Cool Stuff Is Out There!

Front Yard – 4/13/17

I’m so excited I have to shout it out: OUTSIDE PLANTING HAS BEGUN! Here are the things I did in the garden last Saturday, April 1, 2017–no fooling!

A Little TLC – Tender Lawn Care

First things first–the daffodils had been signaling for several days that it was time to put corn gluten on the lawn. I wish I’d done that before all the rain we had just had, but my schedule would not permit it. Our mostly-organic lawn is looking sadder this year, thanks to a new cable that was buried late last fall and to a couple patches of some grassy looking weed. I covered the whole back yard in just a few minutes with this bag from Ludwig’s Feed Store. While I’m not convinced that corn gluten could really help our lawn, I had to try something to keep weeds from sprouting up in the squiggly trail of dead grass created by that cable. I just couldn’t bring myself to start with an herbicide! Besides, it’s adding some nitrogen to my lawn.

First Outdoor Planting

Now to the fun stuff! It was a beautiful warm day, and I had only the afternoon to spend in my garden. This is what I did.

  1. First, I sprinkled lettuce seeds in between all the garlic coming up in the herb bed.

Russian Red garlic growing on the outer side of my Herbs & Edible Flowers bed. 4/1/17

2. Then I went inside and planned out this year’s kitchen garden. This was easily done because I keep blank copies of its layout in my garden journal. I just had to look through the last several years’ plans to determine where to rotate this summer’s vegetables.

Chez Rea Kitchen Garden Plan for 2017 – 4/1/17

Because I use succession planting to get the most out of my garden, I chose the future cucumber bed as the place to start my earliest planting. These cool crops should be done or ready to transplant by the time I’m ready to plant the cucumbers there.

3. Next I chose what to plant now. For this first planting, I was not too choosy about the seeds I used. I just wanted to get something in the ground as soon as possible! When I had begun sorting through my stash of seeds (That was on February 25–I know because my husband posted pictures of me.), I set aside all the cool season vegetable seeds. Then a few days before planting,  I noted which ones I was out of–kale and chard–and bought them. (Thank you, Menard’s seeds sale!)

I was just sorting through my seeds, not even planting yet.

These are the ones I started with this year: lettuce, arugula, radishes, kale (2 kinds), beets, and Swiss chard. If I had more than one package of anything, I looked at the dates on the packages and picked the older ones. I figured it would be best to use those first and that I would sow them thickly. This was just my first planting, so it’s O.K. if these plants do not do well due to poor weather or old seeds.

4. Back outside, I pulled the black plastic cover off the future cucumber bed. Then I used a bow rake to level the soil in that bed. This is where our method of putting the garden to bed really pays off! In late fall, my husband uses a digging fork to hand till free manure into the vegetable beds. (He got lamma manure the last two years!) Then he covers each bed with black plastic. All I have to do now in the spring is take the cover off and start planting. It’s a beautiful thing I tell you. (Recently in the Chicago Tribune I read an article that recommends this process we’ve been doing for years. How reaffirming!)

Cool crops planted in the future cucumber bed. 4/1/17

5. When I got close to finishing that bed, I realized–much to my surprise–that I would still have enough time left in my afternoon to plant snow peas, too. I let the beet seeds, chard seeds, and snow pea seeds all soak while I set up the pea fence in one of the future green bean beds. Because my time was limited, I decided to do just one bed for now. I plan to plant another line of snow peas in the other legume bed in a few weeks–another type of succession planting. I’ll compare how the two beds do this year to see if the snow peas’ growing season is lengthened.

Snow peas planted in one legumes bed – 4/1/17

After the snow pea supports were up, I finished planting the cool crops bed with the beet and chard seeds I had soaked. This gave the snow pea seeds, which are bigger, more time to soak. Then I planted the snow peas along their support fence. I had soaked too many seeds for the one row, so I planted the rest in a corner of the same bed to grow just for pea shoots. Those will be ready to harvest long before the other vines are producing any snow peas. More succession planting for the win!

