Nature ->Yard -> Garden -> Us -> Nature
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Author:  northwesterner [ Mon Feb 23, 2009 10:34 pm ]
Post subject:  Nature ->Yard -> Garden -> Us -> Nature

NOTE: the most recent post is on the last page of this thread. Now that it is on more than one page, you may want to read backward from the newest post.


I'm an organic gardener of incredibly modest means. I'm a homebody, easily entertained, I have lots of plans but it sometimes takes a while for them to be realized. Some are in the category of "when I win the lottery."

When I bought this house I was actually more interested in the yard, to begin with. It had to be big enough to actually do some gardening. It had to be in a nice location--that doesn't mean that I desired neighbors with great turf (though most of the time they do)--I wanted Nature with a capital N, unmoderated, nearby.

I found a half-acre on Sycamore Creek in Edgecliff Village, an enclave of Fort Worth. My back yard was a thicket when I moved in, and it wasn't until spring was well under-way that I realized (ala The Secret Garden) that I had another 25+ feet of yard, after I pruned the overgrown grasses and vines at the back fence and found a gate, and pruned my way back to my portion of the creek. I'm on a bluff overlooking a large pool. I started landscaping my bare bermuda grass yard immediately, and in my second year here there was enough cover that I had several batches of baby bunnies raised in my front yard. Now that I have dogs they're more cautious, but they don't stay away. Amazing.

There are woods across the road. Alas, developers have leveled about 100 acres of wonderful prairie that was nearby, but we still have about 30 acres of woods along the creek, that connect with prairie further out. Vultures, owls, hawks, turkeys (!), egrets, herons, woodpeckers, fox, coyotes, and many more birds and animals travel through our end of the village along our creek corridor. I live 15 minutes from downtown Fort Worth. What a perfect blend of nature and culture.

I have tarantulas in my yard, toads, snakes, turtles, lots of bugs. In with all of this biological activity, I have a garden. Not an elaborate patch, but one I love to putter in, and I've built it up over the few years I've been here. I put it beside the driveway because I can see it out my kitchen window and visitors are always thrilled to poke around and see what is growing. Most of my visitors know I'm just as excited to show them the latest tarantula hole or cicada killer hole as I am to show you the beautiful aubergine eggplants. It's a friendly place, and I know who likes eggplant, or chard, or peppers, who enjoys transplanting flowers, and you'll often times see two or three of us out standing in one of our yards on summer mornings, comparing notes or watching vultures dine on fresh squirrel. Like I said, easily entertained.

I'm a former park naturalist, and as my children know, you can't just turn it off when you're not in the National Parks any more. Also, I studied for a MA in Environmental Philosophy at UNT. More ammunition.

I don't want to start a new thread for every little thing that occurs to me, but I thought I'd like to start a "blog" thread here at the Dirt Doctor site to remark on interesting stuff in my yard and neighborhood. Plus, I work at UTA, and there is interesting stuff on that campus. Some of their trees ARE buried too deep in the ground, but a lot of them are doing just fine. I commented on the great post oaks on campus on another thread earlier this evening. Beautiful trees. I think a squirrel planted one in the back corner of my yard a few years ago. I've been protecting that small tree from the string trimmer and hope the next door neighbor's ancient and crumbling hackberry doesn't smash it one night in a wind storm. I had mustang grapes on the fence, but they didn't produce fruit. There's a great batch across the road, though, and I made a case of jelly (and had a bad case of poison ivy while I was at it.) It's all commingled, a stream-of-consciousness in the natural world. So I'll commingle it here.

I signed up at Dirt Doctor to reflect my roots (and accent), but some of you will recognise me from calling in as "Maggie in Fort Worth."

I've been out digging in my garden dirt, trying to head off some of the problems of the coming season. I found one pupa of the tobacco/tomato hornworm over where the tomatoes were last year. Amazing big thing, with it's curly tail. I transported it across the road to the woods. If it finds something to eat over there in it's ravenous stage, it is welcome to come back when it is a sphinx moth, to do pollinating.

I'll quit now. There's a lot more to think about and share, but it's probably better in smaller doses. :)

Author:  Dirt Doctor [ Tue Feb 24, 2009 6:32 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Nature ->Yard -> Garden -> Us -> Nature

Welcome aboard. Your blog is a good idea. Yes, some trees can be too deep in the ground and appear to be doing fine. If the soil is removed however, the true potential of the tree can seen. Damage is being done to any plant too deep in the soil but the worst symptom, at least for several years, can be slow or basically no growth.

Author:  sandih [ Tue Feb 24, 2009 8:14 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Nature ->Yard -> Garden -> Us -> Nature

How lucky are you to have the best of both worlds. Please feel free to tell us of the things you see and do in your garden.

