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if it weren’t for my insistent friend ms. slotharium, i’d probably never get this post up. i know, i’ve been a really bad garden blogger lately, but i just haven’t been able to spend (i.e. distract myself) for a minute longer at the computer as this is the time of year to be outside in texas! surely you understand, so i won’t waste anymore time giving excuses. besides, it’s the bloom day before the garden bloggers meetup in asheville, so i really need to post something or else the powers that be might not let me participate.
here’s the prettiest blooming thing in the garden, bespeckled with the day’s constant drizzle. it sure makes me smile.
no time to post photos of each individual blooming plant right now, so here’s the larger view what the front yarden is looking like. a little wild, yes, but over the past couple of months it’s been host to dozens of metamorphosing butterflies, color shifting anoles and even a few molting snakes seeking refuge.
moving along towards the back yarden, here’s a little project mr. grwhryrpltd put together to support our enthusiastic grapevine.
speaking of bounty, we’ve been harvesting plums the past few mornings from the front garden. they’re so tasty. i’m going to attempt to make plum jam this evening.
oh right… we were heading to the back garden. here’s what it looks like with somewhat frequent rains (every 10 days or so).
i’ve limbed up the sunflower’s leaves as they grow to support the tomatoes, tomatillos and peppers growing underneath them. the upper leaves should provide a bit of shade to get the veg through the heat of the day as well. the patch of sunflowers in front of the raised bed was a little experiment to see how big they’d get under competition from bermuda and st. augustine grass. they doubled in height after the last rain.
did i mention we’ve been visited by critters lately? here’s a few of the highlights.
scare ya? ha! only a gardener would pull a (confirmed dead) snake out of sedges to see just how long it was – 10 wine bottle width’s worth. i wonder how many more might be sneaking around.
now, onto the critters for more gentle souls…
on the domestic critter front, the kitties have been, well, kitties. i’ve been playing nurse to puma for the past several weeks as she got into an altercation requiring surgery. while healing from that (with plastic cone collar on, of course) she went downhill fast due to another mysterious reason (stroke? aneurysm? tumor?), to the point we thought we were going to lose her. it’s a looong story, but she’s doing fine now and we’re so glad she’s still with us! dude and max did their best to avoid her, lest they catch what she had.
how’s that for an update? i could go on, but i’ve got some things to tend to before taking off for asheville. looking forward to catching up with the garden blogging community while there; and for those of you not going, oh how i wish you were! i probably won’t blog from there, but check out my twitter/instagram feed for pictorial updates enroute.
a dear friend of mine notified me that my last post was well, shall we say, less than uplifting? yes. i know, but i can’t really apologize for it. but i can offer up some spring beauties that are catching my attention these days a little closer to home.
and finally, here are three views of our spring time garden:
a gardener’s work is never done, but i think i’ll rest for now. enjoy your weekend everyone!
this morning i went to empty the contents of my rain-filled, chartreuse watering can onto our thirsty potted citrus trees when i noticed the water wasn’t coming out very fast. leaves and debris tend to fall into the can, or rather, i pour them into it as i decant our rain tubs into the can. apparently someone went for a water slide, because this is who i found in the spigot:
well… what are YOU doing in there little guy?! i think he was as surprised as i was. thankfully, the plastic perforated covering pops off the spigot, with a little effort, of course. in no time i had Hyla freed from his confinement.
without any significant trees to place him by, i set him, with his perforated plinth, into a clump of Chasmanthium latifolium (inland sea oats). i wonder where i’ll see him next… whadoyaknow, i just went through my photo archives and realized that this must be the same guy i saw in august last year (but never posted about), as he has the same number & location of golden spots on his back and behind his right eye:
whadoyathink… is he attracted to the modern design of the watering can? hey ikea, i think you’ve got a niche market here…
thanks to the Herps of Texas website for help in identifying our garden critter. i’m stumped as to why he lives in our garden, because it’s far from a swamp, lake side, or stream edge. i guess the water in the can was a bit smelly, if not brackish from all the derbis in the bottom of the tub. none the less, i’m happy he likes it. and i’ll take that as my lucky four-leaf clover find for the day.
i was scoping the garden yesterday for bloom day inspiration and came upon a surprise much more interesting than the few measly flowers that were blooming:
i certainly wasn’t expecting to see a giant swallowtail, freshly hatched, hunkered down in the foliage on a blustery (wind gusts 20-40 mph) and warm (77 degree) december day! i ran to the porch where i knew there were three swallowtail chrysali hanging and sure enough, one of them was open:
this is what the chrysali look like before they hatch (this was in a different part of the garden earlier this summer):
check out the super strong protein threads they suspend themselves from… these tiny details fascinate me! here’s an image of the caterpillar, foraging on mr. grwhryrpltd’s precious dwarf key lime tree, Citrus aurantifolia:
notice the giant caterpillar frass at the bottom left of the image above (yep, that’s insect poop). now you see why mr. grwhryrpltd isn’t so fond of them.
