The garden explodes.

Well, summer is officially here, and with it, all kinds of fun new discoveries–well, some fun, some not so fun.  So much has happened since last time!  Where to start?

For starters, my semi-xeriscaped plot bloomed last month.  Since it’s a brand new garden and I let a rogue squash overrun a huge part of it, it was a small affair, but I got some prettypretty flowers from it nonetheless.  Here are a few examples:

 

The veggie plot, on the other hand, has had a rough time of it.  I harvested all my spring veggies and put in my started summer seeds, but they’ve really been struggling.  First of all, I’ve been gone a lot, housesitting for various clients, so I’ve missed a day of watering here and there.  The little babies don’t handle that too well, so I’ve lost a lot to just drying out.

But more devastating than that, the caterpillars have been out in full force.  They left my one remaining adult chard alone, and haven’t really bothered the baby tomatoes or cucumbers, but have devastated all the kale, both young and old, the fennel, the carrots, and the brussels sprouts.  I get that the baby plants are more susceptible, so that’s to be expected somewhat, but they really seem to have it out for my kale.  I found this gorgeous guy on my adult kale a couple of weeks ago:

He was so purdy that I didn’t want to kill him, so I just relocated him and everything was fine for a while.  The kale looked hale and hearty, as it does in the photo above.  But then, in the span of one day, it was completely reduced to its skeleton by these little fuckers:

WHAT ARE YOU, YA LITTLE BASTARD?!

My pinky finger next to two of the culprits, for size comparison.

I pulled 100+ off just the one kale plant – or what was left of it – and then ended up just pulling the whole kale because they had destroyed it.  I was hoping to not have to put any insecticides on my veggies – natural or otherwise – but it’s becoming obvious that I’m going to have to do something.

Don’t get me wrong: I love me some butterflies, and I’ve been so excited to see them flitting around my garden.  Some monarchs were hanging around my butterfly weed and passion vine, as well as a host of other species.  But since I’m no entomologist, I have no idea what the other species are/were.  I found this little one dead in my plumeria pot:

I wonder where she laid her eggs?  Is she responsible for the death of my kale?  Or was she populating my passion vine?  Because not long after I found her, I found these, and many others:

Chrysalis!

Orange and black spiky caterpillar!

These little orange and black guys have eaten the shit out of my passion vine, but that’s what they’re supposed to do, so I’m ok with that.  If only you could explain to caterpillars that everything in the garden is at their disposal except for the vegetables.  *sigh*  Then I wouldn’t have to smoosh any of them.

But you know what’s even better than butterflies?  Praying mantids.  That’s what.  When I was in 4H in high school, I took an entomology class, and the teacher asked each of us what our favorite insect was.  The boys were all, “Beatles! Roaches! Wasps! Spiders!”  The girls were all, “Ladybugs! Butterflies!”  I said, “Praying mantids.”  The teacher’s face lit up, and he said, “You should be an entomologist!  Every entomologist loves mantids.”  THAT’S BECAUSE THEY’RE AWESOME, 4H ENTOMOLOGY TEACHER.  Duh.  I found one of my babies a few days ago, except he’s no baby anymore.  Look at him!

So big!

So cute!

One of my hundreds of little boys is all growed up!

The pond has undergone some pretty dramatic changes as well.  Perhaps the most noteworthy was also the most ephemeral.  A few weeks ago, we had a major rain storm, with flash floods happening all across central Texas.  My own little pond flash flooded and filled up to its tippy-top.

Mega rain!

Water all the way up to the fence!

It was thrilling to see the pond do its job and catch all the run-off water.  The extra dose of oxygen in the pond water was also particularly welcome.  But the next morning, something peculiar happened to the pond:

When I walked out the next morning, it looked like there was a green film on the pond’s surface.  I wondered: are they suds? Did soap somehow get into the water?  Upon closer inspection, however, I realized that the “film” was millions of microscopic critters!  And they hopped!  Some friends of mine came over that afternoon, and I showed them the mysterious new pond residents who moved in overnight.  One of them belongs to an entomological forum, so he took some of the critters, photographed them under a microscope, and posted them to the forum to have them identified.  It turns out that my visitors are called “springtails”, and they look like this:

Aren’t they adorable?  Of course, not a single one lived to see the next day.  All my fishies and tadpoles thought they were manna from heaven, and had a field day.  By sunset, they had all been eaten.

Unfortunately, there aren’t enough predators around who seem interested in eating any of my tadpoles and fish!  It’s not that I have some burning desire for my pond babies to die, but there is such a thing as too many of them!  Another mosquitofish laid more eggs, so now I have a second batch of babies, and the first batch still aren’t full grown yet.  And the tadpoles…well, you saw the pictures.  There are hundreds of them.

