Monday, March 26, 2007

It's Just Too Warm!!

I'm just not ready for this! Today, the temperatures were in the high 70s and very windy. It was like a summer day - not early spring. I worked outdoors raking and getting rid of leaves, dead stalks, and branches from last year. And, I finally took down the corn shocks from Thanksgiving, and the metal Santa that I tied to them for the holidays! I've still got Christmas lights, garland, and beads to take out of the window boxes and I'll be done with the holiday decorations. I know -- bad!!

We've had rain and warm temps and things have literally shot up. The little plant to the above right is called corydalis solida. It came up yesterday, and was blooming today. They are wonderful little things, about 8" high and self seed like crazy. But never where they are unwelcome and if you are totally cruel, they are pulled out with ease. I find them in the lawns and in any little nook and cranny they can squeeze into. The foliage (you can't really tell from the picture) is a fresh green and ferny and the plant forms a nice sized cushion with lovely mauve-pink, oddly shaped flowers that go for about 3 weeks (if it stays cool). And the best thing about them is they disappear as summer comes on. I started out with a few roots years ago, and now they are in most of the gardens.

Oh yes, back to the heat. I am really a cool weather person - you can have the hot summer weather! I've never been one to sun bathe or love summer sports. Once the temperature is above 75 I retreat to the shade or into my air conditioned house. Even as a child I was that way.

Oddly enough, I've worked 26 years in a factory with no air conditioning and stifling heat! I would drag myself through the job from break to break sweating like crazy and feeling weak and sometimes, sick. But I kept on and now I've finally got a job where I've got a little air conditioned office off the main shop floor. It is like heaven!! I'd drive to work in air conditioning and sit in an air conditioned house - kind of a prisoner of the weather. And now they say the summers will be getting even hotter! I love spring and summer gardening and all that comes with it, but a part of me always looks forward to fall and winter - when I can be comfortable.

Enough of my whining! I got a lot done over the weekend and feel that I've got a fine start to planting season. Next week I'll put in peas outside and start some tomatoes indoors. And, if the ground is a bit drier in the vegetable garden, I'll do a bit of digging. You see I purchased a new type of pea that was bred for pots - what will they think of next? They are aptly named "Peas 'n a Pot". I'll start them in a half whiskey barrel that has last year's soil in it and see what happens. I'm giving half the seeds to my sister Cindy and she will be planting them in her garden. So I'll let you know how each planting situation goes.
And last night, as I "played" on my computer, I had another sign of spring tickling my arm. It was an ugly, huge tick making his way to who knows where! They are a creepy insect (I think they belong to the insect family) and it quickly ended up flushed down the toilet. With the warming climate, ticks have started showing up in the southern part of our state the past few years. They were unheard of down here - something that you had to watch for when you went to the "north woods". Now we check the dogs and ourselves when we come indoors and they are an unpleasant fact of spring and summer (and sometimes way into fall).
Well, I'm going to finish now and get to bed a little earlier than usual - probably 3 am. That is early for me since I'm a 2nd shift person.
Bye for now,
P.S. I saw a wild turkey run up the road and into the neighbor's yard as I gave the pugs their late afternoon walk. What a neat bird.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Spring Report from the Gardens

Here are some photos of a few of the flowers that are brave enough to be out these cold days. At this time of the year I'm so grateful to see just a few tiny flowers. The blue are miniature iris -iris reticulata - they grow from bulbs not rhizomes like more typical bearded iris. And, of course, the pale yellow and golden flowers are crocus. I've got a few others in pale lilac and white blooming too but those pictures look really washed out and I'd be embarrassed to print them. The mini iris bloom very early and there are others in the Main Garden that haven't opened yet. They are dark purple and maroon-purple and are about 4" tall.

Not far from them is a small, slow spreading clump of snowdrops - galanthus nivalis . About 6" tall with tiny white scalloped bell shaped flowers that have a small green spot on them. They were blooming under the snow last week when I uncovered them.

