Those Pesky Critters Part 1 – Birds!

I recently shared on Facebook how I keep birds from ruining the tomatoes ripening in my garden. That post really hit a nerve with fellow gardeners, as the number of shares is closing in on 100,000 as of this date.

Birds will choose tomatoes that are beginning to ripen then peck, peck, peck away, eating half the tomato right on the vine.  It is very frustrating to nurture tomato plants through the spring, watch those beautiful green orbs get bigger and bigger, see one or two begin to turn from green to pink to red, then go out one morning and find some of those almost-ripe tomatoes pecked into a mushy, ruined mess.  And once the culprits enjoy the taste of tomatoes they come back for more.  By that time I must pick the tomatoes at the very first sign of ripening or almost all of them will fall prey to those pesky birds.  No vine-ripened tomatoes for me!

My solution:  I put decoys out well before my tomatoes begin to ripen.  Decoys? Yes!  Big, red Christmas ornaments hanging here and there among my tomato plants.  Birds will see those pretty red balls and think they are about to get a tasty meal.  But all the peck, peck, pecking gets them nowhere.  They might try several of them over a period of days until they figure out that there is nothing worth eating in THIS garden!  Then, when the tomatoes start to ripen the birds think nothing about it because they’ve been decoyed.

ornament on tomato plant

The key to this trick working is to set out the ornaments well in advance of tomatoes beginning to ripen, because once the birds get a taste of the real deal they won’t be fooled.

Here in Texas tomatoes need to be maturing and ripening in early to mid May in order to have a decent crop before triple-digit heat sets in, normally in June.  Of course this time frame will be different depending on what part of the country (or world) you are in.   If you’re like me you won’t have red Christmas ornaments handy at the time your tomatoes are maturing in the garden, nor will they be available in stores at that time.  But lucky for us we can get just about anything year ’round on Internet retailers such as Amazon and Ebay, and at a reasonable cost.

I’ve also had questions as to whether these ornament decoys will work on other plants such as maturing figs.  I don’t see why not.  With figs I recommend using smaller ornaments as to better mimic the size of figs.

In the next post I’ll discuss my solution for keeping pesky squirrels out of the garden.


fallen tree

Uprooted tree with decay and decomposition well under way.

Trees die… it’s a fact of life.  Sometimes they are uprooted and topple over, sometimes they die slowly while standing tall.  If they are uprooted and topple over it is usually due to the forces of heavy winds, or long periods of rain saturating the soil to the extent the roots don’t have enough holding power in the soft earth to support the weight of the tree.  Either of these toppling scenarios usually happen with little or no warning and hopefully there isn’t a home or other structure in the path of the fallen tree.

When a tree gradually dies or topples over in nature it remains there, as is, for nature to do her work.  This work consists of decomposition and decay… two words that may invoke a negative reaction from most people, at least initially.  But decomposition and decay are necessary and important in nature not only with trees, but with wild animals as well.  When a death in the forest or a death in nature occurs, the decomposition and decay process is vital to the overall health of the ecosystem.  It is nature in action.

fallen tree decomposition

Note the many small holes where insects are doing their work. At this point in the decomposition process the wood is very weak and even somewhat “spongy” in some places.

When a tree topples over or it is evident that a tree is dying, if at all possible let it be. With our manicured lawns and pristine views out our living room windows seeing a tree lose leaves, lose limbs, then turn dark and ugly, is something many of us really don’t want to look at.  But while decomposition and decay may appear to be unpleasant processes from our human perspective, they are vital in terms of the functioning of ecosystems. Just like compost in a garden, they provide essential nutrients for the growth of new organisms, and are a key aspect of the cyclical processes that maintain all life on Earth. Appreciation of their importance will help us protect and sustain ecosystems.

So think twice before “cleaning up” those dead or dying trees.  They may not be very attractive to us humans, but to Mother Nature they are beautiful indeed.


THE WORLD’S PURE FOOD FAIR – September 8-10, 2015, Santa Rosa, CA

This annual event, founded and hosted by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has only been in existence for a few years but it has become HUGE!  Speakers, vendors, exhibitors, demonstrations, just about any type and variety of heirloom edible will be there.  I would love to attend… next year I’M THERE!

heirloom expo melons heirloom expo tomatoes heirloom expo1

Handing down… books and garden gnomes

I have never been much of a collector.  Well, books maybe.  Cookbooks, old books, books of my youth.  I inherited the book-collecting gene from several sources early in life and I freely admit books have been the most difficult item for me to weed out. Not to say I haven’t turned over quite a few of them through the years, those that I’ve picked up on a whim here and there or the cooking-fad-of-the-year cookbook far removed from its heyday (fondue or crepes anyone?).  Many books have come and gone in my life but the core books of my existence, those that I’ve inherited from the people who taught me to read and to love reading, and the books that I can read again and again like it was the first time, remain easily accessible on my bookshelf.


