Jan 072014

lamb's ear

summer photo

Lambs ear in winter

winter photo

The lamb’s ear pictured above was one of the plants I originally tried to use in the front bed when it still looked like this –

front bed beforeWhy place Stachys spp. here?  Well, they grow well in hot barren areas, forming a dense ground cover.  My mind then saw this – fewer weeds to bull, beautiful color, fewer weeds to pull, will spread on its own, fewer weeds to pull.  You get the idea.  It did grow, but I didn’t give it enough time, it somehow was lost in the transition, and honestly the plant was too little to do much on its own.  This is still one of my favorite plants.  I love the look and feels of the soft silvery leaves.  And if you ever find yourself in the woods in need of bathroom tissue, well ….

If you are ever thinking about starting and growing your own, they really are fairly simple to grow.  You can start them from seeds, to transplant where you would like.

Lambs ear seedsAnother option would be to divide an already existing plant.  This would be an option if you know of someone who may be having an issue with their plant growing too much.  A win-win situation.

Oct 172013

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillars

A walk to the garden to pick parsley resulted in finding parsley plants that had been eaten.  Not all the leaves were gone yet, but it was close.  The culprit?  The little green guys in the dish above.

At the time of finding these guys, we didn’t know what they were.  I actually almost squished them, or threw them out into the grass.  Just before my impulsive move I realized that this would be a great thing to look up online.  An Impromptu Nature Lesson!  I love unplanned distractions of this sort.  Usually.

  • What caterpillars were these?
  • What did they become?
  • What did they eat? (Were any of my other plants in danger of being eaten?  Did I need to do a thorough search of them too?)

After searching ‘Caterpillar Identification Images’ we quickly found what we were looking for.

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillars 2

While looking at the caterpillars we found out that if you poke them, these small yellow ‘V’ shaped things came up from their heads.  Out of respect for science {clears through} we had to do an experiment to see what exactly made them do this.  After a few trials it was decided that the best way was to make move them by poking them.  Oh, and the more you poked them the quicker these yellow ‘V’ things appeared.  Then I decided we were bordering on being mean and we stopped.

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillars 4

The search revealed that:

these were caterpillars of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly

they use parsley, dill, fennel, and carrots as host plants – the Apiaceae family

Knowing that the caterpillars would turn into butterflies and not eat the rest of my garden I breathed a sigh of relief.  The next thing was to put them in a jar to see if we could keep them till they were butterflies, notice the changes along the way, then release them.

In the basement I had some old 1/2 gallon jars that were the perfect size.  With a bit of hesitation I also cut a handful of parsley.  As I only  have two plants and had been using them for cooking, this was a sacrifice.  In the name of Science though I took a deep breath and proceeded.

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillars in a Jar 3

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillars in a Jar

The kids loved seeing the caterpillars on the counter.

After a few days I realized that we didn’t have the supply of parsley needed to sustain our little colony of caterpillars.  They had a voracious appetite.

In the end one caterpillar started to make a cocoon, but didn’t finish before his energy supplies ran out.  After that I decided to let them fend for themselves in the yard, and so released them back to the wild.

Next time, we’ll only keep one or two.

Further Study – Just this morning I was looking up a bit more information on this caterpillar/butterfly and came across a great post at Ecosystem Gardening.  It was very helpful to find out that I don’t necessarily need to plant a flowerbed border of parsley to attract these butterflies and caterpillars in the future.  Carole references information she found from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.  So, yes there are native parsley plants you can add to your garden to attract these beautiful butterflies.

As a side note, I have been to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.  It truly is amazing, both the center and the amount of information they have.  They have a love for what they do and it shows.

Apr 092013


While moving the soil from the old raised beds to the new one I found lots of crawly, squirmy things.  Most of them were a delight as I knew they were helping break down the soil.  One of the biggest was a worm as long as my hand and about 1/4 inch around (half the size of my little finger).  Worms are wonderful composters and help break down detritus in the soil.

