Fresh Start – learning about my garden in the winter

IMG_2591It is December 28th and we are just days away from a new year. The ground in my garden here in Minnesota is frozen solid and there is a few inches of snow covering all of the yard. It is not the time you think about being in the garden. Let’s be real – it is 19 degrees outside. It feels like 6 degrees and there is a storm warning for 3 to 9 inches of snow between today and tomorrow.

Yes, it is a good time to sit by the fire and look at garden magazines and dream of green but there are things happening in the garden. If I want to learn then I need to be out to see what is going on. In the past I have closed the door on the garden once the ground is frozen and then have been surprised in the spring to see what has happened.

This year my plan is different. If this is to be a garden I learn from then I need to be out looking around all year. The first lesson of learning is to see, to really look carefully at the world around you.

So here is my first resolution of the 2016.

  • walk the perimeter of my garden/yard daily
  • to look closely at the whole yard (it isn’t that big – I live in the city -8,820 square feet)
  • take pictures and choose one to represent the day
  • list what I saw

It sounds easy enough but I know I am not good at daily tasks so I decided to begin a few days early just to begin a pattern before January hits and I am working again.

It is easy to just tromp around in the snow – it took me all of about 10 minutes to walk the perimeter and take a few pictures. Here is what I saw today

  • Rabbit tracks everywhere – plus one large rabbit hiding under the bush along the south fence line
  • Buds on the lilac bushes – they were green and looking like they wanted to open up. I am sure this is due to the warm late fall we had. I hope this cold of January does not harm the spring growth that was started. IMG_2592
  • Random wire in the back southeast corner – a place I seldom go. The wire must have been dropped from someone who worked on the power lines above last summer. This area needs to be cleaned and re planted in the spring (See, this is what I am hoping would happen – just walking the yard helps me see what needs to be attended to.)
  • The Spirea Bushes are already being eaten by the rabbits.  I have put food scraps in the compost but that has not been touched. I wonder what I can put out for the rabbits so they leave the bushes alone?

Not super exciting and yet there is action out there even if it looks like the plants and animals are sleeping the winter away. It will be interesting to see what the winter storm will bring for tomorrows walk.

It does make we wonder about the activity in the woods – my go to wild garden is Eloise Butler Wildflower garden here in Minneapolis, which is closed for the season. I am sure there is lots of critter activity there as well.

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Winter has begun but we are still growing

1476208_665774330139694_362244001_nIt is December 22 – we have had a light covering of snow although the temperature is hovering around 32 degrees. The garden is officially asleep and it is officially winter. The ground is frozen and leaves have fallen leaving the bare silhouette of branches against a grey sky for us to watch each day.

It is appears to be a time of rest for plants and a few critters who have found a deep hole to sleep in for a few months. Really trees and bushes are not “sleeping” they are in a state of dormancy. They have sensed that the season is changing due to the shorter amount of light and the colder temperatures. With this seasonal change the plants shut down photo-synthesis and slow their growth. They will continue to grow their root system and to take in water and nutrients but not produce leaves. The evergreen trees will continue to photosynthesize but again very slowly.

This winter time gives us a change to slow down as well. It is time to think about last years growing season and plan for the new year. There are a few big questions for us now. They are:

  • What worked in the garden?
  • What really needs to be changed?
  • What vegggies did we eat or wish we had but didn’t grow?

In these questions lies the answer to what seeds I will start under the grow lights? and what other plants I will grow this year?

So although the garden is resting – growing slowly underground – I am slowly reading over my garden journal and making plans for a new season of growing.

 

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Becoming a gardener (or a writer) – someone who learns

14beauty-arena-flowers-slide-6KFC-jumbo“To become a gardener means to try, to fail, to stubbornly plug away at something, to endure serious disappointments and small triumphs that encourage you to try and fail again. But it means, above all, perking up your ears, sniffing, identifying the rhythm and the secret voice of a place, so that you may abandon yourself to and indulge it. To make a garden is to surrender so completely that you forget yourself. It is to obey.”

-Umberto Pasti

This quote from Pasti ends with the line. “It is to obey.” It sounds like a mean school teacher or an upset parent. Really what he is telling us is to watch, listen and follow the rhythms that mother nature sets out for us. He wants us to be observant!

It is watching the light in your garden. Did you notice today that the sun has moved further south in the sky. The light coming into your windows will be more at an angle.

It is noticing the temperatures over a long period of time. Are you recording the highs and lows in your garden journal? He is not saying look over this last week or month but can you follow year to year.  When was it warm enough to plant last spring and when did the frost take over your garden last year?