So, I took a couple of batches down to Barton Springs to go find their way in the real world.  Some will get eaten; some will grow up; all will at least get a chance at living in the “real world”.  I took pictures of the first batch I harvested.  It was funny how most of the mosquitofish hung out near the surface and most of the tadpoles hung out at the bottom!

Believe it or not, these guys are only a small fraction of the ones who ended up staying in my pond.  The majority of them still live here.

Here’s the thing: I think they all survived because they were eating my koi food.  As soon as I’d put it in the water, the little babies would converge on a piece, drag it underwater, and then eat little pieces as it disintegrated in the water.

I think they imagine themselves fearsome alligator-like predators, dragging their prey underwater.

Whatever the case, a couple of weeks ago I noticed that they started to grow legs and come up out of the water.

“A whole new world! A dazzling place I never knew! But when I’m way up here, it’s crystal clear, that now I’m in a whole new world with you…my hundreds of siblings.”

They even started doing exactly what you’d expect frogs and toads to do: hang out on lily pads:

Just hangin’ out at mah pad.

And now, I have no more tadpoles.  Chicken and Fish are all grown up, too, although still very shy, so I rarely see them.  Now, instead, I have hundreds upon hundreds of little tiny baby toads hopping around my garden.  Unlike Chicken and Fish, they’re easy to catch, albeit mostly not thrilled that you caught them.  But this little guy didn’t seem to mind.  He even high-fived my thumb:

As if to say, “High five, bro-ette. Good catch.”

So now, the koi have a lot more room in their pond, now that they no longer have hundreds of roommates.  They seem pretty stoked about this new development.  Sushi isn’t nearly as much of a recluse as he used to be, although I don’t know if that’s because the tadpoles are gone or if he’s just getting more comfortable in his environment.  Maybe it’s a little of both, but even before all the tadpoles had fully left, he and Yin seemed to have developed a bond similar to Yang and Ceviche’s.  I caught them hanging out the other day, and Sushi had his fin over Yin’s back.

Is that like a fish hug?

And even more recently, I was able to get a super closeup picture of three of them–the closest I’ve been able to get yet.  They’re getting bolder, less afraid of the surface of the water, less afraid of me, less afraid of everything.  I had just put some lettuce from the garden into the pond to see if they’d eat it, and these three came right up to investigate:

Yang, Yin, and Sushi, chowing down. I don’t know where Ceviche was.

Aren’t my babies beautiful?  Sadly, I don’t think they should be my babies for much longer.  I’ve been reading more about them, and they need a deeper, colder, cleaner pond than I can provide.  I was going to build an even bigger pond in the backyard for when they got older, but it would need to be four feet deep and eight feet long, and I can’t do that.  And this pond is getting greener as summer progresses, which is not healthy for koi.  Apparently they can get ulcers and parasites if they live in the environment I’ve built for them.  I tried to put a pump and filter in the pond (you can see the hose in a few of the pictures above), but the outlet in my front yard doesn’t work, so I have no electricity to power them.  😦  So, I’m trying to find a good home for my koi.  I can’t tell you how sad it makes me.  I’m so attached to the little buggers!  But I’d rather see them be happy and healthy somewhere else than stay with me, only to get sick and die.  *sigh*  I should have gotten goldfish.  On the other hand, I don’t regret getting these guys, because I’ve had so much fun getting to know them and have learned so much about these fascinating creatures!  And I’m sure goldfish will be fun, too!

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News From the Garden

It’s funny that I kind of lost interest in this blog until I started gardening, and now I want to blog about it all the time.  To (mis)quote Anne of Green Gables, “If you only knew how much I want to blog about my garden and don’t, you’d give me some kind of credit!”

But anyway,  much has been happening in the garden lately.  First of all, a little house sparrow family made a nest on one of the columns of my porch, and the babies fledged a few days ago.  I walked out one day, and there they were!

For a few days, every time I went outside, they’d be hanging out somewhere in the garden.  I got kind of fond of the little dudes.  I even had heart palpitations when I found them hiding among the rocks of the pond; I was so afraid they’d fall into the water!

I got to know the crew a bit during the time that they were hanging out, and I really came to admire the critters.  The eldest was very adept at flying already, while the middle one was pretty good but couldn’t gain a lot of height, and the youngest couldn’t do more than flit around a few feet at a time.  He was also the least skittish; a few times I was able to pet him, and he even hopped onto my hand once.  What was sweet was that, while the parents were too scared to come attack The Big Scary Beast Who Kept Messing With Their Baby, the eldest sibling would bravely stay near the two younger ones, and would keep a watchful eye on me.  The parents would be fussing their fool heads off in the tree above, but the eldest sibling wouldn’t go any further away than the fence at my eye level:

"I am staying at your eye level so I can peck your eyes out if you try to hurt my baby brother, yo."

