Saturday, February 19, 2011

Full Eagle Moon

Well, the blog has come full circle. With it being February 2011 I've had it for a year. I'm going to try a new thing with my full moon updates. I had mentioned before that I wished there were full moon names that better corresponded to Texas. The only ones I'd seen around were English or Algonquian. Well, a friend of mine has passed on to me a full moon naming scheme invented by the high priestess of his former coven. He only asks that I give credit where credit is due if I distribute the names to the public, so the names I'll be using for the next year all come from Phoenix Moon Grove.

The moons are named according to Zodiac signs rather than the calendar months, and are all named after something Texas-related. Last night's full moon was in Leo, and the sun is in Aquarius, so this year the full moon of February was the Eagle Moon. This name was chosen because this is the time of year that Bald Eagles migrate through Texas.

Personally, this is one of the few names on this list that I don't like that much. Bald eagles are cool, but I've never actually seen one, and I've lived in Texas all my life. I only recently found out that they're even found in Texas at all. From what I've heard, they're mostly found around large lakes and along the coast, which makes sense since they're a fishing eagle. There are even eagle tours you can go on to see them.

I think moons should be named after something more obvious than a rare, seldom-seen bird. If we're going to name this moon after a bird, I would have named it the Mockingbird Moon. I think there should be a moon named after our state bird, and mockingbirds are ubiquitous. You don't have to travel to a lake to find them. There's probably a pair nesting in your yard right now. This is also the time of year they start singing, which for me heralds the beginning of spring. It also goes well with next month's moon, the Bluebonnet Moon, which is our state flower and indicates that spring is here for sure.

Well, whether February's full moon makes you think of mockingbirds or eagles, it certainly feels like spring now after that hard freeze at the beginning of the month. We've had drizzle and light rain for the last few days, and I've had a chance to assess the damage done by that freeze and have been planning out my spring planting.

We haven't had another freeze in a while, so I've had my nightshade seedlings out on the porch all the time. The tomatoes are doing great, but not the peppers, eggplants, and tomatillos. I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong with starting pepper and eggplant seeds, but they never seem to do that well. Even the Lemon Drop peppers, which seemed to be doing great before, are now shriveling up. I don't get it.
Sweetie the Potato now has some friends. It looks like growing new sweet potatoes from slips is better than cuttings after all. Most of my cuttings didn't make it, so I've been sprouting roots for slips. They grow much more vigorously than cuttings, probably because of the food reserves stored in the roots. In the top left of the picture is the original deformed Vardaman potato that sprouted in the kitchen, and then to the right of that is a Porto Rico, then on the bottom left is a Beuregard, and the bottom right is a White Yam. I have a few more sprouted White Yams and Porto Ricos I haven't potted up yet (ran out of potting soil). The one variety from last year that isn't represented is Nancy Hall. I have two Nancy Hall potatoes that have been sitting in cups of water for at least as long as the other varieties, and they still aren't sprouting. Don't know what the problem is.
Out in the garden, a lot of plants didn't make it through the hard freeze. The lettuce and endive were only slightly damaged.

The leeks, garlic, potato onions, and shallots also seem fine. The bulb onions are another story, but I'm not surprised. I've still never been able to grow those successfully. I'm wondering if I should just give up on having homegrown onions this year, or buy some onion starts from a nursery.

The fava beans and peas were badly damaged, and I was afraid they weren't going to make it, but it looks like at least some of them are re-sprouting. Good! Those were my only seeds, so I wanted to at least be able to save seed to make a big planting of them next fall, even though it now looks like I won't have enough to eat.
Everything else, the brassicas, beets, carrots, chard, etc., all ended up looking like this. Frozen to death. That green you see? Those are weeds. The weeds did fine.
But in the garden, there are always second chances and new beginnings. Looking at the planting guide for San Marcos, it looks like I have enough time to try for another quick crop of cool-weather vegetables, so I replanted a bunch of stuff. I just direct seeded everything this time. The turnips here are already coming up. They sprouted fast in this damp weather.
I've also been doing a little "remodeling", because gardeners never have enough space! After calculating that I actually had more path than bed in the garden, I'm merging some of my beds and expanding them out a little. I don't need that much path anyway, do I? So instead of 15 beds that are 4 by 8 feet each laid out in a 3 by 5 pattern, I'm going to have 5 beds that are 4 by 8 feet, and 5 that are 4 by 20 feet. Now maybe I'll at least have more bed than path.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Snow Day!

The big Imbolc winter storm last week ended up delivering on its promise of snow! Even a little snow is always exciting here in south-central Texas.
Basil was not sure what to make of this dramatic change to his environment.
The birdbath full of ice and snow.
The garden dusted in snow.

Frozen fava beans.

Frozen garlic.

The Dwarf Grey Sugar peas.

When Basil saw I was walking around in the yard just fine, he decided it was safe to join me and do his impression of a miniature Siberian tiger.

Lots of action at the bird feeders, replacing all those calories they burn to stay warm.

The blue agave plant in the front with snow.

Daniel and I decided to take a walk to the nearby park to see how it looks with snow. School was cancelled that day, and a lot of people stayed home from work due to icy roads (Texas is just not equipped to handle ice on roads), so there were a lot of people out there with us. Of course there wasn't enough snow for the neighborhood children to make snowmen, and it was too dry and powdery to even hold together for good snowballs, but at least the snow on the driveways was adequete for snow angles, even if the heads look like they were drawn in.
The juniper trees looked especially pretty with the snow catching in their shreddy bark. Here's one surrounded by snowy yuccas.

The remnants of last year's bristlegrass was also beautifully frosted.

Here's the main trail in the park. By the time we got there it was already covered with the tracks of shoes, bicycles, and dogs.
We decided to take a detour onto one of the side trails through the woods, where we could see more wild animal tracks. Snow is a great opportunity to be astounded by just how many wild animals walk to and fro during the night at the park. First we found several trackways where whole families of raccoons had passed by.
Prickly pear cactus with snow.

Snowy juniper woods.

Here's some deer tracks where it looks like the deer slipped a little as it ran across the trail.

Here's the meeting circle at the park covered in snow, with dog and human tracks going across.

Another pretty snowy juniper.

It's hard to tell the difference between the tracks of a fox and those of a small dog, but after a while I decided that at least some of these tracks were from foxes. Dog tracks would be going along the trail and would be accompanied by human tracks going the same direction, but some of these tracks were going across the trail and back into the woods, and some were going in the opposite direction of any human tracks that were on the trail. Those must have been gray foxes.
We were puzzled by tracks like these for a while. I've never seen rabbits out here, just squirrels, foxes, and raccoons, so I wasn't sure about these at first. Daniel had a track guide, but it wasn't very helpful. It just showed isolated single tracks, where they really should show whole trackways, so you can see the pattern the tracks make.
There always seemed to be two big feet, with two smaller feet falling roughly between the bigger ones. We finally concluded that it's got to be from rabbits running across the trail, and as they run they bring their back feet up to land on either side of where their front feet hit the ground. So now I know that we do have rabbits here even though I've never seen one.

There were some other small tracks that we think must have been squirrels. They were shaped differently than the rabbit tracks and had more prominent claws. It was surprising how far a squirrel could bound, looking at the distance from one set of footprints to the next.

Here's the snowy side trail through the woods. The rocks that protruded out of the snow were coated in ice and very slippery. We both slipped on them a couple of times.

Here's another red yucca with snow. I just think it's especially neat to see the more xeric plants we have here with snow on them.

Here's the big old oak tree right next to the trail with snow on him.

Lastly, before heading home, we snuck over to the pond by the park, and were surprised to see it completely iced over. I guess that's what being below freezing for three whole days will do. The ice wasn't very thick, though. My camera ran out of power at this point, but upon closer inspection we found a couple of places where either a deer or a hog had walked down to the pond, perhaps to take a drink, broke through the ice right near the bank, and then lept back out. See, it's not just us silly humans. The wildlife aren't used to this either. The pond was still very shallow at the break-through points, so no worries that the animal may have gotten trapped or drowned, but they must have gotten quite a chill spashing into that icy water.
By noon or so the sun had come out and was melting the snow, so it's good we went out when we did. It got up into the low 40's, which was warmer than it had been in days.
There were losses in the garden. I'm still waiting to see what will pull through, but several days below freezing, much of that without a protective blanket of snow, has taken it's toll. The fava beans, lettuce, garlic, and snow peas, while damaged, look like they will pull through. Everything else is iffy at best.
Finally, I thought it was neat how the sun melted all the snow in the front yard, except a perfectly birdbath-shaped patch in the shadow of the birdbath. The birdbath itself held a solid block of ice that took much longer to melt than anything else.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Cold Blast for Imbolc

I have a feeling the groundhog won't like getting out of his burrow tomorrow. Over the last couple of days it's been unusually warm, with highs in the high 70's. I had my tomato and pepper seedlings out on the back porch enjoying some natural light and warmth, and I needed the air conditioning in my car when I drove anywhere.

Well, this morning Winter decided to make a final stand. A big cold front came through just before dawn and temperatures have been dropping ever since. When I woke up around dawn it was in the 50's. Now it's around freezing. The low tonight is forecast to be 17 degrees!

Yes, I brought all my seedlings in, and the citrus trees, and even my potted herbs, just to be on the safe side.

The good news is the front had a bunch of rain before it. Ok, I guess that's not good news if you're afraid of ice on the roads, but it is good news for the plants that I couldn't bring in because they're growing in the ground. Plants survive freezes much better if they're wet than if they're dry. I can't remember exactly why, but I think it has to do with how water cools down (and heats up) much slower than air. Being wet sort of insulates them. That's why citrus growers in Florida always turn the sprinklers on when they get a freeze.

It's supposed to be freezing every night for the rest of this week, and hard freezes at that, so the plants are going to have to stay in the garage for quite a while.

I admit it. I think big weather events like this are kind of exciting. It reminds us of how big and powerful Nature really is.

We have small chance of snow later this week. Oh, I hope we get some! I'm trying not to get my hopes up, though. It hardly ever snows here.