Sunday, January 27, 2019

Shovel-ready project: removing a dead agave

The Whale's Tongue agave in front of the house bloomed last spring, and has been slowly decomposing ever since.
Bloom spike emerging in mid-April
Bloom spike getting taller - end of April
Dying back by September
Because our biannual city brush pick-up is scheduled for Monday, the agave had to be removed this weekend, to avoid doing the job during a blazing hot summer, when the next pick-up is scheduled. Plus, it looked terrible, and it was starting to stink.

After reading Pam Penick's post on how her "Moby" was removed after his demise, I had a good idea of the job ahead.

The first step was to remove the spiky leaves. I thought some of the oldest, driest leaves might simply snap off or pull out, but no. They were tough and fibrous, yet flexible, like thick burlap or jute cloth. I had to cut off each leaf by sawing through it with a cleaver (the sharpest implement I could find in the house).

Many of the oldest leaves were rotting, with a horrible odor, housing all sorts of bugs involved in decomposition (like the ones that hang out in the compost bin). Luckily, I didn't see any agave weevils - hooray.
Fiber and rot
I don't have photos of the nitty-gritty work to share, as my double-gloved hands were covered in slimy agave muck and sap during the tiring, hours-long job. I wore long sleeves, a t-shirt and a jacket, and rose gloves over latex gloves to protect my upper body from the caustic sap. Every time I went into the house to take a break, I had to strip off both glove layers and the jacket, wash my hands, then put the jacket, new latex gloves, and the rose gloves back on when I was ready to start again.

After sawing off every last leaf, the agave heart was left to dig out. Although my agave did bloom, it didn't form bulbils - either the agave was sterile, or it wasn't pollinated properly. So I didn't have to worry about protecting baby agaves during the dismantling process.
Blooms emerged in May, but no babies formed
The plant was already very wobbly, so Jack tried to pull it out using his body weight, by holding onto the bloom stalk, climbing onto the lower portion of the heart, and leaning back. That served to break off the bloom stalk at its base, but alas, the heart remained secured to the ground.

After Jack chainsawed the woody bloom stalk into pieces to haul to the curb, I tried to dig the heart out with a shovel. A thick mass of deep roots refused to yield, so Jack hacked away at them with the cleaver until they finally let go. Victory!
Severed roots on base of stump: some by shovel, some by cleaver
It took both of us to roll the heart to the curb, which weighed at least a hundred pounds, maybe more.

The final part of the job was to stuff all the cut-off leaves into yard bags.

It was a difficult and rather disgusting job and one I do not plan to repeat, as I won't be replacing the dead agave with another big agave. I've decided I much prefer soft, lush and fragrant plants to pointy, stabby ones, particularly in front of the house near the sidewalk and driveway.

Now there's a big empty spot in the front garden to fill, and a lot more cutting back to do.

Words and photos © 2009-2019 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Foliage Follow-Up: Basket plant

This basket plant (Callisia fragrans) has never looked so good. Normally by this time of year I only have a couple of good-looking sprigs to bring inside. This year - wowza!

She is loving this week's warm drizzly mix of sun and rain, but she'll definitely want to come inside next week when temps drop into the 40s.

She needs a better stylist, though I think I got most of the dead petunias out of of her crown (hey, the idea seemed legit in spring).

A couple of her clones are broken, because she just fell off her hook. She is heavy, succulent and moist. Her root structure must be massive inside the pot. She weighs a ton.

She would make a great living wall plant, but she would need a lot of support.

I hope I have a spot inside that's big enough to hold her. She's never bloomed, but I have my fingers crossed that maybe she will this year.

This basket full of basket plant started out as one little pup from Diana at Sharing Nature's Garden. Diana calls it "Grandfather's Pipe"; it's also known as "Chain Plant" and "Inch Plant". It's native to Mexico but cultivated all over the world. It bounces back from neglect with ease and reportedly has medicinal properties. Thanks for passing it along, Diana! And thanks to Pam at Digging for hosting Foliage Follow-Up every 16th of the month.

Words and photos © 2009-2018 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Today’s harvest

Fall green beans are in! I planted these the first week of September.

 Some are bush beans and some are pole beans - all different varieties, whatever was left in the seed box.

The lower leaves are a little yellow from all the rain but hopefully we'll get them all eaten before the diseases and frost kick into high gear.

Words and photos © 2009-2018 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

September chard for Foliage Follow-Up

After sulking all summer, my Swiss chard has rebounded.

Right before the rain, I had scattered some cottonseed meal in the bed and topped it off with some compost.

Nitrogen, rainwater and a break from the heat and BOING! Chard's back on the menu. The new leaves are so baby-soft and fresh. What a treat!

Words and photos © 2009-2017 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Getting ready for fall

The American Beautyberry tells me that fall will be here in a few weeks, hooray! I'm so ready, and so is my garden.

These are the sort of thoughts that run through my head every year around this time:
  • If I plant corn/tomatoes/squash/cucumbers/snap beans now, can I still get a decent harvest before the first frost? Or should I save these seeds until spring, and plant fall veggies instead?
  • How long can I work in the garden tomorrow, weeding and rejuvenating the garden beds, before the heat becomes unbearable?
  • When is the Big Orange Home Improvement Box Store going to have their annual fall sale of Texas Native Hardwood Mulch, at $2 a bag?
  • What annual (or fall-flowering perennial) should I plant in that bare spot in the front garden?
  • Are the saved seeds in my seed box still good?
Seed-saving box
Every time I look at my seed box, I'm always overwhelmed by the number of seeds I've bought and never planted. I bought most of these seeds last fall and winter.  Two kinds of corn, three sorts of green beans, four varieties of cucumbers, and so on and so forth.

Then Jack and I ran off to Europe for our 10th wedding anniversary in spring, and I didn't plant much of a first-season garden. All the seeds in this photo should still be viable this fall, but there's definitely some old seeds in the seed box that need to go, like the pepper seeds, and some of the tomatoes, and most of the seeds from the Seattle & Portland Garden Bloggers Fling swag bags.

I think I'll plant corn, cucumbers and snap beans now, find a spot for the one tomato plant I bought two weeks ago (which is still sitting outside in its one-gallon plastic pot, slowly drying out), and leave the squash for spring.

When it's as hot and dry as it's been here this summer, I have to break the garden chores up into short manageable tasks, rather than tackling one big marathon session. Last evening, just before dusk, I ran the Heron weeder through this long bed where I planted greens and carrots last year. There weren't many weeds there at all - mostly widow's tears and oxalis - and only two tiny clumps of Bermuda grass, yippee.  One mosquito bit me - not bad! Weeding this one bed only took about 20 minutes.
Weed-free and ready for planting
This morning, I cleared the mostly-dead tomatoes out of the other bed, worked some cottonseed meal into the parched soil in both beds, dampened the soil with rainwater from the big barrel, added some fresh compost to all the beds, and planted my one fall tomato. That took about two hours - not bad! I'll plant my corn, cucumbers and green bean seeds early next week, when I get time.
Lonely fall tomato
When I went to Shoal Creek Nursery to get compost yesterday, I happened upon a 75% sidewalk sale they were having, and picked up three new garden decor pieces - score! - plus a Black and Blue Salvia for $2 that will perk right up with some water and a haircut.
Disappearing fountain
Salvia and metal owl
Hummingbird weathervane
What are you doing in your garden to get ready for fall?

Words and photos © 2009-2017 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Couldn't help it

I was going to skip planting veggies this spring, but I forgot I have this absurdly insatiable need to grow stuff. Plus, I have a big box of seeds left over from last year that are still good.

So I planted bush beans in the bare spots around the spinach and carrots where the fall lettuce never came up.
Spring veggie garden

I planted chard seedlings in the bare spots between the carrots and multiplying onions, where the fall chard got zapped by the December freeze.
Spring veggie garden

I planted tomato seedlings and cucumber seeds in the bare spots where the fall broccoli faded too early in our warm winter.
Spring veggie garden

I rejuvenated the cinder block herb garden with new herb seedlings.
Spring veggie garden

Then I watered everything in with rainwater from the rain barrel. Done!

What are you planting this spring that you hadn't planned on? Leave a comment and let me know.

Words and photos © 2009-2017 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Minneapolis Garden Bloggers Fling - Day 1

Dylan mural in downtown Minneapolis

Earlier this month, I attended my third Garden Bloggers Fling in Minneapolis, MN. I and sixty-some-odd garden bloggers from all over the U.S. and Canada hopped charter buses and toured the city's best gardens, public and private, for three full days. The Garden Bloggers Fling is a fabulous way to see the lush green spirit of a city up close and in depth, and I was glad to be able to attend.

Marquette Plaza

from the porch at the Hayes house

Each garden we visited deserves its own post, but I've learned from experience that attempting that task is sheer folly for someone who works full-time and needs to tend to her own home, garden and volunteer work! I've yet to post on some of my favorite gardens from Portland's Fling, which I hope to revisit at some point in the near future. But without further delay, here's some highlights from day 1 in Minneapolis.

Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden & Bird Sanctuary (public)
Eloise Butler meadow

Bench at Eloise Butler Wildflower Center

pretty berries

Studio garden of Donna Hamilton (private)

color riot

studio garden

Lyndale Park Gardens (public)
yellow annual-perennial bed at Lyndale Park Gardens

pink and peach flowers at Lyndale Park Gardens

day lilies at Lyndale Park Gardens

Garden of blogger and author Rhonda Fleming Hayes (private)
Hayes house

Hayes kitchen garden

back porch and pond at Hayes house

Hayes garden and patio

Bachman's Garden Center (retail)
Bachman's display

Bachman's greenhouse

potting bench plants at Bachman's

Latham "Park" (private)
Latham House perennial border

Latham "Park"

Gazebo at Latham House

Pond at Latham House

Noerenberg Memorial Gardens (public)
Noerenberg Memorial Gardens

Colonnade where the Noerenberg home once stood

Noerenberg Memorial Gardens

Kelley and Kelley Nursery (retail)
Hosta border at the Kelley-Kelley nursery

Fragrant pink lilies at Kelley-Kelley nursery

royal cat in the woods at Kelley-Kelley nursery

Garden of Steve Kelley and Arla Carmichiel (private)

Kelley-Charmichiel house


Kelley-Carmichiel garden

There wouldn't have been a wonderful Minneapolis Fling without the tireless efforts of Amy Andrychowicz at Get Busy Gardening, Kathleen Hennessey at :29 Minute Gardener, and Mary Lahr Schier at My Northern Garden. Thank you all so much! If you want to see more photos of these gardens, check out the Minneapolis Garden Bloggers Fling photo collection on my Flickr page.

Words and photos © 2009-2016 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.