Saturday, January 29, 2011

Important Native

While hunkered down under a piece of farm equipment I was supposed to repair, the rancher that owned it was bent over, looking into the grass. I thought he had lost something for a moment but he looked up and had a little smile on his face. He looked over at me and casually said that the wildlife would get through this winter OK. I asked him how he knew and he pointed down to the ground and said "Filleree, it's every where this year and doing right well".

Filleree, as the old rancher pointed out, is probably one of the most important plants in the hill country where wild life is concerned. I'm sure he also knew that his cattle as well as the neighbors Barbado sheep would make good use of it as well. The native plants in the hill country of Texas are notorious for having very low protein values with very few even over 10%, and that is when they are at their prime. In the winter time they are closer to zero. Filleree has a protein content of over 17%, even in the winter, as that is when it is young and growing. That protein will be utilized by deer, turkeys, rabbits and other wildlife to keep them healthy through the rigors of the winter when many other food sources for these animals are lacking or gone altogether.

Such an important plant and you would have to look closely to even see it, growing flat to the ground. It's really easy to see though, if you know what to look for. During the winter many of it's tiny leaves are crimson red instead of green, and show up easily.

While the old rancher knew and appreciated the filleree for it's benefit to the animals, he could have cared less about the show of violet blooms that all native plant people would recognize as Stork's Bill. It's not one of the big show natives, with the blooms only hanging around for less than a month, but while it's here, it's here with a bang.

All those blooms will make the very thing that Stork's Bill is named for, the seed pods. They look just like a stork's head and bill.

So, whether you call them Filleree or Stork's Bill, it's a very important plant to have. And just how many plants can be this important and be this beautiful as well?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Quality Tools

As the shank of the little garden trowel broke, my hand shoved the handle on down into the soil, my index finger sliding over the edge of the blade. I looked at the finger and just caught a glimpse of the bone before the blood flow hid it. I said a few choice words about what a blankity blank piece of crap it was and slung it into the cedars. After letting it bleed for a while I headed into the house to get the cellophane tape. Lyn is big on getting cuts stitched up. I on the other hand, am not. I was able to get it taped up tight and just hoped she wouldn't see it with cellophane tape on it. It had worked before.

I got out another trowel and noticed it had a big notch out of it. It was crap as well. There just had to be a better garden trowel out there but I had never seen it. I looked at my Corona pruning snips laying on the porch and thought about what a quality piece of equipment they were. They are just a joy to use as were my Mom's Felco snips. They cost more than the cheap ones but here it is nearly thirty years after buying them and they still work perfectly. The Coronas still snap a limb right off and they have never even needed the spring replaced. Buying quality is always worth the extra price in the long run.

In snips, Felco and Coronas have long been known to be of top quality. What about garden spades and trowels? Uhhhh, I don't know. You never see any good ones in the stores or nurseries. There had to be some available some where. Before I started looking, I thought about what I would require in a good garden trowel. A strong shank from handle to blade came right to mind as I looked at the cellophane tape hiding my wound. I didn't want any soft or pliable material on the handle. It seems that it always wears off or breaks over as you push on the handle in really tough soil. Stainless construction for no rust and last forever tool. Tough blade, no aluminum here. I've got trowels with aluminum blades with notches and broken blades. Lastly, did I mention a strong shank between the handle and the blade.

Every one knows that the English make the best gardening tools, so I started out looking at them. The best of these are Snow and Neely, Spear and Jackson, and Burgon and Bull. Why each brand has two names I don't know. [I'll have to ask my friend Philip at East Side Patch Blog about that, he's from over yonder] The English love wooden handles and I could get by with them, even though they can crack, splinter and flat out break. The steel in the blades is top notch and you shouldn't have to worry about it...ever. Then we get to the shank. On every one of these, the shank is very small and is riveted or spot welded to the blade. I kept looking.

I tried Japanese gardening tools next. While they have some great pruners, weeders, hoes and sickles they don't use trowels. They dig with a knife. Keep looking.

Finally, I looked at American made tools and there it was, the perfect trowel for me. The Wilcox All Pro. I was literally giddy with delight. It was just perfect. Stainless construction, solid built handle with a good grip. The best part.....there was no shank. It was a part of the blade, just blending right into the handle. Did I mention that it was just perfect, well perfect for me, you might not like it at all.

I figured I would try to find one in the spring before I started planting and promptly forgot about it. I did however tell my wife, you know, the one that likes stitching for woulds and never forgets anything. Well while opening my presents for Christmas, I got to the ones from my Mother in Law, the best Mother in Law in the world, and there they were, a pair of Wilcox All Pro trowels. And yes, they are just like I thought they would be, the perfect garden trowels. Thanks Mom, your the best.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Winter, Blahs

Winter, my least favorite time of the year. I look out at the barren emptiness of my gardens and grimace. How I miss the green tendrils of vines growing across pathways, making Bonnie's garden patrols that much more difficult.

I miss the rich greenness of Thalias.

I miss cantaloupes,


and cucumbers, looking good and tasting great.

Beautiful red tomatoes, ready to eat and so delicious but now gone.

Green beans, thick as hair on a dog's back, complete with a surprise that came up right in the middle. It was so pretty.

Deep reds,

delicate pinks,

and not so delicate pinks. Not there now.

There were vibrant yellows,

and orange.

Even blues and purples were there.

Even brown is nice when it's on a flower.

Now, nothing but the bare nakedness of the winter landscape.

I want my gardens back.