6. The last step was to water everything I’d just planted. Our hose was not hooked up yet, so I used a watering can that I filled at our kitchen sink. I was glad that the weather report was predicting rain two days later–perfect timing!

Cool Crop Planting Started – 4/1/17

And more!

And that’s how this year’s kitchen garden began–outdoors, at least. Of course, I’ve been seed starting, taking cuttings, and overwintering things indoors. To prepare for hardening those plants off, I set up the “shade” greenhouse tent. Its new cover is from another tent I bought last year It’s cheaper to buy a whole new set than to buy just a replacement cover! Unfortunately, the new shelf’s cover was not long enough so I had to wrap a frost cover blanket around the bottom. That should work, right?

Greenhouse shelf tent set up in shady corner – 4/1/17

Shade greenhouse tent – 4/11/17










After a great afternoon of working in the garden, I went inside to make dinner–using a package of last year’s broccoli from the freezer. How COOL is that!

Broccoli–from garden to table almost year round! – 4/1/17

When to Plant Outdoors

Theoretically, I could have started planting outside earlier.  Cool crops are the ones that can be planted “in spring as soon as the ground can be worked.” That’s usually in March for me because the soil under the black plastic in my raised beds is warmer and drier than the rest of the ground.

It also helped to know that rain was coming in a couple days.

In practice, however, I also have to wait until my schedule is open on a day with suitable weather. As you may recall, I’d already used a couple days of good weather this year to do other outside tasks, such as pruning and cleaning up. Thus it wasn’t until last Saturday that I had nice weather and a free afternoon for starting those cool season vegetables.

If you are looking for general guidelines on planting dates for your area, plug your last spring frost date into a seed starting/planting calculator. Then look up the vegetables you wish to plant and see what dates are recommended for transplanting (or sowing for direct seeding) outside–that’s the last column on the right. If you’re in the Chicago area, this master gardener chart of planting dates is a very handy reference for indoor seed starting as well as planting outdoors.

Because the weather is different every year, for more specific recommendations you should go by soil temperature (not air temperature) of the area you’ll be planting. If you do not have a soil thermometer and you live in Illinois, you could get an idea of your area’s soil temperatures here. Even if you have a soil thermometer, you should check local soil monitoring data to see how low the soil temperature gets at night. (I’m assuming you’re not going out there to measure it yourself at 3 A.M.) For this first planting, I was not too worried about soil temperatures. That will be more important when I’m getting ready to set out warm season vegetables.

What’s Next

Shallot seedlings in shade greenhouse tent – 4/10/17

As soon as possible, I should get some onion sets and start planting them. Oh, and speaking of onions, I also need to plant these shallots that I started from seed (3/9/17). They’ve been out in that shade tent the last week. I know I started this type of seeds successfully a couple years ago, but I don’t remember anything coming of them. Perhaps I’d started them too early back then (first week of January) and couldn’t get them into the ground soon enough.  I’ve been very successful with growing leeks from grass blade size seedlings like these. In fact, I still have some of last year’s leeks in the freezer.  It’s easier, of course, to grow shallots from sets, which is what I did the last two years; but someone gave me these seeds several years ago, and I have to keep trying. We’ll see what happens!

Broccoli seedlings under grow lights – 4/10/17

Broccoli is another plant that I usually grow that could go out early. I’m afraid I was late in starting it from seed this year. (3/30/17–a month late! What was I thinking?) As you can see, I’m trying out a new little Burpee self-watering seed starter tray. It looks like I’ll have to buy broccoli seedlings again this year.  Maybe I could plant these seedlings outside later in the summer for a fall crop. I just have to decide where. Planting it between the earlier broccoli, which I tried in 2011, did not work. The bigger plants shaded the baby ones too much, and they did not grow well.

In a few weeks, I hope to plant the other row of snow peas plus another succession of these other cool crops. Cool beans! I mean–peas!

UPDATE 4/13/17:

Today I noticed that several of those seeds I planted have popped up. So far I see snow peas, kale, and radishes.

Snow peas have germinated. 4/13/17

Kale and radishes have popped up. 4/13/17





Today is also the day I planted those shallots I started from seeds. I decided to try them along the edge of the asparagus bed.

