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One Soggy Pizza Box


I must confess -- that's not the original title of this post. My first title was "Take a Shower With Your Pizza Box," but I got awfully weird looks from my oldest son and a visiting friend when I tried that one. Then on advice of my son, I changed it to "I'll Take One Shower, Hold the Anchovies." But I really thought perhaps that one went further downhill, because it kept bringing borderline disgusting images to mind and if I really tried hard, they got really, really bad. Finally, I chickened out and went with simple, as seen above. But seriously, I do mean to say that you should take a shower with your pizza box. A bath with a pizza box might be a little weird, though. Wait a minute, SAY WHAT? Take a guess as to what I mean, and meanwhile I'll explain.


See, taking a shower with your pizza box (the corrugated kind) softens it up and makes it easy to tear (of course, you don't have to shower WITH it if you are shy about sharing private bathing moments with cardboard -- just save some of the leftover water to soak the box in later).

And then if you tear your soggy pizza box into small bits -- guess what?

pizzaboxb08-15-11.jpgYou can add it to your compost! It serves as a fantastic brown material, just like dried leaves (the compost recipe is 1 part green to 3 parts brown). It's a tip from Austin's recycling program, which also teaches people about composting. And it being a college town, Austin folks eat a lot of pizza. That means a lot of pizza boxes. And we don't want all those boxes going to the landfill.

But they can't be recycled either, not even with our wonderful single-stream recycling. Pizza boxes usually have a little grease in them, and in the recycling process, even a small amount of grease can be a contaminant -- it can ruin a whole batch of potential paper product. But that small amount of grease won't hurt your compost, and if you have any concern at all about it attracting pests, just dig it a foot or more down when you add it to the bin. We have a Tumbler composter, so we just toss the wet bits in there and give it a spin.


So compost your pizza box, adding a little water to make it easy to tear. But don't moisten the box with straight tap water -- that's wasteful (and our severe drought means that every drop is even more precious than usual). Use that gray water from your shower or bath to soften up the box. If you are incredibly lucky enough live in an area that actually gets rain, then rain seems a fine box-watering choice if you care to hold out for it. But as another alternative, you can also use pizza boxes as a barrier for weeds when you are creating a new garden bed. We did this when we created the new bed around our pond, and it worked great.

Pizza boxes and compost. Who knew?



Healthy Soil Makes a Healthy Garden


Spring is already around the corner, can you believe it? Sure, it's still January, but many of us are already planning our spring gardens, preparing beds, and ordering more seeds. But while you're busy planning what gorgeous flowers and greenery will decorate your garden this year, think about what lies beneath -- the soil -- for that is what makes your garden grow... literally.

soilmulchb01-17-10.jpgYour best bet for healthy plants starts with a healthy soil. But what exactly is healthy soil? Good soil is teeming with life. Many people have heard of food webs that show the relationship between plant-eaters and the animals that eat them, on up the food chain to humans. But did you know there is a whole food web just for what occurs in soil? Healthy soil contains organic matter to feed the little tiny creatures within the soil, and those creatures in turn break down nutrients into materials your flowers, trees, and shrubs can use.

Take a look at this diagram from the USDA website on soil.


It shows that not only is it important to have a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and nematodes, it all starts with organic matter in the soil. You simply have to have organic material in order to feed all the little guys that will do their part to take care of your plants naturally. Bacteria and fungi help retain nutrients in the soil, and protozoa consume the bacteria, releasing the nutrients into a form that plants can use. From there, beneficial nematodes consume bacteria, fungi, and protozoa, releasing even more nutrients for the plants. And while all these happy little beneficial creatures are eating their goodies, making their poop, and doing their part, they are denying nutrients to icky, disease-causing bad-guy creatures. Your soil is more protected with the presence of all those good guys, and your plants are happily reaping the benefits.

On up the food chain, arthropods, nematodes, and earthworms get consumed by larger predators, such as birds. And you can probably take the food web from there.

How do you know whether your soil is healthy? Well, one, you can have your soil tested, particularly if you are concerned about the mineral content of your soil (nutrient level) and whether you have any more serious concerns. But also consider whether you see many earthworms.


Earthworms are one of the best indicators of a healthy soil system. They consume bacteria and protozoa in the soil as organic material passes through their system, and their feces are rich with other microorganisms to help convert nutrients into a state plants use. They shred organic matter (making it more accessible to the microorganisms), loosen soil, create passages for oxygen and water to get into the soil, and their poop, or castings, are incredibly beneficial to the soil and your plants.

If you've been using chemicals on your yard for years, chances are that your plants are chemical dependent, or you might be starting to find that no matter how many times you spray, you just can't fix those brown spots in your lawn or resolve problems with fungus, etc. The chemical usage has disrupted the ecosystem, and getting your soil healthy again is the key to solving all those problems. You can help your plants transition off the chemicals simply by adding compost to your soil and taking advantage of multiple organic products out there that will boost your soil with microorganisms and/or natural nutrients, such as compost tea, seaweed, fish emulsion, and any number of organic mixtures and powders that provide microorganisms with food as a base. Leave your grass clippings and fallen leaves where they lay to decompose, resupplying the soil with the organic matter it needs.

wormc01-17-10.jpgAnd when you start to see earthworms, rejoice. Do a little worm dance, because you have happy, healthy soil. We are starting to have so many earthworms here that it's hard to dig a hole for a new plant without worrying we might hurt a worm. We protect them, we love them, and yes, we do our little worm dances. 

