Saturday, January 31, 2015

End of Month View - January 2015

The first month of 2015 has come to a close, which means it is time to join Helen over at the Patient Gardener for an end of month view of the garden.

Veggie Beds

The vegetable beds are full of collards, kale, chard, lettuce, arugula, spinach, broccoli, peas, and brussel sprouts right now.  Some of the broccoli has already bolted, so unfortunately I missed out on some harvesting.  The collards, kale, chard, lettuce and arugula are doing fantastic - I'm harvesting several salad bowls full of them every week.

The grass is also SUPER green right now... thanks to the wet and warm winter we have been having here in Central Texas.

Shade Tree

This bed is quite sparse.  It looks like I need to do a better job of incorporating in some evergreen plants into this mix so it doesn't look so bare at this time of year.


The herb garden has plenty of greenery thanks to the lemon balm, several types of parsley, mint, dill, and cilantro.

Triple Threat

The three central garden beds in back are also relatively bare, except for the poppies, which have very robust green leaves right now and are loving the cooler temperatures.


This bed shall henceforth be known as the "Pomegranate" bed, well, since the new pom tree sits in the very center of this bed.  Similar story as the other beds - not much happening right now except weeds, which I'll need to tackle as soon as I have another weekend that does not involve rain.

Neighbor Fenceline

There is nada, zero, zilch planted here right now.  However, that will soon change when I add several rose bushes in this bed.  This is the bed that I'm most looking forward to the transformation in the coming months.

Bulb Bed

There are just a few patches of irises that can be seen in this bed right now.  I'm really hoping that some that I transplanted last spring will bloom for me this spring.  I'm anticipating that the ones I planted last fall will not bloom until next year, but we shall see.

Front Fenceline

Blah.  More boringness.  I seriously need to work on my lack of evergreens.  The most interesting feature in this bed right now is the dead purple feathergrass.  I'm hoping the grass will make a resurgence this year, since the temperatures haven't dropped too low.


I have neglected to do much with the courtyard in the past year since we lost our shade tree in the middle.  I'm hoping to rectify that this year and get a new tree planted in the middle, along with adding several plants that will keep the space interesting throughout the year.

Front of House

The front of the house has the best seasonal interest right now since there are several more evergreen plants in this mix.  I did a bit of pruning on all the perennials last weekend, but still need to clean out the leaves in the beds.

Be sure to stop over at the Patient Gardener to see what other January gardens around the world look like.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Bay Laurel

A gardener friend gave me a bay laurel (Laurus nobilis) tree for Christmas.  I finally got around to potting it in a larger container today.

The evergreen bay trees are native of the dry, rocky slopes of Greece, which make it the perfect for xeriscape gardens in Texas, or other locations in Zones 8-11.  They also perform well as long-lived houseplants.  I stuck with keeping it in a container for now, since I'm not sure that I want to plant this tree, which can grow up to 60 feet high, on my property.  It will stay smaller in the container, and I'll have the option to bring it indoors as a houseplant, if I feel so inclined.

The leaves of the bay tree are the same ones that are used in soup recipes, which means this plant gets added to my growing herb collection!  In cooking, bay leaves are always used dried, since there are several bitter compounds that are lost when dried.  The leaves can be harvested at any time of year, but if kept as a houseplant, the bay leaves are most flavorful in the summer.  Tried bay leaves will keep for up to 1 year.

Bay leaves also repel flour weevils:  add several leaves in a muslin bag to a flour canister and change to fresh leaves every six months.

Bay trees are very slow growing, but once it is old enough (10-30 years), it will flower in the spring and produce small berries that birds love.  I will be very interested to see if I still have the bay tree 10-30 years from now!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Meyer Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

I just harvested five beautiful lemons off my first Meyer lemon tree.  So that begs the question... when life gives you lemons, what should you make?  

The old saying suggests lemonade, but I certainly don't have enough lemons for more than a couple of glasses of lemonade.  Plus, it isn't quite hot enough to enjoy a refreshing glass of lemonade.  So, I opted for a delicious treat of Meyer Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins instead - a perfect pairing with coffee on a "chilly" Texas winter morning.

I used a recipe from Miss in the Kitchen which was absolutely delicious and I highly recommend:


for muffins:
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Meyer lemon zest
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
for glaze:
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Meyer lemon juice

Cooking Directions
Preheat oven to 375°F.
In a large bowl, combine butter, eggs and sugar, beating until creamy.  Add lemon juice and combine.  Add flour, baking powder, lemon zest, salt and poppy seeds and stir just until combined.  Do not over mix.
Scoop or spoon into lined or greased muffin tins.

Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted comes out clean.
Meanwhile combine powdered sugar and lemon juice for glaze and brush over baked muffins as soon as the come out of the oven.
Serve warm or at room temperature.  Store cooled muffins in an airtight container.

The muffins were absolutely scrumptious.  Next year, hopefully I'll be able to make them with poppy seeds harvested from my own garden as well.
What is your favorite Meyer Lemon recipe?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Garden Fresh Herbal Tea

Herbal teas can do wonders for the body with their natural healing properties.  Lucky for me, I have plenty of fresh herbs out in the garden, so I decided to make some fresh herbal tea today.

For today's concoction, I selected lemon balm (melissa offinalis) and spearmint (mentha spicata).  Lemon balm helps calm nerves and anxiety, as well as aid in digestion and can improve memory and uplift one's mood.  Spearmint helps with digestion, including nausea and relaxes stomach muscles.  It also includes the essential oil menthol, which has local anesthetic and counter-irritant properties.

I grabbed about two handfuls of herb leaves (one of each type of herb in this case), then chopped up the leaves so that they will infuse the tea better.

I then put the herbs in a tea ball, and placed the tea ball in a 20 oz glass jar.  Next, I poured boiling water over the tea ball and let it steep for 20 minutes.  If you don't have a tea ball or other infuser, you can also place the herbs directly in the boiling water and either stain them out, or let the herbs settle to the bottom of the glass.

After steeping, add some extra flare to the beverage by adding some stevia or honey (antibacterial/anti-inflammatory) for sweetness, and maybe some lemon (antioxidant vitamin C) for some zestiness.  It ended up being a very mild and enjoyable tea.  

I can't wait to try out some other herbal tea concoctions.  Some future herbs (and a couple extra additions) I may try and their medical benefits include:

BASIL is useful in maintaining liver health and eyesight, is high in vitamin A, magnesium, iron and beta carotene, reduces kidney stones, cholesterol, inflammation, fever and free radicals, is a fungicidal, antioxidant, COX-2 inhibitor which can aid in the treatment of colds, asthma, cough, acid reflux, indigestion and headaches.

BAY LEAF is a decongestant, antibacterial, antimicrobial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, astringent and diuretic capable of aiding digestion and boosting the appetite as well as improving insulin function.

BLACKBERRY LEAF contain flavonoids, which are known for their antioxidant properties.  The leaves will also add a berry flavor to the tea.

CHAMMOMILE is an anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic uterine stimulant and a mild sedative which assists in stress relief and muscle relaxation, contains apigenin - a flavonoid capable of initiating renal regeneration in rats and potentially capable of triggering adult neurogenesis in humans and works to reduce nausea, bloating and singular instances of insomnia.

CHILI boosts the immune system, reduces chills and aids in pain relief due to the effects of capsaicin.

DILL can cure indigestion or flatulence, aid in treating bronchitis, UTI, cough or cramps and is high in calcium.

ECHINEACA is used to prevent the common cold.  It boosts the immune system, relieves pain, and reduces inflammation.

FENNEL relieves gas, helps to treat stomach ailments or indigestion, reduces fever and encourages healthy menstruation.

GINGER is an anti-inflammatory, anti-emetic, expectorant and antioxidant which aids in the production of saliva and digestive enzymes, reduces heartburn and nausea, clears sinuses, boosts the immune system, cleanses the lymphatic system, flushes toxins, stimulates the appetite and soothes a sore throat.

HIBISCUS FLOWER is known to reduce blood pressure, reduce high cholesterol, and strengthen the immune system (high in vitamin C).

HONEY is anti-bacterial, anti-septic and anti-oxidant, full of minerals, capable of soothing the throat, reducing GERD or acid reflux and allergies, is an antitussive that has been proven to lessen coughing in children and helps to sweeten bitter herbal teas.

LAVENDER can assist in the treatment of anxiety, flatulence, tension and indigestion and is also a sleep aid.

LEMON is astringent, antioxidant, diuretic, full of vitamin C and potassium, capable of maintaining an alkaline state and can stabilize the catechins in tea.

LEMON BALM calms nerves and anxiety and can aid digestion.  It also has several properties which control herpes (including cold sores) and also regulates the thyroid.

LEMONGRASS aids in digestion and can add a lemon flavor to teas.

NETTLE lowers blood pressure, reduces cramps, PMS, dysmenorrhea, menorrhagia and coughs, improves circulation, is high in calcium-magnesium, anti-spasmodic, anti-rheumatic, decongestant, expectorant, astringent and an anti-histamine.

OREGANO is an anti-rheumatic and anti-fungal used to treat sore throat, coughs, UTI, slow digestion, menstrual pain, malaria, insomnia, anxiety, asthma, congestion and flatulence.

