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Showing posts from November, 2019

Christmas Trees: We Tried Something Different This Year

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Every year since we've been married, Nat and I (and the kids) have participated in a Moran Family tradition:  heading down to Braidwood to the Tammen Tree Farm to cut down a Christmas tree.  Last year's version can be found here.  And here.    What's that you say?  That's two different blog posts with two different trees?  Yep.  Like her Mother, Natalie likes to put up two trees.  One larger one in the family room and another smaller one in our front room.

Our trips down to the Tammen Tree farm are a lot of fun.  We pack into a couple of cars and drive around their farm to try to find everyone a tree.  We buy one (or starting when we moved into our new house - two), Nat's folks buy a couple and her sister buys one (I think).  Driving around is fun, looking for the perfect tree isn't so much fun.   Why?  Because we like Fraser Firs and I want a 'big' tree for the family room tree.  Tammen has a TON - hundreds - of smaller Fraser Firs.  Those that are si…

Amaryllis Bulb Growth Update - Late November 2019

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Here's a current look at our four Amaryllis bulbs.  One of them - the Star of Holland - is out in front in terms of growth as it has two buds that have emerged and are starting to gain some height.  You can see that one on the left of this photo above.  At center - near the bottom of the photo - is the Cherry Nymph bulb that cost almost 3x the other ones.  If you look closely, you'll see a little leaf emerging from the bulb, so things are moving on it.

As for the other two, you can see them in the background of the photo above, but for a closer view, check out the photo below.  The bulb at the bottom of the photo is the Apple Blossom Amaryllis and is a little bit further ahead than the one in the back - the Red Lion Amaryllis.

I've switched over now to watering these all with a alcohol-blended water mixture to try to limit the height/leggy-ness of the stems. 


What is most striking is that all three of the Menards bulbs have taken off.  The last time I tried one of those …

Happy Thanksgiving Via The Last Waltz - 2019

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Once again we find ourselves partaking in our annual tradition... No...it isn't a Turkey Trot.  Nope.  That happens sometimes around here, but isn't that what I'm talking about.  I'm speaking of the annual watching The Last Waltz on Thanksgiving day.  Here on the blog, I've been doing this since 2004.  Yeah...15 years ago was the first time I posted a Thanksgiving day video from Levon and the boys.

This year's version comes from the studio session during the movie and features Pop Staples and someone that you folks in Chicago have come to know (potentially thanks to Jeff Tweedy!), his daughter Mavis.

From the New Yorker:
The Band held its last concert on Thanksgiving Day, 1976. Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, and Robbie Robertson performed at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom with Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, and others. The production, staged and filmed by Martin Scorsese (and released, in 1978, as “The Last Walt…

Columnar Hornbeams Fall Marcescence

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This year, all eight of our Frans Fontaine European Columnar Hornbeams are exhibiting marcescence:  the retention of dead plant organs that normally are shed.  And that's by design.  Or at least...that's part of the reason why I was drawn to these particular columnar trees.  They'll provide some additional Winter screening by keeping most of their leaves on the limbs.  These look quite a bit different than a year ago - and you can see 12 months ago here - as one of them (the fourth from the left) dropped its leaves and these have widened out a bit.    The photo above is from a different angle, but this photo below shows that same angle from a year ago.  All of them appear to be thicker and a bit taller, too.


But if you also look closely at the photos above, you might notice that there is quite a bit of brown leaves at the bases of the trees.  That's something I'm trying new this year:  using leaf mulch.  I used my mower to pick up some of the leaves around the yar…

Fall/Winter 2019 Garden Gnome Check-in

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I've posted a few times about various garden gnome dreams that I've been having this year, but I also have an existing cast iron gnome that has taken up home in our backyard in Downers Grove.  This photo was taken a few weeks back in early November.  Getting around to posting him with the Thanksgiving slowdown.

It seems that the last time this particular garden gnome made an appearance on the blog was back in 2014 when I used him as a comparison of a pumpkin that I grew that season.   I'm not totally certain when we bought him, but I'm pretty sure that he is from Target and that Nat (and/or the kids) bought it for me for Father's Day one year?

In the five years since he last appeared, you can see that his paint has worn a bit, his pants have gone from a dark green to an almost grey.  His boots from a nice green to a faded, light green with some rust parts spotting through.  His hat - which was once red - is now just a light grey.

