Creature from the Black Lagoon

At long-last, my neighborhood got some long-needed rain. I say my neighborhood because in all honesty and selfishness, I have no idea what happened elsewhere in Austin. I was too busy out in the rain doing a little happy dance. I guess the gardening gods felt sorry for me and let the rain fall. I shall pay proper homage later.

rain07-30-09.jpgAnd it was a good long rain. Long enough to give a deep watering to the trees, gardens, and scorched earth. Long enough to fill my mock rain barrels and get the toads ready for l’amour. See this massive spout of water? We’re in the process of painting and have no gutters up, so no rain barrels, but I put out two plastic bins to catch as much water as I could. They overflowed, so much water fell. Yay!


raind07-31-09.jpgEven the entryway’s crazy-tall Japanese Yew, planted 20+ years ago by some previous owner, got some water. You can’t see much of it from this picture, because I was taking pictures of the rain!

rainc07-31-09.jpgHey, I just now read that the Yew is quite toxic. Why am I not surprised? It seems everything I want to plant or is already here is toxic (except the key lime tree I bought today. Wheee! Oops, hubbie, ignore that. But if you don’t ignore it, blame the wee one; he insisted on getting it. It was only $20 and quite large! Key limes, honey, key limes! Just think of the money we’ll SAVE!).

So what does rain have to do with this odd title, “Creature from the Black Lagoon”? Well, I’ll tell you. It all started when I woke up at 6-something this morning and let the dogs outside. When I tried to get them to come back inside, the puppy was standing in the dog pond (a.k.a. wading pool) and not moving.

Grover wasn’t moving because, as it turns out, he was surrounded by several toads in the water. They weren’t very happy with him in there, and I guess he didn’t quite know what to do, either. I didn’t get a picture, as I decided to rescue the toads and move them toward the main pond. Here’s a picture of Grover later, with a stick he’d found. 


But Grover is not the Creature from the Black Lagoon. And it turns out that two of the many toads were actually double — mating toads foolishly thinking that the dog pond was a good place to hook up. Even as I rescued the toads and helped them find their way to the crevices of the main pond rocks, those silly boy toads kept a tight grip, making the females lug them around. I could hear the toads croaking last night and this morning — I guess rain brings out toad passion. Water’s here — let’s get together, baby!

While I was outside, I realized that the waterfall in the pond had become a trickle, which meant that the pump was clogged with something. So I decided to go ahead and deal with the pond right away. The rain might have sent some tree debris into the pond. While I got ready, I grabbed the camera and caught a picture of a toad on a pond rock. All those toads aren’t Creatures from the Black Lagoon either.

toadb07-31-09.jpgIf it wasn’t rain debris clogging the pump, there was a chance it was something messed up from the last time Sheba got in the pond. I’m still trying to get a good picture of this pretty dog, but she truly tries to hide from my camera. I have to be sneaky.


She might be camera-shy, but she’s not the Creature from the Black Lagoon either.

So I get in the pond and begin my work. Sure enough, the filter was slightly tilted, letting debris get in. And there was an umbrella plant that had been knocked to the bottom of pond. Amazingly it was fine and had new growth. Is it the creature? No. Nor are the snails I found (the dwarf puffer in my aquarium will be most appreciative when I feed those to him!).

Since getting in and out of the pond is an annoying chore, I decided to make the most of my time in there. I threw out any leaves and sticks I found, got sludge that had collected below the pump, trimmed the dwarf papyrus, and gathered pea gravel that had fallen out of knocked-down plants and put it back in the respective pots. While I was working, two pairs of mating toads hopped up the pond rocks and joined me in the pond. I guess mating takes priority over being scared of the human. And amazingly I didn’t drop the camera in the pond during these pictures.



The mating toads aren’t Creatures from the Black Lagoon. Nor are these toad eggs I found while working on the plants in the pond. Pretty cool — I hadn’t seen eggs before. Suddenly I realize how many eggs are probably in my pond. Hopefully it won’t affect the fish, or vice-versa! The fish aren’t the Creatures either. But they gave me little goldfish “kisses” in the pond while I worked. Hey, I can pretend they were kisses! 


I continued working, even sitting down in the water to collect some hair algae that was growing in various places in the pond. It had become a problem after the last major time Sheba got in the pond, when she knocked half the plants into the depths of the pond. Lots of spilled soil and whatnot had been added to the pond, and the hair algae went wild. We added a barley block and more submerged grasses, and the pond is back on track. The hair algae? Not the Creature. But you’re getting closer.

