The New Home Economics


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June / Solstice

Hello! Summer is in full swing, and we have garden challenges galore—from four-lined plant bugs to weeds, weeds, weeds, to the impending doom of a complete main line sewer replacement in August. On the other hand, we ate a kohlrabi from our garden yesterday and it was delicious. Here’s what we’ve been up to the past few weeks.

I spent 4 crazy days in Grand Marais with 80 or so 5th graders (including my two). We endured a severe thunderstorm, one and a half days of cold rain, and then on the final day, damp cold to wrap it up—we were eating cold cereal outside at 40 degrees. On the other hand, we hiked 8 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail during one glorious, mostly rain-free day and I had the privilege of seeing trillium in bloom along the Brule River.

The trail was a bit muddy!

We came home to find that our 40 or so monarch caterpillars had grown a bit under Adam’s care while we were gone.

We released most of them yesterday, in a butterfly bonanza.

This one kindly posed on a milkweed with long-horned milkweed beetle just long enough for me to take some iconic monarch pictures.

Last year, squash vine borers hit my community garden plot hard, so during a rainy period in early June I put down beneficial nematodes. They’ve worked great for me in the past; it’s been about 5 years since I last did this and it was time to refresh the population. You can buy them on a sponge from a garden store (I bought mine at Mother Earth Gardens in Minneapolis). You soak the sponge in water for at least several minutes (rain water is preferable here)—I used a 1/2 gallon jar. Then you can dilute it quite a bit. I split mine into 8 cups and diluted each with 2 gallons of water to water in to my squash hills (background, behind the weeds).

Nematodes can be beneficial for Japanese Beetle control—but only at certain times of the year. I found this article from University of Minnesota’s Jeff Hahn to be very helpful and I plan to try and put some nematodes down in late July if the weather cooperates. They survive better if it’s rainy and a little cooler.

On the home front, I watered in my comfrey compost tea on my vegetables and raspberries yesterday. I’ve seen differing advice about how long to brew this concoction, but I hardly ever brew it for more than 2-3 weeks. I checked it Friday night and saw that it was full of mosquito larvae, so it was time to get rid of it, lest they hatch and make us miserable. I dilute this about 1:3, but again opinions differ on how much you should dilute it as well. Err on the side of caution, I say. It’s powerful. (And STINKY.)

We went to the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden two weeks ago to see the Showy Lady’s Slippers in bloom—unfortunately none of my pictures of them turned out very well. But I caught this bumble on some wild indigo. I recently realized wild indigo (also called blue false indigo) is *not* native to North America.

However, it’s a beautiful plant that supports pollinators, so maybe it’s… not so bad? I was surprised at how much it dominated the prairie area of Eloise Butler. It’s such a unique plant, perfect when you want something shrub-like, such as along a path. It dies all the way to the ground in the winter, so there’s none of the normal winter shrub care needed.

The kids continue to obsess over their fairy gardens; yesterday they added patios to them with some old leftover slate tiles we had lying around.

Anneke made this new fairy house out of clay over the winter, and added a few accessories from Mother Earth Gardens this spring.

I felt that a good cleansing fire was in order for solstice on Thursday night—we borrowed a neighbor’s fire pit and now I don’t want to give it back. We are having a string of gorgeous weather and I just want to be out in it as much as possible. Think I’ll head out there right now.

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Memorial Day 2018

I like to photograph my garden every year on Memorial Day to track where we’re at from a phenology perspective. From the plants’ point of view, we look roughly average, but from a human point of view it’s been anything but.

I swam in a lake in 95 degree heat yesterday; just under 4 weeks ago that lake had ice on it. It’s been a wild swing from winter to summer, seemingly overnight.

We got some bad news this week. Our main line sewer needs to be replaced and pretty much everything in the foreground of this picture will need to go. I’ll know more next week. I was very upset at first but I’m now trying to look at it as an opportunity.

It was such a weird week. This also happened: a red-tailed hawk caught a squirrel in our yard and landed with it on our deck for a minute or two. I was astounded at its size. And not terribly sorry to lose a squirrel, honestly—the hawk dispatched it quickly and efficiently.

Did you know that wild sarsparilla get flowers? They’re hidden under the leaves. I found these on the plants that get a little bit of sunlight each day—in deep shade, I couldn’t find any flowers.

