Recently in going green Category

Don't eat these.


Don't eat these. They are not chocolate. They also are not dung beetle balls. Nor are they any other sort of food or poop. Well, actually, that's not entirely true. They contain compost, so I guess they contain manure. And technically the organic matter of the compost is food for little microscopic organisms. But I digress -- what they really are are seed balls. Little round balls of life... and other stuff.


I joined other volunteers on Saturday to make seed ball kits for the fire-stricken Bastrop area. While fire is part of nature's processes, these seeds are meant to restore plants native to the Bastrop area and help accelerate the healing of the ecosystems out there. They contain a special blend of seeds appropriate for the Bastrop area, and these seeds are rolled into little balls of red art clay mixed with sifted compost. The kits will be delivered to schools, where students will make the seed balls, learn about native plants, and be environmental stewards  all at the same time, and then the completed balls will be dried, packaged, and delivered to the Bastrop area. Thanks to Healing Hands, Healing Lands for organizing all of this.

This weekend I also volunteered at the Austin Green City Festival. It was held at City Hall, and the busy crowds were made more numerous by Occupy Austin marchers all around the perimeter. It was quite the proactive day, I must say. The Green City Festival offered much information about composting, gardening for birds (that was us), Central Texas wildlife, watersheds and aquifers, recycling, being green, bicycle commuting, green building, pollution, nifty paint re-blends available for free, clean air, and so much more. Tree Folks gave away free tree saplings. Others gave away reusable grocery and produce bags, and more. What fun.


This giant bottle-cap sculture threatened to head toward to the top of nearby skyscrapers. It didn't quite make it. But it tried.


A trailer covered in ash trays gave people a chance to leave positive messages about the importance of clean air and to encourage smokers to quit the habit. My son and I left messages, too. The one shown above wasn't ours, but I liked it because it was smiling back at me.


One booth combined trash plus fashion to make Trashion. This dress of cables was my favorite.

I even managed to get a few more plants in the ground this weekend. I also got a few out -- ones that didn't survive the drought. In this case, I didn't mind so much. It finally gave me the incentive to make some minor but well-needed changes to the first garden bed we installed in the front yard.

Oh, by the way, time is running out to enter the giveaway contest for Hill Country Water Gardens and other local nurseries! October 26 at 11:59pm! Don't forget to enter!

Sustainable for My Family, for Wildlife, for Earth


I love participating in the Gardeners' Sustainable Living Project, because it's a project I wholeheartedly believe in. So Jan of Thanks for Today -- and all folks working on living sustainably -- thank you for all you have been doing to encourage thoughtful, earth-friendly actions. I'm posting down to the wire this year -- the deadline is tomorrow, April 15 -- but I have good reason. My whole life seems to be one big sustainable living project, and I've been rather busy doing Earth things lately!

GSbluebeeb03-17-11.jpgAs many know, native plants and wildlife gardening are my passion. But I do more than garden -- I lead multiple environmental projects, I volunteer often, and I speak about wildlife habitats and native flora to groups of all ages. I do this because I believe that we can make things better for Earth and protect its threatened species. Education is the first step, and actions are the next. That's why I share what I can, because believe it or not, it's easy to live sustainably and protect the environment -- it just takes awareness and a desire.

purplemartin04-14-11.jpgI'm excited today because this morning I found our first Purple Martins setting up house in the new gourds at school. My school-habitat ally informed me as well that our 5,000-gallon rain tank is full and actually overflowing a bit -- it turns out it's been collecting dew off the metal roof at school, which thrills me as we've really only had one good rainstorm since fall. Dew! Back at home, I discovered that our native Buffalo Grass has spread greatly across the back of our property, and it means that nature is working WITH me to get rid of the remaining Bermuda. Happy wildlife, conservation of resources, beautiful gardens, kids learning about nature, all so good.

I live in a place where drought is a matter of fact, not an occasional occurrence. And as such, I try to take care about what I plant and the effect it will have on water resources and on wildlife. This is always on my mind, always. And along those lines, I protect the soil by following nature's example -- letting organic matter become a part of the soil again to let the cycle of nutrients and life flow the way it should.  

