Sunday, July 15, 2012

More Rain and Today's Harvest

It has been about seven straight days of rain here in Central Texas, and the garden is loving it - not to mention all the wildlife around here that is enjoying the wet weather and break from the Texas heat.  It has rained so much that there is now a pond in the park behind our house!  It is actually a retention pond for instances such as this, but most of the year it is completely dry.

The wet weather has really been making the garden grow.  Today I harvested a large bunch of basil that I have growing next to my tomatoes.  I cut the basil back, but left enough of the stems so that it will grow back and I can harvest it again in a couple of weeks.  Now is time to make a little pesto to put in pastas and on chicken sandwiches. 

I also pulled one radish from the garden today.  It looked picture perfect, but wasn't the best tasting in my opinion.  It was definitely fresh enough, just too-radishy.  I think I had them in the garden a little too long, so they got overwhelmingly flavorful.  I also planted radish during the Texas summer, which is not the suggested season for them.  They prefer the cooler spring and fall months.  I think the heat made them extra potent and a bit too much for me.  I'll be planting radishes only in the spring and fall now.

I was able to plant some seeds indoors on my new grow shelves as well.  Yesterday I planted:

  • Fruit/Veggies
    • Eggplant - Early Long Purple (Martha Stuart Organic)
    • Eggplant - Black Beauty (Ferry-Morse)
    • Watermelon - Tasty Sweet (Burpee)
    • Pablano Pepper (Ferry-Morse)
    • Pepper - California Wonder 300 TMR (Ferry-Morse)
    • Tomato - Supersweet 100 VF Hybrid (Ferry-Morse)
    • Swiss Chard - Fordhook Giant (Burpee)
    • Swiss Chard - Ruby Red (Burpee)
  • Herbs
    • Sweet Basil (Burpee)
    • Spanish Cilantro (Burpee)
  • Flowers
    • Marigold - Best Mix (Burpee)
    • Morning Glory - Tall Mix (Burpee)
    • Lupine - Russell's Hybrid Mixed Colors (Ferry-Morse)
    • Painted Daisy - Giant Mixed Colors (Burpee)
Note - I soaked the morning glory and lupine seeds for about 18 hours before planting to soften the hard seed shells to hasten germination.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Indoor Grow Shelves

My most recent garden project was setting up indoor grow shelves.  These shelves will come in handy for starting my garden seeds inside when it is either too cold outside (January), or when it is too hot outside, like right now.  I tried several times to get some tomato, pepper and eggplants to grow from seeds outside, but I think it was too hot for them because the seedlings kept wilting.

I also tried starting watermelons and cucumbers from seeds multiple times.  The heat didn't bother them, but I noticed that bugs were chewing through the delicate cucumber stem and that the mockingbirds were pulling my watermelon sprouts right out of the ground.  The grow shelves should help me get the plants established before putting them outside.

To set up my grow shelf, I bought:
  • Whitmor 4-tier metal shelving unit ($65)
  • 3 4-foot 2-light T8 fluorescent shop light fixtures ($60)
  • 6 4-foot T8 fluorescent light bulbs ($30)
    • 4 Philips Daylight Deluxe (32 watt, 2750 lumens, color temp 6500K)
    • 2 Philips Soft White (32 watt, 2950 lumens, color temp 3000K)
The daylight bulbs produce blue light, which are needed for the seedlings to grow.  The soft white produces red spectrum light, which the plants need for flowering.  Blue light is more important for starting seedling indoors that will later be transplanted outside, but I read that having a full spectrum of light (blue and red) is good for the seedlings.  I'm trying a little experiment and I have one of the shelves with only daylight (blue) lights.  The other two shelves have one daylight (blue) and one soft white (red) lights.  I'll see which one the seedlings tend to do better under and will adjust my lights accordingly to use the best light for my plants.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Finally Some Rain!

We got a break in the 100+ degree Texas weather and a relief from the dry spell, finally!  It rained maybe and inch between last night and today, which isn't a lot by most standards, but it has become a rarity in Central Texas.  My yard and garden are definitely loving it.  I just hope we continue to get rain over the summer.  A nice big thunderstorm would be more than welcome too.  The rain is hard to see in the picture, but it happened, I promise!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Shade for the Hydrangeas

About a six weeks ago, I bought two Endless Summer Twist-n-Shout hydrangeas.  I was told by a random customer at Home Depot that they do really well in the shade.  But my internet research said that I should give my plants at least several hours of morning sun for them to bloom properly.  So, I planted them along the fence in my backyard that receives morning sun and afternoon shade.