Most of the snow is gone now, but the ground is still frozen an inch or so down and the temps at night are below 32. It will be a while until I'll be able to do outside work in the gardens. In the Main Garden (all perennials and bulbs) I did a huge re-do last fall and put in hundreds of bulbs as well as adding many plants. A family of voles had destroyed many of the plants and all the bulbs there were originally there so all summer I put down vole repellent (ground up corn cobs with castor beans) and scattered poppy, larkspur, and other annual seeds. That filled in the bare spots and in Fall, without any more sign of the vole family, I replanted the area. I still have lots of cleanup in that garden - raking etc.

The voles my be history, but the 10 deer that came in the back yard to eat birdseed and the bunnies that hopped around on the moonlit snow are very real. And they have left all sorts of evidence of their comings and goings.

All of our arborvitae shrubs have been completely stripped of needles by the deer. There are six, 4 columnar and 2 globes, that look like skeleton bushes. I'm pretty sure they will not grow back and will have to be dug out. I didn't know arborvitae were a member of the cedar family and a big favorite with deer. And they did give the rampant wintercreeper - euonymus fortunei - a much needed pruning. At least that will survive.
The bunnies have girdled all the stems of the two large burning bushes also. We'll have to cut those to the ground and in about four years they'll be back to their original height. We've done that before with those and other burning bushes in the yard and they are quite resilient and grow back quickly.
The pugs and I took a long walk through the yard and gardens and there are all sorts of bulbs sprouting everywhere - in the two new planting areas Steve made last fall, around the Willow Tree Garden, bordering the house, in the back gardens and under the trees. It will be wonderful and I'll have pictures to show you all.
Bye for now,

".......A Few of My Favorite Things"

Here are some very special beings in my life. My heart's joy, my grand daughter, Ashley and our two precious pugs. The rather regal looking dark pug is Thea. And the larger, dour seeming dog is Garm. I searched my Treasury of Mythology for unique and appropriate names for the two of them. Thea is Greek and means "shining one" - the ancient Greeks sometimes called the moon Thea.

As you see by the photos she does shine a bit. The breeder said her color was platinum - a brand new color in pugs - but I think it is just a fancy name for grayish-black.

Garm is from Norse mythology and is named after the hound that guarded the gates of Hela (a kind of Viking hell). This fearsome creature was supposed to have fangs dripping with blood, four red eyes, and a chest covered with gore!! Actually, we liked the sound of "Garm" - it fit his serious, almost bordering on dumb looking, expression and extremely laid back behavior.

They are nearly the same age but Garm is very large boned and massive for a pug. He looks more like a boxer. Thea is quite petite but is the dominant one. Since she was with us first, she feels she is entitled to have all the attention and gets upset if Garm is being spoken to, held, or petted in any way. She will bite at him and jump on him but he just ignores her or pushes her away with his body. He is so easy going; happy to sit next to you or hold a stuffed "dollie" in his mouth as he sleeps. He has a little act he goes through every time we come home: he runs into the living room, grabs a dollie, runs to us, runs back into the living room, and gets on the couch with the doll until we come in and make a little fuss over him. Meanwhile, Thea is leaping all over and barking and whining. I know, I know, our dogs are not trained very well, I'll be the first to admit it. But when non-family company comes over they go into their respective crates until they have calmed down.

Since our children are grown, Thea and Garm fill some empty spaces that were there. They are funny, silly, comforting, warm, happy, loving, and are always unconditionally there for us. We love and appreciate them for the wonderful creatures they are and try to take the best care of them we can.

And now is Ashley's turn. My feelings for her run so deep and seem impossible to put into words. I can't imagine my life without her wonderful smile and sweet loving ways.


Because of unfortunate circumstances in my daughter's life, she was not married and unable to raise Ashley so I became Ashley's legal guardian when she was a few months old. At that same time, I was going through a divorce so Ashley and I started our new lives together. Her other Gram ma, Mae, helped me alot and when I had to start working 3rd shift Ashley went to live with her (and her Dad). But, I'd see Ashley every other weekend and as years went by that was our routine. She has always called me "Alyssa" and her other gram ma is "Mom". (My daughter had problems and was living a wayward life.) There are so many things that Ashley and I have done and memories we have - she is like a second daughter.

