Thursday, June 28, 2012

Clear Skies

Every now and then we get a blog surprise. A favorite blogger who has long been silent posts. Broken Barn Industries, Inc asked for an update on the fires here in Colorado. Oh dear. The situation in Colorado Spring is so grim. Last night 346 homes burned as the fire engulfed blocks and blocks of homes. Thirty-two thousand people were evacuated. I can't imagine. Known as the Waldo Fire,  it is near the Air Force Academy, which currently is safe.  The High Park Fire that still burns (ignited by lightening June 9), but our skies are clear now as the fire has moved north and west. No longer the lead story in the news, as the news makers focus on the tragic fire in Colorado Springs. At last tally, High Park Fire has burned for nearly 3 weeks, destroyed 257 homes, and burned 87,000+ acres, 85% contained.  In comparison, the Waldo fire has burned 18,000+ acres in 3 days and destroyed blocks and blocks of homes.

Our daughter's in-laws whose home survived the High Fire were supposed to be able to officially go to their home today, but probably not to say, though their house has been certified livable.

There were at one time 14 fires burning in the state. It has been bloody hot, setting 100 years old records. Yes, we are used to hot summers, but this early in June? Generally, our really hot weather is later in July;  however, we have had 100+ temps all week all over state ranging from 105 here in Ault to 113 in the southern part of the state.  And little promise of any significant rain.  Here at The Garden Spot we are safe. My husband said today that he was glad that we live in irrigated country with less chance of wild fire. So we are safe. I appreciate the concern.

And I have good news. 


Meet Lilly born Monday morning, June 20


She looks like her mamma did when she was born.




One of the beautiful bouquets for the baby

 And about the Garden butterflies float through the air looking for fancy feasts.


My little Mother Nature, a very curious, tactile child, has learned to touch, not catch grandma's butterflies.




The goldfinches have discovered the cosmos, feasting the unripened seed head. (The male)


The female

Finally, I'd like to introduce you to Fields of Heather. She has this amazing garden in a small yard located at that top of a cul-de-saque in the middle of Denver. She earned her BS in Horticulture from the School of Agriculture at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins. She is also a certified arborist and works for a tree care company, American Arbor Care. I have been encouraging her to tend to her blog because she has a lot of knowledge about trees and tree problems to share, but she also is such a little gardener working with a rather small yard with, as a mother can proudly declare, amazing results. Check out her blog. Ask her a tough tree question. See if you can stump her. (Yes, bad pun intended).

For fire updates see 9news.com. You won't believe the photos of the destruction in Colorado Springs.

Hoping you all have a fab week end.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Drama in the Garden

I was up early this morning trying to beat the heat. I made coffee, read my blogs, and at 7 AM turned on the TV to get the local news on the forest fires. Yes, I said "fires." There are now 8 major forest fires burning in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. The High Park Fire is now 15 days old, still raging, consuming 10 more homes and threatening more, and certainly showing no signs of letting up. Friday it was 60% contained; today it is 45% contained. Fifteen hundred to two thousand firefighters are on duty. Home owners are evacuated, then sent home, only to be re-evacuated. Some were told that their homes survived, only to lose them when the fire re-booted. The in-laws' home has been certified livable, but it may be a month before they can safely return to their home because of the threat of the fire re-igniting in the unburned forest near their home or on the road in.

Then there is the Estes Park fire that started in a cabin and burned 21 homes yesterday before it was extinguished. Colorado Springs south of Denver has a doozy going. It has burned 2,500 acres in 3 days and is very close to the neat little tourist town Manitou Springs, which has been totally evacuated.

The High Park Fire will probably have to burn itself out, possibly taking all summer to do so. We stood out in the garden last night at sun down watching flames climb the ridge of the distant peak. It was amazing to be so far away and yet be able to see one patch of orange grow in strength, then another pinpoint of a bit of color grow until it joined up with first orange spot, and then a third tiny speck on that far away mountain side explode and finally join the other two, making a line of flame along the mountain ridge.  So putting it all in perspective, the drama here at the Garden Spot is rather insignificant, isn't it?

Hubby's first chore in the morning is letting the hens out. This morning was no different, except he came in and asked me to get my camera and go back to the garden with him. Apparently something spooked the hens during the night causing them to, we suppose, to fly around the coop breaking the window and the heat lamp that keeps them warm in the winter. So what spooked them? Could have been the little mouse that lives with them growing fat on the feed that gets spilled. Or maybe it was the fox. We see the foxes regularly. They have even tried to did their way in to coop.  This mystery will remain unsolved. The girls are safe from the fox and the mouse really can't do much harm, other than to cause them a fright, perhaps.

I don't like grackles. They are loud, obnoxious, hogs at the feeder, dirty. We had breakfast on the patio this morning. The feeder was full with sparrows and a grackle. I kid you not, the grackle grabbed a little sparrow by his leg and literally threw him off the feeder. I couldn't believe it. The grackle turned the little guy upside down and dropped him to the ground.


