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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

A Busy Spring in the Garden! May-June 2017




        Happy 4th of July! 





Snickers & Tate, my garden helpers.
May and June were very busy for me.  I have been working my day job (nurse), went on a family vacation, adopted a 2nd puppy (Tate), and gardening like a mad woman. This is my excuse for missing a month of blogging this year.  Please forgive me.

Here are my gardening updates:

The Vegetable Garden:

The vegetable garden is growing in nicely.  I have already harvested several types of greens including: kale, chard, Chinese cabbage, nasturtium blooms, chives and basil.  I have been munching on snap peas steadily. These are "cut and come again" types of vegetable, so I will continue to harvest them throughout the summer.

The tomatoes, peppers, ground cherries and zucchini are starting to form fruit, but these are still small and green. I hope to have ripe fruit by the end of the month.    

The root vegetables, autumn squash, eggplant, and watermelon are growing well... but I don't expect much production from them until autumn.

I was able to collect seed from a seven top turnip and Chinese cabbage that were left in the ground since last autumn.  They made wonderfully tall and bright sulfur-yellow flowers, and then seed pods.  The seed pods dried out nicely in the breeze.  It was simple to shake these into a bucket, and crush them with my hands so that the seeds fell out. I then tossed out the chaff and kept the seed for next year.  I even had enough to share with friends!

Something New:

I ordered and assembled an elevated garden bed for my deck. I painted it white to match my home.  It is filled with potting mix so that it will drain well, hold nutrients and remain relatively light weight (compared to topsoil.)  This summer, I am planting it with quick-growing lettuce, arugula, 'short 'n' sweet' carrots, and bok choy.

Next year, I plan to use it as an extension of my vegetable garden.  I will plant it with vegetables that do well in containers.  This will help to free up space in the regular garden bed so that I have room for vegetables that take up more space, such as tomatoes and squash. 

Garden Marker Test:

If you recall from my previous post, I am comparing the marking longevity of the markers shown in
the photograph below.  I marked wooden, plastic and metal plant labels with each type of ink, as well as pencil.  These have been sitting out in the sun and weather for about 5 months now.

So far, the regular sharpie ink has faded the most, especially on the plastic and metal labels.  The Inkzall ink is also fading away.  Meanwhile, the Artline Garden Marker ink, Sharpie Pro ink and
pencil appear to be legible on all types of plant labels.  The Artline Garden Marker ink appears to be the darkest, clearest and sharpest so far.
Note the fading ink of the Sharpie (S) and Inkzall (I) ink.
I will continue the comparison test through a full calendar year to see if any of the types of ink can hold up to the weather that long, so please look for an update in future posts.


Last autumn, I built 3 raised beds of size about 4ft x 4ft.  I lined the bottoms with chicken wire so that the chipmunks couldn't dig under them.  This spring, I protected them from above with some chicken wire covers that I pegged into place with garden staples. So FINALLY, after 2 years of trying, I got a crop of strawberries!  I just had to erect a fortress to protect them from vermin and voila! Enough berries for pies and crumble!  And let me tell you... there is NOTHING better than a strawberry-rhubarb crumble made with berries straight from the garden. I recommend James Beard's recipe if you
are in need of one.

Shade garden in April - Early May 2017
 The Dry Shade Garden:

Shade Garden late May - June 2017
I planted a dry shade garden this last April as described in my previous blog post.  At the time I planted it, there was not much color to it.  Perhaps just more green than there had been, with some light yellows, pinks and peach colors.

Through May and June the flowers began to bloom.  The color scheme warmed up to include brighter yellows, pinks and hotter oranges with a background of green and blue.

Now,  with the full heat of summer, the colors are at a lower simmer of darker mauve, pink,
Shade Garden late June - early July 2017
purple/blues... and as a bonus: the gooseberries and blueberries are starting to ripen!

I love how the color scheme remains generally warm, but changes with the weather. I anticipate that it will cool down in autumn with the weather to cooler pinks, whites and blues. 

  Species Spotted: 
Now for my favorite report for you all:  The continuation of the list of species that I have seen in our small garden/yard (continued from my previous blog post).  This includes species seen flying above the yard and swimming within 10 feet of the lake shore.  It is amazing how many species can be found in so small of an area! 

