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The Humble Gardener

At University of Illinois Extension, our volunteers are at our core. Hear their voice on this volunteer driven blog.
In the Garden

Garden Struggles

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. The fellow next to me glanc...

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The Sweetness of Fall Gardening

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. For some reason, even though it is October, some hibiscus have decided to bloom. We all stop to admire them; per...

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Garden Patch Fliers

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. The sunflowers are fading quickly but there are still a few seeds on them to entice a couple of finches. The yellow of their feathers as they flit between the heads of the sunfl...

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The Grapes Are Ready!

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 inst...

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Gardening: Cheaper Than Therapy and You Get Tomatoes

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 ri...

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A Tale of Two Kitties

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 s...

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A Series of Strange but Fortunate Events

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. My daughter and her family moved into a house in Oak Park in late summer and I got to help them move. When I walked into their backyard, I stood, stunned, unable to move. As I approached their bac...

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Growing Onions in Central Illinois

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 Da...

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Seed Catalogs and Plant Sales: Spring is Coming!

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 norther...

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Wildlife in the Winter Garden

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. The view from the window is typical of most winter gardens. The orangey-gold foliage at the top of the asparagus whips around in the...

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Volunteers Give Presence

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. Part of the Mas...

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Remembering All The Things

The end of the growing season brings many tasks to a close. The last task of the season: update the gardening journal. Okay, that last statement makes me sound organized. Honesty compels me to confess that my gardening journal is more of a mental record than a written record. Chip has the utmost confidence in my ability to remember stuff; on a daily basis, he casually tosses a request...

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The Humble Gardener Meets Kale

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. Right now we have tomato plants that are almost totally brown. They are enlivened by red and yellow t...

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What's for Dinner? Late Season Harvest

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 pricel...

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Too Much Summer Squash

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 o...

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Question. Plant. Reap. Enjoy!

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 r...

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Gardening Gramma

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 th...

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The Legacy of Chance

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. In the spring, after a quick till of the garden, Chip moves on to another part of the garden as...

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Big City Varmints

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 liv...

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Seeds of Spring

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. If you live in western Illinois, you will no doubt remember the unseasonal weather we had over Presidents' D...

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Master Gardener's Q & A

During a recent visit with my daughter, I asked to borrow her computer to write my gardening column. As she set it up, she said, "What do gardeners do in the winter? What can you write about?" She unwittingly gave me a great idea for this month's column. Gardeners answer questions. Our own and others'. Answering questions/education is part of our mission as University of Illinois Master Gardene...

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Gleaning the Garden

Chip and I reluctantly admitted that the beautiful fall weather we had been enjoying must inevitably come to an end, and with this thought in mind, we ventured outside last weekend to finish the last of the gardening cleanup. Accompanied by two dogs and an aging tiller, we headed out to finish this year's harvest and put the vegetable gardens to bed. Birds waited patiently near empty feeders, s...

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If You Build It, They Might Come

If you build it, they will come. If this is true of baseball fields, I figured it was applicable to gardens for pollinators as well. In an effort to eliminate grass mowing coupled with a wish to provide habitat and food for bees, butterflies, and birds, I decided to plow part of a side yard that was difficult to mow and boring to view. I had to do some fast talking to my gardening partner, but...

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Dismantling a Majestic Oak

The tree had to come down. Chip remembers when his father planted the tree in the backyard of our house, Chip's childhood home, forty years ago. The oak had stood as a sentinel watching over generations of dogs who have shared the backyard with it. Its shade had sheltered small children running through a sprinkler on a sweltering summer day. Its sturdy trunk had served as a backrest for weary g...

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Gardening for the Taste of Italy

Papa, my Italian grandfather, lived in a Chicago tenement that afforded no room to nurture a garden. He rented a vacant property that he accessed by taking two different streetcars, a lengthy trip, where he happily grew vegetables for his family. I like to visualize him getting on the streetcar for his return journey with the fruits of his harvest, produce that my grandmother would make into me...

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