Now she is 19! and a young woman. As you see, she is very beautiful and has a fantastic smile, but her sweet personality and empathetic nature are what make people take to her immediately. She took gymnastics and was a cheerleader until she was diagnosed with fibro myalgia and had to quit them both. She was very sad and mad about it but never let it get her down. And she won't talk about it - she says she doesn't want to bore other people with her pain. It is a crummy disease that makes you tired all the time and your joints are swollen like an old person's. I'd gladly take it on instead of having her have to suffer with it for the rest of her life.

She is very good at math and is going to school for interior design. She has a good eye for that sort of thing. I love to take her shopping because she never, ever asks for anything so I just buy her all sorts of stuff. She's always worried that something will cost too much. We have favorite movies we like and favorite meals we cook together. She will only prepare a certain chicken dish at my house because of the fond memories she has of us making it together.

We enjoy books and music together and she requests I play certain pieces on the piano for her (I tried to teach her to play, but that didn't work out). Or likes to lay in our bedroom and hear me playing the piano in the living room. And we also like to go on the computer together and play little games or she explains "computer stuff" to me.

She would bring over all her friends and introduce them to Steve and I and give them little tours through our tiny house showing them what she liked the most or take them for walks in the gardens or on the paths in the woods. We liked all her friends - young people are wonderful when they are relaxed and have their guards down - and they would visit for a while. They were (and still are) surprised that I'm a video game player and we'd discuss games and systems. I've got XBox, XBox360, and PS2 and tons of games so sometimes we'd play a bit or I'd lend out games.

Now, as times change she's pretty busy with school and her boyfriend but I do see her a few times a month and at family gatherings. Sometimes she'll just drop in for an hour but I love seeing her no matter how short of a time it is.

Sometimes she'll take a nap and I'm always amazed at how lovely she looks when she sleeps - as she did when she was a tiny baby. She towers over me now, but I remember when I'd measure her at my chin. She seems so big and grownup when she hugs me hello and good bye.

And, this weekend she will probably be over to pickup the makeup we ordered over the internet last week. Now, being older we can discuss many other things - like one of her girlfriends is in Iraq and her worry and fear for her friend. And about her birth mother, or global warming, gay people, pollution, the causes I give to, religion, or love.

I'm looking forward to the future years I have with Ashley and all the memories we will make and share.

Bye for now,


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Hunting The Elusive Shed

The season is upon us -- shed hunting season, that is. One of the great passions in my husband's life is finding sheds, any size, shape, or age --- and we have hundreds!

Not the small- storage- structure -type of shed, but the horns-that-have-fallen-off-a-whitetail-deer-type of shed. It's quite a popular hobby for hunters and non-hunters now days, but when I met him years ago, I had no idea what he was talking about. I thought: why would anyone "hunt" for a small building - just go to the hardware store! He immediately clued me in and it has been a big part of our lives for the past 17 years.

The above photo is the first thing you would see upon walking into our living room. The sheds displayed here are behind a small couch that faces into the room. Then upon the fireplace mantle, in front of the fireplace, on top the television, my music CD cabinet, a large bookcase, and in a wicker basket you'll see sheds.

Since whitetails grow them anew every year, there is, at least theoretically, an endless supply of these things where ever the bucks have been. Actually, it sounds pretty easy, but it isn't. You'd be surprised how those sheds look just like fallen branches, leaves, or when covered with dirt and lichen are almost invisible!

Steve, my husband, starts the shed hunting in earnest in January when the bucks begin to drop their prizes. If there has been a small amount of snow they will show up and not sink down. But, it's not as if they drop both sides at the same time, or on a well worn path, or on your lawn. No, they can be dropped anywhere. Steve's crawled under thickets, walked miles through brush, scoured muddy bare corn, soybean, alfalfa, and wheat fields, examined railroad tracks and the undergrowth along them, and searched all kinds of woods.

And, if he puts in enough man hours, he can be rewarded with a nice half with 6 points on it that has just been dropped - you can see the fresh blood on the end. Or many times he finds a small piece of a shed antler that is years old and has been nearly gnawed away by mice, squirrels, or chipmunks - they get needed minerals that way.

Some years he has found 20 plus, and other years it has been slim pickins with only 6 or 7. But they all find their way to our home and the mantle holds that season's sheds through the summer. Shed hunting time lasts only until the woods and fields begin to green up - then everything is hidden.

You'd think that this kind of hobby would be pretty laid back and mellow -- Oh no! Steve has sons and friends who also hunt sheds and it is quite competitive. He won't tell his friends where the "honey hole" is for that year (he does tell his sons) and good areas are secrets. If you meet another shed hunter in the woods or fields, you don't give away too much info or brag too much about what you have. Sometimes, if he's found a nice shed, he'll hide it under his coat the whole rest of the time he walks. Just in case he meets up with someone. It isn't always a solitary time, he does go with his boys and makes a whole day of it.

During the week, since we work 2nd shift, he can do some walking in the mornings. Most people are out walking on the weekends so he generally has the areas to himself. It's funny, but most of the good shed areas are behind and around subdivisions, industrial parks, and developments, not up north or extremely wild spots. That does make things pretty tough since he won't trespass on private property. Luckily, there are lots of parks and sanctuaries near the developed areas and the deer like to hang out there.

This snowy winter wasn't good for shed hunting and last weekend Steve went out but came back within an hour. The snow was still boot high and everything was still covered - even in the wooded areas. But this week we've begun to warm up and the snow is disappearing fast and tomorrow it will be the official start of the season.

I like it that he does this kind of hunting. Nothing dies and he gets a lot of exercise and fresh air. And if you could see his face and hear his voice when he slyly pulls one out from his jacket pocket and says "Guess who's still got it!" you'd agree completely with me.
He has such patience, an excellent eye, and just loves doing this that I hope he'll be able to do it until he's old and grey (actually he's nearly all grey now!) I'd go with him when we first dated, so I know how truly hard it is and I'm very proud when he finds them. The elusive sheds are out there and quietly waiting for him.
Bye for now, Alyssa

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Getting Ready for Spring

There is at least a foot of snow on the ground and it was snowing again this evening, but I've started to plant my seeds. And I will plant more in a few weeks. These pictures are from last year - I just wanted to give you an idea of the scope of what I do.

My husband has built me two large grow shelves in the basement - one is a standard bookshelf type, with fluorescent lights hanging from the bottom of the above shelf. The other is a very long , heavy, sturdy table (about 8 feet) with lights hanging from the rafters of the low ceiling. I use a cool bulb and a warm bulb in each fixture - I think they are the standard 36".

After years of trying different seed starting mixes, buying sheets of planting cells, repotting growing seedlings, I've finally come on a planting system that works well for me. I liked the Jiffy expanding pellets but they always seemed too small to hold a decent size rootball. Then I came upon the extra large size Jiffy pellet in the Harris Seed catalogue and it is fantastic. They expand to about 3 + inches and hold lots of roots and don't dry out as fast as the smaller ones. I just use the trays and clear plastic covers I got from years past and this is a wonderful system for me.

As you can see I like to have large transplants when it is time for hardening off and potting into permanent homes. Usually the plants are beginning to bloom and within a few weeks have filled out the pots and window boxes nicely.

I don't know if you can tell the plants by the pictures, but there are petunias, geraniums, impatiens, and salvia. Actually, there are many others besides these good- old stand-bys. I tend to be a person of excess - when I love something- and this year I counted 15 different colors and varieties of petunia seeds that I've sent for. Actually some are from last year, but I think this will be the "year of the petunia" in our yard.
The summers here in Wisconsin have obviously become hotter and dryer and petunias still do fantastic in nearly every situation. And there are so many different types that are offered. The Wave series, the Daddys, the Morns, the Avalanches, the Doubles are all favorites! And the colors are too numerous to go in to.

They smell sweet and the insects and hummingbirds like them too. I planted some heirloom petunias a number of years ago and they grow very tall and leggy, but have the most fantastic scent and reseed every year in wonderful and surprising spots. It is quite unusual for a petunia to reseed here in the northern states so I'm always happy to see them.
When I first began to garden, like a lot of beginners, I turned my nose up at the boring petunia - seen in soooooo many places. Now, as the years go by, I've really acquired a healthy appreciation for its reliability and beauty. Many of the scores of plants I've experimented with are now memories, but the" lowly" petunia will always be one of my favorites.
Next time I write about my rather extensive - others would say excessive - gardening adventures I'll tell you about some other favorites that rank right up there with the petunia.

Bye for now,