Lake Explorations at Brazos Bend State Park


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As I mentioned in last week’s post about Brazos Bend State Park, there are plenty of alligators at this park to oogle at. Elm Lake and 40-acre Lake would be the primary places to see alligators but the smaller lakes host alligators, too.

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Alligator gar Chris spotted this quickly on one of the little docks on Elm Lake.

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Thalia dealbata

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Of course there was some fishing time put in on 40-acre Lake!

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Yellow-crowned night heron

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Yellow bladderwort

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Yellow and purple bladderwort

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Dragonflies were very active in the wetlands. I really need to get a dragonfly identification book.

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I am awful at telling the difference between anhingas and cormorants, especially from a distance. Every time I see one I’ll say “Oooh, there’s an anhinga!” and Chris will reply back, “That’s a cormorant!” And the next time I’ll say, “Oooh, there’s a cormorant!” and he will reply back “That’s an anhinga!” But, I really think this is an anhinga this time! A helpful guide. ““A”nhinga – “A” is a pointed letter and the
anhinga has a pointed beak”
.

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Little baby catching a ride on Momma!

I still have the butterfly post to share with y’all and hope to write it up this weekend. We’ve been out of town the last three weekends and fairly busy for weeks before that so I’m ready for a breather around here to catch up on writing, creating, gardening, and of course, cleaning! My house is a little dirty right now! More soon!

On the Trails at Brazos Bend State Park


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Now that we’ve entered the non-camping zone of summer, I am now looking back at our second to last camping trip of the season. In early May we went to Brazos Bend State Park; it was warming up but it wasn’t unbearable quite yet. Thanks to the shady campsite we had, we were able to stay a little cool in the middle of the day by lounging in the tent. Our last camping trip, to the LCRA Matagorda Nature Park was the opposite of that—hot, sticky, no shade.

At Brazos Bend there really is a plethora of things to do and it is probably one of the more popular parks in our region due to its accessibility to Houston. Also: there are alligators. I mean, there are alligators in many places in southeast Texas but this is where you can see them up close, and we all know people love coming up close to animals that can eat you. I’m a little sardonic here because I think there is a very tenuous line being towed at the park with the public and alligator interface and and the public not quite grasping just how dangerous of a situation they could be in and the park not posting enough signs about harassment of alligators. That’s the Florida in me coming out. Sure, there are a few signs but not enough and not enough explicitly stating the danger. Anyway…I’ll have a separate post about our trips around the lakes. This one is about a couple of the trails we hiked, further from water.

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Asclepias virdis, green milkweed

We hit up the Horseshoe Lake and Big Creek Loops the first afternoon we were there. It wasn’t terribly hot but in the sun we started feeling the impacts of the heat fairly quickly. The three of us began wilting.

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Big Creek

Forest fell asleep somewhere down the Big Creek trail. We hadn’t put sunscreen on him and the sun ended up being rather harsh along that trail as it was more open than I was expecting. Back towards the far reaches of the park the forest thickened but on the way to and from the sun beat down on us. We glimpsed an alligator in a little pond on one side of the trail but other than the alligator and a few birds this trail was very quiet.

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Scutellaria ovata

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Forest woke up when we sat down to take a break near the trailhead. We sat in the shade getting a snack and watching the birds on the water. A few other people passed us on their way out to the Big Creek trail.

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Coreopsis

The next morning before lunch we walked the Prairie Trail near the entrance to the park. It was out in the open, being a prairie and all, and the late morning sun was beginning to heat up the trail, which consequently made us the only ones out exploring the trail. (also, no water views) I really loved this trail because there was quite a bit in bloom and a lot of butterflies as well. Butterflies were very prolific during our trip and they are getting their own post soon!

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Liatris

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Passiflora incarnata

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This trail had an abundance of passflora growing all over it which in turn attracted the gulf fritillary caterpillars.

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Solanum elaeagnifolium, silverleaf nightshade

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Don’t forget other insects like wasps are pollinators, too!

