Thursday, November 3, 2011

Plants Growing in Our Yard

FOLLOW-UP NOTE: I posted these photos and plant names, because someone complained about my yard. The city ordinance code enforcer was very nice and liked all the flowers and fruit in my yard. She said that if I'd show that the plants were there by design, rather than just being random weeds, everything would be OK. It all worked out, and I was able to keep my yard the way I like it. I have nothing but good things to say about the City of San Antonio planning department and code enforcement people.

These are some of the plants we are growing in our yard. There are some more photos available on a blog entry I made on September 17. I have identified the plants under each photo, and there is a list of unpictured plants at the bottom of this blog entry.

Day Lily

20th Century Asian Pear

Vinca Major, Day Lilies, Esperanza, Canna Lily, and Red Knockout Rose, Caroline Hairston Rose, Hever Castle Buddleia

Castor Bean, Day Lilies, Ornamental Grass (don't know name), Cleome, Germander

Caladiums in background, coleus in foreground


Queen's wreath, also called coral vine
golden crownbeard, queen's wreath, yellow and orange lantana, portulaca (in blue container), vinca major, 4 o'clocks, huisache tree upper right corner


from spring - not flowering now: geraniums, pansies, violas, purple spider wort

Anagua Tree in flower (spring)

Queen's wreath, mealy blue sage, 2nd variety of salvia (name unknown), Mexican honesuckle, Pride of Barbados (not flowering now)

Some other plants that are not pictured:

Anna apple
Ein Shemer apple
3 varieties of dwarf peach
semi-dwarf Spring gold peach tree
LeConte pear tree
Celeste fig tree
3 Wonderful pomegranite shrubs
several loquat trees - they were here when we bought the place
Persian Mulberry
common mulberry
5 Chinese photinia shrubs
8 white Indian hawthorne shrubs
8 Japanes ligustrum shrubs
olive tree
8 abelia shrubs
9 vetiver plants planted as privacy screen
6 sophora shrub/trees (Texas mountain laurel)
4 elm trees
2 oak trees
2 rain trees (will probably remove)
4 chinaberry trees (will probably remove all but 1)
star jasmine
night blooming jasmine
Fanick's perennial phlox
Souvenir de la Malmaison rose bush
Mutalis rose bush
unidentified rose bush grown from cutting from rose bush at corner of Lewis & Howard St
pink Knockout rose bush
Bolero rose bush
The Fairy rose bush
unidentified rose bush grown from cutting from rose bush on Bois D'arc St in Lockhart TX
Maggie rose bush
Mademoiselle de Sombreuil rose bush
Blush Noisette rose bush
Cecile Brunner rose bush
Gruss an Aachen rose bush
6 florida jessamine shrubs
kitchen herbs: basil, rosemary, cilantro, thyme, parsley, sage, Greek oregano, common oregano, spearmint, winter mint, catnip, chives
bay tree
Meyer lemon tree
jalepeno and ancho chiles
chile pequin
nardo, also called tuberose
pink and purple ruellia
native pecan tree

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Rain !!!

There were very isolated bands of T-storms yesterday. We got maybe an inch of rain here in central San Antonio, but a friend in north San Antonio said they only got a few sprinkles there.

Today there were wider bands of showers. No violent storms around here, but enough good, steady rain to saturate the ground.

I took my camera into the back garden yesterday and found a few pretty things to photograph. The rose bushes are in full bloom, which would be gorgeous if they were larger. They're still quite small, though. It's been all they can do to stay alive over the summer. They haven't had the resources to add much size. I grew most of the rose bushes from cuttings started spring before last. I bought a couple from the Antique Rose Emporium.

Friday, September 9, 2011


I came to the country today. I already knew my travel trailer and barn would be OK, because I had talked to a neighbor, but I was not sure about the sandhill woods between Delhi and McMahan. As it turned out, the fire did not reach my land. There are many dead trees and shrubs, still sitting there waiting for the next fire.

The weather has turned very hot again after a few days with highs in the low 90's F. Nothing like the hot weather of a couple of weeks ago, though. The thermometer under the shade of the barn says 35.5C. Bull nettle seeds are the only things I can find to eat here today. I'm awfully glad I can go to stores to buy food.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Healthy Diet

Our adopted stray cat, Edith, has just given birth to three lovely kittens. One has spots, like the mother. I think Edith is part Bengal or Egyptian Mau.

I'd forgotten how good I feel when I consume a berry-roots-nut-meat-fish kind of diet. I don't know why I stray from it. I guess the smell of hot grease is just too enticing. What usually happens is that I go to a restaurant and eat unhealthy stuff, assuming that one unhealthy meal isn't going to hurt me. But I can't stop at just one unhealthy meal. I go maybe two days, then I have do it again. My love for Tex-Mex food is one of my greatest weaknesses. Sounds like the tale of a drug or alcohol addict, doesn't it?