 So while we were in the garden admiring how the tomatoes are coming out of their beating by hail and  the peppers are thriving finally, I noticed a baby bird in the grass. Not uncommon given the hearty population of birds nesting in our trees. At first I thought the little guy was dead, then I saw his sides heaving. I called for help.

When a ladder will probably do, a tractor will do better. Well, to be honest, we don't have a ladder tall enough to reach the nest.


Head Gardener to the Rescue





Baby bird safely back in the nest. Oh. It's a grackle.

There is also good news in the garden. The water lilies in the tank are blooming, especially my white one that I brought from my dad's pond. It was just beginning to wake up this morning when I took the photo really wanting to show the ash on lily leaves.



The most exciting news: my hydrangea is blooming. Ok, yes I know the plant is pathetic. Rather awful looking, but it got hailed. More importantly, it survived the winter and now it is trying so hard to survive the heat and even bloom. I've had hydrangea before and this is first one to bloom--ha, the first one to live. So I will keep babying it and talking sweetly to it, hoping for it grow big, robust to become a show stopper in the garden. 



Another success, the black berry has fruited. We'll only have a handful for a bowl of cereal or a bit of yogurt, but the berries will be home grown. 

As the week-end comes to a end, I have a busy week planned. Perhaps the grand daughters will be here while mom has the baby. I will finish my sewing projects, start new ones, clean. Weed. Hope you have a good week with only enough drama in your garden to keep it healthy and life interesting.

UPDATE: The baby bird, hubby has reported after he put the girls to bed, found the little grackle back on the ground tonight. For some reason it is not welcome in the nest. I guess Mom Nature is in charge once again. 



Friday, June 22, 2012

About the Garden

Fire Update: It continues: Day 14, 191 homes and structures destroyed, 1 death, nearly 70,000 acres burned. Some residents have been able to return home, others-- such as Jenn's family-- are still waiting. The fire didn't burn the forest floor clean; instead, it left hot spots that tend to flair up again, making a return home for many dangerous. In addition, power and telephone lines have to be restored. There are as many as 750 homes in the burn area.  So here are photos around the Garden Spot that remind us that the fire burns on. From the office window, the sun through the curtains. The reflection of the sunset in the puddle of water left by the sprinkler. The sunset filtered through the shroud of smoke and our pine trees.


Our gardens change daily, so camera in hand we head to our gardens, looking for the perfect shot.


As photographers and gardeners we all seem to have a fascination with the textures in the garden, especially the various bloom stages because they make such pretty photos. Echinops (globe thistle). I don't know if this one is a blue or white. Blue, I hope. It reseeded and probably should have been on my friend or foe weed list because they are abundant in the center circle.   Rudbekia, a spent clematis, and echinacea (Raspberry Delight, I think)

We haven't had rain since the hail storm two weeks ago before the High Park Fire started, so these are not rain drops, rather droplets after sprinkling the garden. I used my Cannon SLR, but actually I think I get better macros with the little point and shoot and I know that I got better macros with my Pentax 35 mm with a macro doubler attached to the regular lens. How do you take your macros? Any tips for me? I love trying to get reflections in the water droplets.
Echinacea
I have several varieties of cone flowers planted. This might possibly be my favorite one. It is lacy and elegant.  The coneflowers are just beginning to bloom.

Achillea millefolium rosea Pink Yarrow. Sweet, delicate, pretty, hardy. 
daisy

Rudbeckia
This prairie sun rudbeckia has reseeded and reseeded almost to ad-nausium if it weren't so hot and pretty.
 Children bring a special perspective to the garden. Little Miss Mother Nature loves to pick flowers for the table, so she beheaded most of my cosmos.

Tiger Swallowtail
 I found little bug catching kits at Tuesday Morning: a butterfly net, a bug cage, tweezers, and a magnifying glass. Ellie heads to the garden in search of bugs and what do we see right a way? A brand new tiger swallowtail feasting on the Milkweed. I never thought that she could catch it, but she scooped it right in the cage with her hand, sans net. We had quite an argument discussion about catch and release. Her thought was to take the butterfly home, but with some discussion she came to understand what the right thing to do was.

From butterflies to fish?


Kids have fascination with water, don't they? So left unattended, they found their way to fish pond. Of course I had to put a stop to trying to catch the little fish that hide in the water lilies. The girls were dressed up for our next adventure for the day, Afternoon Tea at the little tea house down the road.





Lucy enjoys her cup of tea


And Ellie plays dress up after tea.

It is supposed to reach 99+ today with a bit of wind, so I have closed up the house, drawn the curtains and will head to cool basement to sew for the afternoon. I have seen the news of the huge amounts of rain and the flooding in Minnesota; one state gets drowned, another burns up, begging the question: What on earth is Mother Nature thinking these days?