I found lots of nasty sludge in the filter pot. I scooped much of it out with my hands and tossed it into the nearby garden bed. Some sludge is ok, but not in my filter pot. I opted not to take a picture with my nice camera while having sludge in my hand. Sludge? Not the Creature.

You can see in the second mating toad pic the dwarf papyrus I trimmed back. It’s trying to bust out of its pot now, but today wasn’t the day for me to deal with it. So I trimmed back the parts that were drooping into the water. There were a lot. The monster “dwarf” papyrus, before or after its haircut, isn’t the Creature.

Here’s the cleaned-up pond. 

pondb07-31-09.jpgHmmm, after looking at this picture, the dwarf papyrus still looks like it needs a haircut. Reminds me of my husband on our wedding day, when his hair looked exactly the same after having paid for a haircut… you know, before wedding pictures… sigh. 

So the “dwarf” papyrus isn’t the creature, nor is the baby dwarf lily I decided to lower slightly into the water to let it grow taller. Not the Pink Sparkle flower, either.


I decided while I was out there to go ahead and plant the swamp milkweed I’d grown from seed, not realizing that Asclepias incarnata was actually swamp milkweed (It didn’t say it on the package! Not my fault…). As the name implies, it likes water, and I had a dilemma of figuring out where to put it, as I really didn’t want to plant something that wasn’t drought-hardy. I finally figured out that if I plant it next to the dog pond, their splashing was likely to give the plants the extra water they’d need. I already cart the dirty dog water to my plants all over the the backyard, before refilling the wading pool. It’s a pain, but I do it. Can’t waste the water and can’t leave it in long enough for mosquitoes.

swampmilkweed07-31-09.jpgAha, Swamp Milkweed, you say — with “swamp” in the name, the milkweed has to be the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Nope, wrong again.

It’s not this bug I found on the buds of my Texas star hibiscus, which apparently likes its spot in the pond. I can’t wait to see the flowers!


It’s not any of the dragonflies that were flitting about the yard and the dog pond. I couldn’t get a good picture, they zoomed so fast; but I think they were Roseate Skimmers. The male was a gorgeous pink/fuscia. The females (if they were the same species) were brown/orange/black.


Ok, then what in the world was the Creature from the Black Lagoon in this story? ME, it was me. Picture if you will a woman wearing an old t-shirt and some old, too-short shorts (It was still just before dawn when I got in that pond! Who’d be watching?), who gets in a pond to do some maintenance. After sitting in the depths to gather sludge, hair algae, debris, gravel, and whatnot, I was rather a solid wet, gross mess from head to toe, and having the waterfall turned back on while I was in there guaranteed that more silt was churned up to collect on my clothes. Oh, but the story doesn’t stop there…

When I got out of the pond, I figured that since I was already filthy, I might as well plant the swamp milkweed in the wet soil nearby, as you know. What’s a little more mud? Nothing, until I went to the backdoor to go back into the house to take a shower. It was LOCKED. Locked by my husband, who so generously let me stay working in the pond by taking the boys to camp for me. Locked, perhaps out of habit, just before he left the house. And there I stood, now about 8:30 in the morning, looking like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. And then the realization that I was probably doomed to walk through the neighborhood looking like that to find someone to let me either call my husband or help me get into my house.

Fortunately, a spark of brilliance came to me (thank you again, gardening gods… or house gods) and I was able to get inside the house without having to show up on a neighbor’s doorstep, ring the doorbell, and <shudder>. If I hadn’t found a way inside, this story might be called “The Black Widow” instead of the “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” if you get my drift.

And no, I did NOT take a picture. 

Edible Aria

If you’d like to learn more about sustainable, healthy eating, you might want to check out Edible Aria. My friend Ren shares incredible whole, fresh recipes accompanied by beautiful photographs (I drool at every picture), and he also includes current articles about healthy eating and what’s going on in the food industry. He encourages the use of organic, local foods and having home gardens, and he shows how the use of seasonal ingredients keeps healthy eating affordable. Did I mention the delicious recipes? (I’m still drooling.) Ren tells us, “Eat as if your life depends on it.” Food for thought, eh?

Ren’s Edible Aria was recently reviewed by The Monday Campaigns, Inc., in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, on their site Meatless Monday as well. This site is also worth checking out — by not eating meat one day a week, you’ll not only improve your health, but you’ll reduce your carbon footprint, helping sustain our planet.

