Thursday, April 20, 2017

Taffy the Duck Returns:  When Ducks nest in the Garden

Ponds attract wildlife and the pond in our yard is no exception .  It seems like as soon as we installed it we started seeing more raccoons, skunks, frogs, and ducks.  The ducks seem to only show up in the spring and usually it is a couple that hangs out around the pond midday and then goes somewhere else at night.  One year we had "Quack" who ignored the pond completely and just sat on the roof squawking his fool head off.  We figured he wanted to get into the pond but was too dumb or something.  The past three years we have had a female start nests in the yard.  One year the nighttime varmits got her nest.  Last year she abandoned it.  This year she is back again, nesting behind the rose bush under the eaves.  We call her Taffy.

Taffy was pretty smart with her nest selection.  She is located behind a fence, safe from dogs and coyotes and is under the eaves against a brick wall safe from rain.  She is close to water as well.  For awhile we thought maybe she was a bad mom because she would leave the nest everyday around 4pm and not come back until after dark.  It turns out that this is totally normal behavior.  Mallards like Taffy lay one egg a day and do not stay seated on them until they have about 8 eggs.  Once 8 are laid, then she will sit longer, just leaving to get food and water for short periods of time.  The incubation period does not start with the first egg, it starts with the last egg laid and the eggs dont start incubating until she starts staying on the nest.  This allows all the eggs to hatch within a day of each other!  

I'm not exactly sure when Taffy started laying.  I think it has been about two weeks now.  She is cramping my style a little bit in that our patio is very busy in the spring with seedling care and pond start up.  I'm trying not to but her to much, but when I go out there she seems to tolerate me moving slowly and methodically and doing things like skimming the pond and feeding the koi.

It would be so cool to have baby ducks but I am a bit worried about that.  Ducks are pretty messy and I would rather not have a whole flock calling the pond home.  I also am worried about baby ducks getting harassed by the koi which are pretty big these days.  Ah well we will see what happens,  I am enjoying having her hanging around regardless.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Return from Singapore

Last night I returned from a seven day business trip to Singapore.  It is a fascinating country.  Incredibly hot and humid and bustling with about 6 million people all on a small island.  The leaders of the country a number of years ago set out to make it a "green" country, as it was originally rainforest that amuses me but still I cannot help but admire the fact that a huge percentage of their buildings have roof and inter building gardens planted with huge trees and lush tropical plants.  English is the primary language spoken there and it is extremely safe to wander around, so I spent a large part of the trip seeing their main gardens including Gardens by the Bay and the Singapore Botanical Gardens.  The Botanical Gardens were my favorite, filled with acre after acre of weird and wonderful trees and plants plus the most amazing orchid collection I have ever seen.  Of all the plants I saw on this trip, my favorite was the cannonball tree.  This oddity looks like a regular tree when it is young, then, when it matures it sprouts these alien looking spiky vines all over its trunk.  The vines flower with about 5 inch strange orange blossoms.  The blossoms, once pollinated make huge heavy cannonball fruit!.  The fruit are so significant this trees can't be planted near the road or baablooey!.

While I saw many interesting trees in Singapore what struck me the most was that almost all of the bedding plants were familiar to me.  I see these ever spring in my favorite nurseries.  I was not aware just how many "annuals" in our nurseries were tropical plants propagated for a few month stint in colder climates.  I guess this should have been more obvious to me.  It bugs me for reasons I really can't really explain, but now that I have this awareness, I will be paying a little closer attention to what I'm buying for the decorative beds.

I'm grateful for the opportunity to see this country.  I appreciate the effort the country is making around conservation messaging and found the buildings to be amazing.  It was incredibly hot there (94 degrees at 5am) and I learned from the citizens it has been getting hotter.  I worry about countries like this.  The sea around it is very polluted, the land has no real resources and the population continues to expand quickly.  I wonder what would happen if trade were blocked here.  I wonder why more is not being done to clean up the waters.  Trees on buildings are great but pretty much all of their rainforest they have cut down except for a tiny patch in the gardens and a bit of land on an outlying island.  I left there with mixed feelings.  Would I like to live there?  No.  They are far too cautious for this quirky and experimental American girl.  Did I think I was an interesting place to visit very different from the Usa and Europe?  Yes definitely.  It is a cool place for plant lovers to see?
Yes and no.  Its primarily urban cityscape but a day in the botanical gardens there is certainly something worth seeing if you are in the area.

