Sunday, March 30, 2008

Dogs and Gardening Sometimes Don't Mix

On Friday I turned my two compost piles. The first is a chicken wire cage I built. The other is a black plastic one that a friend gave me after she found it at her new house.

When I dumped the black plastic one, my dog, who had been helping me dig through the piles finding the ripe stuff, suddenly ran off. After leaping over the compost piles (okay, stumbling over), I noticed that she had a small, um, mouse in her mouth. (I think it was really a r-a-t but let's just skip that part.) My dog really just wanted to play with the mouse. She was doing a play bow, a doggie invitation to play. She's always looking for friends to play with in the yard.

And as has happened with the anole, fuzzy caterpillar, and grasshopper friends she's tried to make, she accidentally killed it. I know she didn't mean to because she gave me a look saying, "But why isn't it playing with me?" When I tried to get the poor mouse away from her, she then decided that the new game was chase, her with the mouse, me with the shovel.

I finally caught up with her next to the shed, where excitement or taste had resulted in a dead mouse covered with a pile of dog vomit. (I really hope you aren't eating breakfast right now.)

Yesterday I started double digging a new bed in the backyard. It will be my first flower bed in the backyard, and the first bed outside of my fenced-in vegetable garden. Keeping the dog out of this bed will be a challenge, but I've decided I'm up for it. I've started with an area where my husband had been storing some wood left over from building our shed. (Don't ask me why he wasn't storing it in the shed we built. Those are the mysteries of the male mind.)

Anyway, the grass under there was already dead so digging was easy. I will widen and lengthen the area, but for now it's a good start.

Of course, the dog was there to help. When I pulled the plastic back, a huge toad hopped out. A new friend!, my dog immediately thought.

She touched the toad with her mouth, and within seconds of this photo, she was frothing profusely. I tried to get her away from the toad, but she's fast and wanted to play. More frothing. I managed to get the toad back under the plastic and immediately ran inside to google "dog toad frothing texas." Apparently, some toads here are poisonous so I called the emergency vet clinic. The nice guy there said she was frothing because the toad probably tasted bad. If she still had symptoms after two hours, I should bring her in. (Luckily, she was fine.)

The vet tech said, "Well, at least, she's learned her lesson."

I said, "Oh no, she's still out there trying to make friends."

Friday, March 28, 2008

Potatoes and Onions, Oh My

About a month ago, I planted some potatoes. I was about a week later putting them in--you should put them in close to Valentine's day. As the date snuck up on me, I had to buy what seed plants I could get locally, so I ended up with these red potatoes from the Natural Gardener. I really want to grow fingerlings, but I will have to wait until next year. At least, I'll have experience by then.

I cut up the potatoes, trying to get one or more eyes into each chunk. I let them cure a couple of days. (This step is optional.)

I then dug some trenches and planted the taters in the them.

Now, about a month later, I have plants. A friend warned me to watch for the potato beetle. He suggested that I cover the plants with row cover, which I need to dig out of the shed. So far, I'm just happy with how pretty the plant is.

Spring onions will make us a nice accompaniment to to the potatoes. I planted these onions the same day.

But lately I've been taking a close look at what I used to consider ugly weeds.

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I now found the native wild onions are the most attractive alliums in the yard.

They might even look good enough to eat.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Native Plants at Turkey Creek

Turkey Creek Park, on the road to Emma Long Park, is one of our favorite off-leash areas in town. The 2.5 mile trail crisscrosses the creek numerous times before rising up to a crest, giving you a decent view of the area. The pup loves it because she can run and run and run.

We like it because it's shady and has water for the pup (well, until about early June). I also like to check out native plants in situ. And at some point, I'll figure out what they all are!

Twisted-leaf yucca is very common along the trail.

A close-up of the twisted leaves.

I think these berries are from a yaupon holly, but I'd love to get confirmation. (According to Pam, this isn't a yaupon so we're still waiting on confirmation.)

Here are some brighter, younger versions of the same berries, I think. (Nope, according to Rachel and Pam, they are berries of the EVIL nandina. Too bad it looks so pretty here.)

This white flower is quite small, maybe one or two inches across.

I'm guessing these are some sort of daisy. There were a couple of fields of them in bloom. They seemed to prefer semi-shady areas. (According to Pam, these may be golden groundsel. I would not have guessed that because they look different than the groundsel I saw at the Ogdens, but then again I am relying solely on my memory from that visit. I have no pictures to compare. And I know Pam knows her plants.)

This looked to me like some sort of clover? (Pam and Annie think Southern maidenhair fern. Sounds about right.)

Okay, finally, this one I know: salvia coccinea. I've got white ones growing in the front yard. (Well, actually, Annie thinks this is salvia roemeriana, and I think she's right. Oh well, at least, I got the twisted leaf yucca right!)

I don't know what kind of grass this is. (It's nolina texana, according to Pam.)

Here's a close-up of the flowers.

I thought this was an ingenius idea on the part of the parks department.

We dutifully picked out our rocks and carried them about a mile before we hit the end of the rock outline. I wonder how far we will have to carry them next weekend.

Looks good.

