2016 season wrapup

I’m still contemplating my new year’s resolutions but before looking forward, I want to take a quick look back. Here’s a short list of what happened in my garden in 2016:

Failures

Pasque flower simply didn’t come back, after a couple years of doing well. This was a cultivar, and I bought a native to replace it.

large purple flower near the ground and another beginning to open

Purple prairie clover started fine but was eaten by rabbits.

about a dozen stems chewed off two inches high

I scattered swamp milkweed seeds in the fall of 2015, but nothing sprouted.

Successes

Wild columbine thrived in its first year in the yard, after being transplanted late the year before

focus on one pinkish flower with several other buds and flowers blurred in the background

Strawberries not only survived their first winter, they produced several berries. The plants spread far in late summer, so we’re hoping for a real crop next year.

three strawberries on a vine, two white and one bright red

four sets of three strawberry leaves, one just opening, with vine to the left and right

Our first-ever grapes, after years of relatively healthy grapevines! (Though not surprisingly, something ate them before we could.)

three bunches of green grapes

Some kind of super-tall (8-foot) aster.

dozens of small white flowers on a stem that's bent near the ground

Unintentional beauty of onion flowers, which were leftovers from 2015 and continued growing on their own.

a globe of white flowers with green veins

New creatures

More and more insects (and other creatures) are finding a home, or at least dinner, in our garden. These are some of the things spotted for the first time:

mourning cloak

side view of a dark brown butterfly with a line of lighter brown at the edge of the wings

swallowtail caterpillar

large caterpillar climbing up a short stem and eating the top

hairstreak butterfly

gray butterfly on bright orange butterfly weed

summer azure butterfly (I think)

very light purple butterfly upside-down on a clover in the lawn

a similar, but I don’t think the same, butterfly

small purple-ish butterfly in milkweed blossoms

hummingbird moths

yellow-and-black fuzzy moth with its proboscis curled near a bee balm

brown, black, and red fuzzy moth with its proboscis in a bee balm

thick-headed fly

skinny black fly with narrow white stripes, looks a lot like a wasp

clearwing borer moth

skinny black insect with a feathery tail and clear wings on stiff goldenrod

potter wasp

black wasp shoving a green caterpillar into a small mud pot

another kind of wasp (I think)

mostly black insect with a couple yellow stripes flying between bee balm blossoms

some kind of orange dragonfly

dragonfly perched on butterfly weed

swamp milkweed leaf beetles

yellow beetle and red beetle copulating on a milkweed leaf

candy-stripe spider fighting a Japanese beetle (more to come on this encounter)

white spider with a bright pink spot, near a dark beetle

whatever this little orange bug is

bug with an orange body with marks that look like a smiling face, and tiger wings

hibernating wooly bear caterpillar, accidentally uncovered when doing late-season planting

orange-and-brown caterpillar curled into a ball

Overall

I always have several blog posts in my head and an even longer list of potential ideas, but it’s hard to get them written. So there were not nearly enough blog posts in 2016, but I posted almost daily during the growing season on Instagram.

My biggest personal success was becoming a master naturalist. I anticipate this will become a bigger and bigger part of my life going forward.

Previous recaps

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Lingering autumn

A month ago, the Twin Cities was under a frost advisory for two nights, and I panicked and picked all of the tomatoes.

purple tomato with a green bottom

There was a very light frost, barely even noticeable, and I learned my lesson to leave the tomatoes on the vine and just cover them until the first hard frost.

blue bowl full of tomatoes of varied sizes, shapes, and colors, mostly green

Except that the next week there was a hard frost advisory, and it still didn’t freeze. It’s 72 degrees on November 5, and I just heard that the Twin Cities has now set a record for the longest growing season ever. Things in my garden just keep on growing.

broccoli

large broccoli head

raspberries

one raspberry flower and a dozen green berries

cabbage, which we waited maybe one day too long to harvest and now a critter is eating it

round cabbage from above, with the left half peeled back and chewed

The leaves are starting to turn.

wild geranium

one mostly orange leaf

strawberries

two sets of three red leaves, standing above a lot of green leaves

joe-pye weed

yellowed leaves that are starting to turn brown

purple giant hyssop

a tall stem of curled, deep purple leaves

bee balm

more than a dozen seed heads above yellow, green, and pink leaves

But some flowers are still budding and blooming.

dahlia

a bright pink flower with more petals open on the right side

black-eyed susans

one yellow flower, four stems with single buds, and one stem with four buds

calendula

bright orange flower with the petals in the very center not unfolded yet

autumn joy sedum

four stems of deep purple flowers

goldenrod

short yellow stalk

turtlehead, covered in dew instead of frost

short stalk with two pink flowers at the top

yellow coneflowers

cluster of nine stems with buds

and more yellow coneflowers growing in an unusual spot: the side of the planter

two small green plants on the side of a gray stucco wall

How did our garden grow?