Insects & Spiders:
Orchard Orbweaver
Continued from previous post....
48. Pipevine swallowtail butterfly (Battus philinor)
49. Climber dragonfly (Tetragoneuria spp.)
50. Black carpenter ant (Camponotus pennsylvanicus)
51. Little black ant (Monomorium minimum)
52. Termite (Rhinotermitidae flavipes)
53. Stilt bugs (Jalysus spp.)
54. Mosquitoes (Culcidae)
55. Mayflies (order Ephemeroptera)
56. Crane flies (Tipula spp.)
57. Deer fly (chrysops spp.)
58. Jumping spider (Family Salticidae)
Four-lined plant bug
59. Orchard orbweaver (leucauge venusta)
60. Four lined plant bug (peocilocapsus lineatus)
61. Red admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta)
62. Black swallowtail (Paplio polyxenes)
63. Green bottle fly (Phaenicia)
64. Hoverfly (Toxomerus)
65. Eastern forktail damselfly (Ischnura verticalis)
66. Flesh fly (exact type unknown)
67.  Bluets (Enallagma)
68. Eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glucus) 
69. Monarch butterfly (Denaus plexippus)
70. Daddy longlegs (Opilones) 
71. Margined calligrapher (Toxomerus marginatus)
72. Japanese beetle (Papilla japonica) 
73. European paper wasp (Polistes dominula) 
74. Fourteen-spotted ladybug (Propylea quatuordecimpunctata) 
75. Narrow-winged damselfly (coenagrionidae)
76. Hover fly (Periphyllus)
77. Sweat bee (Halictus ligatus)
Left: Japanese Beetle.  Right: Bumble Bee
78. Great black wasp (Sphex pensylvanicus) 

79. Ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilocus colubris)
80. Cooper's hawk (Accipeter cooperii)
81. Turkey vulture (Cathartes aura)

82. Raccoon (Procyon lotor)
83. Bats (species type unknown - only seen flying at a distance)

Ruby-Throated Humming Bird (female)
Fish (within 10 feet of shore in Clifford Lake) :
84. Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)
85. Smallmouth bass (Micropteris dolomieui)

 Please forgive me for any incorrect and/or incomplete creature identifications; especially with regard to the insects.  I am neither an entomologist nor a trained natural scientist. I have identified these animals with the help of National Audobon Society field guides and internet google searches.   My list may not be perfect, but I have learned a lot from searching out and reading up on these creatures.  If you scroll to the very bottom of this blog page, there is a link to  I keep an ongoing list of the creatures that I am able to photograph there.  If someone is able to correct an identification that I have made, you will be able to see it there.

I hope to write another blog post near the end of this month.  Happy Independence Day and happy gardening everyone! 

Ruby-Throated Humming Bird (male)

European Paper Wasp

Fourteen-Spotted Lady Bug

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Dry Shade Garden Makeover

Rue Anenome (Thalictrum thalictroides)
April 2017.  Finally, the weather has improved.  Actually, we have been lucky this year.  April has been mild.  There hasn't been any snow. There have only been a few frosts.  For Michigan, this is excellent early spring weather.  It has also allowed me to re-do my front garden.

I am sharing a list of what I planted in this bed with you all because part of it is in dry shade and the other part is in dry sun.  These are challenging conditions that some of you may find on your own property. Perhaps my plant list could be of use to you.

The front garden is an island bed of diameter about 20-25ft, surrounded by the road, my driveway, and the neighbor's driveway.  The former owner planted a bradford pear tree right in the middle of it along with a couple of scotch pine bushes. Because of this, the bed is about 60% dry shade and 40% dry full sun.

Front garden BEFORE makeover, front view
 Up until last year, the bed only contained the bradford pear, scotch pine bushes, a clump of (gorgeous) purple-black irises, orange daylilies, hosta, juniper,and some random clumps of dianthus.  The iris and daylilies were congested and needed dividing, Most of the bed was empty.  

Luckily, I was able to take a couple days off of work, which I used to re-do the bed. I topped the soil with compost and shredded leaf mulch to help improve the moisture retention of the soil a bit.  I added some stepping stones.  I also had planted some of the deciduous bushes last fall.

I pruned some of the older juniper bushes to re-shape them and make room for other plants.  I also pruned the lower branches of the bradford pear to allow more light in to the area.

I tried to choose plants that would survive the conditions well and would show nicely in the shade.  I chose varieties with contrasting leaf colors in yellows, shades of green and white, and even a few with purple leaves with contrasting textures.  For example, the bleeding heart has delicate golden leaves, the hosta have wide green/white leaves, the joe pye has medium-sized purple leaves, and the jacob's ladder has ferny blue-green leaves with white stripes. Hopefully they will look good even when not in bloom.

