There is nothing more satisfying than growing and preparing your own food. I am an Oregonian transplanted to Austin, Texas. I can garden year round here; of course, this also means I am pulling weeds every day. I practice organic gardening principles and enjoy the challenge of outsmarting garden pests. Occasionally I lose these battles, but I don't mind sharing a good meal.
It is freakin' hot here. And it's not just me. Austin is having a record-breaking heat wave right now with temperatures over 100 degrees every day. It cools down to a brisk 77 degrees at night. The locals bemoan that it's too early to be this hot, it's not supposed to be like this for another month. Great. That means I have three more months of this to look forward to.
Sunrise is at 6:30 am and I try to be outside as soon as I can see. There are just two to three hours available for yard work before the heat overwhelms me and sends me scurrying inside. I can't drink enough water to replace everything that pours off of me and into the ground. It's best to call it a day and come play on the computer or catch up on housework. (Or watch Ed catch up on housework while I sit on the couch and read a book - I can't lie.)
Even with a reduced schedule, I've been able to make some progress. The side walkway is dug out and the steps are placed. I've mounded up the soil in preparation for my citrus trees. I plan on placing the Meyer Lemon (which has a huge green lemon on it thank you very much) and my Satsuma mandarin orange right next to the house. I'll have to keep them pruned so they don't grab me as I pass. These citrus trees have nasty thorns on them - I had no idea - so you have to be careful.
Once the trees are planted, they will make a nice screen to hide the air conditioner condenser. As you can see from the photo I got a little carried away with the Roundup and over-sprayed into the neighbor's yard. The St Augustine grass throws out rhizomes so I have no doubt it will recover quickly. Luckily our next door neighbors are really nice and are enthusiastic about my project. They, of course, will get my SECOND lemon. Neighborliness only goes so far.
The raised beds made from the fence boards are working out too.
I fill them with the soil and dead sod from my ditch works projects. My other neighbor has contributed several bags of dead leaves and yard waste to mix in. I was hoping to mix in chipped brush but it all seems to end up in pathways instead.
The chipping is going slowly. We can't fire up the machine until 10 am (noise ordinances) and by then it is too hot to work. Ed's been trying to get a least one bag full before he shuts down. I quickly spread it around and then run back into the house to sit under the ceiling fan.
We're adapting though. Having the temperature drop to 95 is invigorating and we are outside with the rest of the neighbors taking a walk in the park. I'm getting really good at Texas barbecue and we eat more salad than we ever have. I channel grandma Clemmy and stir up a mess of greens with bacon as an additional treat. It's too hot to make cornbread but I am thinking of getting a cast iron skillet to throw on the BBQ grill. It'll be just like camping...except I just saw a cockroach as big as the cat. Dang.
This morning I was out digging in the yard when the neighbor came hurrying across the street. She had awoken to find that another neighbor's hackberry tree had split and fallen on her property. She was hoping to get some advice on how to cut it up.
Cut it up? Is she kidding me? Momma needs mulch.
Turns out the tree fell into two neighbor's yards. Jack, Cyndi, and I surveyed the damage. Luckily it hadn't taken out the fence or any of Cyndi's crape myrtles. We discussed how to cut it up and remove it, and then I pounced for the kill. Of course I would take all the branches off their hands. I can even come over and help drag the debris across the street. Anything too big to chip can be left for the MUD to pick up on Tuesday.
Woo hoo! No driving around the neighborhood today looking for brush!
It was a lot of fun actually. The smaller limbs were all carefully cut back until just the large trunk remained. Ed, Jack , and Gary (Cyndi's husband) used our rope to rig a block and tackle system to take the heavy stuff down piece by piece. Ed and I have learned to do this from several arborists we've hired over the years. In just a few short hours the job was done and the party was over.
There are two things here in Austin that simply amaze me. This city knows how to move people and water.
Freeways snake everywhere. You need to go to the store? A freeway will get you there. Apparently the state and or city gets lots of highway dollars.