He's also added a bit of rust …

Home Depot Matches Menards 11% Rebate

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I've made no secret my preference for Menards when it comes to home improvement stores over the years here on the blog.  One of the reasons that I shop there is that they (now) run their 11% rebate offer at least once per month.  A few years back, that 11% rebate was a quarterly offering, but now it seems that occurs pretty regularly. 

And that's good news.   Why? 

Because I found out that Home Depot matches the Menards 11% rebate.  Yeah...Home Depot will match it if you buy something during the week(s) that Menards is running their 11% rebate program. 

I was talking to a guy who was buying bags of mulch from Home Depot when he mentioned that it was a great deal AND he was going to get the 11% rebate.  I didn't say anything because I thought he was confused.  But, I went home and searched for [Home Depot 11% Rebate].  And sure enough, this comes up:


I went off to the site and filled in my receipt details and sure enough...I qualified. 

A few weeks later, this gift card arr…

2019 Anchor Christmas Ale - Arborvitae Tree

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On a trip over to the Home Depot, Nat wanted to stop at Binny's for a few things.  I stayed in the car with the kids and she went in and came out with some of this Anchor Steam Christmas Ale.  This six-pack is destined for Naperville and her two brothers who have both drank and collected this annual release over the years.  They're the real beer drinkers in the family - they know their stuff and have their preferences, so it is fun to see this little tradition come alive every year.

I've posted these bottles over the years here on the blog.

Here's the post from last year.
Here's the post with the bottle from 2017.
Here's my post with the bottle fom 2016.
Here's the post with the bottle from 2015.
And here's the post with the bottle from 2010.
So this year marks the sixth year that I've posted photos of the bottles - and every year it features a tree from Northern California.   This year is the Western Arborvitae.  
From the Anchor Brewing site: As each…

Full Set of 4 Christmas Amaryllis - 2019

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A few days ago, I posted about the Cherry Nymph Amaryllis bulb that I bought at Wannemaker's and planted in a pot to get the season started.  I mentioned in that post that we were going to try (again) a few smaller (and much cheaper) bulbs from Menards.  I found the receipt from Wannemaker's and the bulb that I bought there was $15.99 and after tax came in at $17.27. 

The other ones that I bought at Menards are sold as a "gift box" and as you can see from the photo below are going for $5.49.  So...about 1/3rd of the price.  We bought three of them - one for each of the kids to do as a project.  These 'gift boxes' come with a plastic pot (with no drainage holes), what they call 'growing medium' (which I'm pretty sure is peat) and the bulb. 


We bought one of each variety.  First is the Star of Holland. 

Next is the Red Lion.


And last is the Apple Blossom. 


Here they are in their pots alongside the larger Cherry Nymph bulb.  Each of the three Menard…

Concrete Driveway Sealer - Slippery When Snowed On?

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I posted a [house maintenance] post recently talking about how I applied a coat of concrete driveway sealer earlier this Fall as part of just trying to keep up with things around the house.  Back a week or so ago, Nat had to drive the kids to school one morning when it was snowing.  And after she got the van back into the driveway, she sent me this photo showing her - ummm....nonlinear - route up the driveway. 

I had recently brought our van in to the tire store and the guy told me that the tires were fine.  They had about half of their life left on the treds. 

Yet, she had a tough time getting up our inclined driveway. 

So...that has me wondering:  have I made my driveway slicker than it would be without the sealer?  I imagine that it would be the case, right?  I mean...if the water beads up and there's a little bit of a glossy coat on the concrete, isn't it going to be slippery when wet? 

I've tried over the past few Winters to use as little salt on the driveway as poss…

Cherry Nymph Amaryllis - 2019

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This year's large Amaryllis bulb is this double-flowering Cherry Nymph bulb that I bought at Wannamaker's last weekend.  One year ago today, I posted about last year's Christmas Amaryllis getting started but, that version ended up falling a little bit behind of schedule.  By mid-December, it was just starting to send up the trunk. And it didn't bloom for Christmas.  It eventually bloomed in January and then we were treated to a second flower in March.

I treated it with an 8% alcohol treatment last year and I think that worked to limit the height and make it leggy.  I wonder if that kept it from blooming on time?

This bulb was $14.99 from Wannemaker's - as those are the ones that seem to work every year.  But, I'm also going back to the Menards Amaryllis to try those again - with the kids.

As for this Cherry Nymph - below you can see the large bulb before I stuck it in the pot.


