Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Less Lawn, Less Water... action 1

On Satuday, September 19th, I took Calloway's nursery at their word and returned some dead shrubs from our landscape. Despite a rather gruff greeting when I walked up with a cart full of dead bushes, they were super nice about refunding my money and even gave me MORE than I paid for most of the plants. I'm not sure why they did this, but I think it had something to do with the fact that my receipts were over 3 years old and they had a totally new register system now. Either way, I expected to get about $50 bucks back and I ended up getting $125 back!! Woo Hoo! Definitely worth the gruff welcome.

It was in their favor because I promptly spent $75 of that refund money on new plants. On the sale rack they had 4 3-gallon sized pots of White Buddliea, 5 3-gallon pots of Coral Honeysuckle, a 1-gallon purple buddlia, and 3 1-gallon Sedge (new one to me) all for the great deal of 75% off. Even after my shopping spree, Calloways still had to credit $50 back to my card. Very nice.

Hubby conveniently had an allergy attack so I ended up planting all of this all by myself. Poor me. I also had the 'great' idea of running up to the soil store and buying a cubic yard of landscape mix (ie, one very full truck load of dirt). I pretty much slept and dug all weekend. I have bruises on my feet from the shovel. My typing is terrible because my hands are sore. But, it looks great and falls well into our plan of.... less lawn, less water. These are all drought tolerant plants and should exist well with just normal rainfall once established. Plus, they are all bee friendly plants. The only drawback (as hubby pointed out) is that none of them are edible. Too bad guess I need to buy more edible plants next time.

Fall Garden Update--September

As I write this, it is not a 'real' September in Texas at all. It is 61 degrees and raining... what?!? Nonsense you say, it is supposed to be 40 degrees hotter and you are supposed to be whining about not getting any rain for the past decade or so (I do whine about the lack of rain a lot). Have we been magically transported to some other (less miserably hot) part of the world? No, just a really odd weather pattern for Texas. We've had cooler temps, regular drenching rains, it is craziness.

The garden is going bonkers with this boon of great weather. The beans I planted on Aug 9th (check that date) are up and vining and a few have bloomed. I'm not sure why they are vining, they are supposed to be bush varieties.

Here they are on Aug 31st, before the rains came

The peppers have enjoyed a second bloom and fruiting period They are mostly still small, but considering they have never been watered by me, that is acceptable.

And the tomatoes... the miserable, scrawny, ugly fall tomatoes... two of the three are dead. Victims of the hot early August weather and the tomato horn worm attack. One is struggling along. I don't expect to eat any fall tomatoes this year. The mess behind the plant is because we replaced our fence and I have yet to get in and replace the pavers along the fence row.

The sweet potatoes are doing pretty well. I can't tell if there are any actual potatoes on there, but the vine is pretty.

The Okra has produced well, for only having 5 plants. My problem is I always get out there the day AFTER they are ready to be picked and I end up with woody yucky okra. Here are some tender too-young-to-pick yet okra. I can almost guarantee by the time I turn around they will be woody and past their prime. Perhaps next year I'll plant more okra and then I can harvest daily instead of always missing it by a day.

The garlic chives are so pretty, they bloomed and look great. The onion chives are gone, I can't even see where the plant was.

While my update says September, the photos were all taken on August 31st.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Less lawn, less water...

Hubby and I have been batting back and forth on the idea of ripping out the lawn. I hate to waste water to keep it happy and healthy and the lawn has really suffered the last few years. Hubby hates to mow and that is motivation enough for him.

I can't imagine we will get rid of the whole lawn, our suburban Dallas neighborhood is very traditional in the "house, lawn, sidewalk, accent tree, and flagpole" styling. There are a few homes on our block--maybe 2 or 3 out of 40 homes--that have non-grass front yards. They have heavily shaded yards and creeping jasmine ground cover with a few accent shrubs. They look okay, but not great. City code allows for non-grass yards as long as there is no bare dirt (must be covered with mulch) or dead plants.

Our plan now is to just start increasing the size of the landscaping in the yard and slowly decreasing the lawn size. This will have the benefit of no big giant expensive change all at once, and also give us time to see if we really like the idea once it is in practice. This will also give me more places to plant bee-friendly flowers and plants, and maybe some more edibles for the humans too.

My google research wanderings and notes are below.


Lantana, acacia redonlens (?), creeping rosemary (good for bees in early spring)
Mexican bush sage
trumpet creeper (already got it!)
Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia gilliesii or Poinciana pulcherrima)--a neighbor has this and it looks amazing. The one I saw at Home Depot was covered with bees.
Fig tree (need two for pollination)
Pomegranate (MIL has one and it has done very well)

Welcome Bees!

Hubby and a friend captured a swarm of bees in Collin County on September 4th. The swarm had settled into a play house and the owners put out a plea on Craig's list to help evict the bees. Our guys used a modified shop vac and two industrial trash cans to extract the bees. The bees had only been in place for a few days, but in that time they had started to build a small palm sized comb and the queen was laying eggs.

Hubby arrived home late that night grinning ear to ear, stinking like smoke, and holding a humming cardboard box... our bee adventure has begun.

Saturday morning we put together some bee hives parts borrowed from a bee-keeping friend. As hubby worked to reassemble the broken frames, the humming from the box in the garage got louder and louder.
Then a few bees started to escape and buzz around. Hubby finally got the box all put together and set up behind our garage.

He put on his borrowed bee hat and gloves and used a squirt bottle full of sugar water to spray down the bees in the box. He then tapped the box hard (to knock all the bees to the bottom of the box) then dumped the buzzing mass into the waiting hive. He plugged up the exit with a kitchen towel so they would not take off right away.

After about an hour, we pulled the kitchen towel and the bees seemed happy enough. They have not swarmed and left our hive, so I guess they are happy. In the first 3 days they sucked down the entire quart sized jar of sugar water from the feeder. Since then, they have barely touched the replacement sugar water. I'm not sure if I got the concentration wrong or if they just prefer to get 'real' food from the flowers in our neighborhood--this is our big hope

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Planting for Bees

Hubby is excited about getting bees, I'm excited for a reason to start some new focused garden areas. Here is my research trail for gardening for bees and bee-friendly plants.

Here is MY LIST of plants I like and want to try for our garden.

Echinecia/purple cone flower
Candle Tree
Lemon Balm (I have this growing everywhere, now I will stop weeding it out)
Honeysuckle (got it)

Below is my research from the web on plants for bees:

General Gardening Advice for Attracting Bees and Other Pollinators
1. Don’t use pesticides. Most pesticides are not selective. You are killing off the beneficial bugs along with the pests. If you must use a pesticide, start with the least toxic one and follow the label instructions to the letter.

2. Use local native plants. Research suggests native plants are four times more attractive to native bees than exotic flowers. They are also usually well adapted to your growing conditions and can thrive with minimum attention. In gardens, heirloom varieties of herbs and perennials can also provide good foraging.

3. Chose several colors of flowers. Bees have good color vision to help them find flowers and the nectar and pollen they offer. Flower colors that particularly attract bees are blue, purple, violet, white, and yellow.

4. Plant flowers in clumps. Flowers clustered into clumps of one species will attract more pollinators than individual plants scattered through the habitat patch. Where space allows, make the clumps four feet or more in diameter.
5. Include flowers of different shapes. There are four thousand different species of bees in North America, and they are all different sizes, have different tongue lengths, and will feed on different shaped flowers. Consequently, providing a range of flower shapes means more bees can benefit.
6. Have a diversity of plants flowering all season. Most bee species are generalists, feeding on a range of plants through their life cycle. By having several plant species flowering at once, and a sequence of plants flowering through spring, summer, and fall, you can support a range of bee species that fly at different times of the season.
7. Plant where bees will visit. Bees favor sunny spots over shade and need some shelter from strong winds.

source: http://gardening.about.com/od/attractingwildlife/a/Bee_Plants.htm

Plant lists (from all over the web):

Passion Flowers, Hybiscus, Purple Cone Flowers, Herbs, and Water Lilies

Bradford Pear, crabapples, wild plums, mulberries, and redbuds.
Shrubs could be forsythia, quince, bridal veil spirea, eleagnus (Russian olive), and my favorite, Texas lavender ( vitex ). It will grow up to 14 feet if you'd like, or down to 6 feet. At the start of summer, when there is not much else coming in, it will begin putting up multitudes of bluish spikes that the bees love. Dead-head the old blooms, and it will continue putting them out again and again until frost stops it.
English lavender, bee balm, nearly all mints, borage , zinnia, lemon balm, hysop.


English Ivy
Globe Thistle
Rock Cress
Yellow Hyssop
Garden Plants
Wild Garlic
Bee Balm
Butterfly Bush
Button Bush
American Holly
Black Gum
Black Locust
Eastern Redbud
Fruit Trees (especially Crabapples)
Golden Rain Tree
Mountain Ash