Milkweeds for Monarchs

A&M Garden Club has been supporting and promoting the National Garden Clubs’ initiative/project to plant butterfly gardens, register butterfly gardens (under the Million Pollinator Project), and help schools and individuals to established Monarch Way Stations.

We held a Milkweed event last week at Lick Creek Park in College Station, TX, which was a great success.   There were people lining up around the building to get in!!!  Several varieties were offered, including:

Asclepias curassivica (“tropical milkweed”),                         A. asperula, (“Antelope Horns”)
                                      See the source image

                            A. viridis, (“Green Antelope Horns” or “Spider milkweed”)

See the source image

A. tuberosa, (“Butterfly weed”)                                             A. incarnata, (“swamp milkweed”)
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and Gomphocarpus (Asclepias) physocarpus (Balloon Milkweed) – see Featured image at top of this post, plant growing in the wild three thousand miles from land on one of the Azores islands in the middle of the Atlantic!!!  It is shown in the middle of the photo – look for the “balloons”!!  I took this photo four years ago, and it took me almost that long to find where I had filed it!!!!

All of the above have slightly different cultural requirements.  The original plan was to purchase plants from a wholesaler and sell them as a fundraiser, but the availability of mature plants was very limited, and those that were available were priced out of our budget.  Hence the starting of many, many seeds!  They are not all “native” to Texas; however, they have widely and successfully naturalized!  Do your research before you buy!!   Which is your favorite?

This seeding project started about 3 years ago, with several members taking some home to start.  The Chairman of the “Butterfly Committee” did a wonderful job of coordinating, sowing and nurturing all these hundreds of plants;   students from one of the Entomology classes at TAMU helped repot, and hours of love and care went into these tiny plants.  We had some two-year old plants, but most were one year seedlings.  One of them even had a tiny baby caterpillar on it;  photos of the “event” were taken before the doors were opened!

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Sweet & Savory Dandelion Rosemary Shortbread

Have you ever been disappointed not to find dandelions growing in your lawn?  Once you have tried this shortbread recipe, you will be when you can’t find any!  Don’t be tempted to use the “Texas Dandelion” the recipe is much more delicious with Taraxacum officinale, the real thing!  This is not a recipe original to me – there are many versions on the internet.
Dandelion.FlowerIngredients:
2 cups brown or white rice flour
1 cup organic, unsalted butter
1/2 cup honey
1 cup Swiss Cheese (if you use sharper, hard cheese, go easy on the salt)
1/4 cup dandelion petals & greens, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary
Black pepper to taste
Sea salt to sprinkle on top (see note above about cheese)

In a large bowl beat butter with sugar and honey until light and fluffy.  Add in dandelion petals and chopped leaves.  Be sure to remove the green sepals – mix in until just combined.
Stir the rice flower into the butter mix in 2 additions.  After the first, stir in the cheese, rosemary and black pepper.  Then add the remainder of flour to make a smooth dough.
Roll the dough in waxed paper to form a firm cylinder.  Cover and refrigerate until firm – about 1 hour.

While chilling, preheat oven to 325F.

Slice the cylinder of dough into 1 inch thick rounds using a sharp knife and place on baking sheet a good 2 inches apart.  Sprinkle with a little sea salt, if using.
Bake for 20 minutes, rotating pan after 10, until just golden.  Beware of burning during the last few minutes.
Cool completely on baking sheet – they will be very delicate until they are cool and you don’t want them to break up!

Note: if you cut the rounds thinner, it is even more important to watch that they don’t burn.  Enjoy!!!

Working in the Community

A&M Garden Club has a long tradition of working in the community, in parks, public spaces, libraries and wherever we can make a difference.  We especially like working with students, and this past Saturday was A&M University’s annual “Make a Difference Day”.  We partner with the Horticulture Department, who this year sent us 17 students to help with tidying, trimming and planting in the area’s oldest public park, Richard Carter Park.  Pizza and cookies for lunch is always a  popular draw!!!

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Richard Carter Park has been a project of A&M Garden Club for several years now, with the assistance and blessing of the Parks & Rec. Department which provides mulch, water, grass maintenance, etc.  And last Fall the City designated a “no mow” zone, where we sowed wildflower seeds. We have tried to keep the plantings in sync with the historical period and try to plant mostly natives which are attractive and beneficial to pollinators of all types.

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Spring is bustin’ out all over!

After all the unusually cold weather we have experienced this year, the past couple of days have done a 360 and we have had to start the ceiling fans (and some say those two dreaded words “air conditioner”!)  Of course this has triggered a burst of bloom in the garden and even the asparagus is starting to appear!  Here are a few pictures of what is happening in my garden, and a couple from the park where I walk my dog.

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Everyone is complaining about allergies right now – the strong winds are stirring all the pollen up and causing distress!  Here is one of the culprits – Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) with its millions of little “flowers”.