old book collection

But what will happen to my cherished books when I’m gone?  Will my immediate heirs appreciate the books like I have?  Do my heirs know the history of the books like I do?  Did my heirs know the people who passed the books down like I knew the people who passed the books down?  These are questions I’ve asked myself over the years and the answer is “No.”  Not that my heirs don’t value items from their past, but I must be realistic if I really want the books to be valued and cherished as they should be once I’m gone.  Yes, it is a fine notion to think that my children and grandchildren will value exactly the same things that I’ve valued over the years, but is it really?  We teach our children to be independent beings, to stand out in the crowd, have their own opinions and feel free to voice those opinions. But when it comes time to hand down those items we’ve chosen to cherish in our own lives, we expect our heirs to think like we do.  Think about it:  we raise our children to be free-thinkers and blaze their own trail, but when it comes down to what they cherish from the past we expect our cherished items to be their cherished items!   We we do the same with our grandchildren as well.  And many times, out of respect for our feelings they dutifully respond just as they’re expected to, be it books, garden gnomes, or anything else.

Some years ago a friend’s mother passed away.  My friend’s mother was an avid collector of yard art, specifically garden gnomes.  LOTS of garden gnomes decorated the flower beds and every nook and cranny of her mother’s yard.  Several months after the mother’s passing my friend had a backyard get-together and all those garden gnomes had taken up residence in my friend’s backyard.  I could tell those gnomes weren’t happy campers either.  They were in gno-man’s land and they knew it.  And my friend knew it, but I think she felt an obligation to her mother to give those gnomes a home.  The problem was… her’s wasn’t a good home.  Would it possibly have been better for the gnomes to be sold on Ebay or a place where someone who actually liked garden gnomes would buy them?  I think so. Collectors of books, cookie jars, salt and pepper shakers, toy trains, old jewelry, vintage clothing, rolling pins, dolls, spoons, garden gnomes, just about anything imaginable, can be found who would love to add to their collections.  They will cherish those items just like they should be cherished, with love and respect.

In my ongoing quest to reduce the amount of stuff in my life I am taking the step of finding good homes for many of my cherished possessions.  A few items will most certainly go to my children, grandchildren, and nephews, but I will make sure it is a good and meaningful fit for both the items and the heirs.  Other items will go to people who will realize the value and meaning of them, either to add to their own collections or give to someone else who will love and cherish them.  And I’ll have peace of mind knowing my cherished possessions will be cherished by someone else after I’m gone.



It never ceases to amaze me during these hot and dry Texas summers just how adaptable and tough weeds are.  Temperatures over 100 degrees, no rain for over a month, and the weeds are lookin’ good!

Adaptability is what weeds are all about.  Just like all other living things, weeds adapt to environmental conditions in order to ensure their survival.  And in the very worst of times the actual weed may disappear but the weed seeds may be hiding out in the ground, waiting for optimal conditions to come their way.

Have you ever noticed a large, natural, undisturbed area that was relatively weed-free and left alone to do its own thing?  Many times these areas are wildscapes… little or nothing has been done to alter nature’s course.  There may be wildflowers and trees native to the area that provide food and shelter for wildlife.  Then, here comes “progress” in the form of surveying and heavy equipment moving in to transform the natural, wildscape area into an apartment complex, large store, or parking lot.  Once the heavy equipment begins to tear up the ground here come the weeds, some of them 4-5 feet high.  The disturbance to the natural order of soil layering and a bit of rain will bring all those dormant weed seeds to life, many of them waiting years for just the right conditions.

The same thing happens when someone decides to plant a garden then goes gung-ho at the ground with a rototiller.   A nice, relatively weed-free grassy area has the soil turned topsy-turvy, bringing all those dormant weed seeds near the surface where warm sunlight and adequate moisture provide just the right elements to ensure sprouting.  And the gardener’s weed nightmare begins.

Nature has a way of soil layering that is right and as it should be.  We think we can do it better.  Think again.


Wild, undisturbed meadow with native wildflowers

arlington sign

An apartment complex will soon be built. Notice the tall weeds.

mccommas before 1

McCommas Bluff Nature Preserve in Dallas, Texas on April 19, 2014

mccommas after 1

The same picture view as above, taken on February 8, 2015. I wonder what this mess looks like after the weed seeds germinated and took hold?

My Path to Minimalism

Several years ago I had my kitchen remodeled.  Everything had to be taken out of the old cabinets and the kitchen completely emptied of all contents… like we were moving…but instead of putting everything in moving boxes and taking it out of the house I had to find another place in the house for all of it.   This forced me to look at every single item I had stored in the cabinets and drawers, many items I had not used (or even seen) in years.  This was a good opportunity to weed out, throw out, give away… which I did with no holds barred.   When my new kitchen was complete I put things back in my brand new cabinets and… I had some shelves that had absolutely nothing on them!  Empty shelves in kitchen cabinets!  A liberating feeling to be sure.