I bought grass-fed beef at the store, but one never knows for sure exactly what that means. It's quite misleading to refer to feedlot-finished beef as grass-fed, but people do it. I prefer to buy 1/4 steer at a time from someone I know, but the calf I was supposed to get this year died in an accident (got stuck in mud and broke a leg) and had to be slaughtered early.

I've personally known 2 people and heard of others who were sent home to die, because there was no known medical treatment for their conditions (one had an advanced case of Crohn's Disease). After switching to a diet that included no feed-lot finished beef, they got well. This is certainly not scientific evidence, but it gives one pause.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Tasty Snack - Peanut Butter & Broccoli


Some broccoli florets, or sliced stems
A glob of peanut butter

Put the glob of peanut butter and the raw broccoli on a plate. Dip the broccoli in the peanut butter. Eat.

Preparation time: 3 minutes or less

I know this probably sounds like a weird food combination, but it's surprisingly good.

The Paleolithic Diet Again

The first time I ever needed to lose some weight coincided with my discovery of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's  Gulag Archipelago. The author writes quite a bit on the topic of food (or lack thereof) in Soviet prison camps during the 1930's, 40's and early 50's. Prisoners were expected to do work that burned many calories each day but were fed only small amounts of bread and watery soup. Under such circumstances, a potato, even a rotten one, was worth fighting for.

I tend to become deeply emotionally involved in books I'm reading, especially if the writing is vivid. After the unsettling experience of reading Solzhenitsyn's descriptions of putting in a long day of heavy physical labor and being given watery cabbage soup and a small hunk of bread, I could sit down to a meal of broccoli and lean meat and feel very, very lucky. Now and then I might walk past a restaurant and feel deprived. I vividly remember walking past Trudy's on W. 30th in Austin one wintery afternoon, smelling the enticing fragrance of warm Tex-Mex fare with longing. I had to remind myself: "That's not for the likes of me." But most of the time, I was happy with my low-cal meals, because they were so much better than the prison camp food I was reading about.

The Gulag Archipelago consists of three rather thick volumes. I was a grad student and also working during the period when I was reading it. There was not much time for extra-curricular reading, so it took quite a while to read all three volumes, long enough to lose 20 pounds or so.

I've used the Gulag method of weight loss a few times since then. I have read about many situations in which people did not have enough to eat -- people in prisons, people who were shipwrecked, people who were lost in the woods or whose plane crashed into a remote area. Please understand, I do not mean to make light of anyone's suffering. I have been deeply moved by these books, especially the ones about innocent people being imprisoned and starved. I am inspired by these people. Their strength in surviving their ordeals gives me the strength to get through a few weeks of a healthy calorie-restricted diet, even though my body figuratively cries out for carbohydrates.

So now the time has come again when I need to lose some weight. I am reading Alexander Dolgun's Story: An American in the Gulag and listening to an audio version of Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

Alex Dolgun's American father went to Moscow to work as an engineer during the depression of the 1930's. Dolgun, in his early 20's, was working at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow when he was arrested. He spent the following eight years in closed prisons and prison camps and was in the general amnesty after Stalin's death. 

Louis Zampirini was an Olympic runner who became a bombdier in World War II. His plane went down in the Pacific Ocean, and after spending 47 days on a raft, he was picked up by Japanese and held in various prison camps from 1943 until the war ended in 1945.

This time around, after reading Michael Rose's blog I am doing a modified Paleolithic diet. I intend to eat lots of berries and nuts and roots and meat. No refined carbohydrates. Only small amounts of whole grains. My goal is not only to lose 10 pounds, but, more importantly, to get rid of the round belly I've grown over the last several years. I hate the way it looks, and I've read that carrying around abdominal fat is unhealthy. So far, losing weight has not helped much with the belly. A year or so ago, I went from 170 pounds down to 142 and thinned down everywhere except for the belly. I've remained at 142 but would like to return to my young-adult weight of 132. 

It will be interesting to see if the modified Paleo diet helps. The reason I refer to it as modified rather than strict is that I plan to eat a little yogurt and cheese, and possibly some milk and ice cream (I like to blend berries with yogurt and a bit of ice cream), and also olive oil and condiments such as vinegar. I'm close to 100% sure I'll lose weight on the diet. Since I've already dropped 28 pounds last year, I know it can be done. If I still have the belly when I get down to my desired weight of 132, I'll try a strict Paleo diet and see if it helps. I also exercise, of course -- working in the garden, pedaling a stationary bike, and doing Pilates mat exercises.

So here's my first meal of the diet: Salmon cooked in olive oil with chopped garlic and fresh basil and parsley (from the garden) and sliced tomatoes with oil & vinegar. Lemon juice sqeezed over all. It was delicious. The basil leaves were surprisingly wonderful. I threw them into the oil in which the fish was cooking, and they came out crispy. 

I can't truthfully say I'm not a little hungry, but it's certainly not unbearable.


The satellite maps show evidence of the work of the fire fighters. There were flame icons on the map, indicating that the fire had crossed the 3000 acre pasture and was in the woods just SE of Altamira, only a couple