Archive for May, 2010

How to Get Rid of Insects from Your Garden with an Old Shoe

Spraying pesticides can be a fast method to ridding your garden of pests, but how about encouraging predators in your garden.

My daughter is hunting for frogs. So far she has captured two of them from the yard. She wants to show the world her new pets, while being upset that I want them to be released. You see; I have been working on making a habitat for them, and I want them to stay in the garden, since they are great at decreasing my population of unwanted insects.
    I am glad that she has this chance to explore nature. I always wanted my children to understand where the food on their plates originated. Watching the little girls eat the first plums picked off of the tree made me laugh, because they were so proud to harvest their own fruit. As every gardener knows, garden pests can be a huge problem for our produce. Considering that my family is going out to the beds to grab some herbs or vegetables for a meal, I do not want these to be covered with pesticides. That is when I hit upon the idea of making homes for frogs, lizards, and others. A pile of sticks, over turned pots, and old shoes are scattered around the garden beds. The old shoes cause eye brows to raise from people walking through my garden, but they make great homes.
    These homes have caused the neighborhood children to dub my house lizard central. I am quite happy to see them scurrying about. Mosquitoes are still an issue. My wife will not allow me to build bat houses, but they are simple to make, and bats do eat a lot of mosquitoes. In the mean time, I am building more bird houses. Everyone enjoys sitting in the backyard watching the birds, and birds do their share with controlling insects. I also have snakes from little garden snakes that we all have hiding in our grass, but I do have a larger snake hiding out somewhere (I find the skin that has shed, but I have not spotted the snake itself). I also go on spiderweb tours with the girls. We look for the webs to see what is happening, and this tour has created an appreciation of spiders, which allows them to flourish.
    Creating habitats for insect predators can be as easy as dropping your old shoe. The benefits  are fewer insects munching on your greens, but you may wish to go on nature hikes around your own home. Even my baby noticed caterpillars going after my fennel, so we were able to pick them off. Well, the girls do love seeing butterflies, so I need to find a place for the caterpillars. Maybe I can sneak in a bat house without my wife’s knowledge? It is the female mosquitoes which bite, so my wife may just be sympathetic to her fellow females?

Plantings for Summer Color

Annuals put on a show, but consider the leaf when adding color as well.

I have spent more time harvesting vegetables than planting. Weeding has been a task too. Most of my undertakings around the home have been focused on improving the energy efficiency of my home for the
coming summer, and we already have the that. I noticed on my electrical bill that the usage was down. Having some free time the other day, I headed over to a local garden center to see if anything causes interest. I had noticed that my winter and early spring flowers are beginning to fade, so some color is needed for the summer.
    When I want more color, annuals are better. Several plants which bring blooms during the summer are coming back. I am looking forward to the turk’s cap and lantana. These are white and red flowers respectively. The chrysanthemums are growing large with flowers starting to peek out. The crepe myrtle is on its way, as is the bougainvillea. I enjoy watching the return of plants. This process is one of the few indicators of different seasons in Houston.
    While at the nursery, I decided to look for some colorful plants to fill in spaces left by the waning annuals. I picked up a few dwarf day lillies. I have been transplanting my day lilly patches by dividing them. Day lilly flowers make great thickeners for soups (not all day lillies are edible though). Th dwarf variety gives me some yellow flashes in one spot. However, color does not just come from flowers. When I spotted a type of artemesia that I did not have, I began looking at leaf structure and color. The grey-green (almost white) of this artemesia makes for a nice focus. I coupled this with a verbenna. The dark green, feathery leaves of the verbenna with its purple flowers is a nice contrast. Considering a small border strip where my Cuban iris blooms in spring, I thought cladiums would add reds, greens, yellows, and whites. My last choice was coleus. These shade loving plants are doing well in sunnier locations now. One plant had a chocolate color, another various reds, and the last type was a mixture between greens, yellows, and reds. These plants do grow well into a small bushy mass. I do not know why I had moved away from coleus in the garden, but they are such versatile plants, while adding interest. I guess that I simply stopped making cuttings for the next year, but this is not so hard to do.   
    To produce more flowers requires more fertilizer and watering. Since I am trying to reduce both fertilizer and water, I felt that adding color through leafs, and having changing leaf texture was a good option. I am waiting to see how this summer garden will fill out.

Is That Bush Dead?

Before you throw out that bush, check, it may still be alive.

This happened on a home inspection, then again with my wife. People thinking the a bush is dead, so they want to rip it out. This was a hard winter on our gardens, and a few bushes have been taking longer to recover. It is a shame to take out a bush that could still grow. Also, you may find that adding new bushes can be expensive.
    At my own home, the hibiscus are just beginning to produce leaves. During the winter, the bush looses it leaves, and I cut back the branches. The harshness of the freezes this past winter caused the remaining branches to die. My wife expects to see leaves coming off from the branches, so when she did not see them, there was an assumption of death. I heard that one person tore up her garden, because she thought that the plants may have all died. That might not have been the case, so now she faces quite an expense building up her garden again. I pointed out that if my wife looked at the base, she could see the leaves popping out. There was one problem: there were some weeds in this area too. She thought that the new leaves were weeds. It goes to show you that you need to remember what the leaves of your plants look like.
    Slowly and surely the garden is reviving. This spring has not had enough rain, and the wind with heat has helped to dry plants out. I am hoping to see a better showing from my plants towards the end of May. If they are not producing leaves then, I will look for a green layer under the bark, which could indicate some life. I will make my choices then.

