Monday, December 15, 2008


I hadn't realized how long it's been since I posted. Hey, it's not like anything's been going on, there was that election thing and some economy stuff, but everyone knows the holidays are a breeze. Ha! Anyways, I've been neglecting my garden too. I've gotten out to throw some water at it now and again and of course to drop off compost but I haven't spent much quality time in it since October.

That was until yesterday when I went to take a good look at what is going on in my garden.
I got some peas, the last jalapeno of the season, a bell pepper and miraculously some green tomatoes! It's been hot and cold for weeks, one day 80 degrees the next night near freezing. Somehow my tomato plants which got big but didn't set much fruit to speak of have been pretty tough. I planted Celebrity, which is a hybrid and beefsteak (I think) and I usually don't have much to do with either of those but I have a bunch of green tomatoes (in December!) I learned a lot of lessons such as "thin your carrots, damn it, or you end up with carrot threads!" And "some plants are more drought resistant than others." "Mulch is king in the land of never ending droughts" and "weeds are just flags for opportunities." Sound like sassy cross stitch plaques, eh?

Last night was the first really hard frost of the season and it's pretty cold outside so I am content to dream up my winter and spring game plan with a cup of hot tea and a pile of garden books. I have some cool pics to post from the little gardening I have done in the last few months and I promise not to be a stranger any more.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Terrarium fever and yarn

I love terrariums but this is silly. The world of knitting and crochet is a bizarre one. Just having lots of yarn and lots of time isn't a justification for making some of the stuff they have patterns for. Pick up any knitting magazine and you see at least 5 car wrecks of yarn-tastic horror. There are more pictures on Why Would You Knit That? a super cool site that lives up to its name.

Monday, September 15, 2008

First kill

Here's a really awesome video of a Venus fly trap growing. It's facinating!

My terrarium is doing really well. I was nervous about transplanting it into a new environment but it never even drooped. I've kept it nice and moist and had it sealed most of the time to keep out gnats. We have a fungus gnat problem in the apartment right now. It sound's gross but it's no worse than fruit flies, though they're a lot smaller and slower. I guess one of them got into the snifter (there's that word again) and now one of the traps closed and there's a tiny gnat shaped shadow in there. Ha ha! If you enlarge the first picture you can see the shadow. I wasn't going to feed it for a week but it took the initiative which makes sense with the new growth I spotted. It's growing, that means it's happy and that makes me happy.

I've been looking at this awesome book about terrariums and miniature gardens. It was published by Sunset books in the seventies. It has a lot of ideas and groovy 70's pictures. I got it from the Austin Public Library. Thank goodness they don't cull the stacks at the downtown branch. There are all kinds of nifty things hidden away.

I am convinced that stalking and killing the gnats is causing them to evolve into a super breed capable of dodging and evasive maneuvers. I have some spray with Rosemary oil that you're supposed to apply and then wait a week then reapply a few times to kill the larvae and disrupt the cycle. I've removed some of the plants that were harboring the enemy and I'm changing out the soil in several pots to start fresh. I don't want to drown the poor plants in essential oils.

A friend remarked that he thought it was strange that a vegetarian would want a Venus fly trap. I don't think it's strange at all, I'm on the plant's side. Who isn't fascinated by a plant that can fight back? After all, maybe Venus fly traps will evolve into something like Ents in Lord of the Rings.

I think it is human nature to seek human like traits in plants. As humans we understand trapping and killing, we're good at it. When we see a carnivorous plant in action we want to understand it on our terms. Culturally we cast carnivorous plants into roles like insatiable Audry Jr. in Little Shop of Horrors or on the Addams Family tv show, their African strangler plant is named Cleopatra it's more like a pet than a plant and even eats furniture. The Venus fly trap is a cultural icon it is mysterious, strange, and above all hungry. Ultimately it represents desire. It's no wonder a ladyboy band in Thailand decided to name themselves Venus Fly Trap.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I don't like Ike

Ike is an asshole. We knew he would be difficult, and we were prepared. We knew when he was due to arrive and so we got ready for it. He was predicted to be terrible, but every cloud had a silver lining right? No matter how much of a bully he is there has to be a flip side to him. I stayed up into the wee hours watching the red and yellow swirl (big as Missouri) pummel our gentle coast on TV. I watched the skies in Austin turn gray and the trees whip around. I checked the weather, no I LIVED the weather hoping for that silver lining. Hoping for rain. Watching the color coded storm levels in great stripes across the patchwork of Texas counties. Calculating when to bunker down and how bad it could be? It was bad.

