Tuesday, June 30, 2009


This morning I sifted through the cardboard bankers box that currently houses my luna moth caterpillars to separate cocoons/pupae from larvae, as well as to remove dead leaves, stripped tree branches and caterpillar droppings.

In the sorting process I snapped some photos. Here's a late bloomer, getting ready to pupate. The little guy lifted his head off the branch he was hugging when he noticed my flash:

And here's an arrangement of pupae on the bankers box lid. Looks like some of the caterpillars spun pupated and then fell from the silken cocoons they'd spun. I'm not sure what this means for these "homeless" pupae. Should be interesting.

A very rough head count amounted to at least 40 cocoons and perhaps as many lazy caterpillars ready to pupate. I'm still willing to share. Any takers?

On a related note, in the process of removing the skeletons of devoured White birch branches I was able to save several White birch seeds. I put them in a one gallon zip lock bag and refridgerated them in the hopes that stratifying will ready them for planting, maybe in a few months. I'd love to be able to grow these beautiful trees; the parent birch in my neighbor's yard is gorgeous.

Monday, June 29, 2009

June Color

Here are some photos from around the yard this morning of June 29, 2009:

Purple Petunias, lovingly deadheaded daily:

Baby Cortland Apples:

Veggies doing their thing:

Carrots and okra, started from seed:

Mara's Morning Glory:



Yellow Lilly:

A little June color:

Chillin' in the new hammock:

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Three Sisters Update

No, not my three sisters (if you weren't aware, I'm the firstborn of four girls). This blog post is in reference to the Three Sisters garden I planted at my parents' home in Northern Illinois. The Three Sisters method is a Native American gardening technique that involves the mutually beneficial combined planting of corn, beans and squash.

I started my plants from seed, and now, a little over a month later, everything looks pretty good. Below are a few pictures of the progress.

As you may recall, I started with four mounds of clay-heavy soil ammended with mushroom compost and peat moss, planting corn seeds in the center (some with pole beans, some without) and then either squash or melons in outer rings.

Here's a front view of the whole garden:

The following photo is of a bed that includes corn, pole beans, and watermelon. The watermelons are slower growers -- they're much smaller than the squash plants at this point. The same is true of the watermelon plant I'm growing in my own backyard. I'm not sure if this is typical or if I've done something wrong. We shall see, in time.

Below is a photo of the rectangular bed, which includes two mounds. The mound on the left has very large zucchini in the outer ring -- so large, in fact, that it's crowding the slower-growing corn. Today I adjusted the zucchini leaves, pushing them outward to give the corn a bit more room to breathe. The mound on the right includes a mix of honeydew and cantaloupe surrounding the corn. The melons, again, aren't growing at nearly the same rate as the squash.

Below is a picture of my fantastic pumpkins -- this is probably the most successful mound of the four. Still no flowers or fruits, though.

It'll be fascinating to watch how this experimental garden continues to develop. I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


When I bought my first home (another blue bungalow in a different city) I became, at the age of 23, an instant garden enthusiast. I wanted to take the weedy, densely shaded backyard I had in my hands and turn it into a sanctuary. Beauty was my number one objective, and I spent hundreds, if not thousands of dollars over the course of five years on perennials, mulch, ponding gear, and all sorts of other things to make the yard beautiful.

Several years and three children later, with a sunnier yard at my disposal, and with an energy crisis and global climate change upon us, I have focused almost exclusively on growing edibles. Beauty is still an objective, but it has been knocked down a few pegs on my gardening priority list as I hyper focus on growing things that are practical and useful.

Having said that, today I was able to visit the lovely Monches Farm in Colgate, WI, where my mother-in-law bought me an early birthday present: ornamental perennials to fill some empty spaces in my front yard. The very helpful horticulturalist at Monches introduced me to a new (to me) kind of perennial that I think I'm going to love: Coral Bells.

