Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cool, clear water


We have been in a Texas-sized drought so far this summer. My garden and much else has been suffering. We’ve been worried about our well water supply.

We maintain several water sources on our property for wildlife. I emptied out one of these buckets Saturday in order to refill with fresh water before we left on vacation. I left it sitting upside down while I retrieved the hose. When I returned five minutes later, a two-foot long checkered garter snake had wrapped itself around the upside-down bucket, stretching out over the moistened ground. He didn’t move at my approach, and after a few minutes of watching, I called my daughter to see him.

We agreed this snake looked suspiciously like the one we captured a couple of weeks ago, which subsequently bit her after tiring of her affections.

This snake eventually slithered off to a hidey-hole under a nearby stump. I think the lure of cool, moist ground drew him out into the heat of day and the glare of human attention.

Thinking about this snake, our well, the dead vegetation in my yard and the sad, sad zinnias in my garden, I remembered a song I loved as a kid:  “Cool, clear water.”

I tried to embed a video here to the song, by the Sons of the Pioneers, but couldn't make it work. So follow the link, to hear it!

Apparently we needed to get out of town for the rain to feel it could make an appearance. This morning I leaned on the balcony of our beach condo, watching rain drip off the palm trees. Through Facebook we hear that two to three inches fell in our neighborhood overnight.

This may not break the drought, but it sure will help the trees, plants and wildlife in our area for a little while. Hurrah!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

June blooms on the hill

Blooms here in Hays County are few and far between right now. According to the Texas Forest Service, Hays County turned red yesterday on the drought index (see map at right). We can see it and feel it. Not only is it dry, but it has been unseasonably hot (98 degrees F here today).

Our water comes from a well, so I must be quite conservative with water. I may need to get even more conservative before it's all over, and cease watering completely.

Even so, there are a few drought tolerant, heat resistant plants that are putting on a show with the minimal water they've received this year, as if to say, "Bring it on! I can take it!!"

I love, love, love this plant. Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens) blooms all summer with
little to no water. It's fragrant, deer-resistant and edible. What more could you ask from a plant?

The phlox (don't know what kind)
was given to me by a dear gardening friend.
Takes some water, but oh so lovely.
Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
is doing pretty well, but the deer have
been shearing blooms occasionally.

Flame acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii) is my best bloomer right now -
without any supplemental water.

This makes me sad. Zexmenia (Wedelia texana) is usually cheerily blooming at this time of year.  However, these wildflowers are not in a bed and receive no supplemental watering.
They are suffering terribly from the drought.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Cheap or resourceful?

How cheap is too cheap? That is the question for today’s post.

I live in a neighborhood where folks pride themselves on their ingenuity and make-do spirit. Self-sufficiency is a neighborhood motto. In fact, when one purchases property here he or she must prove self-sufficiency. But having someone else attest to that would defeat the purpose, so one must sign an affidavit swearing to one’s abilities to make do.

(Not really. In fact, the only restriction out here is that you can’t raise pigs, though I visited someone flouting this restriction over the weekend. )

Horticultural sand in my neighborhood.
This make-do spirit probably stems from two facts. One, we live 20 minutes from the nearest hardware store or grocery store. When the ranch was first divided 30 years or more ago, the distances were probably even greater. A trip to town uses up a chunk of a Saturday. Second, most people here don’t have a lot of scratch. Trips to town for one or two items are considered frivolous.

So when it’s time to do a job and you don’t have exactly what is needed, you look around your barn/shed/workshop/kitchen to see what might work. If you absolutely have nothing, then you reach out to a neighbor who might have the thing you need (egg? 3 foot length of PVC? 15/16” wrench?) and who likes you enough to loan it to you. (It’s beneficial to stay on good terms with the neighbors.)

If no luck there, you either give up on the job until you go to town for another purpose, or you bite the bullet and skulk out of the neighborhood, hoping no-one notices you are driving 10 miles to buy 50 cents’ worth of screws.

Sometimes making do leads to less than optimal solutions for your problem, but you forge ahead anyway and hope for success.

This spring, in the giddy relief of knowing that the chickens would no longer be wreaking destruction in my flowerbeds, I wreaked destruction on my pocketbook, purchasing many plants from various and sundry nurseries in my vicinity.

At a nursery in Blanco, I came across a nice assortment of succulents at a good price. I bought two despite the fact that I have killed many of their sisters and brothers in prior years. This time, I vowed to actually research how they should be planted.

