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  • Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

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    (Airplanes > bees !)

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    Four years ago we brought our first package of bees home to the hive and they thrived for three years, more or less, until last year’s rainy mess of a spring and a hive beetle infestation took over the hive. Since then the hive sat unused, other than for the odd roach and other insect, in the flower garden. While the hive was an interesting aspect to the flower garden, after tending to the bees there for so long I really began to re-think where the hive should be located. It was frustrating for me not to be able to enjoy the garden to its fullest while having to think of bees—not only for myself but for guests and especially for Forest.

    Over the last year I brainstormed a variety of places we could move the hive before Chris ordered more bees. And through many discussions and frustrations we finally settled on moving the hive to a grassy area along the fenceline, adjacent to our driveway. It’s more out of the way from daily activities but it is easy to access and we can still pop in to check on how the bees are doing. I’m much more happy with this location and hopefully they will thrive there.

    Bee day round 2 came a week ago and the three of us drove over to Navasota to pick up a fresh package to try this bee keeping thing once again. Forest enjoyed scoping the bees out before Chris installed the bees into the hive. Chris had to go out of town a few days later so it was up to me to check on the bees, replacing their sugar water and keeping track of them building new comb in a straight manner. It isn’t my favorite thing to do now because I’ve become more uneasy since getting stung between my eye and nose a few years ago, but I’ve managed to do it without too much anxiety. I mean, I have a suit on and all but still—a little nervous there!

    So far they have settled in well and we’ve seen them flying around the yard, gathering pollen and doing their job pollinating the plants. Chris said he’d noticed a decrease in honeybees in the yard since we stopped keeping them over the last year. Sure we have some native bees hovering in and out but after I thought about it, he was definitely right. Hopefully we will get a new batch of honey later this summer. I still need to get around to making mead with the honey we have in our pantry from the last time Chris harvested comb!

    More talk about bees on my blog here.

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    We’ve been gorging outselves on strawberries the last two months. The season is slowing, coming to an end and it will be back to cartons of grocery store strawberries soon. I had hoped to make some jam with our strawberries but they haven’t lasted long enough to get that far—someone eats them before they can make it to jam! I will likely end up making some jam from store bought berries eventually. It just sounds good!

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    The addition of the arches at the back of the garden has really helped the garden structurally—it looks a little more formal and enticing to enter. The arches were necessary for beans and other climbing plants because we can’t fully utilize the outside fencing due to the deer. The placement of non-tasty plants to deer need to go on the outside and those certainly aren’t beans or squash!

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    I’ve let the radishes flower, both for the bees and other pollinators as well as for myself, to collect seeds. I’ve never done this before so it will be a new experiment for me. I’m still pulling radishes to eat sometimes, so we will see if any make it to the seed collection phase. A few pods are already starting to form on a couple of plants.

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    The Parris Island Cos lettuce is a new favorite for me. The plants are maturing well and I’ve been including them in salads I’m picking at the beginning of the week and eating off of throughout the remainder of the week. I will definitely be saving seed from this lettuce! I haven’t liked some of the other lettuce mixes we’ve had in the past, too bitter or spicy, but this lettuce is very tasty!

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    The kale and red giant mustard is going strong in this particular bed. I sowed more kale in front of the blackberries and those are coming in well now, too.

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    Roma tomatoes! Both Roma plants have tomatoes on them and a few other tomatoes have fruits, too. I can’t wait for them to ripen!

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    I might be savoring the smell of tomato leaves these days…

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    The area in front of the blackberries, sown with various greens and a big patch of dill.

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    Replanted swiss chard that is now taking off. I’m hoping it will last the summer.

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    This Clathrus columnatus fungus popped up after a recent rain and I was intrigued by the brown goo in the middle. I don’t think I’ve seen that in other ones in the yard before, or maybe they were gone before I saw them. Anyway, this is the gleba, the part of the fungus that holds the spore mass. I had to look that one up!

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    The collards are hanging in there between the arches.

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    And the Kentucky Wonder beans are reaching for the skies, with flowers now opening and beans on the horizon.

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    The last remaining bok choy has bolted as have all of the cilantro. Sweet, sweet, cilantro—your season is too short!

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    This photo is at least two weeks old here and the snap peas in the front of the photos are already at the top of the cage and trying to reach higher.