It is watching the moisture in the ground. Yes, it is wet in the garden after two days of rain but do you know how much we received? Do you know if that is to much or not enough for our August plants?  With this in mind you can either track the moisture on the internet or searchget personal and place a rain gage in your garden.  My garden got one and 3/4 inches of rain in the last two days. We have had two and half inches so far for the month of August. I thought that was a lot and to much but when I looked at averages over years we usually get 4 inches or more. So really we are a bit dry for August. Who knew!!

It is watching, then recording (so you can remember the facts) and working with the land and plants in your garden. It is learning to listen, and be willing to plant and move plants to locations that work for them not for you.

Now that cool weather is peaking around the corner it is time to record what worked and did not work in your garden. It is time to go out and look and listen carefully to what happened in your garden this summer. What changes need to be made? What did you like or not like about this years growing season?  Are you adding more garden space – be sure it works for your whole garden and the plants you wish to grow?

To become a gardener, to learn about your personal garden or the wild gardens around your community you need to watch, listen and record.

Hmmm… that is what good writers do. It is what all good learners do!

What have your observed and record in your garden on this glorious August day? IMG_2251

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Bumble Bees that are not Bumbles Bees – compare and contrast

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It is a perfect day – the sun is shining, there is a cool breeze and my grass is growing like crazy. So I pulled out the power mower and pulled the cord. It roared to life and we were off cutting that grass but I had also disturbed about 100 buzzing bees, and beetles and butterflies who were partying in my flower bed. I was engulfed in flying insects. I was not happy and yet wasn’t that part of why I have this garden – to provide food for insects, especially the bees.

Here in my garden the August insects are having a great time – just what I had wanted. The bees especially are busy. They are collecting pollen from the flowers that are in full bloom. My garden has Hyssops, Echinacea, Rudbeckia, Balloon Flowers, Calendula and Celosia. The bees love all of them but they seem to be most happy when buzzing around the Echinacea and the Hyssops.

I loved the bees but I soon discovered that this great group of bees had also created a home in the ground by my vegetable garden in the back yard. There was no mowing near that underground nest. I did a bit of research and decided I had bubble bees nesting. I was sure there were bubble bees all over my flowers.IMG_2295

I call the Bee Guy to come and clear the nest. His job was to open the ground pull out the nest with the queen bee and eggs. Her colony would then follow her into the plastic container and he would move the whole family to a better location. Great!  I didn’t want to harm the bees just didn’t want to have them living in the ground where we are alway walking.

I quickly discovered I was not the best entomologist (a person who studies insects). I had not identified the bee correctly. These were not Bubble Bees but Carpenter Bees. I was in a hurry and did not stop to really look at my bees closely. Scientists are great at observing.  They compare and contrast – which is what my Bee Guy did and I did not. He looked closely and thought about what he know about the bees. He also did it very quickly. He knew his bees.

First he compared – How are these bees the same?

  • they are both yellow and black
  • they are about the same size
  • they are both pollinators
  • they both nest in the ground

He then contrasted – How are these bees different?

  • Bubble Bees have a small colony that is just under the ground
  • Carpenter Bees have a larger colony and can tunnel further underground- they drill through wood. It is how they got their name.
  • Bubble Bees have hairy abdomen with yellow stripes
  • Carpenter Bees are a bit smaller and have a shiny abdomen that is black
  • Bubble Bees are harmless – although can sting
  • Carpenter Bee can drill holes in your house to lay their eggs (not a good thing) – the male bee does not sting but the female queen can

IMG_2304My Bee Guy then took this knowledge and was able to decide what to do with my nest of bees. We had hoped to remove them from the yard but that was not the case. This queen bee had tunneled deep into the ground where there had been old tree roots. The colony was large and well established. Since these bees drill through wood and can cause lots of damage to the house and deck we needed to clear the nest completely. This meant using a poison to kill the queen and her colony. Something I would have preferred not doing but also needed to think about the people in our yard and the house.

There are so many things to learn about our natural world. It is important to use the skills of comparing and contrasting help us to slow down and look closely. We need to be able to identify our insects, birds, and flowers.

