Sunday, November 21, 2010

Caviar on Lettuce

Caviar anyone?

Caviar on lettuce? I wish - no, turns out this is old fashioned caterpillar poop, of all things. Out harvesting greens for my salad and found these. Wondered if the caterpillars had a preference of one type of lettuce over another but seems like they like them all.

The caterpillars grow fast - in proportion to what they eat. Best to catch them small if they are there. More salad for me to eat than them. I wonder if caterpillar poop makes good compost?

Another sign of a visitor in the garden. Chewed up lettuce leaves.



Garden Detective Tips
(or what I learn by doing - best way for me)
  • Look for telltale signs of bites out of the leaves, or caviar on lettuces.
  • Inspect underside of each leaf.
  • The green caterpillar is easier to find on the darker lettuce leaves than on the green leaves.
  • It is easier to detect signs left from the green cateripillar on the green ones cause of the contrasting droppings they leave behind.

Bug Detail
Sunday afternoon and want am I doing? Trying to ID an ugly bug in my garden to figure out if it’s a good one or bad one. Can’t decide if it’s a wheel bug (good one) or a leaf footed bug or ? I did find a good link of different photos of bugs at True Bugs.

I have the Texas Bug Book by Malcolm Beck and Howard Garrett to check if they are good or bad bugs. This books has some great stories of Malcolm's experiences with lots of bug pictures.

Feel like a kid again checking out what’s close to the ground. Now with the super raised garden beds I can really get up close and check things out. Will try and get a photo for next time.

I know if I leave most things alone, nature will step in and take care of it for me anyway.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Easy Herbal Drink Refreshments

I apologize for taking so long to post these much requested recipes that I serve at our garden parties.
Secret Garden Rosemary Tea
• 46-oz can unsweetened pineapple juice
• 2 T dried rosemary or 6 T chopped fresh – best flavor fresh
• Dash of Salt
• 1/2 to 1 ½ Cups Sugar depending on your preference – Best to add little at a time and taste (one time I accidentally got the sweetened pineapple juice and didn’t need to add sugar and another time I used grapefruit juice and that was good too)
• 1 ½ Cups Lemon Juice – fresh squeezed or bottle concentrate
• 1 Qt. Water

• Combine 1/2 can pineapple juice w/CHOPPED rosemary in a pan.
• Bring to boil, cover.
• Remove from heat and steep 10 min.
• Strain out rosemary. Stir into above decoction, along with the remaining half can of pineapple juice. Cool; pour over plenty of ice.
• Float thin slices of lemon, lime and sprigs of fresh rosemary on top.
• Can also float slices of star fruit (Carambolo) and Australian violets. Looks very nice in a big glass carafe or punch bowl.

I don’t add the water. Instead I add lots of ice and let it melt.

Adapted from the Penn Cumberland Garden Club, Fairy Folk Tea Party

I took the above recipe and put a twist on it - using our wonderful Magic Valley fresh grapefruits!

Rosemary Grapefruit Lemonade
• Six freshly squeezed grapefruits (or 46 oz. canned grapefruit juice)
• 2 T dried rosemary or 6 T chopped fresh – best flavor fresh
• 1/2 to 1 ½ Cups Sugar depending on your preference – Best to add little at a time and taste
• 1 ½ Cups Lemon Juice – fresh squeezed or bottle concentrate
• 1 Qt. Water

• Combine juice of three fresh squeezed grapefruits (or 1/2 can grapefruit juice) w/CHOPPED rosemary in a pan.
• Bring to boil, cover.
• Remove from heat and steep 10 min.
• Strain out rosemary. Stir into above decoction, along with the remaining three fresh squeezed grapefruits (or with the remaining half can of pineapple juice)
• Cool; pour over plenty of ice

• Float thin slices of lemon, lime and sprigs of fresh rosemary on top.

• Can also float slices of star fruit (Carambolo) (also sold at the Farmers Market) and Australian violets. Looks very nice in a big glass carafe or punch bowl.
I don’t add the water. Instead I add lots of ice and let it melt.

Bona Fruitee - Enjoy!

Monday, October 25, 2010

My Happy Birthday Herb Garden

Got home this evening and my wonderful husband surprised me by planting an herb garden outside our back porch as his belated birthday gift to me. As my Dad would say "It is a thing of beauty and joy forever." I LOVE IT and was totally surprised! Just what I wanted. I am so excited.