In early spring we decided to convert more of our yard from lawn to garden. We marked off a giant rectangle in the backyard and I immediately thought, swimming pool! But instead we stuck with the plan and started removing the sod for a garden. The robins were very excited about the freshly uncovered worms.

rolls of sod, and a robin sitting on a roll of sod

We planted some of the vegetables from seed, and added some fruit and veggie plants:

a box full of new plants

The raspberry half of the new garden was covered with wood mulch, and the vegetable half was covered in leaf mulch (not pretty, but effective). Here’s how our plants did:

One of our distant neighbors has a thick row of lettuce at the edge of his prolific vegetable garden. I thought we should imitate that because it may be an effective barrier for rabbits. So we had lots of lettuce – even though we quickly decided to put up a fence anyway – enough that we couldn’t come close to keeping up with it, and it went to seed. Interesting flower variety:

row of closely-spaced lettuce, four different kinds of lettuce flowers

We started with four tomato plants, and then took in about a dozen more that were going to be composted. They did well at first, but suddenly half were eaten by squirrels, and half rotted on the vine, perhaps because of all of the rain. But there seems to be a resurgence lately, and I may try fried green tomatoes this week.

green tomatoes on the vine

Of course we had BLTs with homegrown L and T.

bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich

We planted some squashes and gourds from seed, and we also purchased some plants. Neither did very well, though it looks like all of the plants were attacked by squash borer, and some became a home for slugs.

squash vine borer from the front and top, and a vine that is dying

One vine has looked pretty good in spite of the bugs, but it has produced only one fruit (I think it’s a spaghetti squash).

white, oblong squash

A yellow squash grew but was quickly discovered by squirrels. A second one is now growing but will likely be destroyed soon, too. Even the plants that weren’t attacked by squirrels or bugs ended up covered with powdery mildew.

powdery mildew covering the leaves of a small squash plant

Our pumpkin vine has lately been growing long and flowering a lot, but it’s unfortunately going to be too little, too late.

pumpkin flower and a vine that has grown beyond the fence

We have one more opportunity with some late-growing acorn squash, and we relocated it to the smaller covered garden to protect it from any more squirrel interference.

acorn squash protected by a net

Broccoli flowered before it reached a size I would have considered harvesting. Peas did okay, but we didn’t get a lot, and I didn’t know when to pick them. Next year I will know better. We’re probably done attempting to grow corn, though. This was the second year we tried, and what the squirrels didn’t chop down, the wind knocked over.

short cornstalk laying on the ground

Beans recovered from early squirrel interference and are looking good, finally.

several green beans hanging from a vine

Our four eggplants flowered but didn’t produce any fruit.

purple eggplant blossom

Our neighbor generously gave us two dozen extra kohlrabi plants. They were a big success, and they’re actually kind of tasty. We’ve tried them steamed and roasted.

two kohlrabi plants growing together

Potatoes: two plants popped up in the compost pile, then we transplanted them to the main garden. We also purchased yukon gold and a purple variety of seed potatoes. They had pretty white flowers that even turned into tomato-like fruit, apparently because of wet weather.

potato plants, flowers, and fruit

All of the plants are doing well and the ones we’ve dug up so far have produced 3-5 potatoes apiece, though some have had strange holes. I was entertained that the purple-skinned potatoes also have purple flesh.

a pile of brown and purple potatoes, and a purple potato cut in half

We planted a lot of kale this year and that tasted okay, but one plant overwintered really well. This was the one I turned to weekly for kale chips, and it kept regrowing all season.

a big kale plant

This was the year to finally do something about our underperforming raspberry bushes. We originally planted them in a shady spot of the backyard about three years ago, and they’ve never amounted to much. This year we decided that they deserved more sun, and we moved them to the west side of the new garden.

the old raspberry location, and a freshly dug plant ready to be moved

About half of them started producing flowers and then berries.

raspberry plants in mulch

Our squirrels can’t leave them alone, though, so we haven’t yet been able to enjoy the newly productive bushes. (I’m dreaming of a giant squirrel-proof greenhouse for next year.)

