Thursday, October 23, 2008

Recycling Your Dolly & Ike Debris

Wood fences are very apt to be destroyed in the high winds of a hurricane. If you live in deep south Texas (Hurricane Dolly in July) or the Houston or Galveston area (Hurricane Ike in September), chances are you may have a stack of fence boards waiting for the refuse removers to pick up. Walt brought his to The Arboretum yesterday and made this nifty compost bin! It is a 4 foot cube.Walt had already constructed the two sides with the slatted boards. It's pretty nifty how the angled boards keep your compost ingredients in the bin while allowing for some ventilation. If you are inexperienced with carpentry like I am, you can always make all four sides solid. Just drill a few holes in the boards. Walt connected his two pre-constructed sides with 4' fence boards. Not only did he end up with a compost bin that would look great in any yard, he kept these wooden boards out of the landfill!

Here's a close-up view of the sides. Just cut triangular pieces to set the slats an an angle.
And don't worry if your fence didn't blow down. I'll be you have a neighbor who would love for you to haul off their old boards.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Composting - It Ain't Rocket Science

We began setting up a few of the compost bins for the educational programs (and to enrich our garden). The one in the foreground is one distributed by many Valley cities a few years ago. It is an open plastic mesh bin. It is not real firm, but once it has some been filled, it will stand on its own. We attached it to some step-on fence posts to stabilize it. Behind the plastic bin, you see a simple open bin made out of a stiff wire fencing. It took less than 10 minutes to build and the supplies cost less than $27. You will need about 12 feet of 36" wide wire fencing, 4 or 5 zip ties (or wire or twine to close the ends) and 3 or 4 posts. This is easiest made with two or three persons. Be sure to wear heavy gloves when working with this wire fencing. Unroll the wire fencing upside down on level ground and walk on it to flatten it out. Form the fencing into a circle. Connect the ends with wire, twine or zip ties. To keep it from blowing around in our high winds, attach it to the fence posts.

The bin we are assembling at the left is a 170 gallon plastic pre-fab bin . It is made from 100% recycled materials and required no tools for assembly. We purchased it online from The Home Depot and it arrived in five days. This company also makes a smaller 90 gallon version.

Lining up the panels took a minimum of 2 persons - and the final panel was totally a group effort! (see the picture below)

It has a lid and is sturdy. The one downside is moving it around in the garden. You have to be very careful or it will fall apart on you and then you're back at square one lining up the panels.

And now we begin the compost pile! Everyone brought raw materials from home - grass clippings, shredded paper, kitchen waste, dried ebony leaves, garden trimmings and small twigs. Roger demonstrated the building of a compost pile and discussed what goes in and what should stay out! We also discussed the 30:1 carbon:nitrogen ratio.
Debbie got the award for the "Best Composting Attire" - and we all yearned for her mosquito netting since we are still dealing with our post Hurricane Dolly mosquitoes.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Construction begins on Outdoor Classroom

It looks like things will get worse before they get better - at least when it comes to the looks of the Compost Demonstration Site. But how exciting to see dirt moving equipment in The Arboretum this morning! The footprint of the slab was moved back a bit from the original plan - so we'll have to move one of the Cedar Elms, Ulmus crassifolia. The Compost Education Committee is working diligently on the presentations to be given here.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Master Gardeners To Meet at Palm Gardens Nursery in Brownsville

On Saturday, October 18th at 9 am, the Cameron County Master Gardeners will be meeting at Morris Clint's Palm Gardens Nursery. You won't want to miss hearing what Mr. Clint has to share with us. He is one of the most knowledgable gardeners and nurserymen in our area. Palm Gardens Nursery is located at 345 Galveston Road in Brownsville. For a map, follow this link.
All gardeners are welcome to attend.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Trees, trees, trees

Rainforest Wholesale Nursery in Harlingen donated a couple hundred small Live Oaks, Quercus virginiana and Montezuma Bald Cypress, Taxodium mucronatum trees to the Cameron County Master Gardeners. Live Oaks are native to the "ranch country" in the northern Rio Grande Valley. The Montezuma Bald Cypress is another Valley native that thrives along waterways. A private home in San Benito happens to be home to the national champion Montezuma Bald Cypress. We'll use these trees either to promote The Arboretum or sell them and use the funds for Arboretum expenses. The City of San Benito, one of our partners in the Compost Demonstration Site, loaded up a number of the trees for use in their parks along the Resaca de los Fresnos. Won't those Montezuma Bald Cypress look majestic in 10 or 20 years!

