Good Garden, Evil Garden

I’ve been trying to figure out how to say it… we don’t really have the space for two separate “gardens,” but we’re planning an area, an aspect, a side, which will be filled with light and brilliant flowers… and another part that will be full of the most interesting, blood-thirsty, wicked things we can find.  A good garden, and an evil garden.

Our criteria for the dark-sided plants has been at least one of the following:

  • Color: black or very dark flowers, leaves, or fruit.  No yellow.
  • Weaponry: spines, spikes, poisons.  We’re going for soft-core Goth, here… I don’t care if the spikes on a Datura flower are soft, they LOOK spiky.  I’m not planning on stinging nettles.  I’m doing my damnedest to eliminate the poison ivy.
  • Night-blooming, especially fragrant, flowers.  Daturas, brugmansias, moonflowers, cestrums.

We’ve got lots of things starting from seed, and we’re buying some as plants; we want as many perennials as we can get, but there are some things that just can’t overwinter here.  Purple castor, with its brilliant carmine seed cases filled with deadly seeds and covered in sharp spines, is a clear winner.  Double purple Datura metel, with spiny seed cases, spiky fragrant purple flowers that open at night, and a hallucinogenic and deadly alkaloid cocktail, is a triple threat.  We find ourselves browsing along the nursery shelves, and ending up with varieties like Penstemon “Dark Towers,” Dahlia “Night Queen,” Rudbeckia “Green Wizard.”  You get the idea.

Ironically, in the search for nocturnal, purple, and poisonous, I ran across a lot of purple edibles.  These seedlings of Double Purple Orach will make a spinach-like green similar to amaranth.  Just pick your salad very, very carefully.  I’ve told Chris I wouldn’t put anything toxic in the raised beds.

Here’s the side yard where all this planting is taking place.  Raised beds in the back are the vegetables, with bees at the very rear corner.  In front of that, the Light and Happy Garden, and at the front, the Dark and Gloomy Garden.  The buckets are full of tree mulch; I’ve been carting it home, one carload at a time in my little Saturn.  SO much cheaper than buying bags or truckloads.  I think we need about 10 more buckets full, maybe a little more.  It’s going down over a layer of cardboard, mostly reclaimed from Jack in the Box; they have a clean dumpster for recyclable cardboard only, so I don’t get icky retrieving it.  You learn some things you don’t want to know, when you get the labeled packages from fast food.  One example: the tacos from Jack in the Box arrive at the store frozen, but fully cooked.  They are then fried.

The Spring Greens are plugging right along!   We’ve already enjoyed one small salad, with lettuce, purple mustard, and spinach.

And again, with the three-cotyledon plants; an Osaka Purple Mustard.  Is this more common than I think, and I just haven’t seen it a lot?  Or do they know what I’m planning with the weird plant garden, and they’re getting a head start?  Unfortunately, the three-cotyledon tomato became perfectly normal, and then blended in and got lost with the rest.  Or maybe it’s just under cover.

And I forgot to check my tags to see what this little freak seedling is.  It makes me strangely happy to have seedlings in red, purple, and some even in good strong black.

Another Smoke Test

Today, I visited Christi B.’s apiary.  We saw some fascinating things, a few of which were different than what I saw at Alan’s, and I got some more pictures.

Christi keeps some of her bees at a neat small farm in DeSoto, a few miles south of Dallas.

We got to see purple-eyed drone brood, which is meaningful in determining their developmental stage.

All hail the Queen!

This hive was very strong, and had lots of queen cups.  I couldn’t see an egg in any of them, but the hive was definitely preparing for a reproductive swarm.

I finally got a shot that shows the egg (very center, lower left, center bottom) and also some small open brood.  The puddle of goo they’re sitting in is royal jelly.

Dallas Arboretum

After we got done visiting Alan’s bees, Chris and I went to the Dallas Arboretum.  It’s been years since I’d been there, and Chris had only been in one corner for a race that he runs which starts there.  We walked all over the grounds, and saw and sniffed all kinds of spring flowers.


super-funky tulips

Anemone – with bonus bee!

Cardoons, which I think may have to join the to-get-for-the-garden list. You can’t really tell scale from this photo, but they’re about knee-high.

At the homestead area, they had a bunch of mulberry trees; all the females were flowering,

and the bois d’arc trees are leafing out, which is the typical sure sign that spring is really here to stay.

This is the flower that precedes Star Anise. It smells delicately spicy.

Chris looked sexy.

I looked blurry.