If you have a nature journal this might be a great activity to do – head out and look closely at the insects in your garden. Take a few pictures to add to your notebook. Can you name them? To be sure you have the right name you might want to create a compare and contrast chart.  You can draw a chart in your journal called a Box Chart. At the top of your page draw a rectangle. In this box you write all the things that are the same. Underneath that box you draw a vertical line and write the differences on either side. Unless you are really knowledgable about insects you are going to need to do a bit of research. There are lots of web sites and identification books (at your library) to help you. Once you have named your insects what more can you learn about them? What more can you write in your journal. Can you draw a picture of each of your insects?

Who knew that moving the yard would lead to so much learning!

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Bees and More Bees

I am a gardener. I am an organic gardener. I garden in the middle of a large city. It is a wonderful thing to do. On a glorious morning like today – sunny, cool fresh air, dew covered grass – I walk out my front door bare foot and pull a few carrots for lunch, pick tomatoes and check on the new planting of beets. In the back garden I water the new plants in the rock garden that I am developing on the old fire pit patio. Life is good.

I have an over abundance of pollinators in my garden. They are everywhere and that is a good thing. Right?  Well, I thought so until I realize that one group of my friendly pollinators has taken up residence in the ground. We are now the proud owner of a large bubble bee colony. IMG_2295

I know there are stories to be written about these wonderful guys. I know we need these small critters in our world. I know I want to do the right thing but we have a problem –

  • there is no mowing near the colony
  • there is only very careful walking in the back yard due to bees – everywhere
  • there is no watering and picking cucumbers that are near the nest
  • there is no digging up the new potatoes near the nest
  • there is the issue that I am mildly allergic to bees – lots of swelling, not fun, hard to breathe

So I made the call. They are coming! I am sorry bees but you need to live out in a more open area not in my back yard.

The live trap bee removal guys will come and help find a new home for my bees tomorrow!

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Summer Patterns

IMG_1905Everywhere I look there are colors and patterns. It is summer and the world around us is showing off. The flowers are in bloom, the early veggies are ready for picking. It is time to look closely at our summer world.

The word pattern means a repeated decorative design or things that are arranged following a rule or rules. Nature follows patterns and our brain likes to sort things we see into patterns. Look closely at how the leaves grow on a branch, or the petals on a flower. As gardeners we set up rows of plants or
IMG_1621flowers creating a pattern in our garden.

Today would be a great day for a walk to look at patterns – large and small.

In my area I can find:

  • the 6 garden beds in my neighbors yard – neat and in rows
  • the summer flower garden wild and crazy but if you look closer there are wild daisies at each end, holly hocks next and cone flowers in the middle
  • IMG_2086the clematis flower has six petal circling
  • the beet has a spiral pattern when you cut it open
  • the apple has a star pattern inside

Take your nature journal and camera then head out to list and draw patterns in our neighborhood.

When you head to the library next or your local book store look for these picture books on patterns.
61sBqHNNKgL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Plant Pattens by Nathan Olson (he also has books on Animal and Food Patterns)

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman imgres

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Earth Day, Gardens and Books for the little folks

search-1Our earth is old but continues to grow. Today is considered Earth Day. A day to honor our earth, our plants, animals and the globe we live on. It does seem a bit odd that we find one day each year to show our gratitude for all this world gives to us.

Although I think it needs to be thought about everyday I appreciate taking a day each year to remind ourselves and other about how to care for our earth. As a teacher it is a huge task to engage our students in so we need to think small and locally. This means helping them find the little things they can do each day. Little steps like

  • Reminding them to recycle at school and at home
  • Lunch boxes instead of bags
  • Taking re usable bags to the store when getting food

 

  • You can add to this list or have your students create lists of all they are already doing

It also means helping our students learn about growing their own food or flowers for the bees. Gardening can be a big task or just a little one – a few pots outside a front door with flowers in them.

In the classroom this might be a great time to start seeds that could be sent home for Mothers Day gifts in May. Herbs like rosemary, thyme or parsley grown easily and quickly. Paper cups, a bit of soil, seeds, a window with light and you are ready to go.

There are so great books to share as you begin your indoor garden:

(Although these books are for the very young when starting plants it is always fun to share picture books with all elementary students.  Have your 4th and 5th graders read them to the little folks around our building.)

  • The Carrot Seed by Krauss
  • Growing Vegetable Soup by Ehlert
  • Planting a Rainbow by Ehlert
  • From Seed to Plant by Gibbons
  • The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle ( new May 19th)
  • Plants that Never Bloom by Heller ( new September 5th 2015) – a story of mushrooms
  • Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt by Messneer
  • If you Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson
  • Handle with Care – An unusual Butterfly Journey by Burns

What are your favorite spring growing books or earth day books?

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