Saturday, November 30, 2002
Bulb Growth. i don't know whether my fall crocus (crocus sativus) will have time to bloom this year, but the bulbs have sprouted. the species tulips are also sprouting in several spots (including the two planted with the crocus).
Peas! the peas are finally producing - two pea pods on the vine, several more flowers blooming.
Tuesday, November 26, 2002
Iris Update. all the various and sundry iris (the unidentified, as well as the african iris) and the unknown bulbs seem to be coping well with being dug, separated and replanted.
most of the fans are producing new growth and none seem to have died outright. in fact, several of the fans in the sunroom bed are sending up new leaves much more quickly than i expected. in a couple of cases the new leaves are already twice as tall as the cut off fans (which makes them look a bit odd).
basically, i'm just leaving everything alone and crossing my fingers that i'll see flowers someday.
Garden Update. despite feeling rather blah much of last week, i did check on the garden every day.
the existing lettuce is coming right along. one of these days, we'll actually have enough for salad (a very small salad). the latest lettuce sprouts seem happy; i even forced myself to thin them.
the parsley is really amazing. it rebounds in no time after every harvest, getting bushier every time. definitely a good fall selection for me. the rosemary also continues to thrive.
the peas confuse me. on the one hand, i'm down to three surviving pea vines (from over a dozen); but they're now blooming, sort of. two flowers appeared late last week. i have my fingers crossed that something will come of this. maybe we'll have a couple of peas to put in the salad.
the spinach is also troubling. the most recent seeds are sprouting, but the earlier sprouts just don't seem to be getting bigger. maybe the spinach has higher sun requirements than the other plants?
in recent weeks i've "rescued" a couple of garlic cloves from the compost pile. they were thrown out with the kitchen scraps for whatever reason and started sprouting. in the process of turning the compost piles, i discovered the growing garlic and transplanted it into the raised veggie bed. so now i have two garlic plants growing; i still haven't gotten around to finding out what to expect from them.
Winter is Here. despite beautiful fall weather all last week, i was feeling a bit under the weather, hence the lack of posts. this week, i'm feeling much more like myself, but the weather has taken a turn for the cold. and no, i don't care how much colder it is everywhere else, this counts as winter weather in houston. i've lived in parts of the country that experience "real" winter and i do not like it for more than a couple of days. this is why i live in houston. when i want to experience winter, we go visit family members in those cold parts of the country, or we take a ski trip.
speaking of last week, the weather really was perfect fall weather. cloudless blue sky, comfortable temperatures during the afternoon, cooling off to crisp sweater weather after sunset. the trees were even changing color and looking like proper fall trees - all too often, the leaves in houston just go from green to brown with no nice colors in between. this is one of the (very) few things i miss about living in a region with four real seasons.
now the forecasters say we're in for a few days of dreary, damp, cold weather. bleah, and i was looking forward to having five days to play in the garden.
Tuesday, November 19, 2002
Being a Naturalist. today's new york times has an essay on the taxonomy of the naturalist (registration may be required, but it's free and then you can also do crossword puzzles from the archives).
very interesting reading. i did not know that texas has a master naturalist program. i'll have to check it out. unfortunately, the gulf coast chapter starts its training year in august, so i'll have to wait a bit.
i looked into the texas master gardener program a while back, but the training classes / activities of the harris county chapter all seem to be during work hours. rather limits their audience, i think.
there is also a second texas master naturalist site. it has much the same information as the texas parks and wildlife master naturalist site, lots of "under construction"pages, and a page of other nature sites and links.
