Cheers to Summer

Cheers to Summer

Summer evenings are time to enjoy sitting in your yard, surrounded by beautiful flowers, enjoying a glass of wine from a local vineyard. Who wouldn’t enjoy this?

Cheers!

summer wine sippingWhat do you do to relax in the summer?

Waiting Patiently

Waiting Patiently

We have some large projects going on at our house right now. The siding is being replaced and a few of the gardens are being revamped, once the siding is finished on each section. My husband is handy, so the siding job is his.

side bed2017

My job, fitting for a nature lover and master gardener, is to spruce up the beds, once the scaffolding moves on to another part of our dwelling.  Last night, I was working on a long bed next to our garage. Among others, it holds my common milkweed plants. As I worked along on the border, replacing sand between bricks, I finally had to give in and look. The healthy green leaves are just waiting for a monarch visit. Were there any eggs, I wondered? Probably not, to have eggs, one must have butterflies. I have yet to see a Monarch this year.  So, I looked. I looked at the common milkweed. I looked at the swamp milkweed in another bed. And I looked at the rose milkweed, started by my garden club students from seed in 2015. Nada. Nothing, but healthy plants waiting to nourish a beautiful insect that depends solely on the verdant leaves to life.

Patiently, I’ll wait. For the alst 14 years I have raised monarchs, planted new and restored old habitats for this species that undergoes a miraculous metamorphosis and even more astounding migration. It is awe inspiring to be part of the process. It is that awe that I use to engage my students in learning about the environment, biodiversity, and human impact.

 

Hopefully, the monarchs will visit my gardens this year. The milkweed and I are ready for them. Patiently, I will wait. Expectantly, I will observe. Joyfully, I will welcome them once they arrive.

If you’d like to learn more about Monarchs and their plight, I would recommend these resources:

Monarch Life Cycle

Population Decline

How you can help

Milkweed Types

Creating Habitat for Monarchs

Creating School Gardens for Monarchs

My Story: Gardening with School Aged Students & Monarch Habitat Conservation

There are many, many other resources that I am aware of. If you need specific information, please let me know and I can provide it or direct you.  Thanks!

Plant Milkweed!

 

 

Fruit Trees & The Weather: It seems to be all or none

Fruit Trees & The Weather: It seems to be all or none

For the last 18 years, we’ve had a home fruit orchard. I can’t call it a backyard orchard as it was at our first home in the mid-west, as our 30 trees are in our front yard at our current house. It’s been so long that we’ve had fruit-growing in our yard, I really almost cannot remember a time we didn’t.

Our orchard includes three varieties of plums: Kaga, Toga, and Italian Prune Plums. All are delicious, but I like the Kaga best. They are sweet, with a flowery scent, and so beautiful to look at. In 2015, we had a bountiful harvest, as you can see!

plums 2015

We have sour cherry trees, probably a half dozen of two or three varieties. Sweet cherries do not grow well in our climate, as we miss the milder winters that provide some protect for those varieties. We have Meteor and Montmorency and Kristen.  These are the names of the cherry varietals in our orchard. The Montmorency are great to make strudel and coffee cake. We haven’t quiet mastered a cherry pie, yet. They are always runny, so we tend not to waste using the cherries for those. Our harvest was great in 2015 and okay last year. Unfortunately, we missed harvesting most of the cherries due to a vacation and the birds got most of what we had in 2016.

Pears are another type of fruit we have growing in our home fruit orchard.  The varieties escape me, but they are delicious as well. Again, harvesting pears last year was slim. We only had a few. None to share.

Most of our trees are apples. We have many varieties – the beloved Honey Crisp, the versatile Cortland, a variety developed in Minnesota called Sweet Sixteen, another type called Honey Gold which is more of a yellow apple with a sweet taste, and a few Haralson’s which are particular to the mid-west. They are my favorite. We’ve had some over the years that got damaged by storms, Winesaps, Johnathans, and others that we’ve had to replace. But, in 2015 we overflowed with apples! We made over 40 gallons of cider! Do you know it takes a 5 gallon bucket of apples to make one gallon of cider? It does! This is probably part of the reason the stuff is so darned expensive when you have to buy it.

And buy it, we did in 2016. Our apple harvest was nil. The trees blossomed and then we got a cold snap. No insects, no apples. Not to mention no blossoms, no apples, and no fruit.  Again, this year, we had a warm snap, a few days to a week of 70 degree weather. The plum trees blossom, beautifully. Then, it turned cold. It has remained cold. The pears blossomed, and we are still cold. The cherries are just ready to blossom and today it will be in the 60’s. In fact, we are supposed to have a string of days in the 60’s. I hope so. I doubt we’ll have many plums or pears, but we still have a chance for cherries and apples.  Oh, and there is that one apricot tree we put in this spring – another fruit, another chance, another harvest of all or none.