Ike smashed up Galveston, Houston and Beaumont and screwed with our already delicate beaches to the tune of 8 billion smackeroos. Not a drop of rain here in Austin. Millions displaced and it could be weeks before their electricity is back on. Yet all I can think of is I have seedlings to care for. Thirsty little seedlings that reach up to the sky begging for a drink. Now I have to placate them with the hose; let's face it, it's not the same. Sigh. Now I can't tell if Ike is the jerk or if I am. Well, I'm going to say Ike is. I didn't do $8 billion in damage, I just want to see silver linings in storm clouds as big as Missouri.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


I’ve got terrarium fever! I found a flickr group a while back that made me really excited, then I found the perfect glass brandy snifter when thrifting, finally when I was at the store last week I saw some awesome carnivorous plants. I recalled seeing some in terrariums somewhere with carnivores but I wanted to make sure they weren’t fast growing or needed anything weird I already bought one plant that wasn’t suitable for the miniature snifter wonderland. I had all the ingredients except plants so I went back and $5 later the wheels of this project were set in motion.

Take one jumbo snifter*

Add a layer of pea gravel

Add some soil mixed with sand.

Plant the new plant and add some more pea gravel and a few decorative stones

Now just add water! Distilled water that is. I’ll give my new friend a week or two to get her bearings and then I’ll feed my precious pet.

S suggested I make some small skulls and bones to go around it. I love this idea, after all venus fly traps seem to have a significant role in pop culture. Cleopatra was the name of the Addams family’s carnivorous plant.

I do want some more moss in the terrarium. The sphagnum moss that came around my plant had a few green spots. Maybe it’ll grow and form a soft carpet around my little friend. Maybe I’ll add some. One terrarium site recommended if I take moss from the wild I should keep it in isolation for a while in case it has any thing that could infect/infest or contaminate my other planty friends.

* I know I keep saying snifter and there’s a reason for that. It’s an awesome word, just say it out loud: snifter, snifter, snifter, snifter. See what I mean?

Friday, September 12, 2008

digging up dirt

I was at the Great Outdoors and I saw a sign on the seed rack. I took a picture of it with my phone but I'm having technical difficulties trying to send it to an e-mail account. It said:

"Attention Seed Thieves: All of our Morning Glory and Poppy seeds are treated making them ineffective for what you want. Please quit stealing them."

A Google search of Morning Glory when I got home yielded tons of sites about using them for non-horticultural purposes.

While online I came across more drug-related, garden-related and overall interesting stuff.

Little did I know that Castor beans are poisonous. I'd heard of them and seen them in the odd seed catalog here and there but had no idea what ricin was.

Salvia divinorum? is that some kind of sage? I love pineapple sage! No, this article in the NY Times is definitely not about the Salvia I'm thinking about.

Marijuana used as a hedge in Australia, the neighbors never suspected a thing. "It just looks like an ordinary hedge in a suburban yard." Found on Neatorama.

Peyote in Austin? I thought it only grew in the desert out west somewhere (see Sept 7, it's a hoot.)

I'm no Pollyanna but this is a lot of drug stories in a few days. I'm not interested in using plants for mind altering purposes (except coffee and chocolate), but I am very interested in how plants and people interact. I think plants are an important element for humanity to help define ourselves and our relationship to the world around us. I think I'll leave this topic on that point.