Sunday, March 19, 2017


The snow is gone.  The ice on the pond is melted. The gazillion oak leaves that were embedded in the ice on the pond have sunk to the bottom and begun their transition into stink goo.

I cannot actually go out and look around  the yard as everything is too wet.
What I can do is look out the window to evaluate the carnage....hmm

OK thats done.  Its... bad.  
Pity I can't go out and fix any of that today.  I love the windchill when its 45 out!  
Poor me will have to instead spend the afternoon on the couch, under fuzzy blankets reading.

A review of other blogs out there is showing pristine perfection at- well everywhere.  
One day I will learn to garden so that mine also looks pristine.  Until that time, I think I will go lop the heads off the onion seedlings to gain some satisfaction.

Seedling Update March 19

Weather:  sunny  45F
Temp in pop up greenhouse at noon, 84 degrees

Seedling updates:

Tomatoes:  all but three cells up, replanted those cells a week ago with a new variety.  Plants thriving, stocky, with first set true leaves.  Got weak organic balanced fertilizer this weekend.

Peppers:  Six are up, all fresher seed.  Replanted the rest this week.  Weak fertilization given and replanted cells without sprouts.  Not on bottom heat and doing OK

Basil:  100% up.  Starting to thin.

Eggplant:  One up with no bottom heat.  replanted the rest.

Lettuce; cauliflower and most broccoli:  its all up, now with first set true leaves.  Days and some nights outside in popup greenhouse now.  Thinned

Purple peacock broccoli:  10% germination.  replanted.

Onions and Shallots.  Old seed.  Doing terrible.  about 50% up.  replanted.  Germination testing on two seed packs.  Got a haircut and weak fertilizer this weekend

Chard:  100% but leave style seems variable.  May need to partially replant to get the colors I want

Celery:  Up but not thriving.  Replanted

Purple potato seed:  10% survival.  Out of seed.  I bought seedling potatoes for this year will go back to fresh seeds next year.

Various flowers:  Stretched and about 50% germination.  Need to be replanted.

Chamomile:  0% germination.  tossed seed pack and replanted with fresh seed.

Malbar spinach.  Up and looks OK

Stevia:  100% germination but all died.  Will not replant.

I have to go to Singapore for business for a week soon.  I don't really trust the spouse and the teenagers to take care of the seedlings so the next ten days will be all about getting everyone optimized for a week of neglect.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

2017 Tomato Selection

    I really like tomatoes but only in summer and only those open pollinated varieties bred for great     optimum flavor.  In my opinion there is no point in spending time growing your own tomatoes if the varieties you select are meh in flavor, and meh in texture.  Great tasting tomatoes are so good that in the summer I have been know to make up a quick batch of low cook salsa and just eat the bowl of salsa for lunch.  No chips required.

Compared to the willy nilly selection I often do with other varieties of vegetables, I spend a lot of time picking my tomato varieties each year.  I do most of my research at Tomatoville which is the best planting community on the internet.  There is no comparison.  The expert breeders hang out here, the community does its own experimentation and they share results and often seeds freely.  If you do some reading and want to read about tomatoes you heard about and what zones of the country are growing them, the best place it Tatianas Tomatobase wiki.  Warning.  There are thousands and thousands of varieties here from all over the world.  Its the most comprehensive list of tomatoes you will find with excellent reviews.  You can spend hours or in my case days here.

I planted my 2017 varieties a few weeks ago.  They are up and looking great.  Here is who made the cut for 2017 and why.

Chocolate Stripes:  Favorite tomato Pictured above.  I plant it every year.  It grows great for me here (Chicago burbs).Its gorgeous but more important it tastes great produces well, resists diseases better than others and does really care about our whacky weather.

Gajo de Melon: Favorite cherry  This is a very productive, very sweet cherry.  The fruits are sort of red and orange swirled together.  It stays on the vine (unlike sungold) and tastes awesome right off the vine.  Fruit flies LOVE this one so dont leave it hanging on the counter.

All of these have good to great taste in common.  Other awesome qualities are noted.

