Thursday, July 15, 2021

Butternut Squash Flowers

The big butternut squash plant has gotten over six feet long now and finally we have a female flower.  At first I was thinking it was pollinated already and forming the squash.  I haven't grown these in such a long time.

In case you didn't know, there are two kinds of flowers on a squash plant (as well as many other plants). Both of them can grow on the same vine but there are many more male flowers than female flowers.  As you can see the female flower has the fruit already started, just waiting for pollination to produce seeds.

The male flowers are the ones you eat.  Just wait for them to get big enough, snip it off, and fry it up, usually with some sort of batter.

The cantaloupe also has a female flower on it.  The little melon ball is barely noticeable though.

The large squash plant also has some new runners near the base of the plant.  It's preparing to really take off with 3 new shoots.  The plan is now to just keep watering and feeding it.  Adding a little more dirt to help with the growing root system it needs to keep up.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021


Most people think of pollinators and think of butterflies or bees.  There are so many more out there though.

Today I got a picture of this fly pollinating the cilantro plants.  He carefully went from flower to flower, not even trying to get into the house.

The reason creatures pollinate plants is interesting though.  I can think of four off the top of my head.  The first one, being obvious of course, is nectar.  They go for a quick bite to eat and pollen gets on them for their meal ticket.

A not so obvious one is they think they are going for a different meal like the case with the corpse flower.  It smells like rotting meat and attracts all kinds of things.

Another form of trickery is found in an orchid.  It mimics a wasp on it's flower luring in other wasps to mate with it.  Instead it's of course a flower and gets pollen for it's trouble.  Not at all what was promised but this wasp is a little gullible and does it again.

The fourth one that comes to mind will strike you as obvious, people.  No trickery here though.  People often pollinate plants for a variety of reasons, food, flowers, or just reproduction like trees they can sell.

So next time you see a fly and want to squish it, think about the plants it helps pollinate and think if it's really a good idea or not.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Garden Carrot

This year we have a little patio garden.  This carrot is the only one that grew from the seeds we planted.  Unfortunately it was in a fairly shallow pot and you can tell how deep from the size of it.  Carrots only grow as long as they have room to do so.  One year we had a garden that had a lot of carrots but only so much height.  It wasn't because they were in a pot but instead the dirt we brought in and put over the existing soil (mostly clay) only went so deep.  When it hit the hard soil underneath they stopped getting bigger.

It's interesting how plants grow only where they find room.  I heard of one way to grow potatoes was putting them in hay.  It eliminates the natural pests you get since there is no soil and at harvest time you just jostle the hay around until it releases the potatoes. Trying something similar but I have very little the potato is trying to grow in.  Might have to go get more hay.

The rest of the garden though is doing pretty well.  Lots of watering, 2-3 gallons a day, but in the scheme of things not really a problem.  The larger pot is growing the much better squash plant of course.  The bigger volume lets it retain more water and less heat gets to the plant as a result.  I think I will need to shade the plants as summer gets along to keep them happy.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Dung Beetle

I always imagined a dung beetle was bigger than this.  It was barely the size of a pencil eraser. These guys are vital in the conversion of waste into usable material.  They are like the insect version of a mushroom.

Much like any other bug, if you see one of them then there are likely thousands of them in the area. Like the saying that you are never more than ten feet from a spider, they're everywhere.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Ground Chocolate

This is coarse ground chocolate I have produces from the cacao pod I fermented and roasted.  This is not however all of the cacao nibs I made, only about a third of it.

This is much closer to how chocolate was originally used, pounded to a mass and added to whatever, usually a drink.  This however has sugar added and can be called about 70% dark chocolate.

It really does have a good flavor to it even if it is an extremely micro batch.  One of the things that contribute to flavor is the yeasts in the area it is fermented.  This is why I wanted to see how Texas chocolate would turn out before investing too much time or money in producing it in a larger scale.