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Green milkweed seed pod

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Some kind of Helianthus??

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Yucca arkansana—probably?

The last trail we did was on our way out on Sunday morning, down the Red Buckeye Trail using small sections of the White Oak trail for access. It took us down to the river with excellent views on the bluffs! I didn’t take any photos of the river due to my use of a 100mm macro lens—who wants a closeup view of the river?

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Slightly blurry shot of Aclepias perennis, aquatic milkweed. I was manually focusing with a macro lens and was having a hard time.

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We almost squished this guy—he will reappear in the butterflies/caterpillars post I do because I haven’t identified him yet.

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Matelea gonocarpos, angular fruit milkvine

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Rhus copallinum

I really enjoyed this particular area of the park and would love to explore more of the park on the back portion towards the river. It is definitely not nearly as busy as the front of the park—where the alligators are!

In the Edible Garden | Early-Mid June 2017


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Tomatoes have started slowing down in production, which frankly—and I can’t believe I’m saying this—I’m glad about. The hustle of getting food processed over a few short weeks when everything is in abundance can be tiring. Especially tomatoes. That said, we are still rolling in blackberries and green beans are still giving us a good amount to stash and freeze once a week. We should have more beans over the coming month or two as I recently planted Dragon Tongue, Painted Lady, and Royal Burgundy. In addition, I should have Big Red Ripper cowpeas coming eventually, too.

greenbeans

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A crazy canning and food preservation day a few weeks back.

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Earlier in the month I managed to get a few squash, pumpkins, and melons planted in beds that were empty after pulling out spent plants. It took awhile for some to germinate but now everything is up and, so far, thriving.

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Newly germinated Dragon Tongue beans.

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I was really upset to have to pull all of the dill but they had all acquired powdery mildew. I had planned on letting them all set seed so I could just save it but I noticed some mildew on the gooseneck gourd and decided to just pull the dill, bag it, and throw it in the trash instead of risking it spreading more. I know that the humidity and water combination down here helps that mildew to occur but I didn’t want to make things worse. There are still a few springs of dill around the garden but not to the extent that I had. I’ll resow in September/October and hope to get some more saved before winter.

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One of the more exciting developments in the edible garden is that my asparagus is finally putting on shoots that are large enough to eat if we wanted! I’m only getting one or two at a time so I haven’t been cutting them as the come up, but this is great to finally see!

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I’ve made about 24 jars of blackberry jam this season. There’s probably enough blackberries in my fridge at the moment for nearly another 24 if I wanted but I think I should probably make some cobbler instead! Maybe a blackberry pie?

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In front of the blackberries I had planted various greens in late winter. The chards are still going strong, aided by a good deal of shade in the back of the edible garden. I’m kind of hoping I can get them to over summer, but we will see. I have more planted underneath some of the tomatoes that are still thriving and a stray Chinese cabbage going strong, too.

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Currently, I need to get a hold on the weeds out in the paths of the edible garden but haven’t really found the time. I already transplanted a few tomatoes that will be fall tomatoes that I had germinated in mid-spring and grew out in pots. I attempted fall tomatoes last year but I sowed seeds in July and was about to get fruits in early December when we had a freeze. So, I am trying a different route this year and will see how it goes. I’ll probably cut down a couple of tomato plants here in a week or two and replace them with the three remaining plants I have. Some of the tomatoes are still doing well but some are starting to wane and look ragged thanks to the heat. We shall see!

What’s growing in your neck of the woods?

Enjoying June’s Blooms


milkweed

The patches of tropical milkweed have been blooming profusely the last few months and have now made it all the way into seed setting stage, with their fluff floating seeds about the garden, ready to start more milkweed wherever it pleases. Last year I moved a couple of plants that had sprouted next to our driveway about 30 feet away from the garden.

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I went ahead and sowed some seeds on the potting bench in an effort to get more milkweed germinated ahead of the August/September return monarch migration in hopes of having some plants in containers by then. I have three I also dug up from the compost that are thriving in pots and will go into rotation should we decide raise some monarch babies.