Planted shallots.  – 4/13/17

Shallots at edge of asparagus bed – 4/13/17

What’s in Bloom at Chez Rea




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What’s in Bloom at Chez Rea

Just a quick peek . . .

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Look Who SHOWed Up!

Here is my report on the 2017 Chicago Flower & Garden Show. All that preparation paid off, and we had a great time.

First Impressions

Before we even had our group photo taken, April noticed the fragrance of this lovely white rose, Sugar Moon. Ahhh!

Display Gardens

I’ll start with my favorite: “Upcycle Your Outdoor Rooms.” If you follow me on Pinterest, you know I love recycling things for the garden.

The sound and motion at this corner of Aquascape’s display (pictured below) inspired me to try my first “Facebook Live” video. (If that doesn’t shoot me into social media fame, I don’t know what will!)

Outside corner of Aquascape’s display garden – 3/24/17

Posted LIVE from the garden show!

As fun as the cascading water and chains were, they are beyond the reach of most mere mortals. Aquascape always shows a wide range of their products. I liked this example of a nice little fountain one could do in front of a small house. Wouldn’t that look sweet in my front yard?

For my favorite Cubs fan, the handyman husband, I have to include a picture of the World Series Cubs Tribute garden. GO CUBS!

Presented by Moore Landscape and Dekker Chrysanthemums

Nothing else really struck me in the display gardens. As my gardener friends and I have noted for the last few years, the garden show is not what it used to be. It seems like there are fewer and/or smaller display gardens and not many “wows.”

Other Features

Seminars – Depending on how well the topics of the day fit your interests, the seminars can be the highlight of the show. This turned out to be true for me this year: I went to three and enjoyed them all. My favorite was Carol Chicorski’s “These Are a Few of Our Favorite Things.” She had asked all the gardeners she knows, famous or not, what their favorite garden things are and shared their responses with us. Besides the lovely plant recommendations (that I tend to forget about later–alas!), I’ve added a new garden tool to my wish list: the Root Slayer.  After listening to another speaker, Gina Iliopoulos, I’ve decided that I must stop using black colored mulch in my front yard bed even though I love how it looks.  The best replacement would be shredded leaf mulch, but I do not know of a local source (yet).

As for the speakers on the main floor, I avoided those because they were aimed at beginner gardeners. We could hear the speaker at the Gardening Live stage as we walked through the display gardens. Diane noted that he just kept talking about himself–not about gardening! What little advice I overheard was simplistic (how to water houseplants) and lame (“Compost will fix most of your garden diseases.”).

Chef Martial Noguier, Executive Chef and owner of Bistronomic

Cooking Demonstrations – I love to go to cooking classes! It’s much better than watching cooking shows on TV because you actually get to taste the food you’re seeing the chefs make. I made it to only one Garden Gourmet session, and I was relieved to find it was much better than the one my friends had gone to earlier. (They were quite disappointed because they could not understand the chef, printed recipes were not available, and–worst of all–they got NO SAMPLES!) I enjoyed watching Chef Noguier and his wife from Bistronomic show us how to make Broccoli Velouté, and we each got the recipe and a delightful (and garlicky) sample to taste.

Scented geraniums from Ted’s Greenhouse

Vendors – I did not buy anything from the vendors this year. Only my husband would consider that to be a good sign! In the past I’ve bought jewelry made with dried flowers, ornamental stuff for the garden, bulbs to plant (those did not work out well for me), and one year I found the vendor from whom I would later buy my rain barrels. Friends of mine have bought gutters, wheeled tote bags, hose nozzles and other garden tools. This year we bought nothing!

Ted’s Greenhouse had a lot of good stuff, but there’s no reason for me to buy things they’ve carted to Navy Pier only to cart it all the way back home when their nursery is just a few miles from us. (Let the north siders do that.) I do love their scented geraniums! That is where I bought the replacement for my lemon-rose geraniums when they died.