Amazon Chocolate  black tomato, very rich complex taste.  Up to a pound.
Illini Star  Earlier, does not crack, no BER, does fine in high heat, very productive, smaller size
Sherrys Sweet Heart  slightly pointy end but not really a heart.  Delicious sweet flavor 
Anna Russian heirlom pink, early for a heart.  productive for a heart.  delicious. wispy leaves
Marizol Bratka aka Purple Brandywine:  Very big, rich and productive for a brandywine.  Big plant
Katja from siberia, early producer of big pink 1 pound fruit.  Productive

Pork Chop:   Favorite Yellow tomato  True yellow with faint green strips, citusy notes.  medium

Indian Stripe Maroon purple with green shoulders, high yields, outstanding rich, sweet flavor
Shuntuski Veilikan  Russian.  Huge fruit.  Earlier.  good for short seasons.  Excellent taste
Midnight in Moscow  Russian.  purple/black medium fruit with excellent flavor

Persimmon: Favorite Orange tomato:  Persnickety as a seedling but worth it.  High yield, delicious

Darbys Orange and Red:  Earlier.  Medium Red with Orange stripes.  Tasty  
Eva PurpleBall  x Big Beef  Productive disease resistant.  My seeds F3 so not yet stable

Forest Fire:  Favorite Early:  Early, 60 Days with very good flavor and productivity.   

Crnkovic Yugoslavian:  mid-season.  reliable.  large pink sweet beefsteaks, excellent flavor
Hege German Pink:  Big pink very tasty
Black from Tula:  Heirloom from Ukraine.  Brownish red.  Very dense foliage.  Rich taste

Woolly Kate:  Favorite Weirdo:  Rare:  Yellow with purple shoulders and fuzzy
Orange Russian 117   Bicolor 8 oz oxhearts. Meaty and very delicious.  Mid-season. 
Gary O Sena  Earlier purple brandywine with good production.  Some disease for me though
Brads Black Brandywine:  Planting because I dont remember anything about this plant
Black Seaman Attractive brown/pink marbled.  potato leaf determinate
Cherokee Purple:  awesome.  read about this very old variety here

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Real Reason I Bought all these Damn Seeds

Well the blog was mostly a fail last year.  I was faithful right up until vacation.  Then upon return after two weeks in the sun, there was no time for anything but weeding.  Turns out Mar-Duke allotments has a whole lot of rather aggressive weeds just below the surface, that grow a foot if you turn away for a few moments.  Nevertheless, I harvested enough and enjoyed it enough to give it another go this year.

Today I chose my new allotment space.  This year I was smarter.  Last year I went with  the "I dont want to be near anyone" theme and paid for it by long long walks to water and my car and also getting regularly creeped out by creepers stalking around near the bushes.  This year, I went with "less walking more gardening, in the people zone and organic too".  I snagged up a double organic right next to the water and the car.  I am as always, optimistic!

The sprouts are off and running.  I have no idea what to plant when anymore.  I typically ignore all the finger wagging rules and go with what feels right and it has always worked, however Global warming is giving us week long stretches in the 60's in mid february and we have had virtually no snow all winter--in Chicago.  So this year..should be interesting.

I've decide to kick off the season with a full confession.  I will share what I am planting, and why.
If you are a novice gardener, run away.  Not much learning is forthcoming.  Marketing students, however may clean a bit of intel here.

East Indian Lemongrass:  I have no idea how to grow it or cook with it.  I bought it because I can't have a lemon tree in Chicago.

Celery:  Peppermint Stick:  Celery is rather annoying to grow, but I do like Christmas so maybe this one is OK.

Onion:  Flat of Italy  All the other onion pictures were yellow this packet had purple onions on it.  (Not a single one of these have sprouted yet.)

Onion:  Walla Walla:  I like to say walla walla

Onion:  Yellow Sweet Spanish Utah:  I read an internet post that said walla walla sucked and spanish was better. I almost didn't buy it because it had Utah in its name.  (take not marketing students)

Leeks:  I cook with leeks maybe once a year.  I planted King Richard and King Mussleberg both because leeks look like swords and the image of the dueling kings amused me.

Shallots:  (Zebrune):  They cook with these a lot on top chef so they must be superior right?

