It's said that frogs are a sign of a healthy garden. The season started here with a few frogs hopping among my plants this spring. Then I noted a few more of the spotted green amphibians known as Northern Leopard Frogs in my water feature and a smaller fountain. I was so glad to see them already established and thriving in my new landscape.
Then I happened to look down into the window well located alongside the raised beds of my kitchen garden. Eight feet down I counted eight frogs sitting on the pebbles at the bottom of the well by my son's bedroom. Heading to the basement I looked out the window at below ground level and counted the frogs again, only to see the dead leaves shiver with the possibility of even more frogs hiding underneath them.
Thinking like a human I worried that these frogs all hopped into the window well and became trapped, unable to get out. I started to calculate frogs per square inch, concerned that the supply of insects and spiders might run low. But how to help them out? Or were they happy in this damp buggy haven?
I lowered a nearby vine into the well without success. Next I placed a ladder into the hole thinking they could hop out on the steps. No takers though. Around this time my son came home between his summer job and college starting. We discussed the frog removal issue. He was glad I abandoned my original plan to open window and herd them into a plastic bin. There could have been a few escapees in his room.
He came on board when they started flinging themselves against his window every time it rained.
Enter the frog wranglers! My husband and son gently scooped frogs out of the window well with a long handled rake. Hours later the frogs were back in the window well. And there they remain. However the numbers change, five one day, twelve another. The population might be steady with some hiding under the leaves. Some are brown now rather than the bright green shade. Are they changing colors? Or is there a spectrum of colors among the frogs in the garden? Lots of froggy questions.
As cold weather approaches I'm left wondering what the frogs will do. Meanwhile I'm proud to know that frogs are so plentiful in my garden. Biodiversity in the garden is always my goal. I don't use pesticides hoping that beneficial insects and natural controls maintain a healthy balance in my garden. The wealth of frogs tells me I'm doing something right.
Are you keeping up with your basil, is your pinching on par with the herb's prolific leaves and spiky flowers that seem to appear overnight? Better get going on some pesto.
No longer an exotic condiment, pesto is everywhere, but that's not exactly a good thing. You see good pesto is hard to find. The best pesto happens at home.
There are lots of putzy pesto recipes out there. Many add an ingredient here, an extra step there, in an attempt to disguise the fact that the lovely green stuff is not that complicated. In fact it's dead simple.
I go one further and take out a few steps and leave only the essential elements.
This pesto is meant to be enjoyed or frozen immediately.
Easy Pesto Recipe
2 cups packed basil leaves
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano (hard parmesan cheese)
1/4 cup pine nuts
At this point many people recommend adding salt, I think the cheese is salty enough. Some suggest lemon juice, I don't see the need. Others add Italian parsley, walnuts, etc. Why fix something that ain't broke?
I put all this into the food processor, I even grate the cheese right into the bowl to save on dirty dishes. I pulse and bounce the mixture until it's a coarse to smooth consistency according to how I like it.
If I'm serving it right then, I go ahead and add extra virgin olive oil from a mere drizzle to up to a 1/2 cup depending upon the dish. If I'm freezing it, I omit the olive oil. You see I'll add it when it's thawed for serving later. Leaving out the oil it can be frozen in flat plastic freezer bags, none of that fussy freezing into ice cube containers.
I press the air out of the bags until they're relatively flat so they fit into the smallest of nooks and crannies of the freezer. I can then use the entire package for pastas or just break off bits to add to soups and salads.
The best part about this pesto recipe is during the middle of winter when I crave that fresh green fragrance and sharp flavor of pesto and I think I've run out. Somehow, some way one of the slender bags slips down behind the ice cream carton and magically materializes at my moment of need.
Can you freeze bell peppers? Certainly. There are several ways but I like this quick and easy method I found on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln website. It's the same as the one I use to freeze berries so I savor summer even in the snowy winter.
I've been waiting patiently for my bell peppers to turn that gorgeous shade of red that gives color and sweetness to any recipe. Imagine my disappointment when I noticed that the plant was so weighed down with beautiful bells that a branch split. That meant I had to get in gear to save these veggies.
