What is the Best Mulch in Drought Conditions?


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Are all mulches created equal? I use cedar mulch for insect control, and I have rock mulch for decoration. I have a compost mulch made from prunings around the house. With the water restrictions in place, I noticed something about my mulches.

rock mulchI interacted with a group of real estate agents who were criticizing a green building technique as horrible. They thought it was new, and they did not understand it, so they dismissed it. The fact was that the technique is millennia old. I know fellow home inspectors who also do not give credence to what they see as fringe building techniques. I came to realize that there are old solutions to current problems, yet we go along blind to them. With the water restrictions in place, I hear people discussing ways to keep their gardens alive. I have used the condensate water from my air conditioning system for quite some time to water my garden beds, yet others are discussing this as a new concept. We are paying attention more to which plants can handle the heat and lack of water (my poor azaleas do not fare well), yet focusing on native plants or appropriate plants for a certain area has also long been part of the gardener’s repertoire. The one thing we do not seem to be including in our discussions is how have we farmed deserts in the past. Humans have farmed dry conditions previously, so there must be some solutions. Could these fixes revolve around mulch?
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Making a Vegetarian Meal from the Garden


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Mixtures of vegetables do not need to be boring. How about marinating vegetables and encasing them in a flavorful dough?  Seasoning is a key to create an interest.

I have the tendency to call vegetables encased in dough a Beggar’s Purse. I am not sure if there is a proper name for these dishes, but you do find this idea for a dish around the world. My original conception was to make this dish as a steamed dumpling that had a sauce inside the dumpling with vegetables. One time I made this same dish fried. Last night I changed my procedure to baking, since I had another meal to bake. The dough is different, but the concept is the same: dough encasing vegetables with a sauce.
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With Drought and Water Restrictions, My Corn is Thriving


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Some plants do not seem to mind the imposed lack of water, and I was surprised to see some doing quite well. Here is what I have learned from the drought and water restrictions.

I have a lawn, yet I do not wish to be a grass farmer. I have seen a few neighbors let their grass die, and they have no other visual interest in their yard. Watching my yard carefully, I thought that established plants would be doing alright, and my plantings for an early fall crop would suffer. The gardener’s shadow proved me wrong. A gardener’s shadow? Well, it is the best tool that you have in taking care of your garden: your walking around the garden to observe the plants causes a shadow to fall. My shadow held surprises for me that will change what I plant next year.
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Planning the Structure of the Fall and Winter Gardens at the End of Summer


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We are dealing with a drought and heat in Houston. The large number of water main breaks has caused water restrictions, yet I am working on my plantings for a harvest later in the year. Part of this work is focusing on the structure of the garden.

Katya and I sit on the edge of the new garden bed, where we discuss my three sisters planting. We compare the leaves of the green onions that are behind me and the corn shooting up beside her. Then we move onto the flowers. I began this bed before the water restrictions were put into place, but I am still hoping for a harvest in October. I am looking more towards the structure of the garden though as I prepare for the fall and winter. Most of my projects have involved using recycled materials, then painting them to hide the mixture of items. The projects have been a cold frame, a solar oven, a few raised beds, an outdoor storage/workspace,a seating area, a stage, and compost bins. These are not all complete, but I thought that I would share what has been done so far.
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In Praise of the Crepe Myrtle


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I have ad an uneasy relationship with the my crepe myrtles. This tree had fallen out of favor with me, but recently I think that this tree deserves another look.

Crepe myrtles are a reliable plant for summer color in Houston. They do not seem to need much water once established. They are fairly fast growing, but they do not need to overpower the landscape. They are one tree which does not seem to effect the home (foundation, drainage pipes, and walls) as much as some others (but be careful, because they can still do harm). So why did I not want more crepe myrtles for such a long time? They became common place in my thoughts. We see them so often in southern gardens. I also came to see pruning them as a chore. I was not so upset with the debris that these trees produce; my neighbors on the other hand have hurled profanity my way to inform me of their displeasure. They have banged on my door ordering that these trees be severely pruned back. Should I mention the bag of garbage that I collect each week from the junk spilling out of their car onto my garden. I did remove some trees and pruned to appease them.
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My Cluttered Backyard: Moving Plants Away from the House


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Often during my home inspections, I have to report problems with the structure to a home due to plantings that are next to the home. Why do we stick to the edges of the yard for our gardens? Especially when this causes damage.

