Saturday, 20 August 2011

The Heat Record Stands!

Just about a week ago, I posted with a complaint about our dangerously hot weather.

But, we did not break the 1980 record of 42 straight days of 100 degrees or more! Mainly because of a refreshing 1/2" of rain we received last Saturday. That day, the high temperature was about 89.

Small consolation. Today, it is going to be 107 degrees again. I am experiencing extraordinary water loss from my small pond -- meaning I have to put water in it twice daily, at the least. When the temperature does not get below 84 at night, you can see where the problem is.

It's just something to endure. Perhaps we will have to endure this weather beyond Labor day. Maybe by mid-September, we will see some cooling off, hopefully at night.

Friday, 12 August 2011

The Oppressive Heat Continues in Texas

Tomorrow, August 13, if it reaches 100 degrees F or more, we will break a record here in North Texas.

The record, set back in 1980, was 42 consecutive days at or above 100 degrees. Tomorrow it will probably become 43 days.

The awful drought continues. Yesterday afternoon, it clouded up, the wind changed direction, and it cooled off a little, but we did not receive any rain.

Every so often, we just have to endure weather like this.

I don't know many people who are keeping up with gardening in this heat. It's been getting to 105 or more each day. We are going to have to start all over in the autumn.

It would be a joke to try and germinate seeds in this heat. Here's to better times with our weather!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Too Hot for Vegetable Gardening

Here's my harvest of the last couple of days. I am very thankful for ANYTHING. Yesterday, Dallas/Fort Worth reached the 100 degrees F mark for the first time.

We have been having unusually hot weather since before Memorial Day. Normally, the high in early June is around 90 or 91. Also, there is no rain in sight.

Very soon after the heat set in, the lettuce and spinach got bitter. I had to give up on both.

My cucumbers seem to be hanging on nicely, the peppers as well, and I got a few tomatoes. For the tomatoes, though, when the really hot weather hit, they were affected badly. When you have over 95 degree days, tomatoes quit setting fruit.

Also, I planted my tomatoes just a little late in the first place.

I do, however, have good tomatoes, even if they're a little pale. I believe that the Celebrity hybrid turned out the best. I like an acid-y, tangy quality in tomato taste, and mine are great.

I'm encouraged to try again in the Fall. The second go-round of tomatoes begins the last week of July. You put out new plants, which grow rapidly in the hot weather. About the time they are ready to set fruit (September), the nighttime temperatures cool off enough that this is possible. At least in theory! You need everything going your way.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

All New Square Foot Gardening: The Book That Started it All

How did I find out about square foot gardening? In a roundabout way.

I was looking at posts on a survivalist web forum, and one of the posters said she never thought she'd have the room on her small property to be a gardener -- then she found square foot gardening.

At this point, I became curious. I didn't have any experience, but gardening in small spaces appealed to me. Mel Bartholomew had a program on Public Television for many years concerning this subject. I wonder how I missed that?

So I went to the bookstore, and found the newest version of Barthomolew's book, All New Square Foot Gardening. It seems that, originally, Mel created a system of intensive gardening, but he incorporated the soil in the boxes with the existing dirt space.

That changed with his most recent system of square foot gardening.

Currently, boxes on the ground have layers of weed blocker under them. The boxes are filled with "Mel's Mix", Mr. Bartholomew's custom soil that you mix yourself using vermiculite, compost, and peat moss. None of your property's soil gets into the soil mix. That's the difference between old and new.

But virtually everything else is the same.

In this 271 page book, you'll learn everything you need to know about the SFG system. The author is thorough, patient, and though he's an engineer by training, he never assumes that you know how to do the simplest things. For instance, he gives you lots of pictures and detailed instructions on how to build your boxes. The thoroughness of his work is impressive here.

When he starts talking about various vegetables, their suitability for the SFG system, and how many squares you should plant to feed two people, he's on less steady ground. These are areas of knowledge you will build over time, based on your own observations, abilities, and the unique climate where you live.

But there is plenty here to inspire the most clueless, dumbfounded, purple-thumbed novice gardener. Some of the things that would frustrate the dickens out of a new gardener don't exist in the square foot gardening system. How beautiful.