Apparently, the spot I selected received too much morning sun and not enough afternoon shade, because just a couple of days after planting, my hydrangeas were looking very sad and wilted.  I realized I needed to quickly move them to another part of the yard with more shade, or they would die.  I again recruited the biceps of my husband to dig two new holes for me (again, the Central Texas ground is a beast to deal with all the rock) in the back corner of our lot, next to the canna lilies, where I thought there would be more shade from the trees that tower overhead.

Several weeks have gone by, and I realize that my hydrangeas are still receiving too much sun. I desperately needed to get them in some full shade, or else they will wither up and die on me.  Unfortunately, it is a treasure hunt to try and find a soft patch of ground that isn't filled with boulders two inches above the surface.  Not to mention, it has barely rained in Central Texas this summer, so where there is actually top soil, it is nearly as hard as the rock a few inches below.

Desperate to save my hydrangeas, I got the idea to get the hose out and let it run for 30 minutes in the specific spot I wanted to plant my hydrangeas, to help loosen the soil (good thing we aren't on water restrictions...yet!).  Low and behold, the plan worked!  However, I also needed a little additional help from my handy pick-ax that I recently purchased (a must-have for any Central Texas gardener to get through the rocky terrain).  The mix of the softened ground and the pick ax allowed me to dig the size holes I needed to transplant my hydrangeas.  Not to mention, I was able to dig the holes all by myself, even with my puny muscles.

The hydrangeas definitely show signs of taking a beating from the brutal Texas sun, but they also look like they will be able to jump back to life in no time.  I just hope I picked a shady enough spot this time.  We will soon find out!  And let this be a lesson to me to always heed the advice of the home gardeners testimonies over the internet recommendations.

Saturday, July 7, 2012


I'm SO excited!  I saw not only one, but TWO hummingbirds in my backyard today flitting around together.  I also saw them many times today, coming to the hummingbird feeder at least every hour, if not more.  At one point, I was just two feet away from the hummingbird!  I think they were Central Texas Black Chinned Hummingbirds.  They definitely did not look like ruby-throated hummingbirds.  They let me take a couple of pictures of them.

While the hummingbirds seem to like the standard hummingbird feeder, to make sure they stay around, I wanted to give them a few more options, so I planted some flowers under my hummingbird feeder that are suppose to attract hummingbirds.  I planted some lantana and some coneflowers.  The butterflies should like this new flower garden as well.

Eventually, I plan to add some other flowers to this small flower garden that attract butterflies and hummingbirds.  I plan to plant some columbine, lupine, and daisies later this fall.

Friday, July 6, 2012


I've never grown okra before, and I've only eaten it once or twice.  But, it seems to be one of the vegetables that does well in the hot Texas sun, so I thought I would try growing some in my garden this year.  

On May 20, I planted some Clemson Spineless okra seeds directly into one of my raised garden beds, spaced to eventually have four plants planted one foot apart.  A few of the seedlings died, or were uprooted by some of the notorious Northern mockingbirds (Texas' state bird) that fill my backyard, but I've ended up with at least one strong plant per square foot, four total plants.  The plants seem to grow very slowly.  I think I might have planted them a little too late in the season.

I got impatient, so I went to the nursery and bought two older seedlings so that I wouldn't have to wait as long for some produce.  The plants were very tall and skinny with only a few leaves.  I think the nursery might have pinched most of the leaves to stimulate the plant growth.

I found a pretty okra flower on one of the older seedlings from the nursery a couple of weeks ago.  It was very cute, but only boomed for a few hours one morning,  I haven't seen any other flowers on the plants yet.  I'm hoping to get more soon so that I get more vegetables.

Right now, I just have one okra on each of the larger plants.  I'm not sure why there aren't more right now.  I will need to do some more research to find what causes this, and how I can stimulate more flowering.  I also will need to learn when the right time will be to harvest these funny veggies, not to mention find some tasty recipes to use them in.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Canna Lily Surprise

When we first moved into our house, just over a year ago - July 2 of 2011, there were no flowers  to be found anywhere on the property.  Granted, last year there were about 70 days of the summer over 100 degrees, not to mention the house was up for sale with no one living there, so there wasn't really anyone to take care of the flowers if they had been present.

However, this spring, we got a nice surprise in the back yard when some canna lilies came up in the very back corner of our lot.  It seems like someone planted them there to hid some of the electrical boxes that are located back in the corner.  They are very beautiful, and better yet, they do not require any care from my part (I think they get enough water from being close enough to the neighbor's sprinkler system!).


I planted several types of squash this year.  I hear that it is probably the easiest vegetable plant to grow, not to mention does quite well in the hot Texas weather, so it I thought it would be a good option for my first real garden.