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    We need a little more mulch in the vegetable garden and I’ve been trying to pull weeds as I see them. Compost needs to be put on the leeks, to fill in their trench. There are little chores here and there that need to happen. Soon it will be time to pull the peas and plant beans and cowpeas, squashes and zucchini, then okra and melons and pumpkins.

    Seasons move fast.

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    The last time we noticed, or at least I noticed, giant swallowtail caterpillars on the citrus trees was back in October 2014 not long after Forest was born. I’m sure there have been more caterpillars in the years since; however, we recently found ourselves hosting some very fat and hungry caterpillars. In the first instar they looked so tiny and like they wouldn’t terrorize the citrus too much but as they’ve grown into other instars they’ve shown themselves to be the ravenous babies that they are, munching away on our poor citrus. The citrus that was badly set back from the freeze in January. Our lemon tree took the worst hit—devastating, too, because it was the largest of the trees—and Chris trimmed back the dead limbs only to have the remaining central limb destroyed by some surreptitous animal despite being fenced in. The tree is still alive but trying to come back from a 3′ stump.

    I threw out an idea that we should get a sacrificial lemon tree, a larger and healthier tree, to plant and move the caterpillars so our citrus could recover. It was only after Chris bought the tree home and told me he had gotten it from Lowe’s that big flashing warning signs lit up in my brain. A friend on social media had recently been complaining about the complicated/secretive tags on plants at Lowe’s regarding bees and regarding the status of the plants being sprayed with pesticides. I’m only saying Lowe’s here because that’s where we were both shopping, but you can just transplant this scenario to other big box stores. This friend was shopping and was looking at the tags which said something to the effect of keep away from wildlife and to not ingest. I guess this was changed from previous tags which stated more effectively that they had been sprayed. She asked the vendor putting the plants out if they had been sprayed with pesticides and that was confirmed. I checked some of our plants that had been bought at Lowe’s, just some general annuals Chris had picked up, and sure enough the cryptic tag label was there. I wasn’t terribly upset because we don’t have a ton of them at the moment but it made me think a little bit about buying plants there anymore, particularly because we will be getting bees again soon.

    Anyway, Chris brought the new lemon tree home and said it was from Lowe’s which made me stop and wonder if the trees were sprayed. Sure enough we found a tag on the tree that it had been treated with neonicotinoids by the grower in early March prior to it being shipped to the store. We opted not to intentionally risk all of the caterpillars and only moved two as a test run, to see if the spray was still affecting the tree. Upon my research I found that there were two options for the chemical treatment, drenching of the root system in which the chemical is taken up throughout the plants system, and general spraying. The spraying had a better chance of it dissipating faster but the drench could stay in the system quite awhile, months or longer.

    Well. The tree was definitely treated because both caterpillars didn’t last a day. And we have *not* transferred any more over. I feel really bad that we sacrificed those two but I’m glad we now know better. It also made me wonder if other citrus (or trees and plants in general) are sprayed at other nurseries, the more local and organic places. Honestly I imagine the citrus to be treated no matter what because of all of the citrus issues and how badly ag offices in various states want to prevent crop damage from spreading. As for other potted plants, I have no idea. But I will be asking more questions now.

    Aside from that frustrating situation, we now have a fourth citrus tree that hopefully will be a good caterpillar host next year. Meanwhile the other caterpillars are chomping away and as you see that last fat one, in 5th instar, looks like its heading for the chrysalis stage. I’ve checked throughout the weekend for the tell-tale silk of it attaching itself to the tree but haven’t seen anything yet. *crossing fingers*

    I saw my first monarch the other day while I was mowing and I’m now on monarch caterpillar watch, checking the milkweed every few days for eggs or small chompers. I’ve been finding all sorts of other caterpillars and need to start a notebook of the ones I see in the yard so I can be better at identifying them.

    Happy April!

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    Today is a rainy, dreary day and we’re going to get a slight dip in temperatures to the 50s and 60s for a few days before we return to life in the 70s and probably 80s once again. I was hoping to get a few things done in the garden this weekend, pull some weeds, plant some seeds, and transplant some stuff, but that might be held off until later in the week.

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    The garden is awakening well now, with a few plants taking a little longer than others. A couple of plants I am actually wondering if they are dead but we will give them another month before we do something about them. Sometimes plants are sleepier than others and they take awhile to come back.

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    We’ve had a ton of milk thistle reseeding itself in the vegetable garden from the compost so I’ve been trying to transplant some of them into the flower garden. I’ve been reading and listening to a few podcasts/blogs that talk about using thistle in various manners and I may try to see what I can do with our thistle once they are grown. I’ve been thinking a lot about trying to use more of the plants and weeds in the yard for whatever edible and medicinal uses they are known to have.

