>Bring on the shade!

>John and I have been contemplating a way to create more shade on our back patio for a while. The afternoon sun back there is just brutal, yet when the kids come home, they often want to be out there with me in the yard or watering the plants by my side. But our current solution of dousing them with the hose to keep them cool doesn’t seem to be a good long-term fix.

It just so happens that fate stepped in in the form of a website, OK, a person that works for a website. Teak, Wicker & More, a site specializing in outdoor furniture and garden items, contacted me and asked if I would be willing to try out a product and review it on my site. As I browsed the site, I came across Coolaroo sun sails and knew someone was watching out for me. We have a Coolaroo umbrella now for our table outside and just love it. Their material blocks 90% of UV rays and can reduce temperatures underneath by around 30%.

So in a few weeks, I’ll have the opportunity to try out one of the Coolaroo shade sails and hopefully bring some relief to my children’s feet, which get toasted as they run across the patio saying “hot, hot, hot”. Full disclosure, they are sending me the shade at no cost, but there are no guidelines for my review so I can be honest about whether it works for our space and creates a cooler patio for us and cooler feet for the kids.

>Can I hear a hoot?

>Long weekends always necessitate some projects that will just suck up some time. So, let me introduce to you the Memorial Day Weekend Time Suck Activity 09! Screech Owl House Building!

Just kidding. I was very inspired by Bob’s post over at Gardening at Draco and showed it to my husband, commenting how neat it would be for him to build one with Jack. Lo and behold, today was the day. John found some plans on the internet, pre-cut the wood, and they got to work on it. We filled the bottom with about 3″ of dried leaves.

Jack thinks everything is too loud, so he is holding his ears while John drills on the top.

Then, right before it went up, I realized we needed some finishing touches on it. So I grabbed some Sharpies for the kids and some paint for me. First, an owl for the top.

Jack added our welcome message on the side. And I promise that as that message fades, I will climb up there and retrace the cute little Pre-K handwriting every year, if I have to!

Then John hung the house up about 15 ft. off the ground in a big oak with a very open surrounding area, since that is what we read the owls look for when they are searching for a new pad. You know those owls, its all location, location, location!

And now, we are all just waiting. Is there an owl real estate listing sheet or something I can advertise our new offering in?

>Weed Watch 09 Continues

>Good lord, the weed watch continues. To update you, we are now down to only one weed as John got too freaked out by the “lettuce” looking one and insisted I pull it out. Not sure what he thought was going to happen, perhaps an alien would spring forth from it and get us all? But I succumbed in a weak moment. Who knows, he might have saved the planet with his fear.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, weed #2, which started out looking like an Easter Lily or Bee Balm type plant has morphed into something totally bizarre. Branches are protruding from the mid section and the top and now it has little pods forming on the ends of the branches where I am hoping we will soon get a flower to help in the ID.

There is another of the same type of plant behind the big one, you can see it in the lower left of this photo. It has not branched out yet but has a lot of branches coming off of the very bottom. No pods on it yet.

Sorry about the horrid pictures, the plant is obviously creationg some type of photo force field that sends out interference to my camera when I try to shoot it.

Here is a detail of the flower pods coming out on the branches.

As always, completely open to suggestions of what the heck this plant is and whether it houses alien life forms.


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>School Garden Update Week of May 18

>Well, our school garden certainly hit it’s growing stride thie week. Behold my beautiful volunteers holding the surprise zucchini harvest from Wednesday. Mind you, I just harvesting zucchini last Friday. Where the heck were these guys hiding? That one in the middle was over a foot long!

It’s been a big week in the school garden. We started out on Monday harvesting green beans with the Kindergarten. There were plenty for everyone to get to put a few in the basket. Then they all went around the garden inspecting all the other plants to see what was growing. We picked a few herbs and passed them around for everyone to smell.

The boys stuck their heads deep in between the tomato plants growing and managed to find a few tomatoes that were already starting to turn red. I told them we could probably wait a bit until they had more company as one tomato would not go a long way int he school kitchen.

The cucumbers are really starting up now, with a few small ones and at least one medium size one now on the growth spurt. You can see how they have already reaching the top of the cucumber ladders we built and I’m so glad we got them off the ground or else they would have been sprawling everywhere.

The herb spiral has got everything going strong except the basil is still a bit on the small side. I have grass coming up through the dirt/gravel so I have been carefully pulling to get it under control. Careful not to get any of the prescious herbs.

The kids were excited to tell me they had zucchini in their salads last week and it was in a stew this week. I know they are paying more attention to what vegetables are on their plates and they love telling me about what is growing at home.

>May 2009 Bloom Day

>Here we are with the temperatures already rising- having to help plants who might be struggling. I’m hoping for some thunderstorms late this week to help everything along as I just planted some passalongs from Diane. Thanks Diane! But this is the time when Texas gardeners are thankful for having some choices of Texas-tough plants that can take our daytime temperatures…and also our high nighttime tsummer temperatures. With the nights so hot, plants don’t get a chance to rest like they do up north. They just keep chugging along and eventually burn themselves up from continuous consumption of sugars.

OK, enough with the botany talk. Lots of colors filling in the garden right now. Let’s check it out.
Lamb’s ear and Dallas Red lantana are mixing together well.

Society garlic, orange bulbine, and daylilies are all lending their color. My poppy seeds didn’t seem to work for me this year. After consulting with MSS, I think the mulch may have been the problem.

But some Iceland poppies bought as small plants are popping up a bloom every now and then.

Bicolor and butterfly iris are sporting their tiny blooms for me right now and lending their lush grass-like foliage. These do so well down here, even in droughts. Esperanza is just starting to send out multiple yellow blooms.

And what’s this? Grapes of Gomphrena just starting to send it’s little blooms out. So sunny, they look so cute just sitting right in the neck of the stems.

Portulaca and pomegranate are both blooming. The portulaca came back from seed from last year and is coming up in nooks and crannies in the walkway. I don’t mind. It’s gorgeous and drought tolerant.

And my wildflower/septic field has really taken off in the past few weeks.

Finally, lovely pearl milkweed vine with green flowers, a beautiful subtle vine growing on my crossvine trellis. I’m happy to let it share the space, as the flowers are mesmerizing.

Happy bloom day!

>Vegetable Garden 09 Update

>The veggie garden is going well this year although I must admit the school veggie garden that I caring for is kicking my garden’s ass. But the green beans seem to be doing well. Interestingly, my bush beans have produced much faster than the pole. We had our first harvest of the pole beans on Friday and had them for supper. Squash is starting to show some more rapid growth but I live in fear that I have missed some borer eggs that will then hatch and eat their way into the plant. Inevitable as I keep finding dozens and you know I can’t be THAT good to have found every single one. But I’m dusting with Bt to try and thwart their progress.

Check out Jack shyly showing off the bean he justpicked!

Elsewhere, pepper growth is slow. The tomatoes are doing so so. The ones that I planted in my herb bed closer to the house seem to be doing better and I think I have just not amended the soil as well as I usually do in the raised vegetable bed. Plus I was fighting off hornworms or something that kept slicing the plants off and then they would have to regrow. This happened on quite a few of the plants.

Cucumbers are coming up but have not really started climbing the trellis yet. Again, we had some early buffet-style visits from something who were gnawing of the seedlings so we had to reseed quite a few.

Tally so far, 1 tomato harvested (Juliet) and about 30 beans.

>Weed Watch 09 Continues-update on Frilly Weed

>What, oh what, is growing in my garden. I continue to watch the plants that have sprouted up mysteriously and become giant science experiments as I wait for something, anything to pop out of the top. With clippers hacksaw at the ready in case some monstrous seed head should emerge, I continue to watch this thing in awe.

Weed on the left, which we shall nickname Frilly Weed for it’s appearance, has really put on a lot of branches. There are actually two of them, one on the left and one on the right. The one on the left now has 6-8 branches emerging from the bottom.

But what is really interesting is how the leaves are filling in. There are now all of these extra branches coming out of the main stalk, just in the last few days.

Here’s a closeup of the leaf in case it helps anyone on the ID.

And here is the top of one of the branches.

I have gotten lots of great suggestions, so thanks for your thoughts. Here are some of them:
standing cypress
easter lily mutant gone giant
bee balm
wallflower mutant
wild ruellia

Have not been able to confirm any of them from looking at images on the web but I’ll keep trying and waiting to see what it produces. Feel free to add your$.02 if you have a guess.

>School Garden Update Week of May 4

>The school veggie garden continues to go gangbusters.

Just overflowing out of the raised bed. The zucchini looks great and we had our first harvest of 6 zucchini on Thursday.

You can see in this picture the zucchini in the front and the tomatoes in the upper right. Cucumber ladders are behind. We also have beans growing to the left of the zucchini.

So far, not one appearance of the squash vine borer egg on these zucchini (unlike MY garden at home).

Here are some of the blossoms and you can even see a few of the little zuchs. The kids were REALLY excited about harvesting them and wanted to pass them all around. So by the time they reached the kitchen they were pretty man-handled!

Here are the cucumber plants beginning their ascent at the base of the ladders. They already have baby cucumbers on them so things seem to be looking good.

No pictures but both the tomato and bean plants have baby vegetables on them as well, although still a bit away from harvesting.

And finally our herb spiral, just filling in really nicely. From the top we have rosemary, oregano, dill, parsley, chard, thyme, chard, and basil. I have since thinned the chard and transplanted some of the thinned seedlings to the empty spots. The cook at the school has the all clear from me to begin harvesting for use in the school lunches.

Interesting to see the dramatic difference between my home garden and here. Same plants, same planting time. Big difference, all new dirt and compost brought in to start this one off. I think I neglected my home garden on adding organic matter this year. Interesting to see the difference.