Phasoleus vulgaris Cannelino. 85 days. Many Italians believe Cannellini is the best dry bean on Earth, and it is widely available both dried and canned in Italian markets. Rich and meaty, these white kidney beans are the authentic bean for minestrone soup made famous in the Tuscany region of Italy. This 24-26 inch tall bush-type bears 6-7 inch pods and is one of the earlier maturing cannellini beans available. Seeds per ounce: 100. Territorial Seed Company

August 28th, 2006
Cannellini Beans

An old gardening proverb tells us to plant beans when you can sit on the ground with your bare bum. The idea was that if the ground was too cold and damp to sit on comfortably, then it was still too cold and damp to plant beans. They’d rot.

Is there some corollary for planting fall gardens in 100 degree weather? After all the Navajo and Hopi of the American southwest grew beans and corn in drier, hotter climes than Austin.

Reading Dirt posted a great entry, Superfoods! Article 2: Beans last week which reminded me that I had some cannellini beans left from a failed spring planting. AJM makes exquisite refried white beans which we put in breakfast tacos. Every spring I’ve tried to grow cannellini beans I end up with less beans than I planted.

The instructions say, “For uniform, rapid emergence been seed should be planted in warm soils.” Unfortunately (now I read this) it continues “…above 95F germination is very poor.” Luckily, I still have seed left. If this batch fails, I’ll try again in another month. If we don’t have an early freeze, that might give me the 85 days I need for them to mature.

I guess I’ll reread Elizabeth Berry’s Great Bean Book and dream of beans.

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“I set out to discover the why of it, and to transform my pleasure into knowledge.” Baudelaire.

August 27th, 2006
Old in Blog Years

Kathy, of Cold Climate Gardening begins a series today, an online panel discussion of eight other garden bloggers who have been blogging for four or more years. I’m thrilled to be included. Kathy is putting up one topic a day over the next week or so. Here are the questions she asked with links to the answers. I’ll update the list as she does.

Part 1. According to their respective websites, Blogger was founded in 1999 and Movable Type in 2001. But as I remember, even when I started my garden blog in 2002, most people didn’t know what a blog was, or see the point of it, really. So what in your background or relationships made you aware of and comfortable with the technology? What led you to become an “early adopter”? Link to discussion.

Part 2. Of all the things you could use this technology for, why gardening? How did you see a blog working for you better than more traditional means of garden communication, such as a chat over the fence, a garden club membership, a plant society membership, or a magazine subscription? What problem were you hoping to solve, or what need did you want to fill? Link to discussion.

Part 3. Did your garden blog accomplish what you were hoping for? Any unexpected benefits? Any disappointments? Link to discussion.

Part 4. What do you think has caused the proliferation of garden blogs in the last year? Link to discussion.

Part 5. Thinking over all of the garden blogging you’ve done and the garden blogs you’ve read since you first started, what has changed for the better? What negatives, if any, have arisen? Do you miss anything from the “good ol’ days” of blogging? Link to discussion.

Part 6. Do you think gardeners comment less than other bloggers? Link to discussion.

Part 7. Does it seem to you that gardeners, as a whole, are late adopters of technology? I mean, look at the categories for the Weblog Awards. There’s a category for best craft blog, best food blog, best entertainment blog, best politics blog, best web development blog, etc. The closest gardeners get is best topical blog, which is basically an “everything else” category. Why do you think this is so? (Or make a case for the oppositeƅ|that they’re not late adopters.) Link to discussion.

Part 8. What advice would you give a gardener starting a blog today? Link to discussion.

Part 9. What’s next for gardeners interested in internet communication? Today, blogging. Tomorrow? Link to discussion.
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The colors of August. Austin, TX. August 20, 2006. This is not a photo of my garden because there is nothing to photograph this week in my garden. It is in my neighborhood though.

August 20th, 2006
Week 33: 8/13 – 8/19


For those people who don’t think we have seasons down here, look at the photo. The golden brown grass, the dusty, dull green of the live oak, the rich blue of the sky, and fluffy white clouds–all colors that evoke August in Austin. It might not be as flashy as some seasons elsewhere but this is us.

Dateline: 2006
Wednesday (8/16) was the hottest day of 2006 in Austin, 104 degrees. That’s not a record breaking high. What’s unusual is not the quality of the heat; it’s the quantity. In August so far 16 out of 20 days have been 100 degrees or hotter.

For those of you new to Austin, no, this is not normal August weather. Non-gardening residents, as they race from air-conditioned house to air-conditioned car, shrug their shoulders and think, “It’s August. It’s hot. Whaddya expect?” Well, I expect summer to be winding down.

We gardeners are out in the world and we’re taking notes. Although it’s not impossible for us to have 100+ degree days even in September (Austin’s all time record high was 114 degrees in September 2000–the most miserable summer in my memory), Austin’s average number of triple-digit days is ten. Ten! That means some years it’s less than ten. I’m just thankful I didn’t live through the summer of 1923. In that record-setting year, the thermometer topped 100 on 71 days.

Can you imagine that on August 14, 2003 the high was only in the low 80s after a front bringing heavy rain pushed through? Did I get out my sweater that day? This week in 1998, I was enjoying temperatures in the 80s and days of drizzling rain.

I’m usually dividing bearded irises and cleaning up and getting revved up for fall gardening. This year I’m lucky if I can stay outside long enough to get the potted plants watered.

Shout Out
Kathy Craig, at Cold Climate Gardening, mentioned that in upstate New York, the Color of August is Yellow. In Austin, the color of August is brown.
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Roaches for dinner.

August 16th, 2006
Munch Crunch

This week I’m still working on turning over my mulch pile. I have to take it slow because even at dusk the temperatures are hovering at 100. Tonight I noticed the large lizard that I’ve seen before hanging out around the mulch. When I exposed a rather dried out section of the pile scores of beetles and roaches ran for shelter. That lizard was on them like a duck on june bug.

We were both smiling after his meal. (Anything that will eat cockroaches has my seal of approval.)

I think the lizard’s a Texas Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus olivaceus). He’s too fast for me to get a photo or even a good look. But he does race up a tree if he thinks I’m threatening him and he blends well against the color of the tree trunks. And he’s quite big–easily 6 to 8 inches long.

Living with Sheep: Everything You Need to Know to Raise Your Own Flock.
Chuck Wooster. Photographs by Geoff Hansen.
2005. ISBN 1-59228-531-7

August 14th, 2006
Living with Sheep

book cover: Living with SheepOn an August day in Texas when the sun keeps us indoors from 8 in the morning until 8 at night, Living with Sheep is not much on our minds. The thought of one wooly lamb causes prickles of heat rash; a flock, a swoon of claustrophobia.

“Who would want to read about sheep in Austin?” I thought as I pulled the book from the library shelf. On the other hand, my urban neighborhood is already populated with chickens, a goat, and a pig. Maybe sheep?

The answer is no. Sheep would be even more miserable in an Austin summer than the rest of us. The fact that I was compelled to read Living with Sheep from cover to cover is a credit to the writing–direct, elegant, informative, and humorous.

Living with Sheep is targeted toward the beginner shepherd, one who has no previous experience raising livestock. It’s one of those books that was written to fill a gap in the author’s collection when all he could find were highly technical books on sheep diseases. As such it sets out to answer “the big picture questions, the general cases, the wide range of options.”

Wooster approaches his efforts to understand sheep with the same curiousity and delight that mark the best travel writers. He became a shepherd without really planning to: some friends were looking to sell and he’d just moved to a farm. “Before I knew what was going on, I was in over my head and encountering adventure and intrigue around every corner.”

The nice thing about his tale is that he doesn’t assume that everyone has his same “Go for it” personality. So after introducing a concept with a personal anecdote he steps back and provides the big picture view of options–from deciding how involved a shepherd you want to be, to approaches toward butchering.

And, yes, after nine laugh-out-loud chapters filled with gorgeous photos of cute sheep, of advice for choosing among breeds, how to fence and shelter them, what to feed them, shearing, breeding and birthing, we face the inevitable “Chapter Ten: Slaughter and Butchering”.

“There is no point trying to sugarcoat it: killing animals is an intense and disturbing business. This is doubly true when the animals in question are ones you’ve fed and housed and raised from birth. All year long you’ve nurtured and cared for an animal and done your best to make it happy and healthy. Then you wake up one morning, pick up the proverbial knife, and do it in.”

So begins a thoughtful and beautifully written essay on taking responsibility for the food we eat. For us omnivores that means dealing with death. For the shepherd it means being the agent of death. The photo of a sheepskin hanging over the fence caught my attention. The caption said it was MolÉ–and I recognized the name as the lamb he had talked about earlier, the first one ever born on the farm, a singleton abandoned by his ewe that Wooster had to bottle feed.

Some final notes wrap up the book including a controversy that’s been brewing more and more lately in backlash to the success of Whole Foods Market. Which is better: local or organic? “My neighboring farmer’s hay, although rich and wonderful and harvested from fields that have been well cared for by his family for more than a century, is not certified organic…If and when I decide to raise my sheep organically, I will be doing so at the expense of my neighborhood farming economy, which I am reluctant to do.”

If you are considering getting sheep, this is a must read book for you. If you’re not, this is still a pretty good read. I hope Chuck Wooster writes more books because, whatever the subject, he makes it interesting.

Living with Sheep: The Website!

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August at Zanthan Gardens
2006-08-11. Wild ruellia (not even an improved cultivated kind) and bearded irises have already called it a day–and it’s only 7AM and the sun hasn’t hit the yard yet. These are xeriscape plants, so you can imagine what the rest of the yard is like.

August 12th, 2006
Week 32: 8/6 – 8/12


Dateline: 2006
When I was a kid, by the time August rolled around I was just tired of summer. Most of my early life I lived in the desert southwest so trees and hammocks and back porches and playing ball on a green lawn were images out what might as well have been fairy tale books so little did they correspond with my experience of summer. My summer days were filled with reading, helping my mom do the laundry while we watched soaps together, and working on projects around the kitchen with my brothers and sisters. One year we were quite into stamp collecting which is why I know that the state flower of Kansas is a sunflower. After two months, even my mom had run out of ideas for entertaining 8 kids indoors (too hot to play outside, remember) and I’d read all my books several times. You never saw any kid so anxious for summer to be over.