I came home with six new baby plants: two variegated purple and silver coral bells, two bright, lime green and yellow coral bells, and two containers of "blood grass," a shorter ornamental grass with blades of burgundy and green. The blood grass ties the other two plants together nicely. Here are some pictures, taken after sunset with my flash:

There is something so important about creating a beautiful space in which to live. Having a lovely yard should motivate a family to stay home and play, rather than look elsewhere for entertainment and fulfillment, wasting fuel in the process. I'd say that makes ornamentals pretty practical!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Spinning Cocoons

Today began with a visit to Tuesdays at Ten at Cranky Al's, where I brought some of my Luna moth larvae for a preschool story time centered on moths. It was so cute seeing how excited the kids were to touch such big, bright caterpillars! Here are two photos: one of two large lunas crawling on a stick and the other of my daughter and a caterpillar friend:

I've been slowly finding homes for a small percentage of the many caterpillars that have made it to the fifth instar. I also noticed today that one of my green caterpillars appeared to be blushing. At first I thought something was wrong until it occurred to me that perhaps it was preparing to spin a cocoon. Several photographs at the Actias luna wiki verified that Lunas can turn a pinkish hue just before pupating. Sure enough, just within the last hour we noticed several cocoons in our bankers-box-turned-Luna-habitat. Exciting stuff!

The wiki entry stated that unless lunas are diapausing over winter, the pupation process should take about two weeks. We'll see if, come early July, we have a new generation of adult lunas eclosing from their cocoons!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Note to Self

Do not buy organic bone meal fertilizer for your flowers and vegetables if you want your dog to stay away from the garden.

And make sure the dog's water bowl is filled so he is not compelled to drink from the pond.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Harvest Time -- Well, Sort Of

There is this lull, just after the big spring planting push, where an impatient gardener like myself feels both relief and a sense of mild depression as she asks herself, "now what?" It's almost hard to believe, at this point, that all those little seedlings and seeds I planted will actually bear fruit in the seemingly distant future. They are certainly growing, some by leaps and bounds, but still -- providing food? It's a bit difficult to fathom.

The beauty of spring crops like lettuce is that they offer a glimpse into what is to come in, say, August. And last night I got to experience that little glimpse when I harvested a colander full of mesclun lettuce from my front planters. Our family of five enjoyed a lovely Greek salad, with feta cheese, homemade greek dressing and sesame crackers. Had a loaf of sourdough from Breadsmith on the side.

Truthfully, the lettuce was a little soft because it had come close to wilting from the heat the day before. But other than that it provided a lovely eating experience. The lettuce leaves were flawless, protected as they were from rabbits and other pests, and there was nary a hole in any of the leaves. Totally pesticide free as well!

The thing that got me, though, was how quickly we ate all that lettuce. I mean, these five lettuce plants, which completely filled two large pots on my front porch, amounted to ONE meal for our family. How many lettuce plants would it take to feed us for a year? I'm still chewing on that one.

On a different note, I'm working on patching and beautifying my ugly lawn. The back yard in particular has huge bare spots. Out back I dumped compost from the city on the bare spots, then spread one bag of milorganite over the grass, then seeded. That was just before the torrential rain we got last night. My fingers are crossed!

I also took some of my many remaining seedlings (mostly tomatoes) and planted them in the onion patch on the side of my house. I STILL have leftovers, if anyone wants to claim them. They're looking a little sad at this point, so I'm sure they'd be thrilled if someone planted them in good soil and gave their pent up roots room to stretch.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Projects Galore

Things have been a bit quieter around here over the last week or two as the excitement from our spring planting has simmered. A simpler summer routine of watering and weeding is upon us. In the meantime, my attention has shifted from the raised vegetable gardens at the Blue Bungalow to a few other projects, including the following:

  • I launched a tiny vermicomposting business called Gardens NOT Garbage. I'm interested in finding a few brave clients in the Milwaukee area who are willing to try out my products: two sizes of "simple vermicomposters," with or without red worms. If you are interested, e-mail me.

