Recently in organic Category

Growing Up


I love the rain. Everything just looks so green afterwards.


 But even without the heavy rainfall this week, which I was so grateful for (by the way Austinites -- you can thank me for the rain on Wednesday because it was my watering day and I got up and watered-- Murphy's Law was in full effect, because the rain showed up that evening... now if you got hail, too, that's not my fault...), this year we are enjoying massive growth of pretty much everything in the garden. I suppose that sounds reasonable, as in the plant world we are in Year 2, at least for some of our plants -- the rest are still young. Following the saying "Sleep, Creep, then Leap" -- it is clear that our plants are enjoying a growth spurt!

gardena06-04-10.jpgI am envisioning a garden of giants before long -- the thought crossed my mind that I might have to trim some of these back at some point. Whoa, that's too much for this girl to think about right now.

But take a look at this Rock Rose, one that I don't even remember planting in that spot. It's massive. Right now I'm just letting it do its thing, but I'm sure that other gardeners are wisely shaking their head, saying that I'm going to be dealing with lots of little Pavonia babies everywhere and soon. (Here's where I'll tell you that one of my other Pavonias already made lots of babies, as I discovered a couple of days ago. And it was a much smaller plant!)

gardenb06-04-10.jpg  On the plus side, I hope that the natural shade that the larger plants in the butterfly garden will provide this summer will help the smaller ones get through the heat and sun. Downside is that right now everything appears to be the same height. Somewhere in the middle of all that is a Texas Kidneywood, as well as a Barbados Cherry, which at some point should provide the height variation the garden needs. They need to be in their Leap Year, too! 

All around the garden, I've got new plants I'm excitedly watching. Exotic Love Vine, an annual vine from Mexico and Central/South America, still hasn't produced any flowers, but I find myself admiring its beautiful leaves everyday. I guess the love effect is already, well, in effect, even without the amazing blooms it hopefully will produce. Maybe they bloom in fall.


exoticlovevineb06-04-10.jpgNow check out this great stem -- hoho, Great Stem.

cinnsunflowerstem06-04-10.jpgNow at 4-foot tall, this Cinnamon Sunflower is already bigger than some of my trees. Still no evidence of blooms. The leaves themselves are the biggest leaves of any plant I have on the entire property. For comparison, I placed a Pomegranate leaf on one of the Sunflower leaves -- I still don't think it does it justice.

cinnsunflowerleaf06-04-10.jpgFor the record, the Cinnamon Sunflower's growth is putting the Giant Sunflower's growth to shame. I haven't taken pictures of the Giant yet, so it better do some catching up!

The Passionflower is blooming like mad. I'm still waiting for the Fritillaries to show up.


But here's a little Phaon Crescent come to visit.


The Purple Coneflowers are doing some strange things this year, but at least they are officially blooming. Some big, some small, some tall, some flat, some wide, some droopy...

purpleconeflower06-04-10.jpgThis odd Coneflower has a striped appearance.

purpleconeflowerb06-04-10.jpgSpeaking of Great Stems (giggle), here's another one. Check out the thorns on this wee tree, a Toothache Tree, or Prickly Ash. The thorns are currently longer than the stem is wide!

toothachetree06-04-10.jpgWe're fortunate to have two species growing -- Zanthoxylum hirsutum (shown) and Zanthoxylum clava-herculis (very much still a sapling). If you haven't heard of these trees, they're fun. Chew on a leaf and your mouth goes numb for a few minutes. Back in the old days, they served to help with toothaches, hence the name. Bonus -- a larval host for the Giant Swallowtail butterfly! I look forward to our trees getting bigger.

Venturing back to the butterfly garden, I paused to admire a strawberry-like annual, the Gomphrena, that I spur of the moment planted a couple of weeks ago. It's a dwarf compared to the older perennials, but I appreciate the red color that was needed in the garden.


And ugh, a decision to make. This rogue not-native Lantana has popped up in the yard near the pond. Now I have to decide whether to pull it. This is why I stick to the native Lantana urticoides/horrida (Texas Lantana--has orange/yellow/red blooms) -- I don't want to contribute to the easily-spread other kind. I know where it came from, too -- my neighbor had one. Had. I notice she pulled it out this year.