I love the way the gooseberries, wild columbine, and serviceberries are intermingling in our back yard.

My interplanting of shallots and strawberries is coming along swimmingly. The strawberries are thriving in their new raised bed (new in summer 2017). It’s wise to periodically (every 3-5 years) dig up all your strawberry plants, amend the soil, weed thoroughly, and replant them. They get so overrun with weeds over time. Raising them up like this has kept the rabbits from them and made it easier to keep them weeded.

They’re currently covered with blossoms and tiny green strawberries. I’ve been watering them daily to keep them going strong through this heat wave.

One plant that is LOVING the heat is my Meyer Lemon tree. It spends winters inside and generally looks unhappy the whole time, but the second we bring it out in the spring, it starts to revive.

Peppers are also off to a good start with their ollas for water. I’m curious to see how this experiment works out.

My community garden plot is all planted—it’s double in size for this year as my good friend who gardens next to me is taking a year off from her plot. Crossing my fingers that we’ll have a veritable squash kingdom come August, if we can keep the vine borers away.

Last but not least, monarch season has begun! I’ve only seen one, but Anneke found 40 eggs in our yard two nights ago. If all these survive, we’ll have a household record number of releases, in the first round of the migration.

How are you surviving the heat?

 


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It Might Be Over Soon

Bon Iver at Rock the Garden, via The New Home Economics

I finally got a chance to see one of my favorite bands live a few weeks ago—Bon Iver played an incredible set on a beautiful evening at the Walker Art Center. It took me a long time to warm up to the newest album; but it’s now indelibly in my heart along with the first two. So as I’m reading awful news headlines, or working in my August garden, I sometimes find that first track running through my head—It Might Be Over Soon. But not necessarily in a bad way, I guess? Everything has a season.

Japanese beetle damage, via The New Home Economics

Even Japanese beetles have a season, and it will be over soon. Apparently I’m not the only one suffering—our cool (but not cold), wet spring meant a bumper crop of beetles for Minnesotans. So, if you have foliage that looks like my poor grapevine above, there’s a good chance you have these bugs (look on the under side the leaf). My whole family has been hunting them every morning and evening. We simply carry around little containers of soapy water and brush them off the leaf and into the water. It’s not hard or even gross; they die pretty quickly.

Japanese beetles and two grapevine beetles, via The New Home Economics

Here you have a collection of dead Japanese beetles along with two of the last grapevine beetles. Our grapevines had a hard year. Please, if you see Japanese beetles try and get over the gross out factor and TAKE THEM OUT. You will thank yourself next year.

Heirloom tomatoes, via The New Home Economics

My tomatoes were a bit late this year—partially because I grew only large ones. I didn’t harvest my first until July 29 or 30. Depending on when we get our first frost, this is going to be a very short tomato season. But they’re coming so fast now that I made a big batch of sauce to use them up—I use a recipe from Trout Caviar’s excellent cookbook for oven-roasted tomatoes, then I just blend them up with the immersion blender and freeze in half-pints. This becomes pizza or pasta sauce base in the winter.

Squirrel proof tomato cage, via The New Home Economics

The reason for my big tomato harvest: my squirrel proof tomato fortress, installed in May. This thing is wonderful. When Adam built it, we had a small debate over whether to make something just for the tomatoes or whether to make something bigger for the entire garden, and I am not sure we chose correctly. I have beautiful cucumber vines climbing the trellis just to the left of the tomato cage, and I have harvested precisely 2 tiny cucumbers from it—squirrels have eaten nearly 100% of my cucumber harvest. I have some leftover chicken wire and I’m going to see what I can do with it this afternoon.

Raised strawberry bed, via The New Home Ecnomics

Summer vacation for my teacher husband and kids will also be over soon. Adam’s been very productive; he’s almost finished with a massive landscaping project of brick paths all over the yard. Walking out to the garden in my slippers can now legitimately be a thing. He also made this raised strawberry bed. Our strawberries were overrun with weeds, and the size and shape of the bed made it annoyingly difficult to maintain. We carefully dug up the strawberry plants, built this, filled the bottom half with compost, then added soil and replanted the strawberries. A week or two later we had pumpkins sprouting, from the compost. I decided to let three of them grow, just to see what happens. If we have a late frost I could end up getting a pumpkin or two!