After more than a year's experience, I still consult this book frequently. It is a wonderful buy for its price.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

When You Can't Be Organic

This has been a terrible, dreadful year for stuff sprouting up where I don't want it.

When Spring arrived, I started seeing a certain sprout many places -- even in my pond! Eventually, I searched on the web and discovered that these were maple tree seedlings. They're easy to pull up when they're only 5" tall.

The bad part was, I had a few growing among my shrubs and didn't know it. They were already at least 3 feet tall. I could tell that it would be very difficult to dig them up, because they were in some difficult to reach places, or in beds with decorative rocks.

You don't want maple tree seedlings taking hold in your yard. Believe me. You don't want an unplanned tree in a spot where it is likely to spread its roots and do damage.

Nothing against maple trees, of course. The silver maple is very popular here, and I suppose that there might be a Japanese red maple around my area, throwing its seeds into the air.

I determined that the only reasonable thing to do would be to buy some strong Roundup. I haven't used any in years, but Monsanto does have a version that is strong enough to kill poison ivy or shrubs.

I got some, and sprayed it on carefully, taking care not to get it on the other shrubs. I've now got some dead maple trees, although it took about a week to see that they were truly dead.

I'm also having more difficulty with vines that grow in my yard. I've had to dig some of them up in the front yard. They tend to send out horizontal runners, but not too deep. My front yard has a huge live oak, so the grass does not take hold well at all. This gives invasive plants a good foothold.

Once in a while, you have to do something you don't want to. I'm going to tolerate the dichondra which has invaded parts of my lawn, because it's not too objectionable. However, I can't have maple trees coming up on my property.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

At last! Kentucky Wonder Green Beans Begin to Produce

Yes, they are getting it done. Exactly 60 days after sowing the seeds, the first Kentucky Wonder green beans are showing up on my trellis.

They may be small yet, but they are present. I will post pictures when they grow big enough to eat.

Yesterday was Memorial Day, and I had company for lunch.

Here was my menu:

Baked chicken, with mushroom and sour cream gravy
Green Beans (my home-grown ones, the Roma II bush type bean)
Squash Casserole
Boiled Yukon Gold potatoes
Iced Tea

For dessert:

Blackberry crisp, warm with a scoop of ice cream. Instead of using sugar, I used agave nectar. Instead of straight brown sugar, I used the 50% brown sugar/50% Splenda mix sold in my grocery store. No one knew the difference. It was delicious.

The company was pleasant, and my green beans got rave reviews.

I love gardening. More pictures of the beans later.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Cucumbers and Yogurt: They Go Together

I just pulled my first cucumber from the garden yesterday.

As I experienced last year, my cucumbers are excellent. Last year, I sliced up the cucumbers and dipped them in homemade Hidden Valley Ranch dressing. Yum.

However, if you can get used to plain old yogurt, and you find a brand you like, the cut-up cukes are excellent mixed with yogurt, salt, and pepper. This makes an awesome dip that does not have any of the mayonnaise (or fat) of Hidden Valley dressing.

The plain yogurt I'm currently enjoying is Brown Cow yogurt. They actually produce Cream Top Brown Cow Yogurt (where the first 1/2" is a layer of cream!), but I have a feeling that's just a little too indulgent and fattening to eat every week.

The Brown Cow brand advertises that its creamy taste is superior because of the four active live cultures in its yogurt. In addition, the company never uses artificial growth hormones in the cows' feed.

Greek yogurt is also very good, and usually a lot thicker than regular yogurt.

Here is a recipe to try, using cucumbers and yogurt!

Greek Yogurt with Cucumber

1 grated cucumber
6 oz. plain Greek yogurt
1 t. prepared mustard
1 T. grated onion
1 T. fresh lemon juice
1 t. fresh dill
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel and grate the cucumber and let the excess water drain from it, or press it out. Add cucumber to the other ingredients and chill everything for at least an hour.

Makes a great pita pocket sandwich. Makes a great dip for crackers or veggies.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Water Gardening: 6 Reasons to Add a Pond to Your Back Yard


Relaxing retreat, roaring rapids, roiling rivers, or reassuring renewal?