Malabar spinach: red Stem:  I like this stuff.  Its like a spinach vine with thick leaves and alien purple berries.  It never bolts either.

Kale:  Beira Tronchuda: they used the words "exceptionally sweet" and rare gem in the description.

Kale:  Redbor:  ITS MAGENTA!

Chard:  Joys Midnight:  Because when I was growing  Rainbow Lights chart I had to spout so many extra seeds to get the colors I really wanted: Dark leaves and red stem.  In this variety, ALL seeds yield that coloration.

Golden Purslane:  The seed package said "succulent" and "golden" and "soothing".  Its like magic

Lettuce:  Truchas:  "Breathtaking"; "crimson with green ribs"  "refined"  "delight to each"  "melt in your mouth"  "utterly bitter free"  Talk about magic art deco lettuce!

Lettuce:  "Flashy Trouts Back"  Because this is the dumbest name for lettuce ever and I felt sorry for it.

Lettuce:  "Flashy Butter Oak":  Its green with maroon spots and a butterhead.

Lettuce:  Avicenna:  ITS RUBY COLORED!

Watercress:  Does good floating around the pond on the floating islands.

Daikon:  Because I thought this was a radish and the picture has a lettuce on it that looks like a plant from the little shop of horrors so it had me puzzled.  $4.95! for these seeds that I bought just because I wanted to know what it was.

Chicory:  Treviso Mesola and Grumolo Rosso Because both of these sound pretty and if it turns out I dont like chicory, at least they will look nice.

Zinnas:  3 different packages of purple and orange.  Because I like their gall
Zinnas:  Flower is green   Because its so weird

Amaranth:  Rio San Lorenzo:  Because the flowers were so pretty and amaranth seems so old and wise.

Cabbage:  Ruby Ball  Because its red and "can sit in the garden for 6 weeks unfazed..." at my neglect.

Cauliflower:  Veronica  BECAUSE ITS CHARTREUSE, which in my head meant red, until I remembered it was neon green which disappointed me at first until I decide neon was also cool

Cauliflower: Mulberry:  "the color deepens to a blue-purple!  Are you kidding me.  MUST HAVE IT

Broccoli:  Purple Peacock:  Last year I bought it because it was purple.  It would not sprout.  This year I have it because its a battle of wills thing.

Broccoli:  Di Cicco:  Because if you want your kids to eat veggies some of them have to look normal.

Brussels Sprouts: Rubine  Because my sister in law makes tasty brussel sprouts and I am currently annoyed with her and this variety is purple red, which is obviously superior to her boring green ones.

Poor Mans Weather Glass:  first it is a blue flower, second it tells the weather.  No brainer.

Cosmos:  Double Click Cranberries:  Because they look less straggly in their picture 

Basil:  Sacred:  Because I liked the zen seed pack.

Basil:  Napoletano:  Because I love it

Basil:  Genovese:  Because everyone grows it.

Basil: Cinnamon:  Its a PIA to grow but it tastes sweeter so I love it.

Oregano:  White Flowered Greek:  Because the seed was organic and an heirloom and its for the bees, maybe the bees need so more old fashioned awesome in their diet.

This is getting kind of long.  I will do tomatoes, peppers and other stuff tomorrow.  Its time to cook tilapia and do my evening seedling stalking to see who sprouted.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Mar-Duke is Done!

Well I did not fill  up every inch of space but I came close.  I am calling the spring planting phase at Mar-Duke now done and don't plan on doing any more other than weed and water and harvest.  This weekend I got the last bit of work in.  I staked up all the tomatoes, did some weeding, got the rest of the transplants in and added some line for the peas to crawl up. 

So far I am very happy with the soil in the plot.  We keep having torrential downpours and I can still work withing the plot a day later.   So are my favorite thing about community gardening is watching what everyone else is doing.  For each plot out there, there is a slightly different way people are going about getting their plants in.  Most are tilling.  A few like me are no till.  So far tilling versus non-tilling seems to be making no difference with respect to weeds.  They weeds are popping up right away in the tilled and no tilled areas alike.

Here is a quick picture of how things are looking now. 