The first scheduled "moving day" was last June. But we were rained out. Since then we planned to pick up our wonderful gift two other times - each time it RAINED and we postponed. It's now the end of September and you can't imagine how excited we are to finally get our hands on those trees! Many thanks to Perin and Jose for their equipment and manpower.

We do have work to do on these trees - staking, fertilizing, trimming and training - and in the process, learning a little bit more. . . . Watch this site for a planned work day. Until then, they are safe under an automatic watering system at a member's nursery.

Monday, August 11, 2008

So Long, Dolly!

When we were making plans for The Arboretum last summer, we never even considered the possibility of receiving 25 inches of rain within a three week period! Our Fourth of July weekend monsoon, followed by Hurricane Dolly's winds and rains were a one-two punch. On the bright side, we know without a shadow of a doubt where our drainage issues lie. Braving the hoards of mosquitoes, Floyd has worked diligently in the garden trying to undo the storm's damage to our Native Forest. He's checking out a Retama, Parkinsenis aculeata.

Elizabeth surveyed the Texas Mountain Laurels, Sophora secundaflora, and decided to take a wait and see approach. Mountain Laurels have a sparse root system, thus, heavy winds can do considerable damage to them. But, they also don't like to "get their feet wet"; we'll hope as the ground dries, some new leaves will flush.
We did have to say "adios" to this Brasil, Condalia hookeri. We had been babying her since she sustained wind damage last Spring.
This Wild Olive, Cordia boissierri is another tree that doesn't like wet feet - and 25 inches of rain in July was more than she wanted.
But this is fresh growth on another of the Wild Olives in The Arboretum. We'll just have to wait and see how all the trees recover from Dolly. Even though we chose to plant drought tolerant trees, the fact that they are native to the Lower Rio Grande Valley is a plus!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Rain's Aftermath

Stopped by the Arboretum on Friday, July 11th to see how everything had fared after the recent record rainfall earlier in the week. I was told that the Arboretum rain gauge topped out at 8 inches! The rain is certainly welcome after months of scant precipitation. However, the sheer amount that fell has left the Arboretum a muddy, swampy mess.

This is the low lying area where Butterfly Plot 4 is located.

Despite being wet in many areas, other spots have dried very quickly under the scorching sun, revealing the signature cracking of clay soil.

Mosquitoes abound with all the standing water. This particular girl decided to make a meal of my arm, ensuring the future of her eggs. DEET? What's that? These RGV mosquitoes are evidently immune.

On a lighter note, the Brasil tree which was planted at the ground-breaking ceremony, that subsequently took a tumble and was replanted, has been slowly recovering and is leafing out quite nicely.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

"Gardening" with heavy machinery

At times, heavy machinery trumps an experienced gardener. Cameron County assisted us in spreading the ever growing mulch pile in the "Valley Native Forest" area of The Arboretum. As skilled as the backhoe operator was, he still needed our assistance in distributing it evenly over the area. Here Bonnie takes a bit of a breather.

Interns George and Norman drove up from Brownsville for a morning of helping.

As did Mary. . . . . Walt, a Tuesday morning regular, made sure all the trees received a nice drink of water. There is an everychanging group that meets every Tuesday morning. As the temperatures have risen, we've begun arriving earlier and earlier - there's always someone here by 8:30. If you arrive first, I'm sure you can find something that needs a bit of TLC. Check the sidebar of this blog, for our current To-Do list.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Anacua, Ehretia anacua, is a must have for any homeowner wanting to attract wildlife to their garden. We have planted two in the south-east corner of the Arboretum. A few of Anacua's many common names are Sugarberry, Knockaway, and Sandpaper Tree. The latter describes the rough texture of its leaves. Cold hardy to zone 8, Anacua can grow to 50 feet tall and its canopy will be almost as wide as it is tall. As an established tree, it is very drought tolerant.