Brick paths, via The New Home Economics

Here’s another angle. I love all the curved intersections on these paths.

Garden shed, via The New Home Economics

This view hints as to what he has in the works for 2018: a gate! He’s going to complete this path to the door of my garden shed, then replace this chain link fence with a wood fence and gate. The garden will be 10 steps from the kitchen instead of 60. I may never walk around the north end of my house again. He is also going to add a few arches at certain intersections, based on what I found in my friend Marianna’s garden. Arches give such a nice effect.

Jalapeno peppers, via The New Home Economics

My peppers also got going a little late and are now making up for it with great quantities. Trying to pickle as many as I can, but everyone’s eating them as fast as I pickle them.

Drying herbs, via The New Home Economics

I’m also drying some herbs. Of course basil (right) and parsley (middle left) are not as good dried as fresh, but I have tons and they’ll just go to waste otherwise.

Ground cherries, via The New Home Economics

I should get a few ground cherries for the first time this year, but less than I hoped for because the spot is shadier than I first realized when I planted them early this spring.

Brown eyed susans and bachelors buttons, via The New Home Economics

I love the contrast that these blue bachelors’ buttons give to my brown-eyed susans. They were some orphan plants that I got for free and just planted very randomly with little thought, so what a happy surprise that they’re thriving. Hopefully they’ll reseed and come back next year.

Tall bellflower, via The New Home Economics

Over in the boulevard, several of these suddenly popped up last year out of nowhere. I suspect their seeds were in some purchased wood mulch. Last year I thought they were weeds and just pulled them all—they do look a bit like creeping bellflower. After I pulled them I figured it out. They’re in the same family—Campanulaceae (Bellflower) but these are American Bellflower, Campanula Americana, a native! And they seem to be just as, erm, vigorous as their invasive cousin—they came back readily this year despite my pulling nearly all of them last year. I’m keeping an eye on them for now.

Bee on anise hyssop, via The New Home Economics

Here’s a bumble on my anise hyssop. For several years I had a wonderful anise hyssop patch in the back yard, and suddenly early this spring they all got eaten to the ground by some bug. I moved in some volunteers from elsewhere in the yard, and those got eaten too. So I dug up even more volunteers (are you sensing a theme with anise hyssop?) from my community garden plot and added them in a completely different area of the yard, and they’re doing fine. I’m going to wait another year or two before planting them again in the back. Fortunately they’re very versatile in their soil and light requirements—and they are absolutely covered with bees right now. I also dry these leaves/flowers for tea.

Early Sunflowers, via The New Home Economics

That was three blue or purple flowers in a row, but the reality is the majority of my flowers are yellow this time of year. These early sunflowers are VERY vigorous and are taking over much of my prairie boulevard.

Summer might be over soon, so it’s time to get out there and enjoy it while we can.

 


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In the mid-summer garden

If you’re going to have a garden, and you’re going to have kids, I highly recommend marrying a teacher. Adam has been busy all summer long working on landscaping projects, and by the time he’s done our gardens are going to be at a new level. Meanwhile, the kids and dog are … REALLY taking it easy:

Hammock reading time, via The New Home Economics

Here’s a sneak peek of Adam’s big project:

A new brick path, via The New Home Economics

He’s edging all of our primary flower, fruit, and vegetable gardens and putting in pretty brick paths to tie everything together. He’s going to rent a wet saw this week for all the half-bricks that he needs here.

Snip N Drip hose system, via The New Home Economics

Another new thing I’m trying this year: I purchased a “Snip N Drip” soaker hose system for the main vegetable garden, because my old soaker hoses basically fell apart (they lasted 10+ years so that’s not too bad). So far, so good except for one factor: there is not nearly enough pressure from the rain barrel to be able to use it with this system. So when I need to water the garden I’m using tap water. The rain barrel water is hardly going to waste though; I’m using it on my fruit trees and bushes.

Interplanted onions and parsnips, via The New Home Economics

My vegetable garden is looking very lush right now. Here we have interplanted onions and parsnips, which seems to be working quite nicely. At the back, two collard green plants. (One of which, oddly, is blue? Hmm.)

Squirrel proof tomato cage, via The New Home Economics

My new squirrel-proof tomato cage is great. The plants are suckering a little more than usual because it’s not super easy to get in there and prune them, but I’m fine with it.

