Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Alliums are such fun flowers. I hereby resolve to plant more of them.

You're familiar with chive flowers, of course:
They make a great garnish.

The larger decorative alliums make lovely fireworks bursts of white or purple in your garden.
And even after they go to seed they have an interesting shape.
A couple of years ago I planted seeds for bunching onions, which I got from Kenny at Veggie Gardening Tips. They didn't sprout until this year! But now that they're established, I expect them to stick around.
I originally thought they were Egyptian walking onions, which grow their bulbs on the top. The weight bends the stems over until the bulbs hit the ground and take root, hence the "walking."

If the bunching onions were just for kitchen use, I would mound the dirt up so the stems are blanched. But I enjoy them as much for their looks as for cooking.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Poppin' fresh

The Sergeant snapped this photo while I was at work the other day. "The bees are going crazy for this flower!" he told me.
It was just this one poppy bloom and just that day. He couldn't figure out what was different about it; there wasn't water collected in the petals or anything that made it look special, but there were dozens of bees trying to get to it.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Cheery yellow columbine

The columbine is Colorado's state flower. You usually see the blue and white variety but ours are all yellow, and quite vigorous. They are shaded most of the day, so I guess they like that.
They are also vigorous self-seeders. I usually end up pulling out quite a few seedlings from between the patio flagstones. If anyone wants seeds to sow in the fall, just yell!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Snoozy poodles

The Sergeant is still working on refining his time-lapse set-up.

Sleepy poodles are a willing subject.

(Warning: The music's a little loud, so you might want to turn your speakers down a notch.)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Clematis and honeysuckle

I don't know why I think clematis are so special, but I just love them. They're not hard to grow.

The fuchsia one was in the garden already; it likes the bigger structure I've given it to grow on. The purple one is a classic Jackmanii clematis. I consider it Sophie's memorial flower, as I buried a fair amount of her ashes in the planting hole.

On the other side of the trellis is a sweet autumn clematis that will bloom later in the summer. It's much more vigorous.

I use black plastic trellis netting to help the vines climb. It's unobtrusive stuff. Great for stapling to stockade fences, too.
I'm not sure what to do about the honeysuckle in front of the house. It's overwhelming the cheap trellis it was planted with. I'm contemplating training it to climb up the front porch, but I'm wondering if I'll regret that later.

What do you think?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Floral feast

Some of the most exciting flowers in the garden right now are not the showiest. Back in March we got the peas planted and it seemed like they would never amount to much, but now they are producing an abundant crop of tasty sugar snaps. Most of which, OK, all of which go straight into our mouths as we pick them.

The arugula is an umpteenth-generation descendent of seeds I sowed three years ago. It just keeps popping up. I love its peppery bite. And the bees like it, too.

We also have tomatoes flowering (above left) and peppers (above right). Lots of peppers. The Sergeant likes spicy, so we went a little crazy in the vegetable department at Home Depot. And thanks to my friend Deb, the tomatoes will be abundant, too. She gifted us eight varieties. We're just waiting for the hot days to kick in so the plants really take off.

We should also start seeing actual raspberries (right) in another few weeks.

That's not all we have for edibles, but that's all I have in bloom right now. More later!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


When plants come up in the garden where we don't expect them, we might call them "weeds," or "volunteers," or "naturalized."
I didn't plant these "volunteer" snapdragons. They just keep reseeding themselves, starting from a lone plant that was there when I moved in. They choose their colors themselves.

The irises in the back have spread over ("naturalized") from a much smaller clump.

The mullein (Verbascum thapsus) really is a "weed," but look at how awesomely large it is! A biennial, this is its second year, and it will put up a 12-foot flower stalk. It looks positively prehistoric. I leave a couple in place because I like their looks and their spread is fairly easy to control.

Unlike the lamb's ear (Stachys byzantina), which comes up everywhere. I laugh at myself for oh-so-carefully transplanting a clump the first year, and worrying about its survival. Now I rip it out wholesale when it's in the way. I've given away pots of it to friends with kids who adore petting the fuzzy leaves. But I still have a lot of it. The silver foliage is pretty and the bees (both wool carders and honeys) really love it.

Actually, a lot of my gardening seems to follow the natural spreading habit of plants. I'll find a plant coming up in a new spot and think, "OK, I can go with that," and next thing you know, I've got a new flowerbed.

Monday, June 20, 2011

"Poppies will put them to sleeeep"

I took pictures of everything that was blooming in my yard on Saturday. Thirty-five different kinds of flowers, not including dandelions. I was going to post them all at once, but even my eyes started to glaze over after the 10th photo.
Unlike these poppies, I don't want to put you to sleep, so I'm going to dole them out a few at a time.

Actually, I'm not sure if these are the sleep-inducing kind of poppies. They're pretty eye-popping to me.
Many years ago in China I visited a market near the Burmese border where a little old lady sidled up and offered to sell me a tiny lump of opium. (At least her pantomime of smoking it and the location made me assume it was such.)

I declined.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Borage for forage

I weeded all around the house yesterday. Weeding is not my favorite task, but I feel a sense of accomplishment when I've tidied up the pathways and gotten the worst of the offenders out of the garden.

Weeds are sometimes "good" plants that show up where you don't want them. Borage being a case in point. There's a volunteer half-blocking one of the paths, but as I scootched closer and closer in my weeding progress, I could see how much the bees were loving it.

I'll wait until it's done flowering before I pull it out and make soup with it.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Then the sun came out.

It figures.

As soon as we got to the dog park, it started to rain.

Utility wars

Denver's commitment to infrastructure improvements is laudable, but not always well-coordinated. The water-main replacement has torn up the street on one side of the house, while the gas-main replacement has bollixed up the street on the other. We wake to a chorus of back-up beeps, jack-hammers and idling trucks.

I half-expect a "West Side Story"-style rumble at the corner any day now.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Can you say Schadenfreude?

Watch this:

Yes, that really is the Dalai Lama, and yes, the interviewer really did that.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Getting high with my husband

For our first anniversary, the Sergeant and I took a little road trip. You don't have to go far from Denver to be in a different world. And if you're not ready to climb a fourteener (as Colorado's peaks over 14,000 feet are called), you can drive most of the way up Mount Evans, which is 14,258 feet high and just 45 minutes from home. Granted, the last 500 feet up from the parking lot will still leave you breathless, but the views from the top are worth it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Busy bees

As the Sergeant and I were working in the garden the other day, I couldn't resist taking a peek at the bees' progress through the hive window. It had been about 3 1/2 weeks since I'd caught them, and while they seemed to have settled in well, judging from the steady traffic at the entrance, I was curious about how much comb they'd built, and where.

The Sergeant snapped this shot with his phone. The bees have built about 10 bars of comb. Oddly enough, they've started in the middle of the hive and not near the entrance. I should find out whether I need to move them closer to the front. My instinct says yes, but if you know for sure, please leave a comment.

Anyway, it's nice to see they're so industrious!

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Getting the hang of it

After an inauspicious beginning at the dog park today (bitten on the ear by a mean dog), Jackson did some actual swimming – for the very first time. It wasn't graceful, but he was determined to Get. That. Ball.

We were very excited for him, and he seemed quite pleased with himself. Lucy celebrated by going in up to her ankles.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Deb & Erik get their bees

Deb has been helping me document my experience with bees since nearly the beginning. She came along on my second swarm capture and was wowed by it. She also helped me with hive inspections and honey harvest. Now she's got her urban homestead with greenhouse and chickens. Of course she wanted bees, too!
She and her honey, Erik, had just finished up their beekeeping class with the folks when I called them with news of a swarm at the community gardens where a couple of friends have plots. Yay friends! We arranged to meet there at 6 a.m. – Deb and Erik with their brand-new bee jackets and me with my swarm gear.
The bees were clustered on a tree branch about 6 feet off the ground. Because it was early and cool, they were in a nice tight bunch.
The 6-foot ladder we had was a little too tall to hold the box with enough room for branch-shaking, and the 4-footer too short, so Deb opted to hold the box as Erik shook the branch.
And shook it some more.
Things started to go south after Deb set the box down and discovered that some bees had gotten into her sleeves and under her pants cuffs. She started to panic a little (can you blame her?), and got stung a couple of times on her ankle.

She and I walked far enough away that she could get the bees out, while Erik stayed and tried to herd more bees into the box, which he put on the taller ladder. But it wasn't strapped down. You can guess what happened.

When Deb and I got back, there were bees all over the sheets we'd laid out, but still quite a few in the box.
It seemed best to go have breakfast and let the bees sort themselves out. Which they did.

When we returned, the queen was in the box with the bulk of her court.
Erik gently wrapped the box in sheets and carried it to the car.
At home Erik shook the bees into their waiting hive. Now, nearly two weeks later, Deb reports that the bees have a goodly amount of comb built out and are active and happy.

I have video of the whole thing, but it's quite long, so Deb or I will need to edit it down, and I'll let them decide if they want to post it. (To Erik's credit, he did not swear when the box fell. At least not audibly!)

Friday, June 03, 2011

A rocky afternoon

I've tried to keep the path to the side yard covered with mulch, but the dogs keep turning it into a dirt racetrack.
With a fair amount of effort this afternoon, I got some flagstones and pavers laid down and reasonably level. The addition of mulch and a flat of groundcover – thyme, probably, or maybe ironwort – should make it look a lot nicer.
I did get that last big paver in the back laid, too. I had to take a picture before I finished because it was getting dark.

I encountered the concrete plug for a former fence post and briefly toyed with digging it out. I even tried to break it up a little with a pickax. No such luck. But at least it was off to the side enough that I could still center the big paver.

Boy, I sure am achy now.


When I moved into this house, one of my first improvements was the addition of a swamp cooler on the second floor, tied into the upstairs ductwork.

If you live in a dry climate, a swamp cooler (or evaporative cooler) is a great alternative to air conditioning; it cools the air by blowing it through wet pads, much like hanging a damp towel in front of a fan. It uses much less electricity than AC and you don't have to seal up the house.

It does mean I have to climb into the attic twice a year to turn it on or off and rearrange the ducts, but that's not arduous.

This spring brought a little surprise, though.
Remember those darned pigeons that were nesting under the deck? And then building over the front door? Well, they thought they'd finally found a viable alternative: a fold in the cooler cover. The wind had flipped it over because I didn't tie it securely enough last fall.
When I got up on the ladder and flipped the cover back, Whooosh! a pigeon came shooting out. "Whoa!" I shouted, scaring the Sergeant. I had to reassure him I was OK.

I'm sure the pigeons would've thought it poetic if I'd fallen off the ladder.
I felt sorry, but not enough to leave the nest. Did you know that pigeons produce up to five sets of babies a year? This pair will just have to try again somewhere else.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Dog park bee tree

Out at the dog park there's a solitary bee tree. I had an idle hope earlier this year that I could get a swarm from it; those would be some great, hardy genetics.
The Sergeant and I were at the park a couple of days ago and I immediately noticed something amiss. The bees' trunk had fallen!
poodlesFor comparison, here's a photo I took in May last year. You can see that the trunk that was behind Jackson is now on the ground.
Yet the bees' nest must be even lower in the tree, as there was a great cloud of them still hovering around the entrance. I wasn't willing to get closer without a veil; if I were them, I'd be a little freaked out by the recent disturbance. I did see some going in and out through the damaged pith of the tree; I imagine all the recent rains have played havoc with climate control in the hive.
I also wondered where they might be finding any nectar, as little is blooming out there at the park right now. And the wind can blow pretty well, making it hard to fly far.
Later in our walk we did find one flowering shrub – golden currant or Ribes aureum – next to the pond.
And sure enough, some busy bees.