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    The Rhododendron canescens is blooming and has been for about a week. Now that I’m thinking about it, we have a few more behind Chris’ man-cave (the garage) and I don’t usually go over there but I bet those are blooming, too.

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    A couple of weeks ago we got a third load of mulch which I spread out on the final areas of the garden, some of which is seen here. I spread it on a Saturday and on Sunday I noticed a few plants looked grey and a little weird but I thought it was from the mulch dust and just shook off whatever mulch was left on the plants and didn’t think anything else of it. Chris and I planted a few things and I sowed some seeds in that bed and then on Monday we had a good rain. On that Wednesday after I went through the garden to see what was going on and I was horrified to see plants bleached out and looking like they were dead! A quick Google searched suggested that the mulch had not been cured properly and alcohols had built up in the mulch which basically burned the plants. I truly thought the plants were dead but by a week later I saw a couple of plants look like they were trying to pull through. If you see the purple plant and two little green plants at the bottom of the photo, those are two that I thought were toast but here they are severa weeks later, pulling through. I was a little dismayed at the mulch issue because we’ve bought from that company many times in the past and had no problems. Needless to say we will be more vigilant in the future!

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    The Gladiolus dalenii are thriving after Chris started spraying some fish emulsion on the flower beds. It has been working as both a fertilizer but also a deer deterent. I had to replant one gladiolus bulb continually because the deer kept pulling one up when they were nibbling.

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    The patch of blue-eyed grass has expanded over the years and if we let it I think it would take up an entire section of the flower bed. Nevertheless, it is a gorgeous addition to the front flower bed.

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    We had several nice marigolds that really made the corner of one of the beds look really awesome last year and they all self seeded and germinated back in January. Looks like we will have another great patch again this year.

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    One of our goals this year is to provide plenty of milkweed for the monarchs. In addition to swamp, common, and ‘butterfly’ (tuberosa) milkweeds, Chris bought more tropical milkweed seeds so we can really get a thicket of it growing. Some of it reseeded from the plants we had, and even came back after the freezes, but we are looking to have more plants this year as I think we may end up raising many caterpillars in a caterpillar tent. We need to get more pots of it so we can have a rotating supply of it in the tents as the cats chomp them down. We’ll see.

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    I left this dandelion because it was just too happy growing out of that nook!

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    One happy surprise is seeing the golden lotus finally bloom! Progeny of a pup we gave Chris’ dad back when we lived in Florida, it’s like having an old friend back!

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    Things are looking good. It will be vastly different in a month!

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    And like that, the strawberries have begun ripening and now we’re harvesting the fruits! Last Friday we picked the first few strawberries; I had found a couple at lunch that day but knew Forest would get a kick out of picking them so we waited until after dinner that evening to go out and pluck them from the beds. Forest has decided he likes strawberries lately, the ones I’ve bought from the store, and thus he is very interested in eating the ones grown at home. As a strawberry enthusiast, I like this new development! He’s also, finally, starting to request to try other things we are eating at meals so there’s hope he will begin branching out his toddler taste buds soon.

    The evening light is slowly lengthening and we’ve been poking outside for a bit after dinner a few nights over the last week or two. Being able to walk around the yard or neighborhood has been a refreshing change from the months of hibernating inside during the evenings. I’m contemplating pushing his bedtime back an hour or so once the time change happens so we can enjoy being outside in the evenings this spring and summer. We will see how that goes. There are pros and cons to keeping the current routine and changing the routine so I guess we will find out which one works best here in a few weeks.

    Sometimes he wakes up and asks to go outside or into the garden! Of course, sometimes he asks to watch helicopters or airplanes on YouTube, so take that for what you want, but I think we’ve been indoctrinating him into the world of outside pretty darn well!

    My brother has his own posted, too, so check it out!

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    The fig tree is putting on new leaves!

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    One of the pipevines has returned!

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    As have some of the ground orchids! Still waiting on the Nun’s orchid to see if it will be revived.

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    We will be flush with strawberries soon!

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    The flame acanthus are greening up.

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    Tropical milkweed sprouts! The monarchs will have food!

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    The deer really enjoy gladiolus shoots! They chomp, it regrows, they chomp again.