Is there anything more enchanting than a waterfall? What kind of waterfall and mood do you wish to create? There are gently trickling water features, and then there are boisterous and splashy water flows. Your decision will be influenced by the volume of water in your pond and by the arrangement of your rocks.


Coy koi, delighted dragonflies, friendly frogs, and beautiful birds

Your pond will become a haven for beneficial insects, amphibians, and fish. Beneficial insects, frogs, and fish eat many nuisance insects that may be destroying prized plants and flowers in your back yard. Birds will appreciate having a place to get a drink, and consequently, they may be less inclined to peck those ripening tomatoes on which you’ve lavished so much time and attention.

Landscape Enhancement

Lovely lilypads, lilting lotus, lush lizards’ tail

For color, texture and interest, you cannot go wrong with water plants. Water lilies, the mainstays of your pond, are available in many pretty colors. The umbrella palm, with its tall, graceful, upright stalks adds dimension and interest to your pond. Dozens of varieties of rush feature interesting flowers, or no flowers at all, if that’s what you want.

Carefree Maintenance

Once per day (look), Once per year (clean)

You can’t believe this one. Water gardening is one of the easiest ways to carefree plants in your landscape. My pond, now in its third year, is virtually maintenance-free. I’ve noticed that the growth of the taro (elephant’s ear) has become especially vigorous in my waterfall now that it’s established. Indeed, with a pond, you may eventually grow alarmed at how your plants are taking over. But typically, your water plants will only need repotting once per year, at pond-cleaning time. Other than that, you won’t do much except make sure your pond’s water level is topped off during hot months when evaporation is high.

If you have a larger pond, many fish, and a biological filter, you’ll have to be more diligent to attend to the needs of your fish, and your filter will need regular cleaning. The truly stunning water features require a little more work and care.

Property Values

Selling feature, simple addition, shrewd investment

Many years ago, everyone wanted a swimming pool in his/her back yard. Long ago, my realtor told me that a swimming pool on the property made a house sell faster, even if it didn’t add a lot to the price of a house. In today’s economy, however, this is increasingly not the case. With the declining U. S. real estate market, it may be very difficult to recoup your investment in a pool, and many people do not want the expense and maintenance of a swimming pool. Once installed, a pond adds a charming water feature at a fraction of the cost of a pool, and with far less maintenance required. It is even possible for you to build your own pond, and thus save more on your investment – which brings me to the last point.

Emotional Rewards

Salutary, salubrious, subtle support

Many of the award-winning ponds in my area were built by women. One woman I know of remarked that building a pond is a soul-enhancing, therapeutic adventure.
First you do all the construction – the building of the waterfall with its interesting rocks, the digging of the pond and placement of the liner. You place small plants in the water and bless them as they send out their roots in hesitant communication. You watch, stupefied, as, within days, your water turns the color of pea-green soup, the result of microscopic algae. Then you observe, as, magically, about two weeks later, the chemistry balances, and your water turns sparkling clear. In time, your plants take off, and you may be thrilled by the appearance of that attractive green moss on the boulders in your waterfall. Your pond has become its own quiet eco-system, ever-changing in response to life, pulsating with surprises year after year.
I can’t think of a better reason to have a pond.

Third photo in this article is from Everything Fishy. Used by permission.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

The Gardens in Mid-May

Firstly, here is the water garden. It's coming along well, and the second water lily that I got last year is near to blooming. I've got more overhang from a peach tree this year, and this means more shade for the pond, but it can use it in the afternoon. Obviously I've got enough solar rays to make the lily bloom.

Next are the yellow pear tomatoes, an heirloom variety that measures about 2 inches long. When the tomato plant comes with a sticker that reads, "Maturity in 78 days," it isn't kidding. And frankly, I've found that it usually takes longer -- especially since we've been having nighttime temperatures below 55 degrees. Those unseasonably cool nights will just mean that the tomatoes will take longer to ripen, and new fruit longer to set. Oh well, one must be patient.