At our home, we reduce first, then reuse, and only then do we recycle -- because reduction is far better than recycling in terms of impact on the planet, with the worst of course being sending things to the landfill. We sometimes actually collect items from others to prevent them from adding to a landfill -- our wonderful pond was once someone else's broken hot tub, we have a flower planter that was once someone's rusty wheelbarrow -- creative projects like these are fun, rewarding, and immensely satisfying.


Inside the house, we're trying to reduce "stuff" -- living more simply without useless things that collect dust. But it takes time to sort items and get them to those who could use them. So it's a work in progress. A worthy goal.

You know what would make me happy? Besides more people gardening and living sustainably, I mean? I'd love for junk mail to go away. I cannot stand being forced to have to recycle/sort/shred/toss things I didn't ask to receive. It's not like I can give junk mail to anyone. But if I can't have that, then I'd love for all those wildlife and nature organizations that my very heart wants to support to stop sending me address labels, animal stickers, plastic fake membership cards, note cards, magnets, calendars, subscription requests, membership requests, stuffed animals, and so forth. Because doesn't it say the wrong thing for those truly wanting to help the environment to continue to put so much waste into it? I donate when I can, but I've had to become selective. Because waste hurts my heart and the environment. Yes, I support what these organizations are doing, but I want them to stop wasting such precious resources and money on junk and instead maximize the help they can give the environment.

heartofTXleaves.jpgNext week on April 22, we celebrate Earth Day. At school, we're making it a week-long celebration, and every class is choosing projects related to environmental stewardship and green practices. But it's not our goal to only encourage environmental stewardship once a year or one week a year, but as a lifetime habit. Our kids are learning all about protecting and valuing nature, and, with hope, as adults they will continue practicing and sharing these values.

But it's not just up to them. It takes all of us, and it's okay to start with baby steps. Do what you can. One change makes a difference. But the more you work toward, the better. It doesn't take much to live sustainably, just awareness and a desire.

Touring a Local Recycling Center


recyclingt01-24-11.jpgDon your Green hat and safety vest, and take a visit with me to a recycling center here in Austin. My son and I visited the center as part of a special tour set up by Keep Austin Beautiful, and it was an eye-opening experience for this green-blooded girl and her green-blooded kid.

recyclinga01-24-11.jpgAllied Waste Services of Austin is a partner of Keep Austin Beautiful, helping keep our city clean and progressive in environmental stewardship. The local center is a MRF (pronounced merf), or Material Recovery Facility. It is separate from our single-stream processes, which involve a different facility, instead working directly with businesses and the community to take in recyclable items.

recyclingp01-24-11.jpgDay in and day out, they collect and transport materials, to the tune of an impressive 71 tons per day average just from this single collections center. From the Allied Waste website, "Allied Waste recycles approximately 3.3 million tons of materials annually. This metal, plastic and paper is equal to 200 pounds per second. Recycling the paper products alone is equivalent to saving 41 million trees. Every ton of paper that is recovered through recycling saves 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space." Yowza.

The tour leaders reminded us that recycling is a business, even though we environmentally-minded people like to think of it as a do-it-for-the-Earth-and-because-it's-right sort of action. The materials we send to be recycled get sorted according to type, condensed into big bales that are held by wire, and delivered and sold to third parties in the U.S. and the world to be processed into materials that can then be turned into other products. Bales = Value

recyclingo01-24-11.jpgPlastics, for example, might become plastic lumber which can be used for park benches, construction materials, and so forth. Our living-room carpet is actually made from clear plastic bottles. Note: Before you think this makes it okay to buy lots of water bottles, note that the bottles themselves aren't made from recycled materials. Reduce your use first, please!


The facility in Austin separates paper and cardboard from all other goods, and from there sorts all the materials even farther. Big conveyor belts carry the materials up ramps to where machines and people both do the actual sorting.

