Saturday, May 31, 2008

Gardens One and Two

It's been a late, cool spring -- but now, let the gardening begin.

At right is my patio garden, much like the one I had last year. This year I am planting only varieties that were described as suitable for container gardening. I have four patio-type tomatoes, a small pepper plant, a container-suitable cucumber (though actually I had good luck with my standard cucumbers last year), and some lettuce and chard. I made sure to fill the pots about as full as I could get them with a combination of potting soil and mixed compost and manure. Last year some of my pots were only about 3/4 full, which led to quicker drying-out and probably to higher than ideal soil temperatures, as my patio gets good sun all afternoon.

Below is my other garden, which I haven't planted for several years, at my ex-husband's house. He doesn't garden and is happy for me to use the space, so this year Dave and I are going to do that. The back of the 30-foot bed is planted with perennials -- day lilies, phlox, black-eyed susans, joe-pye weed, spiderwort, rhubarb and more. Last weekend Dave borrowed a tiller and we (well, mostly he) really got the front portion of the bed in good shape. I've never used a tiller before; all my digging has been done with the garden fork. That's good exercise, but back-breaking when the ground is hard and overgrown with grass, so I usually don't get the whole area dug. This year will be different -- it's now nice and loose all the way along.
I've got several tomatoes, pole beans, cucumbers, lettuce, zinnias and down at the far end planted seeds for a couple of giant Cinderella pumpkins. We are contemplating tilling up some of the nearby lawn as well so we have room for squash. (Ex is always happy to have less grass to mow.) The neighbors at the back are in the process of moving their garden to a sunnier location; you can see where they have been cutting up sod. As trees mature, shade patterns change and a space that once worked well for a vegetable garden no longer gets enough sun.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Luxuriance of Lilacs

Sign of the season: This week whole neighborhoods are fragrant with spring's lilac perfume, and where Nevada Street bends at Ninth and becomes Maple, these lush blossoms almost overwhelm a street sign.
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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Asparagus and Lorence's Berry Farm

I've had some superb asparagus from Lorence's Berry Farm in the past week or so. I stopped at the stand as I drove home down Cedar from an event in Lakeville the weekend before last, and bought more from Just Food co-op a few days ago. I saw it was also available at Econofoods, though at a higher price than at the co-op. I haven't happened to buy asparagus directly from the farm before, though I do try to pick strawberries there at least every couple of years. Doing so has added to the quality of life we've experienced as Northfielders for the past 18 years. I've had some wonderful strawberry shortcakes and done all the jam-making I've ever done from Lorence's berries. One of my daughters gave me a flat of Lorence's berries for my birthday last year, and I made a batch of my favorite low-sugar strawberry jam, which is deeply flavorful and tastes like a very distillation of summer.

I was distressed to learn the fate that may be in store for Lorence's if a proposed project for straightening out the Cedar T-intersection is carried out. The Northfield News recently reported on this story, quoting David Lorence as feeling sick to his stomach since receiving word in April that the relocated road could go right through his house. I'd feel sick to my stomach, too. It's hard to believe that an appealing and viable local produce farm that so adds to the quality of life for area residents must be sacrificed so that more people can drive between the southern suburbs and the northern edges of Northfield without having to stop at a stop sign.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Wasp's Nest

While I was working in the garden yesterday, my eyes were drawn to what I thought was probably a plastic bag caught in the branches of a large shrub. On closer inspection it turned out to be an empty wasp's nest, about a foot long. I hadn't seen one so close before, and was fascinated by both the cell structure and the tissue-paper wrapping around it, which wasps apparently make by chewing wood fibers and mixing them with saliva until they become a pulp. More information on wasps (including how to tell them from bees) and control measures, if they are close enough to pose a hazard, is available from the University of Minnesota extension service. An empty nest like this one will not be used by wasps again, though other insects can sometimes take up residence in old wasp's nests.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Growing Goslings

This beautiful afternoon three families of goslings were busy along the east bank of the river by the Water Street parking lot. The family above was, I suspect, a newer set than those I saw last week, while the ones below, which probably are one of the families I photographed last week, are already looking more goose-like. However, the apparent difference between the two groups may lie merely in the fact that in the photo below you can see how long their legs are. Click on either photo for a much larger version; you can really appreciate the texture of their silky-fluffy down.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Transplanting Seedlings - Phase One