Good food. Good living. Yay, Earth.


Gardening Gods, Why Do you Forsake Me

Gardening is still such a mystery to me. What should work doesn’t, and what shouldn’t work does. I know there are all sorts of Murphy’s Laws when it comes to this crazy hobby. Here’s what I’ve discovered about the way gardening works. Gardening gods, why do you forsake me?!!

*Why is it that you promise yourself most determinedly that this time you will not buy any plants, and when you get to the nursery you realize that not just one, but two of your most coveted hard-to-find plants have just arrived off the truck? (here is more Dutchman’s Pipevine — the other, non-pictured is a native milkweed I rarely see)

pipevinecat07-24-09.jpg*Why is it that you wait so long for the first monarch of the season, and when you finally see one you discover all your milkweed is covered in aphids?


aphids.jpg*On the same note, why is it that ladybugs show up when there aren’t any aphids and leave before the ferocious onslaught of the little sap-suckers?

*Why is it that your darling dogs have an impelling need to lay on and compact any dirt you till, and another impelling need to dig up any freshly planted garden bed? (This photo, by the way, is of the naughty dog that keeps getting in the pond. She’s usually camera-shy. Don’t be fooled by her gorgeous fur. It hides an imp.)

sheba07-24-09.jpg*And why is it that your yard can have plenty of available (dog) fertilizer but you can’t use one bit of it to make compost?

*Why is it that the bag that spills in the car is not the bag of pine straw, and not even the pleasant smelling potting soil, but the compost made from cow manure?

*Why is that you set out birdfeeders for hummingbirds and cardinals and what you get instead are gluttonous, wasteful doves and predatory wasps? (Ok, really, I get them all.)


 *Why is it that the pond you enjoy so much attracts, among other creatures, hornets and wasps that take a nice long, happy drink before going and killing your beloved caterpillars? (Sad note: the monarch caterpillar in the milkweed picture above, along with all its buddies, disappeared during the writing of this blog entry. Stupid, but necessary predators.)

*Why is that you attempt to sacrifice yourself to the gods for some rain by putting up a metal trellis while standing on a partially metal ladder with wire cutters and a hammer in your hand and thunder and lightning in the distance, and all you get is a few sprinkles, like a spit in the eye?

trelliswireclose.jpg*Why is it that you don’t realize you have to stop at the grocery store on the way home until after you’ve covered yourself in stinky compost while bagging it at the nursery?

*Why is it that you buy a beautiful tree that you are determined to keep alive because it needs to shade the A/C unit and because it is replacing one that died, and it dies while the one that the dogs dug up multiple times over the winter is the one that is thriving? (Actually, three trees the dogs mostly destroyed came back and are doing well.)


mexredbud07-24-09.jpg*Why is it that the young trees you rarely water (including two you forgot about for weeks in your garage after the last frost) survive, but the ones you faithfully water on a recommended schedule die?

barbadoscherry07-24-09.jpg*Why is it that the plants you still haven’t managed to put mulch around are doing better than the ones you surrounded with three inches of mulch?


*Why is it that the most amazing, beautiful sights in your garden happen when your camera is nowhere near?

*Why is it that a random new seedling grows in your yard and you have to wait until it gets big to find out what it is, or whether it is friend (keeper) or foe (weed or invasive)? This one looks like a friend, I hope, but I don’t know what it is yet.

unknownseedling07-24-09.jpg*Why is it that your son doesn’t want to work outside when it’s hot, but then when it’s cool and overcast, he still doesn’t want to work? Oh wait, I know that one.

*(from the son) Why is it that your mom always makes you work, but barely ever lets you goof around? Oh wait, I know that one.  (from the Mom: clearly I just let him goof around)

*Why is it that your beautiful plants take so long to grow, but your weeds grow like… well, weeds?

txpersimmon.jpg*(from the other son) Why is it that every time you want to plant something, your mom doesn’t have a plant to plant? But when you don’t want to plant something, she has lots and lots.

*Why is it that you lovingly make several cost-effective environmentally-friendly thistle socks for the birdies, and the finches tear such big holes in them until the socks won’t hold any more seed, making you want to reconsider plastic? (technically these two are the brand-name socks — I’d already removed the destroyed homemade ones… I guess I better get busy making more)

thistlesocks07-24-09.jpg*Why is it that you work so hard to create a great garden for your new veggies and then realize that you managed to let some of your herbs die in the process?


deadsage07-24-09.jpg*Why is it that you can spend so much time making your outside yard beautiful and neglect your poor house plants?

*(from the husband) Why is it that dinner isn’t ready yet? Oh wait, I know that one.

Got any to add? Please share them! I have a feeling this is a non-ending list!

Author’s edit on 7/26/09: How could I forget this major one: Why is it that I finally start gardening, and Texas finds itself in the middle of perhaps its worst drought ever, with drastically reduced water availability and temperatures over 100 degrees all summer long?

Austin Pond Tour 2009

The 2009 Austin Pond Tour was this last weekend, July 18-19. It was my first time going on the tour, and I’m so glad I set aside time for it, though I didn’t get to go to all the ponds, just mostly ones on Saturday. Such beautiful water features across Austin! I was most impressed. Some were engineering feats, others were just plain huge, and still others kept the “Keep Austin Weird” motto fully alive. I took hundreds of pictures of the gardens I visited, which is way too many for a blog, so I’ll give you a highlight. It’s still a lot of photos — sorry!

I really appreciate the Austin pond owners opening up their yards and giving us all so much of their time to let us visit their ponds. I think every yard was incredible, and though I can’t show all the pictures here, nor did I get to visit every home on the tour, I truly wish I could share a glimpse of all the wonderful yards we saw. The night-time shots, as expected, didn’t turn out, but if I could share with you the wow factor presented by those ponds, I would.

I found that I was particularly drawn to the owner-built, whimsical ponds, so you’ll see more pictures of those in this selection.



These last photos are all from one home. Believe me, I’m not even showing you half of the cool stuff at this place.  🙂

APS2009zj.jpgWave goodbye! Thank you again, Austin Pond Tour home owners and volunteers!

Pumpkin Army Bases, Day 15

I think I need a better name than Pumpkin Army — this veggie gardening endeavour just gets bigger and bigger. I’ve now added corn to the plan. Alas. This is what research does for you! It also gets you: trellises!

trellis3.jpgI’m back from camping. It was good fun — and nice to have a change of pace. I’d like to say that all my plants survived my absence, but I’m happy that most of them did (mourning the rest). The seedling army grows.

pumpkinseedlings07-20-09.jpgAnd of our three swallowtail caterpillars happily munching away before we left, we found one chrysalis, so we’ll try to monitor it for butterfly-ness. Of course, it’s in a place that is very hard to get a picture, and it’s also in a place that the butterfly will have a hard time getting out of without our help. 

Though my DH didn’t quite get to all the plants, he certainly tried, and it was nice to return home to additional hoses and hand sprinklers so that I don’t have to drag hoses around to water those plants far away from civilization, my house. (It’s not that I hadn’t thought of it, I just was trying to avoid spending the money!) In addition, he made great progress on the raised garden beds, which means I will soon have the cantaloupes happily planted.  

trellis1.jpgThe jack-o-lantern pumpkins are going to be spread around the yard and will have to brave possible trampling by dogs, scary because the vines are so important to the size and quality of the pumpkins. I’ve got three jack-o-lantern pumpkins in the ground now, with more to come, maybe. I put them in little mounds, and for now I surrounded them with rocks to help the dogs avoid them. One of them is near some other plants, so I’ll have to guide the vines other directions, as best I can. It will have to do — those vines are growing so fast that I wanted them in the ground as soon as possible. I’ll get some marigolds and radishes near them for bug repellents. It’s apparently not the right season to grow radishes, but if they’ll keep the bugs away, I’ll try!

jackpumpkins07-20-09.jpgThe cantaloupes will be in a raised garden bed, grown vertically on a trellis. All in all, we’ll have three raised veggie beds (for now, haha). The cantaloupes will be in one, along with corn and some marigolds, and sugar pumpkins will be in another, with some more corn. The third bed will be prepared for yummy fall planting goodness. The third bed was made for me by my kids this weekend, their first project working with drills and saws and whatnot!

pumpkinseeds.jpgTo prepare the area, we dug out the grass. It was dead, so other than dealing with the hard soil, it was no loss and only somewhat of a pain. Then, with the frames in place, I mixed in compost into the existing soil. I expect some plant roots to extend into that soil, so I wanted to enrich it somewhat. How hard was the soil? Casualty, one shovel.

