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Bold, brash and beautiful – Blue Jay

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Bold, brash and beautiful – Blue Jay

If you display it, they will come…  take a closer look…


There’s a yellow arrow pointing to the field corn I  put in with the mums…  I now have a pet Blue Jay – or rather he has me!  😉  The dude is a talker!  But camera shy….

Isn’t it funny how we go to “exotic” places to view birds, when right here we have some beautiful birds!  Wood ducks, pheasants, cardinals, bluebirds and, of course, the bright, brash and beautiful Blue Jay.

Now that’s a stunning specimen!  No one knows fully about the Blue Jays migration.  Some leave for the winter, while others, thankfully, hang around.  Oh, they can eat a lot and may be mouthy, but they also warn smaller birds of dangers.  Blue Jays mate for life and are also responsible for seeding many of North America’s nut trees!

blue jays

Attract Blue Jays to your landscape by building a nesting shelf in a tree about 12 feet up (make sure you can view them from a window).

blue jay in flight

For more information and some wonderful pictures click on the link to Cornell University about Blue Jays.

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Swallowtails and the last of the Dill

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Swallowtails and the last of the Dill

Over the past couple of weekends I’ve been cleaning and clearing some of my gardens.  The vegetable garden was done but I had several volunteer dill plants I let keep growing.  I love dill!  Then I noticed they were loaded with caterpillars.

Black Swallowtail caterpillar (early stage)

Black Swallowtail caterpillar (early stage)

The delightful creatures are in a couple of different stages. While this is a little late in the season, I’m told they’ll overwinter as a chrysalis.

Black Swallowtail caterpillar (later)

Black Swallowtail caterpillar (later) and early stage on the right.

The caterpillars prefer eating the flowers or small seeds but there must have been a dozen hanging out on my Dill! When they first hatch they’re black with a white band around the middle of their body. As they grow, they gradually turn light green with black, yellow, and white markings and are about 1 1/2 inches long when fully grown.

Find more info:  Butterflies and Moths of North America – Black Swallowtail

Minnesota Seasons.com

Sometimes when disturbed, black swallowtail caterpillars, like other swallowtail larvae, will display a forked appendage on the top of their head known as something I can’t pronounce!  That appendage emits a foul smell and is used to help protect the caterpillars from natural enemies. The University of Minnesota Extension says It may look frightening but it is harmless to people.

One ticked off swallowtail caterpillar!

One ticked off swallowtail caterpillar!

If you find these little creatures in your garden, tolerate them whenever possible. Their feeding in many cases is not serious.  This caterpillar turns into a pretty butterfly with black, blue, and yellow wings each with a ‘tail’. The black swallowtail is moderate-sized with a wingspan as large as 3 1/2 inches.

Black Swallowtail butterfly

Black Swallowtail butterfly

These caterpillars also love parsley and fennel.  I am going to place more of those plants in my perennial beds next year.  I was happy to see more Monarchs this year too!


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Howling Fall displays

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Howling Fall displays

I love this time of year.  The crisp air, the cool combination of rain clouds and rainbows, the smell of stew simmering and the fun Fall displays.  (I do, however, take issue with Christmas decorations already up at some big box stores.  Really, people!?!)


This was a display I did a couple of years ago

Local nurseries are full of plenty of fall flowering cabbage and kale and mums and pumpkins galore!  As you can see, the fun part is working with what mums.

annual mums, flowering cabbage, kale

Of course, once I got started on the Fall garden makeover, I realized, hmmm, I’m not done.  In a nod to my mom, I bought something kitschy.  She loved gaudy stuff.  Thing is, she could pull it off.  What’s really fun about Fall decorating outdoors is that you can also add dead branches, fallen leaves, dried grasses and flowers.   If you did some straw bale gardening this year, they’re perfect for Fall fun! *remember if you leave straw bales on your lawn more than a few weeks, you’ll kill the grass.

I love the funky pumpkins too!  I got mine at Eco Gardens in Northfield.

Pumpkins GB size

Those old plastic flowers that are in your basement could be dug out and stuffed into the straw bale.  And here you thought they were junk!  Now that’s recycling!

plastic flowers fall GB size

Fall display 2

If you grew corn this year you have a great tall accent for your décor, cut the stalks and tie them to bamboo or hidden p-v–c pipe to keep them propped up.   Those fallen leaves can be used for decoration before composting using kids clothes and rubber bands.  Stuff the clothes with the leaves to overflowing closing the holes with rubber bands.  I’ve put them in wheelbarrows using pumpkins as their heads or prop them up against trees.  If you have a penchant for scaring people, hang a few in the trees!  If they haven’t been blown to bits by the wind, you can preserve small branches of Fall-colored leaves by setting them in a glycerin/water mixture for a few days.

leaf stuffed scarecrow

Preserving Fall branches from Martha Stewart.  If you go to the site you have to sift through a bunch of advertising…


  • Cut branches with leaves
  • Pruning clippers or handsaw
  • Hammer
  • Deep bucket
  • pH testing kit (lemon juice or powdered lime, if pH is off)
  • Glycerin (available at local drugstores)
  • Surfectant, such as Spreader Sticker (available at local garden centers)
  • Florist’s wire; wreath form


  1. Select a dozen or so small but leaf-heavy branches from trees at their peak of color. For best results, cut branches at night. Use ones that have not weathered a frost this season; the process will not work on leaves that have seen a frost. Keep in mind that glycerin will change the leaves’ colors. Yellows respond best, becoming more intense; reds and oranges turn a ruddy brown; green magnolia leaves take on a chestnut color but retain their glossy veneer.
  2. Cut branches from trees with pruning clippers or a handsaw. Pound the end of each branch with a hammer to expose its vascular system.
  3. Fill a deep bucket with a half-gallon of water. Test the water with a pH testing kit to make sure it has a pH between 3 and 4. (If pH is too high, add citric acid — lemon juice. If too low, add powdered lime.) Add 17 ounces (2 cups plus 2 tablespoons) of glycerin and 4 to 5 drops of surfactant to the water. (The surfactant breaks down the glycerin molecules into smaller ones, enabling the branches to absorb glycerin more easily.)
  4. Stand the branches in the bucket; place them out of sunlight while the branches and leaves draw up glycerin. After 3 to 5 days, leaves will feel supple. Magnolia branches may take 3 to 6 weeks to absorb the glycerin.
  5. Pick leaves from branches and, with florist’s wire, bind into small bunches. Position a bunch on a wreath form and bind with wire to hold in place. Wire on a second bunch so that leaves overlap wired stems. Continue until circle is complete.

Check out my other website urbansprite.com for garden videos.

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Pumpkin seeds

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Pumpkin seeds

Carving pumpkins is a tradition for nearly everyone I know.  When I was little, my mom would save the seeds, rinse them, soak them in a salt-laden bowl of water overnight and then bake them.  They were a treat then, but I’ve discovered a much tastier way to enjoy those seeds.

I don’t rinse them, instead I remove as much of the pumpkin goop as possible, then spread them on a baking sheet with olive oil and a lighter touch Lite Salt.  I then bake them at 250 for about an hour.

For this batch, I mixed 2 Tbsp of sugar with about 2 tsp. Of Chinese five spice and 1 tsp. Of cayenne pepper. I like mine with a little heat. Set this mixture aside. Heat about 1 tbsp. Of peanut oil, canola works fine. Toss your baked seeds in the oil with 1 tbsp. of sugar to caramelize, stirring constantly. This takes about a minute. Strain the seeds from the oil and then stir them into your sugar, Chinese five spice and cayenne mix. Let cool and wahlah! Spicy pumpkin seeds for the adult taste. Toasting them in this way you won’t have that woody texture we used to get by just roasting them.

For fresh pumpkin pie, buy a “pie” or “sugar” pumpkin.  These are usually marked and always smaller in size.  Check out my Recipes tab for a pie recipe and more pumpkin seed recipes!

Here’s another recipe I love:

  • 2 c. pumpkin seeds (I do NOT rinse them but take the goop off)
  • 2 Tbsp. melted butter
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. brown sugar (next time I’ll add another tablespoon)
  • 2 drops hot pepper sauce (I used Sirachi and will add at least 2 more drops, I like it warmer!)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Line baking pan with aluminum foil.  Stir together the seeds and butter in a bowl.  Add salt, Worcestershire, brown sugar and hot sauce, stir.  Spread the seeds in a single layer.  Bake for 45 minutes.  They won’t seem crispy at first but take them out, mine crisped up nicely.

I brought these into work and they were gone!

Vikings Pumpkins

Vikings Pumpkins

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Gearing up for Goblins

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Gearing up for Goblins

Remember using mom’s large kitchen knife to carve your pumpkin?  Appropriately chaperoned, of course…  Using your hand to scoop the goop?

Pumpkin kits and stencils are the heros of our time, well, at least during Halloween!

Choose a pumpkin with the smoothest sides you can find, make sure it has a stem at least 2 inches long for easy removal.  You may want to choose your stencil first, then choose the size of your pumpkin.  I did it backwards on one of my pumpkins and had to modify the stencil.  It was so-so successful!

A great trick for making it easier to carve your stenciled pumpkin is to sprinkle a little flour on the puncture holes.  The flour sticks in the holes and you can see where to slice much easier!

You may need to cut out chunks of the pumpkin as you carve.  Another tip that does NOT work – rub the cut areas of your pumpkin with vaseline.  I tried it last year and can confirm it did not keep the pumpkin, in fact, I think it made it worse!

Charity pumpkin carving - the Gardeners version

Charity pumpkin carving – the Gardeners version

Here’s the video I did for Rod Simon’s “Game On” tv show:


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Tool attention

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Tool attention

One of the last tasks of the gardening season is tool attention. You’ve been abusing your trowels, shovels, pruners and hoes all season, leaving them scattered about your yard and gardens to let mother nature do what she will to them, or maybe that’s just me. Regardless of who’s been naughty or nice to their tools, it’s time to clean them up and get them ready for storage.

First things first, wash as much of the dirt off as you can.  For the tough stuff, like clay soil, you may need to use a stiff wire brush.  This will also help remove some rust.  You can use steel wool to really get at that rust.  For pruners, axes and knives that may have some sap on them, use just a little paint thinner on a cotton cloth to clean up the gummy stuff. Be sure to wipe all your tools dry. Then apply a coat of oil.  I use a little WD-40, LPS or plain old cooking spray.

Check out my Tool Care segment on Dig In Minnesota!

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Boxelder bugmania

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Boxelder bugmania

Boxelder bugs may be benign but it sure doesn’t feel that way when they fly in your hair!  EW, it’s like a scene from a horror movie as I approach my garage and have to bat away the bugs.  I’d scream but I don’t want to open my mouth – what if they fly in?!?  Egad.

Boxelder bugs on Boxelder tree!

Use caulk, expandable foam, fine mesh screens or steel wool to secure all your windows and doors.  Even those areas you don’t think they can get into, they can!

Mix a 1/2 cup of laundry detergent with a gallon of water and spray the daylights out of them!  They tend to cover the south side of homes during a day of sunshine.

There’s a Minnesota company with a non-toxic insecticide that I’ve heard good things about.  Boxelder B Gone

Boxelder bugs on Boxelder tree

Boxelder bugs on Boxelder tree

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Butternut trees and a bumpy mow

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Sounds delicious!  Well, kinda yes, kinda no…

The Butternuts in a friend’s yard…

LITTERaly!  Everywhere we stepped, NUTS filled the lawn of my friends house from his old Butternut tree.

The Butternut is a cousin to the Black Walnut tree.  It produces the same juglone as the Black Walnut also.  Although, perhaps, not as toxic, it still makes it difficult for certain plants to grow around it.  Tomatoes in particular.  Butternut wood is soft and damages easily in high winds.

