early June I meticulously pick off the little, brown, tear-drop shaped eggs every night.  But I never find them all and eventually the plants get too large to check throughly.  And several weeks later, I get this:

Then the plants should be pulled and burned.  But this one is still sitting in my garden, wilting during the heat of the day only to perk up at night.  The borers are growing inside the stem, compromising the movement of water and nutrients and soon the plant will die.  The borer larvae will drop into the soil to pupate and wait for next year.  They crush my squash crop every year, just as the plants set a crop of promising fruit.  Alas.  I need to treat the squash or quit growing it.  We’ll see what happens next year.

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A few flowers for a Friday


Have I ever told you how much I love balloon flowers?  Oh, I just love their whimsy, their little airtight buds that suddenly pop open into a cheery flower.  And now I’ve found balloon flowers with double flowers.  See how the outer bud as opened but the inner bud is still sealed?  Oh, I just love it.

With their striking veins and luminescent color, I can picture many more of these in my garden.

And here’s the single flower, for comparison (and to savor their fleeting summer sweetness).

My hollyhocks were gorgeous this year. Until the Japanese beetles arrived.  Heavens, they’ve demolished the buds and blooms.  I dig dozens out every night but more keep coming to chew my poor hollyhocks ragged.

And I love these little guys.  I call them a double baby’s breath, but I’m not sure that’ what they are.  I love them regardless.

I’ve never been one to get very excited about day lilies but these have really caught my eye this year.  A friend’s mom gave them to me several years ago and I just adore the gentle color gradients and the strap-like twisty petals.

I do love a garden in bloom.

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Toad Lily

My wild toad lily is blooming!  The blade-like foliage and the quirky, orange-red blooms make this one of my favorite plants in the garden.  It’s in fairly heavy shade and and it’s not getting quite enough sun.  It leans waaaaaay over the sidewalk reaching for those morning rays.  So next year I’ll try and find a more dappled location where it’ll be a little happier.


Berries and Bombs

Remember when the strawberry patch looked like this?

I finally did a little rejuvenation and it looks much tidier, don’t you think?

Strawberries spread aggressively by stolons and they will take over if they’re not regularly thinned.  They also don’t produce as well when they’re over crowded.  Don’t be shy when thinning, be ruthless.  They’ll fill back in… and then some.  Believe it or not, I started this patch with just four crowns two years ago.  Last year I pulled out nearly 100 extra plants and I didn’t even bother to count this year.  But it was a lot!

Now that strawberry season is over, the raspberries are coming in.  I like strawberries but I love raspberries.  My dad used to take me out to pick wild raspberries and sitting on the soft earth with the sun at my back, smelling ripe raspberries is one of the purest pleasures in life.  Most of these don’t even make it into the house.

And I made lavender bath fizzies using this recipe.  Swoon.  What’s that?  It’s summer, you say?  Well, our (only) bathroom is under construction and we can only take baths.  So these will probably be used up in no time flat.  They’re ridiculously simple, however, and I will be making more.  I suggest you do, too!

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A moment in time

Squash tendrils

A developing female flower on my butternut plant. Notice the teeny, tiny butternut squash at the base.

Remembering a good friend, mentor, adviser, teacher, inspiration who lost his battle with cancer. God damn cancer.  Why can’t it leave the good, kind people alone?

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Hi Friends,

I’ve been off both school and most work for the past three weeks.  It’s been positively lovely.  I realize this is probably the last time before I retire that I can simply hang out at home without worrying about work or school.  I’ve been busy cleaning, crafting, gardening and relaxing.  Here are some snippets of what I’ve been up to.

Strawberry and Lavender.  

The strawberries have been incredible this year.  I estimate I’ve harvested 30-40 lbs so far, with more coming in each day.  I’ve made parfaits, shortcake, tarts, strawberry lemonade, dried strawberries, frozen strawberries, smoothies… the list goes on.  I’ve been pawning them off on the neighbors and anyone who happens to stop by.  It’s getting a little exhausting, truth be told, but I can’t complain.  It’s the first “bumper crop” since I started my garden here and it’s a real joy.

The lavender has also done well this year.  I snip all ripe buds each evening and dry them.  I tuck them into my drawers, between my sweaters, and set some aside to cook with during the year.  Lavender ice cream or hot chocolate anyone?

I used this strawberry tart recipe and, boy, it was good.  Bake it for a crowd, though, because it’s probably the richest dessert I’ve ever made. 

I have three strawberries patches and this is the largest.  As you can see it’s taking over the garden.  It’s due for a massive  hacking back rejuvenation, which it will receive once it finishes fruiting.

The yellow lilies are blooming.

As is the ‘Coral Cove’ rose.  When the weather heats up the fragrance wafts over most of the yard! 

This is the second nest of baby bunnies in my veggie garden this year.  I ran off the first batch, but these little guys don’t even have their eyes open yet.  I believe in dispatching with them humanely, but sometimes I melt from the cuteness and just leave them be.  I’ll regret it later, but right now it’s fun to head out and pet their fuzzy warmth.