Why grow yellow pear tomatoes? Well, I think they make perfect dog treats, don't you? I can just see Meadow now, licking her mouth in anticipation!

Next we have the vining plants -- Kentucky Wonder green beans and cucumbers. There is no better green bean in this world than Kentucky Wonder, another heirloom vegetable. And because it has that attribute, the vines will take longer to produce, unlike my bush beans which have little beans on the stalks already.

Finally, we have the pepper plants. The first to produce is the lilac pepper bush. They say that the fruit will turn from lavender to red; however, I think the color this moment is more of a purple-black. A most unusual color!

Friday, 13 May 2011

More Pond Woes

Well, it's been about three months since we fixed the leak in the vinyl liner where the rat had chewed a hole.

I had the exterminator out, we put out rat bait boxes at strategic spots, and after two months of setting the bait, what happened?

That's right -- another rat chew on the waterfall liner, except a bigger hole, and harder to patch.

Today, when my pond servicer was here, I decided to look inside the bait boxes. There are 4 of them in all, and I checked 3 boxes. They were installed two months ago, but just about all of the bait is gone!

This means that Clint's comment about the bait lasting about 3 months was off, a little. It looks like I am going to have to check the boxes every month.

What a bad year for rodents!

Clint also says you can tell what kind of year it will be for squirrels and rats by noting the number of acorns falling, the abundance of pecans, and the availability of the fruit harvest. When conditions are optimal, you get more rodents.

Also, the winter was very dry, and that makes the rats show up more -- especially in an aquatic environment like a pond. Likely, the bait drew many rats from the neighborhood.

We will be installing new bait next week. A pain it may be, but I'll have to check the boxes more often, and add more as necessary. In the meantime, Alice says that the patch she put on the liner is probably going to fail before too long. It is very likely that I'll need to get part of a new liner, up to the point where the dropoff on the waterfall is. This is likely going to cost $175 - $200.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Sunburned Peppers: How to Keep Burned Spots from Forming on Peppers

When you live in Texas, you experience much stronger solar rays, because of our location closer to the equator.

When I first saw the bad spot on the bell pepper pictured here, I sought information from a farmer. She told me, "Your pepper is sunburned, but you'll be fine!"

Well, that was some consolation. At least my pepper was not experiencing a blight or fungus. But what to do?

There is a product called Cloud Cover, which, when sprayed on the plant or its fruit, acts as a sunscreen, and prevents sunburn. I did try the product (or something similar), but I waited too late. You're supposed to spray it on the young fruit, for the best results.

Below is a photo of my pathetic attempts to shade the peppers on a hot July day. Hint: the shade cloth is great, but different attempts to rig it as you see here were not effective. The wind took care of my "tent". It wouldn't stay in place.

I now have experience, and I will once again try the Cloud Cover product when the plants are less mature.

If products don't work for you, take heart! As you can see, from the picture here, eventually your pepper plants will grow really big. What will happen is the upper branches and leaves of the plants will shade fruit on the lower branches, and you'll have some peppers without the ugly sunburned spots. Yep, it really does work out in the end.

Also, if you let your peppers produce a second time in the autumn, the sun should be somewhat less powerful, indeed.

Beau: Remembering an Old Friend

This is my little friend, Beau, who died two years ago.

I'm feeling nostalgic today, and I always liked this photo of him, which was probably taken in Spring 2007, right next to my pond.

Beau was a schnauzer/Lhasa apso mix and my favorite dog of all time. After I retired, I was finally able to take him on walks each day, and I believe the last six months of his life were much happier. He had my poodle for company, but I believe he also needed humans reassuring him and spending as much time with him as they could spare.

Beau was a calm, sweet, imperturbable dog -- with a temperament far more Lhasa than schnauzer, although he looked like a schnauzer in many ways. The only schnauzer personality characteristic that he seemed to have was making little grunts and groans of contentment when you petted him. Beau was fine around most strangers, but did not offer instant affiliation with them the way Tessy always did. In a large gathering, if my husband or I were around, Beau stuck close to us.

At the dog park one day with Beau and Tessy, a stranger remarked to me about Beau, "That dog is very protective of you." I had never noticed Beau's body language!