Tray freezing is a technique I'm already familiar with, using it for preserving blueberries, strawberries and raspberries from the farmer's market. You freeze the produce on a baking sheet in a single layer. Once frozen you put it in a freezer bag, so the individual pieces or berries don't stick together. It's better for food safety and quality.
Join me on Twitter at #pollin8rchat Tuesdays 8pm CT to learn about pollinator-friendly gardening!
You can cut the peppers in strips or dice, however you'll want to prepare them for the intended dish. To avoid that messy moment when the seeds go everywhere I simply cut around the stem, down all four sides. You are left with the core and most of the seeds, just toss it out. There may be a few seeds to pick out.
I cut my peppers in strips, I can always dice them if needed when I go to use them. Place them in a single layer and let freeze. Once frozen you can pop them into freezer bags. Use within a year from freezing. Easy, huh?
Follow the pics to see how simple the tray freezing method can be.
What's blooming? It's more like what's buzzing, and fluttering for this Garden Bloggers Bloom Day in August 2104!
It's no secret that The Garden Buzz is all about a lively garden. I've always believed a garden isn't really alive unless there are lots of creatures about. Everyone is concerned about pollinators and people are just now coming to realize, what gardeners have known all along, how important a role they play in our gardens and lives.
While I'm at it, I'd love to invite you to join me at #pollin8rchat. It's a Twitter Chat where we bring together people, plants and pollinators. If you're not on Twitter please consider it, it's lots of fun and a fountain of knowledge and knowledgeable people. Join #pollin8rchat to learn lots about how you can attract and support pollinators. Email me if you have questions about how to participate.
Meanwhile enjoy the blooms and the busy bees and butterflies!
Is it a weed or a wildflower? How do you make the call?
When I'm weeding my yard and I come upon an unfamiliar set of leaves, do you do like me and let it be for a bit? Wondering what this uninvited but determined plant will become? I do like horticultural surprises. Will it be a delightful wildflower blown by the wind only to serendipitously land in your garden? Or will be a seedy, rhizomatous monster set on world domination, taking down your garden with it? How do you handle this gardening dilemma?
We've all seen those cute little quotes about how a weed is a plant whose virtues have yet to be discovered. And I'm the first to tell you, there's almost always two sides to the story. My most common example is the dandelion. While it's a lawn lover's nightmare, bees count on it as a first source of nectar in spring.
Weed or wildflower? Hoary Vervain, Verbena Stricta, just starting to bloom
This little darling showed up as weeds seem to do, right next to something it resembled. Have you noticed this phenomenon? As a young seedling it sort of looked like the sage it sat next to. So I let it go. As it grew taller I grew more curious and let it bloom. It turned out to be a wildflower called hoary (that refers to the gray fuzz on the young plant) vervain. It's a wildflower that can re-seed and form colonies but is considered pretty harmless. Bonus: It's a larval plant host for Buckeye butterflies.
Buckeye butterfly nectaring on sedum
Are you planting for pollinators? Interested in learning more about all of these tiny but important creatures? Consider joining me on #pollin8rchat! I host this Twitter chat every Tuesday at 8pm CT. Don't know how to participate? Email me and I'll run you thru the basics.
Weed or WIldflower? Verbascum thapsus, or common mullein
And then there's these guys. Mullein. They show up looking like lamb's ears innocent cousin with those cute fuzzy leaves. You see them growing on roadsides or places where the soil has been recently disturbed. Mullein is an introduced species, originally from Europe. Like lots of other "exotic" plants it was brought to America by early settlers who valued it for the herb's medicinal properties.
The fuzzy leaves aren't as soft as lamb's ears
One single mullein can produce hundreds of thousands of seeds, therefore earning it the title of invasive meaning it can crowd out and displace native plants. Why have I let it grow, in my newly planted landscape, no less? I actually weeded out all but three of the plants. I like the plant's architectural quality, but it is close to forming seeds so after tomorrow they are on my to-do list. As in to-done!
