"…By what stretch of arrogance do you think a life form that looks like you is more important than a life form that doesn’t?”Joel Salatin

Nothing is more beneficial to your wellbeing than to look for and acknowledge those parts of everyday life that you enjoy.

"If you are happy where you are now, why does it matter how painful it was to get there?" -- Abraham

"It is no bad thing to celebrate a simple life." -- Bilbo Baggins a.k.a. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

"And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet, and the winds long to play in your hair." -- Kahill Gibran

“And forget not

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Changing Direction.

My front yard July 2013

My front yard in January 2015

The front yard went from green to brown in about a year and a half.  I can't explain this.  It seems to have been a combination of some sort of soil deficiency, erosion and five years of drought.

I've lived in this house for 35 years.  Most of that time, the yard looked like the picture on the left, green and lush, but it was a lot of work.  My husband fought to keep that St. Augustine here in hot dry Texas because "it feels good when you walk on it barefoot." And it did.

It started having multiple problems many years ago. After Ronnie was diagnosed as dying in 2010, he told me some things I might try to keep it in good shape. I hated to disappoint him at this time of greatest stress and sorrow, but I didn't want to promise to do something I had no intention of doing. So I took a deep breath and uttered words I knew he was not going to enjoy. "I'll probably let the Bermuda take over."

Ronnie passed away in August of 2011.

Grief is a strange experience.  It effects everyone differently. When the drought really set in, I avoided looking at the front lawn as much as possible. I went to work and came home every day, pulling into the driveway and going directly inside. With our city reservoir down to 18%, we were not allowed to water outside at all except with gray water, and that was wasted in front, running down hill in trails and running out into the street.  Ronnie's beloved, manicured lawn was gone and I didn't have the energy, the strength or the ability to focus long enough to do anything to fix it, so I chalked it up to one of those things I could not change -- at least not right then.

As you can see in the photo on the right, the Bermuda didn't take over.  Those small yellow areas were all that remained of it.

In August of 2014, I cancelled the lawn service that administered chemical pre-emergent, so after Christmas,  I threw out a wildflower seed mixture in hopes that something would germinate and slow down the erosion that had become the biggest problem.

Then in early January of this year, I woke up. I really saw the stark reality of the lawn situation and I hit the panic button -- sort of.  The shade in this yard comes from a huge pecan tree.  I had already lost 6 trees to this drought.  I could not even begin to imagine my yard or my house without that shade -- or not having the paper shell pecans it puts out most years.

You've heard the expression -- or some variation of it, "when one door closes, another one opens."

I don't remember what I googled that brought Permaculture front and center on my Facebook page. I had never heard of it but I felt certain it was an open door that I should walk through.


          May 2015

As per instructions ( sort of) from Permaculture, I dug a series of swales all the way across the front starting just below the pecan tree.

I made the decision to allow anything to grow that had roots.  Soon I had several dandelions, some thistles, hen bit and chickweed -- all the usual Texas "weeds" -- which come to find out are actually Nature's remedy for bare exposed soil -- religiously stamped out by the pre-emergent.

I bought pink evening primrose plants and seeds from the local native nursery and transplanted vinca major, sedum and other plants that I had growing in the back.

Then it started raining -- and the yard went from brown to green again in four months. Problems solved. Right?

Could have been.  After reading just a little bit about Permaculture, though, and learning some about urban farming, I decided I'd like to grow food in my front yard, but now I have all this evening primrose flourishing  -- replacing my lawn grasses -- just as I envisioned.

I'm not real sure what I'm going to do about that, but I planted corn in a flowerbed close to the house and I may put a couple of hills of squash in front of the corn since none of the squash plants I already have growing in back have made anything edible.

I am still excited to have green instead of brown. My pecan tree is as beautiful and sprawling as ever. And to top off all these wonderful blessings, our reservoir is 100% again and my pecan tree has a bumper crop forming.

I walk out front several times every day now to see what's new, to look at the greenery, the flowers, to appreciate it all, and to communicate with my pecan tree. I am so glad it's still with me, and I sense the appreciation it has for all my hard work.

Or is that Ronnie walking with me? Seeing the beauty of it all through my eyes, smelling the wonderful fragrance of the honeysuckle through my senses, anticipating the delicious taste of fresh harvested pecans in the fall? Even though it is all very different than what he chose when he was here, I think he approves.

And that makes it all the better.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Great Expectations -- of being a Farmer

Early spring before the heavy rains arrived. On the far  side of the yellow
yarrow are three Marionberry plants. You can't even see them from here.

Folks who live on a limited income would have a difficult time choosing organically grown, responsibly raised food. For some reason, it's expensive to leave off all those chemicals or keep chicken, pigs and cows in humane conditions. I'm guessing most organic farmers don't raise thousands of acres of crop so they have to get more for their produce than the commercial grower, but I really don't understand why. I'm sure there's a "perishable loss" that has to be absorbed and accounted for whether its organic or not.

But the fact remains that most of us have no idea how to grow our own food -- any of our own food.
Many of us have completely lost touch with that knowledge.

Realizing that IF the economy were to collapse -- and there are more sources expecting that than I ever realized -- I'd be one of those with a sizable piece of ground that grows nothing but grass, trees and flowers.

On the left, new corn sprouts rescued out of the
"swamp area". Right, are some recuperating green beans.
Behind the air pruning baskets are four volunteer plants. 
I'm not sure what they are (?) and behind those are the
six feet tall Marionberries supported by bamboo and twine.

So I decided to try my hand at growing edible stuff. I'm 66, though, and digging up a plot of ground, then weeding etc, does not appeal to me any more now than it did when I was younger, so I sought alternative gardening methods. So far, I'm having limited success.

I had a good crop of onions!

I have blooming okra plants out the wazoo and I have picked a few pods -- enough to fry with some potatoes and onions.

I have blooming squash out the wazoo too -- but no squashes yet. I noticed the blossoms of the squash were falling off instead of setting squash, so I googled it and discovered that squash plants put out male and female blossoms.  Only the females bear fruit.  The first blossoms are male and the female blooms will come later to set fruit. Isn't Nature awesome!

Cucumbers! I do have two real live cucumbers. And I planted some "lemon cucumbers'. They are climbing on the wire cages around the Marionberries and are loaded with blooms but so far I can't see any cucs. I picked one of the two small cucumbers to put in a salad for some old friends.

I have eaten three home grown tomatoes, used four in guacamole and there are three or four on the plants -- but I can only see two new tomatoes. With temperatures going past 90 degrees, they may not set more new fruit. They are blooming, though, so we'll see what happens.

I have blooming green beans plants too, and I've picked a few. I had a handful so I cut them up and sautĂ©ed them with onions, the few okra pods I had picked that day, some cabbage and potatoes.  It was wonderful!

Corn planted in stacked cinder bricks.
And corn! I have 7 visible ears of corn in the making. That should get us through the winter, lol. I planted some more in the low spot in the back yard that gets plenty of sun.  They sprouted in just a few days. Then it started raining again and they were standing in inch deep water for two days, so I transplanted them to an "air pruning" basket and they don't seem to be any worse for wear.

My daughter, Deidre, cut down the boxwood shrubs in front of her window to make more room for growing food.  I planted the rest of that packet of organic corn seeds in that flowerbed. I intend to plant more okra in front of that single row of corn.

Growing food is not easy.  There is a lot to learn. For one thing, I discovered a little too late that all bagged dirt is not equal. So I followed a recipe for garden soil on Larry Hall's site, and re-planted some things and transplanted others. I'm waiting to see improvements.

I planted watermelons in one of the straw bales.  As soon as they  sprouted, something started eating them, so I transplanted them into a grow bag full of cheap  "garden soil" and they sat there without moving one way or another for several weeks.  I added some bonemeal, and some worm castings but still nothing, so I filled another grow bag with Larry's mix and transplanted them again and now the watermelons have new leaves!

All straw bales are not equal either. (That was doomed from the time we got those bales home and couldn't identify the cut side) Out of the six bales, three are growing something. I may not have done the initial decomp correctly. Two of the original four tomato plants I put in the bales have recuperated from nearly dead and are doing quite well, so I added a handful of worm castings and some Larry's mix to the bales and planted bare root strawberry plants in the rest of them.

When I bought the strawberry plants, I intended to plant them in my front yard on berms located on the lower side of swales, but with all this incredible rain the bermuda grass has taken over the berms. Too much intense labor to get it out so I will let it be and mow it.  I'm looking for "easier" out front.

I needed to get the strawberries planted so I put most of them in the straw bales. They already have new leaves! I'll figure out what to do with them in the fall. I might be able to line the bales with cinder blocks and just leave them in place.

 Looking forward to next year on these beauties!

I was concerned about my three Marionberry plants when water backed up in the yard where I planted them, but they don't seem to mind being wet -- or dry. They are six feet tall now and really branching out.

A friend told me recently that when you start gardening vegetables, there's about a 3 year learning curve.  

It's only the middle of June. Texas is just beginning to come back to "hot and dry" so I'm sure more challenges will pop up as summer settles in, but the pecan trees are flourishing with all this rain. There is going to be a nice crop of pecans and much denser shade to give relief to all of the gardens at different times of every day.  My expectations are very high for a bountiful harvest of all sorts of goodies.

But, for me, the best part is feeling more in harmony with all that is. 

"Oh, I love the life within me! A part of everything is here in me." -- John Denver 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Welcome Back!

It's hard to believe that less than two months ago, Lake Arrowhead, our main city reservoir was down to 18%. In two weeks it filled to 100% and is going over the spillway! So are Lakes Kickapoo, Wichita and Diversion.

You can have a party if you want to -- but I'm just going to think about and talk about how wonderful it is, how incredible it feels to have water in our lakes again. It's just good for the soul.

I realize that lots of folks are not high and dry during all this rain, and I sympathize with them. I have my own unique flooding problems. They are nothing compared to those who have lost loved ones or their homes in the flooding rains that filled our lake.

Those of us who have been here in this area for a long time, knew it would take these flooding rains to return the lakes and reservoirs to acceptable levels. Once 82% of a lake bed is dry, it takes a tremendous amount of rain -- all at once  -- to fill it up.

It has been a long worrisome haul and I am glad to have the lakes full again -- especially Arrowhead.

So what does this mean? I noticed someone on Facebook expressing her joy that we can wash our cars again without feeling guilty. Another was looking to buy a Slip-n-slide for outdoor water fun. I caught myself wanting to return to my old easier dishwashing habits, and I thought, have you not learned anything during this drought?

Seth and I stopped in the middle of a running

battle with water guns to rescue some 
earthworms from the storm waters

Yes, I have learned a lot -- about conserving and harvesting water, about how miserable and troublesome it is not to have easy access to all I want and need. I've even realized that I was quite wasteful. I need to make some permanent changes to the way I did things before the drought. I need to take care that I don't return to those wasteful habits, but I don't want to stay in this drought mindset either.

One of the answers I found is to harvest rainwater. After some trial and error, I bought one 330 gallon IBC, then two 270 gallon IBC's. Deidre and Andy hooked them up to the roof gutters on the house and Bruno's Shop. We hooked up a 40 gallon trash can to the gutter on the pigeon pen -- which recently I expanded to three 40 gallon tanks. Even with the sparse rains we got last spring and summer, I always had water to use on my potted plants. I used most of what I captured behind the shop around the Desirable pecan tree that has been diminishing every year.

Even with the lakes full, and watering restrictions being relaxed, I don't intend to use city water for gardening any more. What falls from the sky amid thunder, lightening, and wind is so much more beneficial to all that grows.

Another solution is to figure out how to keep the rain that falls on your property --  in your soil.

I dug the now semi famous swale (semi famous because I talk about it all the time, lol) across my bare dirt front yard.

The very first benefit of the swale was that it gave me a way to water my paper shell pecan tree with harvested water.

Then it started raining -- and the swales filled and absorbed again and again -- and again. I did not realize that the ground would just keep on sucking up the water, but it did.

The cost of municipal water keeps going up. The city council raised the rates during the shortage.  I'll be real surprised if the rates go back to anything even close to pre-drought rates now that the lakes are full. You know how it is, the more you make, the more you spend. City government is not going to want to absorb that kind of loss.

From what I've read, it's still up in the air as to whether or not the current drought is over.  I've also heard that it's being predicted that these rains may continue through June. Would the drought be considered "over" if that happens? Maybe -- but another long period with no rain is very common here. When summer gets into full swing here in 2015 we may find ourselves wishing it would rain again.

Last summer with no outside watering being allowed, my daughter bought us some water guns. We had a blast with those guns! We were wet and refreshed and it was lots of fun -- and we didn't use a fraction of the water we'd have used with a pool or a sprinkler. I think we'll keep those handy!

Flowing water -- what a beautiful sound!