Monday, February 28, 2011

Bees--The Gardener's Friend

Bee with Aster taken 2009
I have probably used this photo before, but it is one of my favorites.  It's a favorite because of the hot topic of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) regarding our friend the bee.  Pat picked up the March/April 2011 edition of Texas Gardner and inside there is an article about bees and what we as gardeners can do to help out.  I will hit the highlights with this post, but if you're interested in finding out more, click on the link.

No doubt we do have a problem in preserving our pollinator, the bee.  It has been widely reported that scientists do have several hypothesis regarding CCD.  However, those of us who do not have hives can still change certain habits that may very well help our friend survive this battle. 

According to the article we need to be proactive and provide a safe place for bees to feed, work and live:

  1. Allow plants to look a little unsightly.  In wintertime, bees and other insects live in our dried out stems and stalks.  Who knew?  Leaving them until the last minute in springtime allows our friends to have shelter during the cold months.  Pat and I can check this one off!!
  2. Do not use bug zappers.  Apparently they kill more beneficials than undesirables.  Check...never have owned one.
  3. Manage pests without pesticides.  Most of the time we do this, but Pat will use 7 Dust from time to time.
  4. Have areas with small rocks so the bees can "bask." Check.
  5. Have a bee-friendly water source...a shallow water dish with rocks so the bees can drink without drowning.  Easily accomplished.
  6. Provide diverse nectar sources with lots of color and various blooming periods.  Check.
  7. And my favorite:  leave bare patches of ground so ground-nesting bees and mud daubers can make their habitat.  With as many trees and shade as we have on our place, we have tons of areas that fit this requirement.  Check and check.
  8. I am adding this one:  Plant as many native and heirloom plants as possible.  Some suggested plants are:  Almond verbena; Anise hyssop; Basil; Beebalm; Borage; Chives; Lavender; Mint; Rosemary; Roses; Sage.
The article has many more suggestions on how to help our friends, and gives a detailed account on why the bee is in trouble.  It is also good to note that there are 100s of varieties of bees in Texas.  So take a look at your landscape.  If it's a little barren consider planting some nice natives this spring to help out! 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Plant Smart--Avoiding Invasives

Tubers from Parrot Lily

One of the things I say too often is, "I shoulda listened."  The year my mother-in-law decided to help us plant a bodacious Iris bed with prize-winning Irises, she took me to an Iris specialist--Mrs. Hydie.  While Mrs. Hydie dug up Iris rhizomes-a-plenty, I spotted some other plants I wanted to add to our yard.  One was Turk's Cap and the other was Parrot Lilies.

Mrs. Hydie said, "Oh, you don't want those."  Some people in my family claim I'm hard-headed.  Maybe it's more along the lines of selectively deaf.  Either way, I came home with Irises and Turk's Cap and Parrot Lilies.  The Irises and Turk's Cap have done quite well and I am very happy with those.  However, not so much with the Parrot Lilies.  I do think Parrot Lilies are a lovely plant.  The problem is, as Mrs. Hydie warned, they are invasive in Texas.  I wanted them to stay in one certain spot in my "circle" garden out front.  But they had plans of their own.  They spread themselves in, through, about, and underneath my salvias, daisies, and other little tidbit plants I have there, and they didn't even have the nerve to bloom appropriately!  The only thing they did was sprout their green foliage and stay compact.  They behaved more like a ground cover than a lily.  I most likely do not have them planted in the right spot.  As I type this post, I'm thinking of another spot in the yard they could go.  But I'm still afraid that they'll make a run for it and get out of control.

So a couple of weekends ago, prior to the big freeze, I got out there and dug up all I could.  I didn't even put them in the compost!  I wanted to make certain those babies were gone for good.  Now Pat, on the other hand, couldn't stand to see all those tubers go into the trash can.  So he saved a few and stuck them in a pot.  We'll see if they bloom or not! 

Below is a picture of what a Parrot Lily should look like.  The picture comes from the website Strange Wonderful Things.  Click on the link for a history of the Parrot Lilies.  You know...I think the next time someone says, "You don't want those...."  Nah, I probably won't listen!
Picture from Strange Wonderful Things

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Homestead Heritage & Organic Plus Haul!

Homestead Heritage Haul & Plants from Organic Plus

About a week ago, Pat noticed that Homestead Heritage was offering "free" seminars on gardening.  In case you are not familiar with Homestead Heritage, they are a self-sustaining, Christian community who farm and live off the land.  They have built quite an empire by making and selling a variety of homemade items from furniture to quilts to preserves to pottery and more. 