Monday, November 18, 2002
Weekend Update. real quick - the lettuce has sprouted, giant caesar and black-seeded simpson; the existing lettuce continues to grow. the peas aren't happy, but i'm not sure why. spinach is also struggling; cilantro appears to have finally decided to grow. parsley and rosemary look great.
darin let me finish off the basil plants. they were pretty much done, so i salvaged what decent leaves remained and composted the rest. made fresh pesto last night.
with the basil out of the way (it was in the bed under the sunroom window, along with nearly everything else) i was able to lift the second unidentified iris clump. eight fans altogether. i replanted five of them in the previously occupied iris / basil spot and the other three went into the side fence bed, around the base of one of the mandevilla.
i'm not sure that these iris are the same as the first clump i dug - the way the offsets were attached to the main rhizome was different - they were all much closer. and the leaves seem to emerge from the rhizomes in a slightly different growth pattern. or maybe i just looked more closely at this batch. at any rate, hopefully i'll get flowers eventually and have a better idea of what i have.
the monarch hasn't emerged from the chrysalis yet, but it has turned a beautiful bright green, with glittery gold dots.
Lawn Mowers. friday's episode of engines of our ingenuity was about lawn mowers. from the transcript:
Today we burn a half billion gallons of gas a year powering rotary mowers. We pour tens of thousands of tons of chemicals on our lawns. Lawns reflect a 200-year-old Romantic dream of fusing ourselves with nature. Yet that very dream now poses a major threat to the nature it so lovingly celebrates.
darin and i (okay, mostly darin) use a scotts reel mower. i love that it doesn't smell of gasoline and the only sound it makes is a very hypnotic "snick-snick-snick" as the blades turn.
What a crowning irony! We so want the loveliness of nature that we put nature under assault to have it. We lay ourselves open to that sort of thing when we take our technologies for granted -- when we let them slip into invisibility.
we also don't use herbicides or pesticides or fungicides or other chemicals in the yard or garden. everything looks nice and green and i believe we have more "good" bugs, lizards, toads, frogs, snakes and birds than we would have if chemicals were used. i like knowing that my plants aren't coated in chemicals.
interesting, somewhat related links:
Wednesday, November 13, 2002
Referral Logs. today's selections, for your entertainment / education:
Monday, November 11, 2002
Fun with Referral Logs. now that fall has arrived and daylight savings has ended, the days are shorter and it's usually dark when i get home. and as much as i enjoy working in the garden, i'm not (yet) willing to wake up early to get some garden-time before going to work. so, to satisfy my desire to blog during the week, i'll "answer" some of the questions that come from the referral logs.
more referral fun to come later this week!
- "are toad [sic] helpful to gardens?" - i first blogged about toads in the garden on august 30, and most recently on september 16. i haven't checked the toad hole lately, but i think the garden toad may have moved on to higher ground during the recent rainy spell.
to answer the question, toads are helpful garden inhabitants because they eat insects (including grubs).
- "killing asian jasmine" - my first post on asian jasmine was on february 16. not surprisingly, i was trying to clear the stuff out of the yard.
i am happy to report that due to my diligent efforts over the past several months, i have almost entirely cleared the asian jasmine from our yard - and without resorting to chemicals. i did it all by hand, patiently pulling every single blasted plant, getting as much root as possible. these days, i find only a couple of sprouts a month and my greatest problem isn't so much the few bits sprouting from root remnants, but the bits coming through (and under) the fence from the back neighbor's yard.
fortunately, asian jasmine doesn't seem to be nearly as tenacious / obnoxious as some "weeds". nonetheless, i do not recommend planting the stuff unless you really like it and are willing to look at it for a long, long time.
Sunday, November 10, 2002
More(!) Unidentified Bulbs. one was in with the african iris and two were tucked into a very inhospitable corner between the back steps and the gas meter. i think all three are the same something, but i have no idea what they are. identifying flower bulbs without flowers is incredibly difficult.
the bulbs are 11/2 - 2 inches in diameter. foliage is 6 - 8 inches tall, flattened and dark green, but with a hint of blue. each leaf emerges from the bulb in a 'v' shape, but flattens after an inch or so.
i replanted two (the ones that i found together) near the smallest african iris in the sunroom bed and put the one that had been in the iris clump into a pot with remnants of basil.
