Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Bringing in Blossoms

One of my favorite things about gardening is making arrangements from our flowers and herbs.   For the first time in a LOOONG time, we have a "cutting" bed in our "Garden of Eatin'".    It's main purpose is to grow flowers to bring inside.   (Second main purpose is to attract pollinators - that's why we planted these flowering annuals near the edible plants).   Here's what our cutting bed looks like right now - pretty much just zinnias and marigolds.   I think it's gotten too hot for the foxglove we planted after Easter. 
There are lots of perennials that are great for arrangements, but I don't put them here because we rotate the vegetable crops and that would impede that a bit.  
I have found that when it's hot outside, it is best to pick flowers and herbs in the morning.   They've had overnight to rest and recuperate from the stress of the summer heat. 

This is my harvest bucket.   Fill it with water and as soon as a flower is cut, it gets dropped into the bucket to rest and take up water.   I try to leave them resting for at least 2 hours and sometimes much longer.  

If I buy flowers at HEB or Sam's, this is basically my same procedure.   Trim the ends and let them sit in a bucket of water for a nice drink.  

Today, we just made small arrangements in glass jars.   Dotted along the dining room table, they will add nice touch for a Tex-Mex Dinner

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Stunning Butterfly Host

When I say stunning, I'm not talking about the heliconus butterflies but instead their host plant, Passion Vine or May-pops.    There are many varieties of passion vine and this one is Passiflora incarnata.   It's leaf has three lobes and it's flower is a stunning purple and white beauty.   

Our native passion vine is a host plant to the Gulf Fritillary, Zebra Longwing, Julia, and Variegated Fritillary caterpillars.    I'm trying to increase the varieties of butterfly host plants in our yarden and have been wanting this one.   They begin blooming in June so I have been riding the pasture fence lines in search of one.   I know they're there but no luck yet.   This morning as I sat outside enjoying the early morning, I noticed a "weed" in a lantana.  I have to admit that I'm pretty easy on weeds these days but I don't think this weedy vine was there last weekend.   The leaf was not that of the many weeds common in (or taking over) my flower beds so I walked around for a better look - and it's PASSION VINE!   Must be a gift from God. 

As I said, it is growing up amid a lantana.   If I don't move it or give it something to climb on, it will soon cover everything in this bed.   They are vigorous growers that die back in winter.   I guess I'll enjoy it for a few days and then decide whether to train it up the nearby pillars or transplant it in a better spot.

Happy gardening! 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Garden of Eatin'

The other day I was visiting with a fellow gardener.   She is new to edible plants and mentioned that she had tried tomatoes the past few years with no success.   I must have been in lala-land because I failed to remember that we struggled with our tomatoes the past few years - I think my tomatoe failure was largely due to my extreme lack of attention BUT word has it that much of the tomato sets on the market the past few years came out of the greenhouses carrying a virus.  
This is what we picked this morning.  You can see that our tomatoes are doing well.     I always try to pick them when they are just beginning to color.   Otherwise, the mockingbirds get more of the crop than we do.   They like to sit on the pasture fence and wait for them to be juicy and tasty.     Tomatoes can finish ripening on the kitchen counter and still taste vine-ripened. 

There  are a few things you can do to increase your success with tomatoes.  

Don't plant in the same place two years in a row.    This lessens the chance of disease. 

Plant a number of different varieties.  If one does poorly, another may pick up the slack.   Different varieties will also ripen at different times so you'll have a steadier supply.   

Support your tomatoes with a cage or by staking them.    This keeps the fruit off the ground and helps the plant dry faster.

Do not sprinkle tomato plants; water the ground (i.e. the root zone). 
This is the first time that I am paying attention to companion planting suggestions.   Tomatoes can be planted with peppers, basil, parsley, and marigolds.   They should NOT be planted near dill.  Dill will pop up around the garden so remove it when it sprouts near the tomatoes.  

Gardening is cheaper than therapy - and you get tomatoes!   Author unknown 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Black Swallowtails

This is a female black swallowtail butterfly.  The mail is a bit more colorful. Unfortunately, this one was lyng dead on our back sidewalk.  We hope that she managed to lay some eggs before she bit the dust. 

With the exception of queens or monarchs, I really no one butterfly i'm another.   That's one of my goals – to be able to identify all the creatures that hang out in our yarden.  