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Lastly, for no reason other than it is beautiful, a photo of various brambles, vines, and berries.

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Winter recovery

We almost had a White Christmas this year, which would have been a miracle for this part of Texas!  The weatherman said it might snow a little on the night of Thursday, December 7,  but it wouldn’t stick, it would be gone as soon as it touched the ground.   So everyone went out in the dark to take photos of snow!

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Next morning there was snow everywhere – the roads were clear, but the grass and the plants were still white.  No ice on the pond though.
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Snow like this is a good insulator for plants, as can be a coating of ice.  The real damage to plants comes when the air is dry, the wind is blowing, and the temperature is frigid.  The moisture and life is sucked out of the plants through the leaves and stems, and many plants will die back to the ground.  If we are lucky, they will sprout back from the roots in the spring.

As a general rule, don’t cut your seemingly “dead” shrubs back too soon.  By doing so, you can expose the tender tissue of the lower stems to another freeze, should one happen, and they won’t have a chance of survival.  Best to wait until after all danger of frost is past, even though you might have a brown and dead looking landscape.  This pear tree survived an ice storm (in 2014)  and produced a huge crop of pears that summer.Garden.Ice.1

This day, January 2, 2018, we are experiencing our second day of temperatures in the low-to-mid twenties (Fahrenheit),  with only a couple of hours in forty-eight above freezing.  Flowering shrubs such as Duranta, Mexican Turks Cap and Esperanza are looking beyond help, and we still have two more days of the same in the forecast.  They should not be pruned at this time.  The black and slimy leaves of Cannas, however, can be cut down to the ground – you can’t kill a Canna!!

And through snow and ice, the spring flowering bulbs are poking through and some are even blooming!  No matter how hard the winter, spring always follows!

Batty infobytes for Halloween!

You know how bats are sometimes referred to as “Flying Mice”?  Bet you didn’t know that bats are more closely related to humans than to mice!!!  I have seen bat colonies in caves, and flying out over the open countryside in the evenings to hunt for insects to feed their families, but I have never seen any on my property.  I plan to rectify that by building some bat houses.
Bat houseThere are many free building plans available on the internet, and they can also be purchased ready-made.  A good resource for bat information is Bat Conservation International, https://www.batcon.org.

Contrary to popular opinion, bats are not blind – they have excellent vision, but they also use a biological sonar called echolocation to hunt fast-flying insects in total darkness!  Bats groom their fur like cats and kittens, which shows they are not “dirty”.  Only three of more than 1,250 bat species are vampire bats that feed on blood, and all of them are in Latin America.  Only one targets mammals, and it prefers domestic livestock.  So, you’re not likely to encounter any vampire bats this Halloween.

Bats pollinate bananas in the wild.  The modern-day banana that we find in our grocery stores are of the Cavendish variety which has no seeds and is propagated by suckers.  This sterility makes it difficult to breed new edible varieties. And new ones are needed because commercial bananas, such as the popular Cavendish, are so susceptible to disease that they now require more fungicide spraying than any other crop. Yet diseases are rare among wild bananas, in which the constant mixing of genes has evolved resistance to local pathogens.  Bats also pollinate cashews, dates, figs, peaches, avocados, agaves (think Tequila!!) and many other important plants.
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Bats are important insect hunters.  More than two-thirds of bat species feed on insects.  A mother bat can eat up to her body weight in insects every night, and a million bats can eat as much as 10 tons of bugs!  The millions of free-tailed bats in Central Texas’ Bracken Cave consume up to 200 tons of insects each summer night!
Pollinators.Bat.Street.BoysThanks to Batcon.org and unknown sources on the internet for much of the above information

Wildflower seed planting at Richard Carter Park, College Station, TX

Today, Saturday October 21st, A&M Garden Club members partnered with members of the local D.A.R. (Daughters of the American Revolution), Butterflies  in the Brazos, City of College Station, Keep Brazos Beautiful, and students from Texas A&M Department of Entomology, to plant seeds of wildflowers springtime pollinators.   Richard Carter Park is a historical area park where A&M Garden Club has planted native plants and trees over the years, and performs twice yearly maintenance of the plantings.  Between 20 and 40 people from the above organizations came out for coffee and donuts at 9:30 am, and seed sowing started about 10:00 am.  The City of College Station has provided Monarch Way Station and No-Mow signs.  The sowing was completed before the expected rains came, and it is to be hoped that when the rain does start it won’t be so hard as to wash out all the seeds!  This was a great community project, and all participants had fun!!!  More photos are posted on our Facebook Page.

And here is the action record of the “Seed Spreaders and Stompers”

This was a great community collaboration, under the leadership of Jane C.,  which will hopefully produce flowers for pollinators for years to come!  We provided coffee and donuts, and everyone had loads of fun!