The single buds never bloom at the same time
I've loved watching their candelabra-like stalks reach for the sky. Ants and wasps have scaled and explored the tall spires. The single blooms never bloom all at once, which makes it kind of ornery from a decorative sense. Funny it turns out, they are quite a conversation piece, people walking by always ask...and what are those?
I'm tempted to let them form seeds and watch the birds go after them but I know better. The goldfinches will have to remain content with stripping the petals from my zinnias so they can reach the seeds!
Have you face a similar quandary with a wildflower/weed? What do you do?
I saw the saddest veggie garden today. My heart went out to it. I know its gardener meant well, but the good intentions were lost on this garden.
It looked more like a prison for plants than a place to grow food. I'm sure the heavy coat of landscape fabric was meant to control weeds, perhaps warm the soil. Instead the plants stuck stiffly out of the holes, properly spaced but awkward and fruitless. It was almost like each veggie plant was being forced to wear a scratchy turtleneck in the hot summer heat. That fabric may be permeable but those plants looked thirsty too. And those bricks, they had a threatening air about them.
I couldn't help but think about how happy the veggies looked back home in my garden. My veggies are planted a little close, so much that they hug each other. There is co-mingling. Errant bean tendrils twist 'round zinnia stems. Limbs loaded with tomatoes spill over the edges. Cucumber vines furnish ramps for ants to ascend. There are lots of bees, bugs and other lively creatures acting out the circle of life, pollinating the blooms and keeping any damage in check. There's color too.
When I saw that sad little veggie garden I wanted to throw back the black hood that was holding it back, let the soil soak up the rain. But I didn't. Instead I went home and picked beans from tangled towers and pulled up crowded carrots while the humming of bees lingered on the breeze, grateful for my harvest.
Twitter chats are twice as nice as simply tweeting. Although we can't sovle the world's problem in 140 characters, Twitter chats are a great way to connect people for a common cause. My cause is supporting pollinators. Why? Well I love to eat! They are responsible for every third bite we consume. And I enjoy their incredible beauty in my garden.
Join me on Tuesday, July 22 at 8PM CST and tell us about the pollinators in your garden and community, and how you welcome their presence. Learn more about attracting them and helping them to increase their numbers in the face of many threats.
You'll need a twitter account. Follow the setup steps and you're on your way. To follow the conversation, just search out the hashtag #pollin8rchat. The more the better. Buzz on over!
Or should I say "holey" Toledo Botanical Garden, since the Japanese beetles were enjoying the beautiful gardens as much as myself. Good to know even the professionals can't escape this scourge.
I've been on the road with my husband for a combination "visit family/tag along on a work trip" jaunt to Cleveland, Toledo, Indianapolis and central Illinois before heading home to where the quickly ripening cukes and beans (and hopefully tomatoes) are waiting for me.
Our first stop was in Cleveland to see our son and his new apartment/summer job where he also attends Case Western University. The apartment is very urban and cool, and surprisingly tidy. I especially loved that the plaza just outside and facing the new Museum of Contemporary Art has gorgeous landscaping. I'm not quite sure what his job at this new startup entails but it seems terribly mathy. Impressive. And of course the Cleveland Botanical Garden was closed both days we were there.
While my husband took care of business in Toledo, I wandered the Toledo Botanical Garden and found it impressive (and hey, Cleveland... it's open everyday during daylight hours) too. I was pleased to find a balanced mixture of enclosed specialized plantings and broad expanses of natural landscape with cottages and artist studios situated here and there.
I spent several hours exploring the nooks and crannies and walking the paths to the outer reaches of the gardens taking photos along the way. I loved walking through the Grand Allee. I'm a sucker for a good allee, and this double allee of silver lindens is very special.Here's a small sampling of what I saw in case you're thinking of a visit.
(Pardon the picture size today, slow wi-fi in the hotel, wouldn't ya know)
Make sure to walk the Grand Allee
I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date! So much going on in the garden but you'll excuse me for missing GBBD by two days due to wedding anniversary #29.
Without further ado...
Echium 'Red Feathers' with handsome spikes of reddish-pink flowers
Windowbox succulents paired with Gomphrena 'Fireworks' and rock rose