Spring Leeks (aka Ramps)

This past spring while wandering the Wisconsin woods, the ground was covered with beautiful, light green leaves.

Wild Leeks

I knew it wasn’t trout lilies, since the leaves weren’t mottled, but I also knew it looked familiar.  Without a flower, I wasn’t sure what this plentiful plant was.  I sent a photo to my expert and she instantly answered “Leeks”!   My mom went on to remind me when I was a kid, we had people who would pull off the road near our cabin in Western NY and scramble around in the woods harvesting them.  I knew I had seen them before.

Wild Leeks

I did a little more research and realized I had a little foodie gold mine back there in the woods.  Wild Leeks, or Ramps,  (Allium tricoccum) have a sharp flavor, similar to an onion or garlic and come into season in the early spring.  You can recognize them by their smooth green leaves that emerge from the ground, with a hint of purple on the lower stem.

Wild Leeks

You know for sure you have ramps, when you break a leaf and you can distinctively smell onion/garlic.  No smell, no eating!!

I had never used them before, so I harvested just a little to try out in a couple of recipes.  Wild leeks are actually endangered or rare in many areas because of over-harvesting and they are hard to cultivate.  Rule of thumb to maintain a healthy patch is to only pick 5-10% of a patch, or harvest only the leaves.  To harvest, it’s easiest to use a trowel and loosen the dirt to make it easier to pop out the bulb and greens as a one.  Or, just have a clean shears to trim off the leaves and leave the bulbs behind.

Wild Leeks

Once I picked what I thought was enough to try in a couple of recipes, I left the rest alone to grow and be healthy for many years to come.  I also knew I wasn’t going to be able to eat them right away so I chose to freeze them for later use.

To freeze, first clean off the dirt, peel off any slimy outer skins and cut off the root end.

Wild Leeks

Oh, they look so delicious and the house smells so tasty. I then cut off the white bulbs and and put them directly into a freezer bag.  The greens I blanched for 1 minute in boiling water, plunged into ice water and then placed in a separate freezer bag.

blanching wild leeks

Wild Leeks

Once things had settled down a bit, I finally was able to get them out of the freezer to try.  I decided a Wild Leek Risotto was a good place to start.

Wild Leek Risotto

Using a tasty recipe for Wild Ramp Lemon Risotto from DOC  from The Kitchn, I made my first recipe.  Yum, is all I can say.  What a perfect low sodium side dish for some grilled Copper River Salmon.

Wild Leek Risotto

I still have enough for another meal and I have a bunch more risotto options to try. Check out my Pinterest site for some wild leek/ramp ideas.

Have you tried any foraging foods this spring?

BTW, the two things that are easily confused wild leeks are Trout Lily and Lily of the Valley.  Trout Lily have mottled leaves and white or yellow flowers that will appear at the same time and do not smell like onions.  Lily of the Valley are toxic and have two or three leaves on one stem, come up later in the season, and DO NOT SMELL LIKE ONION. As one who is not keen on foraging, I can attest to the fact that wild leeks smell like onions/garlic and lily of the valley do not.  Use that as your guide and all with be fine and delicious.

Now I’m ready to try out my garlic scapes.

Checking On the Bird’s Nests

I was able to get back up to our cabin in Door County sooner than I thought and checked on the Black-capped Chickadees nest in our nest boxes.   In my previous post, Who’s In My Nest Boxes, I discovered that chickadees had laid their eggs in the boxes intended for bluebirds.  In the first box there were 6 eggs and the second 11!  I was a little nervous that the older 6 eggs might be too close to becoming fledglings, but I was pretty confident they were still young enough not to make a too early dash from the nest.  So I took a quick peak.

This was just the epitome of cuteness!  Six little immature chickadees.  Mom and Dad were none too happy, so I quickly let them be and didn’t disturb them again.

Black-capped Chickadee nest

The other nest was not as far along.  They are clearly newly hatched and instinctively looking for food.  There were still some eggs in the nest and I’m not sure those will hatch or not.

Black-capped Chickadee nest

Black-capped Chickadee nest

To give you an idea of just how tiny these hatchlings are, I took a picture from the front of the box to give you some scale.

Black-capped Chickadee nest

I also have two other birds nesting on the house.  Not near the house, but actually on the house.  On the front porch is an Eastern Phoebe nest.  It’s not uncommon for them to nest in this kind of location.  They often nest on eaves or ledges on structures.  I remember when I was a kid, we came to our cabin one weekend and a Phoebe had made her nest right on the door frame and we couldn’t open the door.  We were able to create a shelf for the nest and the mom didn’t seem to mind at all.

