My Keyhole Garden Experience

by Debra Sorenson

After years of putting in a garden and many hours of chopping, watering, preventing hogs from getting in the garden, droughts and then too much rain, we decided it wasn’t worth it.  Some years we had an abundance of green beans, black eyed peas, squash, and okra, but not enough to outweigh all the work. 

Then on September 12, 2019, I attended the Master Naturalist meeting and the presentation was on Keyhole Gardening.  “WA LA!”  This may be our solution, I thought. I purchased the book, Spoiled Rotten ,by Deb Tolman, Ph.D., and began gathering materials for our garden.  NOTE – my husband thought I was nuts! 

Here are my steps (photos of the stages are below):

  1. We used an old water trough, cut the bottom out and put galvanized small wire in the bottom to keep gophers out. 
  2. We made the keyhole for composting scraps out of wire and wrapped it with old window screens. The purpose of the window screen is to keep the roots from going into the keyhole while allowing the nutrients from the compost to feed the plants.
  3. Added a layer of rocks over the wire for drainage.
  4. Then alternated layers of sticks, wet paper feed sacks, dried cow manure, wet cardboard boxes, blue jean (cotton) scraps, and paper. It took more materials than you would think!
  5. The top 8 – 10” is bagged garden soil. TA DA! You could use your own soil but ours isn’t the best – clay and sand…

Our spring garden was not as productive as we hoped, as there was not enough time for the compost to supply the nutrients for the plants. 

This fall, I worked in bags of Miracle Grow (shhh…it’s all supposed to be organic) to help give the plants a boost. Next spring, we will work in some chicken manure and compost from the Bird and Bee Farm or the mushroom compost from the Madisonville area! 

Finished fall garden

We’ve got lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots (just coming up), brussels sprout, mint, one pepper plant, and a rogue cantaloupe from the spring! Delicious! And it’s so much easier than the traditional garden. 

My husband thinks we should do another one  in the spring, as he’s got another water trough with a rusted holey bottom. He realized that I’m not as nuts as he first thought!

Would You Eat off a Dirty Plate?

by Donna Lewis

Would you like to eat off a dirty plate? Birds probably will, but it is not safe for them.

So, I bet your feeders are not clean. It’s a nasty job we all hate to do.  Let’s face it, it’s work!

Gotta clean out these seeds that are stuck to the feeder after a rain.

But a dirty bird feeder can transmit Salmonella enterica bacteria. Nasty…

Soap and water is not enough to do the job. Ole faithful…BLEACH is what is needed.

Your necessary cleaning supplies.

1. First, clear all the old seeds out of the feeder.  Use a brush or putty remover because it will be like concrete to remove.

2. Wash the feeder with soap and water, scrubbing it good.  Then dunk it in a bleach/water solution.  A nine to one solution is recommended.

3. Next it must be completely dry before you add any seed again.  Don’t get in a hurry.

Having a few extra feeders helps you rotate them.

Dunking in process. Note the rubber gloves!

4.  Next clean under the feeders. Get rid of the old moldy seeds on the ground. Dispose of them so the birds cannot eat them again. They’re birds, they don’t know any different.

It’s a very good idea to wear rubber gloves while doing this. Birds can transmit some diseases

A good photo instructional to watch is www.wikihow.pet/clean-Birdfeeders.

Have fun…

Water Feature Fun for Beauty, Conservation, and Natural Habitat

by Pamela Neeley

Note from Suna: Pamela Neeley from the El Camino Real chapter has been working with water features on her property for the past few months (years), creating not only areas of beauty (sight and sound), but places for aquatic plants to flourish, and wildlife to sustain themselves on. I toured her property a couple of weeks ago and encouraged her to share some of her ideas and techniques with fellow Master Naturalists. Maybe you can borrow of her creative thoughts some in your own gardens and wild areas!

Here’s another example of a dripping faucet connection caught into a container. Cats and dogs like this one, too.

Milkweeds and a Woodpecker

by Lisa Milewski

Milkweed Report

Members of our chapter have been participating in a Monarch Watch Milkweed Project, where we each try to grow some plants and carefully monitor them. Mine don’t seem to be growing as well as some of the others’ plants. Maybe I’m over-thinking!

I picked up the plants on May 2. They are antelope horns (Asperula).

That’s the plants, bottom left.

I planted them on May 4 in a raised bed garden (formerly my vegetable herb garden that didn’t do well since I am still learning how to get a green thumb.J  However, I left the fern leaf dill for the black swallowtail caterpillars which love them are doing well. 

The planting spot.

They are in mixed soil (1/3 compost, 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite).

Since the planting, I have tracked the rainfall and dates I hand watered the plants. I take photos of them every week for my logbook. Here are the most recent pictures:

I’m going to try to add the grass clippings around and not water too much, maybe?  Wish me luck. 

Annie the Woodpecker

I told the people at last week’s chapter meeting about Annie the red-bellied woodpecker, who has been hanging around the food pantry in the church building in Hutto where I do a lot of my volunteer work.

We’re hoping to discourage her from pecking away at the wooden cross on the property, but not chase her away entirely. I have really enjoyed watching Annie. These pictures are taken through a dirty window, but you can see her pretty well!

Toad Abodes and Frog Fun

by Pamela Neeley and Sue Ann Kendall

Last week, Sue Ann got all excited when she spotted a Southern Leopard Frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus) in her little pond at her ranch. She also saw 14 bullfrogs and a Gulf Coast toad, and wrote a blog post about it. When she mentioned the leopard frog at our July Chapter Meeting, lots of members chimed in that they’d been seeing them in large numbers this year.

Toad in the water, frog well camouflaged on the shore.

This morning, Pamela went out into her garden and found a truly magnificent leopard frog specimen. We agreed that this had to be shared.

Hello! How do you like my eye stripe?

The stripes and the way they got through the toad’s eyes are so interesting, and the color is almost glowing! Pamela measured its belly print at over three inches. That’s a big one.

Look at those long legs! You can tell it’s a true frog.

Pamela mentioned that she has more than one toad house on her property, which some of the frogs apparently use, too. Here’s the really pretty one.

Any toad would appreciate such a fine home.

But the plain ones work just fine, too, as long as you leave the bottom open, so their bellies can rest on the dirt.

Perfectly adequate toad home.
Now you can see its pretty white belly.

Making a toad abode is easy and fun. Here’s a great page Pamela found, from the Houston Arboretum Nature Center on how to make toad abodes of many charming styles, along with a lot more information about them. Don’t forget, they will need a source of water!

What kinds of toads and frogs do you have where you live?