I could talk about America's war on drugs here and I've thought a lot about writing about politics on this blog. There is so much to say these days but I'll leave it elsewhere. I perceive gardens to be neutral spaces and should be not have an ideology forced on them. I don't consider environmental issues to be very political because it is the concern of all living creatures to live on a clean planet no matter what political party they join. I think gardening can be healing and should bring people together. Maybe I'll write about politics when it starts to directly affect my garden but right now I think there is plenty of discussion elsewhere.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


I was reading Ramshackle Solid and I found out that the city of LA is using goats to trim weeds downtown. Link. How awesome is this? My sister had horses when we were young. One of the places where we boarded them had a goat named Abraham who was a mean cuss and would butt you in a heartbeat if you turned your back on him. However just a few years ago I knew some kids (ha ha! Ok, children) who kept goats for milk. These were some of the sweetest little critters. The day after one gave birth I was over to see the baby. Soooooo cute! And sweet tempered. Since I've gotten into knitting I've found there are some goats that produce excellent fiber for spinning such as mohair from an angora goat and the luxurious cashmere goat. My whole attitude towards these critters has changed.

Abraham is long gone by now and the future is wide open. Maybe one day S and I will have a goat or two? After all they are house trainable. Then again who wants a pet who can eat your socks, literally.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Let's talk about the weather

Sprouts! The cucumbers are coming up! The plants I transplanted are doing very well, my zucchini which was valiantly fighting squash bugs seems to be improving. I planted a parsley near it and the vine has shifted towards it. They seem to be getting along quite well, they're both putting out new leaves. Perhaps a good companion plant for the zucchini? I've been careful to inspect it for eggs and squish the few I find. Dilligence is the key.

The basil babies I transplanted straight into the garden are doing alright, a few gave up the ghost and a few are putting on more leaves and growing. Of the basil babies I transplanted to pots, only the multiple plantings seem to be doing well, the individuals have given up. Onto the compost heap with them, the cycle of life continues. I transplanted the beans yesterday and they seem a little overwhelmed by the heat but I shaded them through the worst part of the day. They'll shape up, if not the next round of beans are coming up in the kindergarden. My oregano hasn't sprouted yet and the peas are growing. I am soaking some nasturium seeds to plant tomorrow. They're supposed to repel squash bugs and I need all the help I can get. Check out the package isn't it pretty? Sorry the picture is blurry, I'm having problems taking close up pics with the camera.

There's a chance of rain today. Only 30% chance. Ok, here's something I don't understand, if there's less than 50% chance of rain why do the weather folk use a rainy cloud icon. 30% chance of rain means there's a 70% chance of no rain. Is it because Texas is in a perpetual state of drought? Is it supposed to be optimistic? Perchance could it be that local weather folk would have nothing to talk about otherwise? Is this about ratings? Am I too cynical? Probably.

This is from

Tue, September 9
Time Condition Feels
Humid. Wind
Evening Commute See Pollen Hot Spots
Isolated T-Storms
99°F 30% 62°F 41% From ESE 3 mph
Mostly Cloudy
97°F 20% 63°F 41% From E 4 mph

See what I mean?

Curse of the Were Rabbit

I love movies and gardening. One beautiful blend of the two is "The Curse of the Were-Rabbit." I had forgotten how much I love this movie, the characters, the setting, and the unabashed (yet gentle) mocking of the Brits and their gardening habits. The puns come fast and furious and every time I watch this movie I see more details. The attention to the smallest touch is so thorough.

I love the Anti-Pesto issued garden ornaments and I’m really tempted to make a gnome with red light eyes. Maybe with a motion sensor to trigger the light-up eyes. I’ll probably just make an Anti-Pesto warning sign for my plot.