Beau died very suddenly at an animal care emergency clinic. Though I was sorrowful at his death, somehow I felt prepared for it. And I can confidently report that a sudden loss is better than a long, drawn-out illness with a pet.

Beau, the circumstances and story of my acquiring you from the animal shelter weren't promising to begin with, but you brought me much pleasure and company over the 7 years you lived with me. I'll never forget being blessed in your love and devotion.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Nylon Trellising for Climbing Garden Plants

Climbing and vining plants -- cucumbers, cantalopes, pole beans, etc. -- can be a problem when you have limited space.

I had heard of nylon trellising from Mel Bartholomew's book, but I could not find any in my nursery stores here in the Metroplex.

I finally went to Amazon, and found Dalen Gardeneer brand nylon trellising. I bought a 30-foot length to experiment with. As you can see from the picture, there is plenty of room in the trellis open spaces to stick your hand in, and start training your vining plants. I have nailed mine to my backyard fence, and fastened the ties to the nails. The picture shown is my yellow pear tomato plants and my one Better Boy hybrid tomato plant.

Particularly with tomatoes, there is always the newest thing that we hot weather vegetable growers must try. In the south, every gardener has his own method of growing tomatoes -- from tomato cages to the "topsy-turvy" tomato of television ad fame.

I have a feeling that my vines are going to be somewhat unruly, but I'll try anyway. Bartholomew says that the nylon trellising is very strong -- strong enough to support cantalopes and large squashes. But be forewarned. For that kind of crop, you're going to need a tremendous amount of strength and support. That means staking rebar in the ground, and slipping electrical conduit pipes over the exposed rebar to form a supporting structure. I think I'll stick with lightweight vegetables.

Here is a link to the nylon trellising product:

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Spring is Here and So Is the String Algae in the Pond

I got my pond cleaned much earlier than usual this spring.

And the string algae also showed up sooner than I would have preferred.

I think that this type of algae is very common in the spring, but some years seem worse than others. 2011 is definitely a year for string algae.

Pond owners shouldn't panic when this happens. In the picture provided, the algae really looks gunky and yucky, but it will not stick around forever! As it gets warmer, it will decline.

There's not much one can do with this algae, except remove it manually. It's awfully difficult to do with your hands because of the slime, but you can get a large net or brush, attach it to a long pole, and then try wrapping the algae around the brush as you rotate the pole. Once you've captured a fair amount, try lifting the pole out of the water.

Is there a use for string algae, pond scum, sludge, or slime? Yes. Pond scum is a living, growing thing, with plenty of organic matter -- especially if you have fish in your pond. You can use the muck and scum as a compost for your nitrogen-loving vegetables. Vegetables such as spinach, lettuce, and chard will like the stuff, indeed.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Raised Bed or Square Foot Gardening Trends in America

No doubt about it. Intensive gardening, or square foot gardening, is growing more popular in the U.S. How do I know this?

The other day, I visited a large general store (also known as a feed store). Ordinarily, I wouldn't have any problem obtaining bags of earthworm castings. However, when I requested one bag, the store owner informed me that a lady had just come into the store and purchased every bag he had. I had to wait several days until their truck came by with another delivery.

The owner told me that "everyone is doing raised beds this year." And, yes, to get the 8 cubic feet of dirt required for a square foot garden, you need a fair amount of compost, assuming you don't make your own. You also need vermiculite and peat moss.

I also went over to Home Depot recently, and they have some lovely cedar square foot gardening kits for your raised beds, for $34.95 each. Personally I think this is a good price, especially if you're getting cedar. All of the lumber comes with pre-drilled holes for easy assembly. If you've ever assembled a box, you know how much this is appreciated! Also, the kits have those lovely corner pieces that look very professional and finished.

Hmmmm.... I just might have to buy a couple of them.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The Use of Nylon Net in Square Foot Gardening

Nylon net is a useful and versatile thing to have around the house. And, as I found out, around the garden.

I just planted this table-top square foot garden last week with green beans. Unfortunately, I found footprints in my garden, and some of the green bean seeds displaced!

Could it have been a squirrel? Well, either that, or a possum leaping down to the box. At least twice this week, the pesky possum that I saw a few weeks ago is back to terrorize my dogs -- and who knows what else. The possum could be using the table-top box as a jumping off point. In one of my table-top gardens, though, I found pecan shells, so that tells me that at least one squirrel is looking to bury a pecan or an acorn. In fact, I saw at least 12-14 places around the yard this spring where a buried pecan had sprouted.

Well, nylon net works quite well to protect the garden, at least when it is in that delicate status of germination/young seedling. You can water very easily, and your plants will get plenty of light.

What else is nylon net good for? If you can figure out a way to drape or tent it properly, it will keep cabbage moths away from your broccoli or cabbage. They can't lay their eggs that produce caterpillars unless they have a good landing spot on your prized plants.

On the other hand, if you want to see options to purchase or use nylon trellising for your climbing plants, go here:

Trellising for Plants

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Yellow Squash or Zucchini Squash Casserole Recipe

Squash is just one of those vegetables which needs some seasoning or flavoring. In North America, we're not yet into the growing season for summer or crookneck squash (normally, that's early summer). If you are finding squash now in the supermarket, very likely it doesn't have much flavor, and it may have been grown in Mexico or in a greenhouse.

But, all is not lost. At any time of the year, if you locate summer squash or zucchini squash at the market, you can prepare this great casserole. I've been making this dish since my post-college days.

The beauty of it is that you can bake it in the regular oven, or even microwave this small casserole to get the ingredients to firm up properly.

Note: What I learned from my mother or sister, I keep very loose. Meaning, I'm not that picky and fussy about ingredients being exact. Over time, if I make a dish quite often, I simply eyeball my ingredients, and figure out what looks right! This dish nearly always turns out perfect anyway.

Here it is:

4 medium yellow crookneck squash (or 3 large zucchini squash)
2 to 3 T. chopped onion
1 T. butter
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
Some grated cracker crumbs (Ritz or Waverly Wafers, saltines, or your choice)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Cut up the squash. Coarsely chop the onions. Put the squash and chopped onions in a saucepan with water, and boil it until the squash is just beginning to turn tender (don't overcook!) Drain the squash. Put it into a glass, pyrex, or Corning Ware oven dish (I use a one-quart dish).

Add the butter to the squash and mix until the butter is melted. Add the beaten egg to the squash and stir together. Salt and pepper the squash to your taste.

Add the grated cheese to the squash and stir everything together.

Crush the crackers. Sprinkle a layer of cracker crumbs over the squash.

Cover the dish, and bake in a 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until everything is set. Or, put the dish into the microwave oven, and cook on high for about 5 minutes. If you like your dish very browned on top, you can stick it under the broiler for a short time to get the top crispy.

This dish makes about 3 decent-sized servings. Keeps well.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Annual Flowers from Seed

Today I planted an old-fashioned mix of annual flowers.

I just hate putting nursery transplants in the ground. In perhaps half the time, I broadcast seed from 8 packets of Ferry-Morse spring annuals into my small front bed.

And, I did it with a heavy hand. After all, this is Texas, and I can't imagine that all of the 16 seed types mentioned on the packet will germinate.

I suspect that the zinnias, cosmos, and marigolds will win out over the poppies, bachelor buttons, and strawflowers.

And, frankly, I have never heard of godetia, clarkia, and gypsophila. Off to Google Images to look these up!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

What Can I Cook With Lots of Peppers?

Here's a picture of a few of the peppers I grew last summer and fall.

Don't they look great? They ripen unevenly and at their own pace. You can sure tell the difference between them and store-bought ones. I'll definitely be putting in more pepper plants this year.

But what can you do when you have too many peppers?

Fortunately, chopped peppers freeze well. You don't have to blanch them before putting them in your freezer, either.

My favorite dish to cook these days is hashed brown potatoes with chopped peppers. I use to avoid trying this because the potatoes stuck to the pan.

However, with the product called Simply Potatoes Shredded Hashed Browns, by Crystal Farms, which is found in the refrigerator case of the supermarket, I can whip up great hashed browns -- and use very little oil, as well.