at one point there were 20 little caterpillars between that and another citrus tree (my precious buddha’s hand citron, Citrus medica var. sarcodactylus). by early november only half of the caterpillars survived, while the citrus trees kept producing new leaves. the day i got back from the quilt festival i noticed a mockingbird hanging out in the rose bush nearby. odd, because it was so close to the driveway and didn’t fly away when we drove up… but then i realized the bird was feasting on the plump caterpillars! i ran out of the car only to find one left, which had its orange antennae fully extended and inflated, exuding a sulphurous pheremone that i now recognize as their go-go-gadget-get-away-from-me defense mechanism. i picked it up anyway and tucked it down into the leaf mould beneath the hairy wedelia* for protection from that damn mockingbird, which i also made sure to shoo away. a week or so later i found three chrysali on the brick wall of the front porch and wondered when they’d hatch, if at all, with the sporadic weather we’ve been having. so it’s a understatement to say i was grateful to stumble upon the prettiest bloom all december…
it’s the simple things that amaze me. happy (belated, yet again) bloom day.
*hairy wedelia, (Wedelia texana a.k.a. zexmenia hispida) was one of the few measly flowers in bloom yesterday. it’s a native, tough and drought tolerant. and protective fodder for swallowtails.
it’s officially summer and pollination season has begun. mr. grwhryrpltd has been out in the fields everyday for like a month now pollinating his research plants, leaving me to see what the professional insectivorious pollinators are working on in our garden. seriously, it’s national pollinator week! have you thanked your pollinators lately? if you haven’t you should. otherwise we wouldn’t have food in our bellies or flowers on the table.
the critter shown below isn’t yet a pollinator, but will become a sphinx or hummingbird moth if it survives…
and yes, it probably survived… you see, i’m a horrible vegetable gardener because i can’t seem to get rid of the insect “pests” in time to prevent major damage to whatever it is i’m trying to grow. another case in point:
these guys are so bad this year i’ve all but given up on the tomatoes. and artichokes:
which is why i advocate for a good farmers’ market…
here are some more pollinators:
i’m not actually sure if these gals are into pollination, but i do know that they are beneficial parasatoids. and damn fine potters if i do say so myself. female potter wasps throw a perfectly formed pot from mud found nearby, sculpting the sides using only her mandibles and front legs – i know because i watched this one at work. it was incredible! she’ll then hunt for caterpillars, paralyze them, and thread them into the opening of the vessel. once the vessel is full, she’ll lay a single egg and seal the pot with a bit more clay.
i’m not certain as to the pollination status of this guy either:
you know me and butterflies… my favorite pollinator of all:
interestingly enough, i don’t have any images of the most widely known pollinator of all, Apis mellifera (honey bees). i honestly don’t recall seeing (m)any around here… does anyone else think that’s odd? i’ve seen a Bombus (bumble bee) and Polistes carolina (red wasp) here and there, but no honey bees. perhaps they’re declining here as they are in other parts of north america due to colony collapse disorder (CCD) caused by the varroa mite. competiton from africanized honey bees may also be to blame here in texas. i’m no expert on any of that, so will have to use national pollinator week to learn more. in the meantime, keep an eye out for pollinators in your neck of the woods. watch and document them. refrain from eliminating them from your yard and garden but if you have to, use integrated pest management (IPM). provide them the food and shelter they need to continue bzz bZZZ bzz bZZZing along… they depend on us just as much as we depend on them.
last week i finished the weekender travel bag, an amy butler designed pattern:
i had it outside to take photos of it for maybe five minutes before dude, my feline garden companion, decided to hop in and test drive its roominess:
it must’ve inspired him because he ran out of his yard late yesterday afternoon and has yet to return… upon walking the neighborhood this evening i saw a black cat hanging out with someone in his front yard, so i went to investigate. it wasn’t dude, but was creaker, i mean, max – the kitty i took care of for 10 days (vet surgery and all) when he arrived in our garden last year with a huge gash on his head from a skunk, possum or other creature of the night. i think while creaker was recovering he told dude a few things about the neighborhood and inspired him to wander. so yes, this has happened before…
anyhoo, that’s another story, but the neighbor that max was hanging out with said he saw another black cat, to dude’s description (collar and all) in their yard yesterday, right after he caught a bunny…! no way! we figured his defense would be lacking as mr. grwhryrpltd clipped his claws an hour before he disappeared. apparently, he can still fend for himself.
oh dudie, come back to your yard, you little wanderlust devil…
last year the hatching of the monarch butterflies rapt my attention. this year it’s the gulf fritillaries, Agraulis vanillae.
every day i spot more caterpillars and more chrysali, mostly of this same species so far. i was amazed to learn that the chrysali are phototropic – they move toward or away from the sun depending on their needs – just like plants, who knew?!
i’ve also seen some black swallowtail caterpillars, Papilio polyxenes asterius, but haven’t spied their chrysali yet… so far i’ve only seen one monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, but i’m sure more are soon on the way. to help track the caterpillars, butterflies and moths you see here in central tx, visit tamu entomology’s online field guide here, and click on lepidoptera.
uh-oh… we have a problem. i’m not sure if it’s something i really want to admit to, but it exists and appears as though it isn’t going to go away anytime soon. you see, a certain kind of critter has taken refuge in our garden. and not just any kind critter. the kind where you skew up your nose, curl your lips and look for the nearest chair to stand on… we have rats.
the first visual indication of our new garden squatters was near the compost bin, as an attractive nest of shredded paper started to grow along one of its edges. “huh… i think something is nibbling on our tasty compost.” firmly in denial at this point, i asked a friend of mine who had recently gone through the city’s three day composting program if they addressed how to deal with say, i don’t know, rodents in residential compost…?
