2015 in review

After reading the following report, I have resolved–once again–to be a more active blogger. Many thanks to those of you who have been active subscribers to my blog! Your comments and referrals are very encouraging.  And now here’s the report.

Your 2015 in blogging

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 390 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Posted in What's in Bloom at Chez Rea | Leave a comment

Winter Weather Report 2015

RAIN on the First Day of Winter 2015

RAIN on the First Day of Winter 2015

It’s the first day of winter, 12/21/15, and we had 0.64″ of RAIN at this CoCoRaHS station this morning.

Because of how mild the weather has been, I STILL HAVE KALE IN THE GARDEN! In fact, I harvested some a few days ago and used it in my favorite spinach salad recipe. I’ve been making this salad since 1993, when I first got the recipe from a sweet friend at church, Ruby Spencer. I altered the dressing recipe a bit (a little less oil and sugar) back then to make it healthier. Of course, I also have a tendency to use more eggs and bacon than the recipe actually calls for, so it’s not really healthier–I just feel better about it. However it’s made,  it has been a favorite at MANY family gatherings and potlucks over the years.

When I made it with kale for the first time this last weekend, I massaged a bit of olive oil into the kale to soften it a few hours before assembling the salad and used a little less canola oil in the dressing. (I’ve also used a combination of sugar cane vinegar and apple juice in place of the apple cider vinegar.) What a wonderful and delicious way to use my winter kale!

Chez Rea Spinach (or Kale) Salad

Serves 8 (May double for a large salad.)


1 bag spinach, raw

1/4 pound bacon, fried & crumbled

2 whole eggs, hard-boiled, sliced

1/2 whole red Bermuda onion, sliced

1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced



1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup oil

1 teaspoon salt [I substitute a salt-free blend of herbs.]

1/4 cup catsup

3/8 cup sugar



Shake the dressing, and toss everything together.

NOTE: Whenever I transport this salad somewhere, I put the bacon bits in a little baggie, the rest of the ingredients in a covered bowl, and the dressing in a shaker container. Then I mix everything before serving so the salad is not too soggy.



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Weather Warnings

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 8.29.06 AM

Look at those lows, people! It’s time to start bringing in our houseplants and tropicals. (See this post’s section on First Steps of the Plant Dance for what to do.)

Also, it looks like we’re going to have a first frost alert here Friday. (See this post’s section on First Frost Alert for what to do.)

Sorry, family–it’s time to bring the jungle back inside!

Posted in Containers, Houseplants, Tips and Tools, Vegetables | Leave a comment

Here’s Flowers for You

First, it's all about the food--especially when I have time to plan and prepare a special meal for the occasion. I got this appetizer ready at home--cantaloupe wrapped with prosciutto and herbs (basils and mint) and even some edible flowers.

Using edible flowers at a Shakespeare picnic – 7/15/15

Here’s flowers for you;
Hot lavender, mints, savoury, marjoram;
The marigold, that goes to bed wi’ the sun
And with him rises weeping: these are flowers
Of middle summer, and I think they are given
To men of middle age.

William Shakespeare – The Winter’s Tale

I just LOVE edible flowers! Those of you who know me personally know that I also love to go to Shakespeare plays. Thus it’s natural that I should combine these two loves whenever I get a chance to have a picnic at an outdoor summer Shakespeare performance. We (husband, #2 son, and I) just enjoyed the first Shakespeare picnic of this season as we went to see First Folio‘s production of The Winter’s Tale. I hope these pictures give my fellow edible flower fans some inspiration for how to use your own blooms. (Click on a picture for the larger gallery view.)

Perfect evenings like this make me thankful to God, who created this amazing world, for the excellent gifts He has given, especially the creativity of humankind. It was an awesome delight to experience the art of the theater, the art of a great writer, and the art of food and presentation–all at the same time we were outside on a cool summer evening. This year’s summer Shakespeare season is off to a great start!

Recipes and Notes

I’ve made prosciutto wrapped cantaloupe before, but it was recipes like these two that inspired me to add the herbs (lemon basil, lime basil, Thai basil, and mint) and edible flowers (lemon gem marigolds, bachelor’s buttons, oregano) this time.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Melon with Mint & White Balsamic Vinegar

Cantaloupe and Mozzarella with Prosciutto and Basil

This recipe has become my go-to guide for making taco meat from any ground meat: Taco Lettuce Wraps. And this is the recipe that gave me the idea for taco pie, which is much easier to handle on a picnic than tacos: Easy Crescent Taco Bake.

The salad was all from my garden: kale, pea shoots, broccoli, snow peas, and radishes. The white flowers in there came off those same pea shoots.

The dessert I brought was actually a back up I pulled out of the freezer when I realized that the dessert I’d planned had failed. Either way, I wanted to use some of the raspberries my garden is producing so abundantly this year.

Raspberry-Cream Cheese Muffins

And I thought last year was a good year for raspberries! I'm getting even more this year. 6/27/15

And I thought last year was a good year for raspberries! I’m getting even more this year. 6/27/15

Those of you who are interested in the particular production we saw may want to read my husband’s review of it on his Bardwatching Facebook page.


