Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Trapping Ant Lions

Most country folk and a some city folk know what an ant lion is. They make the little funnel shaped holes in the ground in dry loose dirt. When an ant or other little bug happens into the funnel, the doodle bug, as country folk call them, kicks up dirt to make the bug slide to the bottom of the funnel. The ant lion is waiting under the ground at the bottom and grabs the bug in it's pincers and drags him, kicking and screaming, out of sight under the dirt. OK, maybe not kicking and screaming but my imagination says they are. I always think of  Hans Solo getting pulled down into the funnel in the desert after Jabba the Hut throws him off the ship. They also used the same funnel in the sand in the Enemy Mine movie where Dennis Quaid almost gets pulled under.

When I built my welding shop I noticed there were no ant lions there or any where around the house either. I've always liked having them as they really do help keep the ant population in control. I had them at the shop I had before this one so I captured a bunch of them there and let them go here. I got my ant lion capturing technique perfected. A skill that you wouldn't think would have much purpose. Well, you would be wrong there as it has helped me immensely.

I've had to bring these skills into play many times through the years as I did again just a few days ago. A man came to the shop to talk about a project and brought his little son and daughter with him. As you could imagine, a welding shop is a dangerous place for kids, a veritable disaster waiting to happen. I just tell the kids that I really need help capturing ant lions to move to another place and would they help me. Capturing any thing is a great job to a kid and the answer has always been yes.

I get a paper drinking cup, a grass stem and a plastic spoon, all the equipment needed. You tickle the sides of the funnel with the grass stem to see if they are home. If you see dirt kick up then one is home. Take the spoon and scoop up the dirt in the bottom of the funnel and pour it into your palm. Gently blow away the dirt and it will leave the ant lion in your palm, some technique required here. Put it in the cup and look for another one.

You have easily killed an hour of time for these kids while the adults talk business. What does an ant lion look like you ask? Here is a picture of the little bugger, a perfect under the ground dweller. Tremors on a very mini scale. I'm just glad they are not the size of real lions.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Unusual Find

I was coming back to the house today on CR 258, a little country road that winds it's way by Lake Georgetown. I saw what looked like a black bird in the road dead. As I got closer I could see some white striping so I knew it wasn't a black bird. I slowed down and as I went by I noticed some red feathers on it's head. I know most of the birds around here and it wasn't any variety I knew so I pulled over to take a look. I was stunned to find that it was a Pileated Wood Pecker. I've seen them in east Texas before but not within a couple hundred miles of here. They need mature forest of large trees especially in large river bottoms. None of that here, maybe it came here after the fires in Bastrop although I've never seen one there either. Here's some pictures.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Snake Bit Dog

Tuesday morning found me sitting on the porch, drinking a cup of coffee and talking to Lyn's brother from Las Vegas. He was really enjoying the quiet of the country and the serenity of my gardens, so different from life in Las Vegas. I noticed my Lacy dog, Bonnie, sniffing around the back of the shop where Lyn's clothes lines are stretched. She was just walking along with her nose to the ground, probably trailing what ever had walked there last night. Suddenly, she jumped backwards. I knew it had to be a snake and immediately called her to the house. Great dog that she is, she came right to me and I put her in the house. My brother in law and I went to investigate. Being raised east of Austin where we had a an abundance of every kind of snake I spotted the little rattler immediately, it was only about 18" long but coiled up. I was amazed that my brother in law could not see it until I made it move. I stepped on it to hold it down and got Chris to get my camera so I could take pictures. Looking at the pictures I was amazed at how camouflaged it was.

The closer I got it still stayed camoed.

Up close, you can see the patterns made up of blacks, greys and even white that makes it so camoed.

Lyn came over to look at the snake while I was scooping it up to put it in a bucket. She went back to the house and then hollered that my dog wasn't acting right. Up to this point I hadn't thought that Bonnie had been bit. I really couldn't imagine her getting bit as she is so fast. I went to the house and found her sitting in the kitchen, not moving.