Author:  northwesterner [ Thu Feb 26, 2009 6:49 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Nature ->Yard -> Garden -> Us -> Nature

I am adopting a more hands-on process with finding and ridding my garden of pests. In the past I would determine there was an over-population of something I didn't want, and I would find the appropriate organic spray or treatment. And I still do that, but after last season's multiple pests and a lot of research, I decided to be more proactive.

Every year it seems to be a new pest. Last year I had a lot of lace bug (pg 96 in the Texas Bug Book) and leaffootted bug (pg 104). And others. The sprays didn't seem to work on these two pests, who were doing a lot of damage, so I turned to simple physical removal. I have images of those I'll post later.

This month I've found another "old friend"--the tobacco hornworm (pg 168-69). A year ago I was poking under a vitex to see if it was planted too deep in the ground, and was startled to uncover a huge pupa. I didn't know what it was, so I left it alone.


During the year my garden was visited many times by tobacco horn worms, dropping their huge black crystalline poop on the ground beneath whatever they were devouring.


This winter I have been digging my beds and when I find bad actors like this, I transplant them, because it is only one particular stage I have problems with. I want the pollinator to come visit, but I don't want the voracious teenager to eat up all of my plants. So this one now resides in the woods across the road. When it is a sphinx moth, it can come back and pollinate my jimson weed and other plants as much as it wants.


Author:  Dirt Doctor [ Thu Feb 26, 2009 7:06 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Nature ->Yard -> Garden -> Us -> Nature

These are wonderful shots! Would you mind if we added them to the Library so they would be easier for people to find? Your theory of protecting all but the larvae is great but we have to figure out how to keep them alive with limited plant damage to get the pupae and pollinating moths. I like your thinking.

Author:  northwesterner [ Thu Feb 26, 2009 9:10 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Nature ->Yard -> Garden -> Us -> Nature

Thanks! I think those eyespots on the tobacco hornworm are so darned cute that I've considered rolling one around to get a super-closeup. ;-)

These were cropped for posting on the web, and display at 600px wide and 72dpi. I have the original full-sized un-cropped images (they're in the 1meg range) that I can send if you want the full photo for reference. But feel free to save or use these. They're linked from a photobucket account.

As to limited plant damage from relocated pupas--over in the woods where I'm transporting them, I don't know what they'll eat, but it doesn't matter, it is a truly wild area. As long as they don't clobber the mustang grapes they're welcome to chomp away on anything else!

Author:  Dirt Doctor [ Fri Feb 27, 2009 7:30 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Nature ->Yard -> Garden -> Us -> Nature

Tha'd be great. Send them to info@dirtdoctor.com

Author:  northwesterner [ Fri Feb 27, 2009 11:10 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Nature ->Yard -> Garden -> Us -> Nature

I had beaucoups eggplants on the three plants I grew last year in what merged into a hedge of aubergine. I was taking them to friends and to work by the bucket-full at the end of the season. I cooked and froze a lot of them as eggplant parmesan patties that I'm still eating this winter. It was wonderful, and though I had more than I wanted and could have let them go when the predatory bugs got going, I wanted to keep it a healthy crop to the end.

Using any spray, organic or otherwise, when there are so many surfaces to try to reach isn't easy. I figured that if I could simply remove them when I found them, I'd try that, and I think it worked best.

The most prominent eggplant pest last year was the lacebug (page 96, Texas Bug Book).

I tested a couple of types of tape and settled on the two-inch painter's masking tape, it doesn't have a super-sticky surface to rip the leaf but it's enough to pick up adults, motile hatchlings, and peel off many of the sticky eggs. It's cheap at any hardware store.

These bugs do the same thing I've seen with spiders and praying mantis--they all hatch at once and for a little while they're a cluster of tiny bugs running around near the nest.

There were other, beneficial bugs on the plant, and I was careful to leave them alone. I found the unusual eggs from lacewings, and I found stages of ladybugs that I worked around.

I had other pests like some mealy bugs, attacked by the Crypolaemus montouzieri or "mealybug destroyer"--this one has what might be called a "ragmop" stage and looks pretty horrible itself-- that were rolled up on the tape. {I came back to correct this: I had the mistaken impression that the white insect was a stage in the ladybug development, but it isn't.)

Here is the Crypolaemus:


Here is one of the varieties of mealybug:


Anyway, you can roll quite a few bugs onto this loop of tape, and since it's just sticky paper, it can go in the compost when you're done.

Author:  RossK [ Sun Mar 01, 2009 8:40 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Nature ->Yard -> Garden -> Us -> Nature

I like your approach to IPM. What a great way to use a loop of masking tape to remove the majority of unwanted eggs or youngin's and perhaps leave the others to a hefty blast of water or a mild soap solution. Good photos too !

Author:  sandih [ Sun Mar 01, 2009 9:55 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Nature ->Yard -> Garden -> Us -> Nature

I'm really enjoying this too.

Author:  northwesterner [ Sun Mar 01, 2009 12:35 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Nature ->Yard -> Garden -> Us -> Nature


I still use the soap-compost tea-orange oil sprays (they discussed a great "recipe" on the program this morning, for weekly application, that included fish fertilizer). I concocted the tape routine because if I'm out looking at the plants to see what is visiting, then go back to the house to mix the spray, I may or may not find them again. This way I know they're out there and those I find as I look around are history, the rest I hope to catch with the spray, but I don't spray as often this way.

There is a "model" I have in mind for this hands-on bug control. In Leslie Marmon Silko's novels and short stories, she has a lot of environmental things going on in the background as well as the plot. In graduate school I viewed an NEH 1980 short film she produced called Estoyehmuut and the Gunnadeyah (Arrowboy and the Witches) that was never publicly released. There is a scene in the garden where the grandmother is talking to the youthful protagonist, and while they talk she is picking worms or caterpillars off of the corn. As they exit the garden she throws the container of worms to the ducks. How simple, and how elegant a solution to the problem of worms in the corn, but it takes the human step of mechanically moving them from the plant to the duck. If you are so lucky as to have a more complex system that includes birds, goats, etc., it would be wonderful for pest and weed control. The best I can do is toss the tape into the compost!

Author:  RossK [ Sun Mar 01, 2009 12:51 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Nature ->Yard -> Garden -> Us -> Nature

I mean....no offense, but do you really see a profound benefit to try to compost the tape's adhesive compounds too ? It would be my inclination to give those used tape loops a heave-ho into my Monday morning trash can at the bottom of the driveway.

With either method of disposal, however,....the plants in our gardens are the true beneficiaries !

Author:  northwesterner [ Sun Mar 01, 2009 2:05 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Nature ->Yard -> Garden -> Us -> Nature

Good point.

They don't all go there, but by the time they've gone through that mix of stuff in the household bin beside my driveway (the contents go into the big compost pile once the kitchen veggie scraps break down so the dogs are no longer interested in them), they're gone. It's mostly just paper.

Follow-up: Out of curiosity, I researched the tape. It is crepe paper with natural rubber adhesive. There are a couple of links with more information: http://www.shop3m.com/70006319308.html is pretty close (the variety I have here is Scotch 3M, #2020). http://tinyurl.com/azrgm5 goes to technical data for this type of tape. Looks pretty healthy, all things considered.

Author:  northwesterner [ Sun Mar 08, 2009 2:21 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Nature ->Yard -> Garden -> Us -> Nature

This will be my first year to have a martin house up in the yard. It was a gift a couple of years ago, but I haven't been quite sure when to have the house open. I found some useful printouts at the Marshall Grain website and have had my eye out for the returning birds. I'll try opening the house after they've been in the area for about a month, so the younger, returning birds that don't have a fixed nesting place yet will discover it.

Meanwhile, I have other birds around the yard that I've photographed. Bigger is easier to capture when you don't have a super-long lens (or time to dig it out before the bird departs.) Here are a few of the big boys.

Local "ground crew" members are on the job--turkey vultures.

My next door neighbor has a TV aerial on a HAM antenna-type tower. Many birds enjoy this perch.


A bit grainy, shot with an older camera and I accidentally saved the web image over the original full-sized shot, so I can't re-crop it. I originally thought this was a great blue heron, but the body isn't right and the neck isn't kinky enough, or the beak long enough. Almost looks like a sand hill crane, doesn't it? They're seasonal visitors, and I've seen them in the area, in Meadowcreek Park in Southwest Fort Worth. Will they perch on antennas?


Author:  northwesterner [ Sat Mar 14, 2009 9:28 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Nature ->Yard -> Garden -> Us -> Nature

A couple of mornings ago I was preparing to step out of my side door and spotted an adult Mediterranean house gecko prostrate on the stair. Like Cinderella, the witching hour of cold weather caught this guy unprepared, and he seemed destined to die on the porch.

I picked him (?) up and very shortly he was warm and frisky in my hand. And before I'd found a clean plastic lidded container in the recycling bin he'd ditched his tail.

Our conversation was one-sided: "Don't DO that! I don't plan to eat you!" He's in a tub until it warms up again, uninterested in the meal worm I dropped in with him.

ImageI got to thinking, what eats house geckos, if I'd left him out on the porch? I still don't know for sure (around here in warm weather I'd guess snakes and tarantulas, and the dogs have tried a few), but I found a wonderful web site with great photos and detailed information about all sorts of reptiles and amphibians. This is California Reptiles and Amphibians (http://www.californiaherps.com/) but it has a "beyond California" category with quite a good array of identified critters and clear photos.

P.S. I raise my own meal worms in a 3-pound margarine tub with air holes in the top. There always seems to be an occasion during the year when some baby bird turns up or a critter needs a bite of food. My across the street neighbor found blue jays the morning after a tree-smashing storm two years ago, and we managed to build a bird house, stuff the surviving baby in, and Mom bird continued to feed it and it survived. But it was a candidate for meal worms until the house was built.

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