In one of my raised garden beds, on May 20 I planted seeds directly into the ground, one mound each of:

  • Butternut squash (Waltham)
  • Acorn squash (Early Hybrid)
  • Zucchini (Black Beauty)
  • Gourds (Small Fancy Mix)
  • Pumpkin (Jack-o-Lantern)
By June 10th, this is what my squash looked like:

By July 1st, the squash had really taken off:

However, bad news, I think the nasty squash vine borers got to my plants.  None of my plants have died yet, but I will definitely be keeping a close eye on them.  Unfortunately, I hear there is nothing I can do at this point in time besides plant another crop of plants and keep a close eye on them to get rid of any larvae that shows up.

But, for now, I have squash plants that are flowering.  It does seem like I have a lot more male flowers than female flowers, so I was worried I may not end up with any squash.  Much to my relief, I found this beautiful female acorn squash flower in the garden this morning.  Now I just hope that when the flower opens, I will have a nice male flower to pollinate it with.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Florida Prince Peach Tree

In March, Jon and I bought a Florida Prince Peach Tree from Costco.  We planted it in the backyard where there is plenty of sun and where it would be safe from the deer.  We had to stake the little tree and tie it down with some supports because the windy Texas spring was too much for the little tree to handle.
After several weeks, I noticed several small peaches forming on the tree.  I was very excited that the first year we planted the peach tree we would also be getting fruit!  There were about 5-6 small little fruits forming.
The peaches slowly turned from green to an orange/peach color.  I didn't see any indication of disease or bugs on the plant, so I was very excited for the juicy little peaches to get bigger for me to eat.

And then disaster struck.  One day the little peaches were perfect, the next they looked half eaten, by the birds I am assuming.  I was so saddened by the event and that I wouldn't get to eat any of my peaches that year.

It was a definitely a learning experience on needing to keep my fruit away from the birds that surround my house.  I plan to use some bird netting next year, as well as place some shiny objects around the garden, like ornaments, silver streamers, and metallic pinwheels. 

Does anyone else have any suggestions on organic ways to keep the birds away from your fruit?

Spring Bulb Bed

Earlier this spring, I was at Costco and saw a large bag of about 50 spring garden bulbs for under $20.  It was a purple color mix of gladiolas, dahlias, and calla lily bulbs and I got very excited because it was one of my first gardening project of the year, and my first project at our new house.

I found a spot in the back yard along the fence that was sunny and would be a perfect place for some colorful flowers.  I definitely wanted the flowers to be in the backyard so that they would be protected from being eaten by the deer that come around our house every night.  The ground was very hard, and you can only go a few inches before hitting a layer of rock, but Jon was able to help me dig a large enough plot for the bulbs.

I planted the bulbs in mid-March and started to see the gladiolas pop up in a couple of weeks.  The calla lilies popped up a couple of weeks later.  The dahlias were the last to come up. I was worried they wouldn't come up at all, thinking maybe I watered them too much and that the bulb rotted.  Luckily, 3 of the 4 tubers ended up showing.
I loved all the different pinks, purples, reds, and oranges of the gladiolas, the lilac color of the dahlias, and the complimentary yellow of the calla lilies.

The spring bulb bed has died down recently during the extreme heat of the Texas summer days.  I'm looking forward to next spring when the bulb bed fills out even more and I can have even more beautiful fresh cut flowers for my home.

Tomato Cages

I've been doing a lot of reading on the best way to support tomato plants.  It seems that the general consensus is to use concrete wire mesh and form the wire into circular cages.  Again, I enlisted the help of my wonderful husband to help with the project.

First, I had to get the wire mesh.  I shopped around a bit and found rolls of 150ft by 5ft rolls at Home Depot for about $110.  I didn't think that I would use all 150ft in the near future, so I looked to see if there were any half rolls available.  After looking at other big box home improvement stores and local landscaping stores, I had no luck.  It seemed I had to bite the bullet and get a full roll, or buy the smaller sheets of remesh at Home Depot.  But, I didn't want to do this because the sheets were only 3.5ft tall, when I really wanted at least 5ft cages, since tomato plants can reach 6ft tall if they are indeterminate.  I did, however, find a local concrete/landscape company that sold the 150ft roll for $85, so Jon picked up the roll for me.

We also bought some heavy duty bolt cutters at Home Depot to cut through the wire (about $15), and some zip ties to secure the wire into a circle.

So far, Jon and I have made 8 tomato cages.  We made three different sizes - 5ft, 5.5, and 6ft in length, which end up being about 19 inches to 23 inches in diameter.  It is helpful to make a few different sizes so that I can stake the cages inside each other for storage if I need to move them out of my garden.  The cages are about 4.5ft tall since we cut open the bottom 6 inches of the mesh to make prongs to stick into the ground to hold the cages more securely in place.  I plan to make at least 2 more tomato cages, for a total of 10 cages.

