Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Make a New Year's Pile

With Compost, That Is....

Is your yard covered in leaves as ours is?   We have been composting for several years but only recently with good results. A year or so ago, we rebuilt our raised garden and added two new sections for compost materials.  (see the post of Sept 20, 2013 HERE

We have learned that turning the compost several times yields faster and better results. And it really helps to attack it with our small garden gas tiller a few times a season.  It helps chop and stir things up. We do not put weeds in the compost and avoid any hard stems which make the process take longer. Nor do we use manure or table scraps, other than vegetables and orange peels. We do add a cup or two of garden fertilizer and a few shovels of regular dirt from time to time. The dirt adds beneficial bacteria, etc.

Here are some short tips that might be helpful from Ron Krupp Author of The Woodchuck's Guide to Gardening

Quick fix compost advice

If the pile is too dry, water it.

If there are too many leaves or old hay, i.e., too much carbon, it will breakdown very slowly. Replenish it with nitrogen in the form of fresh green grass, weeds, kitchen scraps and animal manures.  (nope.. to the last three as far as we are concerned)

If the pile gets too hot from too much nitrogen, cool it down by opening it up and adding some with carbon materials like hay and leaves. (we have never bothered with a thermometer) You will smell ammonia (nitrogen gas) in the case where too much fresh animal manure is present. Have you ever been over-come by the odor of chicken manure? What you smell is the ammonia (nitrogen gas).

If the pile is too soggy, there is not enough oxygen; aerate the pile and add some dry materials.

Add lime or wood ashes if the heap begins to smell like garbage. Don't throw in meat scraps unless you want skunks in your backyard-and the sound of screaming neighbors.

The key to successful composting is to have enough air and water, the right ingredients and the correct carbon (straw, hay) to nitrogen (fresh grass clippings, animal manures) ratio. Fresh manure mixed with hay bedding from a barn is the ideal combination. (good luck with that) This translates into about 12 parts carbon and one part nitrogen or a 12 to 1 ration. Most home gardeners use what materials are available.


Leaves are the most abundant and easily accessible material for the compost pile. One of gardening's enduring misconceptions is that leaves such as maple and oak are acidic. Leaves that have gone through the composting process and come out as leaf mold test close to a neutral (pH) of seven. In fact, no matter what kind of tree foliage, including pine needles, the final product will have a pH of between six and seven. That's almost perfect for most plants. (pH refers to the sweetness or acidity of a soil. 

Blueberries love acid soils-around a pH of five vs. most vegetable plants which need a pH closer to six and seven. Lime and or wood ashes increase the pH in your soil. Leaves are a triple treat for the garden as an addition to the compost pile, as mulch, or as a special organic amendment called leaf mold. 

They're a nitrogen source when the leaves are green and a carbon source when the leaves are brown and dry. The problem is that some leaves mat down when wet, which means if they are placed in the compost pile, they'll pack down and exclude air from the mix and shed water off the pile. 

Flat leaves such as sugar maples tend to mat together and curly ones such as oaks and silver maples are an airier choice, but they all mat down to some extent when wet.The best way of dealing with leaves is to shred them with a lawn mower or leaf blower. (or tiller) Or pile them up and let them sit for a few years, turning the pile now and then.

This follows the woodchuck principle of "Leaf It Alone." Eventually, the leaves will break down into leaf mold, which means they have decayed into rich crumbs. It's not that they're filled with lots of fungus and mold even though there is always a mixture of bacteria and a little mold with the breakdown of most organic materials. Leaf mold occurs naturally in forests over years of the leaf life cycle. Have you ever noticed that rich dark brown stuff on the forest floor? Now you know what it's called. Some leaves contain weed-suppressing chemicals. Leaf mulch suppresses weeds, conserves moisture, attracts earthworms, protects plants from winter's freezing and eroding winds, and improves soil structure.

 (The sign tells the lawn guys where to put the clippings thanks to Google Spanish Translator)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Seedballs - Helping Mother Nature

Here is an interesting project that might be fun for the grandkids over the holidays and bring some color to some bare spots in your landscape. 