Over in the veggie garden, I discovered an abundance of peppers! Garden Salsa peppers, and they are inspiring the Mexican meal we will have tonight. I didn't even see them start out as babies, and here they are.


Meanwhile, their leaves are getting munched by these little culprits -- tiny (but pretty) grasshoppers. The admiration stops there. They are munching on my peppers, my tomatoes, and my Exotic Love Vine. Stop it, grasshoppers!

grasshopper06-04-10.jpgThe tomatoes are certainly growing up. They've outgrown their cages, keep trying to topple over, and so bushy I'm feeling a little concerned. Next time, I'm going for the big collapsible and way over-priced Texas cages.

tomatoes06-04-10.jpgThe runner beans have grown up past the trellis. I'm hoping we'll actually get some beans before the heat of the summer really hits us. I feel we're pushing the season a bit.

beans06-04-10.jpgAnd the perennial Bell Pepper is producing fruit again. I look at this plant in wonder -- it survived last year's terribly hot summer, made it through fall and winter without any attention from me, and here it is, still growing. I didn't know they could do that. Talk about pushing seasons!

bellpepper06-04-10.jpgPlants aren't the only things growing up around here. I'm about to have a teenager in the house (egads). And at 12, he's already 6-feet tall. We're going to do a final "kid" measure tomorrow, the day before he turns 13.

And these fledgling cardinals showed up this morning. Three of them. I love how their feathers are in transition. Mama and papa should be proud! You can tell my blood sugar was dropping at the time -- the camera was shaking! I'd eaten breakfast, but only just. Not enough time to hit the bloodstream, I guess.

cardinalfledglings06-04-10.jpg cardinalfledglingb06-04-10.jpg cardinalfledglingc06-04-10.jpgI'm pleased that birds are finally starting to pay attention to the thistle feeder. I abandoned the thistle socks awhile back due to the damage the eager birds were doing -- I kept having to replace the feeders. But wow, they did love those socks. It's not off the project list -- I just needed a regular feeder to keep around constantly.

thistlefeeder06-04-10.jpgYeah, I see you squirrel. I know what you're up to. Yeah, I know you see me, too. And yes, I saw you on the birdfeeder this morning. I noticed the young squirrel nearby, too, watching you do it. Naughty squirrel.


So the organic garden is growing up. The birds are growing up. The squirrels are growing up. My kids are growing up. And I guess the evidence is there that this gardener is growing up, too. If I haven't already done it, I guess I have to do away with my newbie status officially, my crutch when I don't know what in the world is going on in my garden. But the greenery around means I must have done something right, newbie or not. If in doubt, add compost -- that's my motto! I'm loving it and ready for more.

For a look back at the garden beginnings through its first year, visit this page.

Sustainable -- Loving and Living It


"Sustainable" -- it's the new catchword and the new black. It's a word I'm trying to reiterate over and over again with my family, and now that I'm leading a big habitat project at our elementary school, it's a term I'm making sure our students know, as well.

Doves, mind you, don't seem to understand the word "sustainable" nor the word "reduce," the little wasteful gluttons. But on occasion, they do lend themselves out for a nice winter picture, so for the moment I'll forgive them.

dove02-10-10.jpgIt warms my heart to see how many bloggers are spreading the word about environmental care by encouraging fellow bloggers to think, act, and make lifestyle changes in regard to taking care of Earth. Suzy at HipMountainMama is leading One Small Change, Dee at RedDirt Ramblings recently hosted a reel mower giveaway, and Jan at Thanks for Today has established the Garden Bloggers Sustainable Living Project.

sustainableliving.jpgThis post is multi-purpose. One, I need to report on my One Small Change progress for January and February. Two, I want to partake in Jan's Sustainable Living Project, and three, I want to share all these bird photos I just got this morning! I've been trying to find woodpeckers in the trees for months, and I was shocked to finally see one -- at our birdfeeder!

rbwoodpkr02-10-10.jpgTaking all these shots, I was reminded that our kitchen window could really stand a good vinegar wash. 

 In my own garden, as many know, I'm dedicated to planting as many drought-hardy Texas native plants with organic methods as I can. My plants are like my children -- I want to nurture them when they are young, help them grow up big and strong, and guide them to being able to make it on their own. Someday, we might move away from this house, and if my plants aren't able to survive without care, they might not make it. I also long to be lazy -- the better my plants can establish, the less I'll have to do... one day.

My biggest project at the moment is guiding our elementary school to become a Certified Schoolyard Habitat. We're putting in a new butterfly-hummingbird garden as Phase 1, and the list of Phase 2 environmental projects is growing -- we'll be putting a water collection system and more. Co-existing with this habitat project is another project for the 3rd- and 4th-graders -- learning about wildlife habitats and then teaching the community about them through 3-D murals. The excitement over habitats is spreading fast, and I feel so good helping our students become environmental stewards.

rbwoodpkrb02-10-10.jpgOn my sidebar, I call myself green-blooded. While my blood might *look* red, especially when I cut myself on a thorny spine or do some other clumsy thing in the garden, my heart and soul are always thinking about ways to protect the environment, and so my blood really runs green. If you put on your special Super-Enviro-Power goggles, you'll be able to see it. If you don't have any, then I'll just raise my hand in a Vulcan greeting. 

In January, for One Small Change, I did three primary acts for the environment: I removed all remaining nandinas from my property, sending the bushes to city mulch and throwing away the berries. I also took all our old leftover chemical products, bleach, and paint from our past to the Austin Hazardous Waste Facility, and some from two of our neighbors. We've been using natural cleansers for a long while now, and finally the evidence from our former lifestyle is gone, gone, gone. And finally, I've been learning many different organic products to help gardeners stay green. I feel more knowledgable about offering green solutions to problems in the yard. Understanding the soil food web was a big part of this. It all begins in the earth, and truly everyday is Earth Day in my book. (Officially, Earth Day is celebrated on April 22).


This month, my son asked us to make something for the wildlife for our February change. We are going to make a bee box or two and a screech owl house. Looking ahead to March, I think I want to train my family to open blinds daily to let the light shine in, and I want to strategically place mirrors to help get more natural light across our house without having to turn on artificial lights. There's a tendency in this family to become inert in regard to opening/closing the blinds, and the result is way more "turning on the lights" than should be necessary. Right now my study blinds are open, and the cats are on my desk watching the birds outside, and the puppy is occasionally growling and barking at the hanging plant hovering outside. No, pup, it's not an evil threat, but it would look nicer if the plant in it hadn't died this winter.

I feel so hopeful this year that Earth is finally getting the kind of attention it so needs and deserves.

Take care of yourselves and our wonderful Earth this spring, and always. And live long and prosper. 




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.

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!

Harvest Before the Freeze


Brrr! It's cold out there! Whatever cold weather you northern folks in Canada and the U.S. are experiencing, somehow you've managed to send some our way. As I write this, it's 32 degrees Fahrenheit (freezing!) with a 25-degree windchill, and it's just early evening yet. That's cold for these here parts! Looks like the low might be 16 degrees. Good weather for stew, tonight's meal.

Yesterday the boys and I got out there and watered all the plants in the garden and also gave them a nice seaweed martini to give them an extra boost of nutrients to help protect them survive the freeze. I didn't cover everything with sheets this time -- just the citrus trees and a couple of tenders. I lost a few plants with the last freeze despite the fact that I covered them -- I'm just going to have to trust that the hardy of the hardy will survive again.

The exciting news is that my veggie garden, neglected over the holidays, has been growing with a vengeance despite my absence.

harvestb01-07-10.jpgThe strawberry plants are all alive, yay. And the carrots, lettuce, spinach, and kohlrabi are massive! They've been loving their little bed, though I wish I'd managed to give them some organic fertilizer over the holidays, just because I'm learning that they like that. The lettuce heads are so big that I wonder whether the leaves will taste bitter -- does lettuce do that? The spinach already is a little bitter, the leaves not being so "baby spinach" size as the seed package promised. It's our fault for not harvesting them all when small, I suppose.

Tonight we picked a couple of kohlrabi, though I understand they are troopers in a freeze. Aren't they beautiful? I left a little one back in the bed -- I hope it doesn't get lonely, but maybe the gigantic lettuce leaves will keep it company. And warm. *Edit: I was wrong, I left two in the bed, yay. And I plucked a bunch of lettuce and spinach to share with the neighbors before it all succumbed to the freeze.


Now all we need is for our kohlrabi-loving friends Stepan and Jen and their kids to come over and share our first kohlrabi harvest with us!

This fall I planted two varieties of carrots -- one shorter, one longer (the varieties escape me at the moment). The shorter variety has done fairly well -- but we gobbled the ones we picked before I got a decent picture. The one below was only mildly deformed and still tasty.

harvestc01-07-10.jpg The "longer" variety has proven to be weird. Look at how short and fat this one is. 

harvestd01-07-10.jpgUnfortunately, it tasted rather bitter for a carrot. It sure has pretty color, though, doesn't it? I wonder if it was a nutrient thing (remember, I didn't fertilize over the holidays). The carrots certainly have plenty of depth to grow in, so that's not the issue.

We gave the yucky ones we harvested to the dogs, who thought the food odd but edible enough.


I need to use some of these carrot tops in a fresh smoothie -- yum! Did you know that the carrot greens are far more nutrient-rich than the orange part? It's important to use organic ones, though -- conventionally grown carrots are some of the top vegetables to expose people to pesticides.

Stay warm, all, unless you are in the southern hemisphere -- then stay cool!

Love It or Leave It: Horseherb


Ah, Horseherb (Calyptocarpus vialis), also called Straggler Daisy. There doesn't seem to be much of a gray area on this one. People either truly love this little groundcover or hate it with a passion. I'm of the former variety. I adore this little plant.

horseherba10-02-09.jpgWhy do I love it? If you've ever walked past a field of horseherb, you are presented with an incredibly lush sea of green, with the daintiest of little yellow flowers throughout to catch your eye. I've seen some gorgeous fields, and each time I was mesmerized by the beauty and serenity of the scene. 


Field of horseherb at Hornsby Bend

I almost don't want to walk on it -- it's so pretty in appearance -- but for a non-lawn groundcover, it can withstand some foot traffic. It only needs water in the worst of droughts, and it loves shade and sun.

Horseherb is also native to the southern U.S. on into Central America, and it makes a great alternative to the exotic and water-hogging Bermuda and St. Augustine grasses. I'd love to see it replace Asian jasmine, as well -- now THAT is a plant that will take over a garden bed and yard. Horseherb is considered semi-evergreen, blooming most of the year except in cold winter areas, and if you like you can mow it, or you can let it grow to its typical max height, which is about 8 inches. But as bonus, horseherb also attracts small butterflies, including sulfurs and skippers. And think of all the happy little lizards that will zip underneath the foliage!


It's an eco-friendly solution to having a lawn without having to resort to heavy chemicals or fertilizers or ridiculous amounts of water to sustain it. Lawn irrigation tops the list on where our municipal water goes, and the time for water conservation is now, especially in Texas.

Why do some people want to leave it? Well, in some yards it can be a big nuisance. For those who keep a grass lawn, horseherb is a competitor, and it can be difficult to get rid of. And it can spread into garden beds, though I've found that so far it doesn't bother much with my well-mulched beds. In fact, one of the characteristics of this plant is that it supposedly doesn't do well in areas that have heavy leaves that take a long time to decompose. It spreads by both seeds and runners, which means that if the goal is to remove all of it, you're going to have a challenge. In a wildflower field, I have to imagine that it would be another competitor, but it's going to depend on the goals you have for your yard or area.

But for now I prefer to embrace its desire to spread. What I loathe is the Bermuda Grass and St. Augustine in my yard. I loathe the unnamed weeds that dominate my backyard. I love my buffalograss in the back, but it too is losing to the weeds, and in the drought, the buffalograss was dead most of the time, so I didn't end up loving it as much as I wanted to - I loved it when I could see it.


What would you choose: spotty grass or spreading horseherb? 

Will I regret it? Some gardeners are going to shout out an absolute yes to that question. But I do regret having Bermuda and St. Augustine (not that I planted it; that was the previous owners), so it's not a big deal to switch from frustration with the grasses to frustration with another groundcover, unless I've got all three to deal with at the same time. At least horseherb is native. But I'm going for the complete wildscape, and I have a lot of ground to fill and a lot of grass to get rid of. In those bed areas I want to keep maintained, I'll do my best to keep horseherb in check. And love it everywhere else!

So how about you? Do you prefer to love it or leave it?

One of Those Days


Didn't sleep well last night, had to drop a kid off at school at 7am, car broke in the bus lane at school (fortunately I got moving before the buses arrived), $700 repair fee at the dealer, forgot to get my husband to move the heavy birdbath so I could grout it, my dogs are wreaking havoc on my garden, and aphids are wreaking havoc on my plants. BUT.. other than that it's a fine day.

Look what I discovered this morning! Know what these are? I just learned what they are at a lecture by a local entomologist last night, and lo and behold I found some in my garden the very next day. Life works in funny ways, doesn't it?

greenlacewingeggs09-25-09.jpgThese are the eggs of green lacewings. As larvae, they are voracious aphid eaters. Yay, another ally in the garden! I need them because the aphids are worse than ever. I seem to have least three species now --- I'll call them green, yellow, and beige. The green I'm sure are corn leaf aphids. I have got to get out and tackle them TODAY. My veggies, my milkweed, and now my firebush plant are all having an aphid problem. The little pests took advantage of my time away from the garden during the rainy week and bred like rabbits. I'm starting to think that it's the other way around, and rabbits breed like aphids. Today I'm seeing wings on some. Gah, more colonization!


yellowaphids09-25-09.jpgSo I've got new lacewings arriving soon, and of course I've got ladybugs. More spiders are arriving, as are earthworms. The bees are getting plentiful, and I don't even have to do the veggie porn thing to pollinate my plants anymore. I truly love the way nature just naturally (ha) balances its ecosystems. Got organic wastes? Happy earthworms move in. Got flowers? Let's pollinate. Overpopulation of something? Here come the predators. And here come the predators to eat the other predators. Oh look, birdie treats. And then snakes. And hawks. Whee, life is grand.

I call these my bees because I'm so fond of them, but of course they are wild. They get a little drunk-like in their flying when they are heavily loaded with pollen -- it's fun to watch. The pumpkin flowers were all abuzz this morning with bees about, and as I took pictures, I realized that there was some hostility going on. It seems at least one other colony has found our garden, and apparently different bee colonies don't play nicely with others.


Know what else I learned from the entomologist? Feral honeybees in Texas and other states of the Southwest have all been Africanized in some way. Only beekeepers are able to keep sound European colonies because of their control of the queens.


FYI, in case I've scared anyone, bees in your garden are not a threat -- don't rush out and kill them, please! They are not in stinging mode when they are out pollinating -- that's quite counter-productive to their hive's needs. Africanized honeybees, or any bees really, are a danger only when you threaten their hive (allergies aside), and apparently they'll give a warning by buzzing around your head or actually bonking you on the head, believe it or not. If you find yourself near a wild hive, RUN -- don't walk away. Like fire ants, the Africanized honeybees give word to others in their colony by pheromones, and you need to put immediate distance (at least 200 yards) between you and the hive. Other than their defensiveness in protecting their hive, Africanized bees are not really any different from other bees. And actually there have been positive changes in their aggressiveness, too, depending on factors of colony age and breeding with European bees. It's all good. No worries. As with anything, just be aware, not necessarily beware. Ooh, I like that.


By the way, have you hugged a beekeeper today? Not only do they raise pollinators and help with honey production, they are helping tremendously by keeping domestic European bee colonies intact, as well as helping breed gentler stocks of Africanized bees by culling out aggressive queens. Hug!

Thanks to my bees, I have several pumpkins growing. One is approaching the size of a soccer ball now (it's been a week since I discovered female buds in bloom). Another is growing in the dead tree. And more are scattered here and there -- finding them is like going on an Easter Egg hunt. There's one! There's another one! Again, how I love nature.


pumpkinb09-25-09.jpgWith the rain this week, the yard is a big mudfest for the dogs, and they took advantage of it -- digging where they shouldn't, trampling through the butterfly garden, and taking turns leaping over the pumpkin vines. I'm out there yelling, "This is not your playground!" And then I realized my neighbor must think I'm nuts, because of course it IS their playground. If I can manage it, I'll try to get a picture of the husky leaping in full gallop over the massive pumpkin plants (in between my yelling at him, of course). It really is a sight to behold. 

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.

