Friday, May 30, 2008

All Hail the First Tomato!

To be quite accurate, this Lemon Boy is NOT my first tomato of the season. It is the first tomato of the season to make it inside the back door. I've been eating currant tomatoes (labeled as yellow but growing red) straight off the vine for a week or two now.

I love the color, flavor, and texture of the Lemon Boys. They are an almost perfect globe of sunlight. They grow relatively pest and disease free, but please don't let them hear that and prove me wrong. Furiously knocking wood now.

Also ripe and ready to eaten was the first Black Krim. I was so excited to sink my teeth into it that I neglected to take its picture before slicing it open. It's shaped like a beefsteak and is darkly colored, although I wouldn't necessarily call it black.

Its interior color is also quite dark. Because the Black Krim was the first tomato I had not eaten before, it received the honor of being this season's official first tomato.

My first tomato ritual, while not as elaborate as Carol's, is nonetheless highly anticipated. I make pan tostado con tomate y aceite, a Spanish breakfast treat I first ate while in Madrid five years ago. My husband and I were fortunate enough to spend three months traveling in Europe, and Madrid was our first stop. While normally I don't like to eat the same thing twice, especially while traveling, I fell in love with the tostado at first bite and had one almost every morning we were in Spain.

The dish is simple: toasted bread rubbed with garlic, soaked with olive oil, covered with diced tomatoes and a bit of sea salt. In Spain the olive oil, and not the tomatoes, is the star of the dish.

For my Austin tostado, the homegrown tomatoes must make up for it not being eaten in Spain. I use a toasted baguette, although in Spain the bread is a tad wider, somewhere between a baguette and a pain français. I also add lots more tomatoes than the Spanish version has.

Looking at this closeup, I now know why the Cottage Living folks wrote, "Sliced open it looks just a bit like raw meat!"

Luckily, the taste is much closer to heaven. And slightly cheaper than a plane ticket to Madrid.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Kayaking the Zedler Mill Trail

In between trips to Taylor for BBQ and Memorial Day BBQ parties, my husband and I decided to escape the heat (and the brisket) and go kayaking on the San Marcos River. The Zedler Mill Paddling Trail starts west of Luling and ends six miles later at the Zedler Mill site in the city of Luling. The kayak rental guy promised that were no trees blocking the way.

Obviously, this tree didn't thwart our progress, but there were definitely more trees strewn across and in the river than we were expecting. We expected to see different forms of wildlife, but I really didn't expect to float around the curve in the river and find this kind of wildlife wading in:

I think the cows--and the bull--were not excited to see us, but they weren't mad. I think.

These guys, a little farther down the river, also looked more annoyed than angry.

We didn't really stop long enough to determine this critter's mood.

I also don't know for sure if it's a water mocassin, but as it could swim in the water faster than we could paddle, we didn't stop to check. Especially when he decided to come join us in the water.

The trail is part of the Texas Water Safari, the "world's toughest boat race"--a 260-mile canoe race along the Colorado river to the Gulf of Mexico. These women were serious canoers and blew past us, much like the three-man canoe team who had blown past us earlier.

You don't need to be a skilled canoer or kayaker to tackle the river, but it wasn't always as calm as these pictures show.

The TPWD website claims the rapids were only class I, but there were a couple of tricky maneuvers, one in particular where we both lost our shirts. Don't worry, I was wearing a bathing suit. Despite evidence to the contrary, this blog hasn't become THAT kind of blog.-) At least my camera was safely sealed in a ziploc bag and floated down the river without any harm. If you are considering kayaking this river, I recommend individual kayaks instead of double ones, or at least having a conversation on the need for one captain in the boat BEFORE you are facing the rapids.

At the end of the trip, we stopped to swim, while others took advantage of the rope swing.

The mill, the cotton gin, the mule house, and the other buildings are in quite a state of disrepair, but there are plans afoot to restore the whole area.

With or without the restoration, the paddling trail is a great way to wile away a few hours and to check out some interesting wildlife and plants along the way.