Of course I will still have Claude no matter how things turn out.  He's got more leaves coming in again.  Yes, I said leaves as in plural.  There is a top leaf (height) coming in but there are also two side leaves coming in.  One of them has a very definite leaf shape and was the first to pop out.  They are at consecutive leaf points and about two thirds the way up the trunk.  Just saying trunk gives me chills.  He's an actual tree now with a thin bark.  So many of the other trees have not made it.  There are however several still at the office that are sprouting new leaves.  If all goes well they will be the other trees in the cacao orchard.

Back to the ground chocolate though.  I'm not sure I have enough to try to temper it.  We did kind of temper some ground chocolate once.  It had a snap but there was also more if it than this.  I'm afraid of scorching such a small amount.  Probably just eat it like this.  Maybe even as an ice cream topping.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Little Green Beans

These are the beginnings of the bean crop this year.  I call it a crop but really it's a whole 10 or so plants with a few beans each.  Enough to make a side dish from once they are big enough but that's about it.

We will have enough though to save some of the seeds for next year's garden.  Seed saving is the only way to get crops year after year, whether you do it yourself or buy from seed companies that only do seed saving.

Doing it yourself though has one distinct advantage over buying it year after year from a seed company.  You know how the plant is going to react where you live and there will always be small variations to a plant.  What grew is the best plant from the seeds you planted.  The beans, in this case, that grew are a snapshot of those plants.  Anything that made those specific plants grow that maybe made them a fraction better than the plants you thinned out or that didn't grow so well is preserved and passed on to next year's crop.  If you do this for long enough you will start to have a hybrid and something that, although it resembles the original plants, is not the plants you started with.  They will, hopefully,  be better.  They also might get cross pollinated from a nearby garden and come up with a whole different plant.  This happens a lot with commercial crops.  One plant will cross with another and the result isn't always what a farmer wanted.  Thus saving seeds can be a tricky matter.

Several of the seeds we have planted are from produce from the store.  This also can be fairly random since some produce is pollinated by a more fertile plant even though the fruit from that plant may not be as desirable.  Apples for instance are often cross pollinated with crabapples because they put off more pollen and help other apple trees produce better.  The fruit from the desired trees is good but the seeds may well be a cross between say a honeycrisp and crabapple.

Some things you don't want to cross.  Dill and fennel for instance will produce a plant that doesn't taste like either and doesn't smell all that good.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Five Leaf Green Bean Plant

You've heard of four leaf clovers, well I've got a five leaf green bean plant.  I'm sure it's just a clump of leaves that didn't make a new stem out of the previous leaf area but it still looks cool.

The garden currently has lots of leaves growing.  The basil has doubled in size since last week and the cilantro is growing even faster.  No need to go to the grocery store any time soon for these.

The single solitary carrot has no flowers yet but it's already five times bigger than any carrots that tried growing last year. The new leaves seem to just keep coming.

The green onion at first seemed like it might die back after the scapes were done growing and making seed but there are now even more leaves than they started with.  Lots of brown of course as the old growth gives way to the new though but that's to be expected.

The tomato plants should be making flowers any day now.  There are surely enough leaves but I plan to add a little more dirt and thin them  just a little more so there isn't so much competition for nutrients.  An of course feeding it all.  There are still inkcaps growing in the large pot.  I think the dirt was still more mulch than dirt and needs some decomposition. They're doing what they can and should be excellent next year if not by this summer.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Roasting Cacao

We began with the pod and decided to go all the way from pod to chocolate.  Fermenting was interesting since the mass couldn't hold the heat in for very long and often times I would end up holding the plastic bag they were fermenting in to give the yeast enough warmth to grow.  It took twice as long as it should usually take to ferment the beans but they ended up with a wonderful aroma.

Then we dried the beans and kept them sealed up so as not to absorb odors from anything in the kitchen we might be cooking or storing nearby.  For a little bit they were tossed in the freezer but this doesn't seem to have affected the final roast any.