That's the Way to Mix Compost!


Ever wonder how the folks at Natural Gardener prepare their wonderful organic compost and soil blends for their Lady Bug products? Check out their garden tool.

nga01-10.jpg ngb01-10.jpgDoesn't that mix look rich? My garden wants some! All those wonderful little microbes and nutrients, ready to work their magic in the earth.

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, June 2009 -- my first!


At long last the 15th has arrived, and I get to participate for the first time in the Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, hosted by May Dreams Gardens. Some of my regular flowers stopped blooming for a bit this week, so I was a bit worried, but the garden came through for me. I'm just glad I don't have to post a picture of algae "blooming" in my pond (thankfully, it's not actually doing that anymore).

Zinnias. They are so much fun. You just never know what's going to bloom at the end of that stem. Look at the variety in my butterfly garden -- just some of many. These all came from two packets of seeds.

I think the buds are as lovely as the flowers.




I'm quite fond of the yellow flower holding its own among all the pink zinnias.



Several Texas natives are blooming away.









turkscap06-15-09.jpgIn a nearby Austin park were these native Texas Greeneyes, en masse. I love the way the yellow petals are delicately placed on a just-as-beautiful green center.


Elsewhere in the garden, a few drought-hardy non-natives are managing to bloom in the hot Texas sun.




The crape myrtle was a slow bloomer this year and managed to send out its pink colors just in time for Bloom Day.


Even though hail a few days ago pulverized my poor lily pads, the plants are already making a comeback. I've removed a few of the beat-up leaves, and new ones are ready to take their place, along with this beautiful bloom. I'm trying not to remove all the damaged leaves at once -- I still need shade for my pond.


And lastly, here's this white flower that for the life of me I can't remember the name of today. I have a purple variety as well. All I know is that this was supposed to be a winter annual (or so I was told) and here it is blooming in hot June!


Happy Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, everyone!

Bugs, blooms, and visitors

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The butterfly garden is growing like crazy. New blooms appear daily, including lovely Purple Coneflowers and Zinnias, and there is soon to be an open bud on one of the Flame Acanthus. The Winecups that once attempted to take over Earth, however, have finally died back with the oncoming Texas heat.

After wanting soaker hoses for a long time, I finally purchased several for the butterfly garden and other areas. The butterfly garden alone took four, but already the plants are happily growing faster in response. I'm in the process of covering the hoses in mulch, at least until a pelting rainstorm exposes them again. No complaints here -- I'll take the rain anytime!


This Zexmenia (Wedelia texana) really stands out near the Blackfoot daisies (Melampodium leucanthum).


One of the fall-planted drought-tolerant Society Garlics (Tulbaghia violacea) has its first bloom, which means I must have done something right. What a beautiful lavender color.


The Spineless Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia ellisiana) seems to love our old heavy soil -- it has already doubled in size since I planted it this spring. Maybe I exaggerate, but it certainly is bigger.


I don't know the name of the insect below, or whether it is friend or foe, but it was quite fond of this young Purple Coneflower this morning. (Edit: It appears to be a Longhorn Beetle, genus Strangalia. Larvae bore rotting wood, while adults eat nectar and pollen.).


But nearby I did find definite foes. My Zinnia leaves have been getting eaten up a bit -- upon closer look, there are several baby grasshoppers feasting away. Sure, they might look all cute and stuff UNTIL THEY EAT YOUR PLANTS! I'm worried about the grasshoppers -- as an organic gardener I see them as difficult to get rid of. Time to do some research!


But still, the zinnias are stunning. Two blooms so far. The other ones need to catch up! 


The pond progresses, and I've begun planning the plants for inside and outside. The inside is easy -- I have a few plants from a friend in Houston (thank you, Kim!), and I've chosen a few others for inside the filter falls and in the pond. But the outside is the real challenge -- what I plant will help turn this "volcano-like" pond into a beautiful limestone pond to admire and enjoy all the more.

gettingclosertopimg.jpgThe pond is attracting wildlife already -- there has been a hawk hanging out near the backyard the past two days, more dragonflies are zipping by, and I saw a toad hopping along the ground near the pond. The problem with wild creatures is they don't want to stick around while you go get your camera!

We got our composter a few weeks back, finally. After much research online, I selected the Tumbleweed composter for its easy turning. I chose the "prettier" green one, thinking that I didn't need the black one for heat absorption, given that we live in Texas. It's nice to have a place to put our green food bits other than in the garbage. My big complaint about the composter, though, is that it is not made of recycled materials, for the most part. I seriously considered switching to another composter just for the sake of using recycled materials, but I decided that I was more likely to appreciate and use Tumbleweed's design. I do hope they will revise their product at some point, or offer an alternative. It's possible that over time the recycled composter will break down sooner (not meaning long-term decomposition) -- I'm not sure.


When I planted this Texas Esperanza (Tecoma stans), rainstorms threatened to drown it. Apparently it liked it, and it's thriving in its little corner by the fireplace wall. 


As I take close-ups of the pretty blooms in my garden, I've become quite aware of how much dog hair floats about my yard. Some people have to pull up weeds. I have to pull up weeds AND dog hair in my garden. Here's Gregg's Mistflower (Conoclinium greggii), complete with dog hair.


Ah well, at least the outside of our house is consistent with the inside!

Meredith O'Reilly happily
gardens for wildlife in
Austin, TX. She enjoys
educating people of all ages
about native flora, fauna,
and healthy environments.

Nature Blog Network


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