Front garden AFTER make-over, side view.
In the full sun portions I planted: 

hyacinths (pink, early spring bloom),
daffodils (yellow, early spring bloom),
red valerian (red, spring bloom),
dianthus (pink, spring bloom),
iris (dark purple, late spring bloom),
lilies (orange,late spring bloom ), 
prickly pear (yellow, late spring bloom),
evening primrose (yellow, late spring bloom),
daylilies (orange & yellow, spring-summer bloom),
potentilla (yellow, late spring-fall bloom),
catmint (purple/blue, late spring-fall bloom), 

yarrow (yellow, summer bloom),
yucca (white, summer bloom),
bee balm (red, summer bloom),
 blanket flower (yellow/orange/red, summer bloom),
geum (orange, summer bloom), 

Joe Pye weed (white, late summer-fall bloom),
roses (pink, summer-fall bloom),
sedum (orange, late summer-fall bloom),
AFTER makeover. Please forgive neighbor's construction/fence.
Russian sage (purple/blue, summer-fall bloom),
dwarf althea (pink, late summer-fall bloom), 

hens & chicks,
bradford pear,
scotch pine bushes,
and juniper.

In the dry shade I planted: 

helebores (white & pink, early spring bloom),
daffodils (yellow, early spring bloom),
Primrose (yellow/pink, early spring bloom),
columbine (pink, blue & yellow, early spring bloom),
Hosta, bleeding heart, columbine & gooseberries.

bleeding heart (pink, spring bloom),
rue anenome (white, spring bloom),
wood poppy (yellow, spring bloom),
Jacob's ladder (purple/blue, spring bloom),
fritillaria (yellow, spring bloom),
Japanese wood poppy (blue, spring bloom),
lady's mantle(yellow, late spring bloom),
climbing hydrangea (white, late spring bloom),

foxgloves (peachy orange, spring-summer bloom),
valerian (white, spring-summer bloom), 
wood betony (purple/blue, late spring-summer bloom),

Columbine, wood poppy, foxgloves, and primrose.
hosta (white, summer bloom), 
hardy geranium (purple/blue, summer-fall bloom),
cut leaf coneflower (yellow, late summer-fall bloom),
Japanese anenome/wind flower (pink, late summer-fall bloom),
ruby spice clethera (red/pink, summer bloom),

dryopterus fern,
and gooseberry bushes,

There is one small area of dimensions 10'x4' or so, off to the side of the garden, bordering my
neighbor's driveway that is separated from the rest of the garden by a 1.5ft wall of stone.  This area faces west and is in part-sun.   I used this almost "containerized" area to my advantage.  I removed the soil that was there and spread it elsewhere in the garden.  I then replaced it with a mix of bagged soil, compost, peat, and amended it with sulfur.  You see, most of my garden has a soil pH of 7.8.  Why is this a problem? -- Because I really like blueberries.  Blueberries require acid soil.  So, by replacing the soil with a more acidic mix, I can now grow blueberries.  I planted 4 low and dwarf blueberry bushes along with a couple of hosta as filler until the bushes grow in more.  I under-planted the bushes with bunchberry as a ground cover.

Between the gooseberries & blueberries, I can get some food from this garden. With the perennials that I chose, I should have something in bloom there year round, as well. Some people would also use the valerian as a medicinal plant, but I plan to use it as a decorative perennial only.  (Although, I did notice that valerian roots smell very sweet as I was planting it.)

I do expect to have to water the bed frequently, especially during the dry summer months. Watering will be particularly important this year as the plants get established.

I will try to remember to take an "update" photo of the garden later in the summer or perhaps next year when more of the flowers are in bloom. If I remember, I will add the photo to the end of this blog entry.  Right now, the bed looks good, but it has only just been planted.  So very few flowers are in bloom. I hope that it will improve with time.

Species Update:

I have continued to track the various species in my yard.  Here is the update (continued from March):

Insects, spiders & "crawly" creatures:
33.Common Eastern Bumblebee (Bombus impatiens),
34. Honey Bee (seen to briefly to identify the exact species type),
35. Mosquitos (family Culcidae),
36. Fungus Gnats (family Mycetophilidae),
37. Midges (chironomidae)
38. Green Bottle Fly (Lucilia sericata),
39. Cellar Spider (Psilochorus pullulus),
40. Trashline Orb Weaver  Spider (cyclosa),
41. Wolf Spider (Lycosoidea),
42. Earwig (forficula auricularia),
43. Cabbage White Butterfly (pieris rapae),
44. Earth Worm (Lumbricus terrestris),
45. Gray Field Slug (Deroceras reticulatum)

46. Cottontail Rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus)

47.  Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia)

Also, the robins made a nest off my neighbor's back porch.  Check it out:

Garden Marker Comparison Update:

Lastly, I have a brief update on the garden marker comparison:  So far, the regular sharpie ink is fading, but only on the plastic and the metal garden markers.  The other garden marker types are indistinguishable from each other as far as readability at this time. All types of ink and the pencil are standing strong on the wooden garden marker.  I will give another brief update on this in 3 months time.  I will do a full review, with photos, at the end of the year.

That's all for now, folks!  I am looking forward to some warmer weather so that I can get the veggies in.  I will update you all about this and my other gardening endeavors in a month!  

As always: happy planting, dear reader!  And a very happy spring!