Saturday, May 28, 2016


Heat +thunderstorms this past week has lead to a whole lot of growth.   I need to harvest my bok choy and spinach already!  Its crazy.  The potatoes are also taking off.  I will need to mound them up this week.  Pretty much everything that was suffering during the cold is now turning around.  Edamame is now sprouting.  Still no corn.  Billions of weed.  I'm really glad I did landscape fabric or thick straw for must of the beds or I would have a serious mess.

Too muddy to plant today.  Many inches of rain this past week.  I did however do a bunch of weeding.  It was perfect weather for that.

I have to say I am rather freaked to be harvesting already.  I was hoping of a few weeks of doing nothing.  :)

Monday, May 23, 2016

Mar-Duke: What a difference a week makes

The weather has turned (again).  Things have warmed up to mid-fifties at night and upper seventies/low eighties during the day.  The warmth has brought things to life!

I've been working hard trying to get things in the ground.  Plot is now about 3/4 full.  I'll sum all that up later this week for now, here's whats happening.

Bok Choy:  massive growth in one week and now bolting.  :/
Peppermint celery:  about 50% size increase, very healthy looking.
Spinach and Kale.  Now actively growing and looking good.

Deadish cukes, did not come back.  Replanted (Lemon, Armenian, Burpee Hybrid and Poinsette)
Cucamelon:  Hail took it out. Drat.  replanted.

Fennel:  Improving color.  No growth yet.

Peas:  Sprouting and growing!

Beans:  Sprouting and growing!  Mostly dead beans are coming back as well.  I have too many beans.

Cauliflower:  180 turn around, no visible growth yet but much healthier looking

Purple peacock broccoli:  Growing!

Purple potatoes and Red tenderlings:  Sprouting!  Man potatoes sure have pretty foliage

Tomatoes:  all are in the ground.  No losses.  No visible growth yet.  Looking less beaten up however.

Peppers:  Looking good, blossoms are starting.

Winter squash with smushed stem:  Still alive and still green.  It proves that I cannot kill plants I don't enjoy eating.

Cantalope, watermelon, zukes, butternut.  Planted today.

Popcorn seeds:  No sign of life yet

Popcorn plants:  Look terrible, sort of shrively as if they got hit with a herbacide.

Radishes:  growing slowly.  Fighting through weeds

Carrots:  sprouting I think.

Onions:  growing and looking good!

Artichoke:  1 happy 1 pouty

Eggplant:  1 happy, 1 pouty

I'm starting to meet my allotment neighbors.  Its fun seeing what other people are doing.  This has been a lot of hard work getting it all in, even with no till but I am close to seeing light at the end of the tunnel with respect to the hard stuff.  Well other than the hauling of the water.  Fingers crossed for Rain every 3 days of approximately 3/4 of an inch.  ;)

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Sad State of Affairs at Mar-Duke

First, a note of optimism.  These guys have NOT been in my plot.  The fence is thankfully, working.  Birds this size can do a lot of damage. I have watched them merrily ripping out the seedlings in other plots but mine are untouched by fowl.  Mother Nature on the other hand has not been so kind.

In this area our springs can be a little wild.  50 degree temperature swings are not unusual.  Nor are 50 mph winds, tornado warnings, snow advisories or rain totals of 3, 4, 5 inches in a week.  In the last week my poor little seedlings got hit with 4 inches of rain, 30 mph gusts and temps that went up to 80 and then crashed down to 35.  Needless to say, the babies are not thriving.  The images below sum up the carnage and disarray currently in place in my plot at Mar-Duke.  Tomorrow night is another temp crash and fingers crossed that hopefully, after that, recovery begins. 

This first plot isn't so bad.  Its the first plot I did at Mar-duke.  It contains Bok Choi, Peppermint celery (red stem), two kinds of spinach including Montreux , and chinese kale.  Everything is growing.  The celery started as teeny tiny seedlings and I can already tell I planted it way too close but to be frank I only expected 30% survival. So 100% are alive!

 Bed 2:  AKA tomb of cukes.  This bed is in rough shape.The fennel in the background is struggling.  In front of that is a row of cylindra beets, that did sprout and then stopped.  In front of that are the carcasses of the lemon and other cukes, killed by cold, despite the wall of water that was around them.  Also of note the inch of fine leaf mulch is mostly blown away or eaten by worms.  This bed had a ton of them.  In the very front row is some sporadic sprouting of some watermelon radishes and a lot of weeds.  I threw a few lemon cuke seeds in the bed after the first kill but I'll be shocked if they sprout.  They have been really wet and really cold.

