Monthly Archives: September 2012
Short ‘n sweet.
This little Lemon Basil (success at growing basil from seed! finally!) has enjoyed the shade of the carrot greens while adapting to the ways of the outside world.
These two characters made me laugh when I saw them. It takes some special kind of talent to hang from the very thing you’re eating.
I used to pull the snails when I found them, dropping them in soapy water or taking them down to the pond. Then upon closer observation I noticed they left all of my food alone, and spent their time devouring the spent vines, the decomposing leaves, and the other not-quite-yet-composted goodies on the surface. Since then, I’ve left them to their own devices in the garden. Hopefully they’re not the ones responsible for the Squash Disappearing Act?
I am grateful for my lack of furry critters making use of my garden as their market. We have rabbits and deer in our neighborhood, but they haven’t found my garden to be worth the fence-hop. As for the community gardens, I can only assume they don’t like the busy roads on two sides.
I do get quite the surprise sometimes when it comes to the crawly critters. Awhile back, it was the caterpillar bigger than my middle finger. This time, it’s a few things.
Like this thing. A cicada shell. They’re currently peppering tree branches and leaf piles throughout the neighborhood.
Each board is two inches wide. It’s head is to the left, bent under. That horizonal line moving from left to right was the middle of its back, before it split the shell to escape in it’s new, bigger, shell. (Cue flashbacks to the movie Alien if you’ve seen it, I have not.)
I found this shell when chasing down a tree roach that leapt from the earth I was digging, just fast enough to make me jump before I saw what it was, and race off.
(Backstory: I grew up a tomboy. I liked lizards and spiders. Grasshoppers were fun. I claimed a daddy-long-legs in my bedroom corner as my pet when I was five. I went searching for earthworms and snakes to discover under boards in the pasture. I woke up once with a mouse on my shoulder, staring me down from four inches away, and was fine with it. And then I moved to Texas. The grasshoppers here make me jump. (They’re HUGE!) The lizards are more colorful (and plentiful) and I finally encountered a bug that just *got* to me. I finally understood the visceral reaction so many have in response to spiders, or snakes, or any other oft-feared creatures. I had encountered my first tree roach.)
I’m not sure of their actual name, but imagine a cockroach, that gets about three inches long, and FLIES. Then imagine it hosts a demeanor of an attack missile. Sometimes when you come upon one and startle it, it will actually run away. Other times, it will come AT you. It’ll get stuck in your hair, hang onto your shirt, and otherwise make you dance around hitting yourself like a maniac only to leave you with the creepy-crawlies for the rest of the day.
Not familiar with a tree roach? This was the best photo I could snag of the fellow.
Or, for easier viewing, I found a funny post by another Texas-transplant here – with much better visual aids.
And then there’s the Case of the Creepy Sweet Potato. Fiber issues? Drought issues? Bug issues? What’s your guess?
We’ll finish this Creature Feature with a wonderfully ancient-looking caterpillar. It reminds me of both The Neverending Story, Chinese dragons, and Alice in Wonderland. Have you guessed yet?
It’s the happy-looking Giant Swallowtail Caterpillar.
See that charming smile?
I put him back on the potted orange tree where I’d found him. DH says he’ll be evicted if he takes more than his fair share. I went to check on him a few days later to discover that he had a new little friend of the same kind, and he himself had more than doubled in size.
In my brief reading to research this caterpillar, it became obvious that they like citrus trees. Why he and his brother selected the orange over the lime, I couldn’t say. Mimosas over margaritas, perhaps?
Summer hasn’t quit yet.
The peppers have slowed down, but aren’t done yet. Just the other day a purple bell pepper joined some carrots and other veggies for a lunch saute.
In making room for new fall veggies, it was time to pull some old timers.
Of course, once I sowed the next round of carrots, it started raining. Forget rain dances, if you need it to rain at your house just have me over to sow some carrot seeds! (The last four times I’ve sown carrots now, it’s rained long and hard within days.)
I didn’t pull all of the carrots though. Some are still small enough to make a late appearance on my plate, and others I’ve let go wild to both see what happens and collect seed. Like these two:
This summer I tried to start my fall veggies indoors in June and July so I could get a headstart on the fall garden even with temperatures still much too hot. With mixed results, it’s something I’ll definitely do again next year with some new information and more experience under my belt.
One of the veggies I did this with was squash. Various varieties of mostly summer squash went into my seed trays, came up, and reached for the window. They even bloomed a bit before I had a chance to get them outside.
I put eight in the ground.
Two were gone the next day. Completely wilted into the surface of the soil.
Two were gone the second day. Completely demolished by some tiny hungry belly.
The other four went the way of the first four sometime that week.
Not wanting to turn the other seedlings out for such a certain fate, I kept them alive in their seed tray on the porch. A previously unsprouted seed burst forth. They didn’t mind the heat so long as they got their water each morning. I knew this wasn’t going to be a permanent solution, so I went in search of one. Books. Articles. Blogposts. More books. Finally I went back to the seed packets. Generic instructions on all the seed packets save for the ones from Baker Creek which read: “…start a couple of weeks earlier indoors, but never let squash transplants become rootbound, and do not distrub the roots in transplanting.”
These transplants had definitely become rootbound, and as a results, their roots were definitely disturbed during transplanting. Lesson learned for next year.
In the meantime, I still needed an attempt at saving the transplants I still had. The very-rootbound transplants. So rootbound that the seed tray had become more of a 2″x9″x13″ soilmat held together by roots. (I already said, “oops” twice, but I’ll say it again – oops!) DH had the lightbulb moment I was looking for. Plant the mat!
So I carefully loosened the mat from the pan, laid it in a shallow hole, and let it soak in. Let the survival of the fittest begin!
Update: They’re all dead. All nine of them chomped to the ground in the night.
Fall is here.
Fall has started early this year here in Central Texas. Last year we didn’t see temperatures stay below 100 until October. We didn’t see rain until November. This year, the rain has already come. Today’s rain is a steady drizzle soaking the earth, enabling the oaks to soak up their thousands of gallons, the summer stresses to be washed from the shrubs, and the winter growth to start off strong. The rain earlier in the week came light and quick – just enough to wet the streets, muddy the gutters, and dust off the heat.
Fall in Texas is different from the Pacific Northwest of my childhood in many ways. One of the ways that I still am not used to, is the behavior of the trees.
Depending on variety, some trees behave as expected. They have bud break in spring, turn itchy green before summer, find their golden hues in the fall, and drop leaves to the floor with the frost. Others, behave as above with a second bud break. This tree already had its leaves, most of which were lost in the heat of the summer, but it is still driven by the need to put forth its progeny. This bud will break into a few itchy-green leaves, and one bunch of powdery seeds.
Speaking of fall, does anyone know of the best way and time to prune an overgrown sage?
This is a hybrid variety that is growing in maybe six inches of soil depth, with neglectful watering, and still managed to take over the sidewalk in its entirety. I had its twin in the front bed, pruned it back months ago, and it has since died for my efforts.
Also noted in this photo: the strawberries survived and I’m overdue on edging the lawn.
This earlier arrival of fall has helped make up my mind on sowing some cooler weather varieties. Earlier this week I made it into the backyard bed to sow some peas – Golden Sweet and Sugar Ann. The Golden Sweet claims to grow 6′ tall and have purple flowers. I’m looking forward to the little paintbrushes of color in the future. Sugar Ann claims to not need any structure, and I’m going to believe it. It took a few days longer to sprout than the Golden Sweet. Both were up within the week. Now to use the giant bamboo pole DH brought home for me to construct a climbing structure for the Golden Sweet…
- Garlic – Cheyenn Purple, Silver white, and California Select
- Onions – Austrialian Brown and Violet de Gamme
- Cucumbers – third year saved Marketmore 76
- Beets – Detroit
- Broccoli – Early Green Heirloom (I’m not sure this is the actual name…) both sown and transplanted
- Kale – Lark’s tongue
- Chard – Perpetual
- Collards – Even’ Star Land Race
- Lettuce – transplanted a few mysteries. They could be any of about eight varieties.
I was set to also transplant some Amazing Cauliflower…until I started working their bed and dug straight down into a giant fire ant nest. Escaping with a single bite (and no sting) I called it done for the day.
The peppers haven’t minded the heat, or the cool front, and are churning out their fruit like the good little food-producers they are.
What I learned about peppers recently:
- Anaheim peppers will turn brownish, and then bright red. They are less bitter the longer they ripen.
- They don’t need tomato cages like I thought. They do fall over when they get laden with fruit, but that’s ok with me.
- Planting them at 15″ instead of 18″-24″ will let their canopies shade the ground so they don’t get so hot and dry so quickly (even when I forget to mulch for the third time come July…)
- Bell peppers that start out purple just might turn orange on you.
- Fish peppers are the most interesting looking peppers I’ve ever seen, and grow on the prettiest of plants. It’ll be a walk-way lining plant next year instead.
Think there are enough Anaheim peppers on this branch?
Fish pepper plant looking lovely…
And the peppers themselves just get cooler looking!
I call these “button bells” – they don’t really get much bigger than this. I’m guessing it’s my water restrictions.
As for the cayenne…they just won’t quit! I have a Ristra, and a bowlful, and am about to try my hand at drying them for grinding.
Breaking summer ground for fall.
I grew beans in this bed in March and April. I gave some new squash varieties a go as well as took my first real stab at some melon. It was all done by June.
Had I planned better, I would have had some more pepper starts ready to go in. Next year, I hope to remember this. As it stood, I had some late-arriving sweet potato starts come in the mail and they took center stage.
Slowly the summer raged on. The sweet potatoes showed themselves to be slow growers. One melon, the Tigger variety, held on much longer than the Kansas or the White Cushaw.
Every where else in the Left Bed the weeds set up shop. The squishy ones that DH calls “ice plant weeds” and the sprawly ones that remind me of some sea fans. We wonspeak of the wild morning glories or the other ivy. Then there are the two tall types I couldn’t guess at varieties for.
Thankfully, having ignored the bed for the last bit of our triple digits, the weeds pulled easily, like they were rooted in sand.
The lowlands between the raised beds have served as walkways this season and as such needed a little loosening.
I’d added in a couple of inches of leaves this spring to the pathways. Over the course of months of rain and breezy days the leaves went underground. Digging yesterday unearthed them once more. Evidence of a summer spent under damp soil was all around. The leaves had made a layer of decomposed soil-food. Digging through it brought cakes of matted leaf material to the surface only to join forces with new compost and be turned under once again.
I’m still in the “getting to know you” phase with the soil in this bed. Upon first meeting, it came across as angry and weak . Someone had abused it previously and it showed. I started the spring by adding organic soil from a local source, manure, and compost. I was in a hurry and didn’t have the time to wait for the county extension office to run any tests. Over the summer I’ve learned that the soil is much sandier than my beds the short two miles to my backyard. It’s also full of tiny pebbles. Just below the sandy, pebbly, crumbly soil is what I’m used to working with – thick, cloying, stick-to-your-shovel clay.
So I worked in even more compost, breaking up clods of dirt (playing at being rocks) along the way.
Watering the base layers, burying them, and watering again is my attempt to not irritate the earthworms too much.
I worked the compost into these holes made by burying the compost in the trenches. Then I worked it all together, evening it out into one bed. Trench be-gone!
These beds (this one and it’s twin across the sweet potatoes) are now ready for kale, broccoli, beets, onions, and garlic!
Those sad sweet potatoes? Those are the ones I ordered as starts. The pantry-potatoes? They’re happy as can be.
How do you prep your soil between seasons?
My guess is that if Tarzan lived here, he’d swing from morning glory vines. I cannot tell you how satisfying it was to finally find the base of this invasion and tear it out. I have been back in No Time To Garden Land, but a cold front blew in last night just in time for a free Saturday. (Cold fronts in Texas this time of year means a high of only 92° AND a low of 60° AND a near constant breeze. Which translates to the first time we’ve been able to open the windows in the house since April.. .for an hour.) Posts of the progress soon!
A silent phone-photo tour.