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What’s buggin’ you today?

This post has nothing to do with creativity or making things, but seeing this not-so-little critter in my backyard really caught my interest:


Here’s another angle – if it’s blurry it’s because she (?) was on the move…


For perspective, those are 5″ laps on the siding.

I wish I’d been able to get its profile or face, but it sure looks like a brown praying mantis to me. But according to the map on that National Geographic site, this one is well north of his preferred location.

Who can tell me what might have drawn it to my yard? If you live in Northern Illinois, how often have you seen one of these insects – especially in an urban setting?


What’s My Garden Growing: Gajo De Melon

Last week I showed you the gorgeous Violet Jasper tomatoes growing in a garden pot out back. This week I have a couple of ripe Gajo de Melon heirloom tomatoes freshly picked from a plant just 20 feet away from the Violet Jaspers.

The Gajo de Melon plant really didn’t grow much. It had some yellow leaves early on so I removed those. I always water my tomatoes from the bottom, but this is the only tomato plant I have that isn’t at least partially protected by an overhang – maybe it isn’t doing as well as the others because its leaves get too wet when it rains. The poor plant looks half dead but it keeps blossoming and has already produced several tiny fruits.

I was expecting cherry tomato sized fruits, but this is what I got:


Yep. That’s a quarter next to the tiny beauties.

Despite the tiny size, they’re perfectly formed tomatoes that offer an intense, concentrated, slightly tart tomato flavor. They’d pair really well with bitter greens.

Now if you want to see a real garden bounty, Bonnie from Arizona shared these photos from her dad’s garden.


Bonnie’s dad in his Arizona garden…


…and some of his garden’s bounty.

Now that’s a real home garden! Is everyone else as envious as I am about that yield?

Iris You Were Here, Redux

Last spring I posted a photo of a single deep purple iris in bloom. It was just as lovely this year (as was another clump of the same variety that I planted alongside of the house). As I noted last year, to the right of the purple iris was a grouping of giant yellow irises not yet in bloom.

This year, as the yellow flowers begin to fade, another batch of irises — which I picked up at The Pec Thing last year — are just now beginning to open on the opposite side of the fading yellow beauties.


Look at all the buds waiting to open!


A delicate beauty, huh?

All of these were collected randomly from different flea market vendors. I had no idea when I planted them – hoping simply to soften the neighbor’s cement retaining wall – that they would provide more than a month’s worth of tall, gorgeous flowers.

As much as I love irises, they’re a close second to my favorite flowers: peonies. Now if I could just get some magenta double peonies to thrive.

What are your favorite flowers, and do you grow them in your garden?

Volunteer Tomatoes

While weeding my little produce patches earlier this summer I spotted what looked liked tomato leaves popping up near where last summer’s cherry tomato plant grew. I decided to leave it alone and see what happened.

Soon it grew taller and sprouted more leaves. A couple weeks ago it began to blossom. The other day I spotted the first of several tiny green cherry tomatoes beginning to form.

See the first tiny tomato from my volunteer tomato plant?

It’s already Labor Day, so who knows if any of these volunteers will ripen before the first hard frost, but that really doesn’t matter since I can always add them to my annual batch of homemade green tomato salsa!

Happy Labor Day, everyone! (And yes, I’ll be laboring a bit today….no such thing as a paid holiday when you’re a freelancer.)

Pick A Peck of Peppers

Okay, so it’s not exactly a peck of peppers, but my one little jalapeno plant has been producing like crazy. I’ve already picked five peppers, and look how many are ready, or almost ready to pick.

I can spot the peppers amid the leaves. Can you?

(Immediately after taking the photo, I picked four more peppers.)

The first cucumber is ready for picking, and a smaller one is growing a bit higher on the vine.

Cuke #1 a few days before harvest.

The cucumber plant is loaded with blossoms, but so far just two cukes. They grow quickly, so I’m hoping for more.

I’ve already mentioned how well the tomato plants are doing – I’ve already lost track of how many tomatoes I’ve picked, and those plants are still loaded. The only plant I’m concerned about is the red pepper plant.

Pretty leaves, but where are the blossoms?

It’s beautiful, but I haven’t seen a single blossom. Any idea why it’s not blooming? Last year’s red pepper plant did so well that it wasn’t until a month or two ago that I finally finished up the leftover red peppers I chopped and froze last fall.

How are your gardens growing? Which crops are doing best for you this year?

Why buy produce when you can grow your own?

Moments ago I harvested the first of the mixed baby lettuces and spinach that I sowed back in April. Here it is washed, drained and ready to go – just like the bagged greens at the grocery store, only a lot less expensive:

Okay, so as I was snipping the spinach, for a moment I worried I’d cut the leaves off my radishes by mistake. I didn’t. (Hey, I never claimed to be a gardener!)

Each summer I try to grow a few more things than the year before, but it’s not always easy with a giant black walnut tree in the yard. The shade isn’t the real problem. Juglone is. It’s a toxin produced by black walnut trees that effects a lot of plants. That’s why I’ve relegated my “crops” to containers and two small wedges of soil that get plenty of sun and are away from the black walnut’s canopy.

Last year I mentioned my dilemma to a neighbor who is a prolific gardener. You know, the type who starts his own plants from seed. The other day he called and said he had a tomato variety called Al Kuffa, that does very well in containers. By noon he’d dropped off three seedlings for me.

What a lovely gift!

Stay tuned to see how well the tomatoes do. I might plant one in one of the wedges and two in pots. Or vice versa. I’ll figure that out over the weekend. After that I’ll just have to wait for them to grow and ripen.

What’s your garden growing this year?

Iris you were here

Yes, “Iris you were here” is a bad pun, but cut me a little slack. This is the first bloom from the irises I got at The Pec Thing last fall:

Just behind this beauty is a clump of “mystery” irises that should bloom in a few days. I bought those at the same flea market a few years ago when a vendor had a bin of assorted, unidentified iris rhizomes priced ridiculously low – something like three for $1. Bargain hunter I am, I chose three. All of which turned out to be yellow – the one color I dislike (somehow, even yellow isn’t bad when it’s an iris).

Last summer at a garage sale I picked up a division of lavender irises that have grown, but don’t show any signs of blooms just yet.

Oh – and the tulips in the back of the photo? My brother gave me those in potted plant form one Easter – probably 10 years ago – and they were  prettier than ever this year.

Not bad for someone with a brown thumb!

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