Saturday, July 28, 2007

New Nepenthes

Well, I might actually get some gardening in today...once the rain stops. Yes, more showers graced the Northern areas of the Dallas metroplex this morning. Temperatures had started creeping into the more August-like 90's lately, making for a bit of wilting among the smaller container plants, so a little drink from Mother Nature was welcome.

Since I start my new bigtime high-paying job on Monday (yey!), I allowed myself to splurge on this magnificent Nepenthes 'Miranda' that I spotted in Calloways. Actually, $26 wasn't a bad price for such a big specimen.

I always see the 'Alata' pitcher plants in stores and, being me, I wanted something a little different, especially after visiting Dotty Woodson's greenhouses recently and seeing her absolutely HUGE pitcher plants dangling spookily from the roof.

My Texas Star Hibiscus is doing pretty well despite being in a big pot. Once it's done blooming, I think it'll need to go in the ground. A few things in the Front Yard Garden Project have perished due to...wait for it...too much rain. Can you believe that? My 3'x3' rosemary bush is now a crisp brown. Two artemisias, an echinops and a kniphofia are gone too. Dang.

Of course, next year we'll probably return to our regularly scheduled drought and triple digit temps. But for now, I'm thinking swamp plants like the hibiscus might be appropriate.

Speaking of hibiscus, I have neglected to publicly thank my friend and fellow gardener Larry in NC (aka 'Daturapod') for sending me some lovely tropical and perennial hibiscus cuttings back in June. Larry was most generous in sharing these with me. I've got a cutting of that Hurricane Lily Hibiscus going for you now, Lar!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Sweet Potato, Sweet Boy

Here's a nice shot of my sweet potato vines and my second best boy...Alf the collie.

Air Traffic Control

Bumblebee Moth Hemaris diffinis

The air is abuzz with life these days. I sit on our patio and watch the activity in rapt fascination...until the mosquitoes find me.

Because of all the rain, the dragonflies are out in record numbers. So, it seems, are the butterflies and moths. The cicadas have started their chainsaw song, which brings the gigantic cicada killers out, swooping through the air with macho aplomb.

We have a particularly precocious hummingbird coming to the backyard this year. If you're anywhere near the feeder, she will hover for a moment, then slowly edge toward you, as if to say "Hello! How are ya? I'm getting a drink, is that ok?"

Miss Hummer and my old collie were practically nose-to-nose this morning as she said her hello's. Oh, what I wouldn't give for a camera in moments like that.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Cinnamon Basil Muffins

I am growing some cinnamon basil this year, but frankly, when it started thriving I wasn't sure what to do with it. Well, here's a recipe I found online. These muffins rock.

Cinnamon Basil Muffins

1/4 cup fresh cinnamon basil leaves
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Puree cinnamon basil leaves with oil in blender. Combine with sugar and egg. Sift together flour and baking powder and add to oil mixture, then fold in remaining ingredients.

Bake at 400°F for 12-14 minutes or until lightly browned. Makes 12 regular sized muffins or six large muffins.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Courting Controversy...Well, Just a Little

I've been on an incredible Syd Barrett music binge lately...not sure why. The founding member of Pink Floyd died a little over a year ago at the age of 60.

Before a combination of drugs, psychosis and other illnesses took their toll, Syd Barrett was an accomplished painter and innovative musician. He was also something of a babe.

Syd still painted in his later, reclusive years. Turns out he enjoyed gardening too. (There are reports that Syd briefly held a job as a landscaper for an English estate. Apparently, a sudden thunderstorm caused him to throw down his tools, stomp off in a huff and never return. Buddy, I can relate to that feeling.)

When Syd Barrett's remaining belongings were auctioned off in the U.K. late last year, this hand-painted metal wheelbarrow was among them.

Were I rich and frivolous, I probably would have bid on it. There's something about the jaunty green body and red wheel that carries the same childlike but melancholy whimsy many of Syd's songs once did.

Like many organic gardeners, when I saw RubberStuff® - the rubber mulch made from scrap tires - I automatically raised an eyebrow.

