Friday, March 18, 2011


This image is coming soon to a place in my yard... can you guess where?

Reaching Higher

My sunflower sprouts are moving merrily along:

I leave them out front all the time now, no longer bringing them indoors at night or on windy days.  Several of them are 3" tall and all of them have double sets of leaves.

As I have been moving the toting the tray of sprouts around, and tending to the other front perennials coming up, one of my neighbors has more than once remarked that she is more of an "instant" person, that she isn't patient enough to plant anything so tiny and wait.  I don't know... I guess I enjoy seeing the dormant beds come alive in the Spring (without hardly any effort on my part other than pushing mulch back to allow them to get sun) and there is something about the basics of covering a tiny seed with dirt and watching that I enjoy.  In many other arenas I'll be the first one to tell you that I am not a patient person; but watching plants grow is different.

Laying out the Buffet

One of my sisters -- the world traveler -- came for a visit last week.  We spent an afternoon doing Spring clean up on my front flower bed where I have my butterfly garden.  I had picked up some seedlings the week before that needed planting, and the beds needed a little clean up before new plants went in.  I recalled from past experience that parsley sells out quickly at the nursery so when it came in I went ahead a bought a couple.

We raked leaves out of the bed,  and mulched them, did a little weeding, trimmed back a few dead plant limbs, and gave one perennial (whose name escapes me at the moment) a major haircut to shape it up.

Butterfly/Hummingbird favorite perennials popping up!
Then we planted parsley, bronze fennel and dill plants -- two of each.  They are caterpillar favorites in the butterfly garden!  I had one parsley plant that came back from last year, so I did end up putting one of the parsleys in a garden box back -- permanent location TBD.
I plan to change up my front beds a little this year, and towards that end I put three of the new plants in a second bed nearby to expand my butterfly garden.  They are tiny plants now, but they should be well established by the time the caterpillars arrive to munch.  Last year all three of these plants grew well over 4 feet tall.  (Mutant parsley... it was a shrub!  Which makes me recall that I harvested about 1/4 cup of dill weed last year, and that I should start some of those indoors in pots...)

Front to back: Dill, Parsley, Bronze Fennel
Last year towards the end of the year I bought a book full of color photos that follows the life cycle of butterflies.  I'm looking forward to getting that out this year and being able to identify the caterpillars and the resulting butterflies.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

2011 Garden Wish List

This is the cover of my garden journal that I started in 2009 -- I like to look back at years past and see what I did and when, and what worked/what didn't work.  It's also a good planning tool -- did I dream too big (of course) and when did perennials start coming back (i.e. when do I need to set time aside for major spring gardening weekends? That would be now.)

I finally remembered to have my initial 2011 garden dream list on hand for a blog post. This is from the evening I spent on my porch with my neighbor and her two daughters.  As it turned out, her older (9 years old) daughter had many good ideas, which I promptly hijacked.  In my defense, I told her I was totally writing down all her good ideas... 

Potatoes -- I plan to have little red new potatoes and fingerlings.  I loooove red potatoes.  I like fingerlings too, and aren't they the most expensive potatoes in the store? 

Rhubarb - I grew up eating raw rhubarb straight out of the dirt.  I loved the sourness of it.  I am going to order 1-3 crowns.  I think they will go in my sideyard outside my pedestrian gate where they would get morning sun and afternoon shade.  And, I've recently relocated a rain barrel to that area, so watering would be easy.   I need to research their sun requirements though.

Sunflowers - I started seeds from a sunflower mix indoors week before last, and they are 2-3 inches tall and look happy.  They will be transplanted to be along the side edge of my porch.  If all develops to plan, they will give me a nice screen on the driveway side.  I still need to start the mammoth sunflower seeds.  I didn't have any of those left from last year.

Moonflowers - totally my neighbor's idea.  Who doesn't love the thought of a fragrant flower that opens when the moon is up?

Kale - because I am madly in love with raw kale and it is insanely good for you.

Butter lettuce - my favorite salad green, and also expensive in the store!  Buttery goodness (sorry Nabisco)

Basil - a favorite every year

Chives - mine from last year are back!  I had transplanted them to the front, and apparently they like it there.

Asparagus - I ordered 10 crowns earlier this week.  Also one that I need to research about sun requirements.  These are a rather permanent fixture so I need to be sure I choose a good location.  I learned yesterday that someone else I know really loves asparagus -- so next year I'll have some to share!  (It doesn't produce the first year.)

Edamame - also my neighbor's idea.  I love edamame steamed with some sea salt on it but it never crossed my mind to grow my own.  Imagine how good it would be fresh, not frozen!

Gourds - these are the round ones that some people make into birdhouses.  One of my sisters says that getting them hollowed out and dried is tricky, but it seems like a fun project.   But what I'm more interested in is making this room divider:

I saw this at Biga on the Banks, a restaurant on the Riverwalk in San Antonio.  I was more interested in how it was made than how anything on the menu was prepared...

Beets - yum.  I love beets.

So that's my starter list.  I could make a separate herbs list, but for that I may as well just copy and paste an alphabetical all inclusive list of herbs...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Happy Hydrangea

My hydrangea is super happy it's Spring.  Nearby I noticed my American Beauty Berry and my Natchez Mock Orange have tiny green buds as well; too tiny to be worth photographing, but I am encouraged.  No sign of life on my Night Blooming Jasmine yet.

Today I ordered 10 Jersey Giant Asparagus crowns... excited about that.  I need to plot out the best place to plant those, because they live 10-25 years.  Years!  I remember the family story that mom asked dad for some asparagus plants at the house I grew up in (where they still live) and he planted a quarter of an acre of it.  Um, yeah.  That's a whole lot of asparagus.  So yummy though.

I am miffed with myself that two days in a row I've forgotten my garden wish list at home.  I'm trying to remember all the great garden brainstorming I did and all of the (surely fabulous) ideas my neighbors and I came up with, but I'm not having a lot of success.  Difficult to order seeds when you can't recall what you wanted!  Ay yi yi.  I think there were moonflowers involved...

Monday, March 14, 2011

Room for Two

Now two of us can do yoga in the backyard:

Once again, lessons learned... Red and I did a bit more frame reinforcement on the second and third one than we did on the first one:

I think we'll be able to finish them up with one more short day of work.  There was great discussion amongst family and friends about which way all the lumber tops should go.  We finally agreed at the conclusion that they should all run the same direction -- more Zen, we said.

I am already thinking about the lavender I want to plant in between them.  And although they don't stink, I guess I should think about relocating the compost tumblers.  They aren't exactly aesthetically pleasing...

Rain Barrels: What I've Learned

High on my wish list when I bought my house was getting rain barrels in place to save rain water for my garden.  Thanks to Red, I actually had one rain barrel before I even moved in!  My house didn't have gutters so I added those, and I was in business.


Rain barrels seemed fairly straightforward to me.  Initially I was most concerned about appearance.   But as is so often the case, nothing beats practical knowledge gained from experience!  This past week I ordered and received my 6th rain barrel, which is my 3rd design; two barrels I bought from Sam's Club.  Two barrels Red and I built at the TAMU Urban Solutions Earth Day rain barrel workshop.  You can see photos of both types here:  Both designs work, and both designs have pros and cons to them.  The new rain barrel has such a poor design that I am returning it and ordering a different one! 

When I lamented to my fellow green friend in Minneapolis about how difficult it is to find a barrel that meets all of my criteria, she said she wanted my criteria list.  (She's wanting rain barrels herself.)  I wrote up a list -- surprised myself at how much was on it, and emailed it to her.  She said I should flip it into a blog post.  And so, behold: 

What I've learned about Rain Barrels

Main Spigot location:  Just be aware of where it is in relation to the bottom of the barrel. If it's totally as low to the bottom of the barrel as it can be, it can be challenging to attach a hose. Optimal is 2-3 inches from the base so that you have some working room. Another solution to this is to have your barrel on a stand of some kind. Some are sold with matching stands, or you can use cement blocks, etc. to lift them up. Of course, the higher off the ground the barrel is, the better your water pressure.