And here is it planted in the new clay pot.


I am planning on adding a little bit of …

Dawn Redwood - Late Fall 2019

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Just a little bit over a year ago, our Dawn Redwood looked like this.  It had mostly browned-out and was ready to shed all of it's needles.  Today, you see it above - a mix of brown and green and most of the needles still hanging on.  If you look closely, you'll see that I've attached a bamboo shoot to the top 1/3rd of the tree.  I did right before Halloween when we had that heavy snowfall come down.

If you look back at the 2019 tree inventory post, you'll remember that this tree grew 3 full feet this season.  And that the tip of the leader was all green.    That means that it is pretty weak and thin.  That snow fall was tipping this thing over and I was worried that it would snap off - like the Pear Tree we had in our old backyard in Elmhurst did in 2010.  I haven't fastened it all the way to the base of the tree, but I'm thinking that's ok.  I'm trying to protect the most vulnerable part - the green growth at the very top - from Winter damage.

This t…

Dead Ash Tree - Worm-like Pattern Under Bark

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This is one of my neighbor's Ash trees.  They have a half-dozen or so that have are dead and still standing.  The photo above is striking for two reasons:  the worm-like pattern that is on the tree is the most noticeable.  But, look closer:  see all the holes?  All over the tree?  That's from the Emerald Ash Borer and why the tree is dead.

Here's a closer look at a couple of the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) holes on this tree:


There doesn't appear to be any of the Borers hanging around as I presume these trees were killed years ago when the Borer first appeared in Illinois.  The Morton Arboretum suggests that the Emerald Ash Borer is so pervasive that it expects that EVERY Ash Tree in Illinois will be killed.  EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. 

What happens when all the Ash trees are gone?  Will the Borers move on?  Fly somewhere else?  Just die off?  Or, will they adapt to the environment and start to attack other species of trees?  That's terrifying.

Here (below) is a look at the t…

Downed Oak Firewood - Fall 2019

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A couple of days ago, I posted some photos of a snow-downed limb from one of our massive old Oak trees in the yard and mentioned that I was going to cut and begin to dry the limb for firewood.

"Cut early.  Burn late."

That's what the old-timers say about firewood.  Especially Oak as it takes upwards of a year (or more) to properly season and dry out.  I figured I'd try a little experiment here and monitor how long it would take to dry out and get down to where the seasoned wood that I buy is when it arrives (under 15% moisture).

You can see in the photo above, that this Oak firewood is measuring 24.5% on the C setting of my moisture meter.  I'll try to measure these pieces of Oak over the next year and see if we can establish the timeline for seasoning downed Oak limbs.

Below, you can see some of the pile that I've made out of the limb.  Some of it has naturally split while other parts of it are narrow enough to not have to split.


I've begun to cut it up…

Bald Cypress Knees - Oxygen Access Points

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A week or so ago, I posted some photos of a large Willow Oak tree from a visit to a corporate headquarters and referenced some other landscaping there (the cloud-like hedge).  The campus is surrounded by a TPC golf course named Southwind and has quite a few mature trees.  They also have done a nice job of creating some educational material and signage about some of the trees they have on hand including this Bald Cypress or "Baldcypress" as the sign indicates.

We have a tiny Bald Cypress - or Baldy Cypress - out front on the north side of our driveway.  According to my inventory this Summer, it grew just 1" in height.

But...back to the sign:  the second sentence reads:
"The raised conical knees, part of the root system, are believed to help the roots attain oxygen." Raised knees?!  What the heck?  I had never heard of Cypress Knees.  But...looking around the tree - and sure enough - there were a bunch of these surface roots:


More Cypress Knees:


Had no idea tha…

Driveway Sealer - Re-applied Fall 2019

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This photo above - of part of our driveway - is a few weeks old, but I wanted to drop this down here on the blog, so I could refer back to it in terms of house maintenance.  When we built the house, the concrete guys laid down a nice thick concrete sealer on top of our brand new driveway.  I subsequently worked earlier this Summer to powerwash the whole thing and put on a first coat of sealer.  That meant that it was about two years old before I put on a second coat.