When we moved back to Waco in 1994, Homestead Heritage seemed to be just getting started. Taking a look at the website, their business plan is taking off greatly, as they now have the General Store, The Barn--where they sell their wares, and a deli on site.  On Labor Day weekend and Thanksgiving, you can visit this unique place and take a step back in time.  Other times during the year they offer self-guided walking tours, classes on how to be self-sustaining in your own corner of the world, organized tours for schools, and an opportunity to shop! The community is located in the Elm Mott area off FM 933. 

Back to the purpose of our Saturday trip--the free seminar.  The ad in the paper did not specify anything other than "Free Seminars--Saturdays--10:00 a.m."  The topics include:  Gardening, Poultry, Bees, and Rain Collection.  Since the information was a little scant, I asked Pat if we could just drive out there to check it out!  Well, the seminars actually start next weekend--February 26th, and I will provide a listing of full classes at the end of this post.  However, as you can see, the trip was not wasted.  We only went to the General Store this time and fell in love with all they have there.  The tools they sell are of the highest quality and high-priced, but worth it.  Buy a pitchfork there and you'll never have bent tines again--unless you try to bust rock!  I now have a lovely gardening hat and some suet for the songbirds.  I did find the copper fungicide I was talking about in the black spot post.  In addition, they have seeds, stone bakeware, fertilizer, feed, books on gardening and just about anything else of gardening interest. 

Homestead Heritage Gardening Full Classes for 2011--Run about $90 each. 
February 26th & March 19th:  Bees--Introduction
April 23rd & May 7th:  Bees--Advanced
April 16th & August 27th:  Backyard Gardening
April 16th & September 17th:  Growing Culinary Herbs
June 25th & September 3rd:   Raising Poultry

The free seminars follow almost the same schedule as above, and are offered most every weekend beginning next week.  Call 254-754-9663 for more information.

Organic Plus

After spending quite a lot of money at the General Store we went to another favorite place, Organic Plus.  They are located in Speegleville off of Highway 6 & 185 at 10568 N. River Crossing (254-848-2103).  They have herbs and native plants--but usually not a lot of those.  Their main focus is bulk compost, blended soil and mulch.  That is what we usually purchase from them, but today we settled in on some arugula, tomato plants, romaine lettuce, and a few other herbs.  If you are wanting to amend your gardening soil, a trip to Organic Plus will make your garden happy!!!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Signs of Life

The few flowering bulbs in our garden never cease to amaze me.  They come back each and every year without so much as a thought.  This is the first spring in a very long time that I didn't stroll through the garden to be totally shocked that something was growing!!  I know that is due to going out a little more often than in recent years past.  Because these bulbs were already planted when we purchased our home some 13 years ago, I do not know for certain what variety they are.  A little research leads me to believe these Daffodils, or Narcissus, are a butterfly type since there is a ruffled appearance to the petals.  The link takes you to a website that explains several varieties of Daffodils.

We do have some Hyacinths beginning to emerge as well as some Snowflake Lilies.  The Paperwhites, another form of Narcissus, are still trying to recoup from the recent snow and ice.  I'm certain that as the weather warms up they'll make their annual showy appearance.

Potted Tulips
One thing to look forward to next year will be these lovely yellow Tulips.  They were my Valentine's gift from the #1 gardener in the house, Pat. He didn't know it at the time, but I've always wanted Tulips growing in our garden.  But like everything else we plant around here, they will either sink or swim on their own!! 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Current State: Spring Fever!

Current State:  Pat and I are ready for spring, but spring isn't quite here yet!  That doesn't mean we can't get ready for it!!

For Valentine's Day, Pat and I decided to take a trip out to Bonnie's Greenhouse to pick up a few plants.  Unfortunately the nursery looked a lot like our yard.  Full of promise, but not much to see just yet.  She does have a lot of shade plants that I cannot wait to experiment with!  In the video you'll see where I'd like to start a shade garden.

Since plant shopping was a bust, Pat and I decided to buy a smaller grill for weekend grilling when it is just the two of us.  This turned out to be the ticket and we did have a great steak dinner.  In addition to testing out a new grill, the video highlights a few of the yard activities Pat and I did to get ready for spring blooms!  Enjoy!!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sweet Bay Laurel--Herb

Sweet Bay Laurel
Mention bay leaf to me and I immediately think of soup, stew, beans, pot roast, and barbecue!  Thanks to Pat and our lovely Sweet Bay Laurel tree, I'll never have to buy dried bay leaves again.  What a luxury it is to step outside anytime of the year and pluck a leaf or two to add to the pot simmering on the stove!


This tree grew to its current height of about 7' within about 2 or 3 years.  The only care required is pruning to keep it shaped and compact.  It will send off shoots from the trunk, but those are easily pruned as well.  You can tell by the pruning paint on the trunk that Pat did take off a few branches to keep the tree in a topiary form.

The tree can be successfully grown in containers and placed either inside or outside.  It is an evergreen and extremely hardy.  The past couple of winter freezes have had no affect on the tree, and it has withstood Texas heat and drought.