I still have about 100ft of remesh left after the cages, but I plan make good use of it by setting up some trellises to grow some of my squash vertically.  I also plan to make some trellises for my cucumbers eventually.  I'm very happy with the result of the project.

Side note, the concrete remesh is very sharp and since it is tightly coiled, it has a lot of spring and power as you unroll it.  I was extremely careful while cutting the wire, but Jon is not nearly as cautious as I am, and it ended up getting him in the end.  The coil of wire sprung back and gave him a good size cut on the the back of his arm.  The wire is very rusty, and Jon has not had a tetanus shot in the last 10 years, so he ended up having to go to the doctor the next day to get his updated shot (much to his dislike, but to my relief).  Make sure you have an updated tetanus shot, wear gloves and eye protection, and take extreme caution before working with concrete remesh!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Creepy Critters

Today, as I sat working in my office, which overlooks our courtyard, I spotted some motion out of the corner of my eye that registered as unusual.  When I looked up, I saw a 4-5 foot long snake slithering around the courtyard.  I'm not too afraid of snakes, unless I know they are going to bite me or are poisonous.  I don't think this one is dangerous, at least he doesn't look like it.  I still hope he doesn't slither up on me ever.  He stayed put for me to get a few photos.  

I thought we may end up having a National Geographic moment on our hands, but the snake slithered on by, leaving the lizard to see another day.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Building Raised Garden Beds

Learning to be a Central Texas gardener means learning that there is a layer of rock just a couple of inches below the topsoil.  I guess this is why I normally only see raised garden beds in this area.  This also meant that to start my own home vegetable garden, I needed to build my own raised vegetable garden beds.  Lucky for me, my wonderful husband Jon was also willing to help out with the project.

STEP 1:  Select a location
We selected a sunny spot near the back fence that was out of the way of any mowing/dog fetching zones.  
STEP 2:  Select size and number of beds
Next, I determined that we could adequately fit about five 10x4ft garden beds in the area, but opted to start with just four, with the option of adding another one later if the whole project is successful.
STEP 3:  Buy building materials
We bought our supplies at a local Home Depot.  We opted for cedar 2x6 planks, as they last longer than pine, but they are not as permanent as stone beds (good just in case we have to move and the next owners want a pool in the back yard instead of garden beds).  The Home Depot Lumber center cut the planks to the lengths we needed for the 10x4ft beds.
STEP 4:  Build frames
We did a little online research such as looking at this site to make sure we made the beds correctly.  We wanted to build all the frames prior to putting them in the selected locations so that we could get the layout just right.  Jon started doing the drilling, but I quickly took over the drilling job as he started to prepare the plots.
STEP 5:  Prepare the plots
Jon rented a tiller from Home Depot for 2 hours to dig up the plots where we were going to put our beds so that our plants would have nice loose soil to grow into.  Again, the rocky ground did not make for a fun tilling time, but Jon is a trooper.
STEP 6:  Secure beds
After the frames were built and plots tilled, we were ready to put the frames in their selected locations.  To keep the beds from shifting location, especially because they are on a slight hill, we drove two stakes per bed into the corners of the beds as far down as they would go (until they reached the horrible rock layer).
STEP 7:  Fill with dirt
We grossly underestimated the amount of dirt required to fill four 10x4ft garden beds.  We started with about 20 bags of compost, manure, and peat moss from Home Depot which only ended up filling a few inches of the beds.  We ended up ordering a delivery of 3 square yards of garden dirt from a local landscaping company (which equated to about 40-50 full wheelbarrows).
STEP 8:  Plant!

The whole projected ended up costing about $500, but should last us for many many *fruitful* years to come.  Thanks again to my wonderful husband for all his hard work!

Jon working hard to loosen the soil.
Empty beds waiting for more dirt.
Yay! Dirt was delivered!  Then followed the daunting task of shoveling it all.
Filling the beds.
Getting it done!
Jon did a lot of manual labor, but so did I!
Completed raised garden beds ready for some plants.

Starting My Texas Garden

Welcome to my gardening blog!  

I have recently purchased my first house in central Texas, USDA zone 8b.  Our house sits on 0.75 acres, plenty of space for a nice home garden.  It is my first time truly gardening in Texas (I grew up in the chilly north of Southeast Wisconsin), and really my first time truly gardening in general since it is my first place that I've been able to do whatever I want with the place. 

I have a lot of learning ahead of me, both in learning how to be a good gardener, but more importantly - a good Texas gardener.  I thought it would be fun to journal and blog my successes and failures along the way to document my learnings.  Hopefully I will even learn some helpful tips and tricks from readers along the way.  I hope you enjoy!