There were a few things I didn’t like, such as the gnats and mosquitoes that were swarming around.  I’m not sure where the gnats came from, but there were a lot of them.  Actually, they weren’t really gnats and I should probably spend some time figuring out what they were.  The mosquitoes though were just out in full force yesterday and the fact that I was working in the garden was just a coincidence.

There were a handful of another particular grub I found.  It was a caterpillar, but I wasn’t sure if it was beneficial or harmful.  One was put into a cup to look up and I tossed the rest in the grass for the birds to eat.  Before I could pull out the guide to look these up, I came across a post on Root Weevil Larva by My Tiny Plot.  The picture was exactly of the grub I found!  What a coincidence.

Until I dug up the soil and pulled the ground covering back I had never actually seen these in my yard.  I didn’t think we had a grub problem at all.  Guess I was wrong and will now be taking steps to do something about them.

Gardening is always such an adventure.

worm found in old raised garden bed box

Feb 272013

Here are some ebooks that are currently $0.00 on Amazon.  Click on the links below each picture to be taken to the page where you can download a digital version of the book.  Before purchasing the books, please double check the price to make sure it has not changed.

If you do not own a Kindle it is still possible to read these on your computer.  Go here to download the free application that will allow you to do the same.




Raised Bed Intensive Garden: How To Build One For Self Sufficiency


How to Start a Home Based Business Selling Seeds

Organic Vegetable Gardening-Seed saving-tips and techniques ( series of doctor garden )

Organic Vegetable Gardening-best Beginner’s Manual-step by step. (from series of d”r garden) (from series of doctor garden)

Container Gardening Made Easy

Growing Herbs Indoors : Your Guide To Growing Herbs In Containers For A Vibrant Indoor Herb Garden

Raised Bed Gardening: 3 Books bundle on Growing Vegetables In Raised Beds

Grow your own food

Organic Vegetable Gardening pests- learn all the simple Techniques For Organic Pest Control In Your Garden (series of doctor garden)

Container Gardening


Raised Bed Gardening Planting Guide – Making The Most Of A Raised Bed Garden

Lilacs A to E (Lilacs A – Z)

Lilacs F to L (Lilacs A – Z Coffee Table Books)

Roses A – Z (A to Z Nature Photo Books)


Roses and Rue

Tulips A to Z (A to Z Nature Photo Books)

Courageous: A Novel


Dec 112012

When the weather was warmer and impromtu nature lesson took place in my yard.  It involved IPM (intigrated pest management), insect identification, life cycles and eye-hand coordination.  It wasn’t planned out and none of the labels placed on what we were doing.  It just evolved from one step to another.  I disagree with anyone who says nature study is hard or boring.

Let me set the stage for you.

Main players:

Good Guys

Praying Mantis

Daddy Long Legs

Little boy and his water gun

Bad Buys



South facing side of my house, mainly in one six foot section.  Most of the bad guys are found within the first six feet of the ground, but some go higher as the danger is less higher up.

The praying mantis and daddy long legs opted to take the stealth route. (Did you notice the bug in the mantis’ mouth in the picture above?  They are surprisingly efficient and quick.) The little boy?  Not so much.  His instructions were to, “Point and shoot, knocking off as many bugs as you can.” 

I lost track of how often that gun got refilled.  At the end of the day I almost had to drag him inside.  Boy, oh, boy did I enjoy seeing those little bugs run for cover when the water came near.  Even better when they fell off the side of the house.  I’m not exactly sure what kind of bugs they were; they looked almost like a black and red stink bug but I never caught wind of them.  This was the first year I saw them so I’m not sure if they were.  If I see them again this coming year I will take more time to identify them.

Now who said nature study had to be boring?


Oct 142012


This week was a bit odd in the preserving area: corn and buckeyes.