Tomatoes, via The New Home Economics

I cannot wait for fresh tomatoes!

Wine grapes, via The New Home Economics

I think we’ll get a wine grape harvest this year, for the first time! These are Marquette grapes, a University of Minnesota hybrid. I’m not growing these in a 100% conventional way. If I were farming grapes with “maximum harvest” as my only goal, I’d grow them more like this. But since this is my home garden, I’m trying to accomplish several things here—I’m stacking up functions of plants and structures, to put it in permaculture words. So these grapevines also provide shade and beauty in the yard in addition to fruit. I’m just crossing my fingers that squirrels won’t eat all the grapes before I get to them.

Grapevine and hops arbor, via The New Home Economics

Here’s a view of the arbor from further away. The grape is on the right nearest corner, in the middle on both sides are hops (climbing up twine). We got a nice hops harvest last year.

Gooseberries, via The New Home Economics

We had a minor infestation of currant/gooseberry sawflies in May but an hour or two of hand-picking took care of it, and they haven’t been back. There is supposed to be a second generation of them in June or July but I’ve never seen one. My [somewhat educated] guess is that this is due to the high number of wasps, ladybugs, and other predators that fill my yard by mid-June. Having lots of wildflowers surrounding my fruits creates a healthier ecosystem and less work for me.

Raspberries, via The New Home Economics

It’s almost raspberry season, hurray! The kids have already eaten a handful of them.

Red currants, via The New Home Economics

My original red currant bush is now at least 8 years old. I’m not really sure when I planted it. The bush doesn’t look so great anymore. I gave it a good pruning this spring and now it looks worse (yet it’s still fruiting like crazy). I am strongly considering doing a “renewal pruning” and just cutting it to the ground next spring, so it can get a fresh start. We added a second red currant bush two years ago, so we’d still get a small harvest.

Front yard cherry tree garden, via The New Home Economics

Our front yard cherry tree garden is filling in nicely, now in its third or fourth year. (I’m losing track of time.) The maximum size of this tree was supposed to be 10-15 feet and it’s already at least 10 feet and not showing any signs of slowing down. We finally had a large enough cherry harvest this year for a pie AND some delicious sour cherry muffins.

Garbage cans, before, via The New Home Economics

Wait, why am I showing you my ugly alley garbage can area?! I “upgraded” to a smaller garbage cart this year, and now this area looks better:

Garbage cans, after, via The New Home Economics

When I saw just how small the new garbage cart was, I got a little nervous. But we’re now several weeks in and it hasn’t gotten filled to overflowing even one time, despite Adam having some construction waste from his various projects. My only gripe about it is this: this garbage can is less than half the size of the previous one, but the discount per month is only $5. Doesn’t…quite…compute. But I do understand that a huge part of the cost of garbage removal is operating the trucks and paying the humans, so I will [try not to] complain.

A huge pile of soil, via The New Home Economics

All of this edging and path-making has left us with a very large pile of sod and soil. Instead of getting rid of it, I had a brainstorm: why not make a berm!? So… we’re making a berm garden in the front, under the shade of a large elm. Since it will become such a major focal point in the front yard, I want it to be very pretty but still use all native plants. I think the biggest plant will be a pagoda dogwood. I’ll surround it with pretty woodland plants like solomon’s seal, bloodroot, and wild ginger.

Asiatic lily, via The New Home Economics

Look, I’m not a purist. Eleven years ago when we first bought this house, I was not yet turned on to native plants and I planted these beautiful Asiatic lilies. If they ever die, I’ll definitely replace them with natives, but for now… they are very pretty, yes?

I hope you have a peaceful Fourth of July.


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Memorial Day Garden Update

2017 Strawberries, via The New Home Economics

Spring is finally underway, after an abundance of cold and wet weather. From a phenology perspective, we’re all over the place. Some things are 2+ weeks later than last year; other things are early. We’ve already got 20 monarch caterpillars in our living room—Anneke spotted eggs on the milkweed leaves from 6 feet away! This is the earliest I’ve ever found monarch eggs.

