Working in the Garden Yesterday

I am thrilled to say that I was able to go outside and work for a while yesterday without mosquitoes constantly swarming all over me. The recent cooler weather seems to have put a small dent in the population, if only for a day or so.

I’ve had a few pots of herbs that I need to put in the ground, but haven’t done it yet since I have been redoing my whole garden, including the herbs. I know it’s fall, but this is Southeast Texas, and some herbs do well here at this time of year. I have parsley, rosemary, sweet basil and oregano that I bought a few weeks ago. I also have my spearmint that I dug up so I can move it. I’ve been stuck with all of them dug up and all of the bricks that I had in place – just for looks because I like bricks – taken out of the garden. It’s just been a huge mess. Finally, now the old herb garden spot and the part where I’m expanding herbs into is all dug up and smoothed out. I put some vinegar on weeds near the very edge where I have concrete blocks. After I got that much done the mosquitoes found me. One flew into my mouth and I decided to do something else.

It was Saturday afternoon, and also the day after Veteran’s Day. The sales were on. I wasn’t interested in the sales. I figured that earlier in the day, the ladies in the part of town that has curbs and not ditches out front, went shopping and their men raked leaves. By afternoon, I should be able to find a truck load of bagged leaves in just a little bit of time. So, I got my son to help me. He’s young and tall and I’m old and short; he can lift big heavy bags and throw them in the back of the truck like they are nothing. I pointed at what I wanted and he tossed it in the truck.

It didn’t take long even though I got side-tracked. We saw a huge pile of stuff in front of a house that some men were remodeling. I need to learn how to ask in Spanish if it’s OK for me to go through the trash pile. The third man I asked spoke English and he said I could. I found a big mirror! It’s 34×38 and I can use it with a six-pane window frame that I picked up when I was curb-crawling a few weeks ago. Anyway, now I’m side-tracked from gardening, so back to the garden.

When we got home with the leaves, my son unloaded them (and the mirror) while I laid cardboard and newspaper on the ground around the satsuma tree. I wet it down really good then spread leaves on it. This will help the tree not to have to compete with grass for nutrients. Not only that, it will help to feed the tree as it all breaks down. Mulch means less grass to mow, which saves gas. I figure all that adds up to a good reason to mulch under the satsuma tree.

That is about all I got done. I quit when a mosquito flew into my nose. They are horrible today; it’s warm and raining, so here we go again. Next week I want to try out a natural mosquito repellent that I ran across in a magazine. It’s made from 1/3 cup of apple cider vinegar, 1/3 cup of witch hazel and 5 drops of citronella. If the mosquitoes will stay away from my skin, maybe they will stay out of my mouth and nose and I can get some work done. In the meantime, I’m enjoying looking out my back door at the progress I’ve made so far.

My Yard During the Drought

It’s been forever since I’ve written about the plants in my yard. We’ve been in a drought, but most of the vegetation in my yard is still alive. The only thing we’ve lost, really, is some St. Augustine grass. Unless it’s been watered, everyone I know has lost St. Augustine grass. Normally, we get enough rain for it, but when we don’t, it dies, and we haven’t seen “normal” very often the past few years. Our weather has been crazy.

From my studio windows I can see two trees at the edge of the woods that look like they have died and one that may be dying. The two that look dead may only be dormant. I’ve learned that some of the trees are going dormant because of the lack of rain; I guess we’ll know next spring what we have left around here. The third tree has severe hurricane damage, and what is left doesn’t look so great having just a few leaves.

The only ornamental plant in my yard that I have watered is one azalea bush. And I’m not real good at remembering to water it, so it’s been stressed pretty often. Poor thing would have droopy leaves before I’d notice it was in trouble. If plants could talk, this thing could give me a holler and it would definitely get better care!

Just a few feet from the azalea is a lipstick plant. It should have bloomed months ago, but it didn’t. It was staying alive, so I left it alone. Water isn’t free, and even in Southeast Texas where we have lots of it we could end up rationing, so I’ve tried to be careful all year. Well, this fall we’ve had a little bit of rain here and there, and now the lipstick plant must think it’s spring. It has shot up taller than I am and it’s blooming.

What is really weird is our mock orange shrub. Part of it looks like it normally does in November with leaves turning a sort of yellowish brownish, and getting ready to drop. Part of it looks like it’s dead from lack of water, part of it has small new leaves, and part of it is blooming. I have never ever seen mock orange bloom in the fall! Technically, it’s not one plant, but several all growing in a clump. The clump all gets the same light, water, temperature, and wind exposure and everything. Yeah, that’s weird.

Then I have these other plants. Like the Canna lilies that are supposed to be miniature that grow by my front porch. I planted them there because the lady who gave them to me said they wouldn’t get any taller than they were in her yard, which is how tall they were in her mother in law’s yard. I thought, “How cute! They are about two and a half feet tall and they will look great next to the porch by the sidewalk.”  How about seven feet tall next to the porch by the sidewalk? With great big leaves? I have to cut some of them down every now and then just so we can walk past them without brushing up against them. That’s a good way to get a lizard on you.

Another plant that I have to cut back so we can get in and out of our house is the Turk’s cap. I go out there every few days, and whack it back and it just grows and grows. It’s been great for hummingbirds. They love the bright red blooms.  The butterflies like it, too.

And, oh, the Amaryllis! I have some pink ones and some white ones that have been growing like crazy. The red ones have been run over by the white ones. Back in the spring, before it got so hot outside that a person couldn’t even think out there, I fixed a border around the Amaryllis. (I’m still working on the front of it. I ran into a bunch of rocks in the ground.) I also mulched so my husband wouldn’t have to try to weed eat and mow around them and between them and the house. Either they like the mulch, or they saw the brick border as a challenge. It looks to me like they have made a run for the border! The white ones have grown taller than I am.  A few days ago I dug up some white ones and pink ones and gave them away. I need to do some more of that. My daughter in law said I need a whip and a chair to tame the Cannas, the Turk’s cap and the Amaryllis plants. She said she loves how things in my yard grow. She said it’s like they all just say, “I am Plant!” very forcefully. And then they grow! Really big!

One more thing about the yard and the drought. Mosquitoes. It seems like every time we get a sprinkling of rain, which is about all we are getting, the mosquito population explodes. I can’t even go outside to pick up black walnuts without three or four mosquitoes at once landing on me. What I wonder is where are the mosquito hawks? Well, that’s what we call dragonflies. Those guys can eat a ton of mosquitoes! They can eat 100 of them in 30 minutes. I haven’t seen any in a few months. I wonder if when it was dry and there weren’t many mosquitoes, the mosquito hawks all went someplace else? I hope this next cold front knocks out a bunch of mosquitoes. I sure have a lot of work to do out there!

Of Wasps and Worms, Pt. 2

I wondered if the lack of wasps this year  – fewer than ever! – had anything to do with the worms in my garden that were chowing down on the tomatoes.  Oh, they were eating leaves, too. Anyway, yesterday I saw a wasp on a tomato plant and guess what HE was chowing down on? A worm! Yea, wasp!

Now, I wonder if the lack of wasps this year has anything to do with the extra spraying the county has been doing to kill mosquitoes? They are spraying more because when Hurricane Ike blew in last year it brought more mosquitoes to our area. One question always seems to lead to another.