I posted about putting up the corn a few days ago, here. We ate the first batch, the worst looking ones, already.  It really does help if you actually cook them long enough to be cooked.  We’ll have it again this week.  This time I am going to put it in the crock pot.

I have been in the freezer several times since I put the corn in there.  Being as it wasn’t planned, I just tossed it in where it could fit, which means it is in the way.  However, every time I have had to move it I have been glad that I did do something with it.

If you didn’t read my first post, this meant 4.5 dozen ears of corn were put up.


The Ohio buckeye trees (Aesculus glabra) finally started dropping their seeds a few weeks ago.  It has helped that we had several windy days.  If you have never seen these, they are both beautiful and annoying.  The seeds themselves are not really the issue.  It is the surrounding part that is spiky and make walking barefoot or mowing difficult.  The nuts themselves are a smooth dark brown color, except for the ‘eye’ which is a lighter brown. When they are fresh off the tree, they are shiny; almost as if they were already coated with something.  As you dry them, they turn a darker color and harden.  You do not want to keep buckeyes if you have not dried them.  They mold due to the moisture in their meat.

They are supposed to bring good luck.  The squirrels also like them.  They can be used in jewelry, decorations, or just kept solo for a good luck piece in your pocket (after it is dried).

I’ve also been told you can eat them, though I have never tried it.

The job of picking up buckeyes, and tossing the shells next to the tree, was the perfect job for some toddlers.  They thought it was fun to find nuts, run them over to the pan, then come back and throw the shells against the tree.  Work is always better if it can be made into a game.  (It also helps that I told them they could sell them on the stand if they collected and dried them.)

Only one of our two trees produced buckeyes this year.  Well, technically I found a total of two from the other tree.  Compared to what it should be, that is nothing.  A neighbor’s tree also did not produce.  I’m not sure if it had to do with the weather or lack of rain.

Update: turns out our neighbor’s tree did produce a handful of them; just not the normal over abundance that we usually see.

We have been able to send some to the local school for “fall items”.  The rest are being dried for some future yet-to-be-determined use.

So, how do we dry them?  I place them either in a pan or on the top of a plastic storage container, as the pan became full very quickly this year, and sit them out for a few weeks.  Once they turn darker and dull in appearance, they are dry.  Once a day or so I stir them up to make sure air is getting to all sides.  The pan has a few layers of news paper in it, the container top doesn’t.  I think the newspaper is meant to help absorb and disapate moisture.


Have you ever used buckeyes in a recipe?  If so, leave a comment. I would love to hear about it.

Sep 202012

Here are some ebooks that are currently $0.00 on Amazon right now.  Click on the links below each picture to be taken to the page where you can download a digital version of the book.  Before purchasing the books, please double check the price to make sure it has not changed.

I do not own a Kindle, but am able to read these on my computer.  Go here to download the free application that will allow you to do the same.

The Botanical Magazine Vol. 7 or, Flower-Garden Displayed 

The Personal Life of David Livingstone Chiefly from his Unpublished Journals and Correspondence in the Possession of His Family

Making a Garden of Perennials

The Melody of Earth An Anthology of Garden and Nature Poems From Present-Day Poets


The Field and Garden Vegetables of America Containing Full Descriptions of Nearly Eleven Hundred Species and Varietes; With Directions for Propagation,Culture and Use.


Jul 102012

When fall appears, I am in the mood for walnut trees.  There is just something about them, and my past, that link the two together.  When I was looking for a tree to post about this week, I realized I had not shared with you all this great tree.  I know it is not fall yet, but that is okay.  It is cooler than it was last week and that is enough for me.

As with any tree, this is a great tree if planted in the right location.  If it isn’t, then it will either be an annoyance or a problem.  I hope that you do not take the rest of the post as being a negative against this species.  It really is a good tree, just not very well suited for urban areas.


There is more than one kind of walnut tree here in the United States.  The most commonly thought of is the “American walnut” or the “black walnut”.

