Wednesday, October 21, 2009

October GGW Photo Contest - "Abundant Harvest"

(click on the title above to learn more about Gardening Gone Wild's monthly photo contest, Picture This, and enter your own photo!)

Here is my entry of the Marias harvesting okra at Boggy Creek Farm in Austin, Texas.
Okra field at Boggy Creek Farm
Thank you to those who gather harvests everywhere!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Aaugh! Whiteflies?

Little whitish/grayish mothlike creatures are flitting about everywhere, literally overnight, as I understand whiteflies are wont to do. But I've been reading that whiteflies are much smaller than these guys, who are about a third of an inch long. Any guesses as to what I might be dealing with? I don't have much growing in my fall garden, but what I do have is doing quite well, and I would hate to lose it to some little sapsuckers! Will try to get pictures but they move really fast and don't sit still for long...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Big Bend National Park

Inspired by Ken Burns' latest PBS series, "The National Parks: America's Best Idea", Pam Penick of the Austin garden blog Digging encouraged her readers to post their national park experiences on their blogs this past week. Apologies for my tardiness, but my broken write, er, I mean, right hand is slowing me down.
Hot Springs Trail

Big Bend National Park is, by far, my favorite national park. I've been to a few national parks -- Padre Island, Hot Springs, Rocky Mountain, Niagara Falls, a fort here, a shipyard there - but my most memorable national park experiences have been at Big Bend.
Lost Mine Trail

Big Bend is enormous, diverse, and unlike many popular national parks, sparsely inhabited by the human species, particularly in the summer. Its 800,000 acres include the flora and fauna of mountain, desert and river environments, and is home to the largest protected area of Chihuahuan Desert topography and ecology in the United States.
Sotol Vista

Altitudes within the park's borders range from 1,800 feet along the river to 7,800 feet at the South Rim of the Chisos Mountains.
Santa Elena Canyon

I'm happy to say that I've personally experienced the full range of elevations and environments Big Bend has to offer, and there's so much I haven't seen. I could go there every year for the rest of my life and not see everything I wanted to see, much less everything there is to see.
Cerro Castellan

The "big bend" in the Rio Grande River makes up the park's 118 mile southern border. That's one-tenth of the border between the Great State of Texas and the country of Mexico, folks. We're talking an immensely Big Bend here.
The Big Bend in the Rio Grande

Yet at multiple points in the park, you could easily swim or even walk across shallow parts of the river into Mexico. Not that you should - the INS prohibits border crossings into Mexico except at designated immigration checkpoints, with or without a passport -- but you could. (I'm just saying, that's all.) See the rocky bank on the opposite side of the Rio Grande, opposite the hot spring Jack's enjoying? That's Mexico, and although you can't see them in this picture, several simple houses stand along the river bank.
The hot spring

The actual border proper lies within the deepest river channel of the Rio Grande River, a fact that makes talk of building a fence along the Texas-Mexico border seem downright wacky, not to mention futile. Can you imagine a fence down the center of this canyon?
Santa Elena Canyon

Now, I've lived in Texas nearly all my life. I was born in Norfolk, VA (my daddy was in the Navy), but my parents were born and raised in the Texas Panhandle, and they returned to Texas when I was only a few months old, settling in Houston. However, my first Big Bend experience wasn't until 2005, at age 43. My husband, Jack, introduced me to Big Bend, while we were still dating; he'd been there before, and adored it.
Ocotillo, Santa Elena junction

Big Bend is a hiker's paradise. Laurence Parent's classic book, Hiking Big Bend National Park, lists 47 different hikes for people of all abilities. One trail, the Window View Trail, is wheelchair-accessible. This photo is from the moderately difficult Lost Mine Trail, a 3- to 4-hour hike.
Lost Mine Trail

On our first trip together, Jack and I hiked the Lost Mine Trail, the Hot Springs Trail, and the Santa Elena Canyon Trail, and drove the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, making several stops along the way.
Casa Grande

On our second trip, two years later, we hiked to Cattail Falls, then hiked the big hike, the iconic hike, what Laurence Parent calls the classic Texas hike, while we were still young enough and able enough to do it: a two-day, 6000-foot hike to the South Rim.
Big tooth maples on the Boot Canyon Trail

It proved to be an Outward Bound-like experience for me. I've never pushed myself that far, both physically and mentally, and I don't know that I ever could or would hike it again.
"Are we there yet?"

But the unparalleled vistas were well worth the effort. Here's the sunset we enjoyed the evening we reached the peak.
South Rim sunset

And, the splendid view the following morning, after we spent the night on the South Rim. South Rim in the morning

I have more of my favorite photos of Big Bend on my Flickr page
. Thanks to Pam for encouraging me to share them with you. I can't wait to go back!

Friday, October 16, 2009

My new bird bath

I've been wanting a bird bath for months now, but not just any old bird bath. I wanted something a little different, and I didn't want to pay a lot of money for it. (Champagne taste on a beer budget, that's me.) I'd read on Great Stems how Meredith turned a cracked concrete bird bath into a beautiful and functional piece of mosaic art, and thought, how perfect...but alas, I'm not quite that crafty, or patient for that matter.

It was about this time that one of my neighbors cut down a 30-year-old ash tree that didn't make it through this summer's drought, and left the wood stacked up on his curb for weeks. One evening, I had a brainstorm, and asked Jack to help me select the nicest, straightest, roundest piece of that old ash trunk and haul it home.

And just like that, I had my bird bath's pedestal. Now all I needed was a dish for the top. I found a shallow ceramic planter saucer in a vibrant cobalt blue at Shoal Creek Nursery for $5; apparently someone forgot it when they bought the matching pot. It was pretty, but too small. Then I came across this huge shallow saucer in muted colors at Home Depot. It is glazed, which will make cleaning easier, but it has a bit of texture to it as well. (Birds aren't fond of bathing on slick, slippery surfaces.)

So, what do you think?
Homemade bird bath
I like it pretty well, but I think I'm going to ask Jack to cut the base down a bit at the bottom to level it out some. I left the blue saucer on the ground, nestled in the horseherb, for the toads and ground-dwelling birds. I put a stone in the deep end for smaller birds to step on, but I may take it out to make more room. I've seen one mockingbird go for a dip so far, but it's been a bit cool for bathing. I'm hoping for more visitors this weekend, if it's as nice as the weatherman says it's going to be.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Happy Garden Blogger's Bloom Day!

Here's what's blooming in my garden. We'll start with the roses. This is reliable "Old Blush", an Earth-Kind rose. It was looking very peaked this summer, but as with everything else in the garden, the rains of El NiƱo have been restorative.
Old Blush rose

Up front in this photo is "Dame du Coeur", and she's never looked so good. "Hot Lips" salvia is to her left. I cut the salvia back severely in July at the urging of Cindy from A Daily View, and it responded really nicely. A Mutabilis rose (another Earth-Kind rose) is behind the salvia. It's easy to see from this angle why some call Mutabilis "the Butterfly Rose."
Dame du Coeur rose

I'm not sure what to do with my poor Mutabilis. It's become a big old mess of gangly, floppy canes, seven feet tall and just as wide. I tried to prune it last February and it seems I just made it worse. Any suggestions?
Mutabilis rose

Next, the herbs. The rosemary is covered with tiny blue blooms.

The wild woodsorrel is gone -- it really did not like that cold snap we had -- but the horseherb is coming on strong, and blooming as well.

And, last but not least, the zinnias are rallying.

Here's another 'hot mess' in this garden of mine. The zinnia bed is completely overrun with bermuda and nutsedge; luckily, the flowers don't seem to mind. There will be much work to be done here when the zinnias succumb to the cooler temperatures (and my cast comes off!).

Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting GBBD on the 15th of every month. What's blooming in your garden today?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

typing with one hand...