Other Takeaways – I always enjoy the tablescapes at the Flower & Garden Show because I love entertaining and creating pretty displays at home. The two things that caught my eye, however, were not on the tables. The bicycle covered with Juicy Fruit wrappers reminds me of the bikes in my kitchen garden. The strings of plain lightbulbs draped on a brick wall might be a good idea for our basement, which we’re (still) remodeling. I didn’t see a source for those lights, but I think they were like these Smith & Hawkin Drop String Lights.

This is what my garden bikes looked like last summer (before they were covered with cucumber vines and then later swallowed up  by nasturtiums). I’m thinking about painting them completely lime green. What do you think?

I used bikes as cucumber trellises. – 6/21/16

We did not have any children with us, but the Kids’ Activities looked fun (Shout out to the Master Gardeners! I miss the days when they did a display garden.) As for the Potting Parties–I don’t know. I’ve never tried them: the additional cost hinders me. Plus, I don’t want to deal with getting my arrangement home in good condition. (Remember, our car was full of people!) But it’s obviously an attractive part of the show so if you’re interested, go for it!

More Pictures and More Garden Shows

This is the first time in several years that I’ve managed to report on the show here. (The last time was in 2012.) That’s because this is a very busy time of year as my seed starting is in full swing. I usually don’t have time to sort through the many pictures I take–let alone write about them!

That said, I’m experimenting with another way to share all those other pictures whether I ever get around to writing about them or not. I’ve created a Shutterfly share site called The Gardener Wife. (That’s how my husband refers to me in his Facebook posts. I like it!) Feel free to go there and check it out. Tell me what you think! That is where I’ve posted all my pictures from this garden show.

If I like how this works out, I may go back and post pictures from past garden shows and garden walks.



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A Warm Winter’s Tale

We have had an unusually warm winter this year, including several days of highs in the 50s. But winter is not over! I went back to wearing my winter coat this weekend, and we are expecting snow tonight and tomorrow. The predicted low in a couple days is 10 degrees. This is worrisome to all in our area who have seen plants start to pop up and grow buds much earlier than normal for our area. Everyone is asking what they should do to protect their plants.

Winter Protection

Of course, I’m not going to do anything for the snowdrops pictured at the top of this post. After all, it’s their job to bloom when it’s cold and snowy. What may surprise you is that I’m not going to do anything for the other plants that have started popping up–not even those wonderful Gladiator bulbs that I planted just last fall. (Yes, I was quite thrilled to find them on clearance and finally add these purple beauties to my garden. I do hope they’ll still grow and bloom this year.) All I did was put back the black plastic covers that had blown off several vegetable beds and put the cover on my grill.

The main reason I’ve decided to do nothing is that I’m a lazy gardener–at least when it comes to my ornamentals. In the fall when I have tender vegetables and herbs out there, you may see me covering things up as I try to prolong the harvest. I’ll even cover up or bring inside a good number of ornamental containers to keep the flower bestrewn deck looking as good as possible. But right now, I’m more concerned about my indoor gardening progress. I just don’t want to mess around with these silly plants outside that don’t realize winter is far from over. Come on, kids: we’ve had BLIZZARDS in APRIL!

By the way, this is how things looked outside three years ago TODAY (3/12/17).

Another reason I’ve decided to do nothing now is that this coming snow is actually going protect my plants when the temperature dips even lower afterwards. Why should I work to cover everything when nature is going to do it for me? As for what the weather will do after that–well, I can’t predict it or stop it. Will everything bloom as normal this spring? Probably not! I doubt those Tete-a-Tete daffodils that have already developed buds are going to make it into bloom this year. If any of those buds had opened up and bloomed already (some of my friends’ daffodils have), I’d bring them inside as cut flowers. Or leave them! Like the snowdrops, flowers that bloom in early spring should be able handle some snow and cold.

Shari P.’s daffodils are already blooming! – 3/11/17

Early Spring Clean Up

I’m not sorry we’ve had a warm winter, and I’m not sorry I got a jump on my spring garden clean up a couple weeks ago. I know, I know–I could’ve left the dried plant material out there longer as another layer of protection. Since I always have a lot of work to do with the kitchen garden in spring, I decided it was worth the risk to get some clean up done now. I cleaned up both the herb bed and the front yard perennial garden, leaving only the dried hydrangeas for continued winter interest.

