Category Archives: General

Great Backyard Bird Count 2017

Great Backyard Bird Count
February 17-20, 2017

Cardinal

Since 1998, birders of all kinds have come together for a four day bird count in February. Counting birds at the same time every year provides a snapshot into the overall health of bird populations around the world. It can also help scientists learn more about such things as

  • Will the weather and climate change influence bird populations?
  • How will the timing of this year’s birds’ migrations compare with past years?
  •  How are bird diseases, such as West Nile virus, affecting birds in different regions?
  • What kinds of differences in bird diversity are apparent in cities versus suburban, rural, and natural areas?  Have they changed?

Chickadee

Years ago as a service project, my Girl Scout Troop participated in this event. It was really fun teaching the girls about what they were possibly going to see in their backyards, and introducing them to thinking a little more about their natural surroundings. The girls loved it!

Downy Woodpecker

It’s super easy to participate. Register online and then simply tally the numbers and kinds of birds you see for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count.  You can count from any location, any time of day, anywhere in the world!

2017 GBBC Poster with Allen's HummingbirdTo get more information and register your observations, go to the GBBC site.

Are you participating? Did you see anything unusual?

Need help identifying what you see? Here’s a few of my favorite birding books:

You can even get lists of birds seen specifically in your area from the GBBC website. This is a great way to narrow down what you are trying to identify.

This winter I’ve been seeing a Cooper’s Hawk on my feeder pole. I hope he shows up while I’m counting!

Cooper's hawk

This project is a joint venture between the Audubon Society, The Cornell Lab,  and Bird Studies Canada. It is also made possible by support by Wild Birds Unlimited and the National Science Foundation.

Photos by Peggy and Stephi

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…

 

Homegrown Spaghetti Squash

I have to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of squash.  I’ll grow zucchini and summer squash and eat them all summer, but don’t necessarily love them.

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At the grocery store, I pass the pile of winter squashes and look, but they just confuse me.

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What would I do with it?   Does it need to be peeled?  Which one is which?  I have on occasion brought one or two home and they sat in the kitchen, making me feel guilty until they became rotten and I’d throw it away.  My friends all seem to have great recipes for soups and salads, or just roasting and eating.  Not me.  I realize it’s bordering on irrational.

Two things have conspired to get me to finally cook spaghetti squash.  My husband had a side of spaghetti squash at a restaurant, loved it and suggested I try to cook some at home.   Then my mom grew some in her backyard garden this past summer.  I was really impressed with how great her harvest was and she gave me a couple when I was up visiting in October.

Mom also told me that she had read that as long as part of then stem is attached, it won’t go bad.  So when she harvested her squash, she left a couple of inches attached.  She also cured them for 10 days in the heat of her sun porch.  I think she did a good job hardening them off, since they held up really well without any special storage.

spaghetti squash

This was the first time she had ever grown any kind of fall squash so were both going to experiment with them.  I was challenged.  I wasn’t going to let these two beautiful squashes go to waste so I needed to figure something out.

After a very interesting internet search, I found that many recipes were very heavy on cheese, so trying to stick to a low-sodium diet necessitated some creativity.  I finally settled on just a simple roasting, and then sautéing with butter, garlic and parsley for the first time.

There seemed to be no consensus on how to roast the squash so here’s what I did.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.  Slice the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds.

spaghetti squash

spaghetti squash

Place the halves cut side down on a roasting pan and roast until softened, about 45 min.  It’s done when you can easily pierce the skin.

spaghetti squash

Remove from the oven.  Using a fork, scrape the fleshy spaghetti strands from the peel.

spaghetti squash

You can serve as is, it has a wonderful mellow flavor all on it’s own.  I sautéed it briefly in some butter, garlic and parsley.  There are so many things you can do with spaghetti squash.  You just need to be willing to try new things 🙂

What’s your favorite winter squash?

 

Happy New Year 2016

Happy New Year and Best Wishes for 2016!  I truly appreciate all who have visited my blog this year.  Here’s a look back at some of my most popular posts of 2015!  

Tomato Florida Weave

1.   Taming My Tomatoes With A Florida Weave:  My tomatoes were a mess, so I tried something new to try and keep things in order.
 