While trying to figure out what to do at this point we weighed our options and the costs of those options.  We didn't want to try the oven again since it didn't work out so well the other times we tried it.  After some time we found that Pampered Chef had this air fryer that came with a rotating basket.  It looked almost exactly like some of the coffee roasters that were recommended to use to roast cacao beans.  Although not always in stock it was one of the items you could get half off if you threw a party and got enough sales.  So, for under $150 we got this and followed the recommendations in the Making Chocolate book by Dandelion Chocolate.  Looking back it could possibly have used another minute in the roaster but the fragrance is awesome.  As far as I know it's the only Texas fermented chocolate in existence as craft chocolate makers purchase beans that have already been fermented and dried.  Now all I have to do is get Claude (the cacao tree growing in my office) to produce pods and sugar from southeast Texas and I will then be able to produce a 100% Texas chocolate bar.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Fairy Ring Mushroom

To start, I am not an expert on mushrooms.  That being said I'm 99% sure that this is a fairy ring mushroom.  I did not however eat it since there is still that 1% chance I'm horribly wrong and would die.  Not good enough odds.  In addition to these pictures it had the most wonderful mushroom smell.  When I think of a delicious mushroom, that was the smell I got.  But again, 1%....

If you have any skill at identifying mushrooms I would love to have a second, third, and even fourth or more opinion on the variety of mushroom this is.  In the off chance I can get a positive identification, I placed the mushroom on one of the pots outside on top of mulchy dirt in hopes that it would propagate.  I keep the area plenty watered and who knows I might get a delicious meal out of this.

I found this and several others of the same type while hiking in the woods in south east Oklahoma.  The trees that were around were pecan, cedar, oak, and a spattering of others.  Trees I can identify more or less, mushrooms not so much.

The pictures are several hours after picking and are only slightly darker than they were when picked.  Some of the others had a slightly flatter look and the edges started to become wavy.

At this point in the garden they have shriveled and turned brown.  I don't know if any spores were released or if anything will happen but if anything does happen I will revisit the variety at that time.

In the mean time, please comment and let me know what you think.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Female Dimorphic Jumping Spider

This little cutie was spotted in the corner of my patio hanging out waiting for a meal and allowed me a moment to take this picture.  

Fortunately for everyone she isn't that big.  This is way zoomed in.  It took a while for me to identify this spider since it wasn't listed as even being this far west but you know how animals are, they don't know where they are, just if they like being there.  Since I put in the small patio garden there are plenty of things for her to eat.

I started out looking for a list of Texas spiders and it was actually very limiting since most of them were larger spiders or the ones you might worry about if you got bitten.  Then I looked for colors like red and brown.  This too was limiting and not a lot of help.  Then I remembered she jumped to a railing piece from the corner so obviously a jumping spider.  I looked at an images of jumping spiders and way down I saw one just like her.  I say her because the males are entirely black and about half the size.  

As with most jumping spiders she isn't a danger to people.  For starters they would rather run away from you.  For those on the more worried side their venom isn't enough to do much to a person.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Pleated Inkcap Mushroom

So many people love to eat mushrooms but, as you probably know, most mushrooms are not the eating variety. This is one such fella.  Not poisonous but not something to be put in your soup or sandwich.

Often people think mushrooms are harmful to their yards or plants.  What mushrooms really do is break down dead material and make it into something plants can use to grow.  I barely got to see this guy since it lasts less than 24 hours before disappearing itself.  With all the rain I have also gotten some other mushrooms growing in various pots on the patio.  The more mulch the more likely it is to get mushrooms since mulch is pretty much the opposite of broken down material.  Last year's mulch is this year's dirt.  The slugs seem to really like some of the mushrooms that have been growing I've removed several of them and tossed them far into the yard, hopefully to forage somewhere else.

Something I didn't know was that some mushrooms in the same group as this little guy can be used to gather ink.  As the name inkcap implies, some of the larger mushrooms actually drip a black fluid containing spores that can be used as ink. They drip so that the wind can catch the spores and take them away.  As they do so the edges curl away and up to promote the drip and release of the spores.

Public Service Announcement: Never eat a mushroom unless you KNOW that it is edible.  There are so many varieties out there and you are safer not guessing.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Erosion Control

Erosion is a constant concern.  This is the "little"  channel behind our apartment. As you can see it is flowing pretty full now and you can see the silt (dirt) it is carrying away. After the rain stopped you could see more of the grass roots exposed to the air.  The grass is probably still well rooted but enough erosion can kill a patch of grass.

