Spiders and Lizards and Toads, OH MY

So one of the goals that SSH and I have set for our house is to not use herbicides or pesticides unless absolutely necessary. (Fire ant piles are one of the few things so far that’s been necessary) We use neem oil, baking soda, and other preventative measures with our plants, plus a mulching lawnmower to keep the grass nice. And a trowel and some elbow grease to remove weeds that get big enough to look particularly icky.

One of the benefits of this treatment is the healthy, thriving ecosystem in our yard. We have lots of beneficial insects, including wasps, dragonflies, and assassin bugs, plus honeybees in the bee garden. And we also have a ton of native critters.

Brown earth snakes and garter snakes hang around, especially in the gardens. We’ve had a snapping turtle take up residence under the tomato plants. And the lizards. Holy crap, so many lizards. When you open any of the doors, herds of baby lizards go streaking across the sidewalk. I’m always afraid I’m going to step on one. The anoles get bigger than any I’ve seen before too – some are close to 6 inches.

In the last week I have seen six separate toads. I am reasonably sure they are actually six DIFFERENT toads, and not the same toad six times. Some in the gardens, some around the potted plants, one hanging out on the front porch. Cute, fat toads.

And now that it’s getting to be fall, the jewel-back spiders are out again.

I was thinking about this today, and I realized it sounds a little like a wicked witch lives here. We’re actively cultivating a yard with a snake, toad, lizard, and spider population.

But then I also have a garden specifically for bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies, so I guess that balances out.

First Spring Harvest


Hopefully the first of many. That basket is completely filled with beans, and there will be more. The bean plants are covered with little beans still! (sadly the purple beans aren’t as prolific)

The corn is about shoulder height, and so are the tomatoes. No little corns yet, but lots of little tomatoes – the one that was ripe is a patio, and both patio plants are plastered with fruit as well (so much that one is top heavy enough to threaten to fall over every time I nudge it. Glad I have it caged!)

The herbs are also doing well, especially the butterfly bed. Zillions of lizards too, and at least one brown earth snake. I’ve not seen as many honeybees as I’d like though 🙁

November Tomatoes!

While I can’t say much for the rest of the garden (other than the eggplants), I seem to have had pretty good luck growing second season tomatoes this year. The broccoli and cauliflower are growing well, but not producing, and the squash are covered in flowers – but no squash, but the tomato plants are just covered in fruit and blooms.

I’m thinking I may just call it quits on trying to grow squash – I’ve just not had good luck with it here. The plants grow alright, but they either get sick and die, get stressed and die, or dry out and die. And then I’m stuck with huge swaths of garden that are not producing, which makes me kinda sad. Especially with how well eggplant and tomatoes do. Maybe I should just stick to nightshades!

Anybody want pie?

It’s that time of year again, when the citrus around here are ripening and turning sweet! Citrus requires cold weather to turn sweet – the fruit has been set on the tree for several months. This year we’ll likely have another bumper crop of limes – there are at least three times that many still on the (not that large) tree!

These are Mexican or Key limes – same/similar variety, just not grown on Key West. They’re yellow when ripe, but green on the inside. Delicious!

May Day

(warning: this story is not for the feint of skin conditions)

So for good luck, on May Day, one is supposed to go out and frolic and wash your face with the May morning dew. This is supposed to ensure beautiful, radiant skin all year.

I figure if getting up early enough to take a dewy frolic is enough to make for happy skin, I’ll try it. (My acne-prone skin will take all the help it can get.) Also, the garden needed watering, so I went and did that too. This meant that I was up and about around 7:30, which isn’t all that early, plus hey – naps rock.

Now, I live in a subdivision – an older one, but with many houses nonetheless. So even though I have a large-ish lot (just over 1/3 acre), there are neighbors in view. As such, my pyjamas just weren’t going to cut it as outdoor wear. Instead, I threw on a cute flower-print sundress.

It is important to the story that I mention I was ONLY wearing the cute flower-print sundress.

I went out and turned on the sprinkler in the front yard, properly clothed in my cute sundress, my hair looking as though I’d combed it with an eggbeater (curly hair + mornings = awesome). And then I went back through the house to water in the back.

As I passed by the garden cabinet on the porch I thought “Hmmm… You know, it’s Mosquito season, I might want some bug spray, and I’ve not showered yet, so I won’t stink of DEET at work.” I hosed down my arms and legs with the stuff and went out for the appropriate frolic/dew bath/garden tending. It wasn’t very sunny, but it was warm and breezy and quite nice.

(If you’ve not frolicked recently, I highly recommend it. I felt rather silly at first, twirling around like a top… but also felt very giggly and rather happy by the end of it. Plus, nobody could see me anyway, except the neighbor’s dog, who was completely uninterested in the batshit hippie next door.)

Having returned to the house with dewy feet, satisfied that the garden wouldn’t wilt, I discovered the one, utter, uncomfortable flaw in my plan.

