Monday, June 15, 2015

In a Vase on Monday: All Good Things Come in Threes

The garden is full of color and excellent cutting flowers right now, so I decided to make three vases this week - all with a similar yellow and pink theme.

The first vase is the largest of them all and is the one I used to brighten up my main living space at home this week.  The big bouquet was a nice focal point at the center of our large kitchen/dining/family room living space.

The second is simple and elegant - with just three flowers to fill the vase.  I took this one into the office to brighten up my gray cubicle.  I got several compliments on it from co-workers.

The final vase was a whimsical little concoction of some of the "left-over" flowers from the first two vases.  These were the extras, or the ones that didn't really "go" with the other bouquets - but they make a lovely little posy together.  This vase was placed on the bedroom nightstand to enjoy every night before bed, and as the first thing every morning.

The flowers used in this week's vases are:  gladiolas,


shasta daisies,

and zinnias.

Thanks to Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for hosting the In a Vase on Monday meme every Monday.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

First Canning Experience

I hate wasting food.  And what do I hate more than wasting food?  Wasting food that I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into growing.  So with my abundance of veggie harvests right now, I decided to try my hand at a food preservation method that I have not yet tried with my garden goodies: canning.

Experienced veggie gardeners would probably tell you that canning is as essential to the gardening practice as water and sunlight since a good garden harvest is going to produce a lot more food than you can use fresh yourself or give away.  But I have not incorporated it into my gardening repertoire until this point because frankly, it intimidated me.  I always heard how long and tedious of a process it was.  I remember growing up in Wisconsin and picking oodles of strawberries every summer, which my mom would then spend a whole day processing into jam.  I just don't have that kind of time on my hands.  But, since I've had a decent harvest this summer so far and have more veggies than I can eat fresh, and since I hate wasting food, I decided to give canning a try. Turns out, it really wasn't that bad.

Sure, it wasn't the quickest process.  It probably took me a couple hours total (with clean up) for just a few jars.  But, given it was my first time, I know I took a lot of extra time reading directions and making sure I got all the steps right.  But overall, it was much easier and faster than I expected, so I'm sure I'll be doing more canning in the future.

I ended up canning three quart jars of dill pickles, using Botanical Interests' Homemade Pickles cucumbers.  I also canned two pint jars of pickled green beans (Blue Lake 274).  Now, I just need to let the jars sit in the pantry for a few weeks before I can try how they turned out.

Here is the recipe that I used for both the green beans and cucumbers.  Since I'm new to this canning business, I'd love to hear some of your favorite canned veggie recipes!

Ingredients (makes 6 half-pint jars - I doubled the recipe for my 2 pint and 3 quart jars)
  • 2 1/2 pounds fresh green beans (cucumbers)
  • 2 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup salt (kosher or pickling)
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 1 bunch fresh dill weed
  • 3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1.  Sterilize jars with rings and lids and keep hot.  Trim green beans to 1/4 inch shorter than the jars.

2.  In a large saucepan, stir together the vinegar, water and salt. Add garlic and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. In each jar, place 1 sprig of dill and 1/8 teaspoon of red pepper flakes. Pack green beans into the jars so they are standing on their ends

3.  Ladle the boiling brine into the jars, filling to within 1/4 inch of the tops. Discard garlic. Seal jars with lids and rings. Place in a hot water bath so they are covered by 1 inch of water. Simmer but do not boil for 10 minutes to process. Cool to room temperature. Test jars for a good seal by pressing on the center of the lid. It should not move. Refrigerate any jars that do not seal properly. Let pickles ferment for 2 to 3 weeks before eating.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

May Wildlife

Life was pretty hectic in May between work and visits from family, which is why my post for Tina's Wildlife Wednesday is a few days late.  With the busy month, I also felt like I didn't get much quality time in the garden, and even less time to photograph my May garden visitors.  But looking back on my photographs tells a much different story.  Even with limited time in garden, I got pictures of so many different types of wildlife.  It makes me wonder how many more critters visited my garden this month that I didn't get a chance to notice.  Here are the ones that I did spot:

Bees, Butterflies, & Other Insects

One of my favorite visitors this month were the Black Swallowtail butterflies.  I need to give photo credit to my hubby for the cool pics of the swallowtails.

This female is laying her eggs on some of the flowering dill in my container herb garden on my back patio.  My fennel, dill, and parsley are constant hosts for the swallowtail caterpillars, which can be found in various instar stages at any time on my plants.