Simply Potatoes come pre-grated. All you do is take what you want out of the bag and dump them into the pan.

Here's how. I take 1 tablespoon of olive oil and heat it in a large skillet. When it's hot, I add about 1/4 cup of chopped peppers. (You could also add some chopped onion, if you like). I let the peppers saute for a minute or two, then I add half a bag of the Simply Potatoes. Everything cooks on medium heat. You let your potatoes brown about 5 minutes, and then turn them over with a spatula and cook them on the opposite side.

Half a bag of potatoes makes 2 good-sized servings of hash browns.

That's all there is to it! I never seem to have problems with sticking, and with only 1 T. of oil for two servings, these are considerably less greasy than the hashed browns you'd find at McDonald's or your favorite breakfast spot.

I'm off to make some right now.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Schnauzer Babe, You are Falling Down on the Job!

Meadow, climbing on my waterfall.

Well, I did indeed have a leak in my pond's waterfall, and guess how that happened?

A rat chew! Rats squeezed into a slight opening along the margins of the vinyl waterfall liner, made a nest, and eventually got bored, and chewed a hole in my liner. According to Alice, this happens sometimes when we have had very dry weather.

I knew that, in the past, some kind of "wildlife" was underneath the rocks in my waterfall, because Meadow sometimes would go over to the waterfall, and paw and snort frantically. We were able to look for the leak very specifically once I told Alice that Meadow was interested in the right side of the waterfall.

Meadow, girlfriend, you're supposed to be a working dog where rodents are concerned!

Below, right in the center of the liner, you can see the hole where all the water was going. Luckily, the hole was in a place where the liner could be patched easily on both sides. Leak is now gone.

The pond also got a good cleaning, with a serious dividing and cut-back of its plants. Below are two pictures, (1) the empty pond, and (2) the pond cleaned and re-filled, with everything looking bare! It will take a while for it to green up again.

And I am happy to say that many, if not all, of the mosquito fish survived the winter.

Monday, 14 February 2011

More About Pond Water Loss

I don't know what I'd do without Alice, the aquarium expert and fish pond lady. Whenever she and her crew come out to clean my pond and re-stock it, I always stick around in the back yard. There is a lot to learn just listening to her.

Alice emailed last night, and told me to shut off the pump to the waterfall. Let no water circulate for 24 hours, and if the water level in the pond stays full, then there is a leak in the vinyl liner in my waterfall.

Did it. So far so good. Will check again tomorrow morning.

I was a little disappointed not to see my mosquito fish in the pond. Maybe they all died during the cold weather. Well, no matter -- they are cheap if I need to stock the pond again. It's always something.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Water Loss in My Pond

To the right: The pond at the Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine, Texas

For several weeks now, I've been having increasing water loss from my pond. All my usual remedies haven't done anything to slow it down.

I'm losing 1.5 to 2 inches per day from the pond. I'd like to blame it on last week's horrible weather with its snow and ice, but the problem actually started weeks before that.

I do have a gunite and plaster constructed pond, and how and why it became a pond is a story that you can read from the earliest posts in this blog. Could it be that I have developed a crack in the gunite? I may not know that until we get spring weather and I can drain my pond.

I tried to cover the basics of water loss in a pond in this summary , but I may not know everything.

I wish everything looked as nice as the pond in the above photo. Sigh....

Sunday, 6 February 2011

A Garden Harvest Basket

This is the harvest basket I recently purchased. I am most pleased with its quality, and I found out that the company which makes it is called Barber's Baskets. Their baskets have been featured in many magazines, as well as chosen for the set of the movie Julie & Julia.

See my review of garden harvest baskets .

Friday, 4 February 2011

Parsnips -- This Month's Vegetable

What a great winter vegetable. Parsnips. I'll never be able to grow them because of our warmer climate. But they are a good root vegetable for gardeners with a short growing season. The rest of us can buy parsnips at the supermarket.

Parsnips are sweeter than carrots and cook faster, too. To me, they are sort of a cross between a sweet potato and a turnip.

