Friday, March 25, 2011

Texas persimmons

When you start altering nature, it’s not quite clear what nature will do in response. 
Texas persimmon bloom. If you look closely, 
you can see a bug is inside.

Last fall we embarked on a frustrating quest to install a new refrigerator.  (What does this have to do with nature? Read on!) A big gorilla appliance store informed us that our driveway was too overgrown for its large trucks.  It’s a big gorilla, and only owns big trucks.

After four weeks of increasing aggravation, it dawned on me that if the gorilla’s trucks couldn’t negotiate our driveway, neither could a fire truck. It was time to trim trees. We spent a weekend whacking cedars (Ashe junipers), pruning live oaks, dragging brush and stacking firewood.

Nature is responding to the alteration favorably this time. The driveway runs smack through a Texas persimmon grove (Diospyros texana). I knew these little trees were thick on the other side of the drive, and had wanted to clear around them so they would be more visible. Trimming still needs to be done there.

But now, as we drive or walk towards our house, there is a lovely understory of fresh green developing in an unexpected place.  The persimmons are front and center, whereas before they were hidden in a cedar thicket. The cedar trees consume a huge amount of water, so I’m hoping that in their absence, the persimmons will grow more lushly and produce fruit prolifically.

These persimmons are a great wildlife plant, as they produce a small fruit that birds and other critters love.  They grow up to 35 feet tall, though ours seem to top out at 10 or 15 feet. They have an interesting multi-trunk form. Sometimes the bark peels off to show a gray/pink smooth trunk underneath. The young fruit is green and astringent, turning black and sweet when ripe. It is edible.

One of my favorite memories is of my 2-year-old, 30-lb. daughter picking ripe persimmons and feeding them to our 120-lb. yellow lab. He loved them, and she loved feeding him. Afterwards, her fingers and clothes would be stained a dark, orangey brown. The persimmons have been put to other fun kid uses over the years: included in salads of leaves and fruit, thrown at assorted targets (siblings?), and crushed for the dye.

In short, this is a great native plant to have on our property. I’m so excited to see it flourishing more visibly. Now if I can just get some help clearing the other area. Maybe I should order an even larger appliance. Hmm.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bloomers on the hill

One of our most unusual natives is the death camas
(Zigadenus Nuttallii) - yes, it's poisonous.
We have exactly six of these that I've seen.
Unfortunately, I weed-whacked one the other day.  Arghh!

This post is dedicated to wildflowers and trees blooming today on the hill. The wildflowers seem to be getting off to a slow start this year, probably due to a lack of rainfall. We had 5.3" of rain in January, .5" of snow and .15" of rain in February, and no moisture at all so far in March. But our wildflowers are tough! They will survive!

These cheerful fellows are Texas stars
or Lindheimer daisies (Lindheimera texana). 
Lots of these grow in our yard.

Hurrah, bluebonnets are starting to bloom!
The Texas bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis) is our state flower.
We have a few little colonies in sunny locations.

One of our Texas mountain laurels (Sophora secundiflora) has begun blooming. This one is about 8 feet tall and is in full sun. We have others growing along the driveway and in the woods. 

The prairie fleabane (Erigeron modestus) is the predominant wildflower right now. It is a sweet little plant that is spread extravagantly through grassy areas. My book says it likes dry, calcareous soils - I guess it does!

The Texas redbuds in the woods still have some blooms.

Favorite spot in the garden:  

My favorite plant today is the bridal wreath (Spiraea prunifolia). I love this one so much, I planted a matching one at the other end of this bed. Can't wait for it to catch up! This one has been in the ground about five years.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

There's a cow in my yard.

"Hello, neighbor."
When I looked out my window this morning I spied something unexpected – a cow.  Not my cow. 

This is not the first time in our six years here that it has happened. About two years ago we looked out to see two very white, very lovely Longhorn cows grazing in front of the house. At the time, we had a German foreign exchange student living with us, and to see cows in the front yard confirmed one of his pre-existing ideas about Texans – we are all cowboys.

I have fond feelings for cows. When I was growing up, we often visited my grandparents on their farm near our north Texas town. They owned about 80 acres and ran a small herd of cows. The lowing of cows is a soothing, homey sound for me, as any sound associated with loving grandparents would be.

We live in a rural subdivision, with acreages too small for cows. People here have an inexplicable fondness for goats. However, our property and house are on an outside edge of the subdivision. Some large tracts of undeveloped land lie to the west of us, and on that land live – cows.

Because of this proximity, I get to enjoy the soothing sound of cows calling to one another, without the fuss and expense of owning them. And, because of this proximity, occasionally one of the girls gets out of her pasture and wanders over to say hello to the neighbors.

Then she strolls back home.

Favorite spot in the garden:

Sometimes when gardening, ideas just come to you. I have had this pot for a while, sitting on my front step. It was too short for its location. The other day I bought these violas, and had an epiphany: “Little blue pot!” Then another: “On stool by glider!” Voila! I am very pleased. Little things like this can make my entire week.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Worm farmers - divide!