Apparently the little babies require a mix of “horticultural” sand and organic material (I know succulent experts are out there cringing). I tackled this job on the weekend, and of course, don’t keep these types of specialized materials on hand. So I made do.

Sandbox sand ought to work, I told myself. When I approached the sandbox, I found standing water (for some reason, the dog takes the lid off) and an overpowering stench. Gutting up, I scooped out as much of the fetid water as I could, and then collected some of the swamp muck. (I hear you groaning.)

I mixed this stinky, soggy sand with peat moss, half and half, and planted my little succulents. Hey, they would be freshly watered and given some organic nutrients, right? I then trundled down the driveway to a gravel pile left by a previous resident, and collected the pot’s top-dressing.

It’s beautiful! Another make-do project completed! (I see you shaking your head in disbelief.)

So now we return to our original question:  How cheap is too cheap? The proof will be in the pudding, or rather the long-term survival of the succulents. So far, two weeks later, they seem to be doing just fine.

Favorite spot in the garden:

The flame acanthas (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii) is blooming gaily in the driest, hottest area of my porch beds. This area gets only porch roof run-off, of which there has been precious little this year. My dad tells me my grandmother grew this at her north Texas farmyard, but I don’t remember. It is a tremendous plant for Texas heat and drought and is native to our rocky, calcareous soil. The hummingbirds love it, and it never wilts.

My only quibble with it is that it has seeded out a bit too freely. I have pulled numerous seedlings out of the bed, but it is also spreading out into the wild areas of my yard. I hope this is a good thing. Those seedlings are not as vigorous as this plant; I’m hoping the harsher conditions will keep them in check.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

My nature girl

Yesterday was a milestone birthday for my wonderful daughter. Nine years younger than our middle child, she has in many ways been an only child.  She has brought so much joy to our lives, as children do.

Nature is the backdrop for our time together. She spent early months poolside in the summer heat while her brothers swam. That first summer and fall, I would place her on the futon under the front window. She would gaze out the window, mesmerized by the crape myrtle leaves fluttering in the breeze outside.

She would want me to say that this was taken many years ago.

As she grew, we spent hours in the front yard, which was shaded by two massive cedar elms. She splashed in the wading pool, played in the sand box, and followed me around as I gardened.

Our first outdoor scare came at about age two. The little darlin’, outside one evening by herself, came inside and told me she had eaten a red berry. The only red berry in the yard was poisonous – Texas mountain laurel seeds. After a flurry of calls (poison control knew nothing of these), my mother-in-law told me the seeds were very, very tough. Darlin’ was unlikely to have broken into one. If she had swallowed an unbroken one, it would pass through without harm. She survived.

We moved to our present property after she turned four. More space to roam! She has taken many walks through the property, with either her dad or I. We had to forge around the cedar thickets that she and the dog could scuttle underneath. We are in the process of constructing a trail around our property; she leads, and I follow with loppers.

When we began keeping chickens, she would crawl into the brood pen to play with them, undeterred by piles of poop.  Later, she would go down to the chicken coop and spend long stretches of time building structures, making chicken cake (her special chicken treat), and carrying the chickens around – even roosters. She still does this.

We have enjoyed many porch picnics and meals out on the picnic table. Under duress, she helps me divide worms. I think she secretly enjoys poking through the dirt and finding the red wigglers. Recently, we constructed our own water feature, out of a kitty litter pan and an aquarium filter. We are very proud of this bit of ingenuity.

She spends lots of time outdoors and barefoot. She loves snakes, despite the fact that a checkered garter snake bit her this week. Toads are fun playmates, also. She'd like to make friends with lizards, but they are prone to quick getaways.

I can’t imagine our life with her without the natural world surrounding us. Nature is almost a physical playmate for her. And oh, what an endlessly fascinating one! Because of her (and her brothers before her), our interaction with and appreciation for nature is enhanced. Through her eyes, we see nature anew.

Happy birthday, nature girl. We are so glad you are a part of our life!

Favorite spot in the garden today:

This lovely is the Texas thistle (Cirsium texanum), planted not by me, but by Mother Nature. Last year these ran amok, making the neighbors uneasy. They are prickly and unsightly, can be up to five feet tall, and are very prolific in the right conditions. With the dry weather this year, they are much diminished, both in number and size. Either way, the blooms are stunning.

According to the Wildflower Research Center, painted lady larvae use this as a food source, bumblebees and butterflies use it as a nectar source, and goldfinches eat the seeds and use the seed fluff for their nests. This is a perfect plant for my backyard habitat!