I’m also really digging Victor’s ubiquitous polka dot scarf, so classy. I saw something very similar on Sartorialist and it’s been hanging around in the back of my head ever since. After all there’s no reason why you can’t look good when you’re moving dirt around. I had a vintage bandana of my grandfather's that had an awesome polka dot pattern but I recall wearing it to death too. Also Gromit’s ever present knitting needles thrill me, knitting continental style too I might add! I might be easily pleased but as far as I’m concerned Wallace and Gromit can do no wrong. This movie is probably one of my favorites of all time.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Thrift score

In the last week I have purchased these lovely items. All together less than $20 for the lot. The spice jars are glass with removable sprinkle caps (aka plastic thingies with holes) and metal screw-on lids. These will be perfect for dried herbs, or homemade bath salts. The cookie cutter was 49 cents, you can never have too many cookie cutters. And the jumbo brandy snifter is perfect for a terrarium. The source of my terrarium lust is here. The stand is wrought iron and super sturdy, perfect for plants. Woo hoo! Thrift score indeed.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Busy as a bee

There is a different feel to the air these days. In the morning the air is cooler and smells fresher. Fall is fast approaching, my favorite season. That's hard to remember by noon since it blazes up into the 90's everyday. No wonder this was an awful summer for growing stuff. But like Bermuda grass, hope springs eternal. This week I have sown cucumber seeds, cilantro, calendula, fennel, and oregano. I have planted a chamomile plant and an ornamental pepper. I also got a columbine plant thinking it was something else. I've been wanting to create a terrarium and I mistook the columbine for a slower growing tropical thing. Oh well.

I've also disassembled the plant kinder garden and put everything in individual pots. One of the bean starts I've transplanted into the garden (along with some baby basils from the kinder garden) the others are toughening up on our front walk. I have a ton of pea starts. Since the weather is so blasted hot I don't want to kill them by sending them out to bake in the hot sun. They are in individual pots and I'll give the weather a week or so before I move them. I also need to build the bed where they are to go. Some of the baby basils were transplanted to individual pots too. I'm hoping to give some of them away as gifts. And I started another round of peas and beans since the heat might not cooperate and may very well kill off my tender babies in the next few weeks. Oh well. So much for fall.

While I was working on all the transplanting in the kitchen, my cat, Lola, tried to jump on the counter 3 times! She was adamant to be involved and she knows she's not allowed on the counter. She's never so bold as to jump up while I'm right there, I don't remember the last time she was that pushy. I misted her in the face with water which pissed her off but she kept coming back for more and complaining the whole time. I've thought about growing some cat grass in a planter on the floor just for her but I'm afraid that will be an invitation to munch on houseplants. Some of the plants I have are cat-toxic but they're inaccessible to her. I don't want her to get the idea that all houseplants are salad. She was napping in a sunbeam the other day, so in the spirit of Cute Overload here is a Caturday picture of Lola.

I was hoping to plant potatoes this fall but everywhere I have looked online I have failed to find potato seeds. I have a tire especially for potatoes and I was hoping to do the trick where you keep stacking tires up and the yield develops vertically. I might just scrap that idea and plant carrots in the tire instead. I've flirted with the idea of posting on Craig's list for potato seeds but I'm not super fond of Craig's list. I bought some sand in preparation of carrots and potatoes. Forty pounds isn't that much, it sounds like a lot but the bag isn't very big. I might need to get some more, at least it's cheap. I already know I need more dirt to fill my beds.

I have a container with cucumber, thyme, and cilantro and it's coming along very well indeed. The cuke seedlings are putting on new leaves and getting tall. It's right by a railing so the longer they get I can loop them over the rail and they'll get even more sun.

I probably need to get my collard greens in the dirt while it's still warm. And I need to get some broccoli and winter vegetables started in the kinder garden. Fall is coming and sooner or later the temperature will dip, if we're fortunate. There's still a lot to do in the plot such as making a keyhole garden. I've been slowly working on that. Little by little. More on that later.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Green eyed monster

I am experiencing serious potting bench envy. This is too gorgeous. Maybe someday when I have my own house I'll have something like this. Sigh. Danny Seo's website often gives me inspiration or envy. He comes up with some cool stuff and takes great pictures.