American Highbush Cranberry flowers (Viburnum Trilobum), via The New Home Economics

American Highbush Cranberry flowers (Viburnum Trilobum), via The New Home Economics

My American Highbush Cranberries are looking great—their blooms are so unique. They have really taken off recently, and are now about 7 feet tall. I appreciate a shrub that can thrive and look this great in the dry shade under a mature silver maple tree. Our understory layer is coming along.

Raspberries in need of TLC, via the New Home Economics

My raspberries (left), on the other hand, are looking less lush than they have in previous years. In talking with a fellow master gardener about it yesterday, I realized that I haven’t fed them in at least 2 years. I picked up a bag of blood meal and sprinkled it on the ground at their feet, then watered it in; I’ll also add some compost in the next week or two. I’ve not always given these the best of care, but they are forgiving plants and keep on going. Hopefully the blood meal will perk them up and we’ll still have a good harvest.

Blueberries in a half barrel, via The New Home Economics

Here’s something new I’m trying: two very small blueberry bushes in a half barrel. My soil is not right for blueberries, so by growing them in a barrel I have more control over soil composition. I mixed half potting soil, half peat moss for this and so far they are thriving. They’re in a pretty shady spot so they may not ever get really big, but that’s fine.

Currant or Gooseberry Sawflies, via The New Home Economics

Over on my currant and gooseberry bushes, we’re fighting another sawfly invasion. I pulled hundreds off today; we pulled nearly that many off a few evenings ago. If I can stay on top of them we should still be able to salvage a great berry harvest. I pull the caterpillars off and drop them into a container of soapy water, which is my general method for all garden pests that I deal with. The “EW” factor is high with these guys.

Radishes, via The New Home Economics

I am happy to report that FINALLY, I have had a successful radish year. I’ve not had the greatest of luck with them, for several years now. This year I planted them around April 12—a few weeks earlier than usual. My thinking was that I could put them where I intended to grow tomatoes and eggplant, and that the radishes would be done by the time I could plant those warm season crops. They weren’t quite, but very close, so I just put the soil amendments and plants around my rows of radishes. We’ve harvested nearly all of them now, and I’m calling this radish year a success.

Some people replant radishes every two weeks and harvest all summer. Growing them in the heat of summer has never worked for my particular microclimate. You have to keep experimenting until you hit on the right timing and right soil amendments for your situation.

Tomato fortress in progress, via The New Home Economics

More solutions to our particular problems: pictured here is a new squirrel-proof tomato fortress that we are building. It’s nearly done, just needs a little more chicken wire. It has a door on each side so that I can reach in and harvest. In celebration of this, I’m growing lots of big tomatoes this year—no cherry tomatoes, which I’ve grown in the past in hopes of sacrificing some to the beasts. On the trellis to the right, snow peas are doing quite well (no blossoms yet).

Garlic, beets, and beans, via The New Home Economics

Left to right, garlic, poorly-sprouted beets, and well-sprouted haricot vert green beans. Under the cage/trellis: cucumber seeds not yet sprouted. I had a beautiful line of cucumber seedlings and a squirrel ate all of them. I had to replant. Some day I would like to build a squirrel proof GARDEN enclosure, not just one for tomatoes.

Garlic, beets, and beans, via The New Home Economics

On the west end of the garden, some nice rows of onions, and between them rows of parsnips, which also sprouted nicely. I soaked my parsnip seed this year, and I also planted them very early—we had a very rainy April so I think that was a good strategy as well. They can be finicky to sprout and this was the most successful I’ve ever been. We’ve also got more snow peas and some no-longer-homeless collard greens at the back; finally, a sad dog who wishes he could be right at my side at all times on the deck.

Sunchokes spreading, via The New Home Economics

The warnings about planting Jerusalem Artichokes, aka Sunchokes, are apparently not ill-founded. This was three seedlings, last year. They never looked great, and I thought my experiment was a failure….then they turned into more than 15 seedlings this year. I will be sure to harvest at least half of these this fall so that they don’t get out of control. But to get a harvest, really, was the whole point—so I’m pleased.

Fairy garden, via The New Home Economics

The kids have spent many hours on their fairy gardens already this year. Anneke’s fairy even has a greenhouse (with the blue plastic). When the elephant’s ears get bigger we won’t be able to see much of this, so it’s fun to get a peek now. Our resident squirrels drink out of her fairy’s pond every day, while the cat watches from the kitchen window in irritation.