Then, late in October, I found a day that was 'right' in terms of temperature (air temps in the 50's and rising for a few hours, surface temps in the 50's and no rain in the forecast).  So, I quickly grabbed the garden sprayer, filled it with sealer and slopped it on.  I used this SealBest Concrete Sealer from Menards (not the high gloss stuff) that retails for $79.99 for five gallons.  You can see it in varying degrees of absorption with a purple/white-ish hue.  And, as I mentioned above, I used a hand-p…

Oak Tree Limb Downed In Early Snow - Fall 2019

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A couple of weeks back (the day before Halloween), we had a snowstorm that came on while many of our trees had almost ALL of their leaves on the branches and limbs.  The photo at the top shows some of the trees and how there are still TONS of leaves on them.  It also shows a big limb that came off of one of the big/mighty Oak trees that we have in our yard.  
Those two things go hand-in-hand.  The heavy, wet snow on trees that were still carrying all of their leaves caused a bunch of tree damage in our neighborhood.  I worked hard to clear as many of the low trees as possible of the snow (using my blower), but this is the damage that we incurred.  Some of our neighbors lost similar branches and I saw one tree crack right in half up the block.  
That limb might not look like much, but after the snow melted I started to cut the thing back up so I could get it out of the yard.  It was all alive and therefore HEAVY.  Full of life (and water).  Too bad, right?  
I cut a cross section of t…

Finished Nanoblock Kaminarimon LED Set

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A few days ago, I posted photos about my first Nanoblock build of the Kaminarimon gate from Japan and today, I'm happy to say that I finished the build.  I put the penny in there for scale.  The LED is piped from the base to the little lantern in the middle that is suspended from the roof structure.  The two little people are cute, aren't they?  Time to move on to the next set - the Shinkansen bullet train.

If I had a shelf in my home office that this could live on, I'd put it up there.  For now, it is just sitting on my desk.  Until it gets wrecked by one of the kids.

Medium-sized Buckthorn Removal - Fall 2019

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Last September, I posted a series of photos showing how I was taking down a Buckthorn tree in the far reaches of our backyard.  It was a small tree, but took some time between cutting and digging out the roots.  I mentioned that I had a few more Buckthorn trees around - and because they're an invasive tree - I wanted to get rid of them over time.  In fact, I included 'Buckthorn removal' in my 2019 To-Do List addendum and didn't get around to taking down any of the trees this Summer. 

That changed this past weekend, when I was out back and tried to take on this tree you see here.  This is a medium tree, but it is in a state of both alive and dead - at the same time.  I know that seems strange, but I'm pretty sure that the main tree is dead, but the suckers on this thing keep coming back, so there's life in there somewhere. 

I first started with sawing off a bunch of the limbs. 

Then I cut it in half - and let the top-half tumble down into the bed.  In the top p…

Final Lawn Lime Application - Fall 2019

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Yesterday, I posted about how I aerated my rear lawn using my neighbor's tractor as part of my fall lawn care duties.  I also threw down a final application of Lawn Lime for the year.  This is focused on trying to make the backyard as inhospitable as possible to the Wild Onion that we have in our backyard

First application of pelletized Lawn Lime was in late April.  4 40# bags.  160#s.
Put down the second application in early August.  4 40# bags.  160#s
Used Mag-i-Cal in September - one month later - for third treatment.  1 54# bag. 
And now this - in early November - my fourth application of lime.  4 40# bags.  160#s.

Four treatments this year.  160 + 160 + 54 + 160 = 534 lbs added to the soil.  That seems like a ton, right? 

With the aeration taking place, I'm thinking that this final fourth treatment will be the deepest in terms of intake into the soil.  I'm planning on doing another round of soil tests this coming Spring, so we'll see what happens with the pH and …

Rear Lawn Aeration - Fall 2019

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Last weekend, I was out cleaning up the yard when my neighbor to the south offered his lawn tractor and aerator for my yard.  I had not have had my lawn aerated since we moved in and it is something that I've been wanting to do.  The tractor fit through my back gate and with the help of my neighbor, we hooked up the aerator - which is a tow-behind variety.  With some help, we put the three big bricks on the back and then lowered down the rig to begin to plug some holes.

I had to be pretty careful because I didn't want to puncture the wires for my automower, so I stayed away from the perimeter and also tried to avoid the guidewire down the middle of the yard.

As for the system, it put in a uniform set of holes across the yard.  Check out the pattern below:


And here's a few of the plugs that it pulled and threw around:


I wasn't able to do the ENTIRE lawn, but I did most of it.  The hill/incline right near the patio, the very edge and the parts near the house were left u…