1. Published
    During a trip from Chicago to Michigan via Amtrak last week, I was amused when the train stopped and an Amtrak employee delivered a heart rendering apology for the delay. While fellow passengers grumbled to each other, I closed my book and marveled that the employee could sound so sincere, considering this exact stoppage happens every time I ride this route.
  2. Published
    The threat of frost sends me out to the garden to glean the last of the veggies. As I don my jacket, I open the door and two streaks of striped fur dash between my feet. The kittens apparently are also concerned about the possibility of a frost and have decided to "help" me.
  3. Published

    I am supposed to be weeding. It is a mystery to me that the weeds are so high when we have had less than two inches of rain all summer. As I halfheartedly tug at the weeds, an avian soap opera unfolds around me.

  4. Published
    I was feeling a little smug as I finished putting the last of the cukes and tomatoes into a salad. I usually am desperate at this time of year to keep up with the output from the garden. I had made tomato soup and a hearty pasta sauce with the latest picking of tomatoes. The Japanese beetles had decimated the pole beans so we were not overwhelmed with green beans; we had a small amount to eat instead of buckets as we usually had. The cukes and melons were producing like mad but we were able to share them with friends.
  5. Published

    Chip and I sit on the shaded deck, holding fat homemade steak sandwiches on Turano Italian rolls stuffed with homegrown peppers, onions, tomatoes and herbs. We both are filthy. We have spent three hours picking black raspberries. This is the fourth picking, the last of the lot for this year. Heat indexes in the 90's has made this picking unpleasant, but berries don't wait for cool weather to ripen.

  6. Published

    If you live in western Illinois, you know that this has been a strange planting season. First, we went from winter to summer in about twenty minutes, or so it seemed. While waiting to have favorable conditions to plant out seedlings we'd started in February, we had to transplant many of the plants to larger containers. Instead of being able to be outside caring for the seedlings, we kept them sheltered on the deck to harden them off as we waited for warmer weather. And waited. And waited.

  7. Published

    One of the best things about gardening, for me, is always getting to learn something new, sometimes from surprising sources. This is the story of a new house, a new truck, and a desired plant.

  8. Published
    While visiting some Amish friends years ago, Chip and I were invited to visit their vegetable garden. I had seen it when we parked and was eagerly anticipating the tour. Their garden was huge and flourishing. Of particular interest were the enormous onions. I noted that they were different varieties, evident by the yellow, white, and red bulbs showing through the light mulch. I asked our friend David the secret of such huge onions in early summer. He smiled and inclined his head toward the pasture where his buggy horses were peacefully munching.
  9. Published

    Before cell phones became so commonplace, we anticipated and welcomed the annual arrival of phone books. It was very exciting to see the plastic wrapped phone book just waiting for a quick check to see if we still existed. What has now taken the place of the phone books is the arrival of seed catalogs. And the notice of an upcoming plant sale. These both make winter survivable from this northern gardener's perspective. And, golly, these both make winter pretty darn exciting.

  10. Published
    Mother Nature has sent a new blast of subzero weather to western Illinois. Our corn stove is blasting out heat, the LP tank is newly filled, and my geriatric cat, Tink, firmly entrenched on my lap as I type, radiates heat. Let Mother Nature do her thing.
  11. Published

    As the meeting room at the Knox County Extension Office filled with folks gathering for the annual holiday potluck in early December, I marveled at how "good" we cleaned up. The attendees, bearing dishes to the communal table, were Master Gardeners who I usually see in less formal circumstances- dirty, disheveled, and doing the tasks needed to keep local gardens growing.

  12. Published
    The end of the growing season brings many tasks to a close. The last task of the season: update the gardening journal.
  13. Published

    It is no surprise when I write that this fall has been unusual in the garden. Little rain and high temperatures combined for a weird growing season. Cabbage moths dance upon the broccoli; Asian beetles are seven deep on the honey dew melons. Bees and wasps are thick on the compost pile.

  14. Published

    A friend and I were talking about dinner plans one day and I commented that one of the first things I do in the morning is decide what to have for dinner. She thought I was kidding; when Chip came up to us, she asked him what he did first in the morning. He said, "Talk to Sandy about what we're having for dinner." I started laughing when he got to "about"-the look on my friend's face was priceless. And disbelieving.

  15. Published

    As I got out of my car in Target's parking lot, key fob in hand, I heard a man say, "Be sure to lock your car." Startled, I noticed an older gentleman in the car next to mine. He smiled and said, "It's zucchini season." Immediately my mind flashed to my kitchen counter, piled with yellow summer squash, and I briefly considered stashing squash in unsuspecting vehicles as a possible solution to our squash bounty. But I quickly realized that I simply couldn't dump our problem on strangers.

  16. Published
    My favorite time of the year as a gardener is when I get to be in my gardens. To watch veggies that we started last February make their way to our table in early June is a constant marvel to me. I understand the science that makes this happen, but I am awed that we grew this morning's breakfast. Today we had omelets (eggs from our chickens) with mushrooms, pepper and carrot (only one of each was ready to pick), onions, and broccoli. The oyster mushrooms are near the garden in logs that Chip is carefully nurturing, so I'm counting them as part of the garden scene.
  17. Published
    Last weekend, I had the overwhelmingly pleasant experience of creating a garden with my granddaughter. I won't bore you with how incredibly smart, charming, and exceptional Ms. Maisie is. At 3 1/2, she has more energy and enthusiasm than this old gramma could keep up with, but the new garden we created served as a testament to a practice that originated with my immigrant Italian grandfather and that I now have passed to the fifth generation. I thought about my grandfather taking two street cars to his garden plot in Chicago. Then, of course, he had to return home with his produce.
  18. Published

    For the last fourteen years, our gardening team has consisted of Chip, me, and our dog, Chance. I would like to say that it is a cooperative effort by all three of us, but I make a habit of not telling falsehoods. We love to garden but I have to question the quality of Chance's contributions.

  19. Published

    There is nothing quite as exciting for me as receiving inquiries from young people who are beginning their gardening lives. The one that's hardest to answer is what to do about varmints in the garden.

    I never had problems with wild animals in the years that I have grown rural vegetable gardens. I encountered the occasional snake in my country garden, but it was just trying to make a living and didn't wreak havoc on the crop. I never saw any extreme damage or thievery that involved varmints until I moved to the big city, Galesburg, Illinois.

  20. Published

    As I stood in the middle of the deck, watching animals run hither and yon, I wondered, not for the first time, why we start our own seeds every year. After all, perfectly good nurseries that provide plants for the home gardeners exist. I blame Mother Nature for the whole debacle.