This is one of the things I do at work is help make sure newly disturbed areas don't have too much erosion.  Sometimes it can't be helped.  You can't stop all erosion.  In this area there are three things that were used to help prevent to much erosion.  One is the slope of the area.  The water flowing down the channel area doesn't have a lot of elevation change as it flows.  This prevents the speed from getting too high and causing more dirt to dislodge and wash away.  A second but less obvious thing is the little bumps or hills.  These cause the water to slow down on the bottom and let the dirt settle out back into the grass.  The third of course is the grass itself.  It's really the first line defense against erosion and what stops it in lighter rains.

Wind can also cause erosion.  While at the beach you can often see the sand blowing away from the wind.  This is a constant problem, so much so that it can cause road damage if the water erodes the sand that far.  Even far inland where there is a severe lack of trees the dirt can dislodge and cause major problems.  Ever hear of the dust bowl.  It was caused by a removing of too many trees to produce farm land.

What does this have to do with gardening?  Too much watering can cause minor erosion of dirt but also in a raised bed or pot it can remove much wanted nutrients.  Don't wash them out. Water as the plants need it and fertilize so as to replenish any that do get washed away.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Spring Algae

This is nothing compared with what I've seen elsewhere but yes, I've got algae growing in a pot.  At first I wan't sure what it was but green and somewhat slimy balls growing on stuff didn't take long to figure out.

This is due in part to the new potting material I'm using, easily grown on by the stuff, and the amount of rain we've been getting.  As noted in a recent post there's plenty of that going on.  I have been watering this pot a bit though between showers but the pot drains pretty good still.  Lots of holes in the bottom drilled out by me.  Not instantaneous but enough that you can tell it's draining within a few minutes.

This amount of algae fortunately isn't a problem.  It's barely even noticeable unless you are looking at the plants and even then I mistook it for fertilizer balls.  You know, the kind you usually find in potting soil in the first place.  If nothing else I'm sure the plants aren't drying out.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Sprout Survivor

As hoped this guy is springing back!  One of the leaves is still shriveled up and drying out but the other one has new life in it and the new little leaf in the middle is getting bigger.  And of course it's standing up as well instead of just lying on the dirt....

Several of the other plants are also now springing up out of the ground.  Nothing too showy yet but hopefully soon it will be worth its own post.

Working on a few other things seeing what I can come up with on taking care of the inside plants.  So far some of the small trees have died.  I think the shock got to them.  Claude (the big cacao tree) has a new leaf coming in though and seems to have finally acclimated to his new home.  Just keep 'em fed and watered and remember to open the blinds during the day I guess.

Also still dealing with fungus gnats.  Can you have humid loving plants without them?  Any tips would be great.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Butternut Squash Transplant

This is the attempted transplant of a seedling.  When I pulled it up it had what I though would be plenty of roots for it to transplant well.  This is it a day later.  Kinda shriveled but still pliable and still a new little leaf in the middle.  I mounded the dirt up a little more in hopes it would keep it from baking when the sun hits it today.  I'll go look at it late this evening when it's shaded again.

This is one of several that I was going to pull out anyway since the area is quire crowded.  I didn't know how many seeds might sprout so I planted way to many.  Still only about half of them sprouted.  If I had planted 5 or 6 then I may have only ended up with 1 or 2 plants, maybe 3.  As it is, I can pick and choose which plants will keep growing and get rid of the weaker seedlings.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Spring Rains


The Spring rains are here and keeping everything nice and wet.  Even with this downpour, not much hits the plants on the patio so I STILL have to water even on a day like today.  Saved up gallon jugs though so I can more easily water the plants instead of having to go glass by glass like I started the year out.

The cacao tree though is more spoiled and still enjoys spring water from the bottle.  I tried to give it plain tap water and I really don't think it liked it.  Now it has some new growth again and I'm not nearly so worried about it.  At first I thought it might just be the transplant shock from being repotted but that was more a guess and a wait and see situation.