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This is the first year I’ve noticed milkweed bug nymphs, Oncopeltus fasciatus. I’m sure they have been there before but this is the first time I’ve paid attention.

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The milkweed patches have turned into little ecosystems of their own these days, between the milkweed bugs, oleander aphids, ladybugs, and some grasshoppers and spiders I’ve noticed on the plants. I haven’t seen a lot of monarchs recently but there was one flitting about a week ago. I have not seen caterpillars since April.

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You can see some of the patch in the fenceline bed here, including the yellow version of the tropical milkweed over on the right. I’ve been working hard on this bed weeding it and it is looking really good right now. Still a few patches I need to get before I move on to other beds. This was taken before I did a lot of the weeding.

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The evening light that pours onto the leaves of the Amorpha fruticosa always makes me pause and attempt to soak in it for a few seconds before I’m on my way to the garden.

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All of the beds are starting to fill in nicely, though there are some gaps that need to be filled and some plants that really need to be moved.

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Earlier in the spring I threw some chia seeds out into the garden, a little too many—I had thin a lot and Chris didn’t like how thick some of it is—but I am pleased with how it has grown for the most part. Chia is a salvia and this produces a pretty blueish-purple bloom. I attempted to sow some two years ago on the side-yard bed but it was too shady and the plants never stood up well. They are thriving where they are now and look like they should start blooming soon.

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Most of the variegated milk thistle are gone to seed now. I have a huge plant I need to cut down in the edible garden and put into the compost.

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Forest is obsessed with Easter eggs right now so he’s been bringing them into the garden too! As you see in this photo, the paths need help. That focus is on the back burner currently until I can get a handle on some other weeds in the beds first.

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The mountain mint is clumping and blooming nicely under the Amorpha and has produced a layering effect that is pleasant to look at. I’m enjoying it a little more than previous years because it is a little more contained than it typically wants to be.

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The marigolds that reseeded themselves from last year have done well taking over a section of the driveway flower bed and I’m fine with that. They bloom continuously and provide some cover to a decent sized area and always look great!

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The winter knocked back the ‘Wendy’s Wish’ salvia but it has recovered and I’m hoping it will obtain the clumping size it has in previous years by the end of summer.

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Creeping thyme doing its thing—creeping along and blooming!

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Over on the left the Formosa lilies are standing tall and ready to bloom in a few weeks. Love their blooms!

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We missed our opportunity to move the ‘Black and Blue’ salvia earlier this season before it got big. It really needs to be moved away from the path and over to the back of the beds as it takes up a lot of space and always leans over into the path late in the season. This bloom is above my head, hence the sky in the background.

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And it seems rather early for the pink banana trees to be blooming already but there they are.

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One last look towards the back of the side-yard garden. The figs are also starting to ripen, earlier than usual as well.

As you see, there quite a bit going on in the garden. Can you believe in about a week and a half we will have been living here for 5 years?? I’ll have to do a post about that, too.

Tomato Portraits (and a couple of Squash!)


A few tomato portraits from this season. It’s been a few years since I’ve taken fruit and vegetable portraits—err, looks like I filed a kombucha post in the wrong category as you will see if you click through that—and I got around to doing a few one day before canning a few weekends ago. Hopefully I can get out and do some more this summer!

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Togo Trifle/Togo Trefle: These tomatoes have been fairly prolific this season but they have also been targeted heavily by the leaf footed bugs and as such I’ve had a ton of them rotting on the vine because of those pesky insects.

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Rutgers: This tomato isn’t super special looks-wise but it does taste good and does make an easy tomato for blanching, peeling, and canning

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Paul Robeson: Another tomato suited for canning, this one tastes good and has been the more prolific dark or chocolate type varieties in the garden this spring.

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Cherokee Purple: I have not been getting many of these as I would have hoped for this season. In fact, most of the beefsteaks have under-performed this season.