I also finally got around to using the pile of mulch from the ash tree we had cut down. As planned, I put it all in the asparagus bed. It has been out there so long that the mulch has broken down and looks like compost. And now the area where the mulch had been sitting, on top of tarp, is all cleared of grass and weeds. It’s ready to plant this spring–or whenever I can get around to it.  I’d like to put some large hostas back here. Little by little, I’ll keep adding onto this bed.

It probably would have been good to add more mulch around those gladiator bulbs and the other things I planted last fall. (If you planted anything new last summer or fall and didn’t mulch it yet, now would be a good time.) I can never do everything that would be good to do for my garden. I did the things that I was inclined to do and that I had time to do. We’ll see how it all turns out this year.

Normal Winter Tasks

Meanwhile, I’ve been carrying on with my usual winter gardening–and falling behind in my usual way, too. I brought many plants inside to overwinter. I made more ornamental containers for outdoors. I have continued cooking and using the wonderful harvest from my garden.  I’ve begun seed starting and taking cuttings, and this year I tried a little winter sowing, too.  I’d like to record more details about those activities, but I’ll have to save that for another post.


This has been a strange winter, and time will tell how it will affect our gardens this year. I’m thankful for what I was able to do, and I won’t fret over this next round of snow and cold. It is what it is! Keep calm and garden on.

Post-Snow Update – 3/13/17

For any who are curious, I took a few pictures today after the snow. It was a very light snow. I hope it’s enough to protect my plants when the lows go down to 10-15 degrees!

I also took a photo of the kitchen garden. It looks like one of the bed covers I put back yesterday has opened back up a little. We had high winds a while back that had pulled off several of the black plastic covers stapled to the vegetable beds. I covered them back up yesterday and tried to weight them down with whatever was handy.

Kitchen Garden in Late Winter – 3/13/17

Meanwhile inside the house today I did one small seed starting project (potting the first tomato sprouts up into cell packs). I’m also getting the inside of my house decorated for spring. Goodbye, snowmen! Hello, chickens!

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Go like a Pro to the Garden Show!

At the 2016 Chicago Flower & Garden Show - Diane, Gayle, me (yours truly), and April

At the 2016 Chicago Flower & Garden Show – Diane, Gayle, me (yours truly), and April

It’s time to get ready for this year’s Chicago Flower and Garden Show! I think this year’s theme is particularly good: Chicago’s Blooming.  It’s all about urban gardening, folks, and I love it! My dad was the best urban gardener on the north side of Chicago.  I’ve gone for many years and learned all the ropes. Here are my tips.

Buy Your Tickets NOW

…and don’t pay full price! Groupon is offering them for nearly half off, plus right now (2/24/17) you can get another 20% off with this sale code: SALE3.

NOTE TO THRIFTY GARDENERS: Before you buy these or anything else from Groupon, sign in through Ebates to get another 6% in cash back later. New members could use my link here to get a $10 BONUS—WOW!

The Groupon deal has been the best one available for the last several years, and it requires buying your tickets in pairs. That’s a good thing because you want to go with friends. Not only do you save money by going together (you could split the expensive Navy Pier parking cost, too), but you’ll always learn more and have more fun.

Gayle got plant recommendations from the master gardeners in our group.

Gayle got plant recommendations from the master gardeners in our group.

Plan Ahead for the Day

Here is my plan for this year:

WE MEET BY 9:30 AM at my house. (That means you can come earlier, but please no later than 9:30.) The show opens at 10 AM. The first seminar is at 11 AM (the last one is at 5 PM), and the first cooking demo is at 11:30 AM (the last one is at 6:30 PM).