Don't you love a girl who's not afraid
to get her hands dirty?

We are worm farmers. Worm farming is not strenuous, but you must be willing to get your hands dirty periodically. Yesterday was that day.

About a year ago, a neighbor came to our neighborhood garden club meeting and introduced us to the joys of worm farming. A friend of mine was intrigued, and decided to start her own empire.  She generously gave me a start last September. (I did have to pay her in grape jelly.)

I brought the little bin of red wigglers home so that my family could embark on our own educational adventure. As frequently happens with pets, you know who does the majority of feeding. By the way, worms are vegetarians.

A little over two months later, we divided our worms into two bins. We found that our population had more than doubled – hurray! We started with 250; after division we had 300 in each of two bins. We also had a bucket of worm gold (i.e. poop). My daughter helped divide. I pointed out that her nose was 3 inches from worm poop.  She was unconcerned.

Now we had two bins to feed, water and care for. These two did not fare so well; mishaps befell them.

Shortly after the worms moved into their new homes, we gave a party. In the cleaning frenzy, they were relocated to the Men’s Institute for Higher Learning (i.e. storage building) where stuff was stacked on top of them. They were compressed. I did not discover their plight until about a week later.  Can you imagine the little wigglers screaming for help? (Ooooohhhhhh nooooooooo – heeeelllllllppp usssss!)

They were returned to their place on the porch, only to be exposed to extreme cold temperatures several months later. After a day or two, I realized that this might not be good, so I provided them with a blanket and a light.  They made it! My friend thought she had committed worm genocide, but hers survived, also. Tough little critters!

This man is the assistant to the head worm farmer.
Note the attention to detail. He is a good worker.
Perhaps I should give him a raise.
Yesterday, about a month and a half overdue, we divided our worms again. I decided two bins were plenty, so one of the bins – the most compressed – was poured directly into my husband’s vegetable garden.  Good luck, little gold-poopers! I don’t know how these worms will do in the big wide world, but we are setting them free, anyway.

We dumped the other bin on newspaper spread over the picnic table, and began picking through.  We worked about an hour. When finished, we had two bins with about 250 wigglers per bin. We had really, really dirty hands.  I also had a bucket of worm gold to incorporate into my garden. That gold undoubtedly conceals a few worms and eggs; I can’t wait for them to get to work in my beds!

Favorite spot in the garden:

Today’s favorite is again in my larger garden. Our native redbuds are blooming! I think these are the Texas redbud (Cercis canadensis var. texensis), though there is a Mexican redbud (C. canadensis var. Mexicana) that also grows on limestone. They grow in three spots on our property:  one by the driveway and the others requiring a walk in the woods. That’s a walk worth taking!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A walk on the gravel hill

Japanese quince decorates my MIL's garden.
This weekend my family visited my husband’s parents. They live on family land situated between Austin and Houston. By family land, I mean that my mother-in-law’s ancestors emigrated from Germany to Texas and took possession of this land in 1834. This was two years before Texas declared its independence from Mexico  (175 years ago today!) and became a sovereign nation, and 11 years before it was annexed by the United States.

Over the years, parcels of the land have been sold, and the remaining tract was subdivided between grandchildren several years ago. My in-laws’ piece was at one point strip-mined for gravel, and they have worked very hard at reclaiming by planting and encouraging native species.

We are so fortunate that this property is still in the family, and we love to spend time there. It does not hurt that my mother-in-law is a fabulous cook!

The sundews are the odd reddish blobs.
They look like alien species!
Sunday morning we took ourselves on a multi-generational walk through the pasture. After noting the depredations of wild hogs (which root around looking for food and destroying terrain in the process), we came to a shallow tank. M.I.L. told us that sometimes sundews (I’m guessing Drosera capillaris) grow here along the edge of the pond, but it may be too dry this year. As the menfolk trudged on, we girls struck out in search of sundews.

Lo and behold, they were everywhere! To find sundews, you must know what you are looking for, and be willing to scurry around stooped over like a feeding flamingo. We were willing! My daughter was fascinated by these tiny carnivorous plants, and I’m sure we will have to visit this tank again.  M.I.L told us these sundews have a pink bloom later on.

We continued our walk, admiring the tiny bluets, one of the first spring bloomers here. As we headed back to the house, three abreast on the dirt road, my daughter stopped and exclaimed. About a foot in front of her was a large coral snake (two feet or so). He quickly slithered into the grass beside the road. We watched him disappear from a wary distance, as he is one of Texas’ four poisonous snakes. Just as we recovered from this excitement, we heard far overhead the cries of a flock of migrating sandhill cranes, and we craned our necks for a look.

What a phenomenal walk!

Favorite spot in the garden:

My favorite spot today is in my larger garden. Wind-flowers (Anemone heterophylla) are our first spring-blooming wildflowers. They started popping up along the driveway about a week ago, and we are always so happy to see them. They range from white to purple. Spring must be here!