Well... that may be a bit more than you want to take on

But something like this should be worthwhile.

Seed balls are small balls made of a mixture of clay, humus, wildflower seeds, and a bit of water. A bit of red pepper is also added.  Seed balls are a great way to sow seeds in patchy or bare areas since the seeds are protected from predation by birds, insects, and rodents until the rains fall to melt the clay and allow the seeds to germinate.

A really nice article and pictures is in the current post on one of our favorite other blogs TexasButterflyRanch.   It provides all the instructions and tips you need. You can go right to the article by clicking HERE  But then come back to this page for what follows.....
So I guess you could go looking for some "Red Potters Clay" somewhere but let's see if we can figure out how to come up with an alternative source.  Soil is usually compounded of three different sized particles. The largest particles are sand, through which water flows very readily. The next is silt, and finally, the smallest particles are clay. The clay particles are so small and cling together so tightly that there are not enough porous spaces between to permit water to travel through it. Test some dirt in your own area - not fill or compost brought in, but just the native dirt as at a construction site or in a hole in your back yard.  Get a little of it wet, scoop up a fistful (isn't scientific investigation fun?) and squeeze. If it sticks together in a glob, rather than just collapsing and sliding away, you've got clay. In this area, it's probably red clay, but we don't think that makes a whole lot of difference. The main thing is, it sticks together, so you can get seeds into it and a ball made out of it. When dry, it should hold its shape as well as the seed.  Some articles on seed balls give pretty specific instructions about what soils you need and how to make them, and also mentions that if you're really concerned about getting red clay soil specifically that you can order a terra cotta clay from ceramic supply houses. Some also caution that there should be some sand in the mix. My own thought is that I think you'd be hard pressed to dig your hand in some natural dirt and not find a good mix of clay and sand. After all, that's what our wildflowers are growing in now, right?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Bright and Beautiful

The Holiday Season is a time to brighten the shortened days of winter with something festive. 

Perhaps, something like a Christmas Cactus. These nice little plants will bring additional cheer to a room or two that might not hold the family Christmas tree or other decorations.

If you are a member of the Norchester Garden Club you will have seen other varieties in the December Horticulture Report.  But for those of you who are not, or may have missed it, you can Click Here which will open a two page report on varieties and plant care and other helpful information.  You can download it, print it, or just enjoy it.

Have a Happy Holiday

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

All About Butterflies

Well this is a great discovery..  
 This blog site Cathy C discovered deals with Texas Butterflies and the current post describes how to "help em out" during the colder weather we have from time-to-time.  Just click RIGHT HERE to see this post.  As with our blog site.. check the side for previous posts and add your email address in the little window if you want to get each post by email.

Thanks Cathy C..

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Caterpillars - Gone

The cold weather last week has nipped all of the milkweed.  Their light brown stalks standing bare in the garden.  Tough times for the caterpillars, as a week ago there were many on these plants. But they "have their ways" as Saturday, when it warmed a bit, a monarch fluttered by as well as a Little Sulfur.   The poppy seeds planted last month have poked through like spots of a bright green carpet.

In the vegetable garden, the cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, parsley, thyme, dill and sage are doing well.  The green beans, full of blooms, took a bit of a hit!


Thursday, November 28, 2013


A crisp cool day to be thankful for our loved ones, good friends, and so many other blessings. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Mosaiculture - Garden "WOW"

Once every three years, there is an international competition in horticultural sculpture, called "mosaiculture" in a major city in the world. This year it is Montreal.  This is not topiary but rather creating sculptures out of living plants.  The greatest horticulturalists in the world, from 20 different countries, submitted plans a year in advance. 

Steel armatures were then created to support the works (some 40 feet high); they were then wrapped in steel mesh and filled with dirt and moss and watering hoses.  Then they ordered 3 million plants of different shades of green and brown and tan, and these were grown in greenhouses all over Quebec

In late May, these horticulturalists came to Montreal and planted all of their plants in the forms at the Montreal Botanic Gardens, and they have  been standing for three months now.  There were 50 major sculptures along a path two miles long.  They were incredible. 