Separating African (Butterfly / Fortnight) Iris. i decided today that my african iris need to be separated and / or moved. not far, just a few feet to the left. they're in the bed under the sunroom window, but a bit overshadowed by the neighboring red tip photinia and i think they would bloom more if they had more sun.
after digging (not nearly as difficult as the unidentified iris) i found that there were six individual iris in the clump, and the two largest have not-yet-offset offsets. i replanted three of the iris in the original spot (shifted slightly to be out of the red tip shade), two went into the side bed on either side of a crepe myrtle, and the smallest went into the corner by the backdoor.
somewhat belatedly, i looked up some related links:
More Monarchs. one of the two most recent monarch caterpillars made a chrysalis amongst the pineapple sage yesterday. excellent choice as the chrysalis is exactly the same green as the sage leaves. (see it? right in the middle of the picture, there.)
i tried to keep track of the other 'pillar, but it snuck off on its own.
Saturday, November 09, 2002
Replanting Iris. by cleverly creating a new flower bed in the backyard, i was able to provide a home for nine of the eleven iris fans i separated earlier this week. this is what happens when darin leaves me unsupervised on a lovely weekend afternoon - i make executive decisions for my flower beds. still have two iris fans remaining from the batch and a second unblooming clump to dig, separate and resite.
Thinning Out is Hard to Do. i know that you're supposed to thin vegetables for proper growth, but it's hard for me to pull up otherwise perfectly good plants. i've found this to be a real problem with the seeds i've direct sown for the winter garden. i spread them out as i put them in but they still end up too close. this afternoon i forced myself to thin both types of lettuce and the cilantro.
pictured is the giant caesar lettuce, pre-thinning. i removed the middle plants after taking this picture.
since i had to sacrifice a few seedlings to thinning, i decided to sow more seeds: cilantro, lettuce (both kinds) and spinach.
Flood + Drought = Houston. brenda beust smith - houston's lazy gardener - writes about the combined challenges of flood and drought faced by houston gardeners. remember, it's all about raised beds and choosing appropriate plants.
"Winter" Color. today's lazy gardener column has lots of suggestions for providing winter color in houston gardens. and i thought i was safe from the temptations of the garden centers for at least a few months (having convinced myself not to purchase any bulbs from the end-of-season sales until i know whether any of those i've already planted have a prayer of succeeding).
Wednesday, November 06, 2002
Separating Unidentified Iris. despite a light rain sunday night, i felt compelled to tackle the iris* under the sunroom window.
at least, i'm very nearly certain that it's iris. however, there have been no flowers in the 14 months we've had the house, which makes identification difficult. but the foliage certainly looks like iris, and it is growing from rhizomes, which is what (most) iris do.
i think that the reluctance of these plants to bloom is due to the fact that they are grossly overcrowded. as in, the clump that i dug sunday yielded 11 "fans" from a space in which one would plant two fans.
removing the clump-o-iris took some effort. it helped (a lot) that it had been raining for days so getting the pitchfork into the soil was easy. even so, i was afraid i might snap the handle as i tried to lever the clump out. iris have tenacious roots. after 15-20 minutes of careful prying, i got clump #1 out in more-or-less one piece.
before tackling this project, i was concerned that i wouldn't know where to separate the rhizomes. once i got the clump out of the ground it was very easy to identify the individual fans. i just cut the rhizomes apart between fans, discovering in the process that the inside of the rhizomes is a very nice coral color (this is - maybe - a clue for the i.d.).
after separating everything and spending several minutes wondering what on earth i would do with 20+ iris fans (still have another clump to dig, remember), i replanted two medium-sized fans in the original spot and put the rest on top of one of my compost piles, covering the rhizomes well with partially-finished compost. some of these will find a home in various corners of the yard this weekend; the remainder will perhaps find homes with friends.
based on what i've been able to glean from the internet and the knowledgeable folks at the gardenweb iris forum, i probably don't have dutch iris (they grow from bulbs, not rhizomes) or bearded iris (rhizomes are white inside). best guess is that they are either louisiana iris or spuria iris, both can be grown here.
i also know that they are not african iris / butterfly iris (dietes bicolor). i have some nearby and the foliage is distinctly different - the dietes leaves are much narrower.
