Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

One thing leads to another...

When it comes to the garden, just when I think I've gotten things to some point I've longed to reach, it typically reveals there are other points just beyond that horizon, beckoning...

Years ago when we finally took out a large section of St. Augustine grass in the back yard I thought I'd be fine with the chaos, I thought I wanted a wild flower meadow.

Once the flowers faded (so soon!) I put in a few freestyle raised beds.  I tried out vegetables, I auditioned flowers, I played around with permaculture techniques.  Sure enough I no longer had the previously despised monoculture, but what I mostly had? I mostly had an ongoing mess.
Finally I grasped what I'd been reading (and mostly ignoring) for years.  First things must come first.  If you want a successful garden, you've got to attend to the bones.  Beds require maintenance.  Maintenance requires access.  With Hub's help I'd already established one central path.  That path and the chaos beyond pointed out the clear need for more.  We needed more paths.

Taking sight lines and sprinkler placement into consideration I lined out several supplemental paths.  Those paths were great as far as they went but they were cleared dirt.  I didn't want dirt paths.  I put in stepping stones as a stopgap (just in case it ever rained again, which at the time, frankly seemed unlikely), but I didn't want stepping stones.  What I wanted was a granite gravel path.

At that time we didn't have any clear access to the back yard. Having a truck deliver a load of gravel was out of the question.  Our old wheelbarrow died.  We got a new one but it had a wide wheel base and the gate in our fence wouldn't even allow it through.  Undaunted, I bought and carried in five 40 pound bags of crushed granite gravel.  40 pound bags don't cover much and I knew it wouldn't be enough, but it was a start.

Summer happened. Gravel spreading was not an attractive prospect in triple digits.  Winter came and it rained!  It got cold, I got cold, and the front beds began to reveal the ravages of neglect.  The front beds that everybody drove and walked by.  The front beds that everybody could SEE.

By the time I turned my attention to the back bedding areas again every square inch of dirt in between the stepping stones was completely overgrown with weeds.  Every time I disturbed the soil or repositioned a stepping stone I unearthed a roiling mass of angry ants.

But I'm nothing if not stubborn.  Slowly but surely I eliminated the ants.  Minus the attacking hordes I got the dirt paths weeded.  I took the five granite gravel bags and spread them out as far as they would cover.

It was a limited success but it was enticing.  The finish line for the paths was in sight at long last.

The Hub had sensibly replaced that old narrow gate with a wider one that would accept the new wheelbarrow, but.... We were now having our windows replaced. The equipment and ongoing work meant there was nowhere available for a truck to unload gravel in the front.  Unless I wanted to wait?

I was finished with excuses and waiting.  Waiting was not an option.  Back I went to buy more 40 pound bags of crushed granite.  Eleven of them.

The now easily approachable garden beds were ready for their close-up.  Stepping around the plastic bags of granite gravel I'd unloaded where my dream paths would be, I began to weed.

I culled.  I eradicated.  I ferreted out nut sedge.  Panicum.  Virginia buttonweed.  I popped out crabgrass.  Common purslane.  Dove weed.  I dug out bermuda grass.  Carpet weed.  I pulled out long strings of residual St. Augustine.  I yanked and pried and removed every weed known to local gardeners and a few I swear came into being only here and simply to try and frustrate my efforts.

And so it goes, and so it went until, day before yesterday when, working mostly by feel and finishing well after dark, I got eight of the eleven bags of granite gravel spread out onto every one of the readied paths.

I was close.  So close.  Laughing at the thermometer, ignoring increasingly urgent messages from my lower back and neck, I donned my tattered gloves and tackled the colony of long established weeds in the last large bed.
Today?  Today I can barely begin to believe it but just for now, just for this moment, the two major projects in our back garden spaces are complete.

I have gravel paths.  I have weeded beds.

Just for the moment of course.  Weeding is never really completed.  The weeds in the first bed I cleared out are already showing signs of regrowth from roots I'll likely never get all the way out.
Also?  You guys, those weeded beds are sorely in need of mulching.  Without mulch I can't ever hope to stay on top of the weed situation, not to mention assisting with moisture retention and keeping the soil cooled.

At least now I have a gravel path where I can safely leave those mulch bags.  Once I get to the nursery, I mean.  With the window guys here I am stuck at the house weekdays and who wants to spend their weekends hauling mulch bags in this heat?

And so it goes....

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


I flatter myself that I pay good attention to my surroundings.  I operate under the pretense there is no gesture made by the flora and fauna sharing our spaces that could be wasted.  I spend time every day looking.  Noticing.

