Thursday, December 31, 2009

Last photos of 2009

Teeny weeny broccoli heads are starting to appear on the Packman broccoli plants.
Packman broccoli
Alas, no signs of Snowball cauliflower or Brussels sprouts yet.

I picked the first Easter Egg II radish today. I wonder if it would have rounded out if I'd left it in the ground for another few days.
Easter egg II radish
It was sweet and crisp, with a mild peppery bite. I immediately planted more.

The Detroit Dark Red beets are coming along. I thinned them out significantly a few days ago, and saved the thinned seedlings for salad.
Detroit dark red beets
I have to be careful and not plant too many. I suspect Jack will eat nary a one.

I was happy to see a few sprigs of Greek oregano survived. It's lovely in Greek salad dressing and on pizza. I thought I'd lost all of it in the freeze. It should spread in the spring and summer.
Oregano (greek?)

That's it for 2009. Looking forward to more gardening adventures in 2010!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas colors in the garden

Lots of Christmasy reds and greens in the yard this week, like the new growth on the mutabilis rose. I have crazy rose bushes. The colder it gets, the more new growth they put out.

The leaves of this Texas red oak in the backyard are turning redder by the day.

A few days ago, I spied this ginormous squirrel, scurrying up the red oak's trunk. Seriously, he was as big as a small cat.
He saw me and stopped long enough to pose for the camera. There's a Perky Pet Squirrel-Be-Gone feeder in this tree. It works pretty well, but it doesn't stop the squirrels from trying. I've read stories of squirrels breaking the springs or chewing through the plastic parts of this feeder to get at the seeds. So far, so good with this one. The acorns make my garden's squirrels less desperate, it seems.

Some birds would rather feed off the ground than from a feeder, like this cardinal. I've thought about getting a platform feeder, but the squirrels would clean it out before the cardinals had a chance.

This cardinal, and his mate, are frequent visitors to my garden. He's a bit older than the youngster in the photo above. He likes to perch on the hammock cover.

This is another frequent visitor to my garden -- an exceedingly well-fed black and white cat. She likes to dig in the flower beds, as do the squirrels. The squirrels leave pecans and acorns in the holes they dig. The cat leaves other things in the holes she digs. Boo! Hiss! When all the birds disappear, I know kitty is near.

Squirrel doesn't like kitty. He scolds her from his safe perch in the treetops...

...until kitty slinks off.

For Christmas, Santa brought me four large stackable storage bins and a four-level shelving unit for the garden shed! Santa even put together the shelving unit, and helped me clean and organize the shed, too! Hope you all had as Merry a Christmas as we did.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Of foliage and ladybugs

I've been taking photos, I promise...I just haven't had time to post them! Until now. Here's what went on last week.

Sunday before last (the 13th) was a gorgeous sunny day. The red oaks looked absolutely splendid against the brilliant blue sky.

This happy katydid was chirping away from his perch on the mutabilis rosebush. He was so well-camouflaged, it took me a while to find him, despite his incessant tweets.

I spied a multicolored Asian ladybug (Harmonia axyridis) as well. I'm guessing she's a descendent of the ladybugs I purchased from Barton Springs Nursery this summer and released to deal with the aphids that survived all the strong blasts of water I shot at them. A couple of weeks ago, we rolled down the bamboo blinds around our hot tub gazebo, and found dozens of little brown baby ladybugs crawling around in there.

According to the Lost Ladybug Project, many of the ladybugs sold at nurseries for biocontrol purposes are imported from overseas, and guess what? One particular variety, the multicolored Asian ladybug, is now considered invasive (well OF COURSE they are, I bought some!). They've been known to bite; they're considered pests in vineyards due to their sheer numbers and their musty odor, which they impart to the flavor of the grapes, and they invade homes in the winter in droves. Here's your tax dollars at work: the USDA imported thousands of these aphid-munching critters in the late 70s and early 80s to deal with aphid infestations of nut trees. The program stopped when the gov'ment discovered the newly imported transplants didn't seem to be sticking around. Fast-forward a few decades, and suddenly they're everywhere. What happened? No one's quite certain. Sally Roth's article in the Evansville Courier & Press provides us a number of titillating key facts, while this OSU Extension Factsheet fills in all the sordid details.

Some places do sell native ladybugs (most commonly Hippodamia convergens). However, native ladybugs are harvested from wild habitats in the winter, in spots where they tend to hibernate en masse (called diapause in the insect world), then they're shipped cross-country in the spring. Which kind did I get at BSN? I don't remember, and it doesn't matter, because both varieties contribute to the end result--native colonies are disappearing across the North American continent, and the Asian ladybugs are proliferating. Big Noisy Sigh. I tell ya, we organic gardeners simply can not win. In my attempt to find alternatives to pesticides, I managed to disrupt a fragile ecosystem nonetheless. Feel free to insert your favorite ironic do-gooder platitude here, e.g. best laid schemes of mice and men, a road to hell paved with good intentions, no good deed goes unpunished, etc.

Four days later, on Wednesday, I spied another one. This one was more red than orange (hence the name "multicolored"), and had no spots. Nevertheless, its rounded shape and the "M" marking on its pronotum (that flat plate above its eyes) identifies it as a multicolored Asian ladybug. Admittedly, they are cute. And they do eat aphids. Which is worse, imported ladybugs or pesticides? I know, I know, I'm just supposed to let the aphids run roughshod over the garden.
I have to thank Sheryl Smith-Rogers at Window on a Texas Wildscape for clueing me in to the Lost Ladybug Project.

On Friday morning, I was waiting on a pot of dark roasted Guatemalan coffee to brew while thinking about posting those photos of the red oak leaves for Foliage Follow-Up, when suddenly this stand of purple fountain grass caught my eye through the kitchen window, set alight by the rising sun.
Purple fountain grass in winter

WOW! I thought - that's the PERFECT subject for Foliage Follow-Up! I grabbed my camera and ran outside to try and capture the light before it passed. The glow was just breathtaking.

By the time I left for work, the light had shifted and the glow was gone; so beautiful while it lasted, though. Not only was I late for work, but I didn't leave myself time to post any foliage pictures, be they of leaves or grasses.

That same Friday, I saw a third multicolored Asian ladybug. This one was mostly yellow. There must be aphids in that rosebud.

Tomorrow, with any luck, I'll post photos I took this past weekend of birds and squirrels and cats, oh meow!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A rather wan Bloom Day

There are precisely four plants blooming in my urban Central Texas plot today, and none too profusely, I might add.

Coral honeysuckle:

"Fairy" rose:

A hybrid "Orange Sceptre" butterfly bush, which is a gangly 6 feet tall and as ugly as sin:

and a four-nerve daisy which was whipping around in the wind too fast to get a good shot. I guess some would say the Mainacht and Indigo Spires salvias are technically still blooming, but I wouldn't, thus, no photos.

Lookit, the Red Carpet sedum is living up to its name. It was bright green until the freeze hit a couple of weeks back. 4294

Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, or GBBD for short. What's blooming in your garden?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

After the hard freeze

Last Saturday morning, I went right outside (before coffee, even!) to see what Jack Frost had left me, and what he'd taken out. It was so early, the moon was still up.
Sunrise, moon up

The Old Blush rose bush was covered with long, icy splinters of frost.
Frost on Old Blush rose

Finer frost covered the Bright Lights cosmos, like a dusting of sugar.
Frost on Bright Lights cosmos

The zinnias had been on their way out; the frost merely sealed the deal.
Frost on dead zinnias

Frosty black raspberry plant...
Frost on black raspberry leaves

...frosty mutabilis rosebuds...
Frost on mutabilis rose buds

...and slushy bird bath.
Icy bird bath

I rather liked the look of frost outlining every detail of this Red Carpet sedum.
Frost on Red Carpet sedum

The late summer and early fall veggies bit the frosty dust. Here's a green bean, frozen on the vine, despite being covered with floating row cover that promised 6 to 8 degrees of frost protection. (Clarence Birdseye would be proud.)
Green bean frozen on the vine

The winter vegetables, like the bok choy and collards here, did very well in their snug, covered beds; their companion plants, the, not so much.
Bok choy and collards did fine

In the same covered bed, the zucchini turned to mush: blossoms, fruit and all.
Mushy frost-bitten zucchini

In the next bed over, tiny cold-weather veggie seedlings were no worse for wear, like this radish. The lettuce, spinach, turnip, carrot and beet seedlings did fine too, as did the strawberries and bunching onions (covered, of course).
Radish seedling
The nasturtiums (not pictured) suffered the same fate as the marigolds: mush city.