The nuts were used by Native Americans as a type of butter spread.  They’re filled with oil and the people would squeeze the oil out and use it for a spread.  The nuts are sweet.  The problem is (at least for my friend) that you have to harvest them right as they fall and then husk the nuts to get to the hard shell inside.  They then must be laid out to dry for a couple of weeks in a dry area with plenty of circulation.  If you have a small house, there’s really no room for that!

Okay, I’m not really a fan.  I would not choose to plant this tree.  Instead, I would consider the cottonless Cottonwood tree called ‘Siouxland’.  Yes, it’s cottonless!  I love it’s shimmering leaves and ability to grow quickly.  It offers dappled shade.

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Tip of the day: Get a soil test

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Tip of the day:  Get a soil test

Getting a soil test is always a good idea!

Getting a soil test through a University lab offers much more comprehensive information and is worth the money.

soil hands

A reminder as we head into possible flooding season, flooded soil loses some micronutrients and compost.

Soil Testing Laboratory [University of Minnesota Extension] I also have a link in my Favorite Links

Soil testing laboratory [NDSU]

Soil testing laboratory [University of Wisconsin]

Check your local county extensions and various other horticulture schools.

The why and how to of soil sampling.

Before you start digging for samples, make sure you’re soil is dried out sufficiently.  You can test it by taking a handful of soil, squeeze it in your hand.  If it stays in a tight ball, it’s too wet;  if it crumbles apart, unlikely right now, it’s too dry;  if it stays in a loose ball, it’s just right!

This is also a rudimentary test to see if you have clay, sand or loam.  Only this time you dampen the soil deliberately.  Not too wet, just damp.  If the soil ribbons up when squeezed in your hand, it’s clay.  If it crumbles, it’s sand.  If it stays in a loose ball then it’s loam.

Soil types

Soil types

I want to welcome, once again, my sponsor Creekside Soils.  They blend a number of soil amendments as well as potting soil and topsoil.  Available around the country in a nursery near you.  Gardeners who know, use Creekside.  Try their new Gardeners Supreme Mix!

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Stuff NOT to do in your garden

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Stuff NOT to do in your garden

Don’t rototill.  We “experts” used to tell folks to till in organic matter but in recent years, it’s become more and more apparent that you should do that with a garden fork and not a rototiller which can end up compacting your soil.

rototiller-with-xA worthwhile read from Old World Farms Garden on why NOT to use a tiller.  Another great option is just to lay that wonderful compost right on top of your garden beds and let nature do her thing!  What’s interesting is that this was the advice given decades ago.  What’s old is new again.

With more wet weather than normal, I will caution you not to work in wet soil.  Working in a wet garden can cause your soil to create clods that dry like bricks.  If you’re not sure how damp your soil can be to work it, Here’s a helper, take a handful of soil and squeeze it.  If the soil stays in a ball when you open your hand, do NOT work the soil, if it’s so dry that you can’t even make a ball of dirt, do NOT work the soil or you’ll wind up with powder.

soil squeeze

Don’t even walk on your garden beds if they’re wet.  That’s enough to compact the soil which takes out the air pockets and creates unworkable soil.   However, you can LAY organic matter on those beds ANY time!

Don’t “use up” chemicals just to get rid of them…   Someone asked me recently if they could use up the last of their leftover fertilizer on plants now.  NO.  The only thing you should be fertilizing right now is your lawn.  Trees, shrubs and perennials should be watered only!  Trying to clear out your garage of chemicals before winter is not a good reason to use them.  Pesticides and herbicides should only be used when you’ve identified a problem and want to eradicate it.

Limit any pruning to disposing of dead or damaged branches to trees and shrubs.

Don’t leave piles of leaves on your lawn or you’ll risk fungal disease which can kill the grass.

And one more thing, don’t be afraid to email me with comments or questions.  DO send me your suggestions for future Garden Bites.  teri@gardenbite.com or find Garden Bite with Teri Knight on Facebook.


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