brokenshovel.jpgFor the main bed soil, I decided to follow “Mel’s Mix” for square-foot gardening. I talked with the folks at Natural Gardener before doing this, and they had various suggestions (including Mel’s Mix), but nothing really any better or worse. The other option I considered was mixing compost with more of my clay soil, but that would have involved more digging. Forget that! Once I got the stuff home, I read on the bag about dust concerns with the vermiculite, and I felt a little concerned that I’d made a bad choice, but a little more research online made me feel better. 

melsmix.jpgIn mixing the soil, I felt a lot like Hermione in front of a big cauldron at Hogwarts. It was fun mixing it, I admit. I did add in some bonus clay soil from a pile in the yard, for good measure. It’s that secret ingredient in my special sauce.

trellis2.jpgtrellis4.jpgBecause someone at NG told me that peat moss can be a pain to get wet at first, I decided to wet down the soil well and plant tomorrow. Sure enough, I had to work with the peat moss in a big soup of mud to get it to soak in the water. Then I really did feel I was creating a magical potion! Tomorrow will be a good planting day. First I’ll get the trellis wires in place and the grid. Then in will go the cantaloupes and marigolds and some corn seeds.

trelliswire.jpgSide story… While I was digging the soil for the frames, I found a weird, soft little tube. At first I thought that it was, pardon me, some old dog poop. But then it split open, and a spider carcass fell out. Squeal. And then lots of little spiders came out and crawled over the spider carcass. Shriek! While I was wondering whether they had eaten the spider, more horrors awaited me… the legs of a gigantic spider appeared. And they MOVED. And more baby spiders crawled out and over the legs… By now, I’d made loud enough noises that the kids came running over. And finally the whole spider slid out, and it was the biggest spider I’d ever seen in my yard. Yes, tarantulas are even bigger, but I haven’t seen one as a resident yet. Despite my startled reaction to the sudden appearance of this spider and her babies, I find her beautiful. Can you see some of her babies in this picture?

trapdoorspider1.jpgIt turns out this spider is a female trapdoor spider, and she creates a silk tube-like burrow for hunting purposes, laying eggs, and feeding young. I felt some major guilt about disrupting this little family. But once the babies left the tube, all I could do was scoop up (with the shovel) some of the dirt they crawled upon and get them to a prepared garden bed instead of letting them get buried under the dirt I was lifting and turning. The mom spider went to a shady spot, because she looked so shiny and that “carcass” I saw was probably her molted exterior. Or perhaps her mate, eep! 

trapdoorspider2.jpgHopefully they’ll survive. Guilt, guilt. Live, spiders, and go eat my pest bugs!

Speaking of horrific creepy-crawlies, check out this bug I found in Oklahoma. At first I saw beautiful wings and thought it was a really unique and large moth. But then I saw the head and its enormous pincher-like mouth. My guess is it’s not a moth! This bug was more than 3 inches long, front to end. Imagine this bug about the size of a house. It’s got B-movie horror written all over it!   Edit: I googled and determined that this is a female dobson fly. Takes some of the fun out, knowing the name, doesn’t it? 🙂 

OKbug.jpgWe saw a pretty cool leaf butterfly of some sort there, too, and many spiders. This picture didn’t turn out as well as I’d like, but I like the overall effect of the image.


The Oklahoma state parks seem to be very nicely managed and maintained, more so than some of our Texas ones. I loved that they had litter bags to help people keep the trails clean. My only complaint was that they didn’t offer any recycling options for bottles or cans anywhere. We kept our recyclables and brought them back to Texas with us. Green points earned!

OKlitterbag.jpgI loved the bark of the pine trees at Robber’s Cave.

OKpine.jpgAll along the highways and in the state park itself, the beautiful but very invasive mimosa silk tree could be seen. I have a close-up of the flower, but I felt too guilty about admiring the beauty to post it. Bad invasive, bad! 

OKmimosa.jpgAt least it’s prettier than the invasive Chinaberry all over Austin.

The Austin Pond Society Pond Tour was this weekend. I have lots of pictures to post over the next couple of days!