“oh, no, we didn’t cover that,” she said and quickly asked, “why…”
“well, i think we may have rodents in our compost.”
“oh dear, you aren’t putting your kitchen scraps in your compost are you?”
“why, of course we are,” while i thought to myself, isn’t that what compost bins are for…?
“oh, you shouldn’t do that…”
um, okay. it’s not like we put meat, dairy or oily products out with the spinach, egg shells and veggie debris… but hey, if i were a rodent in a new residential development, i’d belly up to the free bar too!
and then the neighbors started talking…
“have you seen any rats around?”
“no, but i think i may have heard some scampering feet last night – we had our windows open and the kitties were captivated by something going on out there.”
“you open your windows at night?”
“yea… it’s good to let a little fresh air in the house… i think the scampering feet were running along the fence lines.”
“well, we’ve seen ‘em in our yard, and have trapped a few. i hear the neighbor’s dog, behind your lot, caught one that was as big around as a rudy’s cup (our local bbq joint, and yes, they have HUGE plastic cups for sweet tea)…”
“really? that big?!”
“yea, and it wasn’t the only one…”
“huh. well, we’ll let you know if we see any.”
“we’ve put out some bait traps. the kind that your cats shouldn’t be able get into, so they should be okay.”
“alright, thanks, we’ll keep an eye out…”
i think the neighbor’s bait stations are working. about two weeks ago i found a small (4″, not including its tail), decapitated rat in our front yard. how it lost its head is a mystery to me. last week dude, our black cat, alerted me to the second dead rat in our back yard. euwww… it was lying near a generously-sized opening under the fence, with its mouth clenched around a tuft of sedge that was surprisingly difficult to pry it away from… i take it the poison must’ve worked poor thing…
side note: aren’t you glad i’m still camera shopping? no macro closeups for this story…
late last week i was awarded another good find… i decided to hookup the pump to drain the ever-collecting water in our backyard, as it’s been raining here and the pathways are a soggy, muddy mess. we’ve installed a french drain system that’s connected to a submersible pump to convey the water from back yard to front yard. the not-yet-automated pump is in an open hole (we’re working on it…) that frequently fills up with water. i was pumping the water from this hole, occasionally cleaning out the grass clipping debris with my gloved hand. when the water got to the half-way mark the thought occurred to me, i wonder if something’s been living in the drain this whole time, like a snake or something… and a few moments later, a furry mass with a long ratty tail came out of the pipe and floated next to the pump intake…
EUUWWW…!!! good thing it wasn’t alive, and was smaller than a rudy’s cup…
three times must be the charm for this rodent family, because i haven’t seen one since…
have any of you had similar experience with critters in your compost? any suggestions are welcome…
it’s june day bloom day, and the heat of day has finally subsided from its high of 98 degrees and index of 104… i couldn’t think of a better image to capture the heat of summer than the newly blooming Helianthus annuus ‘Autumn Beauty’… perhaps the name indicates that i’m already pining for cooler temperatures?
this sunflower in particular has proved to be quite popular with the critters… while i admire the sun rays passing through the petals, i feel a slight shower of projectile sugar water dance on my face… courtesy of these little buggers:
the glassy-winged sharpshooter pierces stems of many plant types, and sucks the water from the xylem, excreting sugar water. when this water falls on leaves below, bacteria can grow on the surface. cross contamination of this bacteria from one plant to another via sharpshooters can cause pierces disease, which can be lethal to grapevines. check out this filmstrip video for more (it’s long, but informative):
now i know why one of our new raspberry canes doesn’t look so good…
back to the sunflowers…
the orangey-yellow color of this sunflower is especially cheerful in the raised vegetable bed. growing on the trellis in the background is Dolichos lablab (purple hyacinth bean vine), a lovely combination against the young summer sky, especially with mr. flamingo nearby:
this guy was made by my great-grandfather everett (when mom, in the 20′s?) and eventually landed safely in my mom’s care. she gave him a new feathered paint job (when mom, in the 80′s?) so he could make an appropriate garden appearance. he must’ve felt the need to return to warmer climes, because he showed up on my doorstep as part of my thirty gifts for my birthday this year. i love him… while he hasn’t acquired a taste for sharpshooters, he has acclimated to the texas heat quite well.
happy bloom day!