Sundays Are For Spanish: Lovely Lamb’s Ear

Me encanta esta planta: la oreja del cordero. Por sus hojas y sus flores pequeñas. A las abejas les gusta tambien.

I love this plant: lamb’s ear. For its leaves and its little flowers. The bees like it too.

Sus hojas son muy suaves y no necesita mucha agua.

Its leaves are very soft and it doesn’t need much water.

¿Cual es tu planta favorita?

What’s your favorite plant?

Avocado On

I started an avocado seed back in July. This particular avocado seed was planted with the hope that I could keep it growing in its pot, could spare it from the curious fingers of my son Sergio. Well, I have succeeded so far and mi aguacate is growing well. My house is not good for growing plants indoors – not enough windows and eaves that are too wide. I have no windows that face either the west or east and my house is situated so that little southern light enters my house.

I have settled this avocado on one of my favorite pieces of furniture, next to a window that receives some northern light. I must only remember to open the drapes. Some books keep her company while she sits in the window and while we wait for my curious children to return home.

We struggle on in waiting. And this time, in the hopes that a little someone does look too closely, with an excited imagination as tiny fingers pull the skinny plant right from the pot.

When That Frost Hits

We had our first frost of fall a few nights ago. The elephant ears (orejas de elefante) were obviously not going to make it. Most people dig up their bulbs, store them in a dry box, and replant them in the spring.

I’m lazy about bulbs, so I cover them with leaves and hope to see their return in the spring. Last year my method worked. I was given a bunch more bulbs this year by my neighbor, who had stored them. They grew great and are now covered with leaves along with my original set.

Poor things. Lol. They’ll be back though, I feel certain.

Composting Yet?

My brother and I were talking on the phone the other day and he mentioned the leaves in his yard. He was going to take them to a friend’s house and dump them there.

“Start a compost pile,” I told him, for the millionth time. I try to persuade everybody to do it, but usually get few takers.

“Seriously, the leaves are good material and no one will even notice,” I said. He said he would think about it. Lol. Damn right he will cuz I’ll keep bringing it up.

So, while there is all this lovely organic matter just laying all over the place, pick a spot, rake a heap, add some rotten food and boom, baby, you’re a composter.

Let me know how it goes 🙂

Remember Me

Hopefully, you do. If not, that’s okay, too. I have been suffering lately from a rare form of Post Partum Depression – something that I thought I had under control. But, looking back on things and the manic writing I was doing (the climate crisis has traumatized me because I am concerned for the futures of our children), I was sick. I am healing by following the advice of medical professionals and will not be sharing every step of the journey.

I did not want anyone to think that I had forgotten them, so this is just a note of “Hey, I’m still here,” for some of you. I hope you have all been taking care of your flowers, yourselves, and your babies. One day soon we will be sharing lots more stories – and all of them will be beautiful, full of hope, laughter, nature, and that bittersweet twang of truth.

Rain, Rain, Come and Stay

This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small amount from qualifying purchases. I try to only recommend items that I personally own or have used, and hope that they serve you well also, if you do decide to buy.

If you have a garden, or even a few flower pots, you understand the importance of water. You also understand that it can get quite expensive to run the hose for a few hours each day: what many plants and gardens require. To save a few dollars, I created a rain collection system.

With some trial and error over the last two and a half years, we now have three barrels (left over from construction sites that my husband works on) full of rain water, oxygenating plants, and a dozen guppies (my goldfish never survive for several reasons).

A few months ago, I spray painted each barrel a dark green (they used to be a bright blue). It is really much more pleasing to the eye. A rain gutter empties into the top barrel, which sits on a stand that my husband made. I am still learning the basics of woodworking so don’t ask me any particulars on that design (it’s pretty simple anyway). Some plastic piping feeds the next barrels.

Only the top barrel has a nozzle; I use the other two barrels as wells and make sure to leave plenty of water for the fish. The fish are necessary for eating mosquito larvae and do not require much attention. The fish do much better with plants in the barrels because they need some source of oxygen. Hornroot is what is currently floating in my barrels.

To keep the water from stagnating, I purchased a small fountain that operates on solar power. It is completely submersible and helps keep the water crystal clear.