Eastern Phoebe nest

Eastern Phoebe nest

To keep off the nuisance birds, the previous owner had put a nail board up. Apparently, the Phoebe didn’t seem to mind.

Eastern Phoebe nest

The parents can always be found nearby.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Then just recently a Robin has set up house under the elevated back deck.  I discovered it first by walking out on the deck and scaring her off the nest right below my feet.  Scared me too!

Robin nest

Robin nest

Certainly a lot of excitement from the birds!  Do you have any nests you’re watching?

 

This Year’s Garden Planters

Each year I head to the local garden store to pick out flowers for the planters.  The results are rarely the same from year to year since I just pick what I like at that moment.  Sometimes I might like yellows, other times maybe purples, sometimes more upright, others lots of vines.  This year for the front stoop I was in apparently in a pink/purple mood.

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In the backyard, I am a creature of habit.  In two shady planters near the grill, I always put in coleus.  My local garden shop carries a great selection of coleus so every year I can mix and match.

The one lesson I learned through the years is check the height of the plants.  They can range from a few inches to a couple of feet, so match accordingly.  Otherwise that favorite may be completely dwarfed by its neighbor.

coleus planter

coleus planter

Then there’s two long planters in the backyard that always have geraniums and something low.  Usually it’s petunias, but this year I switched it up and used an annual lobelia.  I did notice in the first few hot days that they need a lot more water than the petunias.  Need to stay on top of that!  But they do look stunning next to the hot pink geraniums.

geranium and lobelia planter

The last two planters have had a variety of things going on.  I haven’t really decided what I like in them.  As it came time to plant them this year, I realized I was missing marigolds in the garden. They’ve been a mainstay in my garden ever since my first garden in NJ.  I miss how well they grew there, but as one of my favorites, I keep them somewhere in my yard.  It’s definitely one of those love/hate plants for gardeners.  This year they went in the planters with some snapdragons.  The snapdragons aren’t blooming yet, but soon will be attracting the butterflies and hummingbirds.

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These are all recently planted, so I’m hoping they’d ill in nicely through the summer.  With enough water and some periodic fertilizer they should look great.

As comparison, here’s some what these planters looked like last year…

 

Who’s in My Nestboxes?

A few weeks ago I wrote about putting up two bluebird nestboxes at our Wisconsin cabin in “Putting Up Eastern Bluebird Nestboxes“.  I couldn’t wait to come back and see who might have moved in!

We came back up two weeks later and checked out the boxes. The first one clearly had a new resident, but it wasn’t a bluebird.  After a little investigation on the sialis.org website, I figured out it was a black-capped chickadee nest.  Not a bluebird but definitely a keeper!

chickadee nest

5/7/16 Base layer of chickadee nest in Box #1

Black-Capped Chickadee nests can take up to 2 weeks to build.  The base layer is coarse material like moss, pine needles or bark.

chickadee nest

5/7/16 Nothing yet in Box #2

Then it’s lined with softer materials like animal fur, downy plant fibers or feathers.  The nest cup is about 1 inch deep and found towards the back.  Sometimes they can even cover the cup to hide the eggs as they are being laid.

The next day some of the softer material was being added to house #1

5/8/16 The next day some of the softer material was being added to  Box #1

chickadee nest

5/8/16 and maybe someone is starting a nest in Box #2!

We left for a couple of weeks, so very curious what we’d come back to…

Chickadee eggs

5/27/16 Six eggs were laid in Box #1

Six little tiny eggs were in nest box #1!  These little eggs are only about 2/3 in x 1/2 inch in size and typically 6-8 are laid.  They are laid 1 per day, and then the female lays on them starting the day before the last one so they all hatch within 24 hours.  Incubation lasts 12-13 days.

chickadee nest

5/27/16  Looks like a finished nest but no eggs yet in Box #2.

Box #2 looks ready for eggs, but nothing yet. But boy was I fooled!  I went back to check on them the next day and this is what I found…

5/28/16 This little momma has been busy!

5/28/16 This little momma Chickadee has been busy!  I count 11 eggs in Box #2.

There must have been a little nest plug over them when I peeked in the day before.  She’s going to have her work cut out for her with all those eggs.

Depending when I get back, I may or may not check on them again.  The hatchlings will spend almost 2 weeks in the nest being fed mostly by the male at first, and then equally by the male and female as they get older.  They typically fledge on day 16, but they are very prone to early fledging if disturbed after day 11.  I definitely don’t want to do that!

