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Instant Summer

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Just add heat and humidity, along with all the pollen. This week is a scorcher. Out of nowhere we went from cool and rainy to hot and humid. I have been planting vegetables like crazy in my garden, and trying to keep up with the watering to help them acclimate.

Just a few really interesting views on what is happening.

Native coral honeysuckleLonicera sempervirens

It attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. Supposedly a rare native butterfly, whose name escapes me at the moment. This beautiful plant is in the children’s garden at the Howard County Conservancy community gardens. I am attempting to maintain and catalog what is there.

Including this.

Poppy family, maybe? I am learning more about flowers these days, while still maintaining my vegetable plot.

On the home front, the warm weather triggered the rhododendron.

There are two bushes in our yard. One, my favorite, the white one, doesn’t always display a large number of blooms. This year, yes, it has.

Anything new and exciting in your gardens this year?

Baby Chick Days

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Yes, it’s that time of year again. The baby chicks (and ducks) are back at Tractor Supply.

This time we were in Westminster running errands and stopped in for some bird food, and the cheeps from the chicks always attracts us.

They had laying chickens and meat chickens, and they had baby ducks. I really wanted the ducks, but I can’t convince my husband to turn my old garden into a home for them. I mean, after all, duck eggs are amazing.

You have to buy a minimum of six chicks. There are signs everywhere telling people these are not Easter pets. These are farm animals, which you can raise in a fairly limited space if your county regulations allow it.

For us, we would have to do some serious planning. Just to keep them safe from the occasional fox, and the resident hawks.

Still, it is something I would love to do. I don’t know, I could use subterfuge and blackmail, like telling him I will buy one of these instead.

Hey, they are only $199.99 and just think what you could do to drive your HOA crazy with one of these babies in your front yard. Out here, though, no HOAs, so I could make it my new driveway guardian. Do you think it would scare the hawks?

Whither Winter?

To paraphrase the Elvis quote, “winter has left the building”, or has it? Rumor has it that we will get another Arctic Clipper blast a week from tomorrow. Hopefully, that won’t be the case, but it certainly doesn’t feel like winter anymore around here. I had the French doors open all day today, and it is T-shirt weather.

I seriously considered heading up to the community gardens and clearing up the asparagus beds. I almost took the tomato seedlings out of their warm spot in the laundry room and moved them out for fresh air.

I went back in my old photos to check out the four previous February files. I found quite a bit of bad weather this week.

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Two years ago, on the 22nd. Frantic birds chowing down on the hastily thrown seeds on the patio. It was too deep to get to the feeders.

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Last year, the day after Valentine’s Day.

Other years I also had the mad rush for fresh water from the cedar waxwings, and the pileated woodpecker working on a possible new home (or food source in my dying tree).

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I think the birds tell me when the seasons are changing. That means right now, since the juncos are still here, that winter has not left the building. Spring will be here when they leave and the hummingbirds show up.

Now, if only we don’t get weather that is too harsh, because the daffodils are coming up and the tulips are just popping through the soil. I hope the dogwoods and the cherry trees don’t suffer from too much cold. They look to be close to budding.

Climate variance. Around here, we measure things like bud break. Soil temperatures. The farmers can tell you all about weather and climate variance. They have large amounts of data tracking the weather. It’s the only way to know when to plant.

Grilling Chilling and Tilling

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Those three words sum up the weekend here. Ten hours in the garden. Three dinners from the grill. A couple of really nice wines and some kick back evenings watching movies.

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I did perfect those grill marks, didn’t I? A couple of very nice filets as an add on a few weeks back from Friends and Farms. A simple marinade of vinaigrette. A screaming hot grill. Baby rose potatoes from my last CSA basket. Carrots from Friends and Farms. Lettuce too. The tomatoes. Those were Hummingbird Farms hydroponic picked up at Roots. The same place I picked up this.

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Did you know Salazon chocolate is made just up the road in Carroll County? They used to have a shop in Sykesville, which unfortunately closed. All their dark chocolate bars have sea salt in them, and lots of flavor combinations.

Perfect to go with a duo of very old, very special local wines.

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1998. Yes, you read that right. Two of our favorite old local wineries. Allegro has changed hands since the Crouch brothers ran the winery a couple of decades ago. Their wine. Still absolutely drinkable, soft and great with the filets. As for the Hardscrabble, it still has tannin and can continue to age. Who knew? Almost 20 years old. They could compete with lesser growth Bordeaux, when it comes to matching your meals. We compared the two with dinner and later savored them with that awesome chocolate.

As for the garden, we did quite a bit of work the last two days. I finally got the onions planted, and the seeds for arugula and bibb lettuce under the row cover.

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My better half tilled the three rows I will be using for my community garden. One row, tomatoes will dominate. That middle row, greens and onions. A third row, cucumbers and squash. The already established fourth row is full of this.

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Asparagus. I have been carefully working around the tender spears that are emerging. I will probably add a few herbs to this bed, once I get it cleaned up.

And, for that final chilling part of the post, check out our resident killdeer, back and laying another four eggs.

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I took this from really far away and thankfully got to crop it without distortion. I hope to soon see the babies chasing mom and dad all over our community gardens.

The Great Backyard Bird Count

I do it every year. Count the birds in my backyard. This year the snow made it interesting, and slightly different. We always get a massive influx of starlings when the snow falls. But, I did capture my friend flicker.

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This Northern flicker hangs out all winter at my suet feeders. He is also a resident bully, chasing away smaller birds. Sort of how the mockingbird acts, but with that long beak, he is definitely intimidating.

Since the weather has been cold, snowy, windy, and the birds are struggling, I always give them extra during this time. I even add peanuts and corn for the squirrels, like this rare black squirrel who hangs out here too.

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Last item that attracts birds to your yard. Berries.

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The robins love the nandina. We also have crabapple trees.

Keeping the birds fed and hydrated.

Flash Program

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You may have heard of flash mobs. So what is a flash program? That would be a spur of the moment, not planned in advance, free program open to the public. Using volunteers. This Sunday at 2 PM out at Mt. Pleasant, Howard County Conservancy.Have you ever heard about the Great Backyard Bird Count? It’s a national, annual event, spanning the long weekend in February. Information is here on their website. A couple of the board members out at the Conservancy proposed a great idea. Let’s have an impromptu free program the week before the bird count. To help people get started, and to give tips on counting birds in your own back yard.

They have enlisted a number of volunteers, many from the Howard County Bird Club. The nature center at Mt. Pleasant has windows overlooking a number of feeders and all winter long there’s quite a bit of interest from the resident and migrating birds, who stop by or hang around for the food. The bird club has a master list of all the different species seen across the entire site. You should be able to see a number of them on Sunday, and to learn how to identify some of the more common ones who would frequent your back yard or deck.

They’ll be helping you and your family get started on watching birds, and you might get to see some of the more rare visitors like this one.

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I spotted this pileated woodpecker right outside the doors to the nature center around noon, a couple of winters ago. We know they are still around because we can hear them.

Still, a little planning and a food source, on the ground or in a feeder, will keep the birds hanging out in your yard, too.

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Blue jays love the unsalted Costco peanuts in the shell.

Come on out Sunday and see what other tips you can take home with you.

Cabin Fever

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Still digging out, and not done yet.

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It’s pretty bad when the pickup is almost completely covered. We got about 29″ out here. Thankfully, we live out where there are loads of people who clear snow for a living. In all sorts of vehicles.

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Out on the main road. Early Sunday morning. Right after a few large trucks with plows. The good thing about living here. Many, many people have plows on their trucks. They have ATVs with plows. They have tractors with front loaders. Once you know all your neighbors, it’s fairly simple to get out.

We spent Sunday digging out all around the house and then using the snow thrower to clear out our personal part of the driveway. The common drive had been done by two of our neighbors, while we were trying to troubleshoot the heat pump that died.

Tomorrow we find out if we have to get a replacement, or if it is something simple. Crossing our fingers.

We did get the front walk, plus the path around the side to the heat pump done.

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And just to show that life is still interesting out here, look who showed up at the bird bath.

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My friend flicker. The northern flicker. We haven’t seen him this year before this visit. As usual, the fresh melted water in the bird bath attracts some special birds.

As for all our friends struggling through the historic snowfall here in our little corner of the world. We know how it feels to be snowbound. Our absolute worst was 30+ years ago, before our community figured out how to become independent of others.

We are constantly amazed and thankful to be surrounded by our neighbors here. It does take a village, and we live in a very special one.