Silly Wabbit

Some people complain about rabbits in their garden. They might even put up a
scarecrow in their garden. Not us. We got us a big ole "Wacky" lookin rabbit
peeking out of the lavender, basil and chives.

I think "Wacky" would scare a snake with this look. "Wacky" rabbit is one of
the many interesting finds I discovered in my newly planted birthday gift herb garden.

Welcome in Mosaic

Mosaic Bird Bath

It begins with a nice mosaic "Welcome" sign high enough to still be seen once all the herbs start growing in and filling up this herb garden room. A miniature mosaic bird bath may serve more for a water bowl unless "Wacky" rabbit scares all the four legged creatures away.

Still checking what herb plant surprises are included.

Red Ruben Basil - This and Purple Ruffle Basil
are one of my favorites on fresh sliced garden tomatoes
sprinkled with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and goat cheese.

Yummy Oregano

 "Wacky" rabbit looks well fed in this garden, doesn't he?
Newly mulched Red Veined Sorrel
Herbs like salad burnet, savory, sage, sorrel, different basils, thyme, oreganos,
chives, anise hyssop, lavender and rosemary nestle among the winding
mulched raised garden bed and walkway.

I've already harvested fresh herbs from my new garden in our dinner this evening.
Thank you Donny for the best gift ever!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Garden Basics for Newbie Gardeners

I am so proud of you as a gardening newbie! Remember it’s about having fun and trial and error. Some of the best learning times in gardens is just going through different experiences trying different things. What’s the fun if everything comes out perfect? It’s especially fun for you if you have children or grandchildren to make memories together in the garden now that they will remember all the rest of their lives.

My dad grew tomatoes when I was little and I always think of him when I eat homegrown tomatoes. I always think of my mom when I taste and smell honeysuckle. I wish we’d had an herb garden back then cause the wonderful fragrances would trigger all kinds of memories of them.

Basic Gardening Tips
As a new gardener, I’m going to give you some basic gardening tips in addition to answering your question. I hope I do not overwhelm you – that is not my intention. Take some of the info or all of it – whatever you do will be good.

Mulching and Watering Tips
It’s good to keep herbs & veggies watered and mulched. Mulching your garden keeps the soil from getting so hot and drying out quickly (conserving water). Mulching also helps keep the weeds down and if they do come up they are easier to pull through the mulch. You can buy mulch at your local nursery or garden center. I like the cedar mulch myself. You open the bag and spread it several inches deep around the base of your plants and throughout the flower bed but not right up against the plant – leave several inches clear of the plant stems. It’s not a big deal if some is touching but do not pile in on top of the plant as bugs will get in there and start eating the stems that are covered with the mulch.

You don’t want to over water your plants because if you do, oxygen won’t get to the roots and too much water will smother and drown them which kills the plant. When watering, water slowly and deeply and before you water again check how wet they are by poking one of your fingers in the soil next to the plant before watering again. If the soil feels soggy or real muddy, you don’t need to water. If it’s starting to feel dried out, water. Plants always look much better after a nice rain as rain helps to wash away the salts that build up in the soil. So rainwater tops hose or irrigation water every time. We usually get rain all at once or not at all.

Raised beds shown above before mulching.

Raised Beds
Raised beds also make for a better herb and veggie garden which allows good drainage for plants to grow. That’s important in our soils and in other places as well.

Every year you can add compost to the soil in your beds turning with a shovel or pitchfork or tilling the top 12 inches and the soil will get better and better and easier to work. Don’t expect it to be perfect the first year.

You can tell in our garden which are the older beds as they are a lot easier to work in compared to the newer ones. You wouldn’t believe how much time my husband will spend on preparing the bed but when he does the payoff is really good. As you improve your beds, the improved soil will be able to retain water much better and the healthier the soil the healthier your plants.
Now to answer your question…

Flowering Basil?
Use basil often as pruning encourages it to grow bushier and this prolongs the plant’s life. Basil will sometimes start blooming as soon as it starts growing, but keep the bloom stalks cut off as much as possible. The plants will get woody the older they get and leaves a bit sparser. It’s good to plant basil at different times throughout the growing season to keep a fresh supply. Where we live it grows a lot longer before needing replacement.

