Wednesday, May 25, 2011


May seems to be a big month for fledglings here in Central Texas. Lots of young birds have just left the nest and are learning to fly and catch food on their own, always under the watchful eye of their parents. They're basically the bird equivalent of a teenager. You can tell a fledglings because they're as big as an adult bird, but may be "scruffy" looking because they haven't gotten all their adult feathers in yet, and they may have slightly different, usually duller colors and patterns compared to an adult bird. They're also usually accompanied by their busy parents, still begging the parents for food with whiny chirping and wing-fluttering.

They also tend to act dumber than adult birds, and are easier to get close to and don't fly as well. It's a dangerous time in a bird's life. Often the parents will try to make up for this by being extra aggressive with alarm calls, and even swooping at you to get them away from their kids.

Fledgelings, like all teenagers, seem to be hungry all the time. A family of cardinals have been visiting the seed feeder pretty much every morning for a while. The two or three kids they have stay up in the tree, while Dad Cardinal brings them seeds.
Then Dad Cardinal has to go back to the feeder and get some more seeds.
Then back in the tree again to stick them in the kids' hungry mouths. Dad Cardinal is such a good dad! It makes me tired watching him going back and forth and back and forth like this.
Here's one of the Cardinal Kids sitting on the side of the birdbath. Juvenile cardinals can be mistaken for female cardinals, but female cardinals still have bright orange beaks and a black mask, while the kids have a dull beak and no mask.
There's also been a family of Black-crested Titmice at the suet. I've had trouble keeping the suet full with how many birds have been devouring it. Here's the titmouse family back again to clean up every last crumb left. In this picture are two of the siblings fighting over it and making a big racket.
The kids look just like the parents except they don't yet have the black crest. Sorry about the blurriness of these pictures, but birds move so fast it's hard to get clear shots of them. I think the one on the bottom is an adult with a black crest, and the two on top are kids. It looked like there were two parents and about 3-4 kids zipping around.
And finally here's a picture I finally managed to get of the blue jay family in the next door neighbor's overturned trash can lid full of water. I had trouble getting a good picture of these guys, even though every time anybody goes outside, the parent jays go nuts swooping around and screaming. The fledgling blue jays look almost exactly like the parents, just a little bit scruffier. The main way to tell is their behavior. The parents are the ones attacking people, while the kids are the ones always begging for food.

There was also a fledgling mockingbird around, but when I tried to get its picture, Mom and Dad were all, "Oh no you don't!" and quickly lurked Junior away while making angry alarm calls and swooping at me. Blue jays and mockingbirds are two birds species you really don't want to mess with.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Greening Moon

I was afraid that this moon name would be out of place for this year, because things weren't looking very green. May is normally supposed to be central Texas's wettest month, with an average of 5 inches of rain, so calling the full moon of May the Greening Moon would be quite appropriate.

This year we've had about 5 inches of rain for the whole year. On average, by now we were supposed to have had 14 inches. Then normally by Midsummer the rain shuts off, and we have a hot, dry summer before cooling fall temperatures finally bring relief. I'm really not looking forward to the summer after skipping the spring rains. In summer our main source of rain is from hurricanes getting into the Gulf of Mexico, which is unreliable.

At least we did have that one rainstorm last week, which greened things up for now. It wasn't enough, but it was something. I can tell my plants appreciated it.

I received some California Wonder bell pepper plants from my CSA farmer since my seed-grown peppers have done so badly. From those I only have one Lemon Drop, one Cayenne, and a few Jalapenos left. I'm just not sure why I'm so bad at growing peppers from seed.
The tomatoes are still doing well. Most of them have green tomatoes growing on them. I'm really looking forward to that first ripe fruit.
The tomatillos are also doing well. No fruits yet, but they're getting pretty big and flowering.
The cucumber plants I had that weren't eaten by deer are coming along slowly. I really hope that the rain made some of the deer's wild foods grow back so they'll quit coming over here to eat my plants.
On the left here are some newly planted Thai basil plants, and on the right are bush beans which have really perked up since the rain.
The pole beans are sending out new growing tips to replace the ones nipped off by deer. I've been putting up more bamboo poles along the fence and have been trying to guide the vines to grow on those rather than the fence itself to make it harder for the deer to reach them.
Some of my garlic varieties are completely dead (like Sonoran), or almost so, but a few are still hanging on and might turn out to be ok. This one is Georgian Fire.
 The Moon and Stars watermelons are looking good. See, they've got cute little stars on the leaves.
My Yellow Crookneck squash is pretty much gone from squash vine borers, but my Tromboncino is starting to vine out. The borers have been attacking them too, and I've been spraying them with neem oil, but they're one of the borer-resistant species of squash. That doesn't mean the borers don't attack them, just that they may survive the assault. Next year I really ought to try row covers, which were recommended to me by several people, including my CSA farmer.
One downside of the rain is that the weeds liked it too. There's a lot of grass coming up in the sweet potato patch.
I've got six okra plants left, and they've got a bit of grass coming up around them too. I'm not sure if I should plant more okra plants or if six is enough. Okra is very prolific, so it's probably ok, except I've never grown this variety (Jimmy T.) before, and it's supposed to be a dwarf variety.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Rain at Last!

The thunderstorm was gone by afternoon, but it stuck around long enough to give my garden a good watering and fill up my rain barrels. I'm grateful.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Hungry Deer

This drought is getting ridiculous. My garden hasn't gotten a good rain all spring. The last two cold fronts brought only tiny sprinkles that barely wetted the dusty ground. It's so disappointing to watch the weather radar on TV, with the storms blowing through the area and parting around San Marcos, dumping rain on Austin and San Antonio while I get nothing. It's like Nature itself is against me.

On top of that, I've discovered another effect of the drought besides high water bills and shriveled plants. The deer have finally come this far into the neighborhood, no doubt looking for food which has become scarce in the nature preserves and greenspaces nearby.

I first noticed the problem when I saw that my largest cucumber plant was completely missing! It was the one that was just starting to send vines up the fence, and it was just GONE. Like someone had come along and pulled up the entire plant. But who would do such a thing?

Looking around the scene of the crime, I finally found the base of the stem, with a bit of root still attached, in my neighbor's  yard just on the other side of the fence. That's what made me suspect it was a deer. There were also a few torn-off leaves lying on my side of the fence, like the deer had grasped the part of the plant sticking out of the fence, and then pulled the whole thing through, ripping off some leaves in the process.

I also figured out why my pole beans keep falling off the fence and bamboo poles. Again, anything sticking through the fence gets munched, which sometimes lets the beans lose their grip on the supports and fall back on the ground. At least none of the beans (that I've noticed) have been completely pulled out, so they have a chance to grow back. They just keep getting their ends chewed off.

I guess one thing I can be grateful for is that the deer haven't yet gotten up the nerve to jump over the fence. They're just eating anything that pokes out. They could jump my fence easily if they really wanted to, though, so it may only be a matter of time.

I'm trying to think of something I can do, since nature is refusing to cooperate and rain on San Marcos so some deer food can grow out at the park. I wonder if I can repel them with something. I've heard about all sorts of repellents for deer, from soap in an old sock to rotten eggs to coyote urine. I'm wondering if used cat litter would work. You know, nice and urine-soaked. Well, it grosses me out! And I have it in abundance.

What I've heard is the efficacy of any deer repellent depends on how desperate the deer are. Since my deer aren't jumping the fence yet, maybe that means they aren't too desperate yet and a bit of stinky cat urine will work.

I'm also going to see if I can rig up some sort of supports so my beans and cucumbers don't grow out through the fence as much and will therefore be harder for the deer to reach.

But what we really need is some rain. We're getting another teaser today with thunderstorms moving through the area and a 50% chance of rain. I haven't gotten any yet, though, besides maybe a tiny sprinkle. I'm still running my soaker hose, because I'm just not counting on it. I've been let down too many times already this year.