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Arkansas Traveler: This is looking a little more red than pink and I’ve not been getting many of them, either.

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Pattison squash: Before the squash vine borers got to town on the squash vines I was able to get two squash off the vines. They are storing well on our cabinet and we’ll eat them soon.

Friday Five | 9


It’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these, last August, in fact!
This will be one part good things, one part things I’m reading/link-ups, and maybe one small rant.

  1. Blackberry Jam! Last summer I made my first ever batch of blackberry jam. It was a half batch and the jars lasted all year after I had canned them. This was awesome! About a month ago I was going to open the last jar to use up before the blackberries came in but I was dismayed to see that the jar had come unsealed! So sad! I opened it and it smelled fine but I wasn’t about to test it and end up with botulism or something so into the trash can it went. Booo! Well, now that we’re fully into a new blackberry season with blackberries out our ears, I made some jam one evening after work and canned it. The good thing about canning the jam is that it only takes 5-10 minutes for 1/2 pints (one site said 5, another said 10, so I split it and did 8). The recipe is super simple, it was the one I used last year, and I knew I could do it one evening. Now I have another 11 jars of jam! But, it looks like we have plenty of blackberries to do another round of jam so I may make another batch this weekend so we will have some jars to share with friends and family. Since I’m on a jam kick, I was flipping through a jams and preserves cookbook Chris bought years ago and I saw a recipe for strawberry jam. Strawberries are in season at the store so I might make some of that, to!
  2. The evening light. I’ve always been a sucker for noticing the light, how it falls during different points of the day and year. I even noticed this as a kid. Inside the house around 7pm the light pours into the living room from the front door and staircase portal window such that it really reminds me of Samson. He used to lay in a puddle on the floor during the evenings, soaking up the sunshine, or sit on the stairs and look out into the garden and yard. I miss that little kitty. Outside the light is spectacular when the sun starts going down behind the trees across the street and I’m always looking up at the trees above the garden to see how the light is coming through the leaves. And of course the light on the side yard garden during that time is my favorite!
  3. Return to sprinkler season! I pulled out the sprinkler the other night for Forest to have his first foray into playing in the water for the summer. We started it rather late last year so he didn’t get to play as much as he could have so I am trying to make sure he gets a good amount of sprinkler in this summer! I need to pull the little pool out for him this weekend so we can keep it out, too.
  4. Quiet time in the garden. Usually Forest is around me when I’m in the garden and sometimes it can be difficult to get a decent chunk of time in to pull weeds or just inspect and look so if I can get a bit of time to myself where Forest is with Chris, then it is really nice to just sit and pull weeds or quietly look around. Right now a lot of the frogs start their chorus at a particular time so I love listening for them, or maybe the birds fly over head. Last night I was in the flower beds pulling basket grass and saw something that looked like a weird snail—turned out to be a leopard frog. Yes, your thinking how does she get from snail to frog? Well, I was looking at the frog’s eyeball and it kind of threw me and as I was reaching to inspect I focused in and saw the frog was half covered by some mulch and was just chilling. The frog stayed there while I continued to weed around him—having a little companion to enjoy the garden time was pleasant!
  5. A few links for reading:
    +Is the U.S. Education System Producing a Society of “Smart Fools”? via Scientific American.
    +How to Raise a Feminist Son via The New York Times. Something I think about a lot!
    +The Myth of the Kindly General Lee via The Atlantic. This isn’t quite a new discussion but seems to be more on the forefront given today’s political climate. Chris was mentioning it to me the other day an on-going discussion about the removal of certain Confederate statues across the south and because he saw something about a Sam Houston statue being protested. We had a mild debate about it but I didn’t know enough to have a huge opinion one way or the other; if anything I was definitely on the side of not having schools named after Confederate generals/soldiers/”heroes”. But this definitely gives a little more sway to that thought. I’m not for eliminating the history of certain historical figures of question, but it does bear some thought to figure out where they should stand in our cultural memory and how we should choose to figure out where they stand in significance as subjects such as statues and the like due to their conflicted narratives. This is definitely a much broader discussion than should be covered on this little blog, but it is something to ponder and think about.