So it’s not bad that basil flowers but it’s good to keep them cut – I like to cut the flowers and bring them in and fill containers with water and the fresh cut herbs – it smells so nice and looks pretty.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Ten in Life

10-10-10 Whoa, that’s got to be an amazing number and date today. Ten being the highest rating – Remembering Bo Derek – for those who are old enough to remember. What a great day to start new beginnings as it’s the all time highest rating monthwise, daywise and yearwise all aligned today. Which in itself makes me ten times more inspired as I began my day trying to devote 30 minutes to myself with 10 minutes of meditation, 10 minutes of journaling, 10 + 5 minutes of yoga for exercise and 1/2 of 10 minutes playing keep the dog skunk toy away from Herbie & Daisy. I’ve made some sporadic attempts to get into a “me” routine. I seem to get sidetracked easily.

My dreams of a cleaned up fully planted garden may be too idealistic as a garden is always evolving, like we are. If it’s a reflection of what I need to be doing than I have some weeding to take care of both outside and inside. I am continuously cultivating to bring in what will work for me and “weeding” out what doesn’t. Sometimes I lament more on what I need to tackle rather than the goal of what it will free up for me and allow me to do once I get it done.

I hope you take today expecting and experiencing “Ten” in everything you do on this momentous date.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Hummer Sightings in Houston

Michael in Houston, Texas, reports that with the increases in gasoline prices and their noted inefficiency in "miles per gallon" ratios, fewer and fewer Hummers are being seen in traffic all across the city these days...Following are his obervations.

(WHAT? OH! You're talking about "hummingbirds", not cars... Now I understand... Never mind. Uh...since I leave for work at 5:30 in the morning and don't usually get home until 7:00 in the evening, I haven't seen one hummingbird in my yard since last year. They must fly during daylight hours, not at night, like bats.

We see lots of bats here. The Mexican Free Tail bats really enjoy the nights here, eating billions-upon-billions of mosquitoes, especially about 6:00 to 6:30 in the evening, swooping low over the bayous that lace the city, their little mouths open, their teeth arranged like the chrome grills on 1968 Chevy and Oldsmobile cars, sucking in tons of unsuspecting mosquitoes as they wing their way from their roosts into the delight of children playing baseball at that hour and the dread, fear and dismay of thousands of women with big hair who are afraid of getting a bat caught in their bouffant hair-do...)

(You're realy talking about Hummingbirds, huh? - Haven't seen one...But I'd like to. Usually the polution from the petro-chemical industry is so bad that they don't come into Houston that much any more. That and Sugar Land, Texas, closed its Pure Cane Sugar Mill three years ago, so they fly around us now, more to the west, before heading south to visit y'all...)

(This report probably doesn't help you that much, but I thought you might want to know anyway, about the bats...)

I wish I could join y'all in the garden to welcome the "Little Jewels of the Air"...

"BatMan" of Houston

Thank you Michael - I love the music & hummers on this short video clip Ruby-throated Humminbird Duals.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Hummer Reports Coming In

Marylyn Ponder and myself (otherwise known as the "The Happy Gardeners") have been busy planning a garden party to welcome the Ruby-throated hummingbirds to her "El Jardin de Colores" garden here in Brownsville, Texas. In the process I'm starting to get hummingbird sighting reports from friends! How neat is that?

  • Diane in Maine - Sunday, Aug. 22 - Hummers are feeding constantly. must be getting ready for their long journey. You will see them soon.

  • Marylou shared her photos above - will check to find out when & where she took them - looks like a male Allen hummingbird but those aren't listed in our range.

  • Rosalinda - has to start over - she made up her hummingbird syrup for her feeders and was letting her pan cool when someone came along and emptied it not knowing what it was. Gotta git em filled quick or see what happens.

  • Lauran, West Brownsville -  Monday, Aug. 30. 10:10 AM - I probably have about ten hummers that are regulars. I have two of Dr. J.B.'s hummingbird feeders up. I see them all day--all buff-bellied--they chase each other like crazy and then take a guzzle out of the feeder and then chase each other again. It is one of my greatest enjoyments...they're just so beautiful!!!

  • Lauran, West Brownsville - Monday, Aug. 30, 7:38 PM - Just wanted to let you know that I have now seen the ruby-throated hummers.....there are about 4 in my yard that I can I have both buff-bellied and ruby-throated! Know you appreciate these sightings!

