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!

Monarch Butterflies (Danus plexippus)

by Donna Lewis

So you thought we didn’t have many monarchs here in Milam County…

These little beauties were in my pollinator garden just a few weeks ago (the last week in October).

They were nectaring on blue mist flowers, which are very easy to grow.

Yes, we can make a difference for our monarch friends. This is what we do as Texas Master Naturalists. We protect the natural world so that those who come after us will get to enjoy them like we do. What an honor for us.

Make sure you plant what the butterflies need to survive. And keep on learning!

Observing Milam County: Nashville Historical Marker 11-03-20

by Linda Jo Conn

Driving east on Hwy 79 toward the Brazos River Bridge at the Milam/Robertson county line, a convenient paved pull-off invites travelers to stop, stretch their legs, and perhaps read the inscribed granite markers telling the history of this area.   The curious will learn that this was the site of the town of Nashville, founded by early Texas empresario, soldier and statesman Sterling Robertson and named after his former home in Tennessee.  Nashville was also the first Texas home of George C. Childress, chairman of the committee that drafted the Texas Declaration of Independence. 

Fellow TMN and iNaturalist Eric Neubauer and I met at the pull-off for a ‘socially-distanced’ investigation of the flora and fauna of the area.  A grasshopper expert, Eric took his bug net up the slope of the right of way see what was willing to be netted.  

Eric nabbed several species of grasshoppers with his net, including a ‘new for him’ species.

Being more of a plant person, I focused my attention on things with roots that tend to remain stationary (until the wind blows).  I was pleased to find Texas grama (Bouteloua rigidiseta) in abundance as well as patches of other native grasses:  silver bluestem (Bothriochloa laguroides, little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), and white tridens (Tridens albescent). 

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Texas grama lost out on the designation as the state grass of Texas to the larger species sideoats grama.  

When the spring of 2021 arrives, this roadside area should be a go-to place to enjoy a solid blue slope of Texas bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis) in bloom on the ROW.  Literally hundreds of bluebonnet rosettes dot the ground.  Other plant species I was pleased to observe were Zizotes milkweeds (Asclepias oenotheroides),  ‘new to me’ species Barrens silky aster (Symphyotrichum pretense), winecup mallows (Callirhoe involucrata), and turkey tangle frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora). 

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Lupinus texensis, one of the five bluebonnet species recognized as the state flower of Texas.

I was elated to observe another ‘new for me’ species blooming at the location:  Willowleaf aster (Symphyotrichum praealtum).  It is one of several species of aster-like flowers blooming along the roadsides during this time of year that can be challenging to ID without photos of diagnostic plant parts. 

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True to its common name, willowleaf aster sports leaves resembling a willow tree. 

Eric shared his grasshopper finds with me, including a wrinkled grasshopper (Hippiscus ocelote).  Eric also shared the scientific names of each species, which I, not surprisingly, promptly forgot.  Another reason I appreciate the resources and users of the iNaturalist.org website.

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A monochrome of brown, this wrinkled grasshopper (Hippiscus ocelote) is actually an intricately marked individual. 

Eric and I traveled back down the highway to Milano to join Catherine Johnson at the Milano Wildscape for further observation and investigation.  Next week, interested chapter members will participate in a ‘socially distanced’ stroll down CR 364 at the Sugarloaf Mountain bridge near Gause. 

Mountain Getaway

by Catherine Johnson

Linda Jo, Donna, Eric, Scott, and Catherine Bioblitzed  the areas around Sugarloaf, Lone Mountain,  and Little River. 

We identified many plants, met some new neighbors and their dog, and had lunch on the historic bridge. It was soo beautiful outside, and we all learned a lot.

Enjoy these photos from the day!

Nature Will Find a Way

by Catherine Johnson

While others are away in the cool mountains,* a group of us decided to check on the condition of the El Camino Real Master Naturalist Butterfly Garden in Milano, which we started a number of years ago. 

The Butterfly Garden

It is  in complete disarray but still with butterflies and other insects trying to hold on to smothered natives.  A memorial on the site is also in complete disarray. We are considering possible solutions to make the area respectful.

Sulphur butterfly.

Eric Neubauer and Linda Jo Conn did some BioBlitzing, and Eric was later given a tour of  the Milam Wildscape, which he hadn’t visited before.

iNaturalist volunteers at work.

Unexpected Adventure

As we worked on the Butterfly Garden, I gained Master Naturalist volunteer hours for Nature Improvement in Public Areas, learned what false garlic and Carolina Snail vine look like, learned what a pipevine swallowtail butterfly looks like, and got to know new member Eric.

Carolina snail vine (the seeds look just like a snail!)

While in Milano I also got to hear lots of trains and watch the lowering of the flag at the post office. It was a balmy day balmy day and a good one for exercise! 

Oh, and we found odd gourds near the train tracks. That was unexpected.


*She is referring to the Chapter President, Suna, who has escaped to Utah. She will post!