Sunday, August 30, 2015

Paper Wasp

Paper wasp nest post removal.  You know this ended up at my desk.

We've been having a problem with paper wasps this year.  A few weeks ago I finally was stung by one (which had happened to get caught between the screen door and the actual door and I smushed it with my elbow while trying to open the door).  We've already sprayed 3 nests, removed 2 of them, and have another 3 that I've found that we probably need to spray at some point, but I'm one of those people who is like "not just live and let live, but live and HELP live" so I only ever want to remove nests if they're actively causing a problem.  All of these nests have been from the Polistes exclamans variety.  But just the other day I found the first Polistes carolina nest (Red Wasp), so I wonder if we'll see some sort of duking it out between the two types of paper wasp. 

On the plus side, I don't have any caterpillars in the yard.  On the downside, I don't have any caterpillars in the yard.  I've resorted to finding newly hatched queen and monarch caterpillars and bringing them inside.  I usually try to wait a few days to bring them in because when they're itty-bitty it's tougher to keep them alive, but at the same time, Live and HELP live, right?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Bed Spread

Do you ever have problems with the spreading of a garden bed?  Does it have more to do with you adding more plants to the bed (like in my grass bed), or does it have more to do with the plants themselves propagating and spreading (like my fence bed)?

A lot of the plants in my yard may be considered invasive (like that Asiatic Jasmine and Boston Ivy that the previous owner planted), and some I've planted (like the giant petunia which some call Mexican Petunia, but others have said that it's not, and according to the Botanical Garden of Key West, it's Carolina Petunia), and still others probably should be considered invasive, but because it has a benefit it's generally okay (like passionvine).

I've known for a while that the Asiatic Jasmine and Boston Ivy moved into the neighbor's yard; but I didn't realize that the Petunia and the Passionvine had moved into the other neighbor's yard until I saw it blooming through the I stuck my phone over the fence and took a photo:

Uh Oh.  But also considering they have the hose out there I think they're actively trying to encourage the petunia/passionvine combo.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Sanservera Blooming

Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Bloom Day on the 15th of each Month.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Wildlife Wednesday

Fact: I have magpie tendencies and when I'm doing field work, I'll take little rocks and marbles and what have you back to the office to put on my windowsill - the last time I was out, I found a piece of armadillo shell and a vertebra, and the time before that, it was a chunk of yellow glass, and before that a blue marble, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Fact: I've been teleworking at home at least one day a week, and because I'm maxed out on saving up vacation, I've been taking a day off every other week.  All this really means is that I'm not in the office nearly as much as I usually am which leaves ample time for my coworkers to put things in my office for me.  Like this ghost flamingo which was placed in my empty terrarium.

Surprisingly, no one has said anything about it needing to be removed.  Sadly, I think there are plenty of folks who would prefer this over the random bones.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Taking cuttings of Tomatoes

In Austin, we actually have two short growing seasons for tomatoes and not one long one.  There is always a period of time when the tomatoes will not set fruit - that time is when night time temperatures are above 74 degrees and day time temperatures are above 95 (or so).  There are some varieties, especially cherry tomato, that will set fruit during the hotter times of the summer, but for most it's a time to either let them die, or cut them back and nurse them through the heat hoping they'll produce in the fall.

But I like tomatoes (despite not eating them raw unless they're in salsa), and so I always want them in the garden, but I don't necessarily like nursing them along.  But I'm also cheap so I won't buy any new plants, nor will I start seed.  So what is one to do?  Take cuttings of course!

Tomato plants are actually vines and they will root along the vine where it touches ground.  You could just let your tomato plants flop all over the place (which is apparently what my grandma used to do), or you can stake them to take up less space (which is what most people do - I guess that's the difference between living on a farm and not).  Occasionally, especially during wetter weather, you'll see bumps along the stem - these bumps are not some weird Tomato STD, but are actually little aborted root nodules - when you see these, your tomato is trying to root

If you want any other proof that tomatoes are vines that root easily, my friend accidentally decapitated a tomato plant as she was planting it in the garden - she, being an engineer and up for a grand science experiment, planted both the bottom half (with roots and a few leaves) and the top half (the growing tip) in the garden next to each other to see what would happen.  The top part ended up being the best tomato she had in her garden that year.

So!  Tomato Propagation.  If your tomato plant needs a do-over, you can take some cuttings and plant those (it's also a good way to save tomatoes over the winter if you've got a greenhouse).

Step 1: Find your victim (I mean donor!).

Step 2: Cut off about 4-6" of a growing tip of the vine - you can't just cut off a leaf and expect it to work, you need some actual stem and a growing tip.

Step 3: Cut the stem at an angle and remove the bottom leaves leaving only the top two leaves.

Step 4: Hold your pruners at an angle and drag it along the bottom inch or two of the stem.  Supposedly this 'bruising' helps with rooting.

Step 5: This is the point where you would dip the cut end in rooting hormone if you have it/want it; but I've also known tomatoes to take root without the hormone - but the rooting hormone does help.

Step 6: Poke a hole in the dirt (whether that's in the garden, or in a 4" pot).  If you're using a pot, I'd recommend using cutting/seed starting mix as opposed to regular garden soil.

Step 7: Put your cutting in the hole and press the soil around the stem.

Step 8: Water well.

Step 9: Label your plant.

Step 10: Water daily - it would also be smart to provide shade so the poor little thing isn't having to contend with trying to grow roots and fend off the death star.

Step 11: Wait a few weeks (I noticed mine had roots after about 2 weeks; but I also use the rooting hormone)

Step 12: Plant!

Now then, by the time I'm getting around to writing this (August), it's already too late to really be planting tomatoes - the last weekend in July is generally the last recommended date for planting tomato transplants, BUT, now you'll know for next year.

Friday, July 10, 2015


I got the idea for infusions from my friend and fellow blogger, Vicki at Playin' Outside when she presented about her vinegar infusions at a garden tour a few years ago.  Vicki said that she uses 'seasoned rice vinegar' which has some sugar in it to cut the acidity of vinegar, but if you're going to use straight vinegar, you should use rice or white wine vinegar (avoid the regular white distilled or cider vinegars because they're just too astringent).  She also said that she doesn't have recipes (which is always the first thing people ask for); her recommendation was to walk around your garden and pluck some herbs, hold them together and sniff - if they smell good together, you're good to go, if they don't, figure out which one is the offending one and toss it out.  Of course, you generally can go off of known good combos - Italian herbs (oregano, basil, parsley, thyme, sage), Mexican herbs (oregano, peppers, garlic), French herbs (rosemary, thyme, bay leaf) - generally if you use the herbs together in a recipe, they're probably going to go well together for an infusion, so go find your favorite recipe and add the same ratio of herbs to vinegar and have a go at an infusion.

But why stop at vinegar?  Why stop at herbs?

But first, let's talk about the set up for infusions.  What you'll need:
  • large glass jar with lid (preferably plastic, but you can use a mason jar, you'll just have to protect the metal with a sheet of plastic wrap if you're using vinegar)
  • a plastic lid from a yogurt container cut to slightly smaller than the inside diameter of the jar, with some slits cut in it.
  • vinegar, oil, vodka, bourbon, or tequila - enough to cover your herbs and then some.
  • your herbs, fruit, vegetables, garlic, peppers, etc.  (when using fruit/vegetables, use the ripe ones - it should smell like what you want - if using citrus fruit, you only need the peel, pith removed.)

And now for the photos:

Put your infusers in the jar (in this case, a peeled head of garlic and 4 Thai peppers)
prepare your "hold everything below the surface" yogurt lid

Select your poison (in this case vinegar)

A top view of the infusers (garlic and dried thai peppers)

place the yogurt lid on top of the infusers

Add the liquid.  Let sit for a few weeks before using.  I tend to just let the items sit in the jar until I finally decide that I want to start a new infusion.

I tend to use vinegar infusions as a finisher for sautéed summer squash, roasted Brussels sprouts, and making homemade salad dressing (which consists of herbed vinegar and olive oil).  The one above also gets used on breakfast potatoes when they need a little extra kick.

When using other liquids, choose good quality ones - in the case of liquors, choose ones that you would actually drink - so don't cheap out on the vodka and get the one that burns like paint thinner just to save a few bucks.

I've just recently expanded into trying basil in olive oil:

Lemon peel in Deep Eddy vodka (taken a few days after I started):

And peaches in Deep Eddy vodka (taken a few days after I started):

In the case of vodka infusions, I've had coworkers who have done fennel, corn (surprisingly good), cucumber, raspberry, strawberry, and blackberry.  In all cases, it works best if, after a few days, you taste test the infusion to see if it's got the flavor you were aiming for.  In any case, you probably don't want to leave the items in the vodka indefinitely.  Besides, how are you supposed to eat those delicious vodka-soaked fruit on ice cream if you leave them IN the vodka?