    I think it’s safe to say that spring is here. A string of 80-almost-90 degree days gave us a taste for what a few months down the line is going to be like. Having the weather that warm already was pleasant in the mornings but by afternoon it was edging towards uncomfortable. A few of my lunch hour gardening days had me teetering on the knowledge that it won’t be long before I’ll be back to needing to shower before returning to work after those garden sessions.

    With Chris gone the last few weeks I haven’t gotten to finish mulching the flower beds but I should be able to get that done this weekend. The flower beds are weeded—well, as much as I can get without being too nitpicky. I’ll have to stay on top of Virginia creeper, pine, and elm seedlings that sow themselves in waves through the next two months. Right now the heavy seedling situation is with the Virginia creeper and I’m seeing a few pines here and there.

    I’m thrilled with what has been showing its face, the plants that have returned from the roots after our hard freeze last month. I thought I’d lost the tropical milkweed but even the little sprouts that had started germinating back in December have returned! The one oddity so far has been our large clump of pink brugmansia. Maybe I need to dig through my photo archives to see when they started returning in previous years—well, last year they barely died back, I only clipped them down to around chest height—but they have not started re-sprouting. This is odd because the variegated brug and a white brug have already send shoots up as has the randomly planted pink brug that is down near the pond. I’ll have to give it more time.

    There are still plenty of chores to get on top of. It’s time to look back at the vegetable garden and the weeds there as well as think about getting tomatoes planted and maybe even squash. More mulch needs to be laid in the pathways that haven’t had mulch yet and a few beds need mulch, too.

    I started some flower seeds last weekend and re-potted some tomato seedlings but I need to do some more seed sowing this weekend and next week. Lots of little garden chores here and there but I’m making myself stop and enjoy the garden sometimes and attempt not to do chores on occasion. You know, stop and smell the roses!

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    It didn’t take long for the pink bananas to resprout! They were starting to come back up early last week, a little over a week after the freeze.

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    I have two Mexican orchid tree seedlings (Bauhinia mexicana) that I grew from seeds I nabbed at the zoo awhile back. I recently moved them up a pot size so they could put on some better roots. I’m hoping in a year or two they will be big enough to plant along our fence.

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    In the yard the oxalis is trying to paint the yard pink, which I love! There were more blooms a few weeks ago but Chris mowed the yard to clean it up a bit from months of not being mowed. They will come back!

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    All of the rain has brought up various fungi, too.

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    Down on the dock there’s leftover debris from the high water on Wednesday. It wasn’t too bad and went down fairly quickly but the pond did come up a bit.

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    I will never tire of the sight of resurretion fern after a rain event.

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    I was surprised to see the strawberries starting to put on blooms. I suppose we may have fruit in a month or two?

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    Red giant mustard

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    Lettuce—can’t remember which kind this is!

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    Kale going strong!

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    I was very excited to see the lemon verbena recovering from the freeze. I wasn’t sure how it would do!

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    While a lot of the dill was set back or killed, a few plants have come through and are starting to do very well. I sowed more seeds to try to recover from what we lost. I need new dill seed in the pantry and to dry the plant for pickling later this summer.

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    The Gladiolus dalenii has begun to come back!

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    Sophora tomentosa seed pods. If the plant doesn’t come back I have seeds at least!

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    The S. tomentosa plant itself.

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    Another happy surprise! The variegated brug is already sending out new shoots!

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    Columbines and rain lilies.

    I managed to get two flower beds mulched last weekend and plan to get the other three flower beds cleaned up this week so I can get mulch for them in the next week. There are flower seeds to sow and my excitement for a new season of growth is rising!

    Are you doing any gardening?

    January 2017

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    The good thing about having blogged and taken photos all of these years is that it is an excellent way to be able to revisit the garden to see the changes, good and bad. Over the weekend I managed to weed and mulch the two beds on the side of the house and I thought it would be fun to do a little photo history tour of the side yard garden beds. Here we go!

    A week ago—right after the freeze

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    November 2016

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    August 2016

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    August 2015

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    March 2015
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    April 2014
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    September 2013
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    July 2013

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    February 2013

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    October 2012

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    September 2012 — we moved in last few days of June 2012.

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    May 2012 — when we went to view the house for the first time

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    Pretty crazy, right? I need to take more photos—and I may have and just didn’t process them all out of RAW into .jpg for viewing.

    I’ll probably do another round up of the front flower beds and the vegetable garden as well, so look for that in the coming weeks.

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