But the thing that impresses me the most is storm water management. The storm drains yawn open and could swallow a small person. Concrete or limestone lined dry canals are everywhere. Giant depressions that serve as ball fields or parks dot the landscape. When I first arrived, I was agape at it all.
Then it rained.
This isn't Oregon rain where you stand outside for twenty minutes before you get wet. This is Texas rain where you don't last two seconds. Sheets of water pour from the sky and it hurts if it hits you. The rain bounces off the ground with amazing agility. Water starts to stream down every inch of ground; down sidewalks, streets, over lawns, down tree trunks, over the gutters. The canals fill with great rivers of water that rush downstream to somewhere. It is both exhilarating and frightening at the same time. Then, as soon as it stops, twenty minutes later everything is dry as a bone. Like nothing happened. Amazing.
It is with this deluge in mind that I am working in the yard creating my own storm water system. Our house is in a neighborhood that sits on a slope. Water pours over each others lawns and rushes into the street drains. Only a few homes even have gutters, so all that roof rain gushes into yards and driveways to join the river down stream.
The amazing thing is that the St Augustine grass that everyone has seems to hold everything together. People here don't use baggers on their lawnmowers, so the thatch builds up and is tightly knit with the rhizomes of the St Augustine. It seems like the perfect grass for this kind of weather.
Just one problem. I killed all of mine with Roundup. Oh dear.
Luckily, my erosion control specialist sister Jeanette and swampland dweller friend Mark have taught me well. Build ditches. So I am.
On each side of my driveway I am putting in planting beds. I dig down about eight inches and pile the soil in the middle to form a berm. The plants will be placed in the berm. Mulch created with our chipper goes into the ditches. The idea here is to slow down the flow of water and hold some of it long enough to let it soak into the mulch and berm. Hopefully this will decrease run off and my watering frequency.
Two days ago we had a doozy of a storm. It poured for hours. Of course it was at night so I couldn't observe my ditches to see if they worked. I worried that all the mulch Ed had chipped for me was ending up in the Colorado river along with the neighbor's small car. When I went out the next morning, I was happy to see that none of my mulch had moved. Plus, my ditches held the moisture into the 100 degree heat of the next day. Woo hoo!
So today I went out at first light and dug some more. Why should my down slope neighbor get any of MY water? IT'S MINE. ALL MINE.
As the old proverb says, one man's trash is another man's treasure. That's certainly true of me. I have brought my scrounging habit to Austin.
When we lived in Seattle, I forced my husband to drive around with me and scavenge broken pieces of concrete. I was building a retaining wall in the garden, you see. In Oregon, we drove around looking for cool rocks (took both of us to lift them) for my raised flower beds. We also drove around grabbing the neighbor's bagged leaves in the fall so I could mulch everything for winter.
I am happy to announce that I have hit the jackpot here in my Wells Branch neighborhood in Austin. Our municipal utility district (MUD) has a yard debris program. All you have to do is place your yard waste in one of their handy containers or pile your brush on the curb, and they send a truck around on Monday to gather it up. Quite a nice little service - and dang handy for me. All I have to do is wait for the weekend warriors to get their yard work done and I pop round in my own truck to gather the spoils. I return home with the loot, get out the pruners and get it all prepped, then get my husband Ed to fire up the chipper. Voila. Mulch. Chips for the paths. Compost starter. Beats paying $25 a yard.
A couple of days ago I noticed that there were cedar fence panels stacked up in a waste area next to a church. They were obviously old boards and next to them gleamed the new concrete wall replacement. I mentioned it to my husband and he said he'd noticed them there for weeks. Silly man, you think he would learn.
Yesterday we hauled the pile to the house. There are plenty of perfectly good boards to use. Anything we can't build with can be run through the chipper. I've already placed my order; Ed is building raised beds for my vegetables. He's already got the first one done and ready for me to fill.
Let's see, chipping, hauling an old fence, building boxes, what else can I find for Ed to do to support my gardening habit? Don't answer!