Saturday, August 3, 2019


Minimally sprawling, open pollinated cucumbers named Little Leaf -from Fedco Seeds. Well, they sprawl less than the Burpee cukes that went in last year, but if it weren't for some clever trellising, the would certainly have sprawled into the paths. They are now supplying about ten cucumbers (picklers) a day. In front, peppers and eggplant; both late producers. Behind, trashy solutions.

The plastic is in place to take out the creeping charlie. It will be removed in late August (late August is so close!) to put down sod. Why sod? The mat keeps out the weeds and minimizes a return of charlie. Here, where the planters were last year, we've had many seedlings of last year's vegetables. Growing up in a cool, moist winter climate, I'd never seen tomatoes sprout from last year's fallen, but in Minnesota's freezer like conditions -the seeds don't rot. We've got several of these in the plastic zone and many more were planted out at the neighbor's farm (where I keep the garlic -which is nearly all harvested).

Adjacent to the tomato is a snapping turtle's nest of eggs to be hatched, we hope, sooner than later. Betsy wants to leave a patch of soil for the mother turtle to return to yearly -but I'd rather it not be in the middle of the grass I'm about to plant. I suspect she'll find the bare patch of soil if I leave it nearby. Funny thing is that I never see any turtles around our place -yet I know there is a giant snapper living out there, somewhere, and then two dozen or so babies head towards the wetlands in fall.

The hydrangea -floppy top. Heavy, as soon as the first real rain hits them, over they go. This year they have been eaten by the deer, pom poms and all. Sometimes they enter the vegetable garden for a second course, should they not get their fill on hydrangea. They've also eaten down the thorny, climbing rose on the trellis -leaving only a full top above their reach. They eat tomato vines, cucumber vines, even buckthorn this year. At my neighbor's garden, they've not only pruned my tomatoes to an even sixteen inches and peppers to eight, they've consumed his giant pumpkin plant -spines and all, a first. They haven't touch the dino kale, potatoes, and garlic.

In summer, gardens do their thing -as do we. This year it is a medley of siding, painting, customer projects, teaching, and exhibitions. I see the work to be done in the garden and it must wait. Seedlings in trays suffer my inattention -yet I keep my eye on these things just enough for them to tug at my desire to do more than is humanly possible.

The front garden is being encroached on by the woods, particularly younger maples that quickly shade out sun loving plants. Oaks and ironwoods do not do this. It's hard to take down living creatures, but the maples will likely meet the chainsaw come late autumn -after I pick up a new chainsaw. The old Stihl croaked last year as I cleared a fallen maple from a path.

Around that front garden is a retaining wall into which I have been ever so slowly moving large stones. The soil is miserable under road bed stuff from last year's gravel driveway rehab. I've got compost to add to the mix, over there, in the shade, now two years old, waiting for my attention and a shovel. Afterward, maybe in autumn, plants will be re-organized to deal with the expanded garden.

One of two woodland edge prairie-savanna hardly-gardens I planted after the studio was finished. These change every year. Without a supply of fresh black-eyed susan seed, it looks rather green. Prairie seed mixes can be rudbekia lush, but the plant tends to diminish once shaded out by perennial grasses and forbs. It's a biennial, so the third season the profusion is limited to small, fuzzy leaves -often at the edge of where they showed up en masse the year before. Each season different plants dominate -this year will no doubt be asters and goldenrod, to the point at which I will likely be thinning them out. Lavender-colored Monarda fistulosa in the background.

The second prairie-savanna garden has a dumpster in front of it, so no pictures of that this summer. The dumpster takes in insulation, wood, old rotting siding and a window or two. I've been replacing siding, piecemeal, every warm season as I convert the house from the pukey-pink paint you can see in the background, above, to the umber-magenta grey visible in the foreground. This garden, along a path from a back door to the studio, is hosta-heavy, magically invisible to the deer thus far.

The brilliant, but less prolific (in these drier conditions ) than I wish American Bellflower, Campanulastrum americanum, is blue-purple in the background. To the left, the very prolific Blue Lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica, about to bloom and a black-eyed susan that found a way to full form.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

It May Be July

framed  vegetable garden neat vegetable garden ordered garden artist and builder
Just finished putting together the new vegetable beds. Four raised beds, each about 12 inches tall. The herb bed was the first, back near the greenhouse. Then the two nearer, each already around for a couple of seasons, but moved yearly. After attempting to grow vegetables plunked in the middle of the  lawn, I soon realized that it wasn’t going to work.  We didn’t want to mow around sprawling vines and the shade allowed aggressive creeping charlie to truly creep.