There were several brides, traipsing around the grounds with retinues of photographers and hair stylists.  There were even more Quinceañeras.  For those of you who live in parts of the country that don’t have this delightful tradition – it’s like the Old Southern debutante party.  A young lady of Hispanic descent turns fifteen, and her parents dress her up like a princess and throw a huge expensive party.

I think this girl was aiming for “Disney Princess.”

I think this green-and-black color scheme is a little closer to “Evil Disney Queen.”  She had a train, and this poor young man (boyfriend?  brother?) had to carry it for her as she walked.  You can’t really see in this photo, but her bouquet was covered in spiky clear and green crystal type things.  It looked like if a bride tossed it into a crowd, it would kill at least one bridesmaid and lacerate six guests.

The rest of the photos are here, if you want to see.

Chris and I both enjoyed watching this grackle taking a bath. They’re horrible, trashy birds, but they have their pretty moments.

Smoke Test

I’m going to be getting a couple thousand bees in two weeks.  Until today, I’ve never actually opened a hive; I wanted some first-hand experience. My husband Chris was kind and brave enough to take pictures.

Alan from the Trinity Valley Beekeeper’s Association was kind enough to let me come over and “help” (i.e., get in the way) with his bees, and learn how to handle the hive, how to light the smoker, where the veil ties, all that good stuff.  He told me it’s called a smoke test.  I had read, and watched videos, and seen pictures – but like with so many things, bees you just have to be there.

With a few deft movements, Alan got the smoker lit and the cardboard burning merrily.

The desired effect.

I got mine lit, with considerably more mess and less efficiency… but lit, nonetheless.

Alan with a frame of bees.

Today’s errand in the apiary was replacing the solid bottom boards used for winter, with the screened boards used for summer.  Alan broke down the first hive piece by piece, showing me how it goes; I broke down the second hive.

So many bees!  There are cells of pollen here, and cells of open and capped brood.  The little white thing about an inch up from the right corner and half an inch in, is a larva – they look like grubs.

We found the queen in the second hive; she’s the extra-long bee close to the center of the shot.

After the smoke test, I felt SO much more comfortable with the whole process.  Now, if I can just get past the part where I take a box full of bees and SHAKE THEM INTO THE HIVE, I’ll be fine!  Thanks again to Alan; this was exactly what I needed.

Some video:

Local color

The City (I’m guessing here, it could have been any of two or three street-maintenance bodies; it’s a City waterway at the crossroads of a City street and an Interstate Highway, adjacent to a railroad right of way… but, whoever usually has to mow it) decided to brighten up some rough areas near my office with wildflowers.  I took a brief walk there with the camera, and got a few shots.

The purple-colored stuff is what you notice most, as far as masses of color – it’s called Toadflax, and there were about a half dozen distinct colors.

Close to, you can see why they call them Spurred Snapdragon.  I like the bicolors a lot.

These California Poppies are brilliant splashes of color – not as densely seeded as some of the others, so they provide sharp contrast and punch.  There was one plant of the most beautiful rose colored corn poppy, but wind and the macro focus didn’t get along, and it was impossible to get a photo that showed anything like its full beauty.

I love the spiky buds of this Bachelor’s Button or Cornflower.  This is one that my Grandpa always grew in his gardens.

These were present in a variety of shades, too – from pale pink through almost black-burgundy, and also a few shades of blue.

This is Baby Blue Eyes, or Neomphila.  My photo doesn’t look quite like their photo, but it’s close.  The plant was so covered in clover, it was hard to tell what the leaves looked like from the photos.

And, of course, I got some photos of the mulberry!  This is a female tree, and you can see the buds that will flower and then turn into little black fruits.  I need to get some photos of the eggs that have been out on the counter incubating since the 19th – they should be hatching middle of next week!

The garden abides

Well, with all the snow this past weekend, I was expecting at least a LITTLE garden damage… I had been holding off on planting the tender plants, but the baby spinach, the tiny little beet seedlings – it just didn’t seem like they would make it through unscathed under an inch-thick blanket of the white stuff.

Much to my delight, they’re all doing FINE. I managed to get out in the garden on Monday and do some thinning, so now it is beginning to look like a proper garden patch instead of a random wad of greenery.  You can also see some cardboard next to the bed on the right side, and mulch on the left side; we’re doing a “sheet mulch” or “kill mulch” technique to get rid of weeds in the garden area and prepare it for planting.  We’re doing it right (at least, to my mind) – directly reusing broken-down cardboard boxes for the base layer and free brush mulch from a local tree company.  The stuff the City grinds up is a lot rougher, and smells a little like City Dump; the stuff from Preservation Tree Service is lovely and smells like clean wood.