The roses couldn't be covered (too many, too big), but they survived the freeze, as did this little crab spider. She was moving awfully slowly, though.She's been living on this rose bush for about two weeks now. Unfortunately, her immediate residence is falling apart, petal by petal.
Crab spider on Buff Beauty rose

Luckily, once the frost melted, the rose buds seemed just fine. Miss Crab Spider will have plenty of new apartments to choose from.
Buff Beauty rose buds

Alas, the butterflies have lost their favorite flower. I pulled these sad stalks up on Sunday afternoon, along with the zinnias and warm weather veggies.
Frostbitten cosmos

The potted plants enjoyed a balmy evening indoors, like this spiderwort, a passalong plant (from Jenny at Rock Rose, if I recall correctly).

I just love its tiny white flowers! They're such a bright white, that they're difficult to photograph without 'blowing them out'.
Spiderwort, safe inside

Other Austin bloggers have mentioned an odd phenomenon after the frost melted; many trees shed all their leaves in a matter of hours after the sun rose. In our neighborhood, it was the hackberries. I tried to capture the rate of the drop in this short eight-second video.

According to Colorado State University extension agent Carol O'Meara, this is a normal phenomenon for many trees. Read more about it on her blog, Gardening After Five.

Final tally:
basil, zucchini, green beans, cucumbers, nasturtiums, marigolds
Died back/gone dormant: salvias, lantana, Turk's cap, passion flower, milkweed, bougainvillea, purple fountain grass, blue daze, rock penstemon, hibiscus, clock vine, Philippine violet. (Those last 4 look the worst. They may be beyond dormant. The last 2 were recent purchases)
Damage to new growth/tips: aloe, chard, bulbine, flame acanthus
Unaffected: roses, rosemary, cruciferous vegetables, root vegetable seedlings, bulbs, lettuce and spinach seedlings, columbine, sedums, cool weather herbs

How'd your garden fare, Austin bloggers?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Before the hard freeze

I spent most of the past two evenings covering up plants with floating row cover, even though it wasn't expected to freeze until tonight.

I got a bit of ribbing from Jack and the fireman about that. Maybe it's just me, but I hate covering up plants late at night in subfreezing temperatures with a flashlight. I prefer doing such tasks a night or two in advance, when temperatures are more moderate and the situation less urgent.

This morning, I went out to do one last "dummy check" before tonight's freeze, to batten down the hatches and make certain I covered everything that won't come back from the roots, and I couldn't help but notice how wonderful the Old Blush roses looked. Poor roses - they think it's spring.
Old Blush roses

I couldn't stand the thought of these blooms all freezing to death, so I brought a bunch of them inside. I cut some Bright Lights cosmos, and brought them in, too.
Bright Lights cosmos & Old Blush roses

Old Blush isn't considered a traditional 'cutting rose' like a hybrid tea might be. Nevertheless, I think these blossoms are almost as pretty as peonies.
'Old Blush' roses

One last Chrysler Imperial bud, spared from Jack Frost's wrath.
Chrysler Imperial rose

As for the perennials in the front yard, I covered the purple fountain grass, because it's particularly sensitive to cold, but I just don't have enough row cover or sheets to cover EVERYTHING. Too bad, because the salvias, daisies and milkweed are going gangbusters. They'll all be sad and limp in the morning. I know they'll be back in the spring, but it's a particular pity, considering how nice and sunny it's supposed to be tomorrow. Alas. Such is life. Maybe it won't get as cold as predicted, or for as long. We'll see.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Thanksgiving weekend wrap-up

I had a wonderful four-day Thankgiving weekend! I don't know about you, but I like to sleep in on Thanksgiving morning, so we eat later than some folks. We had five for dinner, but I cooked enough for 10. We had a Mary's free-range turkey which I brined the evening before, using Alton Brown's brining instructions. Man, was it good. Now I've set myself up, big time: I'm expected to brine the turkey every year. The deal is, I make the turkey, cornbread dressing from my mom's recipe, and giblet gravy, and the guests bring the veggies. (My gravy was missing something this year. I couldn't figure out what it was until yesterday morning, when I found the turkey liver in the refrigerator.)