 I called her and she didn't move. I went to her and could see the fang holes in her muzzle. I looked at her gums and they were white. Just then she started to shake and I knew it was bad. I scooped her up and headed to the vet. By the time I got there her body was racked with the shakes and I started to worry. I had called ahead to let them know what had happened so my vet, Dr. Lynne Randoll, scooped her out of my arms as I walked in the door. Bonnie ended up having to stay the night and all the next day before she could be released. She still looked horribly swollen but Dr. Lynne assured me that the swelling was much reduced from earlier. She could hardly keep her tongue in her mouth. I really felt sorry for her.

Her head normally looks like this.

Dr. Lynne said she had five other snake bites in the last week so take this as a warning to be on the look out for poisonous snakes in our gardens and yards.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Hill Country Natives

Hill Country Natives had their annual shindig this past weekend and it was bigger and better than ever. They have a lot of my work as well as the work of some talented artisans. They always ask me to attend in case any one wants to know about the things I've built. They would be Mitch and Kathy Mitchamore. They are two of the nicest people you would want to meet and are very knowledgeable in native and well adapted plants. While they are not generally open to the public, a call will usually get you an invite to come out.

There were also people there with displays on native plants, master gardener programs as well as master naturalists and permaculture techniques. Even with all the people it was a very relaxing day as so much of the nursery is in shade with sitting areas, beautiful gardens and the sounds of creeks and pond fountains though out.

Look who I met while I was there, it's Meredith O'reilly, one of my gardening buds. She has Great Stems gardening blog.

My friend Larry Hullums was giving stone carving demonstrations in the drive way. He made a very cool stone stool while he was there and let Mitch give it away in a drawing. I didn't win, dammit. Is this not a beautiful stool to have around a garden pond?

I was finally able to take pictures of the most resent gate I built for the nursery, installed. My camera battery was dead when I hung it.

I got the inspiration for building this gate after building one for Meredith several months ago. She designed her own gate and did a marvelous job on it.

Any one who didn't make it this year should be sure to try to come next year. Mitch has gathered up native plants not on Texas plants, but from other south western states, that will do well here and also give us gardeners more choice for hardy plants in our gardens.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Poppy Party

An internet friend in northern California sent me several ounces of poppy seeds last year. In the fall I mentioned to Lyn that she might want to sprinkle a few seeds around through the gardens. It is now obvious that my idea of a few and her idea of a few is drastically different. I started noticing little poppies here and there and then there and there and over there. We have about a hundred more then I wanted but she wants them all to bloom and I think they just might have.

First there were the flat bloomed, red ones with the petals that look like they are made out of crepe paper.

There were a lot of poppies that were lagging behind in the whole bloom opening thing. A few of those started to open and they had big, pink, puff ball blooms that had the shredded looking petals.

More blooms appeared and more and more until we have this.
The problem with all these poppies is that they are shading other plants that are in the front yard. Lyn really wanted to see the poppies all bloomed out so we will just have to wait to see if the other plants make it or not. I think in another month when the poppies are dead and gone there is going to be a large piece of bare ground in the front yard.

That ground may be filled up rather quickly as I have built another gate for Hill Country Natives nursery in Leander and took out the whole price of the gate in trade for plants. They are carrying fruit trees now and he is about to get in a bunch of new natives that are natives from other states that are supposed to do well here. These are plants that are not in any nurseries around here and I am very excited to see them. I can replace the seven fruit trees that I lost last summer as well. It's a lot of plants but it is a hell of a fine looking gate. Here's a picture of it in the shop. They liked it a lot.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Winter Chores

While it looks like spring it could still get cold. In fact there is a fire in the stove right now as it is going to be around 40 degrees tonight. We have heated our house with a wood burning stove since Lyn and I were married almost 32 years ago. Same stove too, it's a Fisher, and has really done it's job. When we built this house we designed it around the stove, putting it as close to the dead center as we could. While it is stingy with wood, you still need wood to put in it. It's a winter chore that I have never minded as Lyn and I make a good team getting the wood to the house. We have always been lucky to have a place to cut wood, making for a very cheap heating bill every winter.