These are three of more than 30 displays.   If you would like to visit a few and walk along the path with me, click on THIS LINK

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Preparing for Cool

As the outdoor gardening season winds down, it’s time to gather those plants you need to winter over and bring them back indoors, to a garage or greenhouse for the winter.   

Your Helper #1 spent the better part of this great Sunday afternoon moving our outdoor potted “trees” and big plants into the greenhouse.  

And, as you can see, our Master
Gardener has already prepared her cuttings for propagation to use next spring.

For the smaller plants she often trims up the plant once it is moved into its winter space. However:
1.  Several weeks before bringing them in, spray them with an insecticide such as Neem Oil *  and separate from other plants. (if you are not familiar with it, Neem Oil is worth understanding and is very useful)
2.     Three to four days before bringing in, spray again to kill off 
       any insects that may have just arrived.
3.   Check if the plants need repotting. If so, invert the pot, tap
      the rim against a hard surface, and turn the plant out. You can
      also squeeze a plastic pot to loosen up the root ball. 

If roots are growing through the drainage hole and wrapped around the root ball, or bulging up at the rim it’s time to repot. This will allow for greater height and increased width growth. If you choose not to move them into a larger container (one size larger pot), gently comb out any tangled roots, trim roots, and refresh the soil. (Restricting the pot size will have a dwarfing effect on the plant.)

Often plants have a growth spurt after being moved back inside to a 
warmer climate. Do not add fertilizer to encourage this growth. Let the 
plant acclimate to the lower light and humidity levels. Growth will become slower, allowing the plant to rest for the winter. Start fertilizing again in the spring.  Only water plants sparingly through the winter months.

*     Neem Oil is derived by pressing the seed kernels of the neem tree. It is very bitter with a garlic/sulfur smell. A single seed may contain up to 50 percent oil 
by weight. Neem oil has been used for hundreds of years in controlling plant pests and diseases. Many researches have shown that the spray solution of 
neem oil helps to control common pests like white flies, aphids, scales, mealy bugs, spider mites, locusts, thrips, and Japanese beetles, etc. Neem oil also works as a fungicide and helps control powdery mildew. Some people have also experienced good results with neem oil spray on black spot. 
      Orchid owners use pure neem oil spray to control pests like mealybugs, spider mites, etc. One of the main ingredients in neem seed oil is Azadirachtin that works as an insect growth regulator, thus preventing the larval stage to molt into an adult. As neem is very bitter in taste, it also works as an antifeedant thus making the leaves sprayed with it very distasteful for the bugs to eat, and the bugs choose to starve themselves than eat the leaves treated with neem. 
     Neem oil is bio-degradable and has proven to be non-toxic to mammals, birds, bees or earthworms. It  breaks down easily and quickly. Neem has also proven to be not harmful to adult beneficial insects, since it primarily affects only plant sap-sucking insects, which feed upon the treated plants. However it is recommended that care should be taken not to spray neem oil solution when honey bees and the larvae of beneficials like ladybugs, etc. are present. Neem oil spray like any other oil spray can also burn leaves if sprayed in sun. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Sustainable Land Development

Our Master Gardner is Education Chairman and on the Board for The Mercer Society and again has been involved in the production of the following event.    This is the second year Mercer Arboretum has put on a professional conference on sustainable development.  Part of this year’s conference will be a trip to Mandolin Gardens .  Stop by and visit this remarkable example of a Sustainable landscape project.

Mercer Arboretum & Botanic Gardens is hosting the 2nd annual Sustainable Landscape Conference Friday, October 25, from 8 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. at Big Stone Lodge at Dennis Johnston Park, 907 Riley Fuzzel Road, Spring.   (I am kind of late on this but you could still sign up)

Presentations include:
  • "SITES Rating System: Encouraging and Rewarding Leadership in Site Sustainability" by Jonathan Garner, SITES Coordinator, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center;
  • "Lower Resources, Higher Performance: Native Grasses for Turf, Roadsides, Green Roofs, Golf Courses and Parks for the Urban Landscape" by Mark Simmons Ph.D., Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center;
  • "Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center: A Commitment to Environmentally Responsible Practices" by Rick Lewandowski, Director, Shangri La;
  • "Turning Scarce Resources into a Bountiful Harvest (Financial & Natural)" by Commissioner R. Jack Cagle, Harris County Precinct 4;
  • "Mandolin Gardens - Converting a Traditional Detention Basin into an Award-Winning Park Amenity" by Merrie Talley, RLA, ASLA, LEED.

