Saturday, May 3, 2014

Wildflowers, mud bugs, thunderstorms, and Easter eggs.

Wow, what an eventful month we've had! After what seemed like a long and very cold winter the weather finally warmed up and those famous Texas wildflowers started peaking out above the grasses. We could finally shed the heavy coats and gloves and stop complaining about how cold it is, and start complaining about how hot it is!

We've enlarged the garden considerably, since this year we'll be here all summer to take care of it. Gardening here, in Hill Country, is an interesting challenge. Most of the soil is heavy clay, or very rocky, with occasional seams of nice topsoil. Of course, the topsoil never seems to be where you actually want to plant something, so that means trucking in dirt to fill raised beds. We bought a couple of yards of garden soil mix to fill the new planting area and crossed our fingers. You never know how good the mix is, or how well the plants will like it. The veggies we started in pots were anxious to get their feet in the ground, so they were set out in the garden early in the month, in spite of threatened cold snaps. At least with a few green things in the ground it actually LOOKED like a garden, so we were encouraged.

Sisters Dawn and Darlene arrived on the first Sunday of the month, and we had a busy week, alternating family visits with a bit of touring. One of our outings was a day trip to the little historic German settlement of Gruene.
Our first stop was the Smiling Eyes studio for an old-time photo session to record our mini reunion. The photographer prompted us to give him a bit of "attitude", and this was the result.

The umbrella I'm holding was my grandmothers. It's a bit faded now, but recorded for history! the photo session was fun. It's hard to resist hamming it up a bit wearing hats like that!

Gruene is always beautiful in the spring. The shops all have beautifully planted flower beds, and the contrast with the many cactus plants is pure Texas. The shops are fun to browse, and we had lunch in the River House Tea Room - good food, and very relaxing.

A few days later we visited the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center. While this year is not the absolute best for wildflowers in our area, it is certainly better than last year. What little rain we had was well time, and the bluebonnets were looking pretty good along the roadsides, so I know there would be some nice displays in the center.
The center is always a treat to visit in the spring, with many plants well labeled so I can add to my knowledge of local natives. Happy wildlife is settled in, knowing they are safe from predators, if not from all our cameras.

A mother owl greeted us at the entryway, as she guarded her little owlets high up on the shelf over the pathway, swiveling her head around at intervals to see if we were all still lurking below.

The turtles in the pond didn't seem to mind us all snapping their photo, but I'm not too sure the owl was happy about it! After touring the garden displays we enjoyed a nice lunch in the center's cafe, and of course, paid our respects in the gift shop! I came away with some interesting little "seed bombs" - mud balls filled with bluebonnet seed, that I'll be tossing out this fall. The seed bomb concept has promise, as there isn't always a lot of soil for a wildflower seed to get its toes into, so I may mix up some dirt and seeds and make some of my own.

We made plenty of time for playing with Jax during their visit. Jax showed off his driving skills during a visit to the kids' house, and he helped us with gardening and showed Dawn how his tractors worked the day he visited us.

Dawn and Darlene left for home on Saturday - too bad, as they missed the CENTX AMVETS post's   first annual crawfish feed.  Variously known as crayfish, crawdads, mud bugs, yabbies (in Australia) . .  and some people just call them bait! Interesting little crustaceans, turning from a dark reddish brown to bright red as they come out of the pot. Jax watched one crawling around in a box and decided he was having none of that! So while we munched our crawdads, he happily nibbled his sausage and potato.

There's a particular art to eating these miniature lobsters, which I confess we aren't quite masters of, but the event was fun, and the food good - a whole plate full of "mud bugs", sausage, potato and corn.  Music was provided by Alan, one of the post members, giving the event a real party atmosphere. Tents and the partly cloudy skies made the day very comfortable too. A great finish to a very busy week.

The next day thunderstorms boiled up on the horizon.

Thunderstorms this time of year quite often come with damaging hail, so tender plants are at great risk of being pounded flat. Fearing the damage a hailstorm would cause, we scurried around protecting all the newly planted tomatoes and peppers. Sheets and blankets, lawn chairs and wire cages to hold them up, it was quite a sight!

The temperatures dropped so low that even with the coverings it's possible the okra was chilled. It doesn't like anything under 50 degrees, but we won't know for awhile whether it was affected or not.  Fortunately we escaped with no damage, though the garden looked a bit strange until we removed all the protective coverings.

Several cold nights later in the month prompted us to cover everything up again..... and.... inspired us to not plant so early again! I guess we got spoiled with our first year of gardening here as we planted in March and had perfect weather until we started harvesting in late April. It doesn't look like this year's weather is going to be that cooperative.

This was Jax's first year for an Easter Egg Hunt, and he wasn't totally sure what was going on. He started finding, and collecting, the eggs without adult assistance and promptly decided they looked like something he could throw into the bird water barrel to see if it could float. He had about a dozen eggs floating in the little barrel before we could get to him and explain what they were. Once Skot showed him there was candy, and other goodies, inside the eggs he was all for it. Unfortunately this Grandma almost blew it with a rubber lizard that jumped out of one egg and scared the daylights out of the poor little guy. He got over it, but, no more lizards in the Easter Eggs!

Kendra was doing a blog post about Honey Baked ham and related products, so she provided most of the dinner - a delicous honey baked ham, sweet potatoes, and carrot cake for desert!
All we had to do was whip up a couple of sides, and some bunny rolls.
That left us plenty of time to visit with the kids and Skot's parents. The perfect Sunday afternoon!

The next day we were back to gardening - Steve was determined we needed a peach tree. So, Sam Houston peach tree purchased, we dug a test hole and filled it with water to check the drainage. Three days later the hole was still full of water. Ah, hill country clay. Lovely stuff.

So, we moved uphill a bit and tried again. This time the hole eventually drained, but we still felt we needed to provide additional drainage. A planter box was constructed and filled with some of the garden soil we saved back for the purpose. Then we settled Sam into the hole. Hopefully he'll adjust and make us lots of peaches in years to come.

This kind of project is known as the "begats".... and the way most of our projects work. A simple thing, plant a tree, turns into a two week project. Oh yeah, I forgot the part about having to cut down a dead tree and two small trees that were also in the way. That only took a full day, not counting the day off to rest our back muscles. And people wonder what we do for entertainment around here!

The birds have returned and started families out is the brushy perimeter of the yard. They're eating us out of house and home, so I hope they are raising lots of baby birds! One of Jax's jobs when he visits is to
help fill the feeders, and it seems they are always empty the days he visits.

The squirrels enjoy all the seed the birds knock to the ground, and Shiner enjoys chasing the squirrels, so we get lots of entertainment for our bird-seed-bucks!

Every year seems to feature a different critter in prodigious quantities. One year it was walking stick bugs, one year it was cicadas. This year seems to be the year of the rabbit. Though we knew they were around we hadn't seen one in the yard during the day before, (only in night shots with the trail cam). They've gotten brave this year, dashing here and there in the middle of the day, and Shiner has discovered them, so she has a new outdoor hobby - track that rabbit! She can't hardly keep her mind on chasing the ball as their scent is everywhere!

May will be filled with gardening and hopefully a short trip locally. It looks like we'll be having nice weather for enjoying all the outside activities!  For more and larger versions of the photos in this post, check the album.