This water is not clear because the fountain was “missing” (thank you Sergio) for a few days. However, it’s chock full of fish fertilizer.

The water is not treated because it comes from the sky. The fish add nutrients to the water and everything goes right back into the ground. I always have plenty of free water on hand, as long as the rains are favorable. There is work involved, however, and I have a few quick tips.

  • Get a long hose, and try to use it on a slope. The water that exits the top barrel is not pressurized, so gravity is your best friend when transporting the water via a hose.
  • Use a watering can, or recycle big plastic containers like the one above (it’s an old Cheese Puff container) to carry water.
  • Empty your barrels often if you don’t have fish or a fountain yet; mosquitoes go crazy for these barrels when there are no predators to snatch them up.
  • Cover the tops with grates. Fortuna once leaped right into one, and had to be pulled out before she drowned (I was right there so no time was lost). Children also love to look into them (it is cool to see the fish!) so use supervision or make it impossible to fall in.
  • Make ’em pretty by placing pots around the bases, floating bog plants on top, hanging vines above. The barrels often overflow so any nearby plants will get water also. This year, I have been adding rocks (large, small, pretty, ugly) to the area. Invent a place around your barrels: an oasis, if you will.
  • Save lots of money by upcycling. There are wood barrels on the market that are quite expensive. If you use a little paint and some flower staging, any plastic barrel can be just as pretty. An old garbage can could work too.
  • Downspouts can be shortened or lengthened depending on your desired height of barrel. Take a look around your house and decide which downspout you would like to modify. Make sure your barrels will be in an easily-accessible place. Make sure they’re not too far from your garden; carrying water across the yard can really wear on your shoulders and back.

Collecting water is a great way to save money and give your plants some extra nutrients. If it doesn’t rain much where you are rain barrels are even more helpful. Check your city’s rules and regulations first (I have heard of laws against them so do some research in your area and especially if you live in the Southwest) and don’t start without a plan: mosquitoes are a serious problem if you don’t care for the water correctly.

However you decide to collect water will save you some money and help your plants in the end. There are so many ways to save in the garden and this is only one of them. Happy rain collecting!

This post had to be updated to fix grammatical errors and such so many times later in the day. That brings me to another tip: drink lots of water while you are bringing it to everyone else.

Garden Troubles

My tomatoes are finally turning red. We bought nine organic tomato plants in late spring and they have grown to be quite tall with many roma tomatoes hanging on the vines. I have not had any problems with pests and the rains have helped immensely. However, I have just lost a few plants.

It happened the other night as we were in bed. A large bang was heard. I assumed that a good sized branch must have fallen on the roof. The next morning, I opened the curtains to my kitchen window to see this.

A fallen limb rests on the electric wire that connects to my house.

The electric company came to lift the branch away and an electrician has been called to fix the mast on the roof (it was pulled quite hard, but not out). The ordeal has been quite scary and we are incredibly lucky that it landed where it did. The trees in my yard were trimmed last year, but branches continue to fall. This limb fell on a perfectly still night, most likely injured from a previous storm.

I have quite the mess to clean up now and I fear that my tomatoes (and jalapeños, which are beneath the limb) have been damaged beyond repair.

So, I picked what I could reach and left the few broken tomatoes in the yard for the squirrels. Oh, this is life. Take a look at your trees, and make sure to trim sick, dying, or damaged limbs. Though the branch wiped out some of my tomato plants, our house is safe. And in all reality, who needs nine tomato plants anyway?

An Experiment with Grapevine

Last year, my mother and I discovered a most amazing creature: the grapevine. While clearing a thicket of invasive Honeysuckle and grape vines, we carved out a flower bed and created a path. We had long, thick vines drying next to our house and soon knew how we would use them.

My mother, a creative and resourceful person, thought that we could use the grapevines in several ambitious ways. I, a bit skeptical but wanting to learn everything I can from the older women of the world, listened to her thoughts. I have learned a lot from my mother about critical but open thinking. So, we made a few wreaths from the thinner vines, and played with the larger pieces for a few days.

Inspiration finally struck, and this is what we created.

A fading echinacea and some hosta are enclosed by grape vine hoops.