PARSLEY contains apigenin - a flavonoid capable of initiating renal regeneration in rats and potentially capable of triggering adult neurogenesis in humans, is used to treat UTIs, kidney stones, colic, dropsy, bloating, flatulence and amenorrhea and also stimulates blood vessel rejuvenation.

PASSIONFLOWER is used for insomnia and to aid in a restful night’s sleep.

PEPPERMINT is effective at treating nausea and cramps by numbing the nerve endings in the stomach, reduces stress, soothes coughs or sore throats, is anti-spasmodic and boosts the immune system.

POPPY (Papaver Rhoeas) is a narcotic, soporific, mild sedative, analgesic, anti-diarrheal and antitussive that is highly effective at relieving pain and inducing sleep.

ROSEHIP is high in vitamin C, which is important for the immune system, skin and tissue health, and adrenal function.

ROSEMARY is antioxidant, antiseptic and analgesic, stimulates blood flow, helps to treat headaches, indigestion and fever, and prevents the breakdown of acetylcholine.

SAGE is an anti-inflammatory and an anti-fungal, can be used to treat sore throat, insomnia, indigestion, anxiety, hot flashes and fever, is a COX-2 inhibitor, and prevents both the loss of acetylcholine and the depletion of glutathione.

SPEARMINT helps with digestion, including nausea and relaxes stomach muscles.  It also includes the essential oil menthol, which has local anesthetic and counter-irritant properties.

THYME is an antioxidant, antimicrobial, decongestant, aids digestion, relieves bloating, rich in vitamin K, helps to treat both respiratory and nervous disorders.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Foliage Follow-Up: January 2015

Normally at this time of the month, I participate in Garden Blogger's Bloom Day.  Unfortunately, I could not find a single bloom in my Zone 8 Central Texas garden right now.  While I'm bummed that there are no blooms to share right now, it made me realize that there is plenty of foliage to admire instead.  That is why I'm partaking in my first Foliage Follow-Up, hosted by Pam over at Digging.  This month's foliage is not only beautiful, but also EDIBLE - they are my winter veggie greens!

There are the collards...


...the Swiss chard...

(Ruby Red and Fordhook Giant varieties)

...the broccoli...

(Sun King Hybrid)

...the kale...

(Toscano and unknown varieties)

...the romaine lettuce...

...and the arugula.

There was such an abundance of these delicious greens in the garden today that I harvest almost a full pound of them and juiced them into a healthy drink along with some celery, apples, and lemon.

My harvest totals so far this year include:

  • 7.5 oz Cherry Bell radish
  • 4.8 oz kale (unknown variety)
  • 5.9 oz Flash collards
  • 1.3 oz Ruby Red chard
  • 2.9 oz Fordhook Giant chard
  • 2 colanders salad greens (lettuce, spinach, arugula) 
Thanks for stopping by my first Foliage Follow-Up.  Be sure to stop by Digging to see what other gardeners have to show.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

First Plantings of 2015

The start of the new year means it is time to start thinking about the spring garden in Central Texas.  Our long growing season means that cool weather transplants can start going in the ground in the ground in late February and early March.  So that means, it is time to start sowing some seeds indoors!

Ten days ago, on January 4th, I sowed my first seeds of the new year indoors.

Seeds sown included:
  • Burpee Kale - Dwarf Blue Curled Vates (3 cells)
  • Burpee Kale - Lacinato (3 cells)
  • Burpee Spinach - Bloomsdale Long-Standing (6 cells)
  • Burpee Collards - Georgia (6 cells)
  • Burpee Broccoli - Sun King Hybrid (6 cells)
  • Botanical Interests Lettuce Leaf - Black Seeded Simpson (6 cells)
  • Botanical Interests Lettuce Butterhead - Buttercrunch (6 cells)
  • Botanical Interests Lettuce Romaine - Parris Island Cos (6 cells)
  • Botanical Interests Lettuce Leaf - Salad Bowl Blend (6 cells)
  • Botanical Interests Leek - King Richard (12 cells)
  • Botanical Interests Marjoram (9 pots)
  • Burpee Alyssum - Royal Carpet (12 cells)
  • Ferry-Morse Butterfly Flower (9 pots)
That's a lot of plants, and if all the seedlings make it, I'm not sure if I'll be able to fit all the plants in the garden, much less consume the harvests.  Oh well, I'm sure my gardening friends and neighbors wouldn't mind helping take on my surplus plants.

While I've grown lettuce, spinach, collards, and kale from seed before, I've always done it by sowing the seeds directly in the garden bed during fall planting.  This is my first go at trying out planing these seeds for the spring crop by starting indoors.  We'll see how it goes!