White paper is very valuable, so it's packaged into its own bales, as is cardboard.


recyclingc01-24-11.jpg recyclinge01-24-11.jpg  The plastic bottles, metal and aluminum cans, milk jugs, and so forth are piled together.

recyclingq01-24-11.jpg  A giant conveyer belt pulls the commingled materials up, then a magnet draws out the tin cans. Aluminum is separated out with an eddy current.


The plastics get sorted by hand. The numbers in the chasing-arrow symbols on the plastics indicate the resin they are made of, not whether they can be recycled. If the plastics are accepted for recycling, they are grouped by that identifying number, and they will get melted together at a specific temperature. Milk jugs are referred to as "natural plastic," which means that they are unpigmented. They get their own bin.


Pigmented plastics -- like those for detergent -- get grouped together, as do the clear drink bottles, of which there were a LOT.


Once material is sorted and gathered, it is compressed into giant, heavy bales wrapped with heavy-gauge wire. These bales can weigh between 600 and 2,000 pounds depending on the material. Here is mixed cardboard and paper recently baled:

recyclingk01-24-11.jpgOnce everything is baled, it is carried by forklift to be stacked with similar bales and to wait for the truck to arrive. One truck can carry as many as 48 bales.

recyclingj01-24-11.jpg recyclingm01-24-11.jpg Outside, the bales are stacked neatly into formidable walls. From a distance, some of these bales look like blocks of colorful fabrics and textures, but a closer look reveals what the bales really contain: packed, compressed plastic bottles.



Look at this mountain of bales of clear plastic bottles:

recyclingu01-24-11.jpgDepending on the items needed, the materials might be sent around the U.S., into Mexico, or even as far away as China. Plastics will be washed and shredded, then melted. The melted resin might be used to make pellets or flakes that will get further processed into new products.


Tips from the Recycling Center to make things better for the facilities that process and sort the materials:

1) If possible, sort the materials ahead of time -- paper separate from plastic, and so forth. Single-stream facilities don't require this, but other collection facilities appreciate it, since sorting is done manually in most cases.

2) Remove any plastic caps. They are a different plastic resin, and they become dangerous like bullets when compression forces them off the plastic containers. You can send the caps in separately if the center accepts them, but regardless, remove them.

3) Rinse food out of the containers before you send them. While a little residue in a peanut butter jar isn't a big deal, larger bits or quantities of peanut butter is. Food is the Number One issue that recycling centers deal with. Not only is it an issue of spreading disease and ickiness, as well as the contamination and thus ruining of entire bales of materials, but here's another word for you: RATS. Help the facilities out by sending in materials that are reasonably clean of food.

4) A word about plastic grocery store bags: for them to be recyclable, they must be very clean -- not just free of food but of dirt. Take these directly back to the store for recycling.

5) Though most places won't take styrofoam, a few facilities will take it if it is made of a plastic with a number accepted by the facilities -- check your local recycling centers. Like plastic bags, the styrofoam must be perfectly clean of food and dirt, or it can't be used.

6) Be careful to only send in materials that actually are on the list of acceptable, recyclable items -- remember, contamination can ruin a whole bale of good materials!


Here's an interesting fact: The recycling symbol with the three arrows that people associate with "Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle" actually refers to the recycling process itself: Collect, Process (make into something new), Purchase (a consumer buys a product made from the recycled materials). Recycling only works when you close the loop and buy things made from recycled materials, so do more than recycle -- be a Green consumer, too!  


Whichever meaning is used for the chasing-arrows symbol, it all means one thing to me: helping the environment. Go Green!

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. 

Earth-Friendly, Homemade


Homemade gifts just make the heart swell with love, and happy memories of making or receiving them abound, not to mention how economically wise they can be. This year, the family and I decided to make environmentally friendly gifts for Christmas, and not only were the gifts made from the heart, the satisfaction of staying green AND discovering that the four of us could work as a team equaled a total win-win.

fishart12-09.jpgThe kids decided that for grandparents they wanted to make seed mosaic art, and it was truly a family affair. The boys made the drawings and did a bunch of the gluing, with Mom giving guidance and filling in where necessary. Dad made the frames with old branches from our yard.