It is important to note that I cut these vines in the fall, let them dry through the winter and early spring, and pushed the bent vines into the ground after heavy rains.

When cutting the grape vine, we looked for natural curves or particularly bendy pieces and cut the bottoms at angles (to make them easier to stab into the dirt). We were very surprised that this worked and most of the vines, those that are not battered by my son or the dogs, have remained in the ground.

We were even more surprised to see new, green tendrils sprouting from the old vines and curling around other hoops. The vines pictured above have been “pruned” twice this year. The grapevine grows fast and I know how difficult it is to remove, so I am a bit stern with the new growths.

I love to recycle and reuse things of any material so this was an exciting project. My mother’s creativity really shines in the garden and I have learned a thing or two about grapevines, thinking outside of the box, and giving others space to create.

Composting with Critters

If you read my posts on composting, you might think: “So, you have a big pile of food in your backyard, and a smaller pile of dog shit?” Yes, I do. I have seen some passerby look at it, too. But I don’t care. Call the city. I would fight them on this. I would even throw food in my yard right in front of you, if it came to it. Also, the piles are separate. There are so many good reasons to compost, but I don’t get paid to do research, so I won’t list them here.

The dog shit pile is getting much smaller because we only have one dog now. This dog, our thirteen-year-old Westie, is a crazy dog, and I wouldn’t recommend the breed to first-time dog owners.

He barks incessantly, especially if we aren’t following the “rules” of the house. It’s my house, but my mom lives here and so, in the mind of her faithful companion, her rules are to govern. (He WILL bite you for horseplay, even me, his favorite).

He, his name is Joey, disappears occasionally, to be found on the front doorstep. “What a good boy!” we exclaim. We praise his achievement, only to find later that he was gone for hours. Much later we find that he was playing at a local football practice, wandering around the vet’s office, or (about two years ago) impregnating the female dog of a neighbor. We had a good laugh with Roger (the neighbor) and good homes were found for the puppies.

Joey also has a problem with…overeating and throwing up? I don’t think it’s bloat related (something that I have researched, and that you can find here on the AKC website) because he has done it throughout his life and survives. We always fed our dogs separately, as a way to combat this, but he continues to do it. We joke that he is bulimic, but it’s really not funny (for either species). Well, since I started the pile of food in the backyard, Joey has had a problem.

Joey won’t stay out of that damn, rotting food. I don’t care what it is, he’s out there in it. He, like most dogs, stays away from the dog poop, but he just can’t help himself with the leftovers and has had several tummy aches over the last few years. It really worries us, as it probably should. I rub Joey’s stomach, pat his back, and try to get him to burp before he vomits. This has helped in the past, but doesn’t always.

Also, I noticed a small skunk rounding the corner of our shed the other night. Joey and I were on the screened porch, the door locked. Joey didn’t see it, so there was no problem. I love skunks and leave them to their own devices. Joey loves them too, but they’re not allowed to fraternize.

My point is this: dogs and compost don’t mix. In addition, expect other animals around the pile. The birds love compost, as well as chipmunks, squirrels, skunks apparently, and who knows what else? I suspect a coyote has come around once or twice and I don’t even want to mess with the raccoons. I need an inventive solution and I suspect some chicken wire will do the trick. I don’t want to keep the birds from their feast, however. The raccoons will probably be able to tear down whatever I devise, and the coyotes can just stay away. My main priority is Joey, who is aging and eats just fine inside.

Watch your dogs around piles of rotting food. They shouldn’t eat it for the same reasons we shouldn’t. And fights around the pile aren’t safe either (I didn’t even talk about wild cats, one of which injured Joey’s eye a couple years ago). Dogs are pretty tough, but if you do suspect something off-limits has been eaten, take a list (mental or physical) of recent compost items to the vet with you. Check out the information from the AKC website about bloat, a serious condition that I have never witnessed but have often heard stories. Watch for bloat in all of your bigger dogs, as the AKC article states, and in dogs that tend to eat quickly. Please don’t allow your dogs to eat items that are not compostable: such as plastic bags, candy wrappers, other trash that ends up in the pile, or anything containing residues of chemicals or poison.

IMPORTANT: COOKED BONES DO NOT GO IN THE COMPOST PILE. Cooked bones can shatter within the body of the animal that ate them. Please dispose of these in the garbage. Other than supervising your dog around unsuitable food waste, composting with dogs and other animals around should go off without a hitch.

Create A Path

Entering the flower garden. Or exiting, whichever you prefer.

A path is a beautiful thing. A hidden, or mysterious path is even more enchanting. A path is difficult to build, however, and takes a bit of creativity and an inventive eye. The path I created is pictured above and has cost me a lot of hard work, time, and a little bit of real money. I built its foundation by clearing a large, overgrown thicket of Japanese Honeysuckle (according to the locals this invasive plant grows everywhere here) and thick grapevines that must have lived on the property for some ten to twenty years. The vines of both the Honeysuckle and the grapevine had strangled a few small Mulberry trees and were sucking nutrients from some ornamental bushes that had been lost or forgotten over time. I’ve dug out countless roots and destroyed at least one pair of loppers (every time I chop with them, the handles slam together on my knuckles. Its very painful but I don’t understand the problem). The Mulberry trees have grown by inches, stretching out their cramped and twisted limbs in glee. Mulberries are falling now in the spring, when previously the trees had been too choked to produce anything. The soil is mostly made up of clay and hard-packed and the ground slopes down into a drainage ditch, which fills up to the top with fast moving water after heavy rains, an arroyo of sorts. This is where my compost comes in handy and I’ve purchased a lot of mulch. Flowers are finally growing here and their root processes are helping to change the concrete-like soil.

I love paths of all kinds, especially hidden and untouched deer paths. As my path began to evolve from my many trips through the disappearing thicket, I thought up some ways to improve it. Here are some of my “Must Haves” when making your own path.

Exiting my path. The compost pile is just to the left and behind me, across a little creek that funnels rain to the ditch.
  • Its gotta lead to somewhere. This one leads you through my rehabbed flower garden and around the back of our shed (and incidentally, towards my compost pile).
  • It also needs something interesting to look at on your way. I’ve planted a mix of perennials on both sides of the path: lamb’s ear, peppermint (an invasive but fragrant herb), plenty of hosta, spider-wort, and a few more of our favorite flowers. I have tentative plans for a hidden fairy garden, a bug hotel, insect watering holes, and uses for broken pots or dishes.
  • It needs to be somewhat defined. We first placed those pieces of wood as a border for the path. I plan to remove them but for now they help me keep the weeds where I want them and the mulch in its place. Also, those pieces of lumber have helped immensely in reminding me of my vision for the garden: where plants should go, where they shouldn’t, how far from the path, etc.
  • Its nice to walk on something solid. I salvaged some unused stepping stones from neighbors and re-positioned some large, flat river rocks from the yard into a gentle curve. I also used some square paving stones that were under my outdoor water spout. I have yet to dig around the stones and set them into the ground. Along my path-creating journey, I found a childhood heirloom and decided to place it in line with the other stepping stones.
A stepping stone my mother and I made when I was little. That’s my hand print and some old rocks I really wanted to add.
  • You may be wondering where a person might stop to smell the flowers on this makeshift walkway. Indeed, I am missing a sitting area in this garden, along my path, but I have some solutions in mind. One involves an antique bench, painted lime green by the previous owners. For now it rests in the shade in the front of my house, a favorite spot of my husband and son, who like to sit and chat there when the weather is nice.
We bought this from a local antique store. Its missing an arm but is still a nice seat.
  • Finally, your path needs someone to walk on it. I initially cleaned up the huge pile of brush, tangled in with the invasive vines, the jutting roots, and the poor, straggled limbs of the Mulberrys as a way of removing hazards for my adventurous and outdoor-loving two-year old. It was a massive project from the start but its become a lovely, calming place for me and my family, though we still have a lot of inventing to do.

And nothing quite beats watching my son, now three, jump from stone to stone, reciting his numbers along our path.

An Avocado for My Toast

Have you tried it yet? No, not the famed avocado toast (its good, we know). Have you tried stabbing an avocado pit with toothpicks, setting it in a small glass jar, half-filled with water, and waiting impatiently for a sprout? You know I have, and I’ve had quite a bit of success! Sadly, I’m still buying avocados from the store. Here’s why.

