Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

How to Build a Home For Bees in Your Backyard


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As we all know, bees provide an essential service in our gardens, so why not make an inviting space for them.

bee home


A little over a year ago, the utility company came through my neighborhood to prune trees away from the power lines. This is a great service for hurricane season. I was not too happy with the result in my yard though. My maple was butchered in front of my eyes, with the worker stating “I guess you are going to have to get rid of that tree”. None of its branches came near the line, and other trees right along the line did not suffer the same fate, so I am not sure as to the reason for their thoroughness in removing all the branches from my maple. The tree seemed like it was coming back, but it obviously did not survive the winter. Now, I did see it as a threat. Dead tree falling.
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Beating Houston’s Summer Heat: Gardening Early in the Morning


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Heat and humidity can be dangerous for the gardener, so early mornings or late evenings may be your best bet.



I am not fond of the heat. Our weather has caused me to retreat a bit from garden work. However, I have been waking up at three in the morning on most days, so by six, I am ready to do something besides reading. I do not use power or gas powered tools, which means that I do not make much noise. I cut my grass with a push mower at six one morning. Since I did not wake up Sleeping Beauty (the nickname for one of my neighbors), I have continued to go out this early.
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Build Your Own Spinnable Compost Bin


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I have heard that compost bins which can be turned are said to produce compost faster.



I create layered compost piles behind bushes. I add layers of new material, then once a year harvest my compost for the beds. Recently I saw one of these plastic compost bins that is a round tube which can be spun around. The turning action is said to produce compost faster. I was thinking of buying it, but it was nearly $200, and I wondered if I really needed it. I would like to have some compost faster though.
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How to Make an Old Fence Look New


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A good fence can be expensive; even for a short section. However, you can make an older fence look better.

I have been replacing the fence sections in my backyard over the last year. Even with sharing the costs with the neighbors, this can be an expense. One small section of fence with a gate was standing fine, but it did not look too good, so we did not have it replaced to save money for other projects. To replace this section would also effect a neighbor’s gate, and he did not want to replace his gate. With some money set aside for improving the look of my fence, I wanted to find a way to make my old fence look new.cedar fence Read the rest of this entry »

The Pleasures of Manure


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Composted cow manure can be a good fertilizer to give your garden help.



I know gardeners who fertilize regularly to great results. They spray on these fertilizers with gusto every two weeks. I have not been. I have the thought that if my soil is healthy, then the plants will flourish. Adding the lava sand was one step taken; adding compost that I had made was another. Taking a cue from walking through the aboreteum, I felt that creating a forest floor can produce a wonderful environment for plant growth.
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Summer is Here, so I Should Be Watering, Right?


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How much water do my plants need? Maybe not as much as you might think.

I have been working to clean up my garden. Organize the chaos. Staking vines, such as one particularly unruly tomato plant, has been a routine job. The one task that I have not been focused on is watering my garden. That is a shame because I hand water the garden, which gives me the time to relax and view the different nooks and crannies around my home. I did finally set up a soaker hose for one side of the house. This is a narrow strip between wall and fence. I have calla lilies, taro, and ginger along with a compost covering in this area. I do not water there on a normal basis, but I do need to take care of the foundation.
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Vegetable Gardens in Pots


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Gardens in small spaces do well with pots, and vegetables can be added to the mix.



It feels too humid to work outside in Houston, and my summer cold does not help matters. My spring garden was not as vibrant as my winter garden, which I imagine is due to my lack of focus on flowering plants this year. I had flowers, just not as much as desired. Since redoing my patio, I have been adding more pots to the spaceto have this space feel alive. My girls have enjoyed working with the plantngs here. I guess that these are gardens which suit their size; although they do miss digging. Some work this past week was dedicated to cleaning up after the storm. My yard was not hit so bad, but I saw some serious damage to trees around the neighborhood..With the weather and work, having fun with pots seemed a good way to work in the garden. I wanted to add vegetables into the mix, then I heard that there are vegetable gardens in pots by city hall, so I jumped in.
    Summer is not a time when most people consider plantings for the vegetable garden, yet we do have a longer growing season in Houston, so there are plants that can be started now. As for vegetable gardens in pots, I think your choices may be limited. I have not been around all of the nurseries. Based on what I found at one, your choice for a pot will be herbs, tomato and pepper plants. This is if you want the instant garden. You can plant seeds, but who wants to wait when you have the pot on the porch. There is one plant that will add interest in your vegetable pot that you may not consider: purslane. Sometimes sold as portalucca or moss rose. This beauty is not considered a vegetable in the US (in fact, we consider it a weed growing from the cracks of our sidewalks), but it is eaten as a vegetable in Europe and the Middle East. I find purslane for sale at Phoenecia. This plant is often called salad herb. It does have a strong flavor, so go lightly on its use if you are not familiar with it.
    I have pickled the leaves, and this was well liked by the family. You can eat the plant raw in a salad, but it can be steamed. I added purslane to a pot containing a habenero  plant, and to a pot containing an eggplant. Eggplants grow well in pots, but I did not see them available at the store. Parsely is nice in pots, but I think chard with its yellow and red stems can be dramatic. The more that I look at vegetable gardens in pots, the more that I like the idea. They are great for those who do not want a new garden bed. Children like working with them. Vegetables can be quite beatiful. Finally you can have some produce to harvest just outside your door.

    Check out your local nursery. You may find some plants to make up a nice vegetable garden of your own for pots. I have never heard of anyone putting beans in a hanging basket, but I wonder how that would work. A tomato would flow down nicely from a hanging basket, so maybe I will try out some hanging baskets next.

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


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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


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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?


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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.

Greetings

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 yourhoustonhomeinspector.com). For home inspections, call 713.781.6090.
Happy gardening, Frank

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