Thursday, May 22, 2014

I Wanna Bee a Hippo

The garden of Mike and Donna Fowler in Hutto, Texas makes me want to bee a hippo. 

If were I hippo, I could live in their lovely garden all year long.

On Tuesday, I was invited to go along on a bloggers field trip to the Fowler garden. The Fowler's greeted us like dear friends from the moment we arrived. We made ourselves comfortable on one of their many patio seating areas while we waited for the entire group to arrive.

From this vantage point, I was surrounded by gardens with more gardens beyond the fences.

I knew I was in for a wonderful treat!

Beyond the front garden, our first stop was the vegetable garden complete with an Indian tee pee, a gorgeous bottle tree, and painted ladies on poles that do double duty as hose guides.

In the tee pee, Donna  treated us to a traditional Indian smudging ceremony. Donna lit a smudge stick containing sage and other plants to drive out negative energies. Among the many blessings we received were the abilities of our eyes to see the beauty and our throats to find the right words. Fitting blessings indeed!

At the edge of the garden, gorgeous blue corn flowers jumped out at me. Seeing the beauty in this garden is a super easy task. Everything is beautiful and so far my camera was getting a real work out. 

This sculpture made of glass watering balls is beyond beautiful. Where are the words? Smudging don't fail me now.

The whimsy in this garden tickles my silly-bone. These are fish sticks! Get it!

Gates and the views beyond are a favorite of mine. There are whole coffee table books on the topic. Funny, I have no such views in my own garden. Perhaps that's why I admire them so much when I visit other gardens.

As with any large garden, there are bound to be challenges. To fix drainage issues, a french drain is dressed up as a sparkling dry creek with recycled tumbled glass. The creek runs in segments which seemingly connect to each other throughout the garden.


My favorite part of the garden was the smiling hippos.

Hippos are the official mascot of Hutto. Legend has it that a hippopotamus escaped from a circus train passing through town and the high school decided to adopt the hippo as it's mascot. Mike, a published author, tells the story better. 

I just think these hippos are so cute right down to their little painted toesies.

Hippos are officially the cutest garden art ever!


"Hahaha! Yep we're pretty cute!"

This hippo's name is Heidi. She is perfectly painted with blue bonnets and has a butterfly on her nose. She looks so happy. Looking at her makes me happy!

Heidi lives nearby this wonderful piece of glass art and adjacent container garden.

Glass prisms were the starting point of this piece constructed by Mike. Like many of his pieces, he uses found objects from Goodwill and other thrift shops.

Bye Heidi. I miss you already.

Many thanks to Mike and Donna Fowler for sharing their garden with us today.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Fence Me In

Fences are fine in theory, but in practice they block my view and slow down my ability to get from one place to another. The perimeter of our property is already fenced, but I have resisted cross-fencing over the years preferring to keep my spaces wide open.

After these little tomato plants died at the paws of my two puppies back in March, I started rethinking fences. The puppies dug and rolled around in the newly planted bed with such gusto that I knew I needed a fence and I needed a fence fast!

I rushed off to the store looking for a temporary solution. I needed a fence the I could install by myself quickly, but would still be strong enough to hold back the pups. Since the fence is only temporary, I was hoping to find something that wouldn't break the bank. The plastic fence I found fit the bill nicely and at $7.94 for 25 feet, I was thrilled.

The fence was cheap enough, but the T posts were not. The salesperson recommended I space the T posts every 6 feet, but he thought I could get away with 8 feet because the fence was so light weight. I decided to be cheap and push the distance to 12 feet. This was a mistake that I eventually had to correct.

The real mistake I made was buying 48 inch T posts for a 40 inch tall fence. Apparently, 12 inches of the post end up below the ground leaving only 36 inches to support the fence. When I realized my mistake, I was in too deep and I wasn't going back. The top is floppy, but the fence seems to be doing the job. My precious veggies are now safe.

Despite the late start this year, the garden is already on it's way to being very productive. One of the first plants to provide fruit was this yellow banana pepper.

The tomato plants are absolutely loaded with fruit this year. Sungold, a yellow cherry tomato, was the first to ripen. The first two I harvested never made it to the house.

