Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Backyard Biodiversity For Beginners Part 3 - Water

The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives.
-   American Indian Saying

 I couldn't think of a more valuable time such as this to think about the importance of water features and conservation  in our biodiverse backyard.

This year in Texas, we are experiencing the worse drought in over 44 years. If you have built your foundation, which is you soil, as I shared in this series in part 2 then water conservation becomes so much simpler.

If you haven't then you can count on loosing much of your garden in this drought. There would be no way of keeping it sufficiently watered without tremendous expense and water usage.

Your healthy rich soil will not require as much water. In order to have a healthy organic garden will greatly depend upon the wildlife in which you provide a habitat for.

Adding something as simple as a small frog pond provides an essential element for all living creatures. Why even a honeybee depends on water as much as the nectar of a flower.

On a hot day in Texas a beehive can collect over a quart a day to assist in cooling their hive and feeding their larva. 

 Vintage 1910 postcard from Texas

Oh how I would love to see one of these guys! The Texas Horned Lizard or Horned Toad as some call it. They are now very rare and endangered. If one shall live upon my pond I shall call unto the garden angels for its protection.

We have so many lost and endangered species. Mostly accounted for by loss of habitat and the wide spread of chemical usage. Frogs, toads and lizards eat a tremendous amount of insects throughout your garden.

I think Texas has the largest grasshoppers in the world. They can devastate a garden very quickly, so you need habitat and biodiversity throughout your backyard to provide healthy living predators. You just never know who might show up!

Another important thing to remember is rain is always better than ground water for your garden. Rain provides more oxygen and nitrogen that is not found in tap water.

Also tap water contains many minerals and additives that are not good for plants or soil. You can have a tremendous salt build up that is not healthy for the garden. Nothing causes your plants to green up naturally like a good rain. It is also free and doesn't use up valuable water resources. 

If at all possible, I think some sort of rain water collection is becoming increasingly vital for healthier ecosystems and co-existence with the natural world.

Some irrigation is still needed during severe droughts such as ours for successful vegetation. But the need is limited by far when you work towards a more sustainable lifestyle.

Although there are other factors, such as what types of plants and grass you are growing that will also lead to a successful backyard habitat, water sources are a major consideration while in the planning stages.

Biodivese Garden
Biodivese, my garden shall grow
So full of Life and Wonder
As the Cilantro burst with its white lacy flowers
Soft whispers they beckon, oh lady come home
The Larkspur so regal in blooms of sweet purple
Gentle sway in the breeze, the honeybees pleased
Peace and enchantment in herbs Dill and Fennel
For the Swallowtail flutters, leaving sweet pearls of silver
These things shall be left for my grandchildren to know
For only biodivese shall my garden grow. ~ Pammy

"You must have certain noble areas of the world left in as close-to-primal condition as possible. You must have quietness and a certain amount of solitude. You must be able to touch the living rock, drink the pure waters, scan the great vistas, sleep under the stars and awaken to the cool dawn wind. Such experiences are the heritage of all people".
--Ansel Adams, 1961

I found this really cool non-profit organization called "Save The Frogs." They are jammed packed full of information on all kinds of amphibians and how we can all help create habitats to protect our valuable biodiverse world.

Happy Gardening!!

Leaving you with a few scenes from today's garden.

Purple Bearded Iris

A surprise red bloom in the Snapdragons

Skipper Butterfly on Bachelor Button
(I thought it was a grasshopper at first)

The Gardens Edge

Monday, April 25, 2011

Beginning The Onion Harvest

Onions going to drying rack for curing

For some reason I hadn't expected to begin the onion harvest on Easter Weekend. Usually we begin around the beginning of May. Although May is actually only a couple weeks away, onions just don't seem, well.... very Eastery. They are not exactly the thing I imagine when the bunny is hopping down the bunny trail carrying his basket full of onions. None the less, here we were hippity hoppity onions on their way.