One of our friends was telling us she moved to a place with a stream nearby.  I'm guessing it's better than this one.  It's kind of a stream but it only has water when it rains.  Still I think this would be considered a riparian wetland.  It only takes a little water and a few of the right organisms to thrive there to classify.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

First Bloom in the Garden

This daikon already tried to bloom once but never got to flower.  Since, it has put off new flower buds and is now the first bloom of the year in the garden on the patio.

The green onions are just "green" with envy about it since they all have shot up scapes well before this but have still not opened up.  Still anticipating quite a bit of show from them but, yeah, still waiting...

Several of the other seeds have also popped up, including the eager butternut squash plants, the lone carrot, and the beans.  As long as they are kept happy in the pots this should be a nice growing year.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Orchid Blooms

Some friends gave us another orchid.  We usually don't do too well with these but this one has decided we've done a good enough job that it's blooming again.  These flowers have been forming for weeks and now there are cracks in the buts where the petals are starting to separate.

If only my vanilla orchids would agree and bloom as well.  They're big enough but still they just sit and wait for just the right conditions.  I guess I'll have do do some more research to see if I can improve on their growing conditions.

In the mean time, YAY BLOOMS!

Friday, February 12, 2021

Branching Cacao Trees

As promised this is a post about all the different ways I have seen and photographed cacao trees branching out.  Of course you have the typical sprout at the connection point of a leaf.  This is the usual way trees branch.  It's a weak point in the structure of the plant and thus an obvious point where trees push out new growth.  It not only keeps the structure going but strengthens the plant in that area.

Similarly I've noticed crepe myrtles doing the same thing. Also if you prevent new growth by brushing off the new green, the plant usually still strengthens the area by making a callous hardness to the stem or branch.  In some trees you can encourage growth by removing lower leaves as the plant grows.  I did this with a fig tree and got the branches to not only get taller but thicker and stronger in a single season of growth.

Also the new growth replaces previous stem areas as in this picture.  This is a case where the top of the tree died back and new growth continued from right next to the area where it used to be.  Now it has produced sucker shoots at the same location, again these start at areas of weak points on a plant but in this case they can actually weaken a tree by taking nutrients to grow stems that usually aren't as strong.

These can still be productive but it's probably a good idea to remove them so the better limbs can be as good as possible.  Do this before they start getting woody for ease of removal and to minimize any potential damage that can be done to the tree.  Cacao trees can easily be damaged especially when harvesting the fruits which is why the fruit is usually harvested with machetes.  This keeps the fruiting pads healthy and productive for the life of the tree. 
This has to be one of the most unusual branching occurrences I've ever seen.  The new growth has started out of an extension of the leaf base which pushed the leaf further from the trunk and made this bendy branch leaf thing.  Again you can see it started at a weak point in the tree where a branch has already occurred.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Claude the Cacao Tree, Repotted

So we finally repotted Claude the Cacao Tree.
So far so good.  It's been a few days and no sign of stress.  The root ball came out pretty much in tact though so I don't really expect any problems.  He's now got a lot more room to grow though and will probably live in this new pot for a long time.

As  you can see in the picture, he's got a new sprout forming at the bottom.  If he's truly happy he will turn that into a branch and begin the branching process.

I was told recently that for a truly productive cacao tree you needed it to branch first.  So here we go.

Speaking of branching though, there are lots of ways these guys branch.  I took some photos of my office cacao trees and they many ways they have started branching.  They aren't nearly so big but the branching is much more there.

I will include these pics in a future post noting how many different ways a tree can start branching out.  One of them is truly unusual and nothing I'd have though would be possible.  So, come back and see the branching post shortly.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Claude is Sprouting Again

A couple days ago there was just the one new leaf sprouting.  Now we've got three going at one time.  A couple of the other cacao plants are also having new leaves.  I'm going to blame it on having a nice window to grow next to.  Every day we open the blinds and they get a bit of sun and nice light throughout the day.

Now all I have to do is make the area also productive for the vanilla to start growing better and make some beans.  They're already long enough to start flowering but haven't had the right conditions to do so.

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