Buds on the Sweet Bay Laurel will bloom in spring
Interesting Facts and Other Uses

The bay tree was apparently sacred to the Greek god of prophecy--Apollo.  His temple at Delphi had its roof made of bay leaves so he would be protected from disease.  The Laurel is associated with the Greeks as they fashioned the waxy green leaves into wreaths to adorn their heads.  Later the image of the leaves were transformed into architectural moldings.  Romans associated the bay leaf with wisdom and glory.  The term laureate means "crowned with laurels" and is associated with poet laureate and baccalaureate.

There are other uses for the herb.  This is perhaps the best news I've had in a long time:  place a bay leaf in flour to deter weevils.  Bay leaves can be used to flavor vinegar.  Martha Stewart likes to spray the leaves gold to make wreaths at Christmastime.  The cuttings after pruning can be used to accent herb wreaths as well.  And I would almost bet that a twig or two of bay leaves would add a nice accent to a floral arrangement. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Irises--A Family Favorite

Prize-winning Iris
In an earlier post, I mentioned how my grandma loved Irises.  The variety she grew, I believe, had to be native to North America because they were so hardy and multiplied so rapidly, she couldn't dig them up fast enough and give them away.  We inherited a few of these lovely soft purple Irises and are having the same problem.  The only trouble is, if they aren't divided and given away often enough, they tend to overcrowd and do not bloom as much.

Growing Season

The main reason for writing this post is Irises will be blooming soon in Texas.  Some parts of the state will have the showy flowers bloom in February.  In my area, they tend to bloom in March and April.  My mother-in-law found out about the flower from me, and as usual when she planted her Iris bed, she had a show that lasted for a good month or more.  I have not been so lucky. 

This is probably due to the fact that Pat and I both are somewhat Darwinian when it comes to gardening.  It's the survival of the fittest around here.  A plant in our garden has to live on the rainfall and intermittent watering they receive from Pat.  Fertilizer?  What's Fertilizer? 
I digress. The point is the Iris blooming season is upon us, and if they have been neglected during the winter, never fear.  There are a few things that can be done now to ensure lovely spring blooms.

Grandma's Iris


Begin now watering established rhizoms once per week.  If it rains or snows, skip the weekly watering.  Be careful not to overwater.  Overwatering can cause some of the rhizomes to rot. 

DO NOT cut the leaves at all right now.  In fact, we do not ever cut the leaves unless they turn brown.  The rhizomes use the photosynthesis process to store sugar once blooms are spent.  This allows for lovely blooms during the next growing season. 

 Fertilize with regular NPK---nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium 5-10-10--once per month during the growing season.  Pat sprinkled an organic cotton-hull compost around our Irises.  He did this back in the fall and the compost has hopefully been activated with each rain and watering. 

Once Irises begin to bloom, wait until the blooms and stems dry up before removing them.  Again, the rhizomes use the bloom and stem to store sugar for the next blooming season.


The only pests I've noticed on the Irises are snails.  To help out this growing season I will be ready with the beer to entice the slimy slugs to their happy demise. 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Container Gardening--Part 2: Soil

Last week I had a post featuring an oustanding container garden with so many plants growing it seemed impossible.  Perhaps the secret to a great container garden is the foundation--the soil!  Pat and I are great at the one-plant-per-pot style of container gardening.  But as much as I've tried, I cannot seem to get several plants going at the same time in one container.

This is the basic potting soil recipe I found on Fine Gardening:

1 part peat moss
1 part perlite
1 part compost
1 part good garden soil

A handful each of:
Garden lime
Soybean meal
Rock phosphate
Kelp meal

Moisten the ingredients to make mixing easier. Place a ½-inch mesh screen over a garden cart or other large container, and sift all ingredients to remove any large particles. Mix thoroughly.

The handfuls of garden lime, soybean meal, rock phosphate, and kelp meal (any of which can be omitted) provide extra nutrients that enable this mix to feed plants for a year or two without additional fertilization.

Go to this link, and there are several styles of potting mix for specific plants such as cacti and annuals. 

Another favorite gardener of mine is The Patient Gardener who lives in England.  She has a post on a simple container garden that can probably be planted right now! 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Snow Day!

Here are a few pictures of our snow in Central Texas.  My prediction for February weather is a little off, but at least this is only the 4th day!  It still could turn out to be fairly mild.  I hope our Spineless Cactus makes it.  I'm not sure if it can take another freeze. 
Spineless Cactus in the snow--2011

Our dead oak tree fell over when the north winds blew in earlier this week.  Luckily it found the perfect spot to fall...right between the Oleander and Texas Sage!

Finally, a nice splash of color among the stark white background! 

Happy February everyone!