Last year I saved three avocado pits (is that the technical name? Anyway, you know what I’m talking about) and set them each, facing upwards, in small glass jars filled halfway with tap water. A couple of toothpicks are necessary but those are easily found. I then set the jars (recycled baby food jars work perfectly) on a dark shelf of a bookcase in my dining room. The large bookcase sits on the same wall as the French doors that lead to my patio, so all light enters the room from behind the bookcase. I then left the pits alone for about….three to four months (it took a very long time). The water would need changing about every week, but other than that I didn’t pay them much mind.

Anyone who has researched growing avocados from seed probably knows that an avocado bears fruit only after the avocado tree is mature enough to do so. I was prepared for the long haul and when I finally saw a taproot cracking through the seed to reach for the water, I was elated. Everyone in my family knew of the taproot’s progress and I soon had three taproots, growing at various rates (two shot out, the first was extremely reluctant to begin). I was extremely protective over them. Little green stems creapt out from the tops of the seeds. “Put it outside,” my husband, equally excited, would tell me.

“Not yet,” I would respond. “It needs to have some leaves first.”

Well, two of them started to grow a leaf. I still wouldn’t put them outside.

“When there are two leaves,” I said.

Finally, my plants had two leaves and I carefully planted them in their pots. The third plant soon ventured outside and all was well. Until my son, Sergio, became extremely interested in the spindly, would-be avocado trees.

The surviving avocado plant.

I have always allowed Sergio to water the plants and flowers. For me, it is a test in patience. For Sergio, a delightful experiment in one of Earth’s greatest elements (and he has learned a lot from this play but that’s another discussion). Well, there we were, gardening as a family. Sergio controlled the hose while I tended to other chores (probably composting). Papá was watching but apparently, not close enough. My three avocados were grouped together in their individual pots, a cluster in one corner of my raised garden beds.

Now, I had nurtured these seeds (pits) for about….SIX MONTHS. I had defended them from the dogs, from the intrigued toddler, even from curious family members (the most difficult foe at times). In about ten minutes, however, two of the three young trees were wiped out. I mean torn from the dirt, with leaves plucked off, skinny stems broken in half.

Sergio had moved on by the time we had noticed the destruction. I bounded across the yard when my husband called to me and asked what had happened to them.

“What did happen to them?!” I exclaimed. It was obvious what had happened to them but too late for any kind of action. I picked up the two pits and tried to replant them. Neither would go on to live. I moved the only survivor out of the hose’s path and to a more secluded spot of the garden.

Only I watered the avocado from then on. It survived that summer and almost all of the fall. I brought it in, placed it near a window and wrapped a rug around the pot (I guess to keep it warmer?). It was kept in our guest room. Unfortunately, I discovered its demise, once again via my husband’s questioning, some weeks into November. I threw up my hands and vowed to try again one day.

A fresh avocado pit, germinating in a bit of water.

So, I’m back to square one with another avocado seed. Let’s see if this one makes it and in several years from now, I just might have a homegrown avocado for that toast.

A Composting Confession

My compost pile has existed for almost three whole years now. I feel relief thinking about all the food I am keeping from the landfill. I’ve even used the dirt consistently this year: filling holes, building up the land around my pile, etc. But now, I want to do more.

Recently, I’ve been taking multiple, full buckets to the pile. These buckets are filled with all kinds of fruit and vegetable waste, leftover pasta and pizza, coffee grounds, expired dry goods, and some paper products (I won’t lie, I threw some shrimp pasta in, too). I am picky about the cardboard that I add because I’m not sure which boxes are treated and with what, or if they can be composted naturally. However, I’ve been somewhat ambitious in resolving another problem.

From the beginning I was faced with a dilemma that any pet owner is all too familiar with: what to do with, well…dog shit. We are supposed to pick it up and throw it away, right? And I usually do that, unless the dog relieves itself in a hidden or less traveled area. But it appalls me to pick up dog poop with a little (sometimes dyed or scented) plastic bag, wrap up the bag and tie it, and then throw it into the trash can, destined for the landfill. How will it decompose there? How will the flies reach it, or the air? Or the sun and rain? What happens to the poop inside of the plastic bag after five, ten years? These questions are disgusting to ponder but entirely interesting to me.

I know it is not safe to add a large amount of dog poop to the compost pile. An instinct of some kind tells me NOT to do it. What is seeping out of the dog poop? Will it mix into the dirt that I add to the vegetable garden? For those reasons, I don’t put the dog shit there. I started thinking of a place for a poop pile.

New grapevine grows around and over my dog poop pile. A few vines stretch toward a blue-painted trellis (bottom right).

After a lot of thought (I’ve actually been thinking about this for years and years), I started putting the dog waste at the back of the yard, in a separate area, beneath an old grapevine tangle and some junk trees, eternal victims of the invasive grapevine. Its darker here and the weeds grow where they can beneath the grapevine. As of yet, no one has noticed the new cloud of happy flies and I’ve kept a few warm, plastic bags out of the landfill.

The thing is, poop has been decomposing on Earth for…..well, I’m not sure how long, but there has to be a responsible way to do it. I’m just trying to do what I can.

My Composting Journey

I want to start writing about my compost pile. What a topic, I know. But composting is something I love to do and now that I have had some success at it, I want to write something that I can read again one day, when I am no longer capable of traipsing out to the pile, a 5-pound bucket full of rotting food scraps in tow. I also have found a few interesting things, and I am sure I will find more. Hopefully this log will continuously remind me of all the glory in it.

So about two years ago I was reading things on Pinterest about composting. What to toss in, what to leave out. How to build a system for it. Ya know. Well, I became so excited. I come from a farm in Northern Illinois. My mother would toss things out, to the dogs, to the elements. My grandmother, who is originally from West Virginia, composted all of her vegetables by throwing them out the back door into the wooded area next to her house, which was in the middle of a nice neighborhood in Rockford, Illinois.

I wanted to compost! But we were renting a small duplex, in a small town in Southern Illinois. Our house was one of the first on the block, and there was not much of a yard or any trees to camouflage a pile of rotting food. Too bad, I thought. Mother Nature doesn’t care about curb appeal. So I started collecting some old food while I searched for a suitable vessel. I guarded the tomatoes carefully, and still do, because I once read that if not allowed to “breath” and decompose properly, tomatoes release methane gas. I would have to confirm this with some research, so don’t take my word on it. However, this scared me into putting my foot down and vowing to help all food that entered my house to leave it in a natural way.

I quickly spied a container for my tomatoes, and some old frozen hash browns, and a pile of newspaper. Our trusty neighbor Roger, who lived across an empty lot that occupied most of our block, had some old plastic bins sitting outside of his garage. When he got home that night, I asked him for the big, gray one. “Of course!” he laughed, before changing the subject to his new litter of bastard puppies. I scooped up the bin and brought it home. My “material” quickly went in. I placed the bin behind my house. It was one of the first things a person would see as they drove onto our street.

So it began! I was the curator of a plastic bin of rotting organic material and I loved my position. When it rained heavily, I would sneak to the back of my house and dump out some of the brown, smelly water. Flies buzzed all around me as I added all of the “green” and “brown” I could get my hands on. A lot of times, so no one would suspect, I would clean out my fridge on Wednesday nights (garbage pick-up is Thursday ’round here), and take the rotten spoils to the bin in the dark. In the hot, summer daytime, a stiff breeze would threaten to bring about the downfall of my whole operation.

The bin was full and heavy by the time we decided to move the hell out of there. We found a place with a great yard, one of our main wants in a home. On moving day, my husband and mother gave me pleading looks. “What do you want us to do with the ‘dirt’ you’re making?” they asked, fearing my answer.

“Well, I’m not leaving it behind,” I said, with a shrug and a sheepish grin. I had worked too hard on that compost to dump it out now and leave it behind. My dear, dear husband, lifted the smelly cocktail into the back of our truck and drove it the fifteen miles to our new home. I unpacked it first, sieving off some of the water before dumping the entire bin over onto a pile of brush and weeds.

I still have the compost pile and its bigger than ever. I’ve also still got that gray, plastic bin.