Salve!

I didn’t much care for my fifth grade teacher – let’s call her Miss K. A large woman, Miss K bounced around a classroom making remarks that left a person feeling uncomfortable about herself. She even made the boys cry. Maybe you’ve had a teacher like her.

At that age – for some reason I was a year younger than everyone else – most of her remarks went right over my head. I just knew that Miss K did not like me as much as she liked other kids in the class.

Walking home from school one day (now in the eighth grade and about to enter high school), Miss K stopped and asked if I wanted a ride. I didn’t, but I also didn’t know how to say ‘no.’ So I said yes. Here’s our conversation:

Her: So you’re going to high school.
Me: That’s right.
Her: Are you taking Latin?
Me: No. French and German.
Her: (Sniff). Of course you’re not taking Latin. You will never need it.

Allium Christophii

Allium Christophii

Back then, I had no idea what she meant by that. I did ‘get’ the disrespect.

Now, some 50+ years later, I understand the comment. Thing is, it’s beside the point! As a gardener with a tiny grounding in botany, I sort of need Latin. Here is some.

Zinnia elegans

Zinnia elegans

This is what we learned in last week’s EMG class. Kingdom – Division – Class – Order – Family – Genus – Species. And I have to say, I’m glad I’m not a botanist! But I am using Latin…

Clematis Claire de Lune

Clematis Claire de Lune

Just so reading the Blog won’t be a complete waste of time for you, the more important lesson from our botany class was about matching the plant to the environment.

My example? I have a lovely place under one of my pin oaks that is calling out for hellebores (Helleborus orientalis). I’ve planted several different types from a couple of different nurseries, including one that I know for certain is hardy enough to survive out of my friend Lenora’s garden. As of this morning, they are all dead. Clearly the environment was not right for helebores. I planted some daffodils (Narcissus Icelandic Pink) instead.

And by the way, if you want to know how to pronounce those Latin names, the Missouri Botanical Garden site will let you hear the correct pronounciation online. Just click the microphone to the right of the name!

What I Shoulda Done

This week I ripped out my red and yellow day lilies. After five years of frequent bed cleanups, I decided to plant the bed with my favorite bush, hydrangeas. Of course, I wanted compact hydrangeas instead of the kind that get overgrown and messy.

In addition to reducing the mess and cleanup quotient, I remembered that hydrangeas love acidic soil, much like blueberries. And you guessed it! Last spring I planted blueberries ‘around the corner’ from the bed where I plan to plant hydrangeas. With hydrangeas HERE and blueberries THERE I can acidify the soil to my heart’s content. Easy!

We won’t talk about the clematis already established in that bed. They are doing fine and maybe can stand a little acid.

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But this week, I found out what I didn’t know. Tuesday was our first extension master gardener class. Dennis Patton from the Johnson County Extension Office talked about soil. To digress, once he finished discussing the definitions of ‘soil’ and ‘dirt,’ I thought I should change my Blog tag line from ‘Let’s play in the dirt’ to – yes, indeed! – ‘Let’s play in the soil.’ But it doesn’t pack the same punch.

So, soil. What I shoulda done was get a pH test for the soil in that bed. For two years, I’ve been sprinkling some product that claimed to acidify the soil. I shoulda known the name of the product, what it does, how much to use, those kind of things. But growing plants isn’t like baking a cake, right?

Oh so wrong. I still need to follow the established recipes! My blueberries are not liking their spot. Too little sun? Too little acid? Too wet? I don’t know…

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Tuesday I learned that the Extension Office will do a free soil test once a year. Knowing my pH will help me know what I can do – if anything – to make the soil acidic enough for blueberries and hydrangeas. Although I just read that the real acid-loving hydrangeas are blue.

Sometime in midsummer, I spotted a red hydrangea cultivar outside the grocery store and thought I’d make it my ‘test’ hydrangea for that bed. It’s had brown spots on the leaves since the end of July, and I kept telling myself that it was due to a lack of acid in the soil. But no. What I shoulda done was to Google ‘brown spots on hydrangea leaf.’ I would have learned that I probably have something called cercospora leaf spot, an infectious leaf disease. Since I have more hydrangeas on the way, the question is whether I pull that plant out or try to fix the problem with a fungicide.

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So glad I’m taking these classes. I’m still hoping that the summer of 2015 has fewer blues!

A Creative Moment

We have the ubiquitous “pile of junk” consisting of things like an old heat pump, a broken air compressor, wire, odd pavers – you get the idea. Last week, in the middle of off-loading the last of this year’s topsoil from the trailer, I made an off-hand remark to Jim that FINALLY it was time to get rid of the junk pile.

I guess he thought about it for a couple of days and this past Tuesday, he loaded the junk into the truck, got out one of his trusty paper maps, and off he went into the sunset. I would have thrown the stuff away. He made money. That’s my Jim!

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In the process, he unearthed two old iron bedsteads – headboards and footboards – and what we think is an old car frame. He asks, what do you want to do with all this? The question gave me one of those creative moments. Wouldn’t that car frame be great as a flower or herb garden? And maybe use the headboards and footboards somehow?