Four weeks after I planted seeds and put them under grow-lights in my dining area, I finally set to work on Saturday morning and transplanted roughly 18 young tomato and zinnia plants from their starter tray (above), where they were getting quite cramped, into much larger transitional pots. Over the next week or so I will gradually accustom them to outdoor conditions until they are able to tolerate full sun. Yesterday and today they had a few hours in a sheltered, shaded area outside my back door, with just a bit of late afternoon sun, and I brought them in again at night. Each day when I put them outside I will move them a bit closer to the sunny side of the patio, so they'll get a bit more sun each day. They'll dry out much more quickly than they did inside under the grow-light, so I'll keep them well watered.

I was not able to get most of them out of their little cells in the starter tray without disturbing their roots, and several of them showed signs of transplant shock; you can see them drooping sadly in the photo above. By this morning (below), however, all but one had perked up considerably. I lost only one -- a cherry tomato plant that did not survive the transplanting process.

Still in the starter tray I have some basil and pepper plants that don't need to be transplanted quite yet -- I'll give them a chance to get bigger before getting them ready to move out into the garden.
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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Goslings on the Cannon

Proud and vigilant parents are watching over at least two broods of goslings on the river near Ames Park. Even if you think we have a goose problem, you might find some cuteness here. Below is a little live gosling action.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

House Sparrow Nesting

This house sparrow was at work on a roof beam overhanging the deck of the riverfront burger joint where Dave and I ate lunch in McGregor, Iowa, last Thursday. We could almost have touched it, it was so close, though these photos are cropped quite a bit, so it wasn't quite as close as it may seem. Rob Hardy's post on nesting inspired me to post these shots, which catch this bird twice with bits of nesting material -- dry grass, at a guess -- in its beak.

We assumed that the nest was under the overhanging corrugated metal roof, but didn't actually notice the bird going in there.

A lovely profile and such a nice white tummy...

It was a pleasure to watch this little bird from so relatively close. No fuzzy pictures this time!
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Monday, May 12, 2008

Like a Bird on the Wire

I find that in taking the photo below in the picturesque Mississippi River town of McGregor, Iowa, on Thursday, I inadvertently captured the image of two birds perching on a chain, and the rather interesting elongated shadow of one of them projected onto a dentist's sign. The bird on the left appears to be a house sparrow, but I'm not sure of the one to its right, which seems to have a grayish body and a rather brown or rusty head. Anybody?

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Prothonotary Warbler Down the Great River Road

On Thursday, on the first leg of our journey to pick up my daughter from college in Ohio, Dave and I drove south down the Great River Road through the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge from far southeastern Minnesota into northeastern Iowa. We were looking for areas where the river spills over and floods woodlands -- the ideal habitat for the prothonotary warbler, whose breeding range finds its northwesternmost point, and its only Minnesota location, along this area of the Mississippi. (That's what the range maps in two of my bird guides indicate, at least, though the map on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology page linked to above shows the Minnesota range extending farther west across the southern part of the state.) We saw miles of the right kind of swampy habitat in the NWR and found easy access to a suitable spot for observation (above) just off the highway, where a road to a boat launch was closed after a few hundred feet due to high water.

We encouraged a visit from this brilliant yellow warbler by playing its call from a CD of birdcalls for a few minutes. We were rewarded within moments by a responding call from the trees and, soon thereafter, by a personal visit from the territorial male coming to challenge the supposed intruder. This was the first prothonotary warbler I had seen -- a life bird, as they say. I missed a great shot when the stunning little bird appeared against a dark tree trunk, but did catch this not-so-distinct photo (above, cropped close in, and below, less zoomed in) from which you can see the intense orange-yellow of the head and breast of this lovely bird. (Click on any of the photos for greater detail.)

We did not want to over-agitate the warbler, so we turned off the CD as soon as we had had the chance to see the bird for a couple of minutes. While on this little stake-out, we also saw and heard many other birds, including woodpeckers, a black-throated blue warbler and plenty of yellow-rumped warblers like the one below.

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We were lucky that our trip wasn't later or that this year's late spring hadn't come earlier, since the trees were just starting to leaf out. Another couple of weeks of leaf growth and it's unlikely we would have been able to see these birds at all. As we drove further south and east, as far south as Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio, spring advanced until we were seeing trees almost fully leafed out and lilacs and many other flowering shrubs and trees in bloom.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Seed Starting, Day 16

The house was a little warmer these last couple of days, and the seedlings are responding energetically. The zinnias in the back are several inches tall, and the tomatoes and the basil are developing their first true leaves -- which in the case of the lemon basil seem to be of a yellowish hue. Two of my four peppers (Container sweet pepper, "Pizza My Heart") have come up; one is barely visible in the second row back, three cells from the right. So I've got a pretty full house here. This is just a seed-starting tray with very small cells, so I'll need to start transplanting everything to larger individual pots in the next few days. This array of plants will look much more impressive then.
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Reflecting Pool at Sunset

I thought, and Rob Hardy seems to agree, that this photograph, which appeared in Sunday's arboretum walk collage, deserves individual attention. This was taken from the wooden footbridge just inside the entrance to the lower arb (that is, Carleton College's Cowling Arboretum) near the tennis courts, looking southwest. The sun is still casting an idyllic glow on the soccer fields beyond the trees, while this calm area of the little tributary of the Cannon River created a perfect mirror for the happenstance symmetry of the silhouetted trees. If you click on the photo to see the full-size version, you'll feel you are there in the scene.
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Sunday, May 4, 2008

Evening Walk in the Carleton Arb

My eight-year-old companion and I enjoyed our first arb walk of the season together this evening -- crossing the wooden bridge into the lower arb and following the trail past the tennis courts, along the Cannon River, veering away from the river into mixed woodland and restored prairie, and around past the edge of an area that had recently undergone a controlled burn. A highlight was seeing some deer. Henry saw one doe that I didn't see, and then we saw two as we passed the same area on the way back. One leaped away, showing its white tail, but the other doe froze in place for quite a long time, allowing us to admire her large ears (below, in the center of the photo). Above, I'm trying out one of Picasa's collage features, which I just discovered. You can click on it to see the entire collage larger. I'd appreciate feedback on whether you think collages like this make a good blog feature.

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Saturday, May 3, 2008

Pondful of Mergansers

On my way out to the Estensen farm today for one of the Goods for Good garage sales, I noticed quite a number of what were clearly not mallards on the first of the ponds off Woodley below Mayflower Hill. I pulled a U-ie and parked on the edge of the grass. I saw at least two male-female pairs of hooded mergansers (one such pair above and another below) and a whole bunch of females hanging out together (second photo below).

I'm always quite taken with the impressive white-patched crests of the males and the fluffy crests of the females, and I was impressed to see so many. Click on the photos for greater detail.

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Ahhhhh, Laundry on the Line

Behold (at right) the money-in-the-bank, feel-good, hold-your-head-high, green investment of the season: a new set of clothespins. Sun and wind do the work, and you get the chance to get outside and do something that feels like real, useful activity. If you're lucky enough to have even a small backyard, you can use a line or a rotary-style drying rack.

Hanging laundry out to dry makes your clothes smell good and saves electricity (and gas, if you have a gas dryer). To combat that "stiff as a board" quality that line-dried laundry can sometimes have, try tumbling the laundry on the air-only setting of your dryer for just a few minutes, either before or after hanging it out to dry.

For some more tips on saving energy, money and CO2 emissions by using a clothesline, plus information on advocacy against homeowners' associations and ordinances that ban outdoor clotheslines, visit Project Laundrylist.

Addendum: Since posting this, I've been thinking about statistics quoted on several of the sites I looked at: that the average household does well over 400 loads of laundry per year, or 7-8 loads per week, or about 1.4 loads a day. Even when I was living in a household of five, which has got to be larger than the average household these days, I doubt we often did more than 4 or 5 loads a week, and often less. Granted, I've always had fairly large-capacity machines, but we got by with one or two loads of darks (one sturdy, one delicate) a week, a load of light-colored delicates, one big load of whites every week or so, and a load of pinks and reds about every 2-3 weeks (maybe more often when the girls were little). That about did it. Some things obviously need to be washed after a single use; others don't, necessarily: towels, for example; jeans, for another, unless they get dirty. Some things -- sweaters worn over shirts, for example -- might just need washing a couple of times a season, and they'll look nice longer, too, since they won't get pilled up so soon. Part of greening up our lives may involve some contemplation of our occasionally excessive standards of cleanliness.