The youngest kid even started coming out of hiding when I’d come out and call to them.  One day, the other two were hanging out under my herb wheelbarrow, and I couldn’t find the youngest.  I started to get worried that maybe he’d been eaten by a stray cat, or drowned in the pond, or something like that.  But when I started talking to the siblings, asking where the youngest was, he hopped out from behind the morning glory cage and chirping:

"Here I am! Right here! I'm not dead! I was just back here chillin'."

So, yeah, I got attached to the little buggers.  A few days after they showed up in the garden, they had all learned to fly well enough that they moved up into the tree.  I still see them flying around once in a while, or one of them will land on the fence and watch me work in the garden, but gone are the days of hanging out with them so close.  *sigh*  Here’s a video I took of them hanging out together, being cute:

Those aren’t the only babies in my garden, though!  Yesterday, my pond exploded:

See all those little black dots? Tadpoles.

At first I thought they were baby Mosquitofish, because one of my females was about to lay eggs when I bought her (or so the store employees told me), so I just assumed that these were her offspring.  But then a friend of mine, who knows a lot more about pond life than I do, told me they were tadpoles.  Admittedly, they look a lot like tadpoles, and that did cross my mind when I first saw them.  But I never imagined it was possible.  Because, I mean, the big mystery is: HOW IN THE HECK DID THEY GET THERE?  My two tadpoles, whom I named Chicken and Fish, still had their tails as of last week (although, admittedly, Chicken’s was all but gone), so they are obviously too young to have parented these little dudes.  But how in the heck did they get there?  My friend told me that some toads probably found their way to my pond, but I was doubtful.  I live a block from two major highways, in a neighborhood with no water (other than my new pond) and very little plant life of any kind.  Every yard is separated by privacy fences.  And the closest body of water is two miles away (across major highways in every direction).  I just didn’t think it was possible for a toad, much less multiple toads, to have crossed highways, dug under multiple fences, and found their way to my humble little spot of water.  But oh, they did.  And I found one of the suckers hanging out in my pond today:

Way too old to be Chicken or Fish, unless toads can get progeria.

I will never cease to be amazed by the amazing journey this little dudette made to come lay her eggs here, but hey, she’s welcome to stay.  She can help keep the insect population down to a dull roar.  Maybe someday I’ll write a children’s book about her adventure.

My koi babies are thriving as well!  I’ve given them names and gotten to know their little personalities.  I named the yellow-and-white one Sushi, the orange-and-white one Ceviche, and, as I mentioned in my last blog entry, the blue ones with the orange spot on their tail and head are named Yin and Yang, respectively.  I had originally had their names switched, but swapped names when I got to know their personalities a little better.  Yang (who was originally Yin) is a fiery little dude.  Within days of being placed in my pond, he and Ceviche formed a bond and started boldly darting around the pond together, hanging out in areas of open pond, even coming to the surface, even in daylight.  Yin, on the other hand, is much less energetic and less bold.  He mostly stays under the lotus pot, or occasionally will hang out under one of the rocky crags or a cluster of lotus leaves.  When he does come out, he pokes out his head first, looks around, the slowly ventures out.  The slightest change in environment will send him darting back under the pot.  He finds safety in numbers, and will only venture around the pond by sticking close to Yang and Ceviche.  I have never seen him out by himself.  Sushi, on the other hand, is a loner.  Whereas the other three have chosen beneath the lotus pot as their home, Sushi chooses to live underneath the iris pot all by himself.  He swims by himself, plays by himself, and only joins the others when I feed them.  He’s my little lone wolf.  He’s also super fast.  I’ve tried multiple times to take pictures of him because he’s so beautiful, but this is the best I’ve been able to get:

It's hard to tell, but he's kind of in the center of the picture, between the lotus pot and its lily pads. Ceviche is hanging out just above and to the right of him. It was feeding time.

But just for reference, this is the closest image I could find of a koi that looks like him:

Except, you know, this dude's an adult.