two raspberries on the ground

Another potential for next year: strawberries. We bought several plants, but almost immediately, rabbits ate several of them. They still produced a few berries, and the rest of the year they grew well and even sent out runners. We have high hopes for next year – assuming we can protect them well enough from the winter.

strawberry plants on a lawn chair

Time to start planning

It’s the first day of spring and while it’s still way too soon to start planting anything outdoors in Minnesota, it’s never too early to start planning.

a pile of flower and vegetable seed packets with handwritten plastic plant markers

Over the years I’ve acquired so many seed packets – hand-gathered and purchased, vegetables and flowers – that it will take awhile to organize them. Maybe I’ll have a plan by the time outdoor planting season rolls around.

2014’s plant successes

So there were some failures in 2014. There were even more successes – perhaps due to a lot of rain early in the growing season, perhaps due to many of the plants simply being one year older.

Blue-eyed grass was listed as a failure earlier, but in a different location, it did just fine:

blue-eyed grass with about 40 blooms

The 2013 blazing star didn’t come back, but this summer we bought a new one that bloomed before the end of the season:

one blazing star stem in bloom

Our “tiny monster” geranium isn’t so tiny anymore. In fact, it’s starting to crowd out many of the plants around it, so we will need to divide it in the spring:

side view of tiny monster geranium with about 30 tall flowers

Moving the lamb’s ears from a shaded backyard location into the sunnier front yard did wonders for this plant:

six lamb's ears plants

The purple prairie clover had a few blooms in its first year:

one purple prairie clover blossom

This new coreopsis was planted late in the summer, when we thought it was done for the year. But the six plugs grew and grew, and half of them bloomed and bloomed. This will be one to divide and watch closely in 2015:

six coreopsis flowers and several buds

This yarrow was a volunteer plant in the backyard, and it didn’t flower last year, so I thought it was simply a pretty fern. But after we moved it to the front yard, it bloomed and showed its true identity:

yarrow leaves, buds, and flowers

The spiderwort is now two years old, and like in 2013, it had pretty flowers every day, all summer long:

spiderwort with many blooms

The black-eyed susan created many baby plants at the end of 2013. We divided it and moved it to three additional locations, all of which looked like veterans by the end of 2014:

side view of about two dozen black-eyed susan flowers

I didn’t even know that hens-and-chicks is a flowering plant until a stem started growing! I’m always surprised that this succulent makes it through the cold winters, and this year it surprised me yet again:

hens and chicks stem with buds, and a close-up of the flowers in bloom

We had varying success in the vegetable garden, and the beans were one example that exceeded expectations. They even grew through the squirrel fence:

bean leaves growing through a fence

Not surprisingly, with all of the wet weather, mushrooms were quite prevalent from time to time:

two dozen short, brown mushrooms

And we enjoyed lots of insects, like this dragonfly on a budding purple coneflower:

dragonfly on a budding purple coneflower

While not from our own garden, I had to include this harebell. It’s my favorite photo from Tettegouche State Park, but it was saved in the wrong folder and so I overlooked it earlier.

several harebell flowers next to a river

Saving this weather for a snowy day

The entire weekend was as close to perfect as it gets, weather-wise. High 70s, sunny, no clouds, low humidity.

phlox

It may have been the best weekend of the summer, and it came after Labor Day. The bees and bugs were enjoying the weather as much as I was.

grasshopper on black-eyed susan

This year, I’m finding it incredibly hard to leave the garden. I can’t even glance at the flowers in the morning unless I plan to be late for work. We end up eating dinner really late every night because I’m checking on the day’s progress and watching the bee activity. And I’m usually outside late enough that it’s too dark for pictures.

bumblebee climbing out of a turtlehead

Oh, who am I kidding? This happens every year.

bee climbing on sedum

It’s been three months since I’ve remembered to cut flowers for pressing. Somehow I thought of it Sunday afternoon.

cut flowers on tissue paper: zinnia, liatris, coreopsis

I chose several pretty blooms, arranging some to lie flat with the blossom showing and some with a side view. Three new pages of flowers are now pressed between tissue paper in an old college textbook.

cut flowers on tissue paper: calendula, cosmos, hollyhock

I’ve set a reminder on my calendar for January 10, 2015: “Unwrap the pressed flowers.”

a textbook that won't close because of three layers of pressed flowers

What a fun memory of today’s weather it will be when the holidays are behind us and we will most likely be freezing under several feet of snow.

bouquet of cut flowers waiting to be pressed