Other garden delights are coming in, including the peas, garlic scapes, greens, and herbs.

Oodles of queen bumblebees frequent the garden and they particularly love the blooming comfrey.  One of the bees is nearly as big as my thumb.  They’re working frantically to set up their nests and then they’ll incubate their brood.  Once the first workers hatch out, the queen will stay in the nest, but the only bumblebees out right now are queens.

The Oenothera is blooming.  The tag says it’s suppose to be fragrant, but I detect nothing.  Do you have evening primroses?  Are yours fragrant? 

This morning I caught the beaded moisture on the edges of the Achemilla.  It looks like dew, but it’s actually the result of “guttation” where the water pressure builds at night and pushes out through the edges of the leaf.  Cool, eh?

Pretty blue delphinium.

I think the open mouth of the penstemon flower looks like a roaring lion, complete with dangling fangs.  

Of course, there has been a bit of knitting.  After 18 months, I finished up the cabled sampler blanket.  In the end it ate up 24 skeins totaling nearly 5.5 lbs and 2 miles of yarn.  It’s going to be so nice next winter.  Until then, it’ll look nice living on our couch.  Ellie (the cat) has already laid a claim to its’ cushy warmth.

The peach tree has grown like a weed and put on a nice crop of fruit.  The fruits are about the size of a walnut.  I’m noticing some damage which I think is from the plum curculio.  Next year I’ll be ready the bag the baby fruits.

And I’ll leave you with a sweet picture of some Siberian Iris blooms.  I hope to be back again before school starts on Monday!

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Hi friends!  Classes are over and finals start on Monday.  Blogging is such a great way to avoid studying.  ha!

The garden is going gangbusters after a very early spring.  So it’s time for the annual spring-has-sprung update, complete with loads of photos.  This is the first year I’ve had a perennial garden that has “leaped” and it’s so fun to watch.

Lupine.  The flowers on this are pretty, but I really love the palmate leaves.  They look so exotic and tropical in my midwestern garden.

I’ve been trying to establish low-growing Dutch clover in our lawn to help smother annual weeds like crabgrass and to provide a nitrogen-fixing service.  It’s finally coming in thick in several places.  I know some people consider clover a weed, but I don’t.  It’s pretty, soft to walk on, and it means I don’t need to fertilize my lawn as much! 

Our shittake logs have been fruiting like crazy with all the rain.  We harvested 1+ pounds already and they’re ready to pop again.  SO YUMMY!

Forget-me-nots.  These are one of my favorite spring ephemerals.  I let them go to seed every year and they always pop up for a bright splash of spring color.

Japanese Painted Ferns.  These have been oh-so-slow to establish but they’re finally looking robust and beautiful.  Love these plants so much.

I know they can be overplayed and boring, but I do love hostas, especially the varieties with hints of blue-green.

A very early spring brings with it the near certain promise of late frost damage.  Here’s a strawberry flower (with black center) that suffered from a spring frost.  Fortunately, most of my strawberries are blooming now, so I hope we’re in the clear.  

My violas came back!  How I love these sweet, edible flowers.

I’ve always had terrible luck with spinach.  This year I bought new seed, put down some pelleted compost, and have been occasionally foliar feeding with fish emulsion.  Look at those lush leaves!  The rabbits have been sharing in the harvest, but at least I am, too!

Speaking of rabbits, Here’s the set-up to protect the peas and brassicas from rabbits and cut-worms.  So far, so good.


Braising Mix.  YUM!

Look at that pergola!  P built it last year and this year I get to plant it.  A few divides have already gone in, but I’ve got a nice list for purchases from plant sale fundraisers to fill this out.  Corkscrew willow, russian sage, scented geraniums are on the list.  P put in some hops along the back that will be trellised up to the top.  It’s going to make a lovely space for summer dining.

And I can’t post without some knitting, can I?  Of course not!  This alpaca, woodland shawl is hot-off-the-needles and will be my graduation shawl.  I thought the leaves were fitting for a horticulture major.  😉

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Yesterday P and I drove down to the farm to check on the honeybees.  I was nervous.  I had heard reports of hive losses from several beekeepers and I was steeling myself for a hive of dead bees or, worse, an empty hive.

I popped off the telescoping cover and peered down through the slot in the inner cover.  I saw several bees, frozen on the frames, and my heart sank.  But as I looked deeper in the hive, I saw more bees and… they were moving!

I popped off the top deep (it’s a three-deep system) and, sure enough, a dense ball of bees were huddled on the center frames of the middle deep.  It was too cold to pry out frames and look more closely, but I dug the frame tool down into the comb to check for honey.  It came out dripping and P and I shared a little bite.

I was ecstatic.  Not wanting to chill the bees further, I reassembled the hive but put my ear down to the top-bars before sealing it up.  And I heard, nay felt, that deep, resonate humming that sounds to me like the current of life itself.

I’ll be back bearing pollen patties in a few weeks.  If they’ve made it this far, there’s a good chance they’ll be a strong colony this summer.  Pure joy.

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