>Take a time out

>Last night we had a beautiful sky in Austin. Mostly clear except for a gigantic cloud on the horizon. Our temps had dropped to the 80s when this picture was taken and we decided to have dessert on our deck with the kids so we could watch this cloud slowly change colors. Sometimes it just feels good to sit back and gaze.

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>The great squash massacre

>Gardening is a constant learning experience. Just when you think you have it down, you’re thrown for a loop. And that goes double for vegetable gardening.

My squash have been doing pretty well. I’ve posted proudly that I am actively harvesting and shown photos of the abundant foliage and hearty plants. But something had been bothering me. In the back of my mind, I knew there might be something wrong.

Look pretty good, right? All of these photos are taken on the same day. The plants looked healthy.

But I had started to see some yellow foliage on one of the plants and I was seeing wilting late in the day on all of them. But I chalked it up to no rain in three weeks and very high temperatures-90s and 100s. Then I started seeing flowers dried up and not producing. I checked out some pictures online so I knew what to look for and I headed out to the garden.

And it didn’t take me long to find the telltale signs.

Squash vine borers.
Above, at the end of my knife, you see the “frass”, which is the evidence of a bore hole, basically the stuff the borer leaves behind as he bores in. Looks similar to sawdust. Why was I carrying a knife, you ask? Because I was determined to try and save my plants and get those borers out. If you’re checking and you don’t see any frass, make sure you lift up the squash stems, which usually lie along the ground as they get big. The borers usually enter from the underside and leave their evidence hidden unless you look underneath. If you see slight splits in the stem, this could be the entry. It’s not always completely obvious, but the frass does make them easier to confirm.

If the damage is not too extensive, you can try to split the vine, up a ways from where the frass is located, as the borer has already begun moving up inside the stem. You can dig out the borer, dispose of him, and then cover the stem with mounded up dirt to both protect the incision you have made and encourage further rooting of the plant and pray for survival.

It doesn’t always work out. I found borers in EVERY ONE of my squash plants- sometimes 2 borers in a plant. In three of my plants the damage was too extensive by the time I got the borer out , the plant was demolished. Because splitting the vine up the middle and opening it to get the borer is not easy and not gentle.

Above you can see the split I made and the tip of the borer just visable above the split. Here’s another.

Another below just visable at the top of the incision

And another below just barely visible at the top of the cut-because you basically just guess how far up he has gone and try to limit your damage

And they’re darn hard to see as they are so close in color to the inside plant material.

Here’s a picture of the plant after surgery and I have mounded it over with dirt.

What can be done to stop these buggers? Watch for small brown eggs on the underside of the leaves and at the base of the stem. I also applied Bt to the plants which will kill the borers if they ingest it. But I will say I don’t think I did a good enough job putting the Bt at the stems along the ground, the most likely entry points. And I relaxed a few weeks ago, letting my applications slide as I felt maybe we had passed the danger zone.

As I sat there feeling like a surgeon who has just done a marathon operation, the first rain in 3 weeks raining down upon my head and pasting my hair to my face, I gave the 5 remaining plants a 20% chance of survival. 2 days later they are still alive so here’s hoping some patron saint of squash is looking down on me kindly, rewarding me for trying to save my crop.

>Laying a pathway- or 2, or 3, or 4

>John and I worked last month on replacing a few stone pathways that were around our property. Most of them come off of the pool patio, which is a stamped faux-brick finish. The pathways were just white path stones, some had become uneven and were a bit scary to walk on. Here’s a shot from when we first bought the house, you can see one of the pathways on the lower right.

To wet your whistle, here’s a shot of the same location, new pathway

So, we planned our choice of pathway to work with the faux-brick but also go with what might replace the hated faux-brick in the distant future. We went with cobblestone, first thinking we might just pack it with sand, but later deciding to use polymer sand in the joints. Polymer sand packs in like sand, but then hardens upon contact with water.

First, we (and that would be the royal “we” as I did not participate in the early prep stage, but I shined in the layout phase) dug out all the existing flagstones and dug down about 4-6 inches. We laid in about 4 inches of paver base and at least 2 inches of sand base on top of that.

The next phase was my responsibility, so I slathered on the sunscreen and my ipod and began laying stones.
The biggest challenge is getting a good pattern of small and large stones. That and keeping your sanity as you debate for 10 minutes to yourself on whether it would be over the top to use two small rectangle blocks or whether a large square would be a better fit.

John wasn’t quite off-duty as whenever the path needed to turn, he would have to custom cut some blocks for me.

Doesn’t he look hot in that protective shield? I meant hot like temperature, what did you think I meant? Get your mind out of the gutter!

We had four pathways to build. Here I am working on one of the gate pathways.

I did some special features on each of the pathways to give them some character, I’ll show you what I mean in the upcoming photos.

Once layout was done, we swept polymer sand into all of the joints. This is a very repetitive task as the sand slowly works its way down, holes open up where you thought you had filled the joint. So you just keep sweeping it over the joints, again and again and again. The polymer sand is then activated by spraying a light mist of water over it for a few seconds, then repeating it a few times every 5-10 minutes.

And here they are:
Path #1

On this pathway, we already had the edging for the beds laid out. I chose not to cut stone to fit the curve exactly in order to leave some planting triangles where I could put some heat-tolerant plants, like these portulaca. I think they do well at softening the look of the pathway.

Path #2

This path we lined on one side with leftover limestone from a past project of the previous owner. This helped keep the mulch in the bed as that side of the garden had gotten built up a bit higher. I also gradually increased the width of the path (you can see a bit of the increase on the lower left corner of the photo) . Plants will fill in where the path steps out gradually.

Path #3
This path already had red edging to hold the mulch back in the beds, so we just did a straightforward path between the edging with two turns in the path where we had to make custom cuts.
This pathway connects to..,

Path #4

I knew I wanted to incorporate some of the beautiful river rock into this pathway and got inspiration from Diana and her gorgeous mixed-rock pathway. I lined the path with Peruvian moon rock (the darker blue-gray rock) and Arizona River Rock and will slowly fill in more plants along the edge once fall arrives.

Took a few weekends and lots of tag-teaming as one of us worked while the other watched the kids. I’m very pleased with the results and I highly recommend the use of the polymer sand. Although it can be hard to find. We finally found it at Custom Stone Supply in their Round Rock location.
Another BIG task checked off our list. Phew!

>On the Road-Part 3

>Although incredibly tardy, my next episode of On the Road covering my trip to the Piney Woods of East Texas is finally here. If you missed the previous installment, click here.

The next day on our trip was to be filled with some family business, but we wanted to squeeze in some family memories too. But first, breakfast! Yum, there is nothing like a breakfast at the Waffle House, when you are on a road trip. It is only surpassed if the waitresses chorus together and break into one of the Waffle House songs. I’m not kidding. Check some of the tunes out for yourself.

But back to my story…
Our first stop was at what we still call the New Lake…not to be confused with the Old Lake which was discussed in my last installment. The New Lake was named so because it was, well, newer (bet you saw that coming) than the old lake. The New Lake was developed in the 60s and took over as a family gathering place from the Old Lake which was built in 1915ish. My mom and grandparents played as children at the Old Lake, but the place of my childhood memories is the New Lake. We sold the New Lake when my grandparents died, but feel very fortunate to have sold it to a childhood friend of my fathers who had always loved the property and has settled on the property as a permanent residence. My brother Chris and I were excited to see what had changed since we saw it so many years ago.

The lake is still a beautiful and peaceful piece of land located outside of Marshall, Texas.

Some of the memories of my childhood, like the pontoon bicycles and the raft that was anchored in the middle of the lake, are gone. But the smells and sites are still so etched in my mind that it felt like coming home.

But my brother and I immediately noticed that the new owner has done an amazing job of making use of the land. Where the house was once surrounded by woods on all sides, the new owner has cleared land on one side to create an immense vegetable patch.

And lurking on the edge in the woods…ninja cattle.

Sort of freaky, right? I mean, since when do cows lurk in the woods. But back to my story.
He has blueberries and blackberries growing

and potatoes

onions, asparagus.
And I noticed around his tomatoes he had an unusual substance

HAIR! He said he heard from a guy on the radio say it helps the plants grow better. My thought is that maybe it inhibits some pests from getting on them. Maybe contributes some minor nutrients as it decomposes. I say whatever works for your vegetables, go with it.

We saw some areas on the other side of the house where beavers have been at work. He says he can’t find anything to stop these guys.

After leaving the lake, we traveled to Elysian Fields to visit the grave sites of my fraternal grandparents. I still had crinum lilies carefully packed, waiting to be planted next to their graves. We installed the lilies and I hope it will be a wonderful tribute to them for years to come.

We still had a few crinums left so my father suggested we drive out to the Woodley cemetery and plant them by my great-grandparents’ graves.

Like many small cemeteries, this one began as a family cemetery for the Woodley family in the mid 1800s. There are at least a dozen Timmins family members in this cemetery including my fraternal grandfather’s parents, Eliza Missouri Anderson Timmins and Frank Bracy Timmins. I was happy to be able to contribute the crinum to add to this lovely setting.

Even though it was not the main purpose of our trip, having the time to explore some family history was certainly the highlight. My father has done an immense amount of genealogical research on our family and it brings it all to life seeing burials spots and old homes and gathering places of my family.