These Giant Red Mustard plants are one-per-hole all along one side of the cinder block border of the bed.  I’m just hoping they get a chance to grow big enough to use, before things get too hot!  You will notice this purple/red foliage coming up a lot in the garden; we’re doing one whole garden area in “dark” plants.  Just be careful what you eat – I know what’s tasty and what’s toxic.

The spinach is getting its true leaves, and looking more like a bed of spinach and less like tall grass.

I thinned the Shanghai Bok Choi (Pai-Tsai) pretty hard, because they’ll be big-ish plants – these have become one of our most favorite greens.  They’ve got a milder flavor than any other bok choi I’ve found.

The lettuces are starting to get their real leaves, showing their charming shapes!  I love the little Oak Leaf.

More of the March snow

We didn’t quite wake up to the Winter Wonderland experience that we’ve had already twice this year – but there was a blanket of snow on most easily-cooled surfaces.

It looks like we had a little under an inch accumulation.  Some areas north and east of here got six to eight inches.

The sidewalks and streets are entirely clear – which makes sense, with how warm it has been!  Day before yesterday, it was in the seventies.

There’s not much ice, but it must have dipped below freezing at least for a little while.  They’re melting off quickly now, as it’s above forty.

Hopefully the little seedlings are all OK under their lovely blanket!

Snow, in March, in Dallas

I’ve lived in Dallas now for seventeen years.  It will typically snow once every other year, sometimes as much as once a year.  This year, we’ve had, I believe, five or six days with snow.  I’ve never seen it this late – it’s just bizarre!

It didn’t start until well after dark, so I could only catch it with the flash.

These are the garden beds I’ve been showing over the past couple of weeks…. covered in snow. It’s too warm for it to stick to the ground or the street, but it’s sticking just fine on the vegetable beds and the mulch.

Fortunately, we hadn’t planted any of the non-hardy vegetables yet… these are all “plant six weeks before last frost” type things, spinach and lettuce and radishes and such.  Hopefully they’ll get through the snow OK!

Dallas Handweavers and Spinners Guild Show

The Dallas Handweavers and Spinners Guild show opened yesterday.  Actually, it opened the day before – but yesterday was the actual opening, cookies and punch and little tomatoes on toothpicks type thing.

The Library hangs the show and does all of the promotional materials, posters, signage – they do a great job, and it saves us a lot of stress

They’ve got great display cases; here, Guild members Marty Benson and Ann Nurre are looking at one section of the exhibit.  There’s another matching case on the other side of the gallery space.

I entered two pieces; one is the knotwork ribbon necklace, which I ended up calling “Night Carnival,” and the other is a skein of heavy two-ply reeled silk.

Both of them won prizes.  The Ronin Awards are named after a former Guild member who endowed show prizes for handspun skeins and articles made from handspun.  I was delighted to win these – I’ve won before in Guild shows here, but these particular prizes come with $check$!  It’s been a somewhat spendy season; the prizes will come in handy.  And, for the first time since I’ve been with the Guild, someone else wove the ribbons!  Lynn Smetko does amazing work.

And, apropos of nothing, a mayfly.  I had been watching clouds of tiny flittering things floating in the back-yard sun; I hadn’t realized what they were, they are so tiny you can’t tell until they land.  They’re  maybe a centimeter long; it makes the skin of the back of my hand look like the ass of a wrinkled pink elephant.  It happened to be on the camera when I was pulling down photos for this post, so I figured it can go in with the show.

The difference a week makes

Five days, actually…

Everything’s coming up!  I plant on the philosophy of “one for the rook, one for the crow, one to rot, and one to grow” – but EVERY seed is growing.

Shanghai Bok Choi is starting to get its true leaves.

These are Osaka Purple Mustard.  We’ve got a lot of interesting-colored things… from purple mustard to rainbow chard and four different colors of tomato –  it should be a colorful garden!  These are in the cells of the cinderblocks; one side is all Giant Red Mustard, the short ends of the rectangle are all Osaka Purple Mustard, and the other long side is Bright Lights chard.

Close to, the spinach looks almost like a bed of lilies.

I planted way, way too many radishes.

The beets are still the coolest colors!  They’ve lost some of their brilliant magenta, but they’ve got a nearly iridescent purple-green leaf.