I recommend packing snacks/lunches as well as bringing money for food and shopping with the vendors. There are plenty of lunch options there (including a nice deal from Riva’s–fancy!), but I personally prefer getting to as many seminars and cooking demos as possible, and that leaves little time for lunch. 
Once there, you can each go to whichever seminars and cooking demos you want; and whenever you’re not doing that, you could visit the gardens and vendors. Pace yourself however you like! We could meet at 3 PM, at the entrance garden perhaps, to touch base. We’ll compare notes and see if we all got to see everything yet and which, if any, of the remaining talks and demos we want to attend. (That 5 PM one does sound interesting!) We could also decide then what to do for dinner. There are many nice new eating places on Navy Pier that I’d like to try.
We should be ready to drive back home in the early evening, hopefully after rush hour traffic has died down.
Looking forward to this adventure!

Additional Tips

  • Wear comfortable walking shoes. You’ll be doing a lot of walking.
  • Bring a sweater or light jacket. It’s usually a bit chilly in the showroom, but you might want to remove this layer at times.
  • BRING A DIGITAL CAMERA! I like to take MANY pictures. Pro Tip: I also take notes with my camera by using it to take pictures of plant labels and other signs on display.  Speaking of pictures, I prefer to take pictures of the garden displays in the late afternoon, when they are usually less crowded. (That may change, of course, if everyone starts following my tips here.)
  • Bring one water bottle, preferably in some kind of carrier so you don’t have to carry it. You could refill it, as needed, at the water fountain down the hall outside the showroom. Sorry, there are no fountains inside the showroom–that’s why I’m telling you to carry a water bottle.
  • Bring a light daypack. Pack a pen and paper in it, as well as your lunch and snacks.  Throughout the day you will use it to stash the brochures, recipes, and notes you’ll collect, and perhaps any small purchases you make.

I like to go as hands free as possible.  If you look closely at the picture at the top of this post, you’ll see backpack straps on my shoulders. (OK, maybe you won’t. They’re hard to see because I was using a backpack with a blue flowery design, and it blended in with my blue–a different shade of blue–flowery jacket. I like blue flowery stuff!) You’ll also see that my purse/phone, camera (blue camera in a blue case, of course), and water bottle are all hanging from my waist. That’s the way to go like a pro to the garden show!

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A Cut Above

img_3548We had another couple days of unusually warm weather for winter, up in the 50s, earlier this week. Since I was home on Monday and it wasn’t raining (like it was going to the next day), I decided it was time to do this winter’s dormant pruning. I used to wait until my husband was available so he could use his reciprocating saw to cut through any branches that were too thick for my bypass loppers. Now I use this nice QuickSaw and can do all the pruning myself. This is one of the tools I got when I won the Corona Tools Fathers Day Giveaway several years ago.

Pruning Lilac

BEFORE Pruning Lilac - 2/6/17

AFTER Pruning Lilac – 2/6/17

AFTER Pruning Lilac - 2/6/17

BEFORE Pruning Lilac – 2/6/17






Above are the before and after pictures of the lilac I pruned. This lilac has come along very well since I got it years ago from my friend April when her family was moving from one home to another. It was small and had grown a little crooked, so it was a good fit for this corner of my cottage garden bed. In fact, it was exactly what my garden plan called for! (I’d adapted it from one of the garden plans then on the Better Homes & Gardens website.)

After the lilac blooms, the spent flowers should be cut off. - 4/27/16

After the lilac blooms, the spent flowers should be cut off. – 4/27/16

From the beginning, I did a good job of pruning the spent blooms away after it had bloomed. That is the proper time to prune all spring blooming shrubs to avoid accidentally removing the next year’s blooms. However, it was not until I was taking Master Gardener classes that I learned I was pruning the trunks wrong–I had been trying to keep the thicker trunks in the middle. I learned that lilac is a multi-stemmed shrub, not a tree, and that the thickest and oldest trunks were the ones I should remove to keep the plant renewed and happy. Little by little I’ve done that every year since then. Granted, this is not the best time of year to be pruning the lilac; but without all the foliage on it, I could better see what remained to be done. I removed the last three thick trunks that were left. You could watch a good explanation and demonstration of what I’ve been doing here: How to Prune a Lilac Bush.