And a couple of two thumbs down:

  1. Anne with an E on Netflix. I have a lot of thoughts about this and will probably write a spoiler filled post about it soon, but I almost threw the remote at the tv after the final episode, because what the fresh hell was that???
  2. Leaf footed bugs on the tomatoes. I’ve never had a huge problem with these bugs on the tomatoes, we have them every year, but this year seems to be an all out population explosion of them. Because I hadn’t had a huge problem with them I wasn’t really squashing a lot of them but that was to my detriment on one or two particular plants that have suffered some tomato rotting because of their sucking on the tomatoes. So, now I’m squashing a lot more of them and taking a more active role in trying to control them a bit. I’m not a huge fan of kill-all-the-pests in the garden but these buggers could use a little taming right now.

What about you? What are some favorites in your life?

Around the Garden | Spring 2017


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Being a photo heavy blogger has lent itself to being more difficult these last few months. The interest in processing large quantities of photos waned and I found myself wanting to spend a lot less time on the computer during the evenings and weekends. When I did process photos, I then could never find the time, rather, prioritize the time, to sit down and write a blog. What would I write about? This is blooming, that is blooming, we’re harvesting this and this and that. Sometimes it all seems rather monotonous to keep sharing but I know that I definitely regret when I look back at particular points in this blog writing phase and realize I didn’t write about something. Sometimes I have photos in Flickr or my computer but no entry.

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It seems like so long ago that spring was new, that the air was crisp in the morning and just right in the afternoon. The skies with their crisp blue with the promise of new growth—ah, I do love those moments of spring. After we finally got everything mulched in the vegetable garden everything looked so clean and weeded, full of hope. It was a nice pat-yourself-on-the-back moment of success but I knew better than to get too comfortable. New mulch would be needed again and more weeds would come in as well as various crops fading while others began.

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In a month we will have been living in this house for five years. The gardens are about 3-4 years old, depending on which phase we’re in. All of them are starting to show their age in some respect. The vegetable beds are starting rot at the posts—not the main perimeter of each bed—and thus we will need to begin considering what to replace the posts with—-more wood or something else? I’m a little frustrated with the decomposed granite in the flower bed paths because not only do they need to be touched up with new granite but I’m tired of fighting the weeds. Occasionally Chris will spray vinegar there but I don’t think it is all that effective and the more I read I’m not so sure it actually is all that great to use anyway as a ‘safe’ alternative. Part of me wishes the path was just grass and we would weedeat it a few times a month—seems easier than constantly weeding it. I kind of feel the same in the vegetable garden, too. Don’t listen to me, I’m just tired of weeding at the moment.

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My favorite section of the flower beds are definitely the side yard. No surprise, it typically has less weeds because it is also shadier and plant seems to thicken up and spread out quickly, preventing open space for weeds, but it is also due to the tropical vibe the side yard gives. There are plenty of other areas in the flower garden that I love but there are several spots that need work, plants added or moved, and gaps that need filled. The fence still needs to be repaired from last year’s tree limb storm incident but the fence is old and replacement parts aren’t typical so that hasn’t been done. Along with that, the vegetation from the neighbor’s yard is increasingly encroaching and creating more shade and other issues so that has been frustrating. It is pretty incredible to see how much the vegetation has changed on that side from when we moved in and how it is now. Which reminds me, I didn’t do a follow up post to the other beds like I did back in January for the side yard. Will try to do that soon!

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There is certainly always something to do around here.

Weeds or not, it does look pretty dang good right now!