And while clipping some lemon balm for a floral arrangement, I found this empty swallowtail chrysalis.  Maybe it even belonged to the momma swallowtail who is now laying her eggs on my plants for the next generation of swallowtails.

 Next in the insects are the the skippers that visited my garden last month.

Perfect camouflage to blend in with the sunflowers.  I have to say, these are my favorite pictures of wildlife this month, and while my husband is pretty good at catching some cool pictures, I get to take credit for these.

Another skipper sun bathing on a zinnia leaf.

The bees were also loving the sunflowers this month.

And when they weren't feasting on the sunflowers, they could be found on the shasta daisies.

Or even on the Graham Thomas roses (yellow must be their favorite color).

This katydid nymph was hanging out on a gladiola of one of my garden bouquets last month.


There have been plenty of green anoles scurrying around the yard lately.  I found this one sun bathing on the oleander leaves.

The Texas Spiney Lizards have been more numerous than ever.  I see several of them every day out in the courtyard or scampering across the garden.  Today my dogs were going crazy over one that kept playing hide-and-seek with them.

There have been so many spiney lizards, that I was even able to get two in one shot when they were playing around in the courtyard - one is on the rocker cushion, and one is on the bottom rung of the table.  Do you see them?


We always have white-tailed deer around the neighborhood, but I usually see them only at dawn and dusk, and they scurry away too fast, so I usually can't catch them on camera.

However, after some strong storms in the area last month which knocked down a lot of branches in the neighborhood, the deer came out of hiding in the morning and feasted on the fallen branches and stuck around long enough for some photos.

They didn't like too many pictures being taken, so were quickly off to find their next fallen branch for breakfast.


I've spotted plenty of mockingbirds this month, including this guy, who looks to be an adolescent.

The black-chinned hummingbirds (female and male below) continue to feast at the feeder at dawn and dusk daily.  When I'm outside, I generally hear them before I see them - the buzzing they make with their incredibly fast wings is an unmistakable sound.

And while I can spot blue-jays year-round in my garden, I find them to be one of the trickiest backyard birds to capture on camera.  They don't stay at any one place very long, but can be viewed flying from limb to limb or fence post to fence post throughout the day.


Last but not least is a toad that I found on the back porch one evening in May after some heavy rains. My dogs LOVE chasing toads and frogs, and while I tried to deter my dogs from "playing" with this little guy, I eventually had to let them outside and they eventually caught the little fella.  Such is life I s'pose.

Thanks for visiting my blog and reading about the May wildlife in my garden!

Monday, June 1, 2015

In a Vase on Monday: At the End of the Storm is a Golden Sky...

...and the sweet silver song of a lark
Walk on, through the wind
Walk on, through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone...

With all the storms we've been having in Texas recently, I can't help but sing the words of one of my favorite songs, "You'll Never Walk Alone" from Carousel.  For those not familiar with the song, here is my favorite arrangement and performance of the piece, sung by favorite musical organization - The Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps, which I was honored to part of back in 2005.

It reminds me how no matter how terrible the "storms" you are going through may be (literally or figuratively), there is hope that things will get better with the help of others, through strength found in God, and with your own grit and determination.

This week's vase demonstrates the beauty that comes after the storms.

This vase, inspired by Cathy's weekly meme over at Rambling in the Garden is filled with a light pink and magenta gladiola, that were knocked down during our recent strong winds.

There is one Mrs. B. R. Cant rose,

A couple of volunteer sunflowers, planted by the birds over the winter,

As well as a handful of zinnias to brighten up the bouquet.

The actual storms in Texas completely filled the retention pond in the park behind our house (normally does not have any water in it, but was filled within an hour or two last week).

As well as brought some funky cool mammatus clouds to the area after the severe storms, which reminded me of something out of a Dr. Seuss or other fantasy book

But those were only minor impacts of the area storms.  The real damage was done down in Hays County.  My husband and I dropped off some flood clean-up supplies in Wimberley, TX over the weekend, where I snapped a couple phone pictures in areas that weren't completely closed off to civilians.

Many trees were completely knocked down or up-rooted, including cypress trees that were centuries old.  Homes and buildings were swept off of their foundations and carried miles downstream (if not completely demolished).  The force of the flood waters was unreal, and the devastation was overwhelming.

I continue to think about all those impacted by the floods and I'm grateful for the volunteers that are helping to clean up the communities that were hit.  There is hope that things will get better.  Walk on and know that you'll never walk alone.