Bed 3:  Peas and edamame
Apologies for the tilted photo.  I was trying to avoid mud.  Not much success to report in the Pea and edamame bed.  The couple of pea plants are pale and not growing.  The pea seeds and edamame seeds have not sprouted.  The entire bed I suspect is not happy with all the rain we have gotten and how wet everything is. I also cannot find my pea inoculate, which I really need to do soon.
Bed 4: Potatoes
Aren't all the pictures of straw fascinating?  This is the potato bed.  Purple potatoes and red fingerlings. Chitted weeks ago, nothing has sprouted.  Not even weeds.  I planted a couple of cosmos in this bed yesterday to make it a little less pathetic.  Fingers crossed they survive tomorrow.
Bed 5:  Beans
The pretty kale and mizuna in this bed are hiding the bean tragedy that has occurred.  On the left are the beans that got hit by the 35 degrees and the winds and rain.  They are mostly dead.  In the ground are all the bean seeds that have not sprouted.  Two varieties, Kew Blue and a yellow pole-they are probably rotted but I will give them another  weeks.  On the right are the new plants I planted this weekend before the forecast changed to more cold.   Hang tough little beanies, its only one night!
Bed 6:  Onions
While clearly unhappy about all the rain (note the yellowing)  This bed is still looking mostly OK.  On the right is a variety called Candy.  On the left is Spanish utah (much younger plants).  In the far back left is a lone artichoke that is looking pale but alive.  In the center is a mostly mushy french marigold that I don't expect to make it.
Bed 7:  Purple tomatoes
Tomato plants turn purple when they are cold.  Their leaves curl when they are too wet.  These eight plants are purple and curled. They are so purple they are blending nicely with the color of the landscape fabric.  If the warmth comes quick enough they should turn around.  If not, I have 9 others in reserve.  I never plant all the tomatoes at once.  Behind the tomato row is the other half of the plot not yet planted and full of weeds  In the very back corner is the strawberry popcorn under landscape fabric. It has not sprouted-too wet and cold.
Bed 8: Cold Cauliflower and Sad Shiso
This bed contains snowy cauliflower. I put them in this weekend to replace the armenian cuke carcasses>  They are looking rather pale. I give them a 50:50 chance.
I give the Shiso seedlings to the left even less.  These clearly show frost damage and they were so little when they went in, I will be shocked if they recover.  Oddly, these two marigolds have no damage at all and the one 6 feet to the right is mushy.

 More cauliflower:
Here is the cauliflower that went though the storm.  Orange and Purple cauliflower seedlings.  They were very small when they went in and are now almost invisible between they hay.  They clearly have some cold damage.  Survival chances not looking so good for most of these.

 Bed 9:  Leeks, Carrots and Arugula and Black Peanuts
I thought if anything was going to croak it was going to be the black peanuts and the basil.  The basil did not disappoint.  While not completely dead, its mostly there.  The black peanuts on the other hand are totally fine.  Huh.  Go figure.  Carrots (Romaine-F1 via seed tape) have not sprouted. 
Of course everything is so small you are mostly looking at straw but gorgeous close ups are for things that look good.  Carnage is best viewed standing back and squinting over a steaming cup of tea.
Bed 10:  Purple Cabbage and Shallots
Purple cabbage, very purple and growing!  Shallots very tiny and disappearing.  There are some monster night crawlers in all these beds that I mulched with leaves.  I wonder if they are eating my shallots?  This bed has some beet seedlings coming up as between the weeds.

Bed 11:  Peppers
This bed looks pretty good.  Primarily because other than the 5 peppers planted in the straw, all of these in the landscaping fabric I planted yesterday.  They were all planted in pretty wet soil so fingers crossed there.  The pepper varieties are "fooled you" Jalapeno, Purple Beauty, Sweet Orange, Yellow banana, Cubano, something that began with an M that sounded big (sweet red) and I think there is an ancho poblano in there too.
When I check these today the surface soil was already dry so that is a good sign related to drainage.  Fingers crossed!