The leeks, marjoram, butterfly week and alyssum are all new plants and seeds for me.  Well, that is not entirely true.  I've planted several tropical butterfly weed store-bought transplants in my garden before, but after learning how the tropical variety is not the greatest for my beloved monarchs, I'm trying to plant more native varieties.  I've read that the alyssum is a great necter plant for pollinators, though it is an annual, so it will only be in the garden for one season.  Marjoram is similar to oregano and frequently used in an herbes de Provence spice mixture.

I placed my newly planted seedlings under my grow lights on my grow shelves.  After 10 days, all of the seeds have started to sprout.  In a couple of days, I'll need to start thinning the plants (I'm still terrible at planting too many seeds per cell...I always seem to underestimate how many of the seeds will sprout).  It is a heart-wrenching exercise (ok, that's a little dramatic), but it must be done in order for the remaining plants to thrive.

I'm already looking forward to the ground warming up a bit so I can get these new plants growing out in the garden!

Saturday, January 10, 2015


It is a cold and dreary day in Central Texas today, hovering around freezing - not exactly the kind of weather I want to go out and garden in.  But, now that the holidays are over and the days are still short, the weekends are the only time I have to really enjoy my garden.  So, I bundled up and ventured out.

What I saw were icicles...EVERYWHERE!

Hanging off shrubs...

...holding onto veggie vines...

...trimming the new bluebird house...

...grasping onto the shed and deck...

...and decorating branches with glistening prisms.

While it might be too cold and wet to enjoy digging in the dirt today, there was still much beauty to behold in the great outdoors.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Wildlife Wednesday - January 2015

The new year is bringing new wildlife to my garden!  I'm excited to share my new visitors with you as part of Tina's Wildlife Wednesday over at My Gardener Says.

New Visitors

While I was out of town over the holidays, my husband remained at home in Texas and noticed some commotion in the yard one day.  After looking out the window, he noticed a hawk was swooping down into our bushes, looking to catch a tasty meal of the poultry type.  He quickly grabbed his phone and snapped a couple of quick pics for me (sorry for the poor quality), but props to him, knowing this was a sight I'd want to see.

The hawk was a bit small in size compared to other hawks I've seen.  And with his (her?) coloring, my best guess is that this is a sharp-shinned hawk.  Another possibility might be Cooper's hawk.  If I have any bird experts reading this post, I'd appreciate a confirmation or correction.  This type of hawk fancies smaller birds for meals, which made sense, since the hubby said the visitor was chasing some of the birds in the yard.

Just a week ago, I noticed a pile of feathers just a few feet away from the evergreen bush captured in the picture below.  I assume our new visitor had captured a tasty treat.  From what I could tell, the hawk appeared to have gotten a white-winged dove for its meal, which is fine by me, since there are a few too many white-winged doves hanging around my yard.

This guys was definitely my favorite visitor over the past month.

This past weekend, I noticed another hawk circling overhead.  I think it might be a different hawk, since the undercarriage looks much more red/rusty brown instead of which with rusty splotches.

Another new visitor to the garden this month were European Starlings.  They are considered an invasive species, competing with native birds and destroying crops.

Rare Guests

Given the colder months and scarcer food sources, I've noticed some visitors to the garden that I tend to see much more frequently during the winter time, including...

...the ladder-backed woodpecker...

...the Eastern bluebird...

...Inca doves...

...and the tufted titmouse.

I also had a large army of Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillars in my dill and parsley over the past month (and yes, a group of caterpillars is called an army).  I started with at least 20 cats and last I checked over the weekend, there were still at least 10 out there in their last instar.  I'm not sure if they will survive the freezing temperatures headed our way this week.  I've certainly been impressed with the nearly- freezing temps they have already survived, so maybe there is still hope for them to make it through the looming cold front.

Common Patrons

That brings us to the visitors that I can see out in the yard almost every day...

...the Carolina chickadee...

...the Carolina wren...

...the Lesser goldfinches...

...and of course, the sparrows.  After a decent rain last week, the sparrows were really enjoying their time splashing around in all the impromptu bird baths.

Overall, here is a count of all the birds I noticed in the garden over the last month:

  • 40 white-winged doves
  • 20-25 sparrows
  • 12 yellow-rumped warblers
  • 6 Inca doves
  • 6-8 Lesser goldfinches
  • 3 Carolina wrens
  • 2 Carolina chickadees
  • 2 Northern cardinals (1 male, 1 female)
  • 2 blue jays
  • 2 Eastern bluebirds
  • 2 European starlings
  • 2 ladder-backed woodpeckers (1 male, 1 female)
  • 2 house finches
  • 1 red-bellied woodpecker
  • 1 tufted titmouse

Be sure to check out the wildlife other gardeners have found in their beds and yards at My Gardener Says!