I now have no less than four mosquito bites on my left butt cheek, plus one on the right for good measure.

And I have to go to work this evening.


Garden Update

April 2011 update, so that next year I can remember what was going on. I’m trying a few new things this year, so hopefully if I can remember to do these updates, I’ll have a nice little record.

(I know, I know, I should keep a gardening journal. I just suck at keeping journals!)

Vegetable Garden

  • Still have not planted new beans to replace the beans that never sprouted.
  • Tomato plants are about 4 feet tall, flowering but no tomatoes. Yellow Squash are prolifically flowering with small squash (3-4 inches).
  • Lettuce plants are near to bolting, arugula never came up. Radishes are slowly filling out, but I think I may not have planted them deep enough (or thinned them enough) as they are very leafy but still mostly have very spindly radish-parts.
  • Broccoli has been harvested from one plant, head about 3” across. Not very impressive
  • Need to: Sort compost and add to garden, then mulch.

Container Garden

  • Patio tomatoes not very tall, but about 8 tomatoes, around the size of ping pong balls. Jalapeno plants about 15” tall, no flowers. Yellow Pepper has two tiny peppers, but a smaller plant.
  • Plumeria still has no leaves.
  • Pencil cactus needs to be pruned, badly, or repotted.
  • Herbs look good, except for dill. Dill is a weed, and I can’t grow it. WTF? Really need to get basil and rosemary plants re-potted. Also, research why all my rosemary plants are spindly and weird and not “bushy” looking.
  • Lavender plants actually thriving, will need repotting within the month.
  • Lime tree fertilized, but not looking awesome. Lots of flowers though.

Butterfly Garden

  • Frank the Oregano has reached more than 4 foot diameter. Happy that Frank is happy, sad that Frank is intent on world domination. Pruning shears go!
  • Echinacea plants from last year are thriving, new plants are slowly taking hold. Weeding that part of the bed is a bi-weekly task.
  • Salvias are all thriving except one. Unsure of why one hates my guts.
  • Butterfly bush is holding on, after an attack by Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillars.
  • Bluebonnet is blooming! Yay!
  • Needs: Mulch

Flower Gardens

  • Wildflower seeds germinated nicely, hoping they flower and are pretty. Azaleas are done blooming. Irises have not yet flowered.
  • Gerbera daisies are happy and flowering, need water at least once a week. Of the 14 plants, all seem to be thriving and growing. Really hope they like that spot, since they’re quite pretty next to the garage. Hibiscus plant is recovering from the freeze nicely.
  • Pansies have been pulled up, 85 degree days were making them spindly and weird looking even if they still had flowers.
  • Two beds have been planted – Sago Palm bed has dwarf zinnias in as many colors as I could find. Coreopsis bed (which hasn’t flowered yet, but seems to be thinking about it) has been planted with … I don’t remember. Big pretty red and orange blanket flower things. Final bed will have more zinnias, once I get more of them.
  • Shasta daisies are getting ready to bloom.
  • Needs: Mulch. Watering regularly.

We also fertilized the yard (organic) and it’s kind of looking OK. Still trying to square with the idea that unless we pour vast quantities of fertilizer and weed killer on it, it won’t look like the other yards on the street that pay lots of money to have “lush green” yards that are kind of toxic.

As for critters, so far this year I have seen vast quantities of spiders, anole lizards, fence lizards, and skinks, plus one garter snake, a couple of toads, and a large assortment of birds. Our Cooper’s Hawk is still around as well, but the birds at the feeders seem to have wised up about him, and are much more careful. Squirrels are happy, as that means they can raid the sunflower seed feeder.

And that’s what’s going on in my gardens as of early April. It’s a lot of work, and I officially have my first tan lines of the year, but I really enjoy it.

Just, you know, don’t ask to see my fingernails.

How does your garden grow?

(Another sort of kum-ba-ya post for this week. Apparently I’m in that kind of mood.)

Reason #1 (which is actually a few reasons):

Because it’s fun. I get to spend time outside in the sun. I get to eat fresh, fully ripened vegetables I know were grown well and healthily. I get to feed garden spiders, meet snapping turtles, and watch lizards and skinks feast on craneflies, mosquitoes, and whatever else they can catch. I can go out and pick pretty flowers for my kitchen and cook with fresh herbs. I get 30-60 minutes of sunshine and “meditation” time every few days (or every day in the summer) while I water and tend to things, time spent alone, but with purpose. Because it forces me to actively pay attention to my surroundings. Because I can easily see the results of my work, whether it’s fewer weeds, pruned plants, picked harvests, or cleared out space for new things.

Reason #2:

Because it’s never just “go to work, come home, live meaningless and repetitive life” with a garden. In fact, I’d never really thought about it that way, until I read a recent article on Cracked.com about things they never tell children about being adults. Apparently, once you become an adult, you never have “summer” again – “summer” just means more work and then weekends doing housework and then more work, with no chance to re-create yourself and take breaks to think.