Keeping Branches Away from My Roof

Home Inspector heed your own advice. My task this weekend was one that I frequently give to clients: prune tree branches away from the roof to prevent damage.

I have not had the time that I wanted to work in my garden. I still walk through each day, and I have been harvesting. Actually, I needed to water quite a bit. There have been clouds, but no rain over my home. The vegetable production has been quite good, even had my first squash. However, I have been busy with other projects in the attic and on the roof. (The roof project was an attic vent powered by a solar panel, which I will write about on the main blog). Being on the roof was the perfect reminder to follow my own advice to homeowners- keep branches ten feet away from the roof surface. This helps to prevent damage to the shingles.

    We have had enough windy days that my tree branches were rubbing against the roof at one spot. My roof has a low pitch, so it is easy to stand on the roof with my pruners. I usually do this in the spring and then again in the fall. My crepe myrtles in the front yard sprout new branches which rub against my fascia and walls. The ash tree in the backyard is a fast grower which drops branches down to the roof. I have seen branches from a tree take off the roof covering and the sheathing underneath allowing a hole for the rain to enter the attic. Giving a foot breathing space between plants and the walls prevents moisture from harming those surfaces. The foot distance permits air to circulate.
    You do not have to be exact. I pruned the branches to roughly ten feet away. Standing on the roof is not possible for all pruning. I used an A-frame ladder to reach a branch that was hitting the roof, but too far to reach from the roof. I did sweep my roof too. You do not want to leave debris on the roof, again a moisture issue.
    I need to start working on the garden again. My winter annual flowers are fading. Too bad, I love using my johnny jump ups in salads. I love the splashes of color when sitting outside. My chrysanthemums are coming back, so there is a little color. I will have to hang out at the nursery to see which annuals will do. I want something different than petunias this year.

How Much Money Can I Save by Growing My Own Vegetables?

I have seen others write answers to this question of savings, but I think we forget the factors involved in determining costs, but the question came back to me with a statement from my wife.

My wife asked today if I could dig up part of my raspberry vine to give to her sister. I almost wanted to laugh at her, since she almost told my son to rip the plant out about a month ago, because she decide that it was a weed. Over the course of this month, she has come to really value this weed; especially after a trip to a grocery store. She discovered that a package of berries was selling for $5 (and those packages are not too big). My children have been harvesting each day (the girls have informed me that my hat makes for the perfect harvesting aid for carrying the berries). Today, as we were picking, my wife kept chiming “$5…$6..$7″; we did harvest quite a bit.
    This caused me to pay attention to other prices. Loquats were nearly $7 per pound, and I have been getting more than what I know what to do with. With the loquats and raspberries, I feel that I really did come out ahead. I did not water them much, and I did not do anything special for these plants. I do not fret over them like some other plants, like my squash or tomato plants, so the production cost was virtually zero. With other vegetables this is not the case. I spent moeny on the seeds, some organic fertilizer, and water. To really calculate cost, I would have to measure how much was used, what the cost of that would be, and then how much was produced. I would then have to include incidentals like my labor and any other odd or end purchased. For tomato cages, I use bamboo from my own plant, but I still have some wire cages. (Should I depreciate the value of that over time?-joke). My feeling is that I am coming out ahead on everything, but I am not sure. Labor could be the main cost. I find it relaxing to go through my garden each day. To really be growing all of the vegetables for your family, you do need to check on them each day.

    My son had heard a commercial that mentioned becuase of their packaging, the vegetables from this company has less nutrient loss. He wanted to know is that true, and is it a problem. Here is a hidden value that does not equate well in my savings calculation. What value can I place on being able to eat a vegetable freshly picked before cooking? At a Farmer’s Market this weekend, my little girls were quite excited to see what a grower had to sell. Back at home, they follow me and help me in the garden. They know where their food originates, which is better that most children their age. That is another value that is hard to input into the calculation.

    Considering all the factors, I think that my vegetable garden has a great value, but do I save money? I think that I do, but this may not be the case for all. I have my own compost. I do not buy all of my plants each year, since I rely upon seeds or cuttings from last year. I use my organic fertilizers sparingly, so that is not a great cost, and I try to find ways not to use sprays for pests. I think if you are just starting out, you may find yourself spending quite a lot to have your garden get into shape. It might be advisable to learn more before you start planting, or you may have wasted some time and money.


This site came out of my desire to write about my love of gardening, but also to connect it to my knowledge derived from home inspections. That is why I tied it to the home inspection site.If you have questions, you can email them to me (frank at For home inspections, call 713.781.6090.
Happy gardening, Frank


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