Friday, September 26, 2008

Roll Out the Barrels!

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It finally happened.  We at long last downloaded the forms, went to the warehouse and bought our rain barrels.  

I say "we" - most of the heavy lifting there was done by my Better Half.

Now that our new roof is on and we are only waiting to have our new gutters and downspouts installed, it was time for us to join the growing numbers of folks who are conserving the rain water off their roofs and holding it to be used on their plants.  

The City of Austin program makes this easy to do. The barrels come complete with the accessories you will need to handle overflow in heavy rain situations, to hook parallel additional barrels up if you have the space and want the volume, to keep litter out, and they even help you with mosquito control information. Pretty much the complete package.

With water prices (extremely) high in Rollingwood, and increasing demand making that likely to trend up, rather than down, it only makes sense to do what we can to use the water coming off our roof. We figure when it finally does rain again here, these barrels will pay for themselves in less than a couple of years.A quick glance at the economic news and it is clear to us as newly/nearly retired folk. Saving money by reducing water use and by capturing and reusing the water running off our roof just makes sense.

If you are interested in the checking the plan out for your own yard just click here. The prices for the barrels go up October 1st. Why wait?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

On being watched

We have had roofers working on our house for 9 days now and I have found myself feeling constrained from working out in the garden beds with the guys up on the roof.

I like to watch birds, sure, but I don't like the idea of being watched while I garden. Silly perhaps.

In the front, realistically, working in the beds will have to wait. Several areas have been temporarily rendered into construction zones, and many plants are the worse for wear after the accidental and incidental trampling that proximity to the house carries during roofing activities.

I am optimistic though. Temperatures are easing. The roofing is nearly finished. Then we'll get new gutters. We are hoping to go this afternoon to finally pick up the first 4 of 6 rain barrels, so when the new gutters and downspouts are completed they will be ready to conserve rain water for our long suffering plants.

In the meantime, I have really enjoyed reading other local garden and birding blogs. It has been a way to sort of "keep my trowel in" while I am laying low inside the house. Some of my local favorites are Society Garlic, and The Transplantable Rose, along with the gold standards, Soul Garden, and the CTG site. All of which led me to a new favorite. More on that in a moment.

So I was reading other peoples' blogs and fussing around with some photos, and had an "aha!" moment. I decided since I am not seeing so much in the way of plant action, that I would put up a gallery of birds. This was slightly complicated by the fact that I often suck at identifying birds (bugs, snakes, frogs and some plants).

I couldn't decide what everything was. After spending fruitless hours on unguided tours of various birding sites, I eventually found myself turning to Mikael, of BirdingOnBroadmeade, a local blogger/birder who helped me save some small bit of my sanity by helping to identify a couple of the most puzzling birds spotted.

So here they are - the knowns, the educated guesses, and the "I took a stab at it" birds recently spotted in our back yard:
Carolina Chickadee

Blue Jay


Female Black Crested Titmouse

Male Black Crested Titmouse

Canada Warbler (thank you Mikael!)

Gray Catbird?


Lesser Goldfinch (thank you again, Mikael!)

Lesser Goldfinch (again)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Not here....but there....

I want to quickly reinforce that while I was disappointed not to get more than one tenth of an inch of rain out of Ike here in Austin, I was not at all unhappy to escape the power of Ike's wind and rain as experienced by folks closer to the coast.

Check out these photos from friends who live in the Woodlands. They had telephone service sporadically, and just got power back yesterday despite reports it might be weeks before they should expect relief. I am optimistic their power will stay on, and they can get about the business of cleaning up after the storm.According to authorities, it is too soon for folks to head towards the damaged areas to try and personally help. Right now, they simply don't have the resources it would take to house or feed volunteers.If you want to help, and I hope you will, visit the Red Cross site and donate generously for now, and then fill out an application and get your background check completed so you will be ready to volunteer when you are needed.

