Sunday, May 9, 2010

Midnight marauder

Apparently all the food consumption and general chaos in the garden shed that I had attributed to the squirrels was, in part, the work of these little guys....

This is probably the mother raccoon.... and she appears to be looking around for her companion. He's probably still rooting around in the garden shed, looking to see what he can get in to there.

In the next shot, five minutes later, you can just barely see the curved back of the little one in the V where the two tree trunks come together.

Note on the time stamp, the two photos were taken about five minutes apart.

The last shot shows the young one (based on the skinny tail) heading over the tree.

Between the two of them they cleaned out the squirrel feeder box, which was stuffed full of bread scraps, leftover chips, and other goodies. There were two very dry hamburger buns in the basket feeder on the left side of the post, and they were gone in the morning, but are still there in the last photo so apparently they took a last turn around the buffet before giving up for the evening. I left 5 dry muffins for them in the garden shed last night and they were all gone this morning, so they are eating pretty well!

I don't leave food out every night - don't want them to get too dependent. I'm sure they visit the compost heap, and many of our neighbors have chickens, feed their dogs outside, etc. so I'm sure the grazing is pretty good around here.

So much for the myth that they need water to eat. I've never seen even a crumb in any of the outside water dishes and they seem to do a way with a lot of food without it. These photos were taken with our trail cam, which was hanging in a tree a few feet away.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Container gardening

Our place here in Hill Country is situated pretty much on rock - if it isn't rock, it's caliche clay, which is like glue when wet and like rock when dry. In other words, this is not a gardener's paradise, at least as far as soil quality goes. So, I thought since we are only here for a short time I'd put together a couple of little container gardens that we can move to Kendra's house when we leave. We'll see how that plan works.

In the meantime I'm harvesting Swiss chard and herbs, and now, a few weeks after I planted them, the tomato plants each have several fruit set on. So far the grasshoppers are ignoring them. The little beasts do seem to like marigolds however. The marigolds I planted around the edges, hoping for nice bright color for the wedding, have gotten smaller every day, some disappearing totally overnight. There are also large chunks out of the morning glory leaves, and I suspect grasshoppers in both cases. I've found large caterpillars on the wild grape ivy, but none on these two plants. Here are the pots as they looked a week ago, so they're even more filled out now.
There are morning glories in each planter that are now twining up on the porch railings, and hollyhocks creeping over the front edges. The planters are just storage tubs with drainage holes drilled in the bottom. I feed weak liquid fertilizer at least once a week so the plants are really taking advantage of the warm days and growing quickly.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Texas tropics

When you mention Texas most people envision vista's of dust and sagebrush. That may be the case in some areas, but not here at the edge of Hill Country. The year we bought the place Kendra had to deal with 12 foot tall giant ragweed (that is not a Texas boast - just fact!). This year my nemesis is bedstraw. This trailing weed not only  stretches for six feet or more from the center of the rosette, but all the leaves and seeds are covered with minuscule Velcro-like hooks - not a good combination with long haired dogs for one thing, and we've had such warm weather that coupled with the rain, this stuff is drowning out all the other wildflowers. I've pulled pounds of it and filled up the compost multiple times - I know I can't win, but I can put up a good fight! (Kinda like fighting the squirrels!) Other plants grow like crazy too. We had drizzly weather for a couple of weeks, but very temperate temperatures, so it was hard to mow, but things kept growing!

We're still tracking which wildflowers show up in our yard, and when, so I can map the best places to encourage next year and recognized them by their leaves. If  you wait until they bloom sometimes it's hard then to time the cutting so the bad ones don't have a chance to go to seed. I have a hard time getting to town without stopping to take photos. I took this one two weeks ago. The bluebonnets lasted nearly a month this year, due to all that drizzly weather no doubt, but they are all but gone this week. Only a few patches remaining here and there, but now the red and yellow flowers, like blanket flower, are blooming. As a result of Ladybird Johnson's emphasis on wildflowers all the roadsides are planted and just bloom like crazy until the summer heat really hits. Each day is a little different as the varieties bloom in succession.

We let some of the areas around the edges of the yard go unmowed for several weeks to see what would come up - you can see how much growth there was - this is Steve working with the DR mower - what a super machine.
I love it! It will take down a 3" sapling with no questions asked. As we have some areas in back that haven't exactly been "groomed" it's valuable for getting the area ready for the riding mower. It rides up over fallen logs and rocks that would damage the mower blade, but it is a little effort to follow it around, and you can't drink an iced tea while driving it like you can a riding mower!

Meet W.C. Fargo

Our new toy, dubbed W.C. (for wood chuck) Fargo. We picked it up a couple of weeks ago over in Bellville, a couple of hours drive east of here. It was a really nice drive, through the wildflowers and pine trees (yes, Texas has pine trees. These are loblolly pines.)

We loaded the tractor on the flatbed and took it over to the dealer so we could be sure all the attachments were adjusted correctly, which turned out to be a really good plan, as several things had to be adjusted. We set it up a few days later and went to work on the trimmings that had been waiting, and were really happy with the results. It's rather ironic that I was so enthusiastic about having property "with trees!!" and now we are putting so much energy into cutting them down! But only some of them . . .and the dead limbs.

The place had been rather neglected as far as regular pruning for a long time, so there's a lot to catch up on, both for the health of the trees and for fire prevention purposes. Here, you can see the setup with W.C. attached to the back of the tractor, and the chute feeding into the lawn tractor trailer.
We have the generator mounted in the other lawn tractor trailer (we have His and Hers lawn tractors) so one of us can run the chain saw or pruning saw to cut trimmings or to get them down to the right size to run through the chipper. In the background here you can see one of the older mesquites. They have long snaky limbs and very feathery foliage and are a joy to watch when the breezes blow.

We chipped some of the mesquite trimmings separately from other woods so we could save them for smoking. The results are a nice medium chip, great for smoking as well as for mulching flowerbeds. The whole process is a bit of work, but the chipper is going to be a real asset, as with frequent bans on burning there's no other way to get rid of the amount of wood we need to eliminate.