The day of the conference will include remarks from Mercer Arboretum & Botanic Gardens Director, Darrin Duling, Lunch, and will conclude with a site visit to Mandolin Gardens Park.

Professional Conference Fee (including CEU credits) is $135 for Mercer Society members and $150 for non-members. General Conference Fee (without CEU credits) is $112 for Mercer Society Members and $125 for non-members.

To register or for additional information, contact The Mercer Society at 281-443-8731, or you can email them msociety@hcp4.net. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

One for your Bonnet ?

Bees.   Yes, we all know that bees are important to our gardens and many other crops. But who knew?  Bees that don't sting?  Bees that don't live in a hive?  Bees that look more like flies? Bees that produce neither honey nor beeswax ???  Well, Mason Bees can be described by all of these qualities.

Our Master Gardner has become rather interested in Mason Bees.  These little guys are great pollinators and live in small tubes or tunnels that other insects have hollowed out of dead trees. Well, that is when woodpeckers and squirrels don't get them. 

There are some very decorative "boxes" one can build or buy for these bees to live in.  Place it on the south side of a tree or house as they need the warmth from the sun to be able to fly.

Google "Mason Bees" for some interesting reading and surprise your friends with some "Entomological Wisdom." 

Here is some information on a documentary about bees that is soon to be available at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts.
It is 91 minutes with show times on Wed, Oct 23 at 6:30 pm and Sun Oct 27 at 5 pm.  See THIS LINK for details.. I believe there is a discussion period following the talk.

And if you are a fan of TED Talks... HERE IS a link that is in keeping with the theme of this post. As of today it has had over 414 thousand views since it was posted last month.

"Bee Good and Bee Well"

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Texas Eye Candy

Kerrville and Fredericksburg Area

Here are a few pictures from this week of shopping, sightseeing, and plant viewing.  These two hill country communities have a lot of interesting things to see.  Kerrville and Fredericksburg Texas.

These are from Gardens of the Ridge, Kerrville

And this from "The Pinnacle" of Comanche Trace  

And at Wildseed Farms near Fredericksburg

Friday, September 20, 2013

Getting Ready, Keeping Wet

Our Master Gardener has been busy preparing her raised beds for the fall planting season.  Your Helper #1 did his part by adding another level of boards around the top and hauling in 36 bags of soil. (After a lot of trial and regret..we have settled on the "Black Velvet" top soil in the yellow bags at Lowe's)

 The rough 1x6 boards are sold by The Home Depot and are called “Corral Boards.”  They have worked well for the raised beds and the compost bins.

  I just nailed them to 4x4 posts set into the ground.  This is an 8x16 foot bed. The small one is 4x4.  Careful measuring means being able to use full 8 and 4 foot lengths. 

The "fresh" vertical 2x4s support the new level of corral board.

Keeping the long bed watered was an issue last year so I have added the simple sprinkling system along its length.  It connects to a short hose which then connects to a simple timer that can be programmed (About $30 from Lowes).

This system is easy to just pick up and move when the bed needs to be tilled and it works fine by itself when we are out of town for a few days.

 Right now you see the butterfly weed, but last fall and winter we had exceptional poppies, alyssum, milkweed, and larkspur all from seed in the big bed. Thank you Mamie!  This time we hope to recreate the same beautiful blooms with added dill and thyme.  In the shorter bed will go bush beans, broccoli and kale?  But like others, we are waiting for a bit of cooler weather.

 We have two compost bins at the end of the long bed; one that is “ready for use” and one that is “working” and takes the weekly grass cuttings.