...the one that isn't broken. The left one. Yes, I'm right-handed (of course!). So all fall gardening plans involving heavy lifting are now officially on hold for the next several weeks. I think I can pull weeds one-handed, maybe, plant seeds, and start seedlings; everything else I can think of takes two hands. We'll see what the hand orthopedist has to say...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Fall garden update

Whew! I've been too busy to post for the past two weeks. Seems there just isn't enough time to do everything that needs to be done! Here's an update on what's been going on.

Two weeks ago, Jack (aka The Head Carpenter) built the seven frames I commissioned, for seven new raised beds. (Jack always refers to the garden as my garden, but honestly, I would have no garden without his help.)

He built the frames out of unfinished pine 2" x 8"s and deck screws. Cedar would have lasted longer, but the cost was prohibitive. I'm hoping by the time the frames fall apart, the beds will be well-enough established that they won't need framing. We'll see.

Jack installed zinc braces in the corners for extra oomph, and drilled a hole on each side for the drip irrigation tubing to run through.

We laid four of the frames along the south side of the backyard. All the beds are four feet wide and eight inches deep, and between six and eight feet long. The one in front here will contain the wildflower bed; I'll be planting vegetables in the other three.

The other three frames are going to house a shade garden on the west side of the house...oops. Seems the Head Gardener forgot to account for the 2" width of the boards when measuring. Sigh.
Clearly, these frames are too close to the house, but if I move them out, they'll block the path and the gate. They'll need to be cut down, and to do that, they'll need to be taken apart. Grrr! I hate when that happens.

The Natural Gardener delivered 5 cubic yards of Hill Country Garden soil on the 21st of September, the day after Jack built the frames. The soil's been on my driveway, covered with a tarp, for two weeks now. (I didn't get much done in the garden last weekend except start some seedlings.)

So, determined to get something done this weekend, I left work early on Friday to mow the lawn before the rain storms got here. The woodsorrel is gone, except for what's in the wildflower bed and this patch here. (It's supposed to be a heart.)

And I left a bit of woodsorrel around the bulbine, too, which is finally blooming.

On Saturday, I started sheet mulching the new beds, using instructions on a handout I obtained at a Natural Gardener seminar on organic gardening. Much of the following text is taken directly from the handout. Sheet mulching helps clear an area of grass and weeds, when starting a bed from scratch, and it's a great way to recycle newspaper and cardboard, too! Here's how to sheet mulch, step by step.

Step 1: mow or weed-eat the grass and weeds down to the ground, and leave the clippings. (I hope this is low enough.)

Step 2: spread 1/2" to 1" of good compost over the clippings, and water it in. I didn't have pure compost, so I used compost-rich garden soil instead. (Boy, I feel weird leaving those woodsorrel and bermuda clippings in there.)

Step 3: lay newspapers down on top of the compost, 10 to 15 sheets thick, overlapping the edges so there aren't any gaps, and wet them down good.

I ran out of newspaper, so I used brown paper sacks and some white and brown wrapping paper that my bulbs were packed in. I didn't use any slick colored ads, although I did use the colored newsprint. Some sources recommend not using any colored newsprint. You can use old phone books, too.

Step 4: lay corrugated cardboard on top of the newspaper and wet it down. Be sure any gaps in the cardboard are covered by another piece of cardboard. Plain brown cardboard is better than the kind with a slick, colored paper covering.

Step 5: fill the bed with garden soil.
OR: if you're not ready to plant, or you're clearing the area for a purpose other than a raised bed, cover the cardboard with at least two inches of mulch and leave undisturbed for two to three months. Water the area regularly, at least once or twice a month.

Sheet mulching effectively blocks the light from the grass and the weeds, and the good bacteria in the compost help break down the weeds before they can grow through the newspaper and cardboard. Over time, the newspaper and cardboard will decompose and become part of the soil.

Looks I'm ready to plant veggies! But not tonight -- I'm exhausted!