Bumblebee on Virginia Waterleaf, via The New Home Economics

We planted a shady rain garden several years ago, and one of the recommended plants was Virginia Waterleaf. This is not the most popular of native landscaping plants due to its aggressive nature. We started with one or two and now they’re all over our back yard. But most of them are growing in places that would otherwise be populated with some noxious weed like garlic mustard, which this is out-competing in a couple places. I’d much rather have Virginia Waterleaf—it’s pretty and it helps pollinators. The rain garden was buzzing with bees today, in between rain showers.

How does your garden grow, this year?

 


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Spring happenings

Planting onion starts, via The New Home Economics

It’s all starting. I planted my snow peas last weekend, but that was about it. I had to take time off work this week to stay home with my spring break kids, so I accomplished a lot in the garden. Today, I put in my onion starts—I buy them at Mother Earth Gardens. Yes, planting the thread-like baby onions is a little tedious, but on a glorious partly-cloudy 60 degree morning, well, I guess it depends on your level of tolerance. I was just happy to be out planting and it was soon done.

I also planted some radishes—they weren’t part of my garden plan for this year because for the last several years they’ve performed so dismally for me. But I was staring at the garden on Thursday (true story), and I realized that I have a month (at least) before I could plant tomatoes. Radishes are supposed to take around 30 days, so I decided to try them once again, but this time at least two weeks earlier than I’ve ever planted them before. They like cool, rainy weather, so fingers crossed that this time I’ll see radish success. I planted them precisely where I plan to plant tomatoes. Will this work? We’ll see.

Sprouting serviceberry branches, via The New Home Economics

Anneke and I also attempted some propagation this past month or two. Here are several branches I trimmed from our serviceberry. Adam is keen on adding all kinds of native shrubs to his family’s hunting land, for deer, turkeys, and other game animals to munch on. After starting this experiment, however, I read that in order to propagate shrubs like this you need to trim off an actual sucker with roots, not just a branch. More details on propagating serviceberries can be found here. I’m going to try starting some from seed this summer! So even though this was a fail, we learned and we are now attempting to propagate one sucker that I was able to find.

In other disappointing news, our Sabathani community garden is in trouble. Plans to build a new senior housing complex right next to it mean that, best-case scenario, our garden will be closed for an entire year starting this fall and re-opening in spring 2019. Worst-case scenario, the space will only be available on a very limited basis to residents of that complex. Everything is very much in flux right now and I won’t be able to move forward with my food forest idea for at least a couple of years, if ever. Maybe that’s OK though. I do take on more than I ought.

First bloodroot of 2017, via The New Home Economics

The first bloodroots of 2017 opened up in my yard today. Aren’t they sweet! That’s my thumbnail for size reference. They do sometimes get bigger than this, but not much. I will be interested to see if I can spot any pollinators on them. I’ve seen a couple wasps and quite a few boxelder bugs flying around, but that’s it so far.

Red Lake Currant in early spring, via The New Home Economics

Ben Sarek black currant in early spring, via The New Home Economics

As of today, my Red Lake currant bushes (one of them pictured, top) are barely doing anything while my Ben Sarek black currant bush (pictured, bottom) is almost leafed out. It’s fascinating how different varieties of the same plant will behave.

Soil sprouted radishes, via The New Home Economics

We’ve been eating soil sprouts all winter long, and I really don’t see any reason to stop growing them now that spring is here. I want to try mixing things up, and growing 5 trays of pea shoots, for example, and stir frying them. I really enjoy doing this and highly recommend the book—Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening. Pictured are some radish sprouts; we used them as a topping on black bean and sausage soup.

What’s happening in your garden so far? I can’t remember ever getting going as early as I have this year, partially due to having such a mild winter.


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Progress and change

We’re going through lots of changes here in south Minneapolis. Some are seasonal—it’s going to freeze tomorrow. Others feel more substantial.

Blake the dog

We said goodbye to our old friend Blake on Saturday, September 10. Adam and I adopted him as a puppy in May of 2001; he was 15 years old. Rowan and Anneke have never experienced life without him until now—I caught Rowan sitting quietly with him several times in the week leading up to his final vet appointment. We’ll get another dog someday. But I don’t know that I’ll ever love another animal as much as I loved Blake—my dog baby before I had human babies.