Last week, I bought two bags of it. Now, allow me to explain.

I am fortunate to have a beautiful atrium/sunroom in my house. Palms and dracaenas stretch 15 feet into the air. I overwinter my tropicals in the sunroom too.

Thing is, the plants come up right out of the ground; the border around the tiled floor is pure soil. I rarely have to water these plants (especially lately). However, the organic mulch I had was presenting a problem.

As organic materials are supposed to do, the mulch was breaking down. It was also holding in a lot of moisture, as it supposed to...but with that came some really moldy and musty smells.

For outside, that's fine. You want the organic breakdown to occur. But for my indoor sunroom, I found that rubber mulch was just the ticket.

The manufacturer - American Rubber Technologies (ART) - claims RubberStuff is non-toxic and 99% wire-free. It doesn't smell and it looks great. And if I ever need to remove it, I imagine the job will be a heckuva lot easier than it was to scrape off the old moldy bark mulch. Yuck.

We'll see how things go. If all of my plants die, you'll hear about it...and so will ART.

Does anyone know if Raid has discontinued its Earth Options product line? I don't see any of them on their Web site anymore.

The products were supposed to be "plant-based" i.e. derived from clove oil. I was, and still remain, skeptical.

Two things I did come across on the Raid site which I found completely disgusting: the use of the phrase "Family of Products" - as in, gosh, we're family-friendly!

Even more appalling: The "Raid® Fun" page. Games and wallpapers for the kids to enjoy while Dad's busy poisoning the environment. Woo-hoo!

Friday, July 13, 2007

A Hearty Breakfast

I'm sure this isn't the biggest tomato you've ever seen, but it's probably the biggest one I've ever grown.

During my Master Gardener training a couple of years ago, our guest speaker on growing veggies suggested 'Kellogg's Breakfast' - a large, vigorous orange tomato. I tried them last year with little success, but this!

I'm sure our constant rainfall has helped. No cracking and not much catfacing, conditions both caused by irregular watering.

The taste and texture of 'Kellogg's Breakfast' is marvelous too - sweet and firm. Yummy.

I haven't been down to the Community Garden in several weeks. The truck-sized mosquitoes scared me too much last time. I imagine my plot is a jungle by now...

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Bite Me

The mosquitoes are horrible around DFW at the moment. Heavy, continuous rains have saturated the ground, thus creating the perfect environment for the little beasts.

I have been diligent in putting BT dunks in the birdbaths and emptying plant trays. I even sprinkled some BT crystals around the foundation of our house, where the skeeters really seem to congregate. But the BT takes awhile to work, and I want these bastards gone now.

I'm surprised the organic business hasn't come up with more to kill adult mosquitoes. Most are just repellents, like the awful-smelling garlic spray. I like the clove oil mixture, but it can hurt beneficial insects.

Bioganic is offering a peppermint oil-based flying insect spray at select Wal-Marts...but I imagine it is toxic to beneficials as well.

Tomato Gratin

Your tomatoes are ripening faster than you can eat 'em, right? Here's a great recipe (recently printed in The Dallas Morning News) that will help deplete your rapidly expanding crop. Be sure to use fresh basil from the herb garden too. I increased the cheese recommendation because I seem to be part mouse.

Tomato Gratin

9 or 10 tomatoes, any variety (red, green, etc.)
1/4 cup chicken-flavored stuffing mix
1/2 cup diced red onion or sliced green onions
10 leaves fresh basil, snipped with scissors
salt and pepper
1/3 stick butter, melted
3/4 cup 2% milk Kraft Italian cheese

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Rinse and core tomatoes, then cut into medium-sized slices.
Butter or spray an 8- or 9-inch square Pyrex dish, and arrange a layer of tomatoes in the pan. Sprinkle each layer with dry stuffing mix, onions, basil, salt and pepper. Repeat layers until you've used all the tomatoes. Drizzle with melted butter and top with dry stuffing mix and cheese.
Bake about 20 minutes or until hot. If using all green tomatoes, bake about 45 minutes.
Makes 4-6 servings