A garden is the best alternative therapy.

Posts tagged ‘Texas Natives’

A Year of Change

It was just over a year ago that my wife and I decided to start a little garden.  It started with a strawberry plant that we killed after enjoying a mere handful of berries.  I’m glad that didn’t discourage us and we decided to keep adding more and more plants.

At first it mostly centered around vegetables, but my wife wanted flowers, too, so we added hibiscus, gardenia and lavender.  Then we added cuphea, lantana and lobelia.  By the end of the summer, I had caught full-blown gardening fever.

I built a few more beds and went to work planting a fall garden.  Half of those plants didn’t make it, but I kept going.  I planted a bunch of colder weather vegetables like lettuce, broccoli and spinach.  They did outstanding and really started producing once the coldest part of winter was over.

Then we realized that we didn’t want to just grow vegetables.  We wanted to do some landscaping and enjoy the back yard a bit more.  The back yard was a completely empty palette before we started work on our projects.  Now, just months later, I’m happy with the results.

Am I done planting?  Not on your life!  We’re going to continue to expand the garden and beautify our back yard.  We want to give back to nature.  So, we’re doing it all organic, and growing native plants that beneficial insects love.  Stick around another year, we’ll have a lot more to show for it!

The side yard before any garden beds or butterfly garden

The back yard before any work was done - just a lonely strawberry plant

Back yard now

Now I just need to get some furniture.  The small makeshift bench has served a purpose, but I never intended to keep it so long.  I want a couple of nice benches, a couple of bird baths, and some little items of interest.

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Progress in the Garden

Hello gardening world!  It’s been so long since my last garden post, I don’t even know where to begin.   I can’t believe it’s been almost a month.

I’ve made some changes to the garden in the past few weeks.  Most notably, the squash and zucchini both died.  I tried replanting the zucchini, but then something came by and ate all of the seedlings when they were just a couple inches tall, so I have given up on growing those – at least for now.  I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong.  Most of the time, squash and zucchini thrive and produce more veggies than you know what to do with.  The other curcubit I’m trying to grow, cucumber, is doing alright.  It’s just now starting to produce small cucumbers, although two of them that started already shriveled.  Thinking it may need a boost of phosphorous for fruiting, I gave it some bone meal and we’ll see if that helps over the next couple of weeks.

Straight Eigtht cucumber vines

The lettuce/parsley bed was empty, so I worked the soil over really well, added a bunch of compost, a little bat guano and a little bone meal and let the soil sit for a couple of weeks.  Then I planted three rows of beans and they are all doing really well.

Tendergreen Bush Beans

Three of the tomato plants are getting quite large and although they are flowering, have yet to set any fruit.  I sure hope this isn’t a repeat of last year.  I got only a dozen or so tomatoes last year!   I have a total of seven plants going, but four of those got started really late and may take awhile to start producing as well.

Three tomato plants

I’ve got quite a few pepper plants right now.  I thought I was losing several of the ones I started from seed a few weeks ago, so I got more transplants nd started more from seed for fall.  Well, the initial plants rebounded, are flowering and there are even a few pepper nubs forming, so I may end up with a pretty decent pepper crop.  I have probably ten cayenne, ten bell pepper, and four jalapenos going.

The sunflowers are tall and are flowering.  Unfortunately, I planted them along the fence line running north to south, and I’ve come to realize that once they start blooming, sunflowers permanently face east towards the rising sun.  As such, they are not facing the house, but the neighbor’s!  I hope he enjoys them!

Mammoth sunflower

The butterfly garden is coming along, too.  The verbena has spread out to create two good-sized mounds.  The black-eyed susans are finally looking like they’re going to flower soon.  The fennel is reaching high in the back, despite a continual defoliation from the dozens of black swallowtail caterpillars that have grown up here.  The other day, my wife and I counted fifteen new eggs on one plant alone.  We even found three large cats on our dill plant, and we had to remove them before they killed it.  The fennel appears ready to flower in the next couple of weeks.

Purple Moss verbena in the front ...

Black-Eyed Susans with Dusy Miller, Fall Aster and Texas Lantana

Fennel (a.k.a. Black Swallowtail nursery)

Four Nerve Daisies, Creeping Lantana, Milkweed and Butterfly weed ... followed by rosemary, Copper Canyon Daisies and Indigo Spires salvia

The Texas Lantana is growing a little slower than I expected, but the creeping lantana has really spread out.   I continue to love the Four Nerve Daisies that seem to bloom profusely in waves every several days.  The milkweed cuttings are established and will hopefully begin to fill out some more.  I have another fifty milkweeds going indoors, and I plan to transplant them in a few weeks.  I need to prepare a space along the northern fence line for them first.  My hope is have them well-established by mid-August when Monarch populations are highest.  Perhaps I can entice a few to stick around.  Milkweed is hardy in my zone, so it should make it through the winter to come back again in the Spring.