  • Oh, I do. Love to hear more.

  • If you don't have your hummingbird feeders up yet, there is still time to set them up and keep them filled. Marylyn recommends getting ones that include a perch for the hummers to rest on. See recipe in previous blog to make up your hummingbird feeder.


  • For those of you who don't know where Brownsville is, it's the Tail End of Texas - as far South as you can go in Texas before going into Mexico the southernmost tip of Texas.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Modern Day Joyas Voladoras

Photographs of Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds courtesy of Marylyn Ponder.

According to website

When early Spanish explorers first encountered hummingbirds in the New World, they called them joyas voladoras--or "flying jewels."

As a social media newbie, my gardener friend Marylyn Ponder advised me the steps to take to get these “flying jewel” hummingbirds to SHARE and LIKE your garden site.

Best Spots for Hummers – Find us on *Yelp

1. You are going to put a hummingbird feeder out so as the first hummingbirds arrive they will "Twitter, Email, Blog or Yelp” to let their compadres know where the good feeders are (active full feeders, not the ones that you left hanging on the pole since May with dried sugar water).

2. Once the hummers arrive, you need to be prepared to boil your sugar water (hummingbird feeder mixture) every 2 or 3 days as the need occurs. Check and fill your feeders as they may run out in a 24 hour period and clean and change them every 2 days. If possible, you already have a garden with hummingbird friendly plants but know they are definitely going to go for the feeders.

Why is That?
This is a crucial time for hummers. They’ve gotta tank up before any major weather change that would adversely affect them, like northers or cold weather. Feeders should be up in time for their arrival.

When & Where?
The hummingbirds are on a time schedule; they aren’t dawdling around - not like the easy going butterfly, flitting from flower to flower. The hummers are on a mission. They have a schedule to keep. This tiny little bird migrates to Mexico every fall and then returns every spring, sometimes traveling as far as 2000 miles. Some do stay around but the majority of them don’t.

Hummers have a good memory; they can remember food sources from previous years. Well they sure remember Marylyn’s garden “Jardin de Colores.” There were so many of them whirring around in the spring this year, I couldn’t count ‘em all. As many or more than in this UTube: 2007 Ruby-throated Hummingbird

To learn more, click Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and migration,

For those of you like me, are new to Social Media, you may not have heard of Yelp (and I don’t mean my dog Herbie’s yelp).

*Yelp is a local reviews website. Users write and read reviews about anything from their favorite hole in the wall restaurant to the worst downtown club (or best hummingbird feeder location). It was founded in 2004 by two former PayPal employees and was named from a contraction of the Yellow Pages. Yelp offers social networking features: the ability to add friends, groups, events, talk in forums or message contacts. The idea behind this is that users will trust their friend’s reviews more than others.

Recipe for Homemade Hummingbird Mixture

• 1 part sugar (not honey) Don't use honey/artificial sweeteners in place of sugar.
• 4 parts water
• Boil for 1 to 2 minutes. Cool.
• Store extra in refrigerator

Marylyn and I are planning a celebration of the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird Migration on Saturday, September 11, 2010 in her garden. Details will soon be posted.

To be ready for the migration, I’m going to go get some hummingbird feeders. What are your plans? _______________________

Monday, July 12, 2010

Mowskweetoes - South Texas Style

Rainy Weather
After 10 inches of rain left by Hurricane Alex and several inches more the following week - the South Texas mowskweetoes (bugs that mow you down when you get in their special places and make that flying around you eeeeeeeeeeeee sound while biting your ears and toes) are out. I'm not sure where they go in between rains cause we sure hadn't had any up until now. They must have invited their extended families and friends here for a 4th of July vacation. One of the best ways to prevent them from bugging you is to get rid of any standing water in your yard.

Tips for Preventing Bites
Since mosquitoes lay their eggs in water, you can put a stop to them multiplying into mowskweetoes by removing standing water. Empty outside standing water, like birdbaths, at least once a week or more. Luckily we usually have a good breeze blowing here and that can be a deterrent. It's best to wear light colored, loose fitting clothes.  It's said most mowskweetoes are attracted to dark clothing and can bite through tight clothing. They are more apt to be active at dusk and dawn.