A mature tree will have a highly textured, gnarled trunk, and will often be multi-trunked. The foliage is dark green and extremely dense.

Be sure to plant Anacua in a well-drained location. It requires little or no fertilizer. It is considered evergreen but will drop some or all of its leaves for a short period during the winter.

Anacua tends to have one big flush of blooms in the spring with the thick clusters of white fragrant blooms heavily covering the tree. After a summer rain, some trees will bloom again. You may have one tree in an area bloom and the others not. In our last house, we had a gorgeous multi-trunked Anacua. Inevitably only half of the tree bloomed - and then a few weeks later, the other half would decide it should put on a few blooms too. I imagine I am wrong when I describe it as multi-trunked. It must have been multiple trees that sprouted close to each other. Butterflies and bees love Anacua blooms as much as I do.

These immature fruits will ripen to a bright orange from April to June. The branches will droop with the weight of the fruit. The fruit drop can be messy, so don't plant Anacua where it will grow over paved areas. Birds feed on these berry's and nest in Anacua's dense foliage.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Raised Beds

Thanks to the 2008 MG class, the first of the Arboretum's demonstration beds have been built! Ned Lynn from Hidalgo County led them through the process.
The perimeter of the vegetable beds were marked, then re-measure for accuracy. The corners were marked with flags. All vegetation was removed from the beds before the first timber was put into place.

The ends of the first layer of landscape timbers should be secured with rebar that has been driven through the timber angling toward the center of the timber. Drive the rebar into the ground a foot or two. Lay each layer so that the corners overlap. Secure the second layer of timbers to the first layer with galvanized nails. Continue to the desired height.

The final step is to drive a piece of rebar through all layers and well into the ground. You will want to pre-drill the holes. Now, you should have a secure raised bed.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

And We Have Water!

To a gardener there is nothing more exasperating than a hose that just isn't long enough.- Cecil Roberts
The simple pleasures in life are the best, aren't they? When Colleen called to say she'd passed The Arboretum and the City of San Benito was there trenching for the water lines, I couldn't get there fast enough! (lucky for me, it was on my way to work) Although Cameron County was supportive and helpful, sending their water truck whenever asked, these new lines are essential for the next phases of The Arboretum. Many thanks to the City of San Benito - in particular City Manager Victor Trevino, Utility Director Jaime Rosas and Director of Community Affairs Martha McClain.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Arboretum Plan

This is the initial overall plan for The Arboretum. Double click on the plan to enlarge it. This garden lays on a lot that measures 250 feet by 150 feet, more or less. The only limitation we have are the power lines that run from the front right to the back left. In order to utilize all the space, we have placed the vegetable garden, butterfly garden and water feature underneath them. Already on the property were the live oak and two mesquite trees - and do we love having those mature trees! With the exception of the colima, all the trees were planted in November of 2007. Understory trees and shrubs will be added and paths will meander through the garden. Signage will make it self-guided for those unable to attend a class or tour. We hope you will check back often to follow our progress.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Tuesdays in the Arboretum

The new Master Gardener course began this month. At the first class, the MG "interns" were given a tour of The Arboretum with a quick description of the trees. Some of them came out Tuesday morning to help with a little maintanence. Floyd weeded, edged and generally cleaned up some of the beds. This Wild Olive, Anacuahita, looked awesome when he was done!
Walt and Doss both worked with the mulch spreading crew. We made a pretty nice size dent in our huge pile of mulch!

There is a group that meets every Tuesday morning to work either in the garden or on the garden (or both!) Any Master Gardener can get an hour or two of work in at their convenience. The gates to the County Annex are open all day Monday through Friday and on Saturday mornings. Chris will be coordinating Saturday workdays each month.

Some of the bluebonnet seed we spread in December sprouted! (Even though December is really too late to sow wildflower seed in Deep South Texas - we just got lucky). This is our first bloom.