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He also unearthed some wheels and what looks like a concrete manhole cover. Hmm…

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Now what would make this creative moment even better? I’d love some ideas from my readers! I know I’ll hear from my regular commenters! And if you’ve never before made a comment, please put on your creativity-hat and help me out!

Should I paint the frames or leave them au naturel?

What to do with the wheels?

And any ideas on what to plant?

Every single one of your thoughts is welcome!!

Summer 2015?

I’ve started fall cleanup, and as I’m digging, hoeing, and raking, I’m already thinking about next year. What will I plant?

A lot depends on what was successful this year!

I had a lot of success with tomatoes. I’ve eaten many sandwiches and salads with my own tomatoes. I made salsa and froze bags of tomatoes for sauce. I’ve also given away more tomatoes than I can count, all from two little plants.

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I’ve not had as much luck with cole plants. Broccoli, sprouts, and kale simply served as food for caterpillars.

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Melons were enormously successful – just not enough of them. My Jim has decided to take over melon production next summer in a giant sized patch of land. Hope it works since we won’t be using raised beds.

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Even the Delicata squash worked well until the dreaded squash bug appeared. I’m moving my tomatoes and maybe my cucumbers to the infested bed next year. Hopefully, the lack of squash for a year or two will discourage these guys!

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My string beans were a total bust – so much so that I don’t have so much as a photo. Next year, I’m going to try my hand at peas and sugar snap peas. I like them both. They’ll go in the bed that right now has tomatoes and cucumbers.

Potatoes were wonderful. Beets and carrots, not so much. The beets were bitter and the carrots woody. Next year I think I’ll try sweet potatoes or yams instead of beets and carrots.

And of course, this year I had a lot of help from Jim and Mother Nature. The moderate, somewhat rainy summer was a real plus. The raised beds, the fence, and the day-to-day help made it all possible. Hoping for more of both in 2015 so I can spend more time chasing butterflies!

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Next week I start Extension Master Gardener classes. Maybe next year I’ll also have fewer gardening blues thanks to increased knowledge!

Chasing Butterflies

I’ve kept to my watering and weeding routine and also stayed busy getting a short story (dark fantasy) ready for a national contest. In my ‘down’ time, I’ve been chasing butterflies. Here’s one. Double click on the photo to see the detail. Lovely wings and lovely spotted body.

Butterflies-IMG_2393

Early Signs of Fall? And Another Question…

I walked out to the garden this foggy morning and found this lovely, dew sparkled spiderweb on my plum tree. I tried to capture it with my camera. If you click to enlarge the photo, you can see the individual dew drops.

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Signs of early fall – chrysanthemums in bloom.

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A second crop of pink balsam starting.

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Acorns on my pin oaks.

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And now for the second question. I noticed these eggs on many, many pin oak leaves. Can anyone identify them? Are these “good” insects or gross insects? Hoping to learn before I pull on my “big girl panties” and start brushing them off the leaves.

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Squash Bugs – Gross!!

The squash bug infestation has destroyed my Delicata squash. So nasty and so sad. I’ve asked what I can do about it now, looking to my experienced gardener and master gardener friends; the simplest suggestion was to spray the area with diatomaceous earth.

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You may know that squash bugs or Anasa tristis, order Hemiptera, are common pests of squash, pumpkins and melons, all belonging to the cucurbit family. Cucumbers are also cucurbits, and it now seems likely that my difficulty with cucumbers this year was due to squash bugs. Yuck.

For those who don’t know me well, I have a little phobia going on regarding insects and especially bugs. Thanks to Lenora Larson for patiently explaining the difference! I’m learning to have a little more respect and a little less startle reflex to insects. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to bugs.

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So, squash bugs. How to kill them? I attended a Miami County Extension Office class about pest management, presented by Raymond Cloyd, Ph.D. from Kansas State University. He talked about removing the eggs (too late for that), using oil sprays on the nymphs (too late for that) and – finally – using a vacuum to remove the squash bugs.

Really? I just don’t want bugs in my vacuum… An article on the K-State Extension site says this: “Squash bugs are not equally susceptible to insecticide treatments at all developmental stages.” And goes on to say that insecticides are most effective against earliest instar nymphs. The same article suggests a variety of insecticides timed correctly, although taking care not to harm other, beneficial insects like bees, is important.

To prevent another infestation next year, I’m going to plant something else in that bed, although I haven’t decided what quite yet. I’m open to suggestions.

I may try planting a trap crop of Delicata squash since the bugs seem to adore it. I have cantaloupe planted in the same bed and have seen nary a bug on any of the cantaloupe leaves or vines!

Meanwhile, I sprinkled some diatomaceous earth on the squash because first, I bought it and have it, and second, it can’t hurt. From my perspective, the squash bugs do not like diatomaceous earth and started churning around, trying to get away.

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I really can’t think about bugs any more today. Thanks for reading!