All I do is laundry

Our other major life change is that Adam went back to full-time employment this fall after years of being part-time. As a result, our weekends have become something of a race to do ALL the laundry, housework, gardening, shopping, and everything else. We’re not ready to give up yet, though—with several major household appliances and a car all over the age of 15, we need to build savings.

Garden Shed, 2016

Here’s a more pleasant “life” update, or what feels like a life update, anyway. The garden shed that Adam started building five—yes, FIVE—years ago is finally complete. He nearly finished in 2011, but ran out of cedar shakes around halfway up the sides. It took 5 years of diligent Craigslist searching to find someone willing to sell such a small number of shakes needed to finish the job. I’ve been using the garden shed these 5 years, but it’s nice that it finally also looks done on the outside.

Garden shed, 2011

For comparison purposes, here are Adam and the kids working on it in 2011, when they were four. I think Rowan has more than doubled in height. His hair’s a bit longer too. Ah, tweens.

Pollinators of Native Plants

I’ve been making progress on my reading list this year. I recently finished Pollinators of Native Plants: Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants, by Twin Cities author Heather Holm. As a graphic designer, I found the layout of the book to be a little bit distracting, but in the end the content overcame the layout. This is a fantastic resource; I bought it so that I can have it on hand every time the kids see some new bug in the garden.

I’ve read so much about native plants, but so little about insects, and what a world there is to discover. For example, I never knew how tiny most native bees are—I thought they were all variations on bumblebees, but most are so tiny you most likely never even notice them unless you’re really looking. The other surprising thing was the great variety in shapes and sizes of the various wasps, syrphid flies, and other pollinators native to the midwest.

Thread waist wasp on goldenrod, via The New Home Economics

I was immediately able to identify the wasp on the left as a thread-waist wasp on my goldenrod thanks to this book. On the right, most likely a bumblebee, but it could also be one of several bumblebee mimics. I’m no longer certain!

Learning about our great variety of pollinators drives home the realization that the number of native midwestern insects that we fear because of stinging is such a very small part of the whole population. I have killed nests of yellowjackets in my yard before, but to lump all bees and wasps together with them really does the larger number of them a major disservice. It’s truly becoming one of my life’s missions to help people understand the difference between bees and wasps, and now also between different types of wasps! Because let’s face it: wasps are beneficial, too. How could they not be, when they evolved with our ecosystem right alongside bees, flowers, and everything else?

Trees and Shrubs of Minnesota

I also just finished Trees and Shrubs of Minnesota, by Welby R. Smith. This is also a wonderful resource—especially if you own land or live in the country and want to try and identify the plants growing on your property. It contains general information, distribution, and specific identifying characteristics to help you distinguish even between different types of, for example, currants. I had no idea how many different types of wild currants we have in our state. With four distinct biomes, there’s a lot to cover. This book would not be appropriate for bringing along on a hike; it’s way too big and heavy. This is on my official Christmas list for 2016.

Elephants Ears

With the frost coming tomorrow, several important chores needed to happen this past weekend. Chief on Anneke’s mind was potting up her elephant’s ears and bringing them in for the winter. I’m not sure how this happened, but my kid has become obsessed with tropical plants. And the elephants ears keep multiplying—this started as one plant only 3 years ago. I composted a few of them when she wasn’t looking. She now has a large plant shelf in her room supporting new roommates for the winter, most of which she started from seed on her own: 5 elephants ears, 1 avocado tree, 4 grapefruit trees, and a venus fly trap. She “let” me keep my Meyer lemon in the living room. It’s a silly plant zoo around here.

Musquee de Provence pumpkins, via The New Home Economics

Our Musquee de Provence pumpkins also got hauled in from the community garden plot at Sabathani. There should be four more of these; we lost two to rotting and two to thievery. I was surprised at the thievery—this is the first time my garden has ever been hit. I just hope those thieves cook them up and eat them, because they are DELICIOUS. We made one into a pie on Sunday and it was brightest-orange colored pumpkin pie I’ve ever seen.

Milkweed bugs

Winter is coming. Quick, let’s have a milkweed bug swarm! I could spend all day, every day in my garden observing all the crazy things that go on there. As a proud Minnesotan I do appreciate the winter, though. Enjoy autumn, everyone.