Sunday, November 5, 2017

Until Then Had Been

Was it late last summer when my neighbor fired up his pizza oven? 

Meteorologically warm, yet cool to the skin, and moisture so deep it rises over fields and edges and the tragic flesh of collapsing gourds.

This was late summer, last year.

What until then had been?

Amazed and horrified by my productivity and fruitlessness.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Do The Right Thing...

...and plant some goldenrod, Solidago species, somewhere on your grounds. As I painted this portion of the house a few weeks ago, creatures of all stripes feasted. 

The bumble.

Sweat Bee, Augochlora pura (Pure Green Augochlora). I used to call them Christmas ball bees.

No pollinating insects ever seen on the mums. Is it because of the frog? I don't think so.

After the Solidago species decline, the asters, or what used to be called asters, take over where the goldenrod left off to provide insects with their last great bounty of pollen for the season. Here in the woods we have lots of, err, asters. I purchased Sky Blue or Azure Aster, Symphyotrichum oolentangiense, to add to the intense yellows of the mini prairie/savannah I planted at north eastern edge of the new studio building. I tray seeded Short's Aster, Symphyotrichum shortii, for shaded to partly shaded areas south of the building but under a large basswood tree. Then there are the many that grow quite naturally in the woods and more commonly, at its edges. I was close to naming them all, until they changed the names! 

Although a well-blooming sedum will give asters and goldenrod a run for their money. There was a record Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui, migration this year. A September day with sun could easily show dozens in the garden.

Sadly, not all Monarchs make the transition. This one had its wing in dried in a coil.

As I write we are well into autumn. This yellow leaf landing on the still immature iceberg lettuce nearly three weeks ago.

And my single summer sprouted green bean is producing a bounty -just one plant has provided plenty.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017


There are things you must do that you decided are a must, but no one else, or maybe someone else, but why should we care about the rules of others in matters not of their concern? A lesson graciously provided, over and over again.

 Although house work looms at the preface of autumn, the introduction to day.

Early autumn is a fantastic spectre of shortened days, shortened seasons, and shortened lives. Who decides what must be your day?

I stop to photograph the sand hill cranes whose prehistoric call so often heard, their bodies little seen. 

Walk to see small victories of woods gardening -an aster...

recovering jewelweed...

and the appearance of zig zag goldenrod along the drainage we attended to for three springs.

Now, on to applications for grants, house painting, plant planting, drainage installing, arboretum course development, and all the other allergenic musts that occupy any given day.

Sunday, September 10, 2017


Four year old buckwheat seed still a hearty sprouter in this year's garlic field. A fast-growing cover crop, it is now tilled in.

My neighbor's giant pumpkin patch: all those leaves to support one pumpkin.

My tray seeded royal catchfly, Silene regia, finally flowers, weakly, in its first year.

Eastern tiger swallowtail grabbing a drink from a rain filled cell tray.

A frog poking its head out of the same. 

The tomato patch, post tomato. One plant has retained a healthy posture, but continues to blight its fruit. The plants directly to the right are peppers, unaffected by the blight. The container near the hydrangea are potatoes that have somehow, to date, resisted succumbing. I pulled all the plants, anyway, leaving the tubers in the ground for my picking as needed. The tomato plants filled three 45 gallon trash bags.

The very green Eastern gray tree frog, notably Hyla versicolor, on its spiked throne.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

A Pickling Pond*

For the first time in probably two months I headed to the western side of our woods. The light has been hazy, the mosquitoes just this side of intolerable. Now that the water has killed off all of the trees, it's time to hack back the weeds and garden this part of the woods.

I spend my time looking at plant parts with purpose to divine the weed from the wanted. A seed is one clue and my digital camera a prosthesis of magnification and memory.

Could the seed, above, and node, hairs aimed down, point to Leersia virginica. White Grass? It's hard to be absolute without an expert on hand. I composed a little poem about grass anatomy.