This fish is a rainbow trout, fly fishing being my dad's favorite outdoor pasttime.

fishartb12-09.jpgAnd, of course, hummingbirds seemed the perfect choice for other art subjects, because all our kids' grandparents love hummingbirds!


We used all sorts of beans and seeds, including kidney beans, pinto beans, black-eyed peas, white beans, pumpkin seeds, safflower seeds, millet, flax seed, black beans, lentils, and green split peas. These we glued onto a thick piece of off-white paper with good old-fashioned white glue, following a lightly pencilled outline of our drawing. Next we glued the paper onto a slightly larger wood board, and to that we attached the frame pieces my husband had carefully cut. To ensure the frame dried how we wanted it, we carefully clamped the pieces in place after the glue was applied. And prior to all the gluing, we nailed a small picture hanger on to the back of the board.


Ah yes, we added in a little popcorn for color variation.

birdartc12-09.jpgFor other family and friends, we tried our hand at making seed ornaments, as often in the past we've enjoyed giving purchased seed gifts for others, to hang out for the birdies.


We used a recipe that I found online -- it used unflavored gelatin as the ingredient to stick together the black oil sunflower seeds, safflowers, peanuts, corn, cranberries, raisins, thistle, flax, and other bird-happy foods, hopefully holding the intended shape. The best cookie cutter I had for the project was a large star, and we used it to shape most of the ornaments. We also used some round plastic storage containers for larger seed wheels -- these were much easier to shape, but much worse for drying time! Twine through the ornaments served as the hangers.


I want to say that the birdseed ornaments were a success, and in some ways they were. Once dry, the ornaments held their shape fairly well, but the key was definitely to let them dry fully, flipping when necessary. Overall I didn't allow enough dry time, thanks to the recipes I looked at being vague. They weren't just vague in dry time, they also were vague in the gelatin/seed ratio and recipe. Any of the ornaments that didn't get to air-dry well quickly turned to moldy ick, so I couldn't give more than a few out. SO... I'll need to work on this to perfect it. The idea was good! Once I improve on the project, I'll post details of the new and better recipe.

We attempted one other earth-friendly project for kids' gifts, but they were far more time-consuming than we expected. So this secret project will be on hold for next year!

I'd love to hear what you made for gifts this year, or what you've done in the past. We're already looking forward to our next projects! 

Making that One Small Change


Cat over at Amlo Farms in her latest post dared me, and by me I mean all of us, to participate in One Small Change, a great idea that comes from the inspiration of Suzy at Hip Mountain Mama, and it's all about changing little habits or doing little things that will have positive green impact. Make one small change each month through Earth Day (April 22) and post about it. More than 200 people worldwide are already participating, including a whole 5th-grade class (well done!). Well, I'm up to that dare, Cat and Suzy! This month is actually filled with goals for me -- I'm involved in some large habitat projects at the moment but I decided that they don't count as "small" changes because they are big ones! And we already do so much in our daily lifestyle that is eco-wise, so I had to give this some thought. And here's what I've come up with -- yes, it's three, not one. I can't count, apparently (okay, two were already in the works, but I included them).

The first is to get the last of the invasive nandinas off my property this weekend, in time for bulk plant pickup by the city (we're removing all the berries first). Two, I have some old paint cans and whatnot left over from my "I didn't know better" days -- these I will get to the hazardous waste facility and say goodbye forever. And three, I will learn more about organic gardening products so that I can offer organic solutions when people have pests, want to fertilize, or otherwise want to get their yard healthy. It's one thing for me to say "go organic," but to be able to offer actual solutions will help bring the idea back to earth, so to speak.  :)

What are some other ideas? The possibilities are endless! Switching to better lightbulbs (such as compact fluorescent), reusing bags at stores, avoiding dusting sprays and non-natural air fresheners, using more cloth instead of paper towels, stop buying bottled water, conserving rain water, purchase green energy, reduce car usage, adjusting your thermostat to use less energy, taking things to a recycling center when your city doesn't offer at-home pick-up for items, and so on, donating items you don't use anymore, checking craigslist and freecycle before you buy something, and finding a way to reuse something you might otherwise have thrown away. Little things, but they mean a lot!