I concocted this new scheme, very much wood chipped, framed by cedar ripped on the table saw and spiked with rebar to hold it in place. Once dreamed up, I set about building the final raised bed. The lawn will be rebuilt on three sides, plenty far from the beds.

tomato support system western red cedar raised beds
Tomatoes are supported by two zinc-coated irrigation pipes plugged into 5/4 cedar deck boards also ripped on the table saw. String is attached to the leading vines and wound over the pipe. The tension created with this type of system keeps tomato vines from ever flopping over. I’ve never applied this system before, mostly due to laziness and lack of necessity. It’s neat -I like that, but it requires a willingness to reduce the number of tomato producing leaders. We won’t need so many as all our other tomato starts are planted in the neighbor’s garden, just downhill from the garlic. 

raised beds western red cedar
This was the same, June 21, not much more than three weeks ago.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

The Slough

A busy life, the return of mosquitoes and then the ever more aggravating deer fly, have kept me from the woods -through which I must pass to get to the back slough. The slough, a small natural woodland basin bordered on its west by an old gravel pit, has become wetter over the last decade. Prior owners of the neighboring pit decided it would be more useful filled and so introduced a stream of trucks dumping their fill.  We believe this raised the water table and is the reason our woodland vernal pond supporting silver maples and green ash has become a permanent swamp; one that has dried, only temporarily, a couple of years out of ten. The last of the trees within its bounds has died and the aggressively spreading, wet soil tolerant canary reed grass has taken hold in the newly sunny slough.

Yesterday morning a meso-scale storm passing just to our north provided a strong draft and mosquito-free window to pass through the woods. The last time I gazed upon this rapidly changing two acres it was a pond pushing beyond its bounds. Now, the lower water table of summer has changed it to a burgeoning meadow; the remains of duckweed sitting on a crust of drying muck.

Phalaris arundinacea
Canary Reed Grass, Phalaris arundinacea
Although I seeded a portion of the slough in December with what is called a detention mix, I'm not surprised to see an abundance of human-bred, hybrid canary reed grass, Phalaris arundinacea.

It is a surprise to see the blue flag, Iris versicolor, I planted two years ago continuing to bulk up, maybe even thrive, despite the competition from so much mad dog skullcap, Scutellaria lateriflora.

This sedge, "weeded" out of a wetland edge of a nearby lakefront residence, has begun to transform the northwestern edge of the slough. I hope to see it "make a stand" against the encroachment of canary reed grass.

I purchased seeds of another grass, prairie cord grass, but have been hesitant to distribute the seeds. It is a native, warm season slough grass that I intended to use as a foil to the cool season canary reed grass. Like canary, it spreads by rhizomes and can be aggressive. Although it grows all over Minnesota, further reading led me to think that the six to eight foot grass may not be the right choice. I'd rather be out ten dollars in seed than dealing with another grass, not currently present, that then spreads too widely. My curiosity, however, gets the best of me -I have tray-seeded a few to see how they grow.

As more storms approached from the north, I pressed on toward the little wetland to see how it has changed since the high water of late spring. Water sheds from the surrounding moraine, draining through two gullies, then filters through two wetlands to pool at the bottleneck that leads to our driveway culvert. Earlier this spring I cleared the growing stand of buckthorn from the floodplain surrounding the bottleneck. Dying ash and falling box elder have opened the canopy here, letting in more sun.

In early June I made an attempt to slow the spread of canary reed grass weakened by five weeks of flood waters. Wearing knee high rubber boots, I cut any grass growing along the perimeter of the open water with a weed trimmer. Although it has come back now that the water has receded, it has done so less vigorously -a rather minor victory. If I want to maintain open water here, or better yet, introduce sedge and other wetland plants, I'll need to continue to fight back the canary reed grass which has a stranglehold on much of the small wetland.

Last Saturday I spent an hour at a nearby natural landscape contractor's end of season native plant sale. Most of my purchases (only $2.50 per plant!) were infill for my prairie plantings, but I did buy a couple of wetland plants. Above, ironweed, Vernonia fasciculata, has a wetland indicator status of facultative (FACW). This means it usually occurs in wetlands -66 to 99 percent of the time. This wetland status and my failure to grow it successfully in my dry Brooklyn garden led me to choose the flood plain as its new home.

My other purchase, broad-leaved arrowhead, Sagittaria latifolia, has a wetland status of obligate wetland (OBL) which means that it occurs in wetlands nearly 100 percent of the time. This plant prefers standing water and at least partial sun, so I placed in the pool that collects at the bottleneck, a stones throw from the ironweed.

We've been in a very wet period, receiving several inches of rain over the last two weeks. The tropical air and daily storms are expected to last through the week. Over the last 24 hours we've received over 3 inches of rain, and another three plus within the last ten days, bringing the water table back up to where it was in late May. This morning, braving the mosquitoes, I ventured to see the arrowhead I planted two days back -but it is missing, most likely it has tipped over into the muck under the rising water.