 

 

Blue Jay

2.    The Blue Jays are Back (and That’s Not a Good Thing):  What to do when you have nuisance birds at your feeder?

 

 

 

Garlic3.  Warding Off The Vampires:  This was my first try at growing garlic.  Easier than I thought and definitely worth the effort.

 

 

 

Multi stemmed Freeman Maple Autumn Blaze4.  So Long Beautiful Maple Tree:  Sometimes things go terribly wrong with plant.  In this case, construction and cold brought about the demise of our beautiful Freeman Maple

 

 

IMG_38415.  November in Chicago:  This fall was quite an unusual one.  Here in Chicago, the plants were quite confused as to the time of year and it made for an interesting fall.

 

 

clematis wilt6.  Something’s Wrong With the Clematis and Clematis Stem Wilt: An Update to Something’s Wrong With The Clematis:  The wet spring affected a lot of plants.  Many of us saw some terrible die back of our clematis due to Clematis Stem Wilt.  Hopefully next spring everything will rebound.

 

westie7.  Little White Pepper Thief:  Apparently Westies love peppers.  I didn’t get any sweet or hot peppers from my garden this year because of my little thief 🙁

 

 

rabbit nest8.  Spring Surprises:  Even when you think you know everything in your garden, you get surprised!

 

 

 

Callicarpa9.  Beautyberry Bushes:  Did They Survive the Winter?  After a winter like we had, I thought I had lost my new bushes.  But, they are one of the last to leaf out in the spring, so I’m glad I was patient.  

 

 

IMG_349510.  Fall in Northern Michigan/Stumbling Upon Club-Mosses:  This was one of my favorite posts of the year.  Not only was fall in Northern Michigan stunning, my mom and I stumbled onto a forest area full of a club mosses.   Very cool to see and explore.

 

..and a few of my all-time most popular posts:

Curled Leaves On The Bushes (August 2014)

Creeping Thyme Problems (April 2014) and an update in August, Oops, September Garden Update 

Painting Rock Garden Markers (February 2014)

Pelicans In Illinois (September 2013)

Our Family Christmas Tree (December 2013)

Hope you keep visiting, I have all kinds of ideas to keep everyone in the gardening mood all winter.  

Remember, you can also find Stephi Gardens on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and  Twitter.

 

November in Chicago

Watching fall unfold here in suburban Chicago has been an odd event this year.  There have been spectacular tree colors, but it’s been happening over the course of about 6 weeks instead of one glorious event.  So instead of enjoying a panorama of color like in Wisconsin and Michigan, I’ve been admiring individual trees for weeks.

autumn blaze maple

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Even at this late November date, there are trees that are still showing green or color dappled leaves, right next to a tree that has already dropped all its leaves.

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Now if it was just a particular type of tree, like an oak, that’d be understandable since they always hold their brown leaves well into winter (and sometimes spring).  But it’s random maples, viburnums, burning bushes and others.

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I’ve never seen this serviceberry have so much fruit!

serviceberry fruit

The Purple Pearls Beautyberry Bushes (Callicarpa x NCCX1), after a very slow start had a great fall display of purple berries to liven up the yard.  (Beautyberry Bushes, Did They Survive the Winter?)

beautyberry bush

Some flowers and vegetables haven’t minded the mild fall.

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sweet hundreds tomatoes

And then, even with leaves in the trees the week of thanksgiving the snow has arrived! Lots of heavy, wet snow.  The kind that looks really pretty, but is tough on the trees and shrubs. And the back!

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redbud in winter

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The Common Witch hazel was blooming prolifically this fall after having some changes to the surrounding bushes giving it more space and sun.

witch hazel flowers

crabtree fruit

 How was your fall?

 

Fall in Door County, Wisconsin

Fall in Door County

In addition to going to Northern Michigan for the weekend (Fall in Northern Michigan/Stumbling Upon Club-Mosses), Steve and I  made a trip up to Door County, Wisconsin the third week of October.  It was definitely peak colors that week and it was spectacular.

The day started like this!  Sunrise over Lake Michigan.

Sunrise in Bailey's Harbor

After breakfast, we started to explore…

Fall in Door County

The forests of Door County are full of hardwoods like Sugar Maple, Beech, Ash, Red Oak, White Oak and Paper Birch.

Fall in Door County

Fall in Door County

Fall in Door County

Fall in Door County

Looking down we were surprised to see these Maidenhair Ferns (Adiantum pedatum). Always a fun find!

