Saturday, September 13, 2014

Welcome to the Texas Toad Spa!

This was the scene the other night at the lid full of water we have on our back porch for critters. (It's actually the lid off one of the barrels we made into rain barrels.) There were six Gulf Coast Toads, but when I came to take the picture, one got spooked and hopped out. To the right there's also a Southern Leopard Frog coming to join them.

Toads are quite common in my yard, but the frog is new. The main difference between frogs and toads is that frogs stay around water, while toads live on land and only go to water to breed. I didn't think my yard was wet enough for frogs, so I was pretty surprised when one showed up and started hanging out with the toads. I've seen this particular frog three times now. He's a bit more skiddish than the toads and can leap much farther if you spook him.

Yesterday I saw another leopard frog in the water. This is a definitely a different individual! I can tell because it's quite a bit smaller than the other one. So now we've got at least two frogs.

The only thing I can figure out is they must be coming from my neighbor's yard. She has some kind of a fountain over there. I've heard male toads singing over there, and now I wonder if some leopard frogs have been breeding in there. That would explain the small ones wandering over here. (There have also been quite a few small baby toads, not just big fat ones.)

During the day, the toads retreat to various burrows they have around the yard, while the frogs must go back to my neighbor's fountain. Here's one that's made itself at home under one of the agaves in our xeric garden in the front. All kinds of small critters love to burrow under agaves, cacti, and other spiny plants. It helps protect them from predators.

Next time I see my neighbor, I really must thank her for having this fountain that's turning out to be such a great population source for all these wonderful amphibians!

Speaking of which, we're still working on our own backyard pond. It's still a big hole in the ground, but my husband has ordered the skimmer, and will order the pump next. It's just been too hot to do much work on it out there, but once it cools off I hope we can go ahead and get it done. The frogs and toads should love it!

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Harvest Moon

Monday was the Harvest Moon, which means fall is almost here. Of course it's still been in the high-90's, but today the first big cold front of fall is supposed to arrive, which is forecast to bring the temperature down by about 15 degrees. I can't wait!

There's not much left out in the garden, but what has survived the summer is probably good to go until it freezes in November or December.

I'm still not impressed with these Rosa Bianca eggplants. After producing some small fruits in the summer that went from purple to yellow-brown way too fast, I picked off all the remaining fruits and blossoms, to let the plants just concentrate on surviving the summer. Now that it's cooling down a little, they're starting to make more blossoms. I'm going to give them one more chance to make a nice crop in fall, but I'm thinking this is just not a good variety for me.

My peppers did lousy this year, and now I think it might be best to start the seeds in the fall, keep them in pots over winter, and then plant them in spring. I had a bumper crop the year I did that (somewhat unintentionally). I think they really liked germinating while the weather was still warm, and then seemed to do fine waiting over winter in their 4 inch pots before being planted as large, sturdy plants in spring.

Which means on my to-do list for this weekend is to start next year's peppers!

After I cut my tomatoes down to stumps, the Cherokee Purple tomatoes never grew back, but the cherry tomatoes look like they  might grow back in fall.  Maybe I'll even get a second harvest of them.

I sprayed I Must Garden brand deer repellent on the sweet potatoes, since it was recommended on Central Texas Gardener. It worked much better than I thought! It looks like the deer completely quit eating my sweet potatoes and they've gotten a chance to grow back a bit (though not yet back to how they were before the deer showed up). It smells to me like a mixture of cinnamon, mint, and garlic, which is not exactly the nicest smell, but apparently the deer think it smells much worse. And I only sprayed it once or twice, and that seems to have been enough. I might re-apply if it turns out that we get a heavy rain with this coming cold front.

The only thing left alive in the back garden is some of the Christmas Lima beans. I hope in fall they'll be able to recover a bit and give me a second crop.

I've been having trouble starting the fall crops in these trays. Some of the seedlings have been damping off, but I think birds have been pulling up some of them. I've never actually caught any in the act, but I know for sure birds have been stealing the tags! I've found them strewn around the yard. I got to the point where I couldn't tell some of my plants apart (is this broccoli, collards, or mustard?), but it didn't matter too much because I had to reseed a lot of them anyway. It's just hard having to start fall crops when it's still 100 degrees outside and then try to nurse them along until it finally cools down.

I wonder if it's even worth it to try to start them in August, or if I should just wait until it cools down. So few of them survive it might not be worth the extra month of growing time they get.