Otherwise, area food banks are being strained way past their limits with folks needing extra provisions as they wait out being allowed to return to their homes. Next time you are shopping for food, pick up some extra non-perishables (peanut butter, canned meat in pop-top lids and granola bars are all especially helpful as there is no need for cooking), and drop them off at your local food pantry. You can find what else you can do to help out here.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

He's Got Potential

One of the problems with hurricanes has nothing to do with water. It is all about the wind. Ike, currently reported as having maximum sustained winds of 100 mph, is predicted to continue to strengthen as it nears the Texas coast.

So just as troubling as the storm surges and flooding rains are for those along the coast, for those of us further inland along a potentially predicted path, it will be the strong winds we can expect as a major concern.Ike is currently showing a larger wind field - the area extending from the center where winds are hurricane strength - than Katrina.

Looking around my yard this morning, I not only see a series of garden beds that could use a soaking rain, but I also now note a handful of garden decor items that come become potentially dangerous projectiles with the application of high winds.So one of the things I will be doing in preparation for Ike if he does look to be heading our way rather than turning north and east, is to be scampering around my garden beds and fencing, searching out and taking inside anything that could be launched as a suburban garden to garden missile.As to somehow shielding things like my egglant,the finally productive tomato or the two Meyer Lemon trees? Don't know how much help I can offer them. I'm mulling that one over.

I realize this is all really nothing compared to the folks along the coast who are faced with evacuations and the potential to lose their homes or livelihood, or for some, perhaps even their lives.The Red Cross says they are ready. They'll need lots of help, however. If you want to volunteer or donate - just click here.

What a difference a year makes

Last fall, once the lawn in the back had been cut one final time for 2007, my husband laid out a natural stone edging to delineate the area we planned on returning to garden beds of varying types.Now, as we watch and wait to see if we will be facing a strong storm bringing us not only heavy rain but potentially damaging winds, flooding, power outages, etc., I decided to document - pre-storm - how the area looks about a year later.It was a lot of work but well worth the effort I believe. Even though I recently cleared out and significantly trimmed back summer growth to make way for cooler weather plantings, the remaining diversity of plants and the ongoing increase in activity of squirrels, birds, insects and amphibians all speak to the wisdom of abandoning large swaths to any plant monoculture.

Will Ike bring us much needed rain or pound us with wind driven walls of water? Time will tell. Forecasts seem to show Ike may potentially move east of us, hopefully sparing us the worst. It is generally agreed the most severe conditions will impact areas just to the north of where the center of the storm makes landfall. Tomorrow by this time, we ought to know what we will be facing.In the meantime, I can't quit staring at how much change has occurred in our small bit of land.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


My last post I indulged in a bit of online hand wringing about whether or not it was safe to plant seeds with a hurricane potentially drawing a bead on Texas' Gulf Coast.Today I decided on a compromise. We might get torrential rains, we might get a nice soaking rain, or we might not get a drop.I put some of the seeds I bought into the ground, knowing that if I stick to areas easily reached with the hose I can keep the ground evenly moist while the baby plants - lettuces mostly - germinate and reach a size where they can take care of themselves.To hedge that bet, I held aside some of the seeds with packaging notes indicating they did not germinate particularly well in hot soil.Past sucess with Mizuna has me hopeful that in the weeks to come we will have a variety of these other greens - Arugula, Mache, Mesclun - to harvest in our own back yard.

It won't freeze for months yet. With the promise of Fall's cooler temperatures, I am hopeful the more sensitive greens I am waiting to plant will thrive later in our season.Gardening is an act of optimism. Politics are making my head hurt lately. I am glad to have something more positive to expend energy on!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Time to plant or time to....wait?

I have seed packets burning a hole in my gardener's pockets, all but dancing up and down in their eagerness to be sown (or so sees my slightly overheated mind's eye).

And I have been reading about other gardeners getting beds ready and sowing their lettuce seeds in anticipation of cooler weather to come.

And I WANT to get mine started...but.....then there's Ike.Ike, a category 4 hurricane at the moment is forecast in many models to hit Houston late Saturday as either a category 3 or 4, depending on how it strengthens (or not) in the very warm Gulf waters. The 5 day cone currently projected shows that our area might just be inundated by rain in a few days, which makes me hesitate.

While I'd love my seeds to be kept moist with some gentle rains, I am concerned that torrential rainfall would just make a muddy wash out of my designated lettuce beds.

So. I'm going to play a bit of a waiting game. I pulled out tomatillo plants and trimmed back tomatoes and will work in compost and ready a couple of bedding areas for my lettuce seeds.If the rains don't come - then surely a few extra days closer to cooler weather won't set me too far behind in the gardener's game.

In the meantime, I am enjoying the obedient plants as they are hitting the peak of their blooms,and rock stars like the eggplant,and hoping the trimming I did today on my salvias will translate into another good set of blooms before winter knocks them back to the ground.

As the summer grinds to a close, it is as often patterns visible more than actual blooms that catch my eye. Here are a few of my recent favorites.

The skeleton of a tomatilloKalanchoe leavesMoses in a boat that came up through a knothole in a boardWeather patterns are really running hot and cold this year. It remains to be seen if the Central Texas area will get pounded by Ike, or merely watered.

Gardening is always a gamble. I'm betting on the house this go-round and will bide my time.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


I really enjoy trying to get photographs of the butterflies visiting in our garden beds.

This morning I nearly stepped on this beauty, out fanning its wings on the front walkway.Even though I walked close by, it seemed unconcerned and stayed put for over an hour. That made me think it might be newly emerged, perhaps drying out its wings before taking off to eat.As it turns out, I probably suck at identifying butterflies nearly as much as I do hummingbirds. It always seems the ones I capture with my camera are never quite the same as the ones used as poster children for a particular type.I think this is a Gulf Fritillary. Maybe. Perhaps a Julia Longwing which is a more southerly cousin not quite so common in these parts. If you know, feel free to comment. Otherwise, here you go...some sort of fritillary, captured as it prepared to enjoy the slightly cooler September mornings.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

(Green) Hummers

No no, not the automobiles. Even if they might come in that paint color, there is nothing "green" about a Hummer. I am referring to those other hummers - the feathered hummingbirds native to this area. Which I totally suck at identifying, by the way. I am pretty sure the shots I got yesterday are of a female Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri) but if you are an expert and look at the photos and know differently, I hope you'll drop a note and let me know.

Despite how awful I am with identification, I am the littlest bit obsessed with hummers. It isn't enough for me to watch them, I seem to have a deep need to photograph them.The real sticking point there is that the hummers that frequent my beds seem to be private birds. They don't seem to want me close enough to make getting their photos easy. And I am too stubborn to get any special equipment, I want to be able to snap them with my little vanilla digital camera on it's Taking a Photo for Dummies setting.Sidebar: Gardeners in Texas are often, well, STUBBORN, you know? It might not be an absolute requirement to be obstinate if you intend to grow things in Central Texas, but it sure doesn't hurt. While everybody everywhere has some complaint about how where they are adversely affects trying to grow something they dearly wish to grow, here in Texas, between the too hot and the too wet and the too cold and the too dry, our complaints are totally legit. So yup, I am a native to these parts and I am stubborn as they come.

This at least partially manifests by my persisting in taking these photos. I realize none of them are coffee table book worthy. But they are indicative of what it is like to watch a hummer with human eyes in real time just in case that isn't something you get to regularly do at your place..Anyway, I have been setting aside time for the past few days to observe and as part of that, trying to capture with my camera, my regular hummingbird visitors. We are due to have a new roof installed in the near future (at least that's what the roofers keep telling us) and I know that noise and disturbance will keep either the hummingbirds away, or even if it doesn't deter them from the far beds, having visitors on the roof will be enough to keep me inside and out of the mix.
Enlarging my long shots to find the hummingbird in there is a bit like playing a digital version of "Where's Waldo?". Hopefully though, by keeping my distance, I am not overly bothering the hummingbirds. I really appreciate the chances to watch them in action. I've methodically selected and grown all sorts of plants out in the beds precisely with the idea of attracting, feeding, and pleasing them. I think that's only fair.

About Me

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Rollingwood, Central Texas
Family historian by default. Oldest surviving matriarch on my branch of the Family Tree. Story teller, photo taker, gardener, cook, blabbermouth.