A few weeks ago, we happened upon a few black swallowtail caterpillars feeding on the parsley.  
To my untrained eye, they look like pretty young caterpillars.  If you want to attract black swallowtails to your yard, plant dill, fennel, parsley, and carrots.    These are  "host foods" for black swallowtails - meaning, it is what the caterpillars need to eat when they hatch.   


Friday, May 9, 2014

This turned out to be a keeper!

When we bought our lot in 1999, this tree was already mature but not much to look at.   It was sandwiched in beneath a rotting cottonwood tree and way too many ashe trees.    It really had nowhere to spread its branches so I would guess it had less than 1/2 the width it does today.     We slowly removed the older and decaying trees, one by one.    As the neighboring trees were taken down, this American Elm, flourished.   Her color became darker and her leaves became larger.  I guess she wasn't getting the nutrients she needed.    Her canopy has completely filled in where three other trees used to be.   I'm so thankful that Dutch elm disease didn't claim this beauty. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tree Groupings

Recently I've noticed that the birds seem to prefer  groups of trees over one lone tree in the middle of lawn.   Or, maybe it's me that prefers to hang out there, so I notice more birds.   Anyhow, it has changed how I am thinking about the tree cover in our yard.   We are focusing on tree groupings.   We already have two groupings established - by that, I mean that the canopy is continuous from tree to tree.  This is our next area to work on.  

If you look really, really hard, you can see six teeny-tiny trees that I got my sweet hubby to plant.   I finally gave up on bringing in some big trees.   I mean, we grow them professionally, we sell them all over the state, I don't know what I was thinking when I thought I could get a few installed in  our yard  . . . .  it's like the cobbler's kids who have no shoes.   But, I regress . . . .  

This grouping contains Texas red oak, eucalyptus, and cedar elm.   There are some gorgeous eucalyptus trees on the King Ranch and I've been wanting to try a few.    Surely if they grow there strictly on rainfall, they will grow here.   I love the height (a good 40 or 50 feet tall) and the mottled, flakey trunks.   They are flanked by established huische and mesquite.   In another 10 or 15 years, this should be a nice spot for our feathered friends to hang out.  

I wasn't quick enough to get a picture, but yesterday morning, a cardinal was perched in one of these tiny trees.   As I watched, it fluttered over and checked out two others.  Maybe we won't have to wait another 10 or 15 years after all.  

Friday, December 27, 2013

Attracting Wildlife to Your Garden

This morning we visited my sister-in-law at her new home and soon-to-open B&B.   The M-T Nest is going to be geared to birders and naturalists.   In under an hour, we saw cardinals, green jays, banded kiskadees, a Harris hawk and, of course, Texas' state bird, mockingbirds.   She told tales of the hunting habits of their resident barn owls.    And that was just on our drive up the drive and from inside the house.   It kinda reminded me of Chevy Chase's movie, Animal Farm.  Remember it?   They're trying to sell their New England country home and have enlisted all the townsfolk to help   When the prospective buyers approach the house, someone releases deer to scamper across the law - what a pastoral scene - well, unless you have first-hand experience with deer in your yard

Anyhow, it got me thinking about what our landscapes need to include if we want to attract wildlife to our little piece of paradise.   Some good general guidelines are the requirements to certify a yard as a Certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat.   It's a Texas Parks and Wildlife program.   You can find the application here 
Basically, you need food sources, water sources, cover from preditors, and nesting sites.  I had assumed that I'd have to have an almost completely native landscape but the certification only requires that at 50% of the planting a be native.    

Sometimes you will want to get more specific.   We've planted a pecan tree to appeal to the local parrots and leave our sabal and Washingtonia palms untrimmed so the orioles a nice nesting place.  We've left a gnarly old Ashe tree with lots of trunk rot for the Eastern screech owls   We plant fennel, dill, and parsley for the caterpillars to munch on.   And we have lots of red blooming plants to appeal to the hummingbirds.     Frogs find refuge in overturned clay pots and we definitely want some frogs around.  They are voracious mosquito eaters.   

In this new year, I challenge you to plant with a purpose.  Do a little research before you go to your local garden center.   Choose items both for their beauty and for what they will draw into your garden.  Happy gardening!