Still on baby watch. Hopefully this week.
Have a great weekend. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Will the Real Weed Please Stand Up?


Gardening Quiz. Get out your #2 lead pencils. Close your textbooks. Clear your desks. Put away all of your notes. Put away cell phones, iPods, and all other cheating devices. Keep your eyes on your own work. Choose the best answer. Ready. Begin.


1. This garden chore requires heavy gloves, a digger tool, blood, sweat, and lots of patience.  (100 points)
            a. mowing
            b. cultivating
            c. weeding

2. What is the best way to eliminate weeds from the garden? (250 points)
            a. a good dose of Weed Be Gone
            b. a through drowning in Round-Up
            c. pulling           
            d. never letting a weed’s seed enter the soil

3. Which is the real weed?            (350 points) Photo ID
            a. cosmos
            b. milkweed
            c. neither
            d. both
           
Answers:

1. c
2. a, b, and c if d fails
3. a. Cosmos or b. Milkweed

a. Cosmos: My dad called them a weed, and I understand why. Once planted, they are voracious self-seeding propagators. I like them because they come in shades of pink, and I love pink flowers. They make lovely fillers for bouquets; they fill-in the garden; butterflies and bees love them; they are easy keepers. On the down side, they can overtake a space, as they have done in my back garden. I will no doubt be thinning them. The new rose Just Joey, the centerpiece of the garden, is hidden, dwarfed by the aggressive cosmos. So out some will come.

b. Milkweed: Asclepias syriaca actually has fond childhood memories for me. While dad wasn’t a farmer, we lived an isolated rural farm life in the early ‘50s west of Denver on 50 acres with a big lake, that’s what we called it, the Big Lake. I’d ride my bike the ¼ mile up the dirt road to the Big Lake where milkweed flourished. I knew that monarch butterflies laid their eggs on the leaves, so I’d collect the caterpillars and raise them to butterflies. Today I tolerate the milkweed in the garden in hopes of attracting monarchs that are somewhat scarce here. At the old home, I managed to keep plants under control and even    had a crop of 
caterpillars one summer. But here at The Garden Spot, my stand of one milkweed has grown to many and they will have to be thinned out because they are choking out the coneflowers, the lilies, and other more desirable plants. In doing research to find the scientific name, I ran across some very interesting information on the milkweed. I consider the plant to be invasive, a nuisance, and a weed with its only value to monarchs, but I learned these facts from Wildfoods.com:

           
School children during WWII gathered the matured seed pods so that the government could use the fluff to stuff floatation devises for the military because the commonly used fluff was a Japanese product and we were at war with Japan. The milkweed fluff is considered softer than goose down. Could it possibly be hypoallergenic too?
            The milkweed is also edible. Milkweed salad anyone? As in asparagus, broccoli or okra.
It can even be ordered online for serious butterfly gardeners, sold as a perennial, including all of the different varieties.
            Finally, it could even be farmed. Now wouldn’t that be a great crop: self-seeding, little or not cultivation, and dozens of uses. (http://www.wildfoods.info/wildfoods/milkweed.html)

Who knew? So does the milkweed really fit these criteria of a desired plant? How does the cosmos rate? Illinois Wildflower.info lists these criteria for a desirable plant:
1) It is an introduced species that is poorly adapted to the surrounding environment. 

2) It is a sterile hybrid or patented cultivar. 

3) It is difficult to maintain and often short-lived.
4) It doesn't spread readily to places where it doesn't belong. 

5) It has obvious aesthetic or culinary properties.
6) It has to be purchased at a store or through a catalog.

Was dad right about the dainty pink flower? The Illinois Wildflower web site gives this definition of a weed: “. . . . Thus, suburbia considers any plant a weed that is well-adapted to its environment, prone to reproduce itself and spread, requires little or no effort to maintain, has no obvious aesthetic or culinary properties, and doesn't require money to acquire.”



Weed or not, any plant that begins to dominate a garden must be controlled, even eliminated.  The question is then how to get rid of noxious weeds? I must admit to using 24-D and Round-up on the worst weeds-- thistle, bindweed, and dandelions. Not only to they self- propagate, but they also spread by developing hearty and aggressive root systems—some roots I could swear reach the center of the earth. The more we pull bindweed, the faster it spreads. It seems to delight in a good pull. The best advice is not to let dandelions, thistle, and other seed bearing plants to go seed. Easier said than done. Birds spread a lot of seeds as they flit from yard to yard, so the battle to keep a yard weed free is on going. I liked what Robin at Life in Robin's Nest  place wrote about her weeds: she hides them behind the flowers.  As for using chemicals in the garden, I don’t mind so much using them in the flowerbeds, but the vegetable garden is another thing. There we hoe and pull to avoid the chemicals in the food garden.

