Sunday, January 29, 2012

Book Review: The Informed Gardener

I don't quite remember why I put "The Informed Gardener" on my Christmas wishlist - I just remember that I asked for it a few years ago and since I tend not to remove things from my wishlist until I get them, my mom finally decided she was sick and tired of seeing it on my list so she got me the book for Christmas.

Linda Chalker-Scott is a horticulturist who, in 2000, started writing newsletter-type articles for use by landscape professionals in Washington State.  Within a few years, more people had started reading the articles and requested they be made available in book form.  This book is the requested anthology.

The book has some great information and all the chapters are quick reads without getting too into the science nitty-gritty (though all of the scientific papers used in research are listed at the end of each chapter).  The articles are separated into subsets (e.g. Understanding How Plants Work, Miracle in a Bag/Bottle/Box) and all start out with "The myth of XXX" where XXX is anything from "Fragile Roots" to "Organic Superiority."  The super nice thing about the articles is that they provide, in bullet-list form, a summary of what the article was about for quick reference.  Without that bullet list the book would become much more of a "well, that was a nice read" book where you may remember to get it out every once in a while when you had a question, but would then spend time reading multiple articles looking for the one you were thinking of.  With the bullet list, the book becomes much more of a reference you can access whenever you want because while you may have to read a few lists, it isn't going to be the same amount of time lost as if you had to re-read each article.

My only complaints about the book are that 1) it's in book form which means that unless the book is updated every so often, it's quite possible that some of things that are mentioned in the book may end up being false or slightly modified in the future when more research has been done (and it likely wouldn't be one of the Myths, but instead one of the factoid points within the article itself). And 2) As with most books, it's more applicable to the Pacific Northwest (I know, I know - if you want a book for Central Texas, you get a book for Central Texas).  In the book, multiple times, she mentions using wood chips over any other type of mulch because the plants do best with that.  However, those of us in the Austin area also know that using wood chips usually means having a larger amount of cockroaches.  Something, which I'm sure is uncommon in the Northwest.  Of course, it could be that what she means by "wood chips" and what I think when I hear "wood chips" may be completely different things. Another article is about using pruning sealer on trees (as in, 'don't').  But again, down here we know that if we prune our oak trees during certain times of the year (i.e. Feb 1 - June 30), we really should use something to prevent oak wilt.  Of course, her article mentions the fact that if you live in an area with oak wilt, you may need to use "a fungicide or insecticide", but it's at the end when, for national publication, it seems like it might have been better to put a disclaimer at the beginning of the article (I honestly almost skipped the article since it's called "The myth of wound dressings")

But, overall, it's a very good book and I highly recommend it to the home landscaper.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


You know, I really dislike the red tip photinia growing along the neighbor's garage.  Especially since it's all dead or dying (has been since the 2009 hail storm when the owner decided the bushes looked like crap and somehow decided that cutting them in half was going to help).  But I'll be sad to see them go (which I'm sure they'll be going soon since the house is empty once again as it's a rental property).  I'll be sad to see them go because while the plant doesn't provide any food for the birds, it does provide a safe haven from us pesky humans, and more importantly, all the cats.  The juncos and cardinals use the bushes most frequently, and I'd hate to see them go (even though the juncos will probably be migrating back up north sometime soon).

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Ummm...what type?

I saw this bird last Saturday at the suet feeder.  I have no idea what type it is - it has a little yellow spot under the wings and a yellow rump.  plus the white eyebrow...

Yellow-Rumped Warbler maybe?  Looks like an eastern immature... if is to be believed.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Feeder Watch - Jan 21, 2012

I brought in all the bird feeders and cleaned them and filled them with fresh seed.  I have 4 feeders in the front yard and are therefore the only ones that I'll be using for my Feeder Watch (which is not the same thing as Project Feeder Watch...well, it is, but I'm not part of project feeder watch...mostly because it requires some amount of consistency; which I don't have - the same reason I haven't joined CoCoRaHS.  But if you are one of those consistent people, I highly recommend participating in both organizations).  I've done a little section below on each of the feeders and which seed I put them usually.

I put out all the feeders by 8:30 this morning.
Platform:  1/3 c Black Oil Sunflower (BOS), 1/3 c Safflower (Saff), 1/3 c "Trail Mix" nut blend.
Tube:  1/3 c BOS, 1/3 c Saff, 2/3 c InLaw mix (CostCo mix with added peanuts and BOS)
UpCycled:  2/3 c Thistle, 2/3 c "Song Bird Blend" (Thistle/Red Millet/Sunflower Hearts) in the bowl + 1/4 c Saff, 1/4 c BOS on the plate
Suet:  1 cake  in the upper holder - "Insect Feast" (Rendered Beef Fat suet, cracked corn, millet, peanut, dehydrated mealworms)

Notes:  The neighbors across the street are having a garage sale and the next door neighbors are moving.  Also it's cold and it's probably not going to be very busy at the feeders (or it will be very "flighty")

1625 - starling on suet and a starling on the platform; strike that, the starling moved to the suet.  3 juncos on the ground, male house finch on the tube.
1615 - male and female Lesser Goldfinches at the tube feeder.  House sparrows on the ground
1558 - Carolina chickadee at tube, house wren on upcycled, house sparrow at the tube, and a mocking bird (maybe - it looked like a smaller version of a mocking bird, but the tail length was all wonky) at the suet.
1557 - starling on the suet
1528 - male and female house finches in the platform feeder
1507 - female cardinal at the upcycled feeder, house sparrow at the tube feeder, and bewick's wren at suet.
1254 - male cardinal at the platform feeder
1206 - starling on suet
1205 - male house finch at the tube feeder, female house finch on the upcycled feeder
1204 - female house finch at tube feeder
1145 - dove and house sparrow on ground, there is a visiting starling, but it's not at any of the feeders.
1136 - dove at the upcycled, female house finch at the platform
1133 - male cardinal going back and forth between platform and the upcycled feeder
1114 - female house finch in platform
1058 - female cardinal and male house finch in the platform feeder
1055 - Female Cardinal and House Finch at the Upcycled Feeder, Male Cardinal at the tube feeder (going back and forth to the Upcycled feeder)
1045 - Female Cardinal at the Upcycled Feeder
0946 - 2 Gold Finches (later determined to be Lesser Gold Finches) at the tube feeder, Female Cardinal at the Upcycled Feeder, House Finch and Junco in the tree
0915 - House Finch at the tube feeder
0908 -  Female Cardinal at the Upcycled Feeder
0830 - Feeders Up.  Starlings gathering

**and at some point, probably around 11am, I realized that I probably should have created a spreadsheet instead of doing it this way so that i could just put a checkmark each time I saw a bird at the feeder.  So maybe I'll do that tomorrow instead.

**Also, Annie at the Transplantable Rose informed me that there is an event that happens every February - The Great Backyard Bird Count, which only requires 15 minutes of observation (or more if you want to) for at least one day during a specified four day period in February.  You can read more about it here:

The Feeder Types:

The Hanging Platform
Most used by: the Doves, Jays and Squirrels.  Also used by the Cardinals, and more recently the Starlings.  When the larger birds aren't around (read: when the peanuts and black oil sunflower seed are gone), the house finches and wrens will visit.

Seed used and frequency: 1 cup of Black Oil Sunflower/Safflower blend.  Depending on what birds I see at the feeder determines the 2:1 mix (more little birds = more Safflower, more of the big birds and the squirrels means more BOS).  I put out fresh food daily because the animals go through it within a day.  I did recently buy a "Trail Mix" nut blend from HEB so now the mix is 1/3 cup of BOS, Saff, and Nuts, each.

The Small Tube Feeder
Most Used By:  The House Finches, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, and very rarely the Cardinals, Downy Woodpeckers, and Younger Jays (the young jays started using it when they saw how the woodpeckers managed to get seed)

Seed Used and Frequency:  I used to only have Black Oil Sunflower and Safflower in this feeder, but when I realized that the birds were ignoring a thistle seed feeder I had up, I started adding in a very small amount of thistle.  Now that my In Laws gave me a new feeder and some of their seed mix (the CostCo mix with added peanuts and BOS), I've been mixing more like 1/3 c each of BOS, Saff and Thistle, and 2/3 c CostCo.  I usually only fill the feeder once a week, though sometimes I'm nice and fill it 2 times.

The Upcycled Feeder (far right)
Most Used By:  The House Finches and the Cardinals.  Occasionally by the Doves and Jays.

Seed Used and Frequency:  I put Thistle seed (and/or the Thistle seed blend my coworker gave me - Thistle Seed, Sunflower Hearts, Red Millet) in the bowl part and a 50/50 mix of Black Oil Sunflower/Safflower on the plate (usually about 1/2 cup total).  I refill the thistle maybe only once a week or less, and the BOS/Saff every other day.

And Finally,
The Suet Feeder (also shown above)
Most used by:  The Downy Woodpeckers, and the damn Starlings (like 15 at a time).  Also occasionally by the Wrens, and what I think is a Yellow-Rumped Warbler.

Suet Used and Frequency:  I'm currently using Wild Bird Unlimited Suet (Christmas gift from my sister).  I originally put in the Red Pepper suet in the top square and an Orange flavor suet in the bottom.  The top cake was gone about a week before the bottom cake, though I don't know if that was because it was preferred for taste or for location.  For my determination purposes I'm only going to put in one square at a time to make it account more for flavor than for location.  I just put out a new cake - "Insect Feast" or something to that effect (I had let it sit empty for a week hoping that the starlings will move on, but considering the number I saw in the tree 15 minutes after putting it up does not have me hopeful).

Placement Notes:  The Platform and Suet Feeder are located close together.  And the UpCycled and Tube feeder are located close together on the opposite side of the tree from the other feeders.

Friday, January 20, 2012


Unfortunately, there are way too many juncos for me to name them all and keep them all straight - thus, they are "the Juncos."  Since they're ground feeder birds, they're the most commonly stalked birds with Doves being a close second.  The juncos, however, are much faster at getting out of the way than the doves are so they tend to make it.

Obviously this picture is showing the junco in the tree, but that's only because the ground picture was a little fuzzy.  I'm surprised he went to the tree - the normal first line of defense is the dead/dying red tip photinia plants along the neighbor's house.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Succulents Floral Arrangement

Date Taken:  01/06/2012
Time:  4 pm Central
Camera: Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi
Exposure: 1/320
Aperture Value: 4.97 EV (f/5.6)
ISO Speed: 200
Flash: No
Metering Mode: Pattern
Exposure Program: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 57.00 mm
Post Processing: GIMP - +10 contrast, +5 brightness, +10 saturation, Unsharp Mask, add Border.

Date Taken:  01/06/2012
Time:  4 pm Central
Camera: Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi
Exposure: 1/200
Aperture Value: 4.97 EV (f/5.6)
ISO Speed: 200
Flash: No
Metering Mode: Pattern
Exposure Program: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 70.00 mm
Post Processing: GIMP - +10 contrast, +10 saturation, Unsharp Mask, add Border.

Thank you to Bond and David for the arrangement.

Monday, January 16, 2012

RJ & Emily

Earlier this week, I noticed a male downy woodpecker at the suet feeder my sister got me for Christmas.  So today, when I saw him outside, I decided to get a picture.

He hasn't been as skittish as a bunch of the other birds are - I can easily walk out from my garage and he'll watch to make sure I'm not coming toward him, but he doesn't immediately fly away like most of the other birds.

I've named him RJ (as in Robert Jr.  Because he's a Downy...yes, I'm a dork, why do you ask?)
Picture taken from the front corner of the house (it's about as close as I can get while outside)
My neighbor asked me today how it was that I managed to not have the squirrels eat all the suet cake (she had briefly put out a suet feeder, but took it down because of the squirrels it attracted - which drove her dogs nuts).  I told her I had used a hot pepper cake which has capsaicin which affects mammals, but not birds (or perhaps it's safer to say that it doesn't affect them in the same way) - which is probably the reason birds like chile pequin plants.

Just a day after taking the photo of RJ, I noticed the female downy on the feeder (I've decided to name her Emily...I don't know why - it just came to me...much like naming my pets).

But I have been having a problem with European Starlings being all gung ho over the suet.  Like "15 birds at a time" gung ho.  Yeah...I'll have to figure out what to do about that....any suggestions?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Bloom Day - Jan 15, 2012

What's this? participating in bloom day?  Why, yes, I think I will.

Shrimp plant

And after going through some old entries, I decided I should post a wide angle picture of the side fence:

You can see a comparison here

Project: Front flower bed

You see, the goal is to plant these plants:

in this bed:

But, of course, this also requires the turning of soil, the adding of compost, the removal of dead and dying plants (including a portion of that vile Asiatic Jasmine).

After:  Soil turned, some jasmine removed, plants planted...let's see how many make it through the winter...

And of course, now I'm thinking I need to plant some possumhaw or yaupon holly on one side of the berm - maybe replacing even more of the jasmine.  And I'd still like to do a stock tank pond, but that might end up in the backyard instead of the front...

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Questions, Answered

In case you don't already know, I have comment moderation turned on for entries over 2 weeks old - this is mostly for my benefit as I hardly ever go back and check to see if any posts have gotten any more comments than during that first week after I've posted said post.  This also means that you'll get a quicker response from me since I actually get emailed your comment.

Anyhow, Michael asked that I email him back some responses to questions which is only a doozy because there was no email address included and he hasn't filled in his blogger profile, thus, no way to contact him.  So I'm doing it here:

Michael's first question was if the habanero peppers I got from my plantings darn near burned my tongue off.  The answer is "no" because I have, to date, never been able to grow habaneros from seed.  Also, when we do have super hot peppers like habaneros or the ghost pepper, we will use it in chili or something similar so it's in the crock pot all day long which seems to severely limit the hotness factor.  We just made chili a two weeks ago with the ghost pepper.  I thought it was very hot.  Not so hot to make the food inedible, but still quite hot.  My husband said I was crazy and he was disappointed that the chili wasn't hotter.

Michael's second question is in regards to the peanut plant - he specifically asks what the flowers look like and when I first noticed them.  I don't quite remember when I first noticed flowers on the peanut plant, but I do know that from when I transplanted it to when I first noticed flowers had to have been a couple of months (3 or 4 would be my guess).  The flowers are yellow, they look roughly sweet pea ish (which makes sense since they're both legumes), and they're kinda small.  The biggest thing to remember is that peanuts form underground from the fertilized flower so it will form red-brown runners which will drop to the ground and will look something like this:

More specifically, the plant will probably eventually fall over and grow more along the ground - at least mine did.  I tried to stake it up but abandoned that because it kept sending out the peanut runners and it was taking forever to get to the ground.  I ended up with 4 peanuts by the time I pulled the plant out. 

Hope that helps...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Book Review: How Carrots Won the Trojan War

When looking for a Christmas present for me, my sister went to the local bookstore, plopped herself down in the 'gardening' section and didn't leave until she found a bajillionty books for me.  One of those books was "How Carrots Won the Trojan War" by Rebecca Rupp.

I started reading the book right after Christmas and finished it last weekend, so it did go pretty quickly.  The chapters are separated by fruit or vegetable (so chapter 1:  Asparagus, chapter 6:  Celery, etc.) and each is chock full of history, science, trivia and stories of the specified food item.  The only complaint I had was that each chapter is so full of information that it is best read in small snippets instead of just sitting down and reading chapter after chapter.  I feel the same way about Cooking for Geeks if anyone has read that book.

Each chapter starts with a quote about the food item ("A cucumber should be well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out, as good for nothing." -Samuel Johnson) and usually gives a few stories of the food item (the Greeks ate carrots while in the Trojan Horse so they wouldn't have to go #2 while waiting) before going into the nutritional make-up.  There, of course, are always bits and snippets of information included in each chapter as well (Moslem legend states that as Satan departed the Garden of Eden, onions sprang from his right footprints and garlic from his left); and of course there are some snippets that are more useful to our everyday gardening such as "melons and cucumbers...both belong to the genus Cucumis, but are separate species...and so do not interbreed.  An exception is the sinuous Armenian cucumber (C. melo var. flexuosus)...which will cross with the melon because, despite its cucumberish name and appearance, it actually is a melon."

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Heart O' Texas Orchid Society 41st Annual Show and Sale

For those of you who like orchids, the Heart O' Texas Orchid Society has a sale and show coming up at the end of April.

The following is from Geoffrey Frost (who is part of the society):

Heart O' Texas Orchid Society's 41st Annual Show & Sale, "Orchid Heaven"
April 28th & 29th, 2012
Zilker Botanical Gardens Center
2220 Barton Springs Road,
Austin, TX 78746
Show & Plant Sale: 10:00am - 5:00pm Saturday & 10:00am - 4:00pm Sunday.
This year we are very proud to present the 41st Annual Orchid Show here in Austin, TX. Orchids are Mother Nature at her best, so come join us and check out all the beautiful orchids that will be on display. There will also be hundreds of blooming orchids for sale, as well as helpful information for growing these beautiful plants from the 8 vendors and society members. Need flowers for that special person in your life...orchids are becoming one of the most popular flowers in the U.S., so why not get an orchid this year for that special someone or special occasion. Admission to the event is free and the public is encouraged to attend. For a complete schedule of events, or for more information, please visit our web-site:

Friday, January 6, 2012

Downy Woodpecker

Look what I found in the neighbor's yard...a female downy woodpecker making a nest-hole.  Maybe she's the mate of the male I saw on the 22nd...

Monday, January 2, 2012

Well, That's a Hum-Dinger

After not seeing any hummingbirds for over two months, I took my hummingbird feeder down.  Since I hadn't gotten one of those ant traps, the ants were, indeed, becoming a problem.

I did get an ant trap and figured I'd put it out when I hung the bird feeder in the spring.  Little did I know that I would be using it a bit more quickly than that.

The day before my family came down (so the 21st of December), I was sitting backwards on the chair (that is, the chair faces into the living room, but it has the only windows in the room right behind it), and I noticed a hummingbird looking for blooms by the window.  I quickly put water and sugar in the feeder and re-hung it outside.  Sure enough, the bird easily found the feeder.  Since then, I've been having a bird show up every day.  This one isn't nearly as skittish as the other hummingbirds and has no problem with using the feeder while I'm doing yard work right next to it.

Thus, while this picture doesn't really look like I'm any closer than any of the previous photos I've taken (you can see them here and here), I'm using a 70mm lens instead of the 300.  Which basically means that I was like 5' away from the bird instead of 12'.

Based on the apparent affiliation with the Texas Longhorns, I'm going to guess that this bird is a Rufous.  Though it could be an Allen's Hummingbird.