Knowing that, my advice then is to sleep in and go to bed early.

Thanks Mary Beth for forwarding this picture taken at the Master Gardener Arboretum.

When all else fails - wear window screens when working outdoors, like I do. It works for me.

Will you share your tips or thoughts on this?

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Good, the Bad & the Buggy Part II

I'm a gardener who likes to "stick" with help from Mother Nature and avoid using pesticides. When you use pesticides, you run the risk of getting rid of the good as well as the bad bugs. If you wait a bit and observe, you'll find the good bugs come in and take care of the bad bugs.

One of the really good bugs most everyone knows is the Ladybug.
Well the Ladybug Larva is an even better bug as it eats way more
of the bad bugs than the Ladybug does. Since most people don't
recognize it, they may mistake it for a bad bug. That's just one
reason to learn the good from the bad.

Critters to the Rescue
Better yet, you probably have outside help you weren't even aware of.
After finding the Walking Stick, I was pleased to venture out and see my neighbors chickens enjoying a free outdoor all-you-can eat bug buffet in our water soaked area. At least I assume that's what they were eating.

I also saw several insect eating lizards - a good sign, as these are also known for eating mosquitoes. Hopefully they will survive Dilly the Cat, who has made it his job to reduce their numbers. This lizard was stationed in the fig tree and as green as the fig leaves around him.

Found loads of butterflies all over the fig tree after the rain we had. It's hard to see them against the overripe fruit. Can you find four in this photo?

I think the picture below is of a male Tawny Emperor Asterocampa clyton butterfly (males have triangular hind wings) and looks like it matches a photo in Butterflies of Houston & Southeast Texas by John & Gloria Tveten (p. 174). 

You can see the underside of the butterfly by looking at the three butterflies side by side in the upper left hand corner. The underside is not very colorful. These photos were taken by me on July 2, 2010 in Brownsville, Texas (Cameron County).


Inexpensive Methods
If you absolutely must get rid of a bug that you know is bad for your garden, then one of the least expensive ways is using what I call the Double S Twister Tool

It's very inexpensive, especially if you get your husband to buy you some nifty gardening boots like these to use. But you don't need fancy footwear to carry this out.

SS Twister
Just lift foot (I don't
recommend bare feet for this),
aim at unwanted bad bug, stomp and squish.

Know Your Bugs
Remember though, don't be pulling this on no Ladybug Larva or good bugs like that. All bugs have a use and if they aren't bothering you, please be kind and leave them alone.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Good, the Bad, & the Buggy

You thought you had it bad. Imagine your home completely flooded and collapsed, having to carry whatever food you have on your back and having to find a new place to live? That's what I wondered while watching a colony of ants trailing across my front porch.

Yikes - all fine and good but I don't have rooms to sublet in my house. That's when I started wondering "What other critters are out and about cause of all the recent rain and what's the best way to keep them out of my house?

I decided it was a good time to get outside and look around (especially before the mosquitoes hatch). First thing I came across on my back porch was a Walking Stick bug. The site also calls these "Stick Insects" with interesting fact:

l Fast Facts
  • Type: Bug
  • Diet: Herbivore
  • Average life span in the wild: Up to 3 years
  • Size: 0.46 to 12.9 in (11.6 to 328 mm)
  • Did you know? Stick insects are part of the Phasmida order, the name of which is derived from a Greek word meaning “apparition.”
Size relative to a tea cup:

I often come across these fun to find insects in the nursery. Beck and Garrett's Texas Bug Book (2000, p. 149) notes that walking sticks are harmless to humans and more interesting than destructive. They go onto list other Walking Stick attributes.
  • Habitat: Fruit trees, grassy vegetation, shrubs and trees.
  • Feeding Habits: Plant feeders, mostly at night.
  • Natural Control: Parasitic wasp, flies and birds.  
What experience have you had with this bug?

Adios Alex!

Escape from Hurricane Alex

We boarded up, left Tuesday, drove to Sinton, hunkered down and came back Thursday.

 We're Back ...
Neighbors reported 10 inches of rain here but no power loss or high damaging winds. Thank goodness. Our Brownsville home turns into a lakehouse whenever we get lots of rain - we call it our own personal Lake Olmito, without the benefits of fish.

Today, suns out and water continues to drain off but the ground is definitely saturated.