On one visit I had a little fun sneaking up on the #1 nestbox.  It’s always a good idea to tap on the house when checking, otherwise you might get a bird right in the face :)

black-capped chickadee

black-capped chickadee

black-capped chickadee

black-capped chickadee

black-capped chickadee

Then off she went to a nearby tree to tsk me.

Mother’s Day Flowers (A Little Late)

Hope everyone had a wonderful Mother’s Day last weekend!  I meant to get this post out earlier, but my week got interrupted picking up one of my boys from college. A trip that included a flat tire and some nasty storms.  But I have my boys home from school so all is good!

I spent last weekend in Door County, WI enjoying the great weather by taking a wonderful spring hike at the Ridges Sanctuary and bike riding on the Sunset Trail in Peninsula State Park.  As if Mother Nature knew it was Mother’s Day weekend, the spring flowers were all abloom.  It’s been years since I’ve been out in the woods in the spring and after this spring, I don’t think I’ll miss another.

The two places we visited were only a few miles apart, but they are quite unique habitats.  The Ridges is a unique boreal forest, more like a Canadian forest, and made up of ridges and swales created by the rising and receding Lake Michigan shoreline. Peninsula Sate Park is a combination of second growth hardwoods, mostly maple and beech, and northern white cedar along the bluffs.  These two areas lend themselves to quite different types of flowers.

At The Ridges, because of the cold Lake Michigan breezes, things are a little slower in blooming.  But the early bloomers were out like the Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens) in pink and white.

Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens)

Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens)

I was so surprised to see a Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea). Even without the blooms, this carnivorous plant is easy to identify.

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This tiny iris, Dwarf Lake Iris (Iris lacustris), is unique in that it is only found in the Great Lake Region, and almost only in Michigan except for a few colonies elsewhere including the Door Peninsula.  It’s preferred habitat is sand or thin soil over limestone rich gravel or bedrock and, as in the case here at The Ridges, commonly found on old beach ridges of former shoreline of the Great Lakes.  The Dwarf Lake Iris is listed as a threatened species by the federal government and the state of Wisconsin.

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Some of my favorite plants are club-mosses, and plenty could be seen now that the snow and ice was gone.

Spinulum annotinum (Stiff Club-moss)

Spinulum annotinum (Stiff Club-moss)

Dendrolycopodium obscurum (Tree Club-Moss)

Dendrolycopodium obscurum (Tree Club-Moss)

Lycopodium clavatum (Running Ground Pine)

Lycopodium clavatum (Running Ground Pine)

After exploring The Ridges, we took a bike ride on the Sunset Trail in Peninsula State Park.  A very different kind of forest and so the flowers were also different.  The Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) was out in full glorious bloom!

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The Large-flower Bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora) always look like they are droopy and in need of some water.

Large-flower Bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora)

Even though the Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis sylvatica) is a non-native species, but one that is almost universally enjoyed.  Such a pretty spray of blue covering the woodland floor in the spring.

Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis sylvatica)

Lastly, the Wood Anemone (Anemone quinquefolia), part of the Buttercup family, could be seen in some of the more open spaces of the forest.

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Have you been out enjoying the spring flowers?

On a personal note, sometimes life throws you curve balls and a very dear friend of mine has been thrown the worst kind.  She has been one of my blog’s biggest supporters, and I so appreciate her encouragement and support, and her friendship all these years.  I just wanted to say thank you, and tell how much she’s loved by all her family and friends.

 

Putting Up Eastern Bluebird Nest Boxes

I’ve always wanted to attract bluebirds with bluebird houses, but my backyard is not the right habitat.  I’m pretty sure any bluebird nest box I put up would only be filled by house sparrows :(  But, our cabin in Wisconsin has a long driveway that seems like the right kind of habitat.  I was inspired to put up the nest boxes after watching a fascinating local PBS show about the Bluebird Restoration of Wisconsin project (BRAW).  It was one of those interesting shows you stumble on when don’t have cable.

In Wisconsin, by the 1980’s Eastern Bluebirds had declined by almost 90% because of changes in farming, competition from House Sparrows and European Starlings, severe weather in its central and southern winter range, and the loss of nest sites, making them a pretty rare sighting for a long time.  But, through the hard work of BRAW, bluebirds have become a common Wisconsin sighting and now they are worried birders will become complacent and won’t continue to provide nesting habitat for them.

Following BRAW’s instructions on what a Bluebird nest box should look like, I purchased two Woodlink NABS style bluebird nest boxes and settled using a 6 ft section of electrical conduit as the pole.

Eastern Bluebird House

Bluebird houses should have a round opening of 1 1/2 to 1 9/16 in, have a base of 4-5 inches square, and a hole to base height of 4 1/2-6 in. Either the front or top should open to allow for checking and cleaning and the nest boxes should be placed 100-150 yards apart.  These dimensions are optimized to help prevent predators from nesting in the boxes or killing the eggs or nestlings. More detailed information can be found on the BRAWS website or NABS website.

Setting up the Nest Boxes:

First, we loosely attached 2 conduit straps.

Eastern Bluebird Nest Box

Then we flattened one end of the conduit to make it easier to pound into the ground.

Eastern Bluebird Nest Box

We knew the conduit strap was too loose to just use to mount the nest box, so we improvised and thickened the mounting spots with some duct tape and a piece of wood shim.

Eastern Bluebird Nest Box

Eastern Bluebird Nest Box

Fasten down the screws tightly.

Eastern Bluebird Nest Box

And the nest box is attached!

Eastern Bluebird Nest Box

Ready for the birds to come.  I hope I’m not overly optimistic that they’ll nest here since I’m not sure the habitat is ideal, but at least I’m giving it a shot.  But, no nest box mean no nests for sure :)

Eastern Bluebird Nest Box

Daisy enjoyed the building trip and something in the bushes caught her eye.

Door County, WI

And I have to give credit to Steve for helping me put these up in the miserable spring weather we’ve had–that day was drizzling and 40°.  It was a bit of a trick to keep everything dry as we were working on it.

Eastern Bluebird Nest Box

Do you have any bluebirds nesting on your property?

More Eastern Bluebird resources:

 

Anticipation (and a Stray Migrating Dragonfly)

Spring is such an interesting time of year in the garden.  What survived the winter?  When will the spring blooms begin?  It seems every year is different in how and when the growing season unfolds.  I thought it was going to be an early spring, and then we had quite a cold snap and slowed everything down.  Or maybe just made it more normal, but its hard to know what normal is anymore.  In any case, as I was walking the yard I was noticing how pretty and interesting the shrub flower buds were.  I was so focused on waiting for the blooms, I hadn’t been noticing the beauty in the buds getting ready to explode in color.

Star Magnolia

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Redbud

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Sargent Crab

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Jane Magnolia

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Dwarf Korean Lilac

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While we were out looking closely at the shrubs, we had quite a surprise when we saw this guy hanging out on the Star Magnolia.

Green Darner

After consulting with my mom Peggy, who is my dragonfly expert, she identified it as a Green Darner.  It’s a fairly common, very large dragonfly and can be identified most easily by the very distinct “bull’s eye” on its forehead.

Green Darner

But why is this guy in my yard and not near any water?  Green Darners are one of the few migratory dragonflies.  There are two separate populations, one resident and one migratory, and to see an adult this early in the spring suggests that it may be part of the migratory group and he stopped off for a rest.  What a treat!

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Want to read more?

Biokids: Anux junius

Wildscreen Arkive: Green Darner

Migratory Dragonfly Partnership

 

Enjoying a Glorious Spring Weekend

We have had a crazy spring to say the least!  Temperatures all over the place, snow, rain, sleet, you name it we’ve had it.  But this weekend was truly a glorious one and made us forget all the bad stuff Mother Nature has thrown at us the last few weeks (or maybe months).  In between catching up with the yard work, Steve and I got out to enjoy the spring that has finally arrived.

We started off with a hike off the beaten trail at the Morton Arboretum.  The spring bulbs were in full color.

Morton Arboretum

But what really caught my eye were the spring wildflowers we found.  Some of these I haven’t seen in years, so it was fun to keep our heads down and see what early spring wildflowers we could find.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)–The sun was shining on this patch so the flowers were wide open.  They’ll close up at night and last only a couple of days.

Morton Arboretum

Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)–This area is usually flooded, but not much rain this week so a nice big patch of Marsh Marigold glowed in the distance.

Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)–This flower that just screams spring covered a woody hillside making it look almost cloud white.  Stunning!

Morton Arboretum

White Trout Lily (Erythronium albidum)–There were trout lily leaves everywhere, but it wasn’t until almost at the end of the walk we finally saw a few flowers.  Trout Lilies, or Adders-tongues as I used to know them by, take years to finally mature and bloom, and then it’s only for a few days.

Morton Arboretum

Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) -This has to be my favorite of the day!  The flowers truly look like pantaloons with the ankles upward hanging from a clothesline.