Finally my lilac is in much better shape and condition although I wish I’d been able to get closer to the ground with many of those cuts. (See the mushrooms–turkey tail mushrooms I think–growing on one of its stumps in the picture below.) From now on I plan to keep up with renewal pruning every year after it blooms.

Mushrooms are now growing on one of the stumps left from a previous year's pruning.

Mushrooms are now growing on one of the stumps left from a previous year’s pruning.

The area under that lilac, by the way, is where I intend to put my A Midsummer Night’s Dream themed miniature garden. (As you may already know, I’m a huge Shakespeare fan, so I HAD to pick that theme for my own fairy garden!) Over the last couple years I began clearing away the older plants down there, and I planted some miniature hostas and moss in there. I’ve already collected several lovely treasures for this special corner, and hopefully this will be the year I finally arrange them and set up this fairy garden.

Pruning Mock Orange

BEFORE pruning mock orange shrubs - 2/6/17

BEFORE pruning mock orange shrubs – 2/6/17

AFTER pruning mock orange shrubs - 2/6/17

AFTER pruning mock orange shrubs – 2/6/17







I have not done a good job of pruning the mock orange every year after it flowered. The truth is, I was never very thrilled by this shrub even though it, too, was recommended by the cottage garden plan I originally used for this bed. I even tried planting a reflowering mock orange in front of it, hoping I’d find it more appealing. It wasn’t. It did not flower any more or any better than the older shrub behind it. Now that I have a nice asparagus bed to the right of it, I want to remove that larger shrub  (maybe both shrubs) so the asparagus could get a little more afternoon sun. Therefore, I pruned it back a lot, more than I usually would, so that it would be easier to dig it up this spring. If anyone wants a mock orange, come and get it! The first one to come and dig it up can keep it. Seriously! I might even be willing to give the smaller one away, too, if there’s a call for it.

Pruning Apple Trees

Figuring out how to take care of my organic fruit trees has not been easy, and I do not consider myself an expert–especially when it comes to pruning. These four apple trees are indeed my babies because I grafted them myself at a Midwest Fruit Explorers grafting workshop seven years ago. (Actually, I had a lot of help from older members–and that may explain why all my subsequent attempts at grafting have not done so well. Anyway, that’s a story for another post.) I grafted four apple trees, and three of the grafts took. I planted all four of the trees and then tried to fix that fourth tree a couple years later with a cleft graft, but that didn’t take either. I was, however, successful three years ago when I did regular whip grafts on several branches of the trees with scions of several different varieties. I call that my Frankenapple tree now.  (I’m going to have to do that again with the tree whose trunk snapped below the graft this last year.) Here is what those trees look like now.

I ended up not pruning them now after all.  I’ve decided to wait until closer to the next grafting workshop. Then I could use the trimmings for grafting practice. I might even use any suckers that I could pull up with some root attached as free rootstock for grafting new trees.

Oh, and there’s still the little pear tree by the side fence! It actually fell over last summer because it had so much fruit on it. (It was staked and tied up, but it broke its ties.) I plan to move it this year because I’ve decided I don’t trust the neighbor’s lawn care service. Why should I put all this effort into growing organic pears only to have my tree absorb whatever fertilizers and pesticides the neighbor is putting on his lawn? I should probably prune that tree a bit, too, before I attempt moving it this spring.

Pear Tree - to be moved

Pear Tree – to be moved

Those trimmings would also be useful when comes time to try grafting again next month. What I really should be working on is cleaning of the work table and potting bench in my utility room so I could get started on seed starting. Hopefully my little box of grafting supplies would turn up!

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New Year–New Tool

img_3494Happy New Year! Have you made any New Year’s resolutions for 2017? If one of your resolutions is to exercise more, then you might be interested in one of my all time favorite gardening tools: a set of exercise videos. Yes–that’s what she said!

I know, I know–here you thought all along that gardening WAS exercise. And you were right. The truth is that gardening is so much exercise that it’s necessary to warm up first. I have found that my exercise videos are the perfect warm up for whatever activity the day holds for me, but they are especially necessary when I’m going to do any serious gardening.