  • Speaking of vermicompost, as I've been developing GNG and as I read through the book Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof, I've been experimenting with compost harvesting techniques. I mentioned in an earlier post how I had harvested some of the finished compost from my first bin using a homemade sifter and got about one five-gallon bucket of beautiful vermicompost (which I used to amend the soil at the new veggie patch at Lincoln School -- see below). Now I have begun an experiment that involves a different separation method: I took a smallish piece of galvanized hardware cloth with 1/4" mesh and used it to divide one of my bins in half by sliding it down the middle of the compost/bedding/worms. I am going to try putting fresh kitchen scraps in one side of the bin in the hopes that the worms will gradually migrate to the fresh waste. When they do, I hope that they will leave behind harvestable, worm-free compost. This is a slower harvest process but seems to be pretty easy if one is willing to wait for the compost. I'll let you know how it goes!

  • We planted a vegetable garden at Lincoln Elementary School! The whole project came about rather serendipitously and has turned out to be quite lovely. It all started when I volunteered to pull weeds and spread playground mulch at the school last Friday. As I was talking with the other parent volunteers, I proposed using some of my excess seedlings to plant a small veggie patch in the weedy raised bed by the school breezeway. After weighing the negatives (watering and weeding over the summer, preteen vandals), we figured it was still worth a shot. So this week, on Tuesday morning, the volunteer landscaping coordinator and I met on the playground and got to work weeding and then planting a veggie patch and an additional herb and pumpkin area.

    See photos and read the details at our blog: Lincoln Veggies.

  • I regret that I have yet to post pictures of my rapidly growing Luna moth caterpillars -- doing so would require macro lens skills that only my husband has at this point. So this verbal update will have to suffice. The other day the single plastic pretzel container I had them in was starting to look cramped, so I pulled them out and put them in a new pretzel container poked with holes, and as I did, I tallied them. After about 120 I lost count! I put about 125 in the new container and filled it with leaves, then dumped the remaining leaves, caterpillar poop and caterpillars at the base of the black walnut tree in my backyard, hoping that some of the caterpillars would climb the tree and find their way to the leaves at the top. The next day I noticed that there were no caterpillars out there, so either they did find their way to the food source or they were eaten by birds. We'll see if we have any adult lunas flying around later this summer!

    In the meantime, I ended up dividing my remaining caterpillars into three plastic containers filled with leaves. They are getting so big and eating so much at this point that it's getting a little overwhelming. I had to make a stop at a nearby golf course where there are about five mature white birch trees in a small grove so I could harvest a bucketful of leaves. I am thinking that I may try to give some away, or perhaps bring them to the white birch grove and put them on the trees now that the gypsy moth spraying is (I hope) over for the year. If you live in the area and would like a caterpillar or two, please let me know. I'm happy to give some of them away.

  • As you may know, I've been involved with planning a Wauwatosa farmers market. After deciding a 2009 market for Tosa wasn't feasible, we concluded that it would be best to have a one-day "Harvest Market" this fall as a prelude to the official launch of our market in 2010. The market will hopefully take place on Saturday, September 26 in The Village. See www.tosafarmersmarket.com for news updates.

  • Finally, in addition to my gardening and composting pursuits, I am also a writer of middle grade fiction, and I've been working on a new book for, oh, three or four years now. I keep hoping I've written the final draft, only to end up returning to the manuscript every few months. If you don't see another post for a while, I'm probably off in a fictitious world that involves nerdy preteens, a hunt for Luna moths, two Evil Emmas, and a "holy fool." If I ever get this saga published, I'll be sure to post the news here first.

  • Am I overextending myself? Perhaps. But believe it or not, I'm actually starting to feel a bit more relaxed than I felt during the Earth Day-to-Memorial Day gardening push. Summer's on the horizon, school's almost out and I can't wait to have lazy summer mornings and daily hikes!

    Saturday, June 6, 2009

    Repurpose This

    So I have this plastic filing container that no longer works so well because the two snaps that keep the box shut are broken. I was thinking of giving it a new purpose, but would like to come up with something more interesting than a planter or a worm bin. Any ideas?

    Thursday, June 4, 2009

    Finally, Some Photographs

    I'll let these pictures from around my yard do their thousand words thing.

    And finally, a photo of the "three sisters" garden I built with my dad at my parents' home in Northern Illinois: