Sunday, November 30, 2008

Look To The Skies!

Undoubtedly there are some of you that have already noticed the sliver of a moon rising just after dusk in the southwestern sky the last few nights. And maybe you've also noticed the two bright stars in the same general vicinity, only higher. The moon is the moon, but the stars aren't stars at all. They're planets.

The brightest is Venus, as you might guess. The other one is our largest planet, Jupiter. And just after dusk on December 1st, they're all getting together for a party.
Venus and Jupiter actually pass each other in the night on November 30th (that's tonight), but you can witness their closeness for several days after, and tomorrow night, the moon will be right there with them, making for a most dramatic celestial event. It will begin about 30 minutes after sunset and continue until they all three set about 2½ hours later.

Unfortunately, we'll be experiencing cloudy skies here, but we still enjoyed what we saw last night as we left Walmart while out and about, doing some Christmas shopping. We heard others talking about it too, as we passed by them.

If any of you are lucky enough to witness the event tomorrow night and are able to snap a photo or two of it, maybe you could post it on your blog and let me know through the comments here. I'll post links to your blogs so those that have to miss it (like me) can still see what it looked like.
Venus and Jupiter won't come this close to each other again until March 2012.

They actually aren't close at all. On December 1st, the moon will be 250,000 miles away from Earth, Venus will be 93 million miles away, and Jupiter is way out there at 540 million miles.

Happy stargazing!

Sunita in India has some wonderful photos of the event on her blog, The Urban Gardener: A Smilie Over Mumbai!

Joy in Ontario, Canada took a few and posted them on her blog, GardenJoy4Me: Squiggles in the Sky ... or is it down to me?

Amy in British Columbia, Canada has posted a crystal clear photo on her blog, Blossom: Magical Night Sky.


Astronomical facts taken from
Here is a good simulation of what it all looks like on each night.

Tropical Illusions

Winter is here. The calendar says it doesn't officially arrive for three more weeks, but the brisk winds and occasionally snow flurries don't pay attention to that. Neither do the two tropical hibiscus that are blooming in the house right now.

Both 'Reggae Breeze' and 'Carolina 'Breeze' are blooming, as they've done outside all summer. Blooms are fewer and both lose a fair amount of leaves when they're brought in for the winter, but they still have cheery orange faces that put a smile on mine.

'Carolina Breeze'

They'll eventually slow down to the point that there aren't any blooms at all because it's really hard to get enough natural light from even a south window during a northern winter. At that point, they'll be taken to the basement greenhouse, where they'll go semi-dormant in the cool temperatures. Next spring, they'll go back outside and they'll get all pretty with blooms again.

'Reggae Breeze'
(has the dark eye)

Not bad for plants that were purchased at KMart two years ago for five dollars each.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Holiday Traditions Live On

When I think of holiday traditions, I'm taken back to the early '60s, when Mom and Dad took me to Fort Wayne, Indiana, to see the Christmas lights downtown every year. And if those weren't fabulous enough, Wolf & Dessauer department store had window after window of animated displays of Christmas scenes. Ask anyone that's middle-aged that grew up around here (northeast Indiana, northwest Ohio, and southern Michigan) and it's likely that a bigger percentage of them remember traveling to Ft. Wayne to see it all, than don't.

In time, the store was sold, the lights were stored and I have no idea what happened to the animated scenes, but some years ago, the lighting was brought out of storage and on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, those lights are now ceremoniously lit to mark the official beginning of the Christmas season.

First, there's the Santa and his reindeer, which are mounted on the side of the National City Bank Building. The display was first lit in 1937, when it hung on the side of the W & D's department store building. The current display was recently converted from incandescent to LED lights, which means a savings of 90% in energy costs to keep its 24,717 lights lit.

Then there's the large Christmas tree that is mounted over Calhoun Street. In the 'olden days,' it was put directly over a downtown intersection on large crossbeams. That intersection was pretty special on regular days, too. At different times during the hour, you could cross the street diagonally instead of at right angles as you normally would. As a kid, I thought that was pretty cool. Now the tree is mounted over a crosswalk between buildings.

The other light display was a large wreath that also used to hang on the side of the Wolf & Dessauer store. Weighing 3½ tons, the wreath is 25 feet high and has more than 40,000 lights. It now hangs on the side of One Summit Square, the tallest building in Ft. Wayne.

I'm so thankful that someone saw the value of reviving these light displays and keeping traditions alive. Romie and I drove through downtown during the lighting Wednesday night, on our way to daughter Jenna's, where we spent Thanksgiving day. I jumped out of the car while Romie was stuck in all the traffic and I snapped some pictures of the festivities.

Christmas music was playing and the trees along the sidewalks were lit up with tiny lights and big shiny pieces of 'candy.' Hundreds of parents and their children were taking it all in and creating memories, just as my parents helped create my own memories - the ones I'm sharing with you now.

The only thing missing was some snowflakes drifting down gently out of the night sky...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanks and Blessings

Giving Thanks for the Blessings

Friends, Family, Readers, and Fellow Gardeners

We wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!

Kylee & Romie


Simon, Baby, Boo, Luna, Sunny, Max, Jack, Jilly and Lola

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

That Hurt You A Lot More Than It Hurt Me!

Back when our girls were in Junior High School, they were required to do leaf collections. When I was their age, it was a bug collection that our science teacher wanted and no one was more excited than I was when I found a Buffalo Treehopper (Stictocephala bisonia). What a cool bug! I found it in our neighbor's huge garden. In fact, I found most of my collection there.

I never had to do the leaf collection, so it was kind of fun, running the girls all over kingdom come, trying to find all the different ones on their list. A park in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, went a long way towards helping Jenna find hers. She had a tryout for a travel softball team at Harrison Smith Park, where they have many of their trees labeled.

During the course of her leaf collection, I was the one who fell in love with various trees and their leaf shapes, and made a list of those that I wanted to acquire - Ginkgo, Tulip Poplar, and Sweet Gum. The Sweet Gum (Liquidambar sp.) was the first to put roots down here at Our Little Acre. It was about about four feet tall when we planted it and the next few years saw little growth. It appeared to be merely existing and finally, one summer the leaves just dried up and fell off, so due to its myriad of past problems, we figured the tree had died.

Romie tried to dig it up, but it had too many roots and it wasn't going to be easy, so he decided to just cut it off low on the trunk and get to the rest of it sometime later. Well, you know how that goes. I don't remember how much later it was - maybe even the next spring - but when he did get back to it, he called me over to have a look. That tree had started growing from below where he'd cut it!

We decided to let it go and see what it would do and what it has done over the last few years is grow into a nice tree. It's much nicer than it ever was before it was cut. The leaves aren't deformed, the bark looks normal, and it has grown several inches every year. It turns a beautiful red color in the fall.

As long as you don't look closely at its feet, you'd never know it had such a struggling start. If you do look closely, you'll see fall-blooming crocus coming up at its base. Maybe someday we'll have some spiny fruit from the Sweet Gum lying there.

The fruit of the Sweet Gum, which I call gumballs, is one of the fascinating things about the tree, although I've heard many people grumble about them. They're round and spiny and turn brown when they're ready to fall off the tree. There is a species of Liquidambar that doesn't produce fruit, however, and we may have one of those. Since Sweet Gum trees don't produce fruit until they're 20-30 years old, it will be some time before we know what we have.

Photo of Buffalo Treehopper from Wikimedia Commons.
Photo of Sweet Gum fruit from Missouri State University.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Cats Have Their Say

The kitties here at Our Little Acre took me aside the other day for a chat. It was clear that they had a bone to pick with me and since they don't demand much, other than food, water, clean litter, and a scritch behind the ears now and then, I was happy to listen to what they had to say...

"You're always showing off your garden stuff, but what about us? We are as much a part of the gardens as the flowers. What about us, huh, what about us? You point that camera at us every now and then, and we pose all nicely and everything and then what do you do with our pictures?"

"Like the time Jack scared you half to death when you didn't know he was above you in the tree until he meowed..."

"Or when he tried to show off his balancing skills on the top of the garage screen door..."

"And then there was the time Jilly jumped into the plants on the shelf. She didn't even hurt a single one! You try doing that!"

"Remember when Luna heard the baby wrens peeping in the birdhouse at the top of the dead tree? He really thought he was going to get them. But he should have known you wouldn't let that happen.

"You thought it was so cute when Max fell asleep in your flower pot. He thought it was just the right cozy size for curling up for a nap."

"You know how Boo is always wanting in the house? (We'll let you in on a secret -we all do. It's 'cause you guys are in there.) He got tired of waiting to be let in and fell asleep on the mat. You thought that was adorable for some reason."

"We know you take lots of pictures of those inside cats. We know they think they're special because they get to stay inside, but we know better. Take Baby, for instance. She thinks she's your bayyy-beeee just 'cause that's her name. But we know she gets in trouble sometimes too, like when she jumped to the top of the curio cabinet and tried to get Kara's fish."

"Now Simon - oh Simon. He really is the King of the Castle. He's the biggest one around here and he has the most hair, too. His face looks like an owl and that's kind of scary to us cats. Owls eat us, you know. We don't think he'd do that, but you never know."

"Sunny feels kind of neglected - you really should take more pictures of him. He can't help it if he doesn't do cute stuff. He's a little shy."

"Then there's the new girl in town - Lola. We call her Miss Priss."

"She pranced in here all skinny and sleek and everything and you guys made such a fuss over her. She thinks she's number one around here, but what she doesn't know is that you only did for her what you did for all of us. You took us in, fed us, gave us a home and loved us. And that's why we love you back.
But you really should talk about us more on your blog."

"Oh, Lola said to ask, 'What's a blog?'"

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Garden Geeks Are Going to Love This!

Whenever I'm asked for my e-mail address, I usually preface it with, "Now don't laugh..." and then give them my address. They don't laugh, but I'll be darned if they don't smile when I tell them it's gardengeek......@...... Well, hey, if I'm not in the garden, I can usually be found on the computer!

So imagine my excitement when
a couple of weeks ago, I received a really cool gardening tool to test called EasyBloom by Plant Sense. It's an interactive device that evaluates growing conditions in your house or in your gardens and then can be connected via USB to your computer. Once connected, it uploads data it has collected to EasyBloom's web site. There it gives you helpful information about what specifically can be done to correct any unfavorable growing conditions, such as light, moisture, and temperature levels.

Last fall, I potted up my large coleus plants that had been in the ground all summer, and brought them in for the winter. I really hoped to keep them going all winter so I could plant them in the ground this past spring. Things went well until about February or so and then it was all downhill. Leaves were lost and the spindly stems were so pathetic, I had to throw them out.

With the help of
EasyBloom, I hope to be able to save this year's coleus, which were even more beautiful than last year's. I'll also use it to check on other houseplants if I experience problems with them, but I'm especially anxious to use it on the coleus.


What's in the box:

  • 1 Plant Sensor (top and bottom)
  • 1 AAA battery
  • 1 USB extension cable
  • 1 stand/hanger
  • 1 set of wall mount hardware
  • 2 extra petals
  • User Guide
  • Quick Start Card

So I know you're wondering how easy this thing is to use, aren't you? What if you're not a computer geek like I am? Is it more trouble than it's worth? The short answer to these questions are - easy, not a problem, and no!

Here's all it took to get a recommendation for my coleus:
  • I went to the EasyBloom website and downloaded their software. (You only have to do this once.)
  • I plugged the EasyBloom into my computer and set it to Monitor mode.
  • I took the EasyBloom out of my computer and stuck it in the soil of my coleus pot after giving it a good watering.
  • 24 hours later, I took the EasyBloom out of the pot and plugged it into my computer.
  • I was automatically taken to Plant Sense's web site as it uploaded data from the EasyBloom.
  • Based on that data, it showed me any problems with temperature, watering, and light.

That's it! For something that uses the same technology used on NASA's Mars Phoenix mission to measure soil, it's incredibly easy to use.

For my coleus, it told me the soil drained too fast, the light level was too low, but the temperature was ideal.

In addition to checking how your present plants are doing when it's in Monitor mode, it will also recommend plants that would do well under your growing conditions (light, moisture, and temperature) when you set it to Recommend mode. It works both inside and outside, because it's built to withstand weather conditions.

With an online database of over 5000 plants, you can build a library of your own plants that you can reference at any time. It
gives you valuable basic information about each plant and allows you to enter your own notes for each one.

EasyBloom takes much of the guesswork out of choosing and growing plants, which will greatly increase your success in the garden and with houseplants. New gardeners will especially love this, and experienced gardeners will appreciate the recommendations it gives as they fine tune their existing gardens.

EasyBloom can be purchased at Amazon for $59.95 with free shipping. Until December 30th, you can save $10 on any purchase over $50 when you pay with Bill Me Later®. Just enter the code BMLSAVES at checkout. Be sure to read the terms on Amazon's web site (some restrictions apply).

The product or merchandise being reviewed in this blog post was the sole compensation for testing and reviewing the product. All opinions expressed here are mine, with no suggestions whatsoever by the manufacturer or distributor. If I like it, I'll say so. If I don't, I'll say that, too.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Roses Before the Freeze

It's like this every year - in the last weeks before the deep freeze season begins in earnest, the roses give one last show and in some cases, they produce the most beautiful blooms of the year at this time. For all that's said about how fussy roses are, I don't find them to be that way and even if I did, their gorgeous blooms would make them worth it to me.

Orange mini, with Mum 'Rhumba' in the background

An unknown mini

Red unknown mini




'Cinco de Mayo'

'About Face'

'Ebb Tide'



These photos were taken within the last month or so, with the exception of 'Disneyland', which was taken at the end of September. I included it just because it's so pretty. :-)

To assure that these return next year, I make sure they've gotten a good watering, then I pile the mulch up around the base to a depth of 4-6 inches. When it starts to warm in the spring, I pull the mulch away. I never prune them any shorter than 18 inches, if possible, since there's always the possibility of that much die-back over the winter. I wouldn't prune them at all, except I want to guard against the wind whipping the canes around.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Spying on the Birds

Despite the number of cats here at Our Little Acre, we have always had our fair share of birds. There are seven feeders within view of our family room and with most of them I can capture some decent photos of the birds partaking of the seed in them.

Our local Wild Birds Unlimited (in Ft. Wayne, IN) sends out a card once a year with a discount for 20% off any item, to be used in during the month of your birthday. This year, I chose a feeder that attaches to the outside of any window, and I put it on one of the family room windows.

We have two of these, of differing designs, each on their own window.
The blue jays found the larger, open one rather quickly and visit it on a regular basis. I've not yet been able to capture them with my camera, as they seem to be very cautious and sensitive to any little movement in their range of sight. I get the camera ready and they're gone. I just need to be more sneaky, I guess.

The smaller, container-type feeder on the other window was there for a few weeks before the goldfinches finally noticed it. Today, Baby was sleeping on my lap, but when she heard the tapping on the window nearby, she came alive and jumped up to check it out. She began that chattering thing that cats do, which told me the finches were feeding.

I had my camera right beside me, so I fired it up and snapped a few photos before Baby made a lunge for the window and scared them away. She then took up her post on the back of the sofa and kept her eye on the feeder for quite awhile after that.

Hopefully, other birds will make use of the "seed bars" on the windows this winter, and I'll be able to get some other photos of them. I'm thinking cardinals...

Monday, November 17, 2008

'Tis the Season

I've heard Christmas music in the stores and I've seen Christmas ads on TV. I won't whine about how these things seem to come earlier every year (though they do), because this time of year means something else for me, too. Something I look forward to every year, almost as much as Christmas.

When late September comes around and it's time to start thinking of getting the garden ready for winter, there are always a number of tender bulbs that I need to dig and bring in. The cannas, callas, dahlias, and glads have all shown their true colors and graced us with their presence in the latter half of summer, but it's time to bring them in out of the cold so we can enjoy them again next year.

And then there are those that have their own special flower bed here at Our Little Acre, though they usually produce only a bloom or two all summer and some years none at all. These spend the summer months merely biding their time, converting the nutrients in the ground and soaking up the sunshine in preparation for the winter. Then it's their turn to elicit oohs and ahhs from their adoring fans.

These are the Amaryllis - more correctly called Hippeastrum. Just as the outside gardens are winding to season's close, I look forward to the Amaryllis season. As I was putting other bulbs away for the winter, I
saw tips of green peeking out from the brown bulbs that have been stored in the basement for the past 6-8 weeks. That was my cue to pot them up and by the time Christmas is here, we'll be enjoying their exquisite blooms.

Over the past few years, I've amassed a collection of Amaryllis. Here are some images of the beauty they've given to us in the past:



'La Paz'


'Red Peacock'


'Apple Blossom'



'San Remo'

'Lemon Lime'


'Royal Velvet'

'Dancing Queen'


'Blossom Peacock'

Many gardeners will buy the bulbs, pot them, enjoy their blooms, then throw them out. I can't bear to do that, so I trim the flower stalk down to where it comes out of the bulb, and continue to water them as long as they are producing foliage. For most of them, the foliage will eventually begin to yellow, at which point I trim them back to the bulb, just as I do in the fall, and they go back into storage until spring, when they are planted in the ground for the summer.

At the moment, 'Blossom Peacock', 'Susan' (purchased new at Meijer last week), and 'Lemon Lime' are potted up for bloom.

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