Onions getting layed up on the drying racks

I do have to admit however, that as we began laying up the onions on the drying racks they really began taking on sort of a Easter grassy look. I actually thought it was looking a bit like a tiki hut. So maybe we were having a Hawaiian type of Easter. I had to ask myself how does an onion go with a holiday that really isn't about the Easter Bunny, or cute chicks and eggs or candy and baskets or even white lilies and lambs. All these things are symbols that represent different things on Easter. They all relate to Jesus and what happened when He died on the cross and then arose again from His tomb. Jesus conquered Satin giving us life eternal. It just so happens that in Ancient Egypt the onion was a symbol for eternity. Their leaders also placed their right hand on an onion to take the oath of office. Although those of us who celebrate Easter do not worship the same God's and Goddesses as the Egyptian people. We also place our right hand on the Bible when taking an oath. The onion non the less once was considered a powerful symbol. It also left me with glorious thoughts of knowing that I can always find God in my garden.

So as we continued with our onion harvesting on Easter weekend, I was left feeling like we didn't miss Easter at all.

“The onion and its satin wrappings is among the most beautiful of vegetables and is the only one that represents the essence of things. It can be said to have a soul.”
My Summer in a Garden by Charles Dudley Warner

Happy Gardening and Happy Easter!!

Monday, April 18, 2011

French Bread Herb De Provence

 .French Fleur-de-lis on a cross adorning my Thyme

There are many rich cultures that are lost "Deep in the Heart of Texas" and the French are one of them. Their Fleur-de-lis, a symbol of royalty, once embellished the French flag that hung over Texas in 1685 near the Gulf Coast as they laid claim to our state.

The people of  France are also well known for their many herbs growing wild among their countries hillsides. The women would busy themselves collecting their fragrant aromas for adding to notoriously famous french cuisine that many of us try to capture today.

 I so love creating a tiny bit of folk lore in my own Texas herb garden that includes the French culture. It is said that the people in France would plant beds of Thyme to attract Faries and make them feel at home because the Faries were known to love Thyme. In return I shall know that the Faries watch over my herb garden.

 My version of the French Bread Herb De Provence

I so love baking bread! If you don't find me in the garden I will usually be baking bread. French Bread, Herb De Provence is on of my favorites. The Herb De Provence can be bought in markets and each company that makes it uses a little different herb blend.

Traditionally I believe the French used things like Thyme, which was the base for the blend and added things like Basil, Marjoram, Rosemary, Mint, Oregano, Sage, Fennel, Tarragon, Bay Leaves, Savory, Chervil and even Orange Zest. I'm sure there are a great deal more herbs that they included.

I've read that it was later, perhaps in the 1970's that Americans began to add Lavender to the blend. I found that a bit odd since France is so well known for their rolling hills of lush Lavender. However, Texas has become quite well know for their vast fields of Lavender as well.

The sky is really the limit to creating your own Herb De Provence blend. It would greatly depend upon your own personal preferences as well as the availability of assorted herbs.In my case, I use mostly fresh herbs. I do dry some herbs for winters use that die back with the first frost. But as springs promise for fresh herbs brightens each and everyday, it brings me great pleasure to clip a bit of this or that straight from the garden. I suppose you could say my recipe for Herb De Provence is seasonal.

I do however have a recipe that I love to use for making my french bread I would love to share. I've made it like the traditional french, making a poolish and it is very delightful. But I've found an easier version that simply comes out perfect every time.

As I gathered herbs for today's french bread I found lots of Thyme which is in flower right now. I always find the flowers of the herbs to be the most delectable portion of herbs. I also collected Oregano, Rosemary, Bee Balm (which has a mild citrus flavor) Pineapple Sage, Dill, Chives, Garlic and Leeks (which adds a subtle sweet onion flavor). I also love to add some fresh, finely grated and good quality Parmesan cheese to the blend as well as a bit of Sea Salt.

Leeks are gently protecting heirloom lettuce

 French Bread Herb De Provence

4 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups warm water
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
7 cups unbleached bread flour (start with 6 and then add as needed)
1 tbsp. sea salt
As many garden herbs as you like
finely minced garlic and leeks
Parmesan Cheese (finely grated)
a little cornmeal for dusting pan and rolling the dough in
1 egg white (farm fresh) whipped with about a tsp. of water for brushing on the loaf
You may also sprinkle the top with seeds

I first warmed my mixing bowl and then added the warm water and the yeast to dissolve. Then in another bowl I whisked together all the dry ingredients. Then add the dry ingredients to the yeast mixture. Use your dough hook and mix everything for a couple of minutes. Turn off the mixer and check the dough. If it still feels a bit to sticky add a little more flour. I then take it out of the mixing bowl and hand knead for about 5 minutes or so, until I have a nice soft and pliable dough.
Place it in another bowl that you have oiled with a little olive oil. I kind of roll the ball around in the bowl and then place a towel over it. Place it in a fairly warm area to rise to almost double in size. It takes about 45 minutes.

Next punch it down in the bowl and turn onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough in half. Roll each half into a nice rectangle shape and then roll it up to make a nice long loaf. Place them on a lightly oiled cooking sheet dusted with the cornmeal. I kind of carefully roll each loaf in the cornmeal. Tuck in the ends a bit and make sure the seam is on the bottom. Place a towel over the whole thing and let them rise again to double in size. Carefully slit the tops 4 to 6 times with a very sharp knife making diagonal very shallow cuts.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes. Take them out of the oven and brush with your egg white mixture and then place back in the oven for 3 to 5 minutes. Take out and cool your bread on wire racks.

I have a very special Herb friend, Rhonda, who has shared some of her Herb De Provence blends and recipes on her website at 

Growing Herbs for Beginners
 She also offers many online video classes. I had fun during Christmas doing some of the Christmas Craft Classes.

Learn to grow your own herbs with Growing Herbs for Beginners  Free online Video classes


Happy Gardening!!


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Wildflower Garden

Larkspur and Cilantro

To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter; to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird's nest or a wildflower in spring - these are some of the rewards of the simple life.  ~John Burroughs

 Bachelor Buttons
I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.  ~e.e. cummings

California Poppies
“Through the dancing poppies stole A breeze most softly lulling to my soul.” 
By John Keats

The Song of the Flower
"At dawn I unite with the breeze
To announce the coming of light;
At eventide I join the birds
In bidding the light farewell.
The plains are decorated with
My beautiful colors, and the air
Is scented with my fragrance.
As I embrace Slumber the eyes of
Night watch over me, and as I
Awaken I stare at the sun, which is
The only eye of the day.
I drink dew for wine, and hearken to
The voices of the birds, and dance
To the rhythmic swaying of the grass.
I am the lover's gift; I am the wedding wreath;
I am the memory of a moment of happiness;
I am the last gift of the living to the dead;
I am a part of joy and a part of sorrow.
But I look up high to see only the light,
And never look down to see my shadow.
This is wisdom which man must learn.  
 ~Khalil Gibran~
Wild Dewberry Blossoms  
"If instead of a gem, or even a flower, we should cast the gift of a loving thought into the heart of a friend, that would be giving as the angels give."
-  George MacDonald 

Happy Gardening!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Preparing the Historical Leek

Welsh Guard Adorning his Leek

The Leek, Allium porrum is a sweet and mild member of the onion family. I would say it has led quite an interesting history, seeming to stem as far back as biblical days and is mentioned in the book of Numbers as one of the things that was missed when the children of Israel left Egypt..What caught my attention was at one time Welsh soldiers actually wore a leek in their hats in the battle against the Saxon. They must have had fair size hats, because leeks can get quite thick. I would say the ones I'm using in my garden are a good 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter and very long, perhaps 25 to 30 inches.  The Welsh celebrate the victory won in battle on March 1st calling it St. Davids Day. Seeming enough all the Welsh people, men and women alike wear a Leek in their hats during the celebration. I got very curious and found a picture of a Welsh Guard wearing his imitation Leek in his hat as a symbol of pride. I just never knew what was up with the plume. It is amazing to me the history one can learn from vegetables.