Lemma, awn, sheath 
and palea. 
Ligule, node, culm 
and glume.

The bridge I tore apart in late winter still in shambles. I did create a working drawing for its replacement and designed a steel post and wooden beam structure, prototype section yet to be built. These places belong to mosquitoes in summer, and with so much else to do, the bridge project has languished. 

From the head of the bridge, looking east, southeast. Reed canary grasses, willow, cottonwood, cattail, some sedge. Behind me a forest of invasive buckthorn that has accelerated since the 2012, thunderstorm downing of a giant old bur oak. 

The prototype for this bridge will be built as a pier into the wetland in the photo at the beginning of this post. Why there? The heavy rains of the last few years has created constant water that has killed off every tree near and within the bounds of the forest slough. Without the basswood, ash and maple that tolerated seasonal wetness only, there is quite a bit of sun hitting the water and land. Invasive species are gaining ground and water, or have already taken it. Garlic mustard, reed canary grass, Canadian thistle (not from Canada, originally) are the powerhouses, here. Late growing natives, like clearweed, Pilea pumila, fill in after the garlic mustard dies back. An aster, here and there, and some hogpeanut too. The soil washes down a severe slope just to the north of the water. By September there are few leaves left by earthworms and decomposition to help slow the heavy rains. The soil pathway created by this down rush of water grows little. This bare patch will be the entrance to the water edge.

I know this spot well. It is a mass of garlic mustard in spring and early summer, yet a few plants, like clearweed, hold on or can work with the seasonality of the invasive species. I've recently seen what is likely to be white grass, Leersia virginica, and what I believe is marsh skullcap, Scutellaria galericulata. In spring I tray-seeded sweet joe pye weed which tolerates some shade and wet for part of this area. I have some fringed brome, iris versicolor, cardinal flower, blue vervain (tolerates wet soils), ironweed, and a couple of others I cannot recall from my desk. We also have enough blue lobelia, physostegia (obedient plant),  and even some chelone glabra (turtlehead) volunteering around the gardens to shift to the back. Near the small pier I will clear for these transplants and, come mid fall, will be on the look out for pull out of garlic mustard first year rosettes.

*An artist friend told me that duckweed covered waters like ours were called pickling ponds by locals and young kids were warned to stay away from them, lest they be pickled.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

It's Not All Bad

 I mean, look at that Bok Choy, only 3 weeks old from seed.

 More cukes from four plants than we can handle.

 Herbs, herbs, herbs.

And the savanna prairie is coming together -all this from seed scattered in the icy depth of winter.

Saturday, August 26, 2017


Had you asked me one week ago, before my excursion to New York City, about my tomatoes, I would have told you how wonderful they look, not a blemish, not a spot, so much growth if but a little slow to produce. The weather had been perfect -mid eighties daily, mid sixties nightly, occasional rains, some quite heavy, but spaced well enough to dry the soil and leaves consistently.

But you did not ask me a week ago, you asked me today, after temperature and moisture have acted in concert to produce a bloom of quick death, the ebola of tomatoes, a harshly sudden and lethal affliction with the curious botanic moniker P. infestans, late blight.

We can only watch as the plant withers, top and bottom, leaves, stems and fruit. Picking from this blackened tangle of vines is like stealing from the dead; the experience of tomato too close to mush and slime, one picked from this vine makes an appetite for it tarnished, rotten.  

It will be only a matter of days, maybe by this weekend, that the once strong will be blackened and slumped. I will watch them die and think about what little control we have over life, the one we wish for and the life we wish away.

The tomato patch after severe cleaning.