Assignment: There are several varities of Asclepias. You may be growing your own variety in your yard. Do some reading, then let us know which variety you have and answer this question: Flower or Foe. Feed or Weed?





Order milkweed on line: http://www.butterflybushes.com/milkweed.htm


High Park Fire update: Still burning, still evacuating residents. So far 188 homes lost, 75,000+ acres burned, 45% contained, rivaling the Hayman fire 10 years ago that burned 134,114 acres and 133 homes. Folks still have not yet been allowed to go back to their homes because of the danger that the fire may restart in some areas. Today: hot, windy, smoky, ashes in the air.

One last pretty picture.


Our lovely daughter Jennifer is due June 22. Another sweet baby girl. It will be a long week waiting.



Hug a farmer. Hug your dad. Go pull some weeds before they set seed.







Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Fire Burns and Life Goes On



Life has just been crazy at the Garden Spot. We have spent most of the week hanging on waiting for updates on the High Park Fire still burning west of Ft. Collins. Having started in Rist Canyon, it is now headed for the Poudre River, moving north and west putting more and more homes in dangers. The good news, Jenn's family's homes survived the fires. Barely. The flames came very close, but the houses and out-buildings are standing. The news is not so good for some of our other friends and we really don't know yet just how many people we know who have lost their homes. We hear really sad stories: the couple who closed on a home last week. Burned. The HP worker who was laid off last week from his job and his house burned this week. 46,000+ acres have burned in the five days; the fire is only10% contained. We still have smoke and haze depending on the direction the wind carries them. 

So while so many are waiting to see if they still have homes, I just wasn't in the mood to blog about a more normal life at the Garden Spot last week, though we did have a busy week. Our grandson Jacob came for the week, we had a nasty summer storm, the hay got bailed and stored inside before the rain came, and I started a sewing project that I may share when I am confident that it is good enough to share with the world (a baby bonnet). Jacob had a busy week. We went on a picnic, he went to coffee and the archery shop with grandpa, swimming and putt-putt with his new friend, he went camping over the week end with grandpa, Monday we saw Madagastar 3 (cute movie), he whipped me at both Monoploy and Life. We finally took him home last night. He went home certified to do his own laundry, load the dishwasher, and bake a mean batch of oatmeal cookies using a recipe in his cub scout handbook. It was a great week.


Monday: picnic in the mountains--before the fire. We visited a nice park up Big Thompson Canyon.

He studies the various butterflies and moths that live in the park.

My friend and her granddaughter joined us. Jacob made a new friend.
One of the beautiful mountain butterflies that floated around the picnic area.

Tuesday: The girls had their ballet recital.


Thursday: We watched the hay getting bailed. We are always really nervous when we have the hay down that it might get rained on, which will ruin it.
But the good news: the hay got bailed and stacked in the barn before the storm.


Thursday night: A summer storm full of sound and fury and hail. Nasty hail. We had minimal damage here, but others parts of the area had serious damage. The siren went off, sending us to the basement to wait out the tornado warning. 
The hail shredded the water lilies.
It perforated the rhubarb.

It pounded the roses.
And it beat up the poor little struggling hydrangea.


  
On a more cheerful note, we never know what we will find out the backdoor. I was wanting to capture the gold finch at the feeder, but got a bonus shot with the cotton tail enjoying his breakfast.

  The spring flowers are pretty much done blooming, making way for the summer color to come on.  The rudebeckia has reseeded and while the flowers are not as huge as the original plant, they are plentiful and will add brilliant color to the center garden.




Near by, the kniphofia are putting on a show. I have 3 huge clumps that I moved from the old house. This is their third year and I am thinking

that I will have divide them when they are done
blooming.  Their common name Red Hot Poker  describes how hot they really are. They put on a grand show, but regretfully they don't last long.


One of my most favorite flowers, digitalis, is doing so well. A bit battered from the hail, this fox glove is the only one I have growing, but I think I should go buy some more since this one is doing so well. I have to admire this little plant because she is doing such a fine job in what I consider harsh conditions for this little English princess that would probably much rather be in her homeland.






She has a near by friend new to the garden, a Jerusalem artichoke, as my daughter calls it. She gave me two last fall and they seem well adapted to the Garden Spot. This one is nearly done blooming. I don't think that it is a particularly pretty flower, but it certainly is unusual and adds nice contrast to Red Hot Poker.






And so the sun sets on another good day at the Garden Spot, a bit more colorful as the sunlight filters through the smoke. 

I do appreciate all of the concern and kind thoughts that you have left. While the Garden Spot stays safe, we can't help but worry about those who are losing their homes. I can't imagine. The images on television show how widespread the fire is, how far it stretches, the billows of smoke. 
Mother  Nature at her worst.  With the weekend approaching, I wish you a good one.