I have since taken my empty kitchen shelves experience to a whole new level… the entire house.  Over the past couple of years I have gone through every room, every closet, every drawer, every shelf, every underbed storage container.  I have been merciless in getting rid of excess baggage in the form of clothes, jewelry, accessories, books, toys, furnishings, kids’ school projects (from 30+ years ago), more kitchen items, and even some memorabilia and family items that were stored away that I’ve come to realize won’t hold any sentimental value to anyone once I’m gone.   And I feel good about it.   I feel so good about it that I want to share the good, liberating feeling with others.  Minimalism is what it’s called, and minimalism is freedom.

The secret of happiness is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy LESS. 


The Power of Beneficial Insects

An organic and sustainable garden/landscape/farming operation can take care of itself. Mother Nature has crime fighters that are ready, willing, and very much able to take bad bugs down.

It is extremely rare for me to have any type of pest or disease problem.  I’ve been gardening organically since the late 1980’s, and here at the herb farm since 1996 when we bought the property.  The longer someone grows organically the less likely they are to have a problem, but last year my cucumber vines developed a big pest problem.  Within just a few days my cucumber vines went from lush and green to this:

Lots of dead and dying leaves… a very sad sight

I have so few problems with pests that I don’t know a mite from an aphid, so I can’t tell you what attacked my cucumber vines.  It was something almost microscopic because I couldn’t really see any bad guys, but their damage was painfully evident.

I don’t use any sprays or pest deterrents at all, not even those labeled organic.  I let nature take its course and I’m prepared to lose a crop if that’s the course nature wants to take. Even though the damage was severe I was fairly certain that justice would prevail and the many beneficial insects I have around here would come to my rescue.  So I kept my fingers crossed, my camera ready, and within a day or two the troops came to my rescue.  Lady bugs (actually lady beetles), green lacewings, dragonflies, house flies, and others I couldn’t identify swooped in to help me out!

 Lady beetles to the rescue!

These pictures were taken over a period of 18 days.  From the severe damage shown in the first picture to the new growth and restored health in the picture just above, Mother Nature fixed the problem.  I did nothing except document the process with photos.

I have had people tell me they are organic unless they have a bug or disease problem.  If you spray, dust, or apply pesticide in any way at any time you are NOT organic. Furthermore, not only are you killing the bad bugs but you are also killing the good bugs that kill the bad bugs!  And the use of chemical fertilizer applied to the soil or plants themselves is not organic either.

Organic growing is not an overnight solution.  It takes time, it takes patience, and it takes the understanding that at some point (usually within the first couple years of swearing off pesticides) you will lose a crop to bugs.  But don’t give in. Giving in will take you back to the beginning of your organic journey.  Be patient and be kind to the beneficial insects that will make the journey worthwhile.   Trust me.

Farm Stand and Farmer’s Market Produce – Organic?

We can be reasonably assured when buying organically labeled produce at the grocery store that it really is organic.  But what about when shopping from farm stands or farmer’s markets?  There is no oversight or regulations when it comes to individuals selling their products.  You’re relying on the information they give you.  But is that information truthful?

If proprietors advertise or claim their produce is organic (or “natural”) you can better determine if their claims are authentic by asking some questions:

  1. How long has your operation been organic?
  2. What do you use for pest control, disease control, fertilizing?
  3. What kind of soil or soil amendments do you use in your garden beds?
  4. Do you use animal manure?  What animals?  Where does the manure come from?  What are the animals fed?  Are the animals given antibiotics or other medication?

If the proprietor cannot readily answer the above questions, buyer beware!  Organic farmers love to talk about their organic practices and educate the public on the importance of growing organically.  Ask us questions!  We are eager to share our experience, knowledge, and growing practices with you!  If you encounter anyone claiming to be organic or “natural” but they hesitate or cannot readily answer the above questions then I would doubt that their claims are true.

organic farming sign

What is organic? What is sustainable? What is natural?

Or-gan-ic (adj.) – (1) Of, marked by, or involving the use of fertilizers or pesticides that are strictly of animal or vegetable origin; (2) Raised or conducted without the use of drugs, hormones, or synthetic chemicals; (3) Simple, healthful, and close to nature.

Sus-tain-a-ble (adj.) – (1) Capable of being maintained at a steady level without exhausting natural resources or causing severe ecological damage; (2) Capable of being continued with minimal long-term effect on the environment.

Nat-u-ral (adj.) – (1) Present in or produced by nature; (2) Of, relating to, or concerning nature; (3) Faithfully representing nature or life.