Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Stock pond update

The dwarf Indiana is blooming for the first time! A second bloom will open in a day or so.
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Oh, my, I can't begin to tell you how much I love love love my new stock tank pond! Several times every day, I go outside and check my minnow kids. Then I go fishing for wigglers in a small rain barrel and dump them in the pond. All the minnows come running over whenever they see me, with or without my white fishing cup. The tiny wigglers disappear in a flash.
The lemon bacopa has a tiny blue bloom. See it? And I bought a cool stained-glass dragonfly on a stick from Sutherland's.
Come by and see our stock tank pond sometime!

A few more shots taken later in the day:

A second lily bloomed...photographed May 31.

UPDATE June 2 (below) ...The lilies deepened in color.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I'm a Texas Master Naturalist!

Photo by Mike Childers
It's official! I am a certified Texas Master Naturalist with the Highland Lakes chapter! This month, I completed my 40 hours of training, 40 hours of volunteer work and eight hours of advanced training. Last Sunday, our chapter hosted a graduation party at Reveille Peak Ranch west of Burnet. Billy baked dozens of pizza for everyone in a bona fide brick oven. James got to go, too (he took all these photos). After visiting and dining, then our chapter president Fredi Franki and training program coordinator Sammye Childers presented our certificates and badges.
Sammye visits with my classmate, Pete and his wife.
Billy's about to bake the first of MANY pizzas!
We always have a good time whenever we get together.
More pizzas.....
Classmate Wayne (middle) has a...uh, er...great...sense of humor! We love you, Wayne!
We each received a Certificate of Graduation and a box of Sammye's famous fudge.
We presented Sammye with a special book of photos and memories of our 11 classes.
(Photo by Mike Childers)
 All 20 of us in the 2012 class graduated. Six of us received our official badge for completing requirements before April 30: Ed, Joy, Eva, Debora, Vicki and me. 


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A tarantula or two visits

Tarantula in our neighbor's back yard (Photo by Eden)

Last week, our neighbor Butch and his grandson Bowie came by after supper with a surprise to show me. Bowie held up a gallon-sized plastic bag, and inside was a big, hairy tarantula--a Texas brown (Aphonopelma hentzi or similar species). I was thrilled! I held up the bag for a closer look....hmm, a male most definitely. How did I know? Males have a backward spur on the underside of each front leg. They are more likely to be out and about, looking for a date. Females, on the other hand, stay in underground burrows and only venture out at night for food. 

Usually, that is. The next day, our neighbor Eden called. "Miss Sheryl, there's a tarantula in our back yard!" she told me. 

"I'll be right over!" I exclaimed. I pulled down a large critter container (left over from my days of raising and keeping a few tarantulas) and headed over to her house. She'd captured the spider under a plastic cup. I scooped it inside my container and took a close look...a female! My first ever of a Texas species. In all my years, I'd only met male Texas browns. 

As neat as tarantulas are, I didn't want to get back into keeping them. I decided I'd much prefer to release her in a safe place, preferably near that good-looking guy we'd met the evening before.
Photo by Eden
So the next day, I called Butch's wife, Linda, and she told me that Bowie had given the tarantula to his science teacher. I got the teacher's number and phoned him. Oh, my, Mike was on a bus, loaded with fifth graders, headed to Corpus Christi for the class's annual field trip. I asked him about the tarantula, and he said he'd released it on his place. Could I bring my female later, after he'd gotten back home and rested up? Sure, he said.

In the meantime, we offered our guest a moth or two. Nope, she declined. Then Sunday evening, we found a cricket in the garage. YES! She heartily ate it right up (above). 

Yesterday evening, before we took her out to Mike's place northwest of town, I photographed our lady tarantula in her container as best I could...isn't she beautiful?
No spurs on her front legs....

At Mike's place, he showed us where he released the male tarantula...
Out she goes! Female tarantulas can live 20 or more years (adult males, only a few months). She should survive fine once she gets established in her new surroundings. Thanks, Butch, Bowie, Eden, and Mike!