 The cold months are the perfect time to cut and haul wood. You know, the old heat you twice thing, but you don't sweat your butt off either. How ever you need to plan to be ahead of the game on your wood and I like to be about two cords ahead. That's a whole winter's supply for us and it's good to have in case one of us is injured and can't get the wood in. So now we are essentially cutting next year's supply as well as a little for this year. Lyn swore she was up to it after her back surgery last year. She looks to be nearly 100% to me.

She does most of the picking up and putting into the trailer and I do the cutting.

Looking at that pile, I think she thinks it's time for a break. No matter, I just keep on cutting. I'll pick up when I run out of gas. I always take two saws, each full of gas and oil, and cut until they are empty. Cuts almost exactly one cord of wood. I just don't abide by refilling a hot saw, they won't last if you do that much and that oldest saw is 25 years old and still cutting like a new one.

I found this guy under some of the logs in the brush pile we were cutting in. It was cool and he could hardly move. I dug a little hole under a big log and put him in it and covered him with leaves. I think he will make it OK.

When we got home I went out in the garden and cut some lettuce and kohlrabi. I've never grown kohlrabi before and now I know why. It's not all that good. Sliced thin, it went into the salad. Winter means cutting wood and growing cole crops. I better go put a log on the fire now.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Winter Invasion

I always have some Henbit. Not a lot mind you, just some. Usually it grows in the pebble walkways of the vegi gardens. However, there is so little as to have never been considered  a problem. It is a bear to pull up though, with weak stems and a mass of very fine roots.

I'm not sure exactly what caused it but this year it has just exploded. It is every where to some degree but most prolific in the raised beds of the vegi garden. Even with the near perfect soil there, it is still a problem to pull up. Some beds were just solid side to side and end to end. It was growing in amongst the winter growth of Butter Crunch and Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce so I knew I would have to hand pull those.

I planted one bed with what the seed companies call Mesclun. It's a mix of seeds that is supposed to grow you a mix of salad greens. I've never tried it before because I just didn't think you could get a whole mix of palnts that would all grow at the same rate. I was right. This bed came up with several different types of greens but one type took over the whole bed. I'm not even sure what this plant is. Does any one know? I know it didn't taste very good. And, of course, there is Henbit sticking out every where there was a little sun light. I just pulled out the entire bed to make room for late winter/early spring greens.

I tried pulling Henbit with out much luck. The plants were just too close together. I finally got out one of the little bent tonged forks you get with a garden trowel when you buy the set. It worked much better but the plants were so thick that I just couldn't get enough pull on it to pull very big clumps. I went up to the shop and built me one with a long handle and it worked perfect. I'm not sure it will work very good for any other type weed but it made short work of the Henbit.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A New Year

I'm so glad that 2011 is over, it was not a good year here at Draco. After Lyn fell and broke her arm in March, a compound fracture that required plates and screws, her back started to bother her. After months of agonizing pain and many doctors visits and finally surgery, she is almost a hundred percent again. During this time I had to step up and do all the cleaning, washing and cooking and still try to make a living. I didn't realize how much that little woman does around here. I always wondered what the two big white cubes in the shop were for. You can actually wash and dry clothes in them. Who knew?

We have been married for 31 years now and Lyn has exercised every one of those days, always wanting to lose a few pounds. Well, after several months of laying on the couch, getting no exercise and eating my cooking it appears she lost 12 pounds. If her back problems had persisted for much longer I would have starved her to death.

Just when I was able to sneak a post in during September we found out her Dad had lymphoma and would have to start chemo. A few weeks later her mother found out she had cancer in her liver, originating from her breast cancer 16 years ago. While it seems an ingrained tradition to hate your in laws, that is not my case. I have the best mother and father in law that a man could want and feel I should do every thing I can to make their problems better.It's made things a little slow here on the blog but things are starting to perk back up a bit.

The gardens took a pretty big hit this last year with the drought and me not taking very good care of them but it can be fixed. The damage  to the country side around here looks to be permanent. A drive just before Christmas shows the damage.

These are not trees with fall colors but are dead trees. The next three pictures are driving along CR 258 going toward Tejas Camp.

It seemed that the Spanish Oaks were hit the hardest with the Cedar Elms almost as bad. This is a view from Ronald Reagan just north of Hwy. 29.
The damage here at the house wasn't as bad but I will show that here in a few days.