* there are two clumps in the bed below the sunroom window, each slightly more than one foot square
Tuesday, November 05, 2002
Garden Update. now that the rain has stopped and the sun has returned to houston - by my count, it has rained 13 of the last 16 days - it's time for an update:
all in all, the garden has held up well. i must congratulate myself on the raised bed i built as it undoubtedly prevented the death-by-drowning of several herbs / veggies. darin and i are "discussing" where to put more such beds.
parsley: growing by leaps and bounds. both plants have more than doubled in size since i "harvested" about two weeks ago. gave them a good trimming again last night (and used the trimmings for dinner).
rosemary: also doing well, although it still isn't big enough that darin will let me cut bits for cooking. he's extremely protective of "his" rosemary and has even bought two more for cultivation. the two new plants are of the creeping variety; one has been planted in the bed between our drive and the neighbors, the other still has no home. we'll see how they compare to the upright rosemary we have.
oregano: another happy herb - the two plants have increased in size by about 50%. probably time for another trim.
peas: the peas have suffered from the extended absence of sun / excess of rain. i think one or two have succumbed or are in the process of succumbing to the extended rain. others are a good four feet tall. hopefully a few days of sun will help. however, i'm not sure there will be anything ready to harvest on november 10.
lettuce: the caesar-style lettuce is looking pretty good, despite the lack of sunlight, but would definitely benefit from some sun. a few leaves got beaten into the ground by the endless rain, but i might be able to harvest a bit next week.
on the other hand, the black-seeded simpson lettuce really suffered in the rain. most of the leaves are just mashed into the soil. but i remain hopeful that a few days of sun will revive the poor, battered plants. the simpson lettuce is definitely behind my previous harvest schedule (november 6 / tomorrow).
spinach: the spinach also took a beating. it's hanging in there, but it has been struggling. don't know when i'll be harvesting any spinach (november 20 is projected date).
cilantro: about the same condition as the caesar lettuce - a bit worse for the wear, but trying valiantly to stay upright. fortunately, a little cilantro goes a long way. looks good to start harvesting late next week (barring weather-induced disaster).
Sunday, November 03, 2002
Planting Bulbs. here's what i've accomplished so far:
- crocus sativus (6) - planted under the sycamore in the front yard, on the bank; covered with chicken wire (squirrel-proof)
- tulipa saxatilis (2) - next to the crocus (only did two because i was being eaten by mosquitoes)
- tulipa saxatilis (18) - around the base of the backyard pine
- ornithogalum nutans "silver bells" (12) - around the base of the backyard pine
- tulipa linifolia (10) - front yard, in the "rock garden" around the base of the oak by the driveway
- tulipa clusiana var. chrysantha (10) - front yard, in the "rock garden" around the base of the oak by the driveway
- narcissus "erlicheer" (5) - by the front door, with the ixora and azalea
- leucojum aestivum (5) - in the backyard, under the carolina laurel
- ipheion uniflorum "wisley blue" (10) - backyard, under the carolina laurel
despite all the recent rain, all the sites i've chosen are raised enough that they've stayed out of standing water. of course, there is still the constantly falling rain. hopefully at least some of the bulbs will be successful.
and i've still got a few l. aestivum, wisley blues and silver bells to plant.
New Plants. yesterday i bought two more "new look red" pentas and 18 tiny verbena plants ($1.99 for six). i don't know whether the verbena is the annual type or the perennial - it was helpfully labelled "verbena". everything went into the front flower bed.
Rain, Again. i know october / november is the "rainy" season in houston, but this is too much. it's been raining intermittently since yesterday afternoon. i think we've had close to two inches of rain in the last 24 hours. more rain forecast through tuesday.
please send sun.
Friday, November 01, 2002
 just started at the end of the month
- crepe myrtle
- crinums 
- lantana - new gold, radiation, rasberry, silver mound
- mandevilla 
- mexican heather
- pentas - new look red, new look pink, red variegated, rose
- pineapple sage 
- salvia - blue and red
 not ongoing, just two or three blooms
Boxes of Bulbs. my john scheepers order arrived yesterday. i was tempted to start planting them last night but didn't have the chicken wire ready. so i'll spend this evening cutting big squares of wire so i can plant (and protect) my bulbs this weekend.