I also realized that I know literally nothing about koi, which officially makes me one of those irresponsible people who buys animals without knowing anything about them.  I should have known better, but the employees at the store acted like it was no big deal and super easy to keep them and blahblahblah–but then again, how many pet store employees act that way about birds?  Why didn’t I even think about that?  So now I’m trying to catch up and learn as much about them as I can.  For instance, I learned that Sushi and Ceviche’s coloration is called “hariwake”, and Yin and Yang’s coloration is called “kage showa”.  I learned that they can live up to 50 years (!!) (apparently, I like to keep animals who can outlive me).  I learned that I can feed them snacks of worms, fruits, and vegetables (FUN!!!).  I learned that they don’t tolerate hot water, so I’m going to have to find a way to shade my pond before summer hits.  I learned that they don’t tolerate cold water (below 50 degrees), either, so I’ll have to get a pond heater before next winter.  Plus, I learned that they are easily victimized due to their bright colors, so some kind of shade or screen will also be necessary to prevent predators from seeing them and eating them.  What have I gotten myself into?!  Now I know how people feel when they get a bird without doing their research first.  BUT!  I will do whatever it takes to make my babies happy, comfortable, and enriched.  I was planning on building a bigger pond in the backyard when the landlord builds the fence back there, anyway, so they’ll have a bigger, deeper home to go to when they start to outgrow this smaller pond.  In the meantime, we’re just going to have to make the best of this little pond that we have!

Here’s a video I shot of the Three Stooges hanging out together.  As per usual, Sushi was nowhere to be found:

 

Another new development in Gardenland is that I got a Venus Fly Trap the other day when I was at the Great Outdoors.  I had wanted to get some carnivorous plants to go around the pond to help with insect control, but then was scared off by reading how difficult they are to keep alive in this part of the world.  But when I saw them in the green house, so cute and only $6, I thought, what the heck, I’ll just get one and see how it does.  I have a rainwater collection barrel, so I can give it that water and hopefully not kill it.  Well, two weeks into this experiment, so far so good!

This little bugger eats bugs as fast as it can, and hasn’t been all that much work.  I just spritz it with a little rain water every other day or so and it seems happy as a clam.  We’ll see how it fares as the summer heat sets in, but so far this experiment has been a success.

That’s about it from my garden.  The monarch butterflies have arrived, and have been inspecting my wares.  It remains to be seen whether they make any of my butterfly-friendly plants their home.  I hope they do!  How cool would that be?!

Adventures in gardening!

I moved into my house two years ago, and at the time, the front yard was literally a junk heap.  Weeds, trash, bits of rubber, metal, plastic and PVC…the place was a mess.  But I had a vision for it.  I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it.  It was just a matter of time.  First of all, I couldn’t do anything with it until my roommates with dogs who would potty in the front yard were gone.  Then, I buried my compost for a year to get the soil prepped.  I also had to clean out the soil, because as I dug it up, I found an ungodly amount of bullet shell casings, broken glass, bits of plastic and rubber, candy wrappers, and any number of other unidentifiable bits of rubbish.

Finally, this past November, the yard was ready for its transformation.  I put in a vegetable garden on one side, then divided the other side into three parts: a flower/plant garden, another area to bury compost so that I can alternate veggie gardens and compost yards each year, and finally the area that I wanted to put in a pond, both for the fun of it, but also to catch run-off rain water and protect the rest of the garden.  The gardens took up most of my time from November until now, but finally, two weeks ago tomorrow, I started work on the pond I’ve been dreaming of ever since I moved in.  Here’s what it looked like Tuesday before last when I started:

This was after I spent an afternoon pulling up weeds.  It then took about a week of digging for an hour or two at a time, whenever I got a chance, to get it to this point:

This was a proud moment for me.  I had about a fourth of the hole left when it started raining and I was slopping around in the mud, but the rain made it so much easier to dig up the soil that it was actually a blessing.  I was covered in mud, though!  I hadn’t been that muddy since the mud fights we used to have at camp when I was in high school.  I took a picture of myself, but it was so humid that it fogged up the lens:

Mudcore.

I posted this photo on Facebook and said, “I dig in the mud.  Hardcore.”  To which a friend of mine replied, “Mudcore.”  Mudcore, indeed!

I even took video footage of it, to commemorate this fine moment in my life (because that’s what nerds do):

 

Then it was time to lay down the pond liner, line it with rocks, and trim the liner down to size.  Chuck took a picture of me, super muddy, with my liner and rocks down.  I felt like the Queen of Pondmaking.

So muddy, so proud.

I thought I had gotten enough rocks to line the whole pond, but alas!  I ran out right at the end.

So close, but so far.

By this point, though, it was late, I was tired, and I just wanted to be done with it.  The liner at that part of the pond isn’t crucial to its overall well-being, so I just decided to proceed and try to find a solution later.  So I filled the pond, then put my banana and plumeria cuttings next to the pond, so that as they grow, they will provide shade and protection for the pond, and the pond will provide humidity for them.  Hooray, symbiosis!

I also took video at this point (because, as I said, that’s what nerds do):

 

The next day, my friend JoDee and I went to Hill Country Water Gardens and Nursery to bring life to my pond.  We were seriously giddy like schoolgirls, and I’m pretty sure the staff thought we were nuts, but I was in a state of absolute bliss.  I wanted to get some pond plants, fish, tadpoles, and mosquito eaters, but that was about all I knew.  I had no idea WHAT plants to get, and although I love koi, I thought that goldfish would be the only critters in my budget.  But whatever the case, I was excited as shit!

We started looking at the lily pads and lotus.  I saw some pink and yellow beauties that initially appealed to me, but then I saw these critters and fell instantly, madly in love:

You know that Kristen Wiig skit on SNL where she’s insanely excited about a surprise party?  Yeah, that was pretty much me when I saw this lotus.  I was like:

 

I think my exact words to the employee were, “EMILY MUST HAVE!!!”  But then he told me they were $90 each, and my dreams were shattered.  That was almost my whole budget for the entire pond.  For one plant.  So…no.  But, I at least have the photo, and will be able to stare, and drool, and dream.  Someday maybe I’ll even be able to have them in my pond.  But for now, the lovely pink-and-yellow guys that originally appealed to me were a very reasonable $36, so I went with those instead.

Next, the employee informed me that I needed a “bog plant”, one which grows in the marshy shallows of my pond and will spread and provide shelter for the fish.  They had what seemed like acres of bog plants of every kind you could possibly imagine.  On the other side of the display ponds, though, I saw one which immediately caught my eye.  That was the one for me.  I was completely enthralled by it.  Can you imagine my surprise, then, when I saw what this particular bog plant was called?

It's like it KNOWS me.

How did it know that I’m a crazy parrot lady?  Clearly, it was calling out to me from across the pond.  It knew.  Somehow, it knew.  So of course I took it home with me.

Also in the bog plant section were some stunning irises, of that same deep violet-and-yellow color of the $90 Pipe Dream Lotus that I had wanted so badly.  The guy recommended I get some irises, too, since ideally the pond should have about 80% plant coverage.  But JoDee told me she had a ton of them at her house, and had to split them anyway, so she’d just give me the splittings.  (God bless you, JoDee!)

So then it was time to move on to the animal critters.  Sadly, I didn’t think to take any photos, but I got 5 mosquito eaters (one pregnant one, so I’m about to have some babies!), 2 tadpoles (with cute little legs!), and 4 koi.  Yes, I said koi. Because even though the adults are crazy expensive, the babies are only $8 each, whereas the goldfish were $6 each.  WHAAA???  So I went with the koi.  I don’t understand why anyone would pay that much for adults when half the fun of having a garden is watching things grow up?  So I picked out my new koi babies: a yellow-and-white one, an orange-and-white one, and two blue-and-white ones, both with black spots on their bodies, and one of which has an orange spot on his head and the other has an orange spot on his tail.  I’m naming the two blue ones Yin and Yang, but I haven’t decided what to name the other two, or what to name the frogs.  If anyone has any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.  I thought about naming the frogs Chicken and Fish, since those are the two things people say frog legs taste like, but I’m not sure about it yet.

So anyway, we came home with our spoils (and I stayed within my budget! Yippee!), and I set up my pond like so:

After scoping out their new home, the fish and tadpoles immediately found hiding places among the rocks (curse me for thoughtfully creating crags and caves among the rocks when I built the pond; they work too well!) and I’ve seen only the briefest glimpses of my babies since then, but I’ve read and been told that koi can get to know people and are trainable, so I’m going to let them settle in and then train them to come up to the surface so I can take pictures of them.  Someday.

Then finally, the last, missing piece of my little pond puzzle fell into place this morning: JoDee brought me plenty of irises, so I planted one in the pond itself, then cut away the remaining exposed pond liner and planted the rest of them along that part of the pond.  They will help keep the soil in place and will funnel the run-off water into the pond, drinking up whatever water remains.  It’s an elegant solution to my not-enough-rocks problem, and looks very lovely to boot!

So that’s my story of how, in one day short of two weeks, that piece of my yard went from a trash-filled weed patch to this:

And now I will leave you with pictures of other pretties from my garden:

Iris bloom (and they smell as pretty as they look!)

Lotus bloom (came up the day after I put it in the pond!)

Baby mantis (I raised them from the ootheca, so I always love finding one in my garden and watching them grow up!)

Squash flowers

Sunflower

Dwarf Grey Sugar Snap Peas

My vine cages

Morning Glory cage

Honeysuckle and Passion Vine cages

morning glory

honeysuckle

passion vine flower