And yet there is and has been a thriving community growing right overhead without me seeing it at all.
Until today.  We had a delivery truck with a particularly tall superstructure come up the drive and besides unloading angle iron pieces for the windows we are having installed, it knocked off a colonized oak branch.
One little oak branch.  One slender structure supporting an entire host of moss and lichen in varied forms and colors.
Squamulose, Foliose and Fruticose have all set up shop in close proximity.

"Live" oak, indeed!

I found it entrancing.  I couldn't take my eyes off it.  Every different vantage point reveals more life and new colors.  And this palette!  I want to shrink down and immerse myself in this visual playground of blues and greens (and greys and yellows...).
I kept walking around, putting the branch here, then there, looking at it against various backdrops.
It is a universe in miniature.

Some days beauty apparently has to fall at my feet to catch my eye.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

I'll Take "Blame it on the Heat" for $1200, Alex

Have you noticed how weather affects everything?   Especially when it trends towards the extreme.  I suppose this does not bode well for the future, though what does, these days?

Just this past week we've had a string of triple digit days.  Granted, this is neither unusual nor unexpected for July in Central Texas. It is precisely this sweltering summer weather that purchases our guilt free enjoyment of mild to nonexistent winters.  A Mephistophelean deal at best, but it's a fact.  The heat dues we currently offer also earn us reverse bragging rights.

If you are a Texan, please raise your hand if you have not overheard or better yet, personally participated recently in a conversation with out of staters resembling the following: "Oho, so you think it is hot where you are?  We're expecting (fill-in-the-blank-ridiculously-awful-number) as a high today.  And tomorrow it's supposed to be (mind-blowingly-worse)!".

No hands?

I thought not.

Bragging rights aside, any time we hit the triples for three or more days running? It ceases to matter that I have years (and years) worth of coping mechanisms to employ.

After day two the smothering blanket of heat eventually extinguishes my will to live.  In a puddle of sweat I slide past irritability into dull rage. The ordinary and ubiquitous summertime background clamor of mowers and blowers transform into insufferable personal insults.  I've been known to snap at cicadas to "shut the hell UP!".

And it isn't only me.  My whole family can be snappish in the nicest weather.  During a heat wave, it doesn't take much for us all to get a little murdery around the edges.

I suppose there's an upside. The oven outdoors makes it impossible to gain enough momentum to do more than entertain dark thoughts. Snarliness becomes unsustainable.  The heat saps our energy and reduces our willpower.  We do well to muster juuuust enough strength to lift glasses of various iced liquids to parched lips.

The heat has other side effects as well.  With every cumulative hour the mercury sits above 95 degrees?  There is a corresponding drop in IQ.  Last night, it was too much trouble to bark out the answers to a DVR'ed Jeopardy episode we were watching.  Last night, the three of us sat around picking at our dinners, halfheartedly mumbling guesses to the questions.

For my part it was just as well.  I was embarrassing myself, flubbing answers to even the easiest questions.  A sense of quiet despair set in.  I was trapped on an express bus to Dullardsville. Which is  the precise opposite of the experience I seek by watching.
Frankly, I don't watch Jeopardy because I delight in learning arcane facts (lowest point in Australia?  Lake Eyre!).  I'm not there to humbly map out the boundaries of What-I-Know Land or vicariously experience the thrill of nerdish domination.

No, not and nope.  I watch Jeopardy because on a good day, on a usual day, on a day that has not featured cognitive depletion from heat stress, I do know most of the answers.  On a good day, watching reinforces my sense of already being smarter-than.  And that very smoothly transfers to my sense of being better-than.  (Please note there's no pretense having ANYthing to do with being nicer-than.)

When I get more Jeopardy questions correct than, well, anybody I'm around at the time, it assures me that yes, Virginia, I may have stood in front of the open refrigerator (twice!) wondering what it was I was looking for today, but that matters not.  When my Jeopardy watching is doing its job I by golly feel like I AM more intelligent than your average bear, and more crucially to me, smarter than the contestants. Which (at that moment) is all that counts.

We've got cloud cover today.  No triples in sight.  There are colored blobs on radar oozing in our general direction, and as we face a new week and new episodes of Jeopardy, I'm relieved to see the brain-sapping heat is likely to abate for at least a few days.  Which is a very good thing.

Just don't get me started on the humidity....

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Oh, this gives me such fanciful ideas....

I've sure enough got the big oaks. Now, if I only had a chandelier (or three....)

Chandelier Tree from Colin Kennedy on Vimeo.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Scream of Nature

Here at our house, we are finally tackling some long postponed home improvements.