Why do we put so much effort into growing grass? Do your children play on it? Do you go outside to picnic in your backyard? And why, if we are so in love with the idea of a lawn, do we then let the grass die by not watering it during a drought?  I have experienced mixed reactions to my garden. Most people who come with their children to play enjoy the backyard.  Others who want to relax in a garden space have been happy to wander through that space. I have a belief  that I should be living in that space. Other neighbors have not been so enamored with my efforts leading to violent reactions or harassment. In the past, I tried to shrug those actions off, but lately I have been bothered by those efforts. I am reflecting on how we use our landscape around our homes. As a home inspector, I see too many problems with how we do treat our plantings, which is to have the garden beds hug the home.
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A Look at Winter Vegetables in the Summer Garden


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Winter vegetables do grow during our summer heat, but common knowledge states that they will not have a great taste during the summer months. This may not be the case.

I would love to travel to a drought free zone to find the lush jungle of a summer garden. Many of my plants are under stress, which means that they are not producing. The hot peppers keep providing me with spice for my meals. The basil abundantly fills its space. The grape vines run along their trellis, so stuffed grape leaves are on the table. However, being cautious with my watering means that the garden is not lush. I was so grateful for the rain last week, and the ground still holds that moisture, which makes me wonder why neighbors were watering their gardens for hours on end. I could be like the neighbor behind my house; let the garden die of thirst. I did notice that a few winter vegetables were doing well in this heat and lower water, but this is not the time to eat them, or is it?
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Another Take on Macaroni and Cheese


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I do not buy box meals, and my children have not grown up with this staple. I have made macaroni and cheese from scratch, but my daughter and I came up with a different take on this classic.

I had the chance to cook with my daughter Katya last night. I use to prepare meals all of the time with my son, but with the two girls, I have not done so as often. The problem has been that I have to be more cautious with my youngest, which makes the meal preparation take much longer. Sakura was asleep, and Katya was excited to be the assistant. They have never experienced macaroni and cheese from the box. My son, who is quite a bit older, went through a phase at one point where he wanted this meal. He had it at a friend’s house. This is not a hard dish to make from scratch, which I did for him, but he wanted that artificial flavoring. When Katya and I started the meal, I was not planning a specific meal, so this dish evolved as we were cooking.
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Baked Okra for a Simple Dinner


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Do you like okra? Is it too slimy for you? Maybe you should consider baking okra for a quick to prepare dinner.

Everyone seems to want their home inspections on the weekends. On Sunday, I was already driving all over the area, when I had a call asking me to do one more inspection that day. I try to be helpful, but three inspections in one day with many hours of driving was not for me. Furthermore, the heat was a bit too much. Home inspectors have to work in environments that are inadvisable for health. Needless to say that I was worn out by the end of the day, yet I had to make dinner for the family . I wanted to do something simple, which often means a pasta dish for me. With so much okra available, I hit upon a baked dish that was easy to make.
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What Happens When You Have More Light in Your Yard?


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Pruned trees may change the amount of light reaching your garden beds, so you may need to reorder your garden.

The yard crews came through to clear the trees away from the power lines. Neighbors had already pruned their trees. My shade garden found itself in full sun. Has this happened to you? Since I have been in my home, the quality of light has changed greatly over the years. You do not expect drastic shifts in light, but I guess that I should have been prepared. I am not sure sometimes what reasoning is used to clear branches from the power lines. I noticed that the crew was about to remove a branch tat was fifteen feet from the lines, but then they stopped. One of my trees was devastated one year by this crew, while the neighbors trees that were in the line were basically left alone. This year that jungle of branches over the fence was pruned well back.  The dense cover that had shaded my yard was gone.
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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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