Friday, May 23, 2008

A Fabulous Day

Ed and Tatiana filming our new tomato cages.

If you had told me three years ago that I would be taping a segment of Central Texas Gardener and speaking about vegetable gardening as if I knew something about the subject, I would have thought you had inhaled too much manure.

But there I was on a slightly overcast Thursday morning (the best for filming! said Linda), talking about the Green Corn Project bed on Lady Bird Lake. Talking about how people have embraced the garden--every time I go water it, I meet more people who have been following its progress and worrying about it, especially after the strong storm a couple of weeks ago. Talking about how my plant failures make our new gardeners feel a little more confident that if I can succeed, so can they.

CTG's fabulous producer Linda Lehmusvirta and GCP's executive director Meagan O'Donnell. If you look closely on the lower left, you'll see the calliope and Ichiban eggplant I gave Tatiana and the jalapenos I gave Ed.

Linda made me feel so at ease that I think I wasn't nervous. Only time and a TV viewing will tell for sure. My talking head portion was just one of a three-part segment on Green Corn Project. I missed the taping of our garden at Travis Heights Elementary. I was busy making sure that the Lady Bird Lake bed sparkled. (I also recruited my husband to run down to the bed with me and spread more mulch before his morning meeting.)

The third segment was a taping at Joan's garden. Joan is a new Green Corn Project gardener but not a new gardener. I'll tell you more of her story later, but in short she was a darling. Being a true gardener, she offered us seeds from her pink poppies. She and Linda have become fast friends.

Joan wisely uses as much space as she can to grow her own food. She cuts large plastic barrels in half to use as raised beds. One of my favorite planting places was her okra strip in the heck strip out front. I will definitely have to go back when the okra is taller.

As if the CTG taping weren't enough, I spent Thursday afternoon in my last class for the National Wildlife Federation's Habitat Stewards program. I really need to write more about this fabulous program put on by the city of Austin, in conjunction with NWF. And now that the class is finished I hope to have more time to do so!

In brief for now, the classes were held around Austin: Austin Science and Nature Center, private yards certified as wildlife habitats, Zilker Botanical Gardens, the Center for Environmental Research at Hornsby Bend, the Parks and Recreation Department, the First Unitarian Universalist Church, and the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve.

We learned about selecting trees and plants for wildlife; we learned about bees, birds, and butterflies; we learned about Dillo dirt and biosolids (really, it was interesting!); we learned about invasive plants and trees; we learned about water sources for wildlife; and of course, we learned how to get our yards certified as a wildlife habitat.

You can also push that certification and become a Best of Texas Habitat. Its guidelines are a bit more stringent than the standard NWF certification, which is why the city is going for it with its installation of a habitat at the Parks and Recreation Department headquarters on Lady Bird Lake.

PARD hopes to complete the project by this fall. Now that I have a little more time to tend to my own habitat, I plan to add a water feature--a simple birdbath for now--so I can get my yard certified. I know some of you have already had your yards certified, but if you haven't, now is the time.

The city of Austin is trying to
become Texas’ first National Wildlife Federation Community Wildlife Habitat, and to do so, we need more yards to be certified. The city is also sponsoring a Habitat Challenge, with prizes for the neighborhood that certifies the most yards and conducts a invasive plant removal. For more details, click here. The challenge started May 1st and ends October 1st.

I'd love to hear what y'all are using for food, water, cover and places to raise young, as well as your sustainable gardening practices.

I feel like I've still got a bit of a hangover from all the gardening excitement of last week. I'm sure a holiday weekend, a Green Corn Project benefit last night, and the need to finally finish my wine-bottle garden edging has nothing to do with it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

101 Degrees

This squash looks how I feel. I can not believe that it has already hit 100 degrees! I can already feel my SAD (seasonal affective disorder) coming on. I know that most SAD suffering occurs in the winter months when the sun isn't out. But here I get cranky and irritable and sad when it's too hot and sunny. I look outside and it's beautiful. The sun is shining, and the sky is blue. I should be outside enjoying the day.

And then I go outside and end up looking like this:

A dried out gnarled version of myself. It doesn't matter that I've lived here almost sixteen years. It doesn't matter that I know where every watering hole is within a 100-mile radius. It still sucks. One hundred degrees is still about twenty degrees too hot.

And now I'm worried how this early heat will affect my tomatoes. I've got lots of large green ones but none are ripe. Some are starting to crack before they ripen.

I've heard that tomatoes won't set new fruit when the temperature is above 92. Does this mean that the tomatoes are finished for this season? I built them high-rise condos and now they are only going to need single-story ranch houses?

What about the cucumbers? The lemon cuke just started producing and crawling up the trellis. Is it doomed as well?

Argh. I feel my irritability rising. I have to remind myself that some flowers are still looking good, even in the heat. I think this zinnia has replaced the red as my favorite. Maybe it actually hasn't unfurled completely, but I love it.

And the cosmos continue to dazzle me. I went looking for their seed packet the other day to make sure I get them again and found that they were supposed to be orange and yellow, not purple and lavender.

But that's one surprise I can handle, even enjoy. Summer weather before Memorial Day is not.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Bow Chicka Wow Wow**

WARNING: The following photos are definitely not rated PG.

Note the progression of color of the, um, top anole from brown to green. I'll leave it to you to attribute meaning to the hue change.

**Now with added dialogue.

SHE: I thought you said this was a private shed.

SHE: When is that dog going to stop barking?

SHE: Omigod! She's taking pictures. Do you think I look fat in this position?

HE: Huh? Did you say something?

Friday, May 16, 2008

May Bloom Day

I'm a day late, and oh, about twenty blooms short. I really think I should have entitled this post, Not Bloom Day. With a few exceptions, none of my plants are in bloom. Not my Barbados cherry, not any of my buddleia, not my supposedly everblooming Cramoisi superieur, although at least it's alive, unluck the rock rose pictured above. I may be hallucinating or drinking too much wine in service of bed edging, but I think I see some signs of new growth of the pavonia so I'm leaving it until it tells me definitively that it's time to go.

As luck would have it, I got a free, smaller, yet much alive replacement last week, and I just might have some volunteers from who knows where in the free plant zone.

The cosmos and sweet pea continue to be the star bloomers.

This week the zinnias joined the fray. I've been anticipating their blooms for a week or so now, and I feel a bit let down. The flowers are fairly small compared to the size of the plants and its leaves. Kind of a bit of all show and no go.

I do like the red zinnias. I think next year I'll try to just get the red ones.

Performing a bit better for bloom day are the vegetables. The lemon cucumber is blooming like crazy, and I even see the beginnings of a cuke.

Some of my potatoes bloomed a couple of weeks ago. I knew that the blooms were a sign that some taters might be ready.

After some rooting around, lo and behold, my first potatoes:

I know they don't quite fit the theme of bloom day, but I like to think of them as underground blooms. Thanks again to Carol, the garden bloggers' best neighbor, for once again hosting bloom day.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Who Am I?

Lately I've been finding some new friends in my various garden areas. As long as they look good, they are welcome to stay, but I just wish they would introduce themselves.

I'll start with the ones in the free plant area. I saved this plant (above) when we installed the vegetable garden on Lady Bird Lake, which--I will tease you a bit--is going to be on TV! More details to come.

Back to plants. When I removed it, this plant was about 2-3 inches high and seemed more like a groundcover than a plant. Since it's been in my yard, it's grown to about 5-6 inches. Here's a closeup of the leaves:

Any ideas? On to number two mystery. I throw a lot of seeds back behind the fence and sometimes something grows, but I never keep track of what I throw back there so I am never sure if what comes up is a weed or a plant from one of my seeds.

I have several of these plants coming up.

Maybe a closeup of the fruit (?) will help you identify this one.