Monday, September 16, 2013

An Interesting Plant

This is hanging over my kitchen sink.  These two are Tillandsias; a type of Bromeliad. These are quite small as this is a 4 inch diameter globe which helps to hold the humidity.

Tillandsias grow differently than most house plants. They are also called “Air Plants”  and require no soil because water and nutrients (dust) are absorbed through the leaves.  The roots are used only as anchors. Although not normally cultivated for their flowers, some will bloom on a regular basis.

They are really very hardy, and require much less attention than other house plants   Mercer Arboretum Gift Shop has some in the shop. Give them bright, filtered light. Mist your plant every 4-5 days with ONE Spray for tiny globes, 2-3 sprays for globes 3-5 inches, more if the plant is in a large open globe. The key is to judge the drying time, the smaller the globe, the less circulation, the longer the plant will hold the moisture. If you over water the plant it will die.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

I Am Not Happy

No.. I am not, and you will soon see why.

It is time, once again to register your Kroger Plus card with the Kroger Community Rewards Program.  You may remember that this needs to be done each year.  Kroger then apportions the funds they give to registered charities based upon the sales associated with your registered card. Once a year ABCS gets a check which is used to support the garden. We have used this program for many years to provide modest funds in support of the Butterfly Garden.

Unfortunately... Kroger has not made it so easy this year. The Butterfly Garden now has a new charity number (as do all others) and instead of just having the grocery clerk "swipe" your card and giving them the number... you MUST NOW DO THIS ON LINE.  If you have previously signed up on-line with Kroger to get their weekly email coupons, etc... the process is not bad at all. If not, you have to sign up for an on-line account first and then provide our number to make the link.  

If you try to do it at the store.. neither the checkout people or the customer service people have any clue what you are talking about.  (I know, I tried).  It now has to be done on line.

The trouble is worth it but is a bit of a hassle.  You do derive the additional benefit of getting weekly emails of Kroger specials and coupons, however...   So if you are willing.. 

Here's How:

1.  Go to This Link   which is  www.krogercommunityrewards.com
2.  Sign in if you already have an on-line account.. if not.. click on Sign Up Today in the "New Customer?" box and follow the steps to provide zip code, favorite store, email address etc..
3.  You will then get an email message and click on the link provided in it to finalize this process.
4.  Click on "My Account" and use your email address and the password you provided in #2 to open up your account.

Somewhere in all this process you provide your Kroger Plus Card number. If you use you telephone number at Krogers instead of your card, you can call  1-866-221-4141 to get your card number

Then you can provide the Garden's New Kroger number which is  82607  and all is well.

Or... you can forget the whole deal and just find a way to support the garden

OK.. so I am unhappy with Kroger... but..  for those of you who may shop at Randalls (Safeway, Tom Thumb)  ABCS is still registered with their similar Good Neighbor program and it is only a one time signup at a store.  It automatically renews each year. Just provide their customer service desk with this number for our garden:   1969  and the garden does benefit even more than from Kroger.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Garden Experience

Between Goshen and Elkhart Indiana is Linton's Garden.   This is quite an interesting place and is the largest garden supply and nursery place in Indiana and Michigan.  We stopped here several times.

 The link to their website is  HERE  And, oh yes, they also have one of the quilt squares. We still have one or two locations yet to visit. 

And here is the link to my other photos of this place RIGHT HERE

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Third on Quilt Gardens

Although a couple of these pictures are also on my web album link described in yesterday's blog, our Master Gardner thought it would be good to post this additional information on the Quilt Gardens.  This is the "flower quilt square" at the Menino-Hof Community near Shipshewana, IN, just one of the many locations that feature a contribution to this county-wide project.

The number of flowers used to create one is quite amazing. The flowers for the projects come from the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau.  A location or business that wants to be a part is able to choose the kinds of flowers they want and they then determine the pattern and thus the number of each variety that is required.  They are then given the flowers and do their own thing.

In Houston, a flat of 18 flowers is typically about $25.00.  So for this one display alone the flower cost would be about $6,600.  There are 19 such displays around the county  =  $125,400 not counting advertising and handouts. This is the sixth season for the project among seven communities.