Sunday, March 31, 2013

Spring scenery

It's springtime and everyone is ga ga over gardening, even if they don't like gardening but instead just like the idea of gardening.  So I have to issue forth some new content on this theme, mostly in the form of pretty pictures, because that's what spring is all about.

We are again in a serious drought, but our nights have not been too obscenely warm.  For those reasons, I managed to cop a late-season broccoli last weekend, and I've got one more cauliflower that just might make it to maturity.  As I mentioned in previous posts, cruciferous vegetables are winter crops in the Houston area, not spring crops. 
Broccoli maketh healthy meals for teenagers.  So far we've had about eight person-servings from that one late-season bonus broccoli. 
There are two sure signs of spring in our back yard:  First, mourning doves nesting in one of our hanging baskets. 

What I've noticed is that they tend to raise two chicks at the start of the season, but just one chick on the second laying as summer approaches. 
And two, it wouldn't be spring unless we were raising Monarch butterflies, as we did last year.  Those milkweed starts I distributed to my neighbors... remember, besides looking pretty as potted plants, one of the primary purposes of those things is to sustain migrating Monarchs.  The caterpillars will strip the entire plants clean of leaves and flowers, but you can just trim them back and they'll regenerate quickly. 
We have an extraordinary number of Monarch caterpillars right now.  I almost wonder if there is a geographic memory that gets laid down in this species, like salmon returning to their birthplace to spawn. 
Some people are hunting Easter eggs today, but we are hunting Monarch cocoons.  We have two attached to our fence thus far, but most of these things are extremely difficult to locate.  The caterpillars slink off and cocoon in concealed locations most of the time. 
On the subject of milkweed, I resolved to expand our repertoire, so my daughter and I went to Maas Nursery yesterday to see what we could find, as we only have one variety in our yard right now. 
If you haven't been to Maas, you're missing out, big time.  It's extraordinary. 
As it happens, Maas did not have any milkweed in stock except for the cultivar we already grow.  A salesperson reported to me that they literally sell out of it faster than their grower can produce it.  But then we got into a discussion about Monarchs, and I got into the middle of a debate that two salespeople were having.  They'd located a caterpillar on a dill plant.  One thought it was a Monarch.  The other thought it was a swallow tail.  I was requested to pronounce on the matter.
It's a black swallowtail.  They love dill.  Monarchs cannot eat dill.  Monarchs cannot eat anything but milkweed, which is why their future is uncertain.   
I can safely say that in my 20+ years of going to Maas, that's the first time anyone asked me for advice on any gardening matter.  Most emphatically, it's usually the other way around. 

Anyway, I'll have more to say about spring gardening in a subsequent post, but it's now time for church.  I will close with a ladybug and a contented smile, because there's always room for both.
Cruising around some of my tomato volunteers. 
One of the cool mini-garden arrangements for sale in Maas Nursery.  He looks like the stone equivalent of a stoner. 

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