I started my okra indoors again this year to get a head start. I harvested my first okra over the weekend, though what I'm supposed to do with one little okra remains a question mark. His little friends should be ripening soon and there's plenty of flowers for more fruit to come.

I normally don't start squash indoors, but this year I made an exception due to our crazy late cold fronts. All that work and planning paid off, because this year I got fruit before I saw my first vine borer moth. 

I recently chased one of those silly moths through the garden. I sure wish I had purchased one of those battery powered fly zappers, it would have been perfect for the job of moth assassination. I don't know if the moth managed to lay it's eggs or not, but if it did, I still have about 4 more weeks of production, which should allow for a decent harvest.

Tatuma squash is more resistant to vine borers due to it's smaller stems. Plants this vigorous will take a while for the borers to damage.

Meanwhile, there is plenty of squash ready for harvest and more on the way.

As I type, there is finally rain on the way. Many of the plants in my vegetable garden have never seen a measurable rainfall.  Isn't that crazy?

I took this cucumber picture back on May 7th. Plants like cucumbers respond very well to rainfall seemingly doubling the size of their fruit overnight. I can't wait to go pick this one tomorrow!

There's so much going on in the garden right now. Every bed is full, but soon there will be vacancies. The onions and potatoes are beginning to show signs that it's almost harvest time. The onions flop over and the potato foliage dies back indicating it's ready.

This year's onion crop has been a pleasant surprise to me. I really thought our wild temperature swings would cause the plants to flower, but that hasn't been the case. When onions flower, the bulbs tend to be smaller. These onions never flowered and the bulbs are growing right out of the ground.

Here's a little trick I thought I would try: I planted my late season lettuce in the shade of more mature plants like this chard. It's working great. I've tucked in enough lettuce for a few more salads. Who knows maybe this year I'll have lettuce and tomatoes at the same time.

The big producer this year has been the artichokes. After 4 harvests I've cut more than 50 artichokes and they just keep coming.

Thanks to my new fence this year's garden has been safe from puppies and other critters. After an armadillo recently tore up parts of the yard adjacent to the veggie garden, but left the veggie garden alone, I'm beginning to think the fence might stay.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Veggies are in the Bag

This year growing vegetables is in the bag!

Since I first saw grow bags in gardening catalogs, I've been curious to know how they would work in our Texas climate. Grow bags make lots of promises like better drainage, aeration and cooler plants, but can this thin, flimsy bag really deliver?

I purchased 6 grow bags in the 10 gallon size for my trial. I'm planting early prolific yellow straight neck squash, dark green zucchini, and petit gris de rennes melon. 

I'm using potting soil in the grow bags. Regular garden soil is too heavy for containers and compacts quickly. The soil mix I'm using is coir based, so it will stay loose and fluffy. A 50 quart bag of soil will fill a 10 gallon grow bag with some to spare.

The 109 potting mix does not contain a fertilizer, so it's important to provide the plants some food.  I'm using a mix of cotton seed meal, Lady Bug 8-2-4, and green sand as my general purpose fertilizer. In addition, I like to start my transplants off with a good starter food like Bio Tone Starter Plus or Gardenville's Rocket Fuel.

The squash plants were already pretty good-sized when I planted them on April 23rd. 

Two weeks later on May 7th, growth is similar to those planted in the ground. The yellow squash is setting fruit, with the zucchini and melons not far behind.

Speaking of the melons, they are really taking off. I decided to grow them vertically against my chicken coop. So far the girls have not shown any interest in the plants. The grow bags are tall and with all the tasty weeds growing right now, the hens run by the veggies without a glance. We'll see what happens later.

I lined the squash pots up outside the coop near my work table. The sun is good here, and I already visit the area each day when I provide fresh water to the hens. I thought this sounded like the perfect way to make sure the grow bags get watered too.

I'm always telling people that they can grow food in containers. Here's a picture of some lettuce I'm growing right now in a traditional pot. I've been moving it around trying to find a good spot. Looks like morning sun and afternoon shade is working pretty well.

If you don't have space for a big vegetable garden or you just want to try something new, perhaps the answer is in the bag!