I soon began my day pulling up a delectable leek and gathering fresh herbs from the garden with plans to prepare a wonderful Texas Cowhorn Stew.  All the herbs are quite splendid during this second week of April and I've been quite anxious to use several of them. The stew has just a tiny bit of kick to it, or this just wouldn't be Texas. Everything is being loaded into the crock pot early today and cooking on high to be good and ready to ring that bell for dinner time.

3 small beef shanks
About a dozen sm. to med. carrots, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1/2 large Poblano Pepper, diced
1 large leek, sliced lengthwise
1 can diced tomatoes
Bee Balm (Monardia), 1 sprig
Thyme, several sprigs
Oregano, 3 or 4 sprigs
Rosemary, 1 sprig
1 1/2 tsp.Sea Salt, or to taste
2 tsp. Cumin
1 tsp. black mustard seed
1 tsp. Chili powder, or to taste
A few shakes of black pepper
Cilantro (optional, to be used fresh as garnish)
OH..and decided to throw in some potatoes and mushrooms! Yum!


Add meat first to crock pot. Chop and dice all the vegetables and place on top of meat. Add the can of tomatoes and then the spices. Dice the herbs and put them on the top. I do the Leeks last. You must clean and prepare Leeks in a special way. They will have dirt and stuff from the garden down inside and must be cleaned and sliced properly.
First Cut the ends off, just leave a little green. Then slice the leek lengthwise in half. Next I sliced the leek several more times, to about the width of a linguine noodle. Rinse them with water to be sure to remove any dirt.

You can then dice them cross ways, but I prefer to leave them long like pasta and lay them on the very top in the pot. Fill the pot full of water and turn it on high with the lid on. At the end of cooking I stir the Leeks down into the stew and sprinkle on a tad of chopped cilantro.

Serve up a hot bowl to the family with some homemade fresh bread!!

Happy Gardening!!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Spring Time Watergate Cake

For a very special occasion, like my Mothers Birthday, a gift from the heart is homemade cake. I love to ponder on favorite things to eat and colors with a little character coming from something nostalgic. For my mom the pistachio nuts seemed to do the trick for flavor and the fresh and light spring colors of soft green and pinks seemed just right for a March in Texas. I always think about my mom in spring as her birthday comes as the wildflowers open. For the nostalgia part of the cake, would be the Watergate Cake itself. It first received its name in the early 70's as the notorious Nixon Watergate Scandal took place. Jell-o had just come out with their first ever pistachio pudding mix as it was all happening. As the folks in their test kitchens went to work on some recipes to use for their new product they came up with the Watergate Cake and the Cover Up Frosting as well. They say it was named Watergate Cake because it was filled with nuts and covered in fluff ostensibly like the Nixon administration had been. None the less, I had my first slice of Watergate Cake made by a dear friend for myself. My memory recalled it as being the best cake I had ever had. For that reason I thought it the best cake to make for this very special celebration.

Pink Primrose Wildflowers at our Gate
Everyone seems to have a little twist on how they prefer to make a Watergate Cake. Most who know me well know I don't like making anything from a box. But I would assume that we must all have our indulgence once in while for a special event. So you will find a few healthy things I tried to add to this recipe as well as a whole lot of stuff from boxes. After all it's my Mothers Birthday.

Watergate Cake Recipe

1 White Cake Mix
1 pkg. instant pistachio pudding
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup applesauce
3 farm fresh eggs
1 cup 7up or club soda
1 cup nuts crushed very fine (I used pecans)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two round cake pans. Whisk your dry ingredients together. Add the rest of the ingredients and beat on medium high until well combined. Bake on 350 for 45 to 50 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Cover Up Frosting

2 boxes instant pistachio pudding mix
2 1/2 cups milk
2 pkgs. dream whip topping mix
1 cup of crushed pineapple

Drain the pineapple. Cook it on the stove top in a saucepan just long enough to cook down any extra juice from it. Set aside.Next combine all the other ingredients and whip until nice and thick. After your cakes are cooled you can spread the pineapple on the top of the first layer and then frost on top of it. Place your top layer on the cake and finish frosting. For a little fun and decoration I make tiny flowers with soft pink mint candy and made the leaves by slicing green sugar gummy candies.

Happy Gardening and Happy Birthday Mom!!