There was a period after I had a sprained back years ago that I had to wear a soft back brace whenever I was doing a lot of walking, gardening, or other work. Then I found what turned out to be the best basic exercise regime for me: Wai Lana’s “Easy Series” of 3 VHS tapes. I began doing them 3-5 times a week, and I was thrilled that I no longer had to wear a thick layer of elastic when working and sweating outside on a hot summer day. I’ve adapted the routines to help deal with other issues that came along, and I added other exercises like bike riding or strength training when I wanted more. I’ve been able to stick with these videos for 15 years because they are easy to do–so easy that I hope I’ll still be doing them when I’m in my 80s if, Lord willing, I’m still around.

And speaking of the Lord, I would like to point out that I am NOT practicing yoga.* I am simply doing exercises, many of which are used in a wide variety of physical therapy and exercise programs. However, I’m well aware that Wai Lana IS teaching yoga, especially in the supplemental material before and after the exercise portions. Since this eastern philosophy is unbiblical, I ignore it–no meditation (or “mindfulness” as they now call it) for me, thank you. Now with DVDs, I don’t even have to fast forward through the “ancient yoga sound meditation” chants at the end of the exercises.  I could not simply ignore the yoga philosophy if I went to an actual yoga class, so that is one more reason I prefer using these videos.

A couple months ago, one of my exercise tapes got chewed up in the VCR, so I knew it was time to get the DVD set. Thanks to a CyberWeek sale, I ended up getting another set, too, “Yoga for Everyone,” so now I have 6 DVDs to work with. New Year–new tool!

How to Find the Tool for You

Like other favorite garden tools, the exercises program that works best for me may not be the one for you. Here’s what I did to find mine–maybe these tips will help you!

  1. I checked out every exercise video in my library’s borrowing system that had words like “easy” or “toning” in the title or description. Use whatever key words fit your preferences. NOTE: If videos are not your style, check out classes at libraries, churches, park districts, and medical centers in your area as well as at fitness centers. If classes aren’t your style, look for sports or training programs you’d like to try–lifting weights, running, biking, swimming, tennis, racquetball–anything.  If you need motivation, hire a personal trainer and/or sign up for a race or other sports competition.
  2. I tried all those videos out. If you’re taking any of the suggestions in the above note, you will be trying out other things. I had already tried several other kinds of exercise over the years. Now with little ones at home, I just wanted an easy video that didn’t require working with someone else’s schedule. Some videos I rejected quickly (Aerobics? Ugh. I wasn’t ready to stick with that!), and others, especially one in particular, I kept coming back to.
  3. I bought the video. Mine happened to be part of a 3-pack set, but if yours is not, you should look for similar ones to go with it. Believe me: it helps to have some variety. (Now I have even more variety with the second set–which, by the way, I tried out first by borrowing DVDs from the library.)
  4. Do it! The more I did mine, the better I felt. And that is truly what has kept me motivated to keep doing these videos several times every week. I don’t always feel like doing my exercises, but I often do them anyway because I know I’ll feel better after I do them.
  5. Move up a level when you’re ready, or adapt the program to meet your changing needs. Instead of moving up to a harder level, I added light weights to my routine. To do that properly, I got a video on doing yoga with weights from–you guessed it–the library. I watched and did that a few times in order to figure out how to incorporate weights into my own exercises. When I wanted to add aerobics, I took up bike riding–not running. (I don’t like running; it does not make me feel good. One of the keys to the success of my program is that the exercises make me feel good.) After I had frozen shoulder last year, I cut the weights out and eventually incorporated extra shoulder exercises into my routines.

The stretching and twisting exercises on my videos are the perfect preparation for a long day of physical activity in the garden. I’m thankful I found exercises that work well for me, and I hope you’re inspired to keep looking until you find ones that will help you enjoy your own garden more.

*NOTE: If you’re wondering why I stick to Wai Lana’s physical exercises and would never practice or promote yoga as a spiritual discipline, please read Albert Mohler’s article, “The Subtle Body–Should Christians Practice Yoga?” and his follow up comments.


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