Maidenhair fern

Even this late, the raspberry garden is still full of juicy raspberries.

everbearing raspberries

Of course, Daisy is enjoying the fall woods as well!

Westie

 

 

August, Oops, September Garden Update

A while back I thought I was getting caught up, but then sending twins off to college this fall proved to be quite a time consuming effort!  So the garden has been a bit on auto pilot for a little while now.  Thank goodness it got off to such a good start this spring.  Here’s some tidbits on what I would have written about, if I had had the time 🙂

There was a family of chickadees that must have nested and fledged near my feeders.  For weeks, I was so entertained by the hilarious antics of the 3 young chickadees that truly behaved like little kids.

baby chickadee

baby chickadee

I got a lot more green peppers and Mariachi hot peppers as the summer went on.  Unfortunately, Daisy was not at all dissuaded by munching on the hot peppers and continued to eat almost all this year’s pepper harvest (Little White Pepper Thief).

green pepper

Surveying the garden for her latest snack…

Westie

A couple of years ago this patch of creeping thyme was a disaster.  I wrote about it in my earlier post, Creeping Thyme Problems.  I was skeptical that the severe pruning was going to help, but it has.  It looks gorgeous and lush, and smells awesome when I walk on it to get to the garden hose.  So if in doubt, cut away, it’ll be better for it!

Creeping Thyme

Creeping Thyme

I didn’t get many sunflowers this year thanks to the bunnies.  But I did get this one, beautiful Evening Sun Sunflower.  Made me smile.

Evening Sun sunflower

Thankfully Daisy doesn’t seem have found the tomatoes or basil. I don’t ever seem to tire of fresh tomato salads.

tomato basil salad

The raspberries I planted in the spring flourished over the summer.  I even got a few tasty raspberries in the late summer.  Looking forward to having the plants mature and getting lots of berries.   What did I plant?  See my previous post “My Raspberries and Strawberry Plants Are Here!”

raspberries

Two of my clematis plants got a terrible case of Clematis Stem Wilt earlier this spring (What’s Wrong With the Clematis and Clematis Stem Wilt).  I was hopeful that the plants would survive and I think they did.  Both plants put up a couple of new, healthy looking stems that looked good until the last few days when something has decided to munch on the leaves.  We’ll see in the spring how they look.  At least there’s hope.

clematis

The petunias were home to lots of pollinators.  This bumblebee was fun to watch as he dove deep into each flower.  He seemed to really prefer the dark pink over light pink.  While I have no decent pictures, I had hummingbirds also visit my yard late this summer.  I don’t always get them, so it has been a treat the last few weeks to have them visit.

petunia

How was your garden this year?

(BTW Go Hokies! Go Blue!)

It’s Been A Rainy Month

Our weird weather continues.  Seems like it’s either too hot, too cold, too rainy or too dry and we keep getting into the top 10 for something.  In that vein, this June we are having the 5th wettest June ever and we still have a few days to go. At my house we’ve had 6 inches of rain so far, with some in the rain gauge to be read tomorrow morning.

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(Have I said how much I love my Rain Log app for my iPhone and my rain gauge?)

So how is the yard faring?  The swale between the yards is working as it should to let water run down the block. This is also the “no-man’s land” of the yard. It serves it’s purpose of shedding water and is well hidden by a row of blue spruce (raised up to keep their water-unfriendly roots dry). I’m amazed my fence is still standing after all these years of rain.

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It’s also days like this that I’m glad I have my tall slogger rain boots to check everything out in.

rain boots

We have channels of water that run around the beds.  They seem to drain as they should and keep the water from puddling on the plants and trees.

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We’ve had a new problem the last few years with the neighbor’s water washing right over our side beds instead of towards the back.  This was causing some terrible erosion, so we added some timbers last summer to redirect the water to the back swale where it should be.   Seems to be working perfectly!

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We also had trouble with our shed which is situated in the low spot of the yard. We had it raised up and now it’s as dry as can be and the door will stop rotting away.  I’ll write about that soon.  It was quite a job, but a necessary one.  Looks like we need to do some repair work to pretty it up a bit.