Posted in Fruit, Herbs & Edible Flowers, Recipes | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Spring Ahead, Snow to a Stop

Before Spring Clean Up - 3/20/15

Before Spring Clean Up – 3/20/15

After Spring Clean Up - 3/23/15

After Spring Clean Up – 3/23/15

“In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love,” said Alfred Lord Tennyson. But WE all know that spring is when a gardener’s fancy turns to thoughts of planting! Spring is so short and fickle here in the midwest that I have to watch the weather reports and check my schedule carefully in order to use the few available good days as wisely as possible. And as for the snowy and rainy days, I just continue with my indoor seed starting projects.

Springing into Action - 3/16/15

Springing into Action – 3/16/15

Every spring is  challenge, and this spring was a greater challenge than normal because last fall was a failure.  We hardly had any fall at all here at Chez Rea, and the cold winter weather set in before we could do any fall clean up, let alone properly prepare the beds for winter. So I had to devote the first warm days this spring to garden clean up rather than early planting. I started in the backyard flower garden because I was most concerned that I had not cleaned up the peonies last fall. I went back later and sprinkled some Gardens Alive Soap-Shield around where the peonies would be coming up in the hopes of preventing powdery mildew. Perhaps this precaution will be sufficient as my peonies have not been prone to mildew. I remember only one year in the last ten or so that they really had a problem with it.

Herb Bed before Clean Up - 3/20/15

Herb Bed before Clean Up – 3/20/15

Herb Bed after Clean Up - 4/1/15

Herb Bed after Clean Up – 4/1/15

The next step, a few days later, was cleaning up the herb bed in the kitchen garden. This did not take too long. I was glad to see that the garlic I had planted last fall was coming up, and so were the chives and chamomile.

Then I worked on the front yard perennial garden. I got it done before the next snowfall (see pictures at top). One thing I did differently this year was to cut all the Annabelle hydrangeas down. I had tried that pruning technique last year on just the one Annabelle to the right of the front door, and sure enough it had bigger blooms last year. The whole thing flopped after a big rain, however, so this year I plan to put supports around the Annabelles before their branches get too big this time.

Snow Drops - 3/21/15

Snow Drops – 3/21/15

As I was cleaning up the front yard, I discovered snow drops already blooming, and I uncovered them. More things have been popping up since then.

Other Spring Activities

Planting Snow Peas! 4/6/15

Planting Snow Peas! 4/6/15

New Trellises for Beans

New Trellises for Beans

Meanwhile, my husband took some time off work and prepped all the kitchen garden beds for me. He also built new tuteurs for my bean vines. I seeded cool crops in the newly prepped kitchen garden beds, and I spread corn gluten over our lawn and–for the first time ever–the perennial kitchen garden beds: asparagus, strawberries, and raspberries. Another first for me was applying an organic dormant oil spray to my apple trees at green tip stage.

Watering New Transplants

Watering New Transplants

Indoors, I’ve kept working on seed starting: watering the babies, transplanting them into cells and small pots, and planting more seeds. Yesterday I set up the shade greenhouse tent and moved the hardiest seedlings out there to harden off–broccoli, shallots (more recently started because earlier ones kept inside have faded away) alyssum, and violas (the 8 precious viola plants I succeeded in starting this year). I also moved out the small trees started last year and–ta da!–the rosemary. Yes! This year’s rosemary challenge was a SUCCESS–my rosemary is still alive!

Plants in Shade Tent - 4/14/15

Plants in Shade Tent – 4/14/15

Newly Grafted Fruit Trees - 3/27/15

Newly Grafted Fruit Trees – 3/27/15

Spring is also a busy time for going to special gardening events. This year, as usual, I went to Joliet Garden Day, the Chicago Flower and Garden Show, and the Midwest Fruit Explorers grafting workshop. I didn’t actually stay for the workshop this year; I just picked up rootstock and scions and then grafted several Asian pear trees at home. I have also been going to my own garden club‘s meetings and speaking at others–giving my presentation on Organic Kitchen Garden Maintenance. I have honed it down so well since my first time giving a garden talk that my most excellent master gardener friend Donna has been publicizing it, and she got me in to do for the Southern Cook County Master Gardeners and the Orland Park Garden Club.

I have more pictures and information to share about all of these spring activities, but I have to get back into action. There are more seeds to be planted and more little sprouts to be transplanted. Let me know in the comments if you want me to post more about any topic in particular.

Posted in Herbs & Edible Flowers, Ornamentals, Seed Starting and Plant Propagation, Tips and Tools, Vegetables | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

ON SALE THIS WEEK: 16″ Self-Watering Pots–Good for Vegetables!



If you want to grow vegetables in containers, these 16″ pots on sale for $7.88 at Menards are a great deal. They’re nice and big and self-watering, too. Just keep in mind that “self-watering” does not mean you don’t have to water them–it means you won’t have to water them as often. Also note that consistent even watering would help to prevent blossom end rot in tomatoes.

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FREE TODAY ONLY–Square Foot Gardening book

FREE Today Only 2/18/15

FREE Today Only 2/18/15

HEADS UP! This beginner book about Square Foot Gardening is FREE TODAY ONLY here: Square Foot Gardening by Jennifer Cane.

You can download it to your smart phone or computer with one of Amazon’s free reading apps.

Missed it?

Don’t worry if you missed your chance to get this book for free. You can get lots of free (and better!) information about the Square Foot Gardening method just by googling “Square Foot Gardening.” Try it!


Posted in Vegetables | Leave a comment