**Thanks, gardeners, for all the identifications.

Last night at Half-price Books I picked up
The Texas Flower Garden by Kathy Huber. It's spiral bound and has illustration of the plants divided according to height, season, and color. I'd gotten it out of the library a year or so ago and liked it. Should help me identify more of the plants! There's a display of the books near the front door of the N. Lamar location. It's on sale for $6.98.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Vegetables on Lady Bird Lake

Between hardware and software updates chez Vert, lots of gardening, and a holiday, I'm far behind on my blogging. I've got a few posts to make but will start with the one I'm most proud of.

As part of Green Corn Project's tenth anniversary, we wanted to find a public gardening space to celebrate our ten years and to show the general public what we do. Most of our organic food gardens are in the front and back yards of families and individuals. Neighbors, friends, and families see these beds, but it's difficult for the general public to see them.

In February I saw the signs around Lady Bird Lake (I have to force myself to call it that; I love the name, but Town Lake comes out of my mouth almost before I can stop myself) mentioning an auction of the garden beds around the lake. Town Lake Trail Foundation leases the beds for one year as a fundraiser to help pay for their other improvement efforts around the lake.

Through a combination of GCP funds, private donations, and one generous anonymous sponsor, the bed became ours.

This is how the bed, on the north side, just west of the Pfluger pedestrian bridge, looked in February.

This is how it looks now, from a slightly different angle:

(The sage plants in the top photo were much larger on Saturday than they were in February. They were divided, and some replanted on the upper tier of the bed. The miscanthus just visible on the far right found a new home in my compost bin. The city is beginning to consider this grass invasive, which is why we did not transplant it.)

With the help of some great volunteers, we double dug the space, about 4 feet by 28 feet with one redbud in the middle, added cotton burr compost, and planted the starter vegetables donated by Big Red Sun.

It was great to be out there working when so many people walked, ran, and biked by. Some stopped to ask questions; most didn't break stride but still yelled out their "thanks" or "looks great" as they ran past.

We've planted tomatoes, eggplants, hot peppers, Aztec corn (seeded along the wall), two kinds of oregano--regular and variegated, two kinds of basil--lemon and curly purple, and creeping thyme.

Like all projects, this one has not been without its challenges. I need to go check on the bed this afternoon make sure that the tomatoes survived last night's cool temperatures. I still need to make and add our garden marker. I really hope that no critters, especially the terrifying nutria, decide to visit the bed.

And the biggest challenge will be watering this bed. We chose this site because it is one of the few irrigated beds on the lake. Or it was one of the few irrigated plots, until condo construction north of Cesar Chavez necessitated turning off the irrigation, indefinitely.

So if you are passing by and the plants look a little too spent, please feel free to water them, or to send me a note to let me know. I am working on getting a group of volunteers to help out with the watering.

I hope this post has now jumpstarted my efforts to finish an article on the bed for Edible Austin. The issue won't be out until June, but due to publishing schedules is due tomorrow. Eek!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Break in the Rain

Earlier this morning, all of us animals took advantage of a break in the rain.

This poor wet and bedraggled young possum really looked lost and a bit scared of my barking dog. Little did he or she know that all my dog really wanted to do was play.

Ordinarily, I'm not too fond of possums and hate to encounter them at night, but I actually felt a little sorry for this guy. He just looked so pathetic. Now, if he comes back when my tomatoes are ripe, I might have some different feelings toward him.

I know that spring is in the air, because this cardinal . . .

was seriously looking to get some bird action with . . .

this pretty lady, who was doing her best to act disinterested.

Meanwhile, in the frontyard, there wasn't any animal action, unless you count the SPIDERwort.

Animal or not, after a glorious run, the mountain laurel is taking its own well-deserved break.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

My First Garden Bloggers Bloom Day!

And my plants actually cooperated!

Last year, I got nary a single bloom on these snowflakes, and today I've got three on one, plus a visitor. Jackpot!

Yesterday this yellow columbine was merely a bud. I gave it a stern talking to last night that it must bloom today, and lo and behold this morning, a bloom. I'll have to try the stern talking with my husband other plants.

Grape hyacinth peeking out from the heartleaf skullcap that is threatening to take over the front yard.

Lavender spiderwort my neighbor gave me last year.

Silver germander blooming in my free plant zone, the alleyway behind the back fence. I never what electrical work the city will decide to do back there so I only plant free plants there.

The arugula has gone to seed.

The snow peas are going strong.

I'm still waiting to harvest enough fava beans (Windsor variety) to eat them with a little chianti.

Happy Bloom Day!

Friday, March 14, 2008

You Know You Live in Austin When . . .

you bring your tender spring vegetables inside in March to protect them . . . from the HEAT.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

In Search of the Perfect Shot

Last evening, as I was lying on my concrete sidewalk contorting my body and camera to get the best shot in the best light of my blooming snowflakes and grape hyacinths, I had a few realizations:

one, I love living in a neighborhood where people walk in the evenings;

two, as I get more bids to redo said sidewalk, I should really consider something easier on the bones;

three, the discomfort is worth the view of the sky and trees;

four, the back of my pants had slid down into plumber territory;

five, my neighbors walking by were getting an early view of the moon.