Setting the Urban Example


I've been posting so much on Texas habitats that I realized today how much I miss blogging about my garden -- after all, it's my baby. But soon, soon -- for now I have one more Austin locale to share.

A bit of history -- for many years, Austin's airport resided fairly close to downtown; it was the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport. It closed in 1999 with the opening of the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, and the old airport sat untouched for many years. Today it has been replaced with a new community, including shops, homes, and parks, and it is home to the Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas. Of course, this is a commercial development (Mueller), so I'm not going to chat it up too much, but I'd like to say that I appreciate what I saw in my visit to the demonstration garden last weekend (yes, along with Hornsby Bend and Rockport -- I told you it was a busy weekend!).

Basically, the concepts are simple -- think green and sustainability. Builders and developers are making use of recycling, solar energy, native plants, high numbers of trees in parking lots, commuter service, bike paths, and more. In partnership with the Wildflower Center, large areas have been preserved as natural habitats, and homeowners are encouraged to plant native plants, educated with beautiful and/or wild examples shown in the community's demonstration garden, prairies, and ponds.

Enjoy the tour, a bit of a zoom-in/zoom-out look!

Damianita and Prickly Pear...

muellera09-19-09.jpg Gregg's Dalea...muellerb09-19-09.jpg Prickly Pear, Lindheimer's Muhly, Salvia, Lindheimer Senna...

muellere09-19-09.jpgLindheimer Senna...

muellerc09-19-09.jpg Flame Acanthus, Lindheimer Senna, Salvia

muellerd09-19-09.jpg   I fell in love with this mixture of Salvia greggii colors.

muellerf09-19-09.jpg muellerg09-19-09.jpg   Inland Sea Oats in front of American Beautyberry...

muelleri09-19-09.jpg Walkway under Desert Willows...

muellerl09-19-09.jpgA view of the three ponds, surrounded by native grasses...

muellerj09-19-09.jpg  One of the grassland prairies... 


Among the walkways in the demonstration gardens, native plants are all sorted and identified in lists, and the plant species are far more numerous than I've shown in these photos -- this is just a sampling. In addition, there are signs that teach about certain aspects of native gardening. What an excellent way to educate residents and visitors about plants they might like to grow!

Given that this area was once an airport and was destined for development of some kind, it is nice to see such strides toward thoughtful, green building and the restoration of native plants in place of the parking lots and runways I remember.

A New Use for Vinegar


When your son doesn't pay attention and adds dishwashing liquid to the dishwasher instead of detergent -- yes, you know what that means -- here's a tip:

After cleaning up as much bubble mess as you can (i.e. the floor, so you can get to the dishwasher), pour vinegar into the dishwasher. It helps break up the bubbles, and you get far less foaming.

I'm adding it to the list.

Well, I'd been meaning to run vinegar through the dishwasher anyway. Guess now was as good a time as any. Well, better, actually!  :)

The Indispensable Vinegar


Now that the kids are back in school, I'm trying to take a few days to get the house back together. It's been a mess with all the gardening, dogs, painting, and constant activity, so I'm a green cleaning machine (my family's working their elbow grease, too). At the same time, I've been adding some new pages to my blog's sidebar with some tips for going green. I'm always looking for ways to be eco-wise in my home, but I'm still learning and incorporating, too, trying to make it all routine. Being eco-wise is obviously important to our planet, but sometimes it's hard to get started or hard to think beyond what you have done all your life. So if you find a useful tip or two, I'm happy! Part of the reason I decided to work on these pages was to remind myself to continue helping my family take positive strides toward reducing our negative impact on the planet.

To launch the new pages, I'd like to pay homage to the Indispensable Vinegar. It might not be fragrant like that rose in your garden, but it's oh so very useful. Take a look at all it can do for you!

vinegar.jpgInside the home, vinegar can be used to:
Clean kitchen counters and sinks
Clean mirrors
Clean bathroom counters, sinks, and bath tub - either use diluted spray or making a scouring cleanser with baking soda, liquid detergent, and vinegar
Get soap scum off of glasses
Break down bodily fluids, such as vomit or feces, in the carpet or on your floor (dilute 1:1 with water)
Clean and soothe irritated skin after working in the garden (or touching poison ivy)
Deoderize a garbage disposal
Clean the inside of a refrigerator
Keep ants out of the kitchen
Soak pot stains to get them clean
Soothe itches from bug bites and poison ivy
Clean toothbrushes (and dentures!)
Laundry - add to your wash cycle for stubborn smells in your clothes or in your machine. Use dilute vinegar to loosen stains on your clothes before washing
Clean windows
Absorb smells - just put a bowl out overnight!
Clean litter boxes
Clean toilets, inside the bowl and on the exterior
Remove stains and smells from counters, pots, dishes, and hands
Mop the floor (particular useful on ceramic tile with grout; however, don't use on marble)
Clean stains from carpet

Outside the home, use vinegar to:
Clean your barbeque grill
Clean upholstery stains
Clean birdfeeders (always rinse well, regardless of how you clean)
Keep pests away from your garden bed, including rabbits and cats (be careful where you place, and don't spill - it's a natural plant killer)
Clean your trash bin
Clean stains off concrete
Clean clay pots
Remove ice or bugs from car windows
Kill weeds -- no need for Round-Up! Spray directly on weeds (careful of your other plants), on stubborn tap roots, and even on poison ivy! Some people use a combination of vinegar, dishwashing liquid, and salt on their poison ivy, too. Others heat the vinegar first to strength the acidity.
Clean windows

Cantaloupe Sex Ed


And the mistakes I've made, SO FAR.

Here's what I did wrong. I'm going to be happy that this list, as far as I'm aware, is short.

1.       I grew cantaloupe from the seeds of store-bought cantaloupes. To be fair to myself, I didn't know any better! So don't do the same thing -- sure it's tempting, but hybrids, if you bought one from the store (most of them are hybrids, apparently), will give you heartache or at least some stress. Read on to find out why. To those I gave seedlings, I will report my findings as I find them out, and I greatly apologize for any grief you experience!

2.       I took a picture of the giant grasshopper, and it got away. I'm still kicking myself about this one, and it only happened yesterday. The babies are hard enough to catch. If you see a big one, don't try to capture the awe in regards to its size or even impressive markings. Just kill it. It will eat and make babies. Something eats bits of my corn, and I blame him. Or them.

Here's what I'm doing right (again, as far as I'm aware). Top-Ten List! Top-Ten List That's Really in No Particular Order!

10.   I gave my cantaloupe seedlings a raised bed and trellis in which to grow to their heart's content without getting trampled by dogs.

9.       I learned about square-foot gardening and went ahead and spent the big bucks to give them a good soil in which to grow. Even the in-ground pumpkins got a healthy dose of compost mixed into their soil spots.

8.       I lovingly give them water each day, and I know to hold back on water as fruit maturity begins to happen.

7.       I learned the difference between male and female flowers and what "self-fertile but not self-fertilizing" plants are.

6.       I learned about and am quite willing to help my cantaloupes' pollination. I don't have many bees here yet, so I have to do what I can to help (I did see one of those big black ones this morning, but he didn't linger long at the cantaloupe flowers; I also see an occasional sweat bee).

5.       I check them each day for bugs and kill anything that looks menacing. Unless it gets away while I'm taking a picture, that is...

4.       I'm being a good mom by growing the cantaloupes at my son's request, and along the way I get to teach my kids about plant life cycles and good gardening practices (and/or my mistakes!).

3.       I gently guide the cantaloupe vines up the trellis to give them something to hang on to.

2.       I learned about companion planting and put in marigolds and corn in their raised bed.

1.       And most importantly, I love them and talk to them and love them some more!

And there you have it. I'm so excited to have thriving cantaloupe plants, but I'm worried that I'm growing a hybrid. So I'm seeking words of wisdom from the experienced cantaloupe gardeners out there! And Cat at AmloFarms has some blooming male flowers (from REAL seeds) she can share with me for pollination purposes. This cantaloupe thing is getting pretty complicated, haha. But for the sake of my cantaloupes, I will drive across town and back! Thank you, Cat! 

The cantaloupes are happily growing up their trellis and trying to grow out wide, too.


We've had male flowers for awhile, and today (day 38) I found my first female. Here's how you tell the difference. The easiest way is looking at the flower stem.

The male rises from the vine with a single plain stem of its own.

cantaloupemaleflowerb08-12-09.jpgThe female has a cute little bulge that will become the fruit if pollinated.


Here's a baby female bud.

cantaloupefemalebud08-12-09.jpgYou can also tell the difference by looking at the inside of the bloom, but here's where I'm unsure about the condition of the inside of my cantaloupe blooms. The male stamens will have pollen, but I can't tell whether mine do, haha.

cantaloupemaleflower08-12-09.jpgAnd the females will have their stigma ready to receive pollen. But mine look quite green, so I don't know if mine look the way they should (I've seen pics with them yellow).

  cantaloupefemaleflowerc08-12-09.jpgAll the same, I did my best to get some pollen from the male to the female. At first I tried q-tips and a paintbrush, but I saw hardly any yellow on either. So I finally pulled off some male flowers and exposed their stamens and rubbed them on the female.  


No idea whether any pollen grains stuck.

So experienced cantaloupe gardeners, should I be seeing lots of yellow pollen on the males? The male pumpkin flower (just saw my first two today!) has a lot of pollen, that's for sure. And ants. First blooms, day 38.


Here's one of the giant plants. They have a long way to go to reach full size. Egads.

jackopumpkin08-12-09.jpgFrom what I've read, if I read correctly, the female flowers should be ok and just the males might be sterile. But I don't know whether the females are sometimes sterile, too. And even if pollination happens, will I get a regular cantaloupe out of it or some dud?

And while I'm asking, let me ask this: Can someone identify this red bug for me? The bigger versions of it are black, but I don't see any of those on the garden yet, but last fall I had a ton of all sizes in a bunch of fallen leaves. Even the people at Natural Gardener couldn't name them for me. I kill them when I see them now. But I'd like to know what they are. They are not tiny lady bugs, that's all I know.


redbugb08-12-09.jpgIn other garden news, I decided to do something with my broken tools. Please tell me this looks like a flower, because it's supposed to, HA! I will probably paint it at some point, but it's growing on me (hehe) as is, too.


You can see the evil chinaberry in my very nice neighbor's yard behind it -- it's been my nemesis for many a year. My neighbor finally had it cut down several months ago, but the workers left the stump and roots, so of course it's been growing back with a vengeance. We cut it again just to prevent seeds and it's back -- so the neighbor is getting the tree people back out to properly kill it. Not sure they'll succeed if they don't get the roots out. I'm having to close my eyes and ears about the herbicides they'll probably use... But I'm so thrilled to have a neighbor who is trying to help with the invasives problem!

Sugar pumpkins continue to grow and confuse me. They just aren't eager to send out tendrils, but growing they be, with new bloom buds forming.

sugar pumpkins08-12-09.jpgMarigold seedlings! Only about 6 took, but I have more seeds to try with.

marigolds08-12-09.jpgAnd much of my corn is happy. A few seedlings are getting chomped by something <evil eye at grasshoppers, even if they aren't to blame>, but the rest are growing. I never really realized how beautiful a corn plant is until all this growing stuff.

cornmarigolds08-12-09.jpgAnd I've planted 8 pole bean seeds so far. I'm making use of the far corners of the trellis squares (ok, according to square-foot gardening, those squares belong to the cantaloupes but they were just sitting there empty! seemed so wasteful). I'll be planting more along the fence once I amend the soil. My wonderful oldest son dug out the weeds from that area for me this morning. This whole "raising kids to work on the farm" was a brilliant plan of the pioneering farmers!

I planted Black-Seeded Blue Lake Pole Beans. The seeds look like engorged ticks. Don't they sound wonderful? But I hear they are delicious. No, really. Really!


And we had another frog in the dog pond. Not surprisingly, he's just as cute as Murray! Pictures soon!

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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