Morton Arboretum

May-apple (Podophyllum peltatum)--Not quite blooming yet, but soon.

Morton Arboretum

Besides the flowers that were enjoying the spring warmth, so were the turtles.  In this pond, every log had multiple turtles sunning themselves.

Morton Arboretum

We finished the day by exploring the 2016 special exhibit “Ribbit! The Exhibit“.  There are 23 larger-than-life copper frogs taking part in a variety of activities, all centered around the visitors center.  J.A. Cobb, a North Carolina-based sculptor, fashioned these fun sculptures from sheets of copper around steel armatures.  Here’s my favorite–

Morton Arboretum

And in keeping with this frog’s theme, I did see and hear many birds on our walk, including a pair of Wood Ducks and a Pileated Woodpecker.

What’s your favorite spring flower?

 

Finally Fixing the Rabbit Fence

There are so many garden pests, but rabbits have to be right up there at the top of many gardener’s list (unless you have deer, then that’s a whole different issue).  Last summer I posted in “Oh Those Pesky Rabbits” about the issues I was having with rabbits eating many of my tender young vegetables.

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For many years I hadn’t had issues with rabbits.  I had installed chicken wire fencing a few years back to block rabbits from getting through the cedar fence.  But as the years went by, both the cedar and chicken wire fences has become damaged, removed, soil levels changed and generally the whole anti-rabbit fence system became ineffective.

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Last year, I found these cute babies in the yard, just waiting to attack my gardens.

rabbit nest

By the time I realized I had such a big problem, the cedar fence was almost impossible to get to because of summer foliage.  So I was going to have to wait until spring  to fix it.

Last week, Daisy and I scared a huge rabbit out from under the shed who fled across the yard, escaping through this giant hole in the fence.  It was time to get this problem solved!

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Off to Home Depot I went to get some chicken wire, wire cutters and a staple gun.

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After trying out a few staple guns, I ended up getting a light duty Stanley TR45.  I hope that it’s strong enough, but I had trouble squeezing anything more powerful and I didn’t want to invest a ton of money.

Success!

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The staple gun worked just fine for this job.

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I think this will keep out the rabbits!

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I finished off the rest of the yard in an afternoon, and now will enjoy a nice glass of wine celebrating a job well done.

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While I raise a glass to the rabbits, my next puzzle to solve is keeping Daisy out of the peppers.  Check out “Little White Pepper Thief” to see what that problem is.

westie

Potholders: A Fun Project Not Just For Kids

Last fall, I was hosting a brunch for some friends and went to grab a potholder from the drawer…

woven cotton potholder

Hmm, that was embarrassing. How had I not noticed that my favorite potholders had seen better days.  I probably made these as a mother daughter craft with Emily at least 15 years ago and they’ve seen almost daily use since.  Seemed like a good time to replace them, so off I went to the store to buy some new potholders.  But I left empty handed.  Nothing seemed as comfortable or useful as what I had in the drawer.  I guess it was time to make new ones instead.

I had tried to make some at one time a few years back, but all I could find were polyester loops and and plastic looms.  Bad experience; polyester isn’t very useful around hot things, and plastic looms just broke under the tension.  I was hoping things had improved in the intervening years.

Success at Amazon! Harrisville Designs makes exactly what I was looking for. This Made in the USA company makes a kit that contains a sturdy metal loom, weaving and finishing hooks, and high quality, beautifully colored cotton loops.

Lotta loops

I ordered the kit and plenty of extra loops in all my favorite colors.  When they arrived, I got to work.  I forgot how fun it is to weave potholders, especially with all the great colors Harrisville Designs offers.

woven cotton potholder

woven cotton potholder

woven cotton potholder

These aren’t hard to make.  Pick you favorite colors and start weaving.  For help with pattern ideas, there’s a great Potholder Pattern Wizard on the Harrisville Designs website.

woven cotton potholder

woven cotton potholder

woven cotton potholder

woven cotton potholder

When they’re done, it’s time to use them!

woven cotton potholder

I brought my weaving supplies up to my mom’s to work on during my last visit.  At one point, she disappeared to the basement and came back with a very old Fay’s Drug bag containing bags of cotton loops bought at a local store, Pleasure’s and Pastimes.  My friends back in Buffalo will recognize these places, and how old those loops must be :)  I’m guessing 20 years minimum.

cotton potholder loops

While the colors are nowhere near as fun and bright as the new ones from Harrisville Designs, I may make some for old times sake.