Oh, and cranberry sauce. I have to have cranberry sauce. I used to make cranberry sauce. Now I just take canned Ocean Spray whole-berry, mush it up in a bowl until the can marks disappear, and grate some orange zest on top. No one knows the difference and it saves me 30 minutes. Turkey, dressing, gravy, cranberry sauce. And wine. And cheese. And olives. And hummus dip. In case people get hungry before dinner.

After more than 4 decades, I can finally say I'm as good a cook as my mom was. (I'm pretty sure she forgot a turkey liver or two in her time.) This year, when I made the cornbread for the dressing, I forgot to set the timer. I ran to the oven as soon as I smelled cornbread, fearing the worst. It was perfect. Ha!

I can cook 'off the cuff' now, like my mom. For example, Colleen brought a yummy salad with feta cheese and toasted almonds for Thanksgiving, along with some fresh green beans and a mini watermelon. (The mini watermelon was a healthy dessert, she said, just in case the fireman didn't show up with the pie.) What should we do with these green beans, she asked? I steamed the green beans in a casserole dish in the microwave for 5 minutes, covered them with Imagine brand portabello mushroom soup (a Central Market freebie with purchase), scattered a can of French's French Fried Onions on top (those onions had been in the pantry for god knows how long) and stuck it in the oven for 15 minutes: voila, green bean casserole. Penny brought whipped sweet potatoes with marshmellows. She said she'd wished she'd had some pecans to go on top as well. Pecans, you say? I grabbed a bag of chopped pecans out of the freezer, we sprinkled some on top and threw it in the oven next to the green beans. Anyone need anything else? Well, said Brian, I really wanted a little Bailey's Irish Cream today, since it's a special occasion; we stopped by the liquor store on the way over, but it was closed. Guess what I had in the back of the refrigerator. That's right - a little bottle of Bailey's. Am I a good hostess or what?

Scott the fireman brought over a cherry-blueberry pie right around the time the UT-A&M game started. There's no photos of the pie - it was that good. Except for the pie, we had enough leftovers to send some home with our guests, make turkey sandwiches for two lunches, have two repeat Thanksgiving dinners for two, AND had some leftover dressing and gravy to freeze. I'm trying my hand at turkey mole enchiladas later this week, and I froze the turkey carcass for soup later. Nothing went to waste, except for that darn turkey liver.

OK, back to gardening topics. I just love yellow and orange two-tone tulips. The colors seemed just perfect for a fall holiday bouquet. (No, I didn't grow these; I haven't had a lick of luck with tulips.)

I also love orange cosmos. These, I did grow! The butterflies enjoyed a sumptuous holiday pollen feast. Here's a few that stood still long enough for a snapshot.
Painted lady butterfly

Painted lady butterfly

American snout butterfly

Male queen butterfly

The other Thanksgiving deal is, I cook, Jack cleans. So after the cooking was done, I pretty much had the rest of the weekend off from KP duty, which allowed me time to attend to a few gardening duties, including building the mini hoop houses for the raised beds. Hoop, there it is!

These were insanely easy to build. I used 1/2 inch PVC pipe in 10 foot lengths. It's recommended the length of the pipe be twice the width of the bed. Since most of my raised beds were 4 feet wide, I cut the pipe to 8 foot lengths with my garden loppers. (The zucchini bed is 2 feet wide, so I cut those pipes down to 4 feet.)

The pipes are anchored down with 2 foot lengths of rebar, pounded into the ground on either side of the bed until 6 to 8 inches is sticking up above ground. Simply bend the PVC pipe over the bed; the rebar inserts into the ends of the pipe to hold it into place. Easy peasy. I got a bunch of floating row cover at Dromgoole's on Monday morning. We're ready for December's freezes: bring it on!

And how was your Thanksgiving?