Dress for success

Check out this dress! It's on the lovely Lily Allen and I took one look at it and thought "Mulch!" I went with pine needles in my garden this fall and this dress' pattern looks a lot like my mulch. My beds are well dressed indeed! I say she needs a few accessories perhaps in green? And loose the sash but overall it's a great dress, and it probably keeps her from becoming dehydrated.


Image courtesy of Okie Dan

When people talk about the family line sometimes there are specific traits that form connections between individuals. These can be like the dots in a “connect the dots” picture that trace lineage and show direct heritage. Some families pass down personality traits such as stubbornness or good humor. Others pass physical traits like red hair or long flexible toes, characteristics that tie one generation to the next an identifiable code that can allow strangers like botanists to classify individual specimens into families. My family has plenty of physical and character traits but there is another feature which seems to be reoccurring: the need to grow tomatoes. This goes way back.

My great grandmother had a huge tomato patch. She was known for them and had a side business selling them. By the patch was a tree with a hollow spot hidden in a crook of its trunk. There she kept a salt shaker so people when people wished to sample her wares they could. The tree still stands but there are no tomatoes today nor is there a salt shaker in that tree. My grandparents met in that tomato patch and a few years later got married. Love apples indeed. Ever since then and probably before then my family has grown tomatoes.

All varieties have been cultivated by my kin: heirloom tomatoes when they were just called tomatoes, hybrids when newly in vogue in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s and heirlooms again when they became called that. We don’t have special seeds handed down from one generation to the next, though it would be wonderful if we did; it doesn't matter, we grow what we have. Even at family reunions where relatives from all corners of the country assemble, everyone brings their tomatoes to compare and contrast. And with tomatoes comes endless conversational opportunities. People you haven’t seen in years are suddenly comparing dirt, seeds, transplants, soil amendments, heirloom versus hybrid, tomato cages, and tomatoes they grew last year or the year before. It’s really a unifier among gardeners it makes families out of strangers even when sometimes those strangers are your family.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


When I get bummed out about weeding I just have to look here. There are pictures of houses covered in Kudzu. I've never seen this plant in person and I had no idea it was this invasive and aggressive.

It's like the miasma in the movie "Kaze no tani no Naushika" aka "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind" by Hayao Miyazaki (the same guy that did Spirited Away) in which a poisonous ecosystem is taking over the world, nations collide and drama ensues. It's a beautiful and deeply moving about compassion and the environment with a kick-ass protagonist. It'll make you look at bugs in a whole different way. It's fantastic and based on a phenomenal graphic novel. The movie was made in 1984 and is just as fresh and relevant today. Check it out!

New plants

Newest additions to the plot: two kinds of parsley (flat and curly), "Black Beauty" egg plant, lemon verbena, "Celebrity" tomatoes, thyme, marigold, and mint. It seems criminal to pay for mint. In my experience it inevitably goes crazy and tries to take over the garden in a bloody coup. Once it starts sending out runners I'll need to pack heat to tend the herb bed. A few days ago I built a raised bed by the stakes that Babs and I thumped into the ground. Yesterday I finally filled it with dirt and compost and set up part of the bed frame as a support for beans. It doesn't look like a lot but my back tells me otherwise.

Last spring after I put in my initial plot at the community garden I realized my climbing beans needed support. Walking home I spotted the perfect item: a metal bed frame by the curb in our neighborhood. I watched the house for a few days, it was clearly being renovated and the bed was in the trash so I claimed it in the name of recycling. It's pretty heavy so Babs and I rolled it on its casters until the casters fell off. Then we just hauled it. It's amazing how distances seem to increase when you're carrying something heavy. What was a short distance seems to gain in distance proportionally to how heavy our load was.

There was a wooden bed frame too. Days later I was chatting with a fellow gardener and he and I went to rescue the wooden one. The renovators had placed a huge utility dumpster in the driveway so we climbed in, fished it out and carried it back together. Other gardeners have used the wooden one so I'm happy it's found a new purpose.