Raising a Pumpkin Army… Day 6

Day 6… Separating the Seedlings

Now that I’ve gotten over the shock of discovering that once again I stuck myself into an enormous project I’m not ready for, I’m moving ahead full force. Because that’s how I roll, baby! My pumpkin army will help me conquer the world! Muahahaha!

pumpkins07-11-09.jpgThe pumpkins, cantaloupes, and endurance sunflowers are all growing like mad. Today I separated almost all of the seedlings into individual pots, which was quite a chore given that I only have so many available pots — I used the last of my cups, too. I heartlessly thinned out a few that looked at me funny (ok that’s a lie, because it really is painful for me to decide which ones have to go). In all I think I sent 4 little pumpkin plants to their doom, but they will serve another purpose in becoming compost. It means I still have about 20 pumpkin seedlings growing, LOL (I was afraid to count the cantaloupes). I recognize that I can’t possibly grow them all, but I’ll choose the best of the best after my camping trip this week. If any survive my husband’s attempt to water the seedlings in my absence, they are sure to be hardy little boogers.


cantaloupe07-11-09.jpgThe current plan is to put some plants in the ground and some in raised beds with trellises. It will be quite the experiment for this newbie vegetable gardener. I happened upon the wonderful blog of Engineered Garden, and it’s this type of trellis we plan to build, at least for the cantaloupes. Actually, I’ve asked my DH to build them for me while the boys and I are camping. If he succeeds, I should be able to get most of my babies planted next weekend. These seedlings are growing so fast, I hope I don’t miss the best window for planting.

Knowing that I’m camping for a week and leaving my plants (seedlings plus the rest of the garden) during a Texas heat wave in the care of my husband, who is NOT the gardener of the family, is a bit scary for me. I think it will take me two hours to write out the whole watering process I go through. But it will be good for him. If I teach him anything, it will be how to deep water, an important skill to have. I worry most that he’ll not notice all the plants around the place. He will also have to fill all the birdfeeders and take care of the pond, dogs, cats, hamster, fish, and our neighbor’s turtles — all while working a full-time job. See why I worry? 

seedlings07-11-09.jpgI’m sad that our swallowtail caterpillars will go to chrysalis while we are gone — we won’t get to see how big they’ll get before they transition. But if they form their chrysalises nearby, and we can find them, maybe we’ll get to see them emerge as beautiful butterflies. 

swallowtailcatb07-11-09.jpgAnd I’m going to miss Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day. But most of my plants have given up their blooms in hopes of sheer survival in the heat (thankfully we have a few left for the butterflies). But here’s a new one I’ll post — one of my other Flame Acanthus has finally started blooming, and I was happy to see it was the vibrant red variety. My other Flame Acanthus has orange blooms.

flameacanthusred07-11-09.jpgSee you next week!

Growth of Epic Proportions

There are several alternative titles to this post, namely:

  •  “What Was I Thinking?!!”
  • “If I Knew Then What I Know Now”
  • “If Everything Is Growing, Why Is My Brain Shrinking?”
  • “It’s a Fact: Size Matters”
  • “Honey, I Blew Up the Garden”
  • “Jurassic Park Dinosaurs, Meet Your Match”
  • and “Why Me?”

Obviously, even the list is growing.

You see, I’ve done it again. I got a creative, eager bug (no pun intended), an idea quite simple in concept, and then I once again found myself in the middle of a major ordeal.

The pond is an example. I found free rocks and came up with the idea of a pond. Months of back-breaking work later, we finally finished the project. Simple idea. Ordeal to deliver.

Goldfishwithlily.jpgHere’s another one – my first and only mosaic (Edit: Okay, this is no longer true). That’s the Pennybacker bridge here in Austin – also known as the 360 bridge. Took me about two months to make. I really need to learn to stop undertaking big projects I know practically to completely nothing about doing. Oh, but then I’d have to stop gardening. Moving on!

360mosaic.jpgEven my “simple” act of finding a wonderful man to marry and raise a family with… Did he tell me ahead of time that he came from a family of 10+-pound children? Guess where I learned that whopper? In the hospital, after having giving birth to our first child, a 10 lb-4.5 oz whopper of a boy with the biggest feet the nurses had ever seen. (Currently he’s in a size 13 shoe and not even a teenager yet).

ACbed07-03-09.jpgAh well, at least my son has become an excellent soil digger, when he’s not complaining about the work and the heat and… I digress. But that kid fits nicely into today’s blog saga about crazy gigantic growing things. (The bed in the picture is in progress, btw – eventually the bricks, outlining the shape, will go away and we’ll have plants + decomposed granite path.)