I came across a recent blog post about Texas tarantulas on Insects in the City: "Tarantulas go a-courting," June 7, 2012.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Twistleaf bloomed!

Twistleaf yucca
After a very long wait, my twistleaf yucca--which years ago popped up on its own in our meadow beneath the live oaks--finally BLOOMED for the first time this week! OK, truthfully, this was the second time. Last spring, this yucca bloomed, and I posted a photo here of the flower stalk along with my excitement about the event. Well, thanks largely to the drought, our hungry local deer GNAWED IT OFF! I was quite disappointed, as you can well imagine. But this spring, the yucca snuck three blooms past the deer. Yeehaw!

The blooms, as you can see, are beautiful. They droop downward so it was a challenge to get any kind of shots. But I tried! 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How we made our stock tank

OK, here we go, folks. We've started putting our new pond together, and, as we go along, I'll take photos and post them here. We're using Austin garden blogger Pam Penick's tutorial and also some "Water Gardening" advice posted online by staff at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. This will definitely be a process that unfolds over the course of several days. Watch and see!

DAY ONE May 15, 2012

Our new galvanized metal tank arrived at the farm supply company in town. It measures 3 feet wide by 2 feet deep. (The tank cost around $100, which was covered by wedding anniversary gifts given to us by my mother, Marcelle, and dear friend, Rev. Hiller, who married us in 2006 ). After supper, James got to work clearing off a level area where it will sit in our back yard. The location gets mostly sun and isn't directly beneath the branches of any live oaks.

James moves the tank.
The tank is not THAT heavy, trust me.
James spent maybe half an hour or so digging out an area in our new bed.

 DAY TWO May 16, 2012

James set the tank on the sandy foundation that he'd made the day before....

He kept an eye on the tank's levelness as he worked.
Even as he was filling up the 95-gallon tank, he monitored the levelness, too. Before we can add plants, the water must sit for several days so chemicals can evaporate away. Pam recommends at least three or four days. The earliest we can get away and buy plants is Sunday anyway so that's fine.
In the meantime, James added two cinder blocks ($1.40 each) and rocks to recreate a place where birds, toads and other wildlife can get in and out. NO HERONS ALLOWED!

DAY THREE May 20, 2012

Our pond is nearly done! On our way home from visiting son Patrick and his wife Danielle in Waco, we stopped at the Hill Country Water Gardens and Nursery in Austin. I don't mean to turn this post into an advertisement for their business, but I thought it'd be helpful to other readers who are interested in making a tank stock pond, too....
Diane, who assisted us in our purchases, was very knowledgeable, but we didn't buy everything she suggested. We went with the product that removes chlorine and heavy metals ($8.55) and water lily food tablets (12-count, $4.99). A fish net was already on our list ($6.99).
 We bought three plants and some grass: horsetail rush ($19.99), Indiana water lily (dwarf, $36.99), lemon bacopa ($13.99) and hornwort watergrass ($2.99 bunch).

Next, I added the heavy-metal remover to the water.

James set in the cinder blocks.

Then we started added our plants...first, the lily.

Then the horsetails and barcopa...

Then I dropped in the bunches of watergrass. We decided not to plant it in a pot and see what happens.

Looks nice, right?

Ta da!

I set in our bag of little gambusia fish (50 cents each) so the temps between the bag and pond water can acclimate to the same degree. Later today, we'll slowly start introducing pond water into the bag until we can set them free in the pond.

There they go! You can barely see two fish in the bag and one in the water....

Later, we fished out wigglers (mosquito larvae) from a rain barrel and fed them to the gambusia. They LOVED them! (We had fun, too.)

 There's a gambusia! Gambusia affinis are native to Texas and are commonly called minnows. Go to any Texas river, and they'll nibble on your toes. You can download some info about the species here.

Now we'll see how our pond fares and whether we get a good ecosystem established.