April & May Harvests from the Garden


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Taking photos of the harvest on a consistent basis started when I stopped one day to put some of our pickings on the slab of rock on the pathway to the house. I took a few photos and Forest and I went inside. The next time we were out I wasn’t planning on taking photos but as we approached the path Forest began getting excited and talking about taking photos and wanting to arrange the harvest himself. Well, I couldn’t say no, so I started trying to make an effort to take photos each time. Then I remembered the leaf and vegetable portraits I did a few years back on the white board so I grabbed some foam board from my studio and I’ve been trying to do that ever since! Now, I have definitely not photographed every harvest but I think it has been beneficial to get most of them. The blackberries and smaller tomatoes are starting to get out of hand and I’ll probably have to put those in bowls to photograph instead.

Taking the photos has been helpful in that it helps to reflect back at what we were harvesting at any given moment during a particular season. The carrots were pulled back at the end of April and I didn’t get any photos of that happening. I believe Chris harvested a lot of those with Forest when he was home from field work early one day. But I did catch some of the post blanching process and how many were packed up for the freezer. There are still some forgotten carrots left out there that we will probably pull over the next few weeks. Forest still likes getting them straight from the garden and eating them after we rinse them off with the hose.

So far we have two quarts of tomatoes water bathed and in the cabinets. I need to probably do another jar or two soon—probably this weekend. I made 10 jars of my grandmother’s pickles recently and Chris has made maybe 25 jars of a Claussen type pickle. I need to make more pickles, too because not only are we harvesting our own cucumbers but our neighbor has been giving us a bags full from his vines, too! We haven’t had to do much with beans yet but may need to as I plan on getting more beans planted soon. We’ve been harvesting Kentucky Wonder beans and I’ve cooked up some and we are now getting the Oriental Wonder long beans coming in, too.

Summer harvests are just getting started!

The Onion Harvest


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Forest and I pulled onions about two weeks ago. I’m trying to remember the last time we had a really great harvest, maybe this one 5 years ago? I think we’ve had one or two since then but I know for sure last year did not give us much of anything due to you know, floods.

Forest had been itching to pull them for weeks because they were already starting to become ready to pull, easily liftable from the dirt. So when I told him one evening we were going to pull onions he was ecstatic. I barely had to pull them because he was lifting them out by the handful and I had to slow him down so he wouldn’t break the stems before we could dry the onions for storage. He’s been a great garden helper for the most part, loving to plant seeds and pull fruit and vegetables when they are ready. Of course he gets in moods where his toddlerness comes out and I just have to stop everything and get him out of the garden before he goes on a rampage and pulls things he isn’t supposed to.

The onions, once cured, will be stored in the pantry, some will be chopped and frozen, and I’ll pickle some with cucumbers, too. I think there is definitely a sweet spot with onions, weather-wise, and they definitely like it a lot drier than it has been in the last two years here. Some rain but not too much, and decent well-drained soil. Which considering where our garden was placed, in a raised-up low spot in the yard, can sometimes be hard to come by during those wet years. So, hooray for a great onion season! I dream of the day we can magically become garlic growers—not our successful crop to plant.

What are you harvesting now?

Glorious Gardenias


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Nine years ago my mom and I were in a hotel breakfast room in Longview, Texas when we smelled something glorious. It wasn’t the waffles on the iron or the coffee brewing but something wafting from another guest nearby. After mom and I were done falling over ourselves at the smell, we asked the woman what she was wearing and she replied that it was Estée Lauder’s Tuberose Gardenia. Mom bought a bottle not long after that and a few years later I was gifted a bottle for Christmas. Every time I walk by our gardenia in May I’m reminded of that perfume and that time. Ah, 9 years ago—we were in town to visit my friend Michelle’s daughter who had recently been born….and oh, that she’s 9 years old now! With my niece following in that manner in August! What???

The gardenias bloom their heads off for the month of May and a smidgen into June and then they are done. Sometimes the scent is so strong I can smell it around to the front of the house—the bush is on the back corner of our back porch. Summer will then have to be scented with fresh cut grass, tomato leaves, and honeysuckle until next May. Maybe one day I will figure out how to use the blooms for my benefit and bring the scent inside!

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