A second kind is the “butternut tree”, also called “white walnut”, which I usually think of as a cousin of the walnut family, rather than a different kind of walnut tree itself.  This is not true of course, which I would know better if I actually remembered the scientific name of the butternut tree.

A third kind of walnut is the “English walnut”.  It is not a native tree, though, like a lot of things not native, it can be planted here.

The walnut tree I am talking about today is the black walnut (Juglans nigra).

Common in the eastern and southern portions of the United States, this tree is a valuable lumber and nut tree.

I grew up with several of these in our yard.  So, by personal experience I will tell you they are messy. You definitely do not want to plant these as shade for parking areas as their nuts are hard and relatively large, about 2 inches in diameter.  It is also hard to mow over, not just the nuts, but also all the leaves and the rachis (the part the leaves attach to).

Taken by: Bruce Marlin from Wikimedia Commons (original source)

Speaking of the nuts, when they are first falling off the tree, the green outer husk is very firm.  After some time this will begin to soften and turn black.  It is much easier to get the nut out of the husk at that point.  Just be careful because it does stain.  Not only hands but also clothing.  It can be hard to get out.  Another warning is that the outer husk can be

Due to certain chemicals given off by the tree, this is not one you want to have growing near your garden.  It discourages other plant from growing around it.

I can also share, from personal experience, that the nut has a strong flavor when cooked. Perhaps this is why you don’t see too many recipes for walnut stew.  If I would have thought of this as an adventurous adolescent it may have saved me years of not being able to eat these nuts due to vivid memories of exactly how strong of a flavor they can be.  Now, please don’t let this scare you off.  The nuts really do have a good flavor to them and are great on salads or crushed and put into or on brownies.  It only took 3 or 4 years before I could eat them again, and since that time I have continued to like the nut … just not in stews.

When we first moved into our current house, there was a tree that I thought could be a black walnut, except its’ bark and shape didn’t seem right.  Come latter summer and fall there were no fruit.  Sure enough, it wasn’t a black walnut.  It was a Tree of Heaven.  Seems I’m not the only one who thought these two look a lot alike.  With the drought we also have not mowed our grass for a month or so.  The comment on root sprouts from the Tree of Heaven is very much accurate.  A black walnut does not do this and is also a good clue as to whether your tree is what you think it is.

The tree grows relatively straight, with good form.  It is often grown in plantations for either the nuts, the wood or both.  It is also has a place in the woods, as it offers food for squirrels and mice.

The wood is valued as lumber for several reason.  It is strong (hard), stains well, and can be used in a variety of applications.  I tend to think of furniture, but it also is used for cabinets and gunstocks, among other things.

Mar 292012

We were outside today playing, enjoying the sunshine.  There was a lull in the activity, so I took the opportunity to point out that the tree above us was beginning to have leaves.  “Soon, you won’t be able to see the sky through the limbs because there will be so many leaves.”  We talked a bit more about how trees go from having no leaves, to having little ones, then larger leaves.  Then fall comes, the leaves change color and drop.  Not really an in-depth conversation.  Nothing was said about the chemicals released by the tree for such processes to happen, nor about the mechanics of how it works.  Just that it happens.

One of the kids was sitting on a stump.

“Did you know, the stump you are sitting on … (hm, they may not know what ‘stump’ means) well, what you are sitting on is called a stump.  It used to be a tree.”


Of course.  The ever present, “Why?”

“It was leaning towards the house, so we had it taken down when they were removing a few other trees.  Do you want to see another stump?”

And so ensued the lesson on stumps.  The second stump we looked at was much more interesting.  It was from a tree that was dead and didn’t know it.  Yes, that was my official diagnosis.  Very technical wasn’t it.  Anyway, due to the state of the tree before it was removed this stump was much more decomposed than the original stump.  I pointed out how the bark breaks down and makes dirt.  Hands on learning ensued.

“Insects break it down and soon it will be all gone.”  I started to pull up bits of the stump, amazed at how loose and easy they were.  One of the pieces produced a surprise.  A slug.  Now, as a gardener I am not normally happy to see slugs.  However, with boys sitting beside me I was happy to find a slug.

“Can I touch?”

Now, I wish I could say that I was more than eager to engage in hand-on learning immediately in this situation, but I replied without thinking.  “No.”


Hmmm.  I had to stop and think.  Why is it that I said, “no”?  Why couldn’t they touch it?  Was I worried about them hurting the slug?  Was I worried that they would get sick from something on the slug when they then stuck their fingers in their mouths?  Did I just think the thought of touching it myself was icky?

So I amended my reply.  “Yes, you can touch it, but be careful.  The slug is not happy that we disturbed it.”

Now came an interesting realization.  One that I had witnessed before, but in a different situation.  Older Boy didn’t want to touch it, but encouraged Younger Boy to do so.  I think I see which might be the one more likely to have a bug collection.

After showing them that it had no feet, we put it back under the piece of wood that had come from.  Continuing with my curiosity, I pulled up another large chunk and found yet another slug.  It too was shown.  Again, Older Boy wanted nothing to do with touching it, but Younger Boy did.  Now, wait here guys.  I’m the girl.  Isn’t it supposed to be ME that doesn’t want to touch the slimy, squishy slug?  I think we will have to work on this a bit.

They were done with the second stump and were requesting more.  So on to a third.  Now, this was turning into quite the lesson on stumps.  So far the two we have seen have been very different.  #1 was from a healthy maple tree (Acer spp.) and barely broken down.  Some fungus had started to grow on the bark of the stump, but otherwise it was in great shape.  #2 had great soil in the middle of the stump and is deteriorated enough that I could pull it up by hand.

Well, stump #3 was from a buckeye tree (Aesculus glabra).  This stump has been prolific with stump sprouts. I have cut and sprayed to no avail.  That was okay today as it provided a lesson in buds and leaves.  I showed them a bud that had yet to open, one that had opened but the leaves were still curled tight, and other where the leaves had fully unfurled.  Of course, lots of touching and “ooh, aah” went on.  But first, we looked in the middle under dead leaves that had become trapped there.

We found a worm under the leaves, which I picked up on the request of Older Boy, who then would not touch it.  Younger Boy was eager to touch and did so gently. We then looked at the soil under the leaves.  I had intended to show how the leaves were breaking down and so on.  What I realized when I picked up some of the soil was that it was actually mostly worm castings.  This little guy in my hand had been busy breaking down those leaves.  So, we put him back so he could “do his job”.

So three very different stumps and experiences.  Surely they are good with the stumps we have found.  But, oh no.  They want more.  Well, our yard didn’t have any more, but the neighbor’s did.  It is right on the line between our yards, so it wasn’t like we were traipsing through their yard.  Stump #4 was even more different.  It was the oldest of the stumps, though it too was from a buckeye tree.  It was a gnarled outline of where a small tree used to be.  Perhaps about 6 inches in diameter. The center was completely full of dirt, there was no bark to be seen, and it was barely 1/4 of an inch in width around the ‘circle’ that was there.  Yet, there was a bud sprouting out of the base.  That is the only way I knew what kind of tree this had been.  That fact was mentioned, then all interest in this unique stump was gone.  However, I’m glad we took a closer look as I had noticed this stump several times and always wondered a bit about it.  Now at least I know what kind of tree it had been and that it had been a tree.

I was out of stumps to look for in the yard, so “stump” #5 was actually a hole in the ground where a stump used to be.  Not really exciting, but perhaps a good point to show that stumps are not always there.

So ended our study of stumps around our yard.  I now have a new appreciation for stumps.  Honestly, I had never really given them much though or taken a close look at what makes them different or the same.

How about you?  Ever taken a look at a stump?  Do you have a favorite?