Currently we are having a crew replace all our old broken and fogged up windows with new environmentally groovy ones.  The work of taking out (and then putting back in) windows requires a certain amount of rearranging ourselves and our things, depending on what is in the way of the work for any given day.

That meant recently the Hub invested a fair amount of time dismantling our Military-Industrial-Entertainment complex so work could begin on the window immediately behind the spot normally occupied by the ginormous television set.
First there is a window, then there is no window, then there is.  Thankfully,  we'll have our television crutch back in place by dinnertime, tonight.  Phew!
As these things go, or more accurately put, sometimes don't go, the particular window in question did not actually get replaced yesterday as was originally scheduled.

Which meant, (dun, dun DUNNNNN!) the Austin Agrodolce household went without cable for an evening.

I tell you what, nothing reveals a family for the shallow, conversationally impaired group they are, quite as efficiently as the removal of the normal center of attention.  It was epically revelatory.  But not in that good way.

Sooo....  We had a regulation dinner, minus the opportunity to shore up our self esteem by loudly calling out the answers (and criticizing overly conservative Daily Double bets) to DVR'ed Jeopardy questions in between bites.

We ate.  We talked, a little.  I cleared the dishes.  We sat.  We stared at the disconnected television as if it would magically offer distraction.  We checked the time and realized A) I was the only one with a book to read and 2) we had hours to go before it would be time to sleep.

Because those are your garden variety "normal" evening options, yeah?  Eating dinner, watching television, and then sleeping.

We sat some more.  We talked about playing Scrabble.  The Hub wasn't interested in a game, he'd already fallen into some internet hole.  After what seemed an eternity we checked the clock again.  Eight minutes had passed.  With determination, despite the fact of it still being hot, my daughter and I decided we'd brave an evening stroll around the neighborhood.

Off we set.  Along the way we observed all the usual evening sights.  Folks hand watering, people walking their dogs, multiple mini-herds of whitetail deer providing free-style landscaping.  Then we saw something much less than usual,  Playing out in the middle of the street we noted a prime example of Nature-Red-In-Tooth-And-Claw.

What had at a distance looked like a clump of leaves working its way slowly across the still sun-warmed asphalt, we spotted what was actually a Tarantula Hawk, slowly but surely dragging a no-longer-protesting full grown Tarantula across the road. (insert updated chicken/road joke versions here)

I didn't get a photo because I didn't have a camera.  I didn't go back to grab a shot because honestly, I was repulse-fascinated in a way I thought it best not to indulge.  I will admit the sight of a super-sized wasp dragging an equally super-sized spider, especially knowing what said wasp was up to, was impressive.

Frankly, folks can disparage the violence and gore on TV (and that's just the evening News, probably) but there is nothing I've seen for a long while that made me so immediately wish I had not stopped to take a closer look.
I feel you, Edvard.
It isn't that I was "for" or "against" the wasp or the tarantula either one.  I'm not a huge fan of tarantulas. Truthfully the facts of their habits have never quite overcome my myth-based childhood fear of them.  At the same time, I'm certainly no wasp advocate.  Though I'd sort of admired Tarantula Hawks as an abstraction, a yellow jacket sting on my wrist when I was a four year old instilled in me an instinctive need to never (!)  remain in close quarters with wasps.  Especially not 2-3 inch long wasps known to have the second most painful of all insect stings.

There was something about the idea that this one particular tarantula was going to have to die (and rather horribly) to support a baby tarantula hawk's coming into the world.  It simply rattled me, and I still can't say why.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

No photographs, please?

Taking this article at face value (and I am), please consider:
Ten percent of all the photos ever taken were taken in the past 12 months.
Every 2 minutes today we snap as many photos as the whole of humanity took in the 1800s. (and I'm pretty sure they aren't counting surveillance photos or video in that number.)
There are 2.5 billion camera phones.  Almost all people who own dedicated digital cameras also own a phone with a camera.  (I own both though I nearly never use the camera on my old not-very-bright-you-could-even-say-stupid phone.)

I'm a little ambivalent.  When I see photographs featuring crowds holding up their cellphones snapping pictures?  I sometimes think that behavior misses the point of actually being an eyewitness.  On the other hand, the world is a rich and varied place and I've seen a lot more of it through photographic representation than I could hope to in person.

Past that?  Taking and sharing photos are two of the chief pleasures of blogging here.
While I have you here for a moment?  Have a happy 4th of July!
(I won't say "safe" because I'm guessing happy and safe stay on the same page, and if they don't?  That's your bidness, not mine.)