Monday, August 21, 2017

August Regis Portendat

I chose not to photograph, or rather attempt to photograph, today's eclipse. A little roughed up from a work trip drive to New York, then a delayed flight that had me return to Minnesota at four ayem Saturday. The body seems to lag behind the return, so for three days after there is a sluggishness. This final day is a good day, then, for a solar eclipse. Cosmological events were often held in more superstitious times to be portents of revolution and other negatively viewed events. It's hard to say what the 2017 eclipse portends, other than my time in our woods with camera to photograph perpendicular to the rays of our sun. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Beetle Daily

I've been watching these chrysanthemums for two weeks as they slowly unfurled into the flowers you see below. Inordinately early, these mums have me scratching my chin. August, maybe, but early July? 

Maybe double is the wrong terminology for this, so let me be clear: the bee balm stem leads up to the lower flower and then the stem continues through it, leading to yet another flower on top. Is that weird?

Nothing strange about these coneflower, but there they are, doing as well as can be. But it is unusual to have seen so few pollinating insects on them.

Or on the swamp milkweed, A. incarnata.

Or the butterfly weed, A. tuberosa.

Not even this creamy white mystery milkweed, A. mysteriosa, surrounded by the spreading, but also sparsely visited gooseneck loosestrife, Lysimachia clethroides.

Strike that. Yesterday I saw plenty of bumble bees, a few moths, and was even visited by a monarch.

The pom poms I ripped out from the south side of the house and used to frame the curving drive so that snow plows do not run straight over the lawn-ish front yard. A summer solution to a winter problem, these snowballs are simply massive this year. They do not turn blue or pink, a relief really. They fade to a pale pink and cream. Westward advancing Japanese beetles enjoy fornicating on these pillows, but so far have not delaminated any leaves.

The Japanese beetle, Popillia japonica. My grandmother used to give us a nickel for each beetle knocked off her roses into a cup of poison. Surprisingly, they are not yet as common in the mountain west and high plains as they are elsewhere, yet they are beginning to wreak havoc as they arrive. I hardly saw one over fifteen years of Big Woods summers, but this year there are many.

They were first observed on this year's potatoes, but again, they have not fed on the lamina (the fleshy part of the leaf). The potatoes appear quite well, have been mounded up with a yard or two of fresh compost-soil mix, and are surrounded by new, cedar raised structures. Harvesting will begin in a month or so.

This has been quite a year for sap-sucking. Two months ago I spotted whole garlic mustard plants, usually untouched, being drained by black or gray aphids. This particular arrangement, upside down with rear legs unattached is peculiar, but I've seen it before and twice this year.

Here, photographed at a client's garden, the same upside down arrangement, legs pointed out and upward.

The orange aphids love A. incarnata, swamp milkweed, that I planted along the sunny north edge of the clearing around the new studio.

Is it a hard year if they've sunken to sucking on my blue grama grass?

A closer look, not the aphid I was expecting: Russian wheat aphidDiuraphis noxia, an invasion of a different sort? Maybe, maybe not. Witch hunt. Sad.

In other news, our seeded cucumbers are producing and look quite healthy (no mildew). They are climbing up a cedar framed heavy duty fencing Betsy and I put together (it was her brilliant idea -it attaches to the raised bed).

The home garlic is forty percent harvested, and Hudson Clove garlic is now much further along with most varieties harvested. I'm teaching a two part garlic growing course at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum this fall and spring. Sign up, fly in, do a little leaf peeping, and you're all set.

Wow. All the tomatoes are in. The only vegetable I got in on time was the potatoes in late April. The last bed of yellow, leggy tomato starts was planted on July 11th. Above, the first to get planted in late June or early July -I can't remember. We have three and a half, ten foot long, tomato beds filled with arboretum classroom freebie heirlooms and random, old seeds that happened to sprout. Black vernissage, chardonnay, cream sausage paste, San Marzano paste, stone ridge, black krim, brandywine, and forgotten others are the line up.

An early chardonnay, a large cherry type, is very tasty with a touch tough skins.

Likely a young vernissage, the stripes will remain dark green and the pale green will ripen red, giving the overall "black" color. 

Black beauty -one must remember to wait for the green to turn red.