The last one in the free plant zone is a true mystery and may be a weed. I don't remember throwing any seeds in the shady part of the area. If no one can identify them, I will be pulling them. No pressure, unless of course you care about the demise of a plant.

Here's a closeup of the leaves--they are heart shaped with jagged edges. These plants are next to the turk's cap, but I am pretty sure they aren't more turk's cap. The leaves are much smaller.

Moving on to easier identifications. In a corner of my vegetable garden, I found this plant:

I think it is some sort of pepper even though its leaves are very different than the jalapenos it is growing near.

This plant is perfectly placed distance wise from the other plants in that bed so I am actually wondering if it's a plant that I planted and then forgot I had! I know! I must take some notes some time. But I am not entirely convinced that I planted this one because it's at the end of a bed that I just put in, and I am fairly certainthink that my plants stopped before this edge.

At least with this plant, time will tell. As it will, for these plants in my new full sun bed.

This plant is some sort of squash. I just wish I knew which one. I already pulled out one volunteer squash that showed evidence of squash bugs, the reason why I didn't bother to plant any squash in my regular bed. But if this one wants to grow and thrive without needing me to watch it like a hawk for the borers, I'm happy to have it.

I also have a volunteer tomato plant. It too is welcome to stay but it will not be getting its own condo. The full sun bed is already full enough.

So any suggestions on the mystery plants? What surprises is your garden offering you?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Camping at Colorado Bend

Morning mist over the Colorado River

This weekend we went camping in Colorado Bend state park. We had planned the trip a while ago. My husband was looking forward to a cellphone- and email-free weekend after too many long weeks of work and travel. I was looking forward to communing with nature and eggs and bacon cooked on a campstove.

When the weather forecast predicted a high of 97 for Saturday, I spent Friday night searching for a last-minute cabin with air conditioning. No luck. So we set out for the park, which is about 30 miles west of Lampasas.

I managed to remember everything we needed, except my camera, so these photos are from our previous trip to the park in October 2006.

We headed down this path alongside the river about one mile to the hike-in camping area. I used to be a hardcore camper; I've hiked in for miles and stayed for days with just what I could carry on my back. But, as I've gotten older, I've started wanting to eat more than meal-in-a-cup and drink more than water.

So we used my new anniversary present to help us haul coolers of food and beverage and lots and lots of water to our site. I may have lost some of my hardcore cred, but I'll give it up any day to have a cold beer after swimming in the river.

I wish I could have gotten picture of the abundant wildlife. We saw an armadillo hop. The dog was equally as scared. We saw a large raccoon trying its best to get in our cooler. We heard the deer splashing in the river during the night. I saw a tarantula and a painted bunting.

Two large herons fished north and south of my husband, who thinks he was unsuccessful at his fishing efforts because the troutbass were mating. (My husband's co-worker who is really into fishing thinks they were bass, but that really messes up my pun!) He claims to have seen a female trout releasing its eggs, with two males ready to fertilize them. I can't verify his menage à trout story, but I couldn't resist the pun.

I also wish I could have gotten photos of some of the flora in bloom. I'm in the middle of training to become a National Wildlife Federation Habitat Steward, and I've garnered a new level of respect for role the plants play in feeding and harboring wildlife. I've never been a huge fan of inland sea oats before, but now that I know how much it provides for the wildlife, I've started to find them more beautiful. They covered the shady river side. The Mexican hat and gayfeather were also in bloom.

During the last trip I visited Gorman Falls.

This time we rented a kayak and boated down to the falls near the end of the Spicewood Springs trail. I think we can now firmly confirm that the dog does not enjoy kayaking. She much prefers to have earth, water, or rocks beneath her feet.

We were as happy as she was to be there, especially once the temperatures dropped and the other campers left. We've found that the best time to camp is on a Sunday night. Most people have left by early afternoon, and almost no one comes to camp after them. We had the whole place to ourselves, with a private beach on the Colorado. Not bad for $7 a night.