The Copper Canyon Daisies have created one big bush and I can’t wait for their show this fall.  As big as they are, I’m sure that they will be covered with yellow blooms!  The Indigo Spires has grown so much faster than I expected.  I ended up cutting off an entire section already because it was getting in the way of the other salvias!  Not wanting it to go to waste, I’ve started a dozen cuttings inside, so hopefully I’ll have more in the future.  I was thinking that a bed in the front yard would look good, and these would make a wonderful addition there.

The mint bed is standing three feet tall – taller than I thought it would, but makes a nice smelling mound of green in the corner of the yard.  So far, there’s been no sign of spreading, but I am watching for runners constantly.

Mint bed with rosemary, Copper Canyon Daisies in foreground

The Mexican Mint Marigold has all but died (pictured next to the rosemary above).  If it doesn’t come back, I’ve got to find something else to put there.  I’m thinking something red … Any suggestions?

And, the wildflowers are all done.  After a heavy downpour and fifty-mile per hour winds, they were all tore up, laying over and generally very, very sad.  I hacked them down with a machete and plan on sowing more seeds this fall.

Look How They’ve Grown

The cup of Life is full and runneth over.  The Spirit of creation abounds at every level, constructing – in no small way – the world you see, the air you breathe, the soil beneath your feet, the beating of your heart.

You are intimately bound up in Creation, eternally connected to the unfolding of Life Itself, just as a new leaf extends in the embrace of the sun and sends its roots deep into the soil.   Look at the natural world around you.  There is no death, only change.  Spirit, like matter, is neither created nor destroyed.  It merely changes form.  There is peace in the whisperings of Spirit.  Quiet your soul and listen well.   The wellspring of Life cascades through you.  You are Its expression.

What started as a hobby has turned into a full-time fascination.  I enjoy looking at my plants on a daily basis, tending to them, assisting them in their growth.  Day-to-day, it’s difficult to notice the big changes, although I catch little details in photographs.  When I look back on pics taken months or even just weeks ago, I am amazed at how much they have grown.  I look forward with great anticipation to the coming months when many of these plants should be much larger and producing lots of flowers.

Take the Texas Lantana.  I bought them in small 1/2 gallon pots and planted them in mid-March.  Now they’ve established themselves and are beginning to spread out and bloom.  This variety can grow to be 4′ x 4′, so I should have a very large mound of lantana with two plants side by side.

Texas Lantana

The two Purple Moss Verbena plants were purchased in a similar size pot and transplanted at the same time as the lantana.  They have grown incredibly and delight the butterflies with their numerous purple blooms.   These plants should each get a couple feet tall and wide.

Purple moss verbena

The Fall Aster was purchased last year in a small 4″ pot.  I transplanted it, but it didn’t do much last fall but put out two or three blooms.  Over the winter, I cut it entirely back.  Then it started to produce more leaves as you see below.  I transplanted it again with the others in March and now it is three times as large and covered with flowers.  Shhh, don’t tell it that it is late Spring…

Fall aster

An amazingly fast grower, the Indigo Spires salvia is a truly gorgeous addition to the garden.  I bought in two plants in 1/2 gallon containers and transplanted with the others.  In just two months it has grown incredibly and is covered with those beautiful indigo spires.   These can get pretty large at 4′ x 4′.

Indigo spires salvia

The Trailing Lantana, like the others, was purchased in 1/2 gallon container and transplanted in March.  It has really begun to spread out now, and after a few weeks of not blooming, has really turned on the flowers the past week.  It should spread out 3-4′ in diameter.

Trailing lantana

And the wildflower bed is just a sea of yellow right now thanks to the Coreopsis and Mexican Hats.  Below you can see the beginning stages of the wildflower bed followed by a close-up of a section of Coreopsis and a long-view of the bed as of yesterday.   The dark coreopsis is the first I’ve seen in the bed, but may be the first of many more.

The Straight Eight cucumber vines are really starting to take off.  I’ve had to tie them a few times in the past couple of weeks as they stretch up.  I’ve included a close-up of the end of the cucumber vine, as well as one of a cucumber flower.

And, remember my landscaping project?  I installed some flagstones and planted some Mother of Thyme and Yellow Thyme between the stones.  They are filling in nicely, though I really think the Yellow Thyme is doing what I want it to.  The Mother of Thyme is growing taller than I expected.  The first image below is right after transplanting the thyme, followed by pictures taken yesterday.  They should start flowering in mid-summer.

The mammoth sunflowers have sprung up, growing inches everyday.  I can’t wait to see those dinner-sized plates of yellow happiness!  The flowers are forming already and soon will start unfolding!

Mammoth sunflowers in the morning shade

And, finally, the herb garden.  The first picture below was taken September of last year.  Eight months later, the garden scarcely has a bare spot.

September 9, 2009

What’s growing up in your garden?

Beneficial Insect Files: Bumble Bee

Beneficial Insect Spotlight: Bumble Bee

Indigo Spires salvia

Like the honey bee, the bumble bee is an important pollinator as it goes about collecting pollen for its young and feeding upon nectar, a role that has become increasingly beneficial as communities of honey bee  have vanished worldwide.  The bumble bee is also a social insect, divided similarly into three groups:  the queen, the workers and the males.   Beyond these similarities, however, bumble bees are very different from honey bees, both socially-speaking as well as anatomically.

Bumble bees are larger, hairy versions of their cousin the honey bee.  They are often striped yellow and black along the abdomen, but they may be completely black.   Nevertheless, they are distinctive in that they are covered with thick dark hairs called pile.  While honey bees fly quickly and gracefully, bumble bees have a more lumbering and clumsy flight, with a loud and low buzz.  Bumble bees also do not have barbed stingers, meaning their stingers do not remain in the flesh of its target.  As such, the bumble bee can sting repeatedly.  A bumble bee sting is an extremely painful sting with pain and swelling often lasting days.  Yet, bumble bee are relatively harmless unless provoked, or in defense of a nest in close proximity.

Bumble bees also do not overwinter as honey bees do in a colony.  One bumble bee queen overwinters herself and emerges in the spring to begin forming waxy “jars” to store pollen and nectar.  These are soon turned into cells for raising developing bees after the queen lays her eggs.  She continues to be the sole provider for the developing brood until a couple of groups of workers are ready, then they take over the duties  of foraging and building upon the nest, while she focuses on expanding the population of the colony throughout the season.  Unlike honey bees, worker bumble bees are not sterile.  They can and do reproduce to make additional males to support the colony as well as future queens which will later venture out to develop their own colonies.    The original queen tries to suppress the reproduction of her workers early in the season by show of brute force and/or pheromones.   This usually ensures that the first queen will be the mother of the first group of males.

Throughout the season, new queens and males are continually driven out of the nest.  Unlike honey bees, male bumble bees are capable of foraging for pollen and nectar.  They mate with new queens before the queens hibernate for the winter.

Bumble bees have a crop, which is an expanded part of their digestive system, which is used to store nectar prior to digesting it.  They fill this crop as they visit each flower, using their long tongues to suck out the nectar.  They return to the nest and deposit the collection in waxy jars or inject it into larvae cells to feed their young.  Unlike honey bees, bumble bees do not hoard large amounts of honey, seeming content only to save a little for their immediate needs.

As pollinators, bumble bees are being utilized more by man.  Unlike other pollinators, bumble bees are able to pollinate through an additional process called buzz pollination.  In commercial tomato greenhouses, for example, buzz pollination increases pollen release in tomato crops.

Bumble bees are native to the United States and almost exclusive to the northern hemisphere.  Habitat destruction has caused the endangerment of  many species of bumble bee worldwide.  In Britain, for example, nearly two dozen species have become endangered, with several extinct and more vulnerable to extinction.  With the disappearance of honey bee populations worldwide, the need to develop ecologically friendly and habitat conserving practices is underscored.

Did you know?

The familiar buzz of a bumble bee is not caused by the vibration of its wings, but by the vibration of their flight muscles.

Bee’s wings move 200 beats per second, which is up to twenty times faster than our brain’s nerve impulses fire.  Their flight muscles vibrate like a plucked guitar string and do not expand and contract like our muscles.

Update: Garden Path and Butterfly Garden installation

***UPDATE*** (I have transplanted creeping thyme between the flagstones on the path, click here to view Thyme To Transplant Between the Flagstones)

The landscaping project is well on its way now.  After coming home early yesterday, I drove down to Austin Landscaping Supplies and picked up a 1/2 yard of soil for the native plant beds.  With a little help from my daughter, we cut open a bag full of paper grocery bags, then used those to line the bottom of the bed (after the sod was removed).  Then we unloaded the dirt and dumped it in one of the beds.  The half yard was enough to fill one of the beds completely.   Then Michelle and I got up early this morning so I could strip the sod from the other bed, then we ran down to ALS again for another half yard.  With my daughter and my wife’s help, we had completed the beds before noon and were sitting enjoying an ice-cold glass of tea while we marveled at our work.

We arranged the plants in the bed to get a feel for how they will look.  We had to play with them a little – and we still have about thirteen plants that are being shipped and haven’t arrived.  Ten of those are milkweed plants and three are black-eyed susans.  They were on sale with reduced shipping, so I thought, “Why not?”  Butterflies love B.E.S., and mine that I’m growing from seed are not looking great.  We haven’t yet transplanted any of the plants, but that is something we’ll tackle today or tomorrow.  I just wanted to put out a quick update of the progress.

Native bed 1: Verbena, Aster, Milkweed, Lantana, Black Eyed Susans ... and more

Native bed 1: Verbena, Lantana, Fall Aster, Milkweed, Thyme, Black-Eyed Susans and more

Native bed 2: Indigo Spires, Salvia Greggii, Rosemary, Mexican Mint Marigold, Black Eyed Susans, Copper Canyon Daisies, Trailing Lantana, Zexmenia, Butterfly Weed, Milkweed, Four Nerve Daisies

Another view of the second native bed