There’s a certain truth to that, unless you’re a teacher (at which point summer sometimes means working two seasonal jobs to get extra income). At work, time is measured in arbitrary weeks. Those weeks change, with weekends and shifts … well, shifting every week. Time is measured in coupons and promotions, sales plans and marketing strategies. It’s measured in hours of different colored squares that tell me that this hour I have to answer the phone, but next hour I have to stand at Register 3, before I go to lunch.

When I go home, though, I look at the plants in the yard. I notice that the replanted Pentas look a little droopy and need water, but that the mulch is holding up on the new bed pretty well. I notice that the gerbera daisies seem to be thriving in the bed with the hibiscus plant, and silently cheer to FINALLY have a spot for them (and that the new one I got last week with no color indication is, in fact, PEACH. NEW COLOR YAY!). I notice that the purple coneflowers have sprouted their batch of babies for this year, taking my total plants from 6 to about 30, and that the shasta daisies out front need water. I notice that it’s time to start eating lettuce, and that the radishes are starting to look radishey. I notice that the crepe myrtles are budding out, and that a few still need to be pruned.

I notice that it’s late March.

In June, I’ll be noticing something different. I’ll be pulling out dead squash and tomato plants and starting the season of “wait and see”, giving me time to plan a fall garden and start preparing for winter.  By September, I’ll be hoping to keep a last few plants alive, thankful for the butterfly and wildflower gardens ability to tolerate heat and drought. In October, I’ll plant broccoli and winter squash.

In short, even though I go to work, and my work is “meaningless” in terms of creating that new start, creating chapters and dividing lines in my life the way school once did, I always have the garden to find that meaning. Every spring is different. Some plants will die, others will thrive. I’ll hand turn the compost and coffee grounds and dead leaves into the soil, tilling under any last vestiges of what might’ve been left over last year, and start again fresh.

The seasons are pretty spiffy like that.

Reason #3:

Because when I work in a garden, in a muddy t-shirt and stained jeans and old boots, with my hair tied up in a bandanna and enough dirt going around that I eventually end up finding it not only between my toes but behind my ears and IN MY BRA, it doesn’t matter what I look like. It doesn’t matter if I can wear a bikini and not be in a state of high anxiety the whole time. It doesn’t matter if my (body part) doesn’t conform to (unrealistic social standard).

I’m in the garden. I can spend an afternoon with a shovel and a pickaxe, a rake and a hand mattock, and bust through many square feet of 30 year neglected shrubs. I can weed and water, put down mulch, prune plants and deadhead flowers. I can carry bags of mulch and topsoil and sand and poo. I know my way around a lawnmower and a weedeater; I’ve used a chainsaw and a pole saw. I can trim bushes and cultivate baby plants into strong seedlings that will grow into fully developed plants. I can tend things as they grow. And then, after all that tending, I get flowers and vegetables and fruits to show for it.

In the garden, I’m strong, capable, and awesome, even if I have dirt in my bra. It doesn’t matter what my mental state is, if I’m having a good or a bad day, the sheer physicality of the work grounds me and evens things out.

The Earth is strong, and I gain strength from working with it.

Why did my plant die?

Why Did My Plant Die?
by Geoffrey B. Charlesworth.

You walked too close. You trod on it.
You dropped a piece of sod on it.
You hoed it down. You weeded it.
You planted it the wrong way up.
You grew it in a yogurt cup
But you forgot to make a hole;
The soggy compost took its toll.
September storm. November drought.
It heaved in March, the roots popped out.
You watered it with herbicide.
You scattered bonemeal far and wide.
Attracting local omnivores,
Who ate your plant and stayed for more.
You left it baking in the sun
While you departed at a run
To find a spade, perhaps a trowel,
Meanwhile the plant threw in the towel.
You planted it with crown too high;
The soil washed off, that explains why.
Too high pH. It hated lime.
Alas it needs a gentler clime.
You left the root ball wrapped in plastic.
You broke the roots. They’re not elastic.
You walked too close. You trod on it.
You dropped a piece of sod on it.
You splashed the plant with mower oil.
You should do something to your soil.
Too rich. Too poor. Such wretched tilth.
Your soil is clay. Your soil is filth.
Your plant was eaten by a slug.
The growing point contained a bug.
These aphids are controlled by ants,
Who milk the juice, it kills the plants.
In early spring your garden’s mud.
You walked around! That’s not much good.
With heat and light you hurried it.
You worried it. You buried it.
The poor plant missed the mountain air:
No heat, no summer muggs up there.
You overfed it 10-10-10.
Forgot to water it again.
You hit it sharply with the hose.
You used a can without a rose.
Perhaps you sprinkled from above.
You should have talked to it with love.
The nursery mailed it without roots.
You killed it with those gardening boots.
You walked too close. You trod on it.
You dropped a piece of sod on it.