The Remarkable Hornsby Bend


Last weekend was a busy wildlife weekend for me. Just before zooming down to the Rockport Hummer/Bird Festival, I visited another bird paradise much closer to home. I almost didn't post about it, simply because it was difficult to capture pictures of the birds without a zoom lens, and due to circumstances mentioned below, the migrant birds were relatively few. But this wildlife habitat, the lands and waters of Hornsby Bend, is so remarkable that I wanted to draw attention to it, especially for anyone in central Texas or visitors to the area. Birding binoculars are highly recommended!

hornsbym09-19-09.jpgHornsby Bend is an area along a "bend" of the Colorado River, southeast of Austin, Texas, near the airport. Once home to dense forests and thickets, a man named Reuben Hornsby settled there in 1832, clearing the land for agricultural uses. Today it is home to the Hornsby Bend Biosolids Management Plant, which deals with -- yes, that's right -- our city's poop. But this is a particularly good thing, because the Hornsby Bend plant combines the treated solid wastes with residential yard trimmings (picked up curbside) to make Dillo Dirt -- a nutrient-rich compost. The plant also houses the AWU Center for Environmental Research, which studies urban ecology and sustainability.

hornsbyl09-19-09.jpgBut Hornsby Bend is so much more -- 1,200 acres of marshes, woodlands, pastures, and riparian (river) areas. Because of the incredible biodiversity along the food chain and its multiple habitats, it has become known nationally as one of the best birdwatching sites in Texas, especially during times of migration. More than 360 species of birds have been sighted at Hornsby Bend. Migratory shorebirds, wading birds, and landbirds, some from the Arctic or from the southern tip of South America, stop at the ponds of Hornsby Bend as they travel to and from their winter habitats.


Though Hornsby Bend is best known for its birds, the native plants along the shores of the ponds and river provide excellent butterfly and dragonfly viewing as well.


Members of Travis Audubon and other organizations survey the birds and other wildlife frequently year-round, but the peak months to view migrating birds are August and September, with wintering birds arriving in October through December. March and April are the peak months for spring migration.

Due to recent rains in Central Texas, the normal shorelines of the lagoons were underwater, so during my visit to Hornsby for Habitat Steward Training, there were very few migrating shorebirds, despite it being a peak month for migration through the area. Audubon viewers did note 57 different species that day, however, including various grebes, kingfishers, vireos, hawks, egrets, swallows, orioles, and many, many more. But with the cold front incoming this week, the birders at Hornsby said that many other species would be arriving, and they expected local birdwatchers to flock to the ponds (pun intended) for species viewing. Our group did see many barn swallows enjoying the insects near the ponds, and several duck species.

hornsbybarnswallows09-19-09.jpgNear the wet grounds by the compost, many least sandpipers and other species scooted about for insects.

hornsbyb09-19-09.jpgAnd humans studied them from afar.

hornsbyd09-19-09.jpgThe wooded areas along the river provided opportunities to see tree-perching birds. A quiet walk along the paths allowed us to listen to the beautiful songs of many a bird, including the white-eyed vireo.   

hornsbyk09-19-09.jpgAnother treatment area, these long greenhouses will also provide winter shelter to area birds. A red-shouldered hawk reportedly has hunted in there, in fact.

  hornsbyg09-19-09.jpgNear the main building at Hornsby Bend, viewers can enjoy butterflies, hummingbirds, and other wildlife visiting the demonstration habitat. Hummingbirds are particularly fond of the thriving Tropical Sage (Salvia coccinea) among the many plants in the gardens.

 hornsbyc09-19-09.jpgAnd there are purple martins, too, though they are absent in September.


A few words about Dillo Dirt. The Dillo Dirt program was created in 1989, the first such program in the state of Texas, and one of the oldest in the nation. The natural process of creating this compost produces temperatures up to 170 degrees Fahrenheit, which kills human and plant pathogens. The compost is further cured and screened before becoming the final Dillo Dirt product. Rather than wastes filling a landfill or being dumped into rivers, this incredibly beneficial compost returns organic material to the soils of Austin yards, pastures, golf courses, and other landscapes. 

hornsbya09-19-09.jpgBack at the main building, the Habitat Steward Trainees listened to three speakers. The knowledge I gained this day was tremendous, from the history of the soil in the Austin area to the how's and whys of organic matter, and from butterflies of Central Texas to urban wildlife, such as coyotes and raccoons. A great day, and a great place to visit.           

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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