I longed for school to start, for the rains to come, and the air to smell fresh again. Other people associate spring with beginnings and renewal. But that’s how I feel about fall. I always fall in love in fall. I don’t think I look forward to fall in the same way you cold climate gardeners anticipate spring. There are no early signs like crocuses or buds swelling to make my blood quicken.

I’m finally at the point in summer this year where I’m resigned to it. In July I still tend to be fighting–out in the garden watering, mulching, and fussing over plants. By August, I just sit indoors and wonder what will pull through this year. Will the rains come the last week of August like they did the very first fall I lived in Austin? Or will we have another extended summer like last year when it was still hot in October?

I do my part to bring the rain. Wash the wool carpet and leave it in the grass to dry. Wash the cars. Leave the car windows open a crack. We did get 10 seconds of rain last Sunday after a strong gusts of wind hinted at a storm approaching. Monday we got almost three minutes of rain.

Another rose, ‘Madame Joseph Schwartz’, has succumbed to rose dieback. I’ve started turning the spring compost pile. At least the hot weather helps break down everything quickly as long as the pile is kept moist. I found the biggest grubs I’ve ever seen in the middle of the pile. Usually they’re small enough I don’t mind squishing them with my bare hand (just imagine it’s a grape) but these were bigger than my longest finger. It took a good stomp with my boot. I’ve also seen two or three hummingbirds this week which is unusual in my yard. They must be after the turk’s cap which is one of the few things left flowering. I haven’t had to mow all month since the grass is lying flaccid and scorched. The leaves are beginning to fall from the cedar elms and the chinaberry trees. On the Japanese persimmon almost 1/3 of its leaves have turned yellow. I’m hoping the fruit won’t drop as there are less than half a dozen persimmons this year.

Wake me when it’s September.
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photo: garden toad
The garden’s croaked.

August 4th, 2006
Week 31: 7/30 – 8/5

Dateline: 2006
The toad finally let me get close enough to snap his portrait. He jumps into the potted plants after I water them in the morning. I frequently disturb him when I’m fiddling with the plants, only seeing him when he hops off in a puff. Today I was sitting panting on the step when I noticed him panting in the saucer. I snapped a score of pictures inching closer and closer until I got this one. He was too lethargic to care. I feel the same way.

August in Austin is filled with lots of shoulds. I should be watering more. I should be clearing out the many plants that have died. I should be getting my beds ready for a fall garden. I should be starting seeds for fall tomatoes and wildflowers. (I always wonder how the seeds sprout in these temperatures. Doesn’t it need to be 65 or something? Our overnight lows are in the mid-70s and it’s never cooler than 80 in the house.) I should be digging holes for planting shrubs and trees.

But every time I step into the searing sunlight I suspect that I’m part vampire. I saw a T-shirt I want to buy: The Sun Is Trying to Kill Me.

The garden this week? Scorched. That’s normal for us Texans. Sorry that the rest of you guys got stuck with Texas weather or worse this week. We didn’t plan to export the worst aspects of Texas to the rest of the country. You’ve probably had enough of that already.

new window on the garden
A new window on the garden opens up new design possibilities.

August 1st, 2006
New Perspectives

My garden shares little with the Adachi Museum Garden except the idea that my design for the planting relies a lot on how I view the garden from within my house. Although my garden never achieves the standard of a “living painting”, I do think a lot of how it looks from indoors from our uncurtained windows. I’ve always been drawn to the Japanese concept of visually blurring the distinction between indoors and out. During Austin’s hot, humid, mosquito rich summers, I spend most of my days inside. As I stand washing dishes, I think, “There’s a space that needs a plant. Look how the light highlights that empty spot in the mini-woodland.”

During our kitchen remodel we removed the standard small over-the-sink window and replaced it with a window that spans the counter where we do most of our prep work. Now instead of a narrow portrait of the garden, I’m confronted with a CinemaScopic™ landscape. The new window is higher up than the old window, which constrains the foreground view of short people like me. I planted more flowers near the house which I can’t see at all any more.

My predilection for gardens as private spaces might have misled you into thinking that mine was surrounded by tall hedges or brick walls in the style of Arley Hall Gardens. In fact, two sides of my back yard are separated from my neighbors with nothing more than a short chain link fence. The long south side has a new privacy fence constructed by new neighbors with small, incessantly yapping dogs.

Rather than try to screen my neighbors’ back yards, I try to incorporate them into my view. My theory is that a hedge would foreshorten my view. So I planted several small trees instead creating a mini-woodland which provides glimpses of something in the distance while obscuring the fact that it’s just my neighbor’s garage. As the trees have grown taller, I’ve added to the understory planting. Then at ground level, in the spring, Tradescantia takes over and in the fall, oxblood lilies.

This is not much of a garden to walk in but it does provide a pleasant view when working in the kitchen. Now that I can see much more of it, my mind is whirring with new ideas for filling in the planting.