With the insane heat the beans never took off this summer. I have some bean starts for fall on my window sill. I have the perfect east facing window for propagating seeds and it’s right above my bed which is only fitting since I dream about the garden sometimes. I've a bunch of stuff started: basil (three kinds), two kinds of beans, two kinds of peas, swiss chard, "Roma" tomatoes and fennel. The fennel isn't doing much. It may have gotten too dry or I may have planted it too deep. Who knows? If I don't see anything in the next couple of days, it gets composted.

I also put in some hens and chicks. They're a favorite of mine. My grandma had a blue strawberry pot with them. Also I remember them in my best friend's mom's garden in Germany. I love it when they're tucked here and there so I started a little colony and we'll see how they do.

Monday, September 1, 2008


I went on a bit of a shopping spree at the nursery; you know how it goes, you go in for one thing and "discover" 5 more things you "need." I'll use everything no doubt about that. With the new plants I went ahead to the garden and began digging. While poking around in the dirt I found some left overs. Whomever had the plot before me left a few carrots. This blurry pic of dirty carrots is all I have the energy to post tonight. I'll chronicle today's adventures in more detail later.


S and I went to the Cacti and Succulent Show at Zilker Botanical Garden. He dropped me off and searched for a parking spot while I walked into a wonderland!! I already love the otherworldly shapes and forms of these marvelous plants but it was even better to see them up close and personally. There are some awesome cacti and succulent pools on Flickr that I love to browse and it was so cool to see the real things. There was so much to look at and most of it was for sale.

After browsing around for a few minutes the organizers announced they were having a raffle and since they had sold few tickets and had lots of plants to give away the odds were good. I bought a ticket and I won! Here are my new additions! The lithop is a Lithop dorotheae and I’m not sure what the tall one is. I’ve been looking at a ton of cacti pictures online and I’ve yet to discover what it is. Any ideas?

By the time S showed up I’d already fallen in love with two more plants this String of Pearls, Senecio rowleyanus, and this triangular succulent, Haworthia viscose, that will begin to spiral as it grows up and sending spirally friends shooting up too. Very exciting!

S thinks the string of pearls looks like an H. P. Lovecraft plant with

bubbling tumor-like tendrils that will choke us in our sleep and eat our bodies. He has a point but I think it’s cute. That’s why we get along. And that’s why Cthullu hangs on my side of the bedroom.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

No one will notice the dirt under my nails

Get your own knuckles at the knuckle tattoo gun.
P. S. No Mom, I these aren't really my knuckles (not yet.... heh heh he).

I'm back!

It's been a while, I've been gardening a lot lately and so I thought I'd share my adventures here. Enjoy!

Toad to Freedom

I was at Home Depot last night. I try not to go there because it always makes me depressed. There never seems to be anyone to help you, they never have what I'm looking for, and all the damn chemicals just remind me that there is a market for poison. But at 7:30 on a Saturday night they are open and all of the independent local stores I prefer are closed.

I had a short list of things I wanted. I didn't find what I was looking for so to kill some time I just thought I'd look around. I found something I didn't come in looking for; I found a toad. A big one. With the number of people running around and machines I was worried that it might get crushed. So I picked it up and took it to the register to ask if I could take it to the community garden where I have my plot. The girl at the register freaked out a little. It's possible she'd never seen one before. She was shocked that I would touch it with my bare hands. "Don't you get warts from toads?" I told her that's a myth, you get warts from viruses. She was also concerned that it might bite. I assured her that toads are not built for that, the worst they can do is pee on you. I asked if she had a box, she didn't but kindly called for someone to bring one. Then the toad did its worst. Oh well.

A few other employees showed up, apparently they all knew this toad very well. They had pictures of each other with this guy on all their cell phones. They asked me a lot of questions and I did my best to assure them that the garden was a safe place with lots of bugs to eat, and safe places to hang out. I gave them my phone number and the location of the community garden. They were reluctant to see him go but they were concerned that he might get squished. Apparently they get a fair number of toads and frogs and they never know what to do with them. Hopefully they'll call me and the garden can be a toad/frog sanctuary.

Can you find the toad in this picture?