 

Inspired by the Daily Prompt: none

Helping Bees, Helps Us

Helping Bees, Helps Us

Our garden club theme this year is on Pollinators, of which we have covered Bats, Hummingbirds, and Bees. They are all fascinating, but as I prepared for the bee unit, I learned many things I didn’t know.

There are solitary bees and social bees. The social bees are the ones everyone seems to talk about. You know, they are the bees that live in “hives”, like honey bees. They all have specific jobs and if the jobs aren’t done, the hive is put at risk for not surviving.  My students, composed of 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders, knew a little bit about social bees. They knew there was a “queen”, drones, and worker bees.  They knew, partially because of previous discussions, that we need bees to pollinate flowers so we have a variety of foods. One in every three bites of food is due to bee pollination! Wow! Essentially, without bees, our diet would not amount to much or be very colorful or interesting.

What both the students and I learned, however is that solitary bees, such as the Mason Bee or Orchard Bee, are better pollinators than honey bees! Up to 200x better! This was information I could use as we have a home fruit orchard featuring 30 trees in several varieties of fruit: apples, cherries, plums, pears, & blueberries.  With the exception of the blueberries, the fruit trees are all planted in one area on the north side of our yard. Some year’s we have had a robust harvest, once making 40 gallons of homemade cider and still having apples galore for other treats, as well as fresh-picked, out of hand eating. Plums that year were also bountifully produced and conducive to homemade baked goods, jams, dehydration, and of course, more eating and, lots of sharing with friends and neighbors.

Over the years, I’ve learned how mother nature works with the fruit trees. Last year, we harvested barely any fruit. But, we had a frost and freeze just after the bloom on the trees and lost most of the blossoms – hence, very little fruit. This has happened before, on occasion. Freezing and frosting, too much rain, or wide swings in temperature are things we can do little about in a small home fruit orchard.

But, we can try to do something about pollination! So, this year I was planning to order a Mason Bee House from Gardener’s Supply catalog. Just before I ordered, I saw some of these structures at our local branch of a large garden/hardware store. Orchard Bee houses were for sale for less than $13.00! We bought two, without hesitation.  Before hanging them in the garden, I took one to garden club to show my students.  They are still somewhat confused between social and solitary bees and I thought this might help. You can easily see it is not meant for a hive!

beehouse6

Over the weekend, my husband hung them in our orchard. It is not the ideal place for the houses, but it will have to do. Hopefully, providing a home for the solitary Mason Bees we hope to attract will help our fruit tree pollination this year. In any case, we are helping the bees. Maybe, they will help us back.

 

 

A Penchant for Plants

A Penchant for Plants

Virtually every time I am at one of our local elementary schools, I am asked, “Mrs. L., Do we have Garden Club today?” or “When is the next garden club?” They are valid questions and I am continually inspired by the student excitement. I have led a garden club for students at Evergreen Elementary School for the last 12 years! We’ve covered many topics,  some only once or twice, such as fungi, and others like butterflies get covered yearly. I am always on the hunt for a new, engaging, awe inspiring topic. Usually, I don’t have to look far to find one.

A couple of years ago, I came across a group of plants called epiphytes. These plants, which grow on top of other living entities such as trees, are native to the subtropical areas of North America and the tropical rainforests of the world.  Not exactly a local plant. But, the way these plants have adapted to their surroundings make them fascinating to me, as well as the students. We have probably studied epiphytes five or six times in the last twelve years. What plants does this group include, you might ask? It includes plants such as the Spanish Moss you’ll see hanging from the trees in the South at Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina. Or, the group includes the orchids you’ll see if you visit The Animal Kingdom at Disney World in Florida. WDW also uses sphagnum moss in their topiaries. These are places I have actually visited, but did not realize the role they would later play in my life as I try to enrich our youth with opportunities like Evergreen Garden Club.

Back to the Orchids. So, despite being a person with a penchant for plants, I stayed away from orchids until just over a  year ago. I guess I bought into the premise that they were too expensive and too complicated to successfully grow. At least that was what I was always told. Almost if on cue, our local Home Depot store had orchids for sale in December of 2015. They were beautiful and only $10.00 each. I bought two. One to give to a friend and one to keep for myself. I was going to try this orchid growing activity. And, whether I was successful or not,  I could share the plant with the garden club students as another example of an epiphyte. After all, the real thing was better than a photograph, right?

Flash forward to March 2017 – The orchid that was blooming when I bought it 15 months ago is now ready to bloom again! After the first bloom, I read about how to incite the development of more flowers. I carefully followed the instructions from the Orchid Society and waited patiently – for many months. All of a sudden a shoot appeared and began to grow really fast. I was very excited! You can be sure I was taking extra special care of “my orchid!” As it has grown, the orchid has exhibited another really cool characteristic of plant growth, phototropism (or leaning towards the light). Just another thing I can’t wait to show my students! I am hooked!