A few barrels come with a second spigot halfway up the side of the barrel for filling watering cans. I don't see the need -- you can just use your attached hose. I don't think they would stick out far enough, anyway, to reach the mouth of the watering can, but I could be wrong.

Main hose attachment: e.g. ideally you want this to be a threaded spigot :  Some of my barrels have the hose attaching to the barrel by slipping a raw/cut end of a hose over a nipple and then the hose is clamped onto the nipple. In my experience, the hose falls off when the water pressure is too great and if you tug "just right" on the hose when using it. Your shoes … get very wet. I also like having an off/on control right on the barrel (as opposed to only at the end of the hose where you are watering plants) because if you want to swap out hoses you don’t lose all your water. Key, I tell you. Key. Live and learn.  Two of my barrels have a split spigot -- I can connect two hoses at once.  Convenient.

Overflow spout: type and location:  You really want this to be a port you can control -- i.e. again, ideally it is threaded with an on/off control. Why? So that you attach a hose to simply direct where the overflow water is going to end up, or you can either attach a hose to link to another barrel.

Where your rain barrel will be, and what your access to it will be, will determine the best location for the overflow: front, back or side. (I've determined that you can add a spout for this too -- we learned how in the Earth Day rain barrel workshop we attended. Not difficult with the right tools.)

Open/Closed system:  To me this means, does the whole lid come off for cleaning or water pump installation (for either controlling bacteria or pumping the water out) or do you only have access by sticking your arm only through the top area where the water drops in? I have both kinds. So far I haven't had to take the whole lid off and crawl inside for anything, but it's something to be aware of. Most barrels sold are closed systems. The re-purposed food container barrels are usually open -- which I think is my preference.

Lid Design:  Pay attention to the shape of the lid. Does it have an area that will (unintentionally) hold water? (Can you say, "mosquito breeding ground"?) Some of mine do (and some don't) and for the ones that do, I've drilled drainage holes in it so it drips down into the barrel.  Mosquitoes need 3-4 days of consistently standing water to breed...  (UPDATE:  If the barrel is full, the holes don't help; the water has no where to go.)

Don't bother with the barrels that purport to have a little area in the lid for planting a plant to make the whole barrel appear to be a gargantuan plant pot. In my experience, the space isn't big enough for enough dirt to support a plant. Or maybe I've just tried the wrong types of plants …

Hoses:  Longer is better. Two of my barrels came with 4 foot hoses. Not the most functional. They work for filling watering cans, but I can't reach to water my garden or beds to water directly. I'll be replacing those.

For my other 3 barrels, I bought a 45 foot hose and cut it into 3-15 foot pieces. Then I bought an adapter that turns a raw hose end into a threaded hose end, and put a no-kink adapter with an on/off function on it on the end of that. The no-kink adapter thingy has metal spiral covering about 4 inches of the hose.  About $5-7 each, but totally worth it to have one on each end of the hose. (Red and I spent a crazy long time in Home Depot hose department figuring out how many of what kinds of hose connectors to buy to meet my needs. Still didn't get it quite right and I need to go buy more. It just shouldn't be that hard...but somehow, it is.)

Support/Location:  Most barrels are 50 gallons. 50 gallons of water weighs 417 pounds. Be sure you have a solid footing under your barrel or it may tip over. (And break off the nearby house spigot, causing you to call a plumber in the middle of the night. IJS)  Also in that vein, unless you want to drain it to move it, choose a location that you are committed to … you simply cannot move them full! I built a wheeled square to put one on, which was great, except that I didn't have a concrete pad to roll it around on -- just dirt -- and of course the wheels just sunk into the dirt. Waste of time, that was!

All of that being said, I do really love my rain barrels. It's amazing how fast they fill up, and how long it takes to empty them! Saving me a fortune.  My roofs collects well over 715 gallons when it rains once inch.  That is a LOT.  They are rarely empty.  There is something therapeutic about hand watering baby plants with a watering can of rain water... even my dog prefers to drink water ouf the rain barrels versus out of the tap or garden hose.  She knows...

Click here to read about the benefits of collecting and using rain water and to get the calculation for how much rain your roof could be collecting: