Thursday, July 31, 2008

No Rain, Rain, Do you really know?

The seven day forecast yesterday was seven days over 100 and no chance of rain. Tonight the weather man says possibility of thunder storms moving in from the north. I couldn't believe it. I went outside and sure enough there was a big thunder head to the northwest. But the big surprise was the vivid colors on the top of the clouds. The colors looked like a psychedelic river flowing up and over the top of the cloud.

The colors were just so intense. I couldn't remember ever seeing this kind of weather phenomenon before and thought others would like to see it as well.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

ID Please

Almost nothing gets on my nerves like finding a plant that I can't identify. With all the books on plants that I own and still not being able to solve the mystery, I can almost go crazy.

One is a bushy tree/shrub that grows on a fence line just west of the Hwy 183 and Hwy 29 intersection. It is a very attractive plant with pink blooms that appeared two months ago and are still there, looking really good in the heat. Its foliage is kind of juniper looking. I think it might be a Salt Cedar but I am not sure. I've seen Salt Cedar years ago but I don't remember any flowers. I would like to get one of these as it is handling the heat and drought so well with no assistance from anyone. But of course, if it is, it's on the Texas invasive species list and I would be a bad person for owning one. But then I have been bad before.

The other is possibly a Four O'clock, although I've never seen one like this. The stems and leaves are close but the flowers are not like any of the 4 O'clocks that I've ever grown. I noticed them growing out of a mound of dirt on a ranch where I was welding on a hay spear. Like most ranchers I have ever known, he said I could have all I wanted. I dug up two big ones and a lot of little ones. When I dug them is when I noticed that the root was the size and shape of a large sweet potato. My 4 O'clocks never had a root like that. The blooms were very pretty and the plants were doing just great in the heat, even growing up in the mound of dirt where I would think there would be even less water.

The last is a big yellow sun flower like plant that grew in one of my raised vegetable beds. I let it grow because I thought it was a Mexican sun flower that I had planted seeds of a year ago that never came up. (One did come up in another bed though.) It is a beauty and I would like to know what it is.
If anyone knows what these are, pleeeease let me know, as it is just driving me nuts.

Another heat post

I noticed on the seven day forecast tonight that it's all 100's. The casualties are stacking up. My poor zinnias are just about gone. The ones still alive look terrible. I have no tomatoes on any plant. I want to start my fall plants but I just don't think seedlings could take the heat, no matter how much water I gave them. Who would have thought that damping off would be slowly getting the plants out of the air conditioning and used to the heat? I thought it was supposed to be the other way around.

I found this little guy dead in the garden. As I use no insecticides I can only suppose he died of the heat. I think it's a Rhinocerus beetle as it has two horns, although it isn't like the ones I found as a kid. Although this is a good size beetle, I remember them as much larger and dark brown like a May beetle. He is in perfect condition, so went into a little box to put in my collection of odd little things. I so wish I could have seen it alive. I can easily spend an hour observing things like this. I can now only imagine how great it would have looked, a beetle this big, flying. I bet it would have made a great sound.

When we built our ponds, we made the middle pond where it was a little ways under the yard fence so that the deer and other animals would have a place to water. They are drinking so much now that it has to have water added every day. You can tell when the pond is low because there will be a deer standing there looking at the house and waiting for someone to come out and fill 'er up please. They seem to tolerate our presence more because they need that water so badly. I sure hope this heat wave breaks soon, not just for us, but also for all the animals that make our place such a wonderful place to live.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Pond tour

My wife and I were able to make both days of the pond tour this year.Very interesting and very enjoyable as usual. The Austin Pond Society must be one of the most organized and nicest bunch of people on the planet. The directions are flawless and easy to follow and all the people are so nice and helpful that it makes the whole experience a joy to partake in. I would highly recommend that anyone who is interested in gardening should attend next year. Notice that I didn't say ponds but gardening. A pond is a container or a hole in the ground with water in it. For it to really look good it must have plants and landscaping around it. And there is plenty of that

This year my sister went with us on the south half of the tour. She has no interest in gardening or ponds [in some circles she is known as the "plant killer"] and she enjoyed the day very much. We took her vehicle and with the GPS were able to drive from one pond to the next quite easily.

Although all the ponds were beautiful and very individual to the owners I didn't take a lot of pictures this year. But one pond really struck my fancy. It was a pond made out of a swimming pool. When I read this in the information book I was thinking it just could not look good. Boy, was I wrong. Here are a few pictures just to show the imagination of some people. It was just gorgeous.

The ponds and landscaping that I liked the most was the Brushy Creek Community Center. As a Native Plant Society member and a known water mizer, I tend to like landscaping with said native plants and other drought and heat resistant plants. It was my Mecca. Whoever did this was good, I mean really good. It was stunning to me but might not look pleasing at all for some people. There were butterflies and bees on flowers everywhere. Birds were in abundance and they looked like happy birds as well. Plus, I really like big rocks in landscaping.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The heat of the smmer goes on

The heat stays with us. 101 degrees today. I've lost count of how many 100+ degree days we have had this year. My vegetable garden has never looked this bad at this time of year. I must say I'm a little ashamed. I feel like I should have done better. But we are still getting a few tomatoes. Gotta love those Big Beef tomatoes. They faltered a little when the bad heat first hit but have made a comeback in the last week or so. None of the other tomatoes made it through this heat wave. I sure do miss my hierloom Lacy tomatoes. To me they are the best eating tomato of all. And they get over three pounds. My friend Larry Lacy gives me the plants. His family has grown them since the 1800's. We will have to plant from older seeds next year as neither of us grew a single one this year.

My wife was able to put up over 20 quarts of Blue Lake green beans this year. And out of one 3' x 8' raised bed, too. With this kind of heat, the failures have sure outweighed the successes. Fran, the lady that owns the feed store down the road, has been sorely missing the big Armenian cucumbers that I grow. She says it is her favorite for eating fresh. I know it's kind of a brag shot but here is a picture of one from last year. I've read where this cuke is much closer kin to honey dew melons then other cukes. Maybe that's why it's so sweet. There may be time to grow them for the fall. I've never tried but I think I will.

Hope springs anew with thoughts about a fall garden. But with these 100+ degree days I'm afraid it would be for naught. I think this heat would be a seedling killer. It's time to buy some shade cloth. I've never had to before but it's time for drastic measures. I'm not going without a fall garden.

Two way present

Although my wife and I decided to buy a single gift for ourselves for our 28th anniversary, this is not about that. And although my in-laws took us out for a wonderful meal and great conversation, it's not about that either. This is actually a product review and evaluation.
I was thinking that other pond owners that have an inclination to purchase a pond vacuum would want to know about our gift to each other. It is the Pondovac 3-CE, made by Oase, an English company. It somehow makes me feel more like it is of quality construction, being British. You know, Land Rover, Jaguar, McNaughton guns, all top quality. But how about pond vac's? Well, we are going to find out.

I have made a couple of pond vac's with mixed results through the years. With some experience there I had a good idea of what it needed to do to work for us. Of course it has to suck well to remove algae, leaves, twigs, and well, you know, gunk. It needs to be relatively easy to move around and use. But, very important to me, the water mizer, it needs to return any removed water to the pond. And clean water to boot.

Soooooo, who do we know that is qualified to test the new vac. The queen of clean of course, my wife. With a cleaning business for over twenty years, she has worn out more vacuums than most people will ever get to use. And she's just freaky about her equipment and how well it works.

The vacuum is not cheap at around $350 so some prior research was done to try and make sure it was what we wanted and would be worth it. It looks like a cross between a tall shop vac and a space ship. It has two identical sized chambers so that as one fills the other empties, in that way allowing for constant vacuuming where others can only vacuum till they are full and then must be emptied. Fine particles are trapped in internal filters and larger debris is passed through to a collection bag on the end of the water return hose that puts the water back in the pond.

After much use by said queen of clean, we have determined that it is quite good. Our ponds have never looked cleaner and she says that it is fairly easy to move around, hoses look stout and are long enough and the return line is easily kept up with. I got to use it once and I liked it but did vacuum up a fish. After taking him out of the bag he was released unharmed. Because of that the vacuum was put on the list of appliances that I don't get to use like the answering machine, the DVD machine, the dish washer and the washing machine and dryer. That' right, it's not on the list, I get to use the computer. Well, I mean, only when the queen is home.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A job from a gardener

In all my years of welding and ornamental iron work, other than gates, I can't say as I've ever gotten a job for a gardener. I recently had someone ask me to build a garden patio table. They had seen some tables that I had built for a custom furniture store in Georgetown and decided that something similar would look good on their garden patio. After building it I learned that they were the owners of Hill Country Natives, a native tree nursery in Leander. Their names are Mitch and Kathy Mitchener and nicer people you could not find. After delivering the table Mitch decided to get me to design and build him a trailer to move the really big trees around the nursery behind his riding mower. They were elated with both projects and I have two new friends as well as customers.

The trailer is made so one man can scoop up those really big pots with trees in them. Mitch tells me it turned a three man job into a one man job. I just love it when customers are happy with my work. And I'm really happy when they become friends.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Hunker surprise

Rain showers today seemed to cool things down a little, not a lot, but a little. It seems a few degrees drop can make a lot of difference when it comes to the desire to work in the garden. I wasn't going to do a lot, just pot some Mexican petunias for a friend. With the rain, I thought that potting them wouldn't be as traumatic to the plants as a hot dry day. After gathering up pots,trowel and a bucket of dirt, I was ready to work. I no more than hunkered down to dig and had to jump back, nearly soiling myself in the process. Right where I wanted to hunker was a six foot long Texas rat snake-----skin. When you're not ready for it, a snake skin looks a lot like a snake. And although I'm about the least scared of snakes as anyone I know, I still don't want to hunker on one. After calming down a little, I looked it over and could see what kind of snake it was. Actually I was familiar with the snake that shed the skin. He is the smaller of the two Texas rat snakes that live around the gardens. The other is close to seven feet long. The skin was shed perfectly... right to the head. Even the eyes and mouth were perfect. So, I laid it on a lily pad for a good back ground and took a picture.

With all this dry weather we've been having it has caused the animals to gravitate to water, and with five ponds we have been seeing lots of animals including lots of snakes. I've only seen one Hognosed snake before this year and have seen five this year. There seems to be even more Ribbon snakes and Garter snakes than in other years as well.

Other than the occasional surprise, I really like seeing the snakes. I think it's a sign that we have done things right here and they should be as welcome as the more desirable wild life. Besides that, I must admit, I just like snakes. My wife, on the other hand, doesn't like snakes. She isn't afraid of them, she just doesn't like them. It's mainly because they eat the Leopard frogs and the baby cottontail rabbits. When she hears a frog squeaking she will hunt it down because she knows a ribbon snake has got it in it's mouth. She grabs the ribbon snake by the tail and shakes it to make it turn loose. She knows they eat the frogs but says they need to do it when she's not outside.

She knows her snakes well and when she finds a poisonous one she gets the dogs inside and calls me to handle it. Even if they are poisonous I will scoop them into a bucket and haul them down the road to a less populous area. But sometimes they are too big to work with and have to be killed. And it seems she finds all the poisonous snakes. This is one she found a couple of years ago that had to be killed. This snake was way to big to handle and was very aggresive.

It truly pained me to have to kill this snake as she was a real beauty but she was just to deadly to have around. On the other hand, we have some beautiful and not dangerous ones that I don't mind having, like this little guy. It is a ribbon snake and we have a lot of them.

Then we also have the Hognose snakes. When you find one of them you just have to play with them. They spread thier hood out like a cobra and rattle their tail in the leaves to scare you. If that doesn't work they spray poop out everywhere so you won't bother them.

If that doesn't work then they just die for you and you won't have to hurt it. Not really, they just play dead and they are really good at it. They roll over on their back and even their tongue sticks out. You can turn them over on their belly and they will turn right back over on their backs because that's how dead snakes are supposed to lay. He looks dead but he's not. A few minutes after I walked off he rolled over and went on his merry way.

When you see a snake from a distance it is a nice experience, one most people don't get to enjoy often in their lives. But to nearly sit on one or even the skin is still startling even if you are not afraid of them. I am just going to be more careful where I hunker from now on.