I have eaten parsnips cooked with a pot roast. Where you normally would use carrots, use parsnips instead. Along with onions and maybe potatoes.

Lately, I've been eating boiled parsnips with butter.

As you can see, there is not one vegetable that I don't like!

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Hidden Triggers in Food

Another wrinkle with the New Year, 2011!

For a few weeks, I've been noticing that every time I eat chocolate truffles, I get a headache the next day. I usually only eat 2 or 3 truffles at a time, and that is enough to satisfy me.

I believe that I may be afflicted with the migraine syndrome, but in a sort of mild way. Once in a while, I suffer with dull headaches that no pain reliever will help. The headaches last 2 or 3 days.

But there's no escaping the connection with the chocolate. In both cases, I ate chocolate that was imported from France. Yum, ummy.... and these latest truffles (hazelnut) are the best I've ever tasted.

Not all chocolates are the same, though. It turns out that I may be sensitive to phenylethylamine, a chemical in chocolate.

Or it might be some other ingredient. I should check.

But I know that red wine and chocolate are definitely, in some people, responsible for triggering migraines.

I wrote about the connection between vasomotor rhinitis (which I have) and migraine. My doctor was the one who mentioned this connection.

See my article on vasomotor rhinitis .

What can I do? Well, white chocolate might be a wonderful choice for an alternate sweet. White chocolate is simply cocoa butter that doesn't have any of the chemicals contained in the cocoa bean. There are some very good white chocolate bars with coconut.

Lindt Lindor Truffles White Chocolate, 60-Count BoxMilka White Chocolate, 3.52-Ounce Bars (Pack of 10)Ghirardelli Chocolate Sweet Ground White Chocolate, 3 lbs.thinkThin White Chocolate Chip, 2.1-Ounce Bar (Pack of 10)Toblerone White Chocolate, 3.52-Ounce Bars (Pack of 12)

Monday, 31 January 2011

My Live Oak Tree

It's just had a rather severe pruning this month. The tree surgeon told me that winter is the time to do this.

Geoffrey ("G" as he is known) remarked that my live oak tree looked more healthy than most of the oak trees he's seen at this time of year. Why?

He asked me if I used commercial fertilizer, and I said "Never."

So there you have it. All that agonizing over nothing. 'Tis better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. Well, I never loved at all. The lawn grass in my front yard just never would thrive, even when my mighty oak was a little sapling.

G said that the homeowners who put all their energies into maintaining a lush lawn with the use of commercial fertilizer usually pay for it with the health of their trees. He commented that the leaves on my tree are big and healthy. "There is two years of energy in that oak tree", he said.

So I just need to feel vindicated, and realize that grass is just never going to grow under my tree. But I've got the best shade tree in my neighborhood.

Just another benefit of going organic.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Heirloom Beets

Around the first week of December 2010, I harvested my Detroit Red beets, which I had grown from seed beginning 9/28/10. They were supposed to take 45-60 days, but the roots seemed a little slow to develop, as is so typical for heirloom types. I was advised to wait to harvest close to Christmas, but I knew that wouldn't work for me, so I pulled them up on December 7.

If you look at the below picture of my square foot garden, I had planted 8 squares of beets. And with my harvest, how many servings did I actually get? About 4 to 5. My biggest beets were somewhat larger than a golf ball.

But they tasted very good indeed. They were worth the wait. I'd certainly grow them again, but I believe it would be worth experimenting with hybrid varieties.

I hear you saying, "I'm just too impatient to wait two or three months for beets!!"

I understand, and if you don't like the idea, why not grow the beets simply for their greens? You'll have green tops worth harvesting for a few months, and very quickly, too. If you go this route, this is basically all you'll get from the plants, but it will be the gift that "keeps on giving."

How do you cook beet greens?

Well, you can cook them like spinach, add them to mixtures of other greens like kale or turnip greens, or cook them this way: Add a little olive oil, vinegar, and a small bit of sugar to a saucepan, let it get hot, and add your greens and let them wilt in the saucepan. You can add bits of bacon as well. They are great this way. Or just use bacon grease in place of the olive oil.

Behold, 8 squares of Detroit beets: