Monday, April 19, 2021

Big Freeze Clean Up: Before and After

So I left off with the big freeze having happened. This means that plants got goobered.  Plants that hadn't been cut back in eons died back to the ground, some plants, like my Arizona Ash still haven't recovered since it was already budding out right as the freeze hit. 

The Asiatic Jasmine corner. Before. On the plus side, the freeze really did kill off most of this invasive plant making it much easier to get rid of.

After.  I realize it's hard to see the difference since it was all brown before and is still brown. But hopefully the tree appreciates it.

Can you find all the toads?  There was a whole family of them living under an old grill cover which was in the Asiatic Jasmine.  The cover had been full incorporated into the jasmine. 

The Toadrys.  I had to text my "snake guy" coworker because he's into all the cool animals - like seriously, I've brought him skulls, jaw bones, snake skins, and pictures of snakes in the past to find out what they are. So naturally I texted him a photo of the toads and was like "uh...I'm doing yardwork, how do I save these guys? Do I need to use gloves or anything?" So this was the first time in my life where I went about catching toads and putting them in a bucket.

"Hey! Where do you think you're going, mister?!". The amount of talking I was doing to those toads and the spiders I found probably had my neighbors questioning my sanity.

Adult Rough Earth Snake. We have these occasionally in the yard and I love them. This was my first time actually catching and holding one. And then I had to catch him AGAIN because he was intent on needing to be in the part of the yard where the asiatic jasmine was and didn't WANT to be in the garden area.  Bonus points to me that I didn't need to contact "the snake guy" since I joined a snake identification group on Facebook and now spend a lot of time looking at snake pictures and have gotten much better at identifying them - Shawn says hopefully this means I'll actually SEE the snakes before I step on them (I've almost stepped on a racer, a bull snake, a rattlesnake, and a rat snake).

As for planting things in this area, I'm trying to generally keep it unplanted through this summer (because I predict it's going to be a summer from hell a la 2011 again). BUT, this is also an area that like years ago I had planned to plant some beauty bushes in this area - bushes that I promptly had purchased with the misguided idea that if I had the bushes on hand, I'd remove the asiatic jasmine sooner rather than later. 


Yeah - the beautyberry, Mexican buckeye, and agarita sat in tiny pots for YEARS. I needed to cut the containers away from the roots and still dig them out of the ground.  BUT! I did get them dug up and then replanted in this area. But since those plants were also damaged by the freeze, they all got a severe cut back and now I'm waiting for them to leaf out more so you can actually see them in the photo. But with the warmer weather, I am getting some of the Asiatic jasmine coming back from root pieces I missed, so I need to keep the area clear for a growing season or so, just to make sure I got it all.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Now... where'd we leave off?

Okay, so essentially 4 years after leaving you guys, I decided I should take up blogging about the garden again.  We'll see how long it lasts.  It may be only 2 weeks.  The suspense is terrible, I hope it lasts.

So I left off in March 2017. This basically coincided with me really getting into kitten fostering and volunteering at the animal shelter. So let's get you caught up - there was racist rally in Virginia in which the president refused to condemn the white supremacists and insisted that there were "very nice people on both sides."  Actually, the president never did condemn white supremacy the entire time he was in office.  Not surprising since they did (and still do) make up a significant portion of his base.  The US left the Iran Nuclear deal and the Paris Accords, killed NAFTA, and started courting Russia and North Korea as allies while telling Europe they could suck it.  the #metoo movement happened and generally abated with not a whole lot having changed (other than Harvey Weinstein going to jail and a lot of men being upset thinking that women were out to get them).  There was also something about a Hurricane that the president tried to alter it's path with a sharpie and questions about the president's mental aptitude (I mean, the man DID look directly at solar eclipse).  

And then the 2020 pandemic happened. 

That's right. A pandemic. A mother-effing flu-like pandemic that resulted in working from home, wearing masks everywhere, and avoiding elderly family member like you had, well, the plague.  Mixed in with all that, race relations came to a head because for some dumb reason cops refuse to stop killing Black people for doing normal things like "sleeping in their own home," or "going for a run," or for minor law breaking like "used a $20 counterfeit bill" or "had expired license plates."  

Other shitty things that happened in 2020: Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, as did Elijah Cummings, and John Lewis.  But here we are, on "the other side" with vaccines being stabbed in arms and things returning to "normal." Why, we've already had 2 school shootings and schools aren't even really in session. So yeah, the world is healing.

While everyone was like "oh man, at least 2021 can't be any worse," 2021 was like "here, hold my beer" and kicked off with an armed insurrection at the national capitol on January 6, followed by a polar vortex in February which caused the Texas power grid to shit itself like a newborn babe. And I mean one of those shits that shoots up out the back of the diaper and somehow covers EVERYTHING.  

And so, I feel like this is a good point to pick back up with the gardening. Because there's nothing that likes shit more than a gardener (hey oh!)

The polar vortex messed shit up, yo. It knocked enough plants back on their ass and required such a massive amount of clean up (which I'm still doing), that it really resulted in me getting everything almost back to "clean slate status."

First the ice covered everything and weighed it down

Then the snow came and covered everything.  

And then the power outages started.  Ted Cruz ran across the border into Mexico in order give his family a better life with electricity, heat, and running water (seriously, for reals, though sadly he came back). Meanwhile, the Texas grid was like minutes away from crashing to the point that it would have taken MONTHS to fix it.  The outages were meant to be "rolling" but the amount of power that needed to be off the system was so much that they had to kill every "non-essential" circuit - this is why downtowns were all lit up like Christmas while neighborhoods were blacked out - because downtown areas tend to have hospitals and police stations.  So some people went without power for almost a week.  The temperatures didn't get above like 20 degrees for that entire time.  Houses down here are not insulated like they are up north.  Houses down here don't have shut offs to their exterior facing hose bibs to keep the pipes from bursting.  Even if people wanted to leave, they couldn't because the roads were impossible to drive on since we don't have any means of removing snow/ice from the roadways.

At least the snow made for some nice, and not normal for Austin, photos

As the snow was starting to melt, and things were looking up, the water ran out.  One of the Austin water treatment plants went offline for a while because of falling trees and then no one could figure out how to get the power back on because the Water Treatment Plant hasn't been modernized since like 1950.  Because everyone was dripping or running their faucets to keep pipes from freezing, the water reserves got used up REAL QUICK LIKE.  This meant that we were frantically saving snow in buckets and coolers and even tupperware containers just so we had some type of water. Toilets were only getting flushed after pooping, everyone was drinking their beer stash instead of having to boil water, etc etc.  Thankfully, those that had been without electricity for a week, generally didn't lose their water service.

Water outage map for Austin

Thank God for rain barrels which are full of water...though they were frozen solid...dangnabbit.

So. Like I said, the polar vortex was epic and the plants did not like it. At all. Plants which hadn't died back in years were knocked to the ground (e.g. almond verbena, Philippine violet, Turk's cap), plants that had already budded are still recovering (arizona ash), plants which should have made it through with no problems are having problems recovering (yaupon holly), and some of our more tender plants are being watched on baited breath for recovery or have already been ripped out because of the time it would take to recover (lorapetalum, pitsporum, crepe myrtle).  

I'm going to try to do a post per area as it got cleaned up because in addition to cutting back things that haven't been touched in YEARS, I also added compost and mulch so everything is looking tip top - if a little bare while I wait for things to fill back in.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Camera Things (Part 1)

Man...It's be like forever - almost 2 years, really - since I've done a blog entry.  There's been a Sunshine Community Garden plant sale and everything (spoiler alert: I bought too many tomatoes and they only produced a handful).

Anyway, today's blog entry is brought to you by Roberta's Camera, El Presidente.

El Presidente got sick about a month ago so he was sent off for treatment.  Now he's back, but there's a new stud in town (Pincay) so he's been relegated to second fiddle.  Because I always talk about how I need a better camera than my trusty ol' Rebel XTi, Roberta offered to loan me El Presidente with one of her lenses so I could play around and determine if I really wanted a new camera. 

I haven't done a "camera" test yet, but I did do a "lens" test the other night.  I used El Presidente with different lenses to see what type of difference a lens makes.  The lens I borrowed is a 70-300 IS lens.  The IS stands for "Image stabilization." That means that it tries to account for you moving ever so slightly while taking a photo so that you get a clear photo instead of a blurry one.  I have a 70-300 lens, and Shawn has a 70-300 lens so I put them all to the test.

All three lenses have autofocus on them, though Shawn's is a pain in the ass and you really have to use manual to get it close, then switch it to auto so it actually will focus.  In any case, while I took a bunch of photos, the ones on the tripod looked about the same, and the ones where IS was turned off on Roberta's also looked about the same, so instead I'm only showing the three photos that demonstrate why you either a) want to use a tripod when taking photos at full extension (i.e. at 300 or b) why you want an IS lens.

As mentioned above, because Shawn's lens doesn't really autofocus, I decided I'd use Manual focus for these photos.  Aperature (how much light is let in) was set to 5.6 for all the photos (meaning that the background should be kinda fuzzy).  The shutter speed was set to automatic, but ended up being at 1/20 of a second for all three photos.  Usually, to cut down on motion blur (i.e. the camera moved), you want your speed to be 1/your distance - that is, I had these all set to 300, therefore I should have set my shutter speed to be 1/300 to cut down on motion blur.  Unfortunately, because it was dusk, I didn't really have the luxury of setting my shutter speed faster (unless I changed the ISO - i.e. film "speed" - it's why they always used to tell you "use 400 speed film when photographing sports, 100 if you're doing portraits")

The lens line up:  My lens (on camera), Roberta's lens, Shawn's lens

First up: My lens at full extension (300) attempting to take a photo of our formerly feral cat, Stripsie.  As you can see - terribly out of focus.  This is worse than normal - Shawn's lens is closer to what I expect, but you also will end up with a LOT of photos looking like this.  In this case, I probably didn't properly brace myself (bend the knees, engage your core, breathe in, breathe out, and as you breathe out, press the trigger - it's like shooting a gun, really)
300mm, 5.6, 1/20, ISO 320, lens= Canon 70-300 EF 4-5.6 III ($200)

As you can see, it looks a little washed out, but that's something that's easy enough to fix in GIMP (free photoshop)

a little better but still really bad.  The one thing to remember about photo editing - you can fix a lot of errors, but it's damn near impossible to fix 'blurry' so you really want to start with a crisp photo.

Shawn's lens
300mm, 5.6, 1/20, ISO 320, lens = Sigma 70-3004-5.6 APO Macro Super ($200)
Much clearer, but still a little on the fuzzy side.  That fuzz is from motion blur - I probably stabilized myself well, but you still have to depress that shutter button which moves the camera a little.  This is the type of stuff that can be fixed by using a tripod or monopod.

And with the level fixing: (btw, this is what happens when you click that little sun at the top of the screen on Instagram if you go into "edit" mode - and aren't using one of their pre-set filters - I believe they call it "lux")

Finally, we have the Image Stabilization lens.
300mm, 5.6, 1/20, ISO 320, lens = Canon EF 70-300 4-5.6 IS USM ($650)

As you can see immediately, the image is much clearer.  It's not actually 100% clear - there's still a little motion blur, but it's so much less than the other photos that it appears clear.  I also technically had this set to the wrong type of motion correction - I had it set to II, when I maybe should have had it set to I as II is to be used for when you're panning, vs when you're not panning to the side.

And with levels fixing:

So yeah if you plan to be using a telephoto lens, it really does make sense to pay the extra cash for an image stabilization lens unless you're going to use a tripod/monopod for everything.  As I said, the photo above is STILL blurry from motion blur, and the only way to fix that would have been to have either a faster shutter speed or use a tripod.

Next up: the different camera bodies: 
- Canon D30 (Shawn's. It may not even work any more - it's been probably about 10 years since it's been used if not longer)
- Canon Rebel XTi (Katina's)
- Canon 6D (El Presidente)
** Also, sometime in the last 20 years, Canon changed their lens mount so I may not be able to do my camera test like I want to anyway.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

2017 Sunshine Community Garden Plant Sale

The annual plant sale was huge this year, and they still had plenty of plants - the volunteers were on their game today and removed plant signs as soon as they were gone so I didn't really even notice if they were out of varieties.  Of course, I also tend not to plan when I go to the sale (except for how many plants I'm going to get).

This year, I pre-determined that I should only get 3 or 4 plants since I grew peppers, basil, and tomatoes from seed.  Roberta also stuck to her guns and only got 6 tomatoes.  Of course, having it be cold and rainy may have helped with this.  The tomatoes I got this year were all recommended tomatoes in the book, Epic Tomatoes.


Black from Tula - Heirloom - Deep, reddish-brown Russian beefsteak. Smooth skin, fairly heat-tolerant, can be a good producer. Delicious slightly sweet fruit, 8-12oz. Indeterminate. 78 days.

Coyote - Cherry - A yellow jewel-like cherry, that bears 6 to 8 on a branch. Very flavorful. Indeterminate. 75 days.

Nepal - Heirloom - 10-12 oz., medium-large, globe-shaped, bright red fruits are rather soft but meaty with excellent flavor. Plenty of old-fashioned tomato flavor. Indeterminate. 78 days.

Rosella Purple - Container - Dwarf, good for containers. Similar to Cherokee Purple for great flavor and 6-10 oz. deep-purple fruits. Determinate. 65 days.

Black Krim - Heirloom - Flattened 4-5" globes with dark greenish-black shoulders. Likes hot weather. Rich complex flavor, sweet-tasting fruit. Indeterminate. 75 – 90 days.

Cayenne - 75 days. Concentrated set of wrinkled, very pungent fruit, 6X1/4 inches. For sauces and drying.

Pasilla Bajio - 75-80 days. Good yields of 8-10 inch long fruit that are mildly hot and turn from green to dark brown when mature. Used to make smoky flavored sauces.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Spring Seed Starting

I usually start my spring seeds around the 1st of the year: new year = start yo' seeds, especially the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.  This is my second year using my seed starter set up - a shop light, 2 little Jiffy starter trays, and my textbooks (finally putting that Organic Chemistry book to good use). I also went through ALL my seeds, and boy were there a lot of them, selecting the oldest for use first. 

I'm a weirdo and will usually try to start my seeds in conjunction with a recommended day based on the Farmer's Almanacs.  Bob once told me the general rule of thumb for seed starting, but I don't remember what it is (it's probably something like between the first quarter moon and the full moon is the time to plant above-ground crops, and below ground from the full moon to the 3rd quarter moon and any seeds that need light to sprout should be planted on the full moon).

Seeds started:
Black Krim Tomato (from 2011)
Italian Roma Tomato (from 2011)
Long Red Cayenne Pepper (from 2009)
Red Demon Thai Pepper (from 2011)
Cossack Pineapple Ground Cherry (from 2012)
Custom Blend Basil (from 2010)
Pasilla Bajio Pepper (from 2016)
"Green Leaves" Renee's Black Jalapeno (from 2012)
California Poppy (from 2012 or so)
Elaine's Fennel (from 2010 or so)

As you can tell, I did start ONE seed that is new to me - the Pasilla Bajio Pepper which I found on clearance right before Christmas. 

It's been 10 days, and so far the tomatoes, basil, and Cali poppies have sprouted; the ground cherry, cayenne, red demon, and fennel are just starting to sprout.  The jalapeno and pasilla are doing absolutely nothing.

Saturday, December 17, 2016


Gird your loins, kids; it's going to get cold.

That's right - we're in for a hard freeze tonight and tomorrow night with temperatures MAYBE reaching 40 on both Sunday and Monday if we're lucky.

I've gone out and covered the spigots, I've watered the plants well, I've even set up boxes with "keep hot/cool" bags inside for the cats (if they'll even use them), I've even brought in the hoses (which I never do), all that's left is stringing out some Christmas lights with some bed sheets for the plants and I think we're good to go.


My garden is technically comprised of items that are hardy, but the cauliflower is on the fringe so I figured I should cover everything - especially with the rest of the week having been warm

Christmas lights strung up with care and cauliflowers/broccolis covered with bed sheets and weighed down with rocks.

Friday, December 2, 2016

A (mostly) Blank Slate

After a few years, my Iris bed...drifted.  The irises didn't necessarily drift, but the Mexican Petunia sure did.

Here's a picture after I planted it in 2012:

And here's a photo after the first year:

And from December of 2014 (the last time I took a photo):

The petunias only got more out of control - like to the point where they were completely shading out the irises, so I decided they had to go.  The problem with the petunias, however, is that they can be a bit problematic to pull out because the stems break easily.  This means that the best way to get rid of them is to dig them up.  Considering that it had also been 4 years since I planted the bed, I figured it would be a good time to separate the irises anyway (those that had survived in any case).  All that to say that bed now looks like this:

Surprisingly (to me) it had more irises that were still good versus those that were bad which I'll replant in the area:

Since I think I need something a little taller in the back, I'll plant some milkweed (or really just dump some milkweed seeds in the back and hope they do well).