Last week my youngest son (since you might be wondering, he was more than 9 pounds at birth) and I decided that we wanted to grow our own jack-o-lanterns this year. The same day, he helped me scoop out the seeds of a cantaloupe, and we decided we’d try to grow them, too. After all, I had some empty beds I was waiting to plant until fall, anyway, and some I needed an excuse to work on. Besides, I wasn’t worried – my last purple coneflower seeds and two rounds of sunflower attempts didn’t work, so my chance of getting any seedlings from such fresh cantaloupe seeds and potentially old pumpkin seeds was surely low.

gardenbarseeds07-09-09.jpgOh, and while I was at it, I thought, I’ll try two other types of sunflower seeds. Oh, and look, here are butterfly flower seeds! Oh, and white swan coneflower seeds! Oh, and look at the cute little swallowtail caterpillars on this fennel. I’ll buy some fennel, and some parsley so the caterpillars can have a yummy salad. And I get to try out my little garden bar I just bought off of craigslist for a new potter’s bench! Woot, what a good gardener I am!

<face palm>

gardenbarseedsb07-09-09.jpgI planted the seeds on Sunday. I ran out of little planters and resorted to cups I’d had in the cabinet for years. And I finally found a use for the hundreds of chopsticks we’d accumulated over the years from the occasional take-out – labels! But to my horror — within two days -TWO DAYS – of planting my seeds, I already had sprouts.

pumpkinseedlingc07-09-09.jpgAnd not just little tiny barely-poking-out-of-the-ground seedlings – these seem to be sprouts ready to take over the planet. I swear they are growing before my eyes!


pumpkinseedlingb07-09-09.jpgSo I rushed to Google exactly what I’ve gotten myself into with the pumpkin and cantaloupe and other plants. Oh my – 15- to 40-foot pumpin vines? One plant needs 100 square feet of space? Noooooooo. The package said nothing about that. Honey, we a bigger garden bed – about the size of the whole backyard! And we have a big yard, mind you. Suddenly our simple idea has led to yet another huge project.

cantaloupeseedling07-09-09.jpgThe sunflowers shocked me by growing as well. The Endurance sunflowers, listed as “Rare” – popped out on Day 2 with the pumpkins. The Maximillian sunflowers are also sprouting. I thought my butterfly flowers already were, but I was confused – it was another sunflower. According to the package (and the white swans), they have another two weeks or so before I need to worry about them. At least they’ll give me time to get the monster vines in the ground. (Did I just hear a butterfly flower seed open in response?)


maxsun07-09-09.jpgAnd my cute little caterpillars? Doubled in size overnight. They are running out of fennel, and they seem to have no interest in the parsley. I see more tiny little baby swallowtail caterpillars have also hatched (and are growing!). I’m going to have to hunt down some more fennel or try carrot tops or something. Argh.

swallowtailcatb07-09-09.jpgDon’t be fooled by the parsley — that cat is on fennel!

And what is this little white mop-like creature? I hope it’s a good guy, not a little pesty thing. If you can ID it for me, I’d be grateful! Note: It’s a good guy, though not native to the states: Mealybug Destroyer (Cryptolaemus montrouzieri). Eater of aphids and mealybugs and other little pests!


Well, that’s how it grows, I guess (bad pun intended, lol).

I really think I need a new blog category to accommodate this and all future entries about my horrible inability to think ahead. Today’s post will be the first in “What was I thinking?” category.  I should also add that I’m horrible at chess. And apparently when I endearingly called my son Pumpkin in his younger years, I was way more on target than I thought.


Fresh Popsicles, July 4 and Chocolate Berry Yumminess

Happy July 4th! We walked in a parade this morning and enjoyed some fresh watermelon at a family-fun celebration. Tonight was a feast with some friends and some fireworks. For dessert, I brought homemade fresh popsicles. The rocket and star popsicle molds seemed perfect for the July 4 popsicles! By the way, I LOVE the new pop molds I bought. The ability to take only one popsicle out at a time is just incredible (and they are food safe!).


Red, White, and Blue Popsicles (makes 12)

Fresh or frozen blueberries

Lemonade (I used a 12-oz frozen lemonade, made with 3 cups of water instead of 4)

2 bananas

1/2 cup vanilla rice milk

1 package frozen (or fresh) organic strawberries


EDITED 7/4 — changed order to blue, white, and red (opposite of picture) to let the lemonade (with the blueberries) better fill the layer 

This is a 3-stage process to get those red, white, and blue colors to really pop (no pun intended). In the bottom 1/3 of the popsicle mold, drop a few whole blueberries, then pour lemonade around them to fill the layer. The lemonade is clear, so the whole blueberries really show off their blue color. (If you blend them, they turn a red-purple color– not so blue). Freeze lightly. Next, blend the two bananas with the rice milk and add to the popsicle molds, filling the next 1/3. Again, freeze softly. (Note: I was worried about freezing the popsicle stick in place, so I didn’t put it in until the final layer was added.) For the final layer, blend the strawberries with about 1 cup of lemonade (add more or less lemonade to taste, depending on how sweet or tart you want your red portion). Fill the remainder of the mold, then place in stick (if the other layers are a little hard, run the stick in hot water). Freeze overnight. 

The combination of tart and sweet was remarkably tasty. The layers worked really well together. Next time, I’ll try to play with a more creamy version, such as yogurt. But my friend wanted tart, so I worked with lemonade.

A couple of days ago, I made these chocolate-berry popsicles, recipe found at The Green Baby Guide — she modified a vegan recipe she found. Very delicious! I highly recommend that you add the fresh strawberry slices — SO good.


Chocolate-Strawberry Popsicles

Toss the following ingredients (*except the strawberries) in a blender, puree, pour into molds, and freeze. 

  • 12 ounces of firm silken tofu (make sure it’s silken tofu made especially for desserts)
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup or brown sugar (I used maple syrup)
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup rice milk, coconut milk, or cow’s milk (I used rice milk) 
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch sea salt
  • 4 strawberries, washed, stemmed, dried and sliced into quarters *(put these in molds and pour chocolate mix to surround berries before freezing)


I plan to experiment with more along this line — doesn’t a chocolate-raspberry combo sound incredible?



Ibis Blooms and Pond Fish to Avoid

Here’s a lovely tree I bet everyone will want to have. Just look at the size of these beautiful red blooms!

sazooibis.jpgAllright, allright, they are scarlet ibis nesting in a tree in the San Antonio Zoo. Yesterday I herded my own little pack of wild animals among exotic plants and creatures from all over the world. I had great intentions to go from the zoo over to the San Antonio Botanical Gardens, but somehow the day slipped by and we were still at the zoo. By the time I realized that I wasn’t going to make it over to the gardens, I’d wished I’d taken more pictures of the beautiful plants that graced the zoo. Still, I did manage to get a few.

Like this banana plant. I hope they treat the apes and monkeys to these yummy treats when they are ripe enough!

sazoobanana.jpgThis bamboo was gigantic enough to unfortunately invite some graffiti from zoo visitors. While I hate to see such careless destruction on the part of passersby, I found the bamboo an interesting setting for urban art and lettering.

sazoobamboo.jpgI did find that the zoo was pretty good about labeling the various Texas native plants around the park, but the exotics weren’t so well labeled, at least not the ones I was particularly interested in, of course. Oh, I really liked this plant, whatever its name might be.


This is a very vibrant shrimp plant — I’m not sure of the variety. My young (and red) shrimp plants still aren’t blooming. I hope that they’ll be busy bloomers in their second year, if not this year.


The lion’s tail, also called lion’s mane, is very striking. This was the first time I’d seen one in person. 

sazoolionsmane.jpgThe zoo has opened a butterfly center, which was delightful. Many different species of butterflies fluttered all around us, enjoying nectar and orange slices. The monarchs were quite willing to pose.


It was a zoo trip, so I can’t resist throwing in a couple of other animal pictures. Apparently I developed a rapport with some of the park residents. Like this komodo.


Lorikeets are great pollinators in their native region.

sazoolory.jpgI really don’t know why the piranha kept looking at me like this. It was quite… unnerving. I can definitely say that I’m glad they aren’t in my pond!

sazoopiranha.jpgOn a similar note, back on the home front, I’m also glad that I chose NOT to put a killifish in my pond. I came home to discover that the killifish we had is the culprit behind my disappearing fish in my indoor aquarium — I found this out because it had my last neon tetra sticking out of his mouth (after it apparently devoured all the rest). Needless to say, he’s off to a new home with bigger bullies than he is, and the rest of my fish can be at peace. I had planned to add a local variety of killifish to my pond. HA! No more. I didn’t bother to take a picture of the killifish before I grabbed that net and got him out of there! Sorry! Look it up — and then don’t buy one!

On the plus side, we did get a bit of rain here in Austin. I did a little happy dance.

laceyoak07-02-09.jpgAnd I found a surprise little bloom in my pond. I really need to learn the name of this plant sometime. Now that it’s blooming, it doesn’t look like the plant(s) I thought it might be. Ah well, the bloom will be the identifier when I next visit the pond center. It’s a Pickerel Weed — thanks, Bob!