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Then there was the pile of clematis flower that got knocked off.  The early blooming clematis “Sugar Candy” was in full bloom, but this is what it looked like after a particularly bad rain storm.

clematis

I was just in Yosemite National Park in California and the difference between our lush, if not water saturated, greenery and their parched, drought stricken landscape was dramatic.  I would gladly share!

The Garden Was Party Perfect

My goal this spring was was to get the garden in shape for my twin boys high school graduation festivities. While the weather barely cooperated, the gardens were helped by the cool spring and looked beautiful, green and lush.  Some of the spring shrubs were still blooming and overlapping with some of the early summer blooming vines and perennials.  What didn’t have color, I filled in with annuals from a local nursery.  Even the vegetable gardens seemed on their best behavior.  I think I am going to be spending a lot of time relaxing in the backyard this summer enjoying all this early spring work.

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On personal note– this has been such a hectic year and I haven’t been blogging as much as I had hoped.  Now that my twins have finished their senior year and all that comes with it, I hope to be writing on a more regular basis.  Wondering where they’re going?  Here’s a hint…

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My Raspberry and Strawberry Plants are Here!

My mom grows the best raspberries in her garden.  There is nothing better than going out in her yard and picking a handful of just the most delicious ripe berries or having some of her homemade raspberry jam.  So I decided it was time to try and grow some myself.  I ordered them earlier this winter from Burpee and they just arrived, ready to plant.  Of course, while I was ordering them I was tempted by the strawberries as well and ordered some of them too.

Now I don’t have nearly the space she does, so I hope I’m not creating a monster by planting plants that like to spread like berry plants do.  But, it’s worth a try to get those fresh berries in my own yard.

The plants arrived as bare-root stock, which mostly means they look dead.  I’ve had plants before come this way, so I’m not worried.


raspberries

Much to my surprise, my new plants came from my old stomping grounds, Erie County NY!

raspberries

Because I was indecisive, I order 2 different everbearing varieties:  Heritage and Caroline.  Everbearing varieties will produce two crops, one in July and the other in the fall.  Both of these varieties seem to work well in my area so we’ll see if one is better than the other.

I spread them out in a couple of different garden areas that get a fair amount of sun.  Right now, they look like dead sticks, but in the next few weeks they should start to grow.

raspberries

While I was shopping for the raspberries, the strawberry ads caught my eye.  I had grown a couple of plants last year that put out a few tasty strawberries, so I thought more would be better.

garden strawberry

After a little research, I added 25 Evie-2 plants to my order.  I probably don’t need so many plants, but that’s how they came.  Unfortunately, before they came Burpee sent me a note that their vendor had a production problem and they wouldn’t be able to send them to me so they were issuing a refund.  But, for my inconvenience they were sending complimentary Seascape Strawberry plants which I very much appreciated.

Both Evie-2 and Seascape are day-neutral strawberries that produce flowers and fruit all season, as long as the temperatures are between 40°F and 85°F, regardless of day length.  Unlike everbearing varieties that produce 2 or 3 distinct crops per season, day-neutral produce continuously.  A summer full of strawberries sounds good to me.

The plants come as bare-root stock and are sent at the right time for my planting area.   Once they arrive they need to be planted as soon as possible.

Seascape Strawberries

Before planting, it’s recommended that they be soaked for two hours.

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Once good and soaked they are ready to plant.  I don’t really have a great place for them, so I decided to plant them in a bit of a no-man’s land garden area that I’ve been putting some iris’s (that never seem to bloom but just take up space) and extra grasses in.

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I dug a small hole for each and spread out the roots in the hole.  Cover with soil and water them in.

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A couple of days later, we had an unusually late freeze so I covered the tender new plants with a sheet to protect them from the very cold overnight temperatures.  We got down to 29°F, which hopefully hasn’t done any damage to any of my emerging plants.

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The plants look just fine the next morning.  Can’t wait for those berries!

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But, while the strawberries looked great, I had bought a basil plant at a local store  a few days before.  I knew it was too early to plant and moved it into the screen porch that night.  But alas, still too cold and it is now a very sorry looking basil plant 🙁  I will try to give it some TLC in the house before taking it back out to plant.  

basil

Have you grown berries successfully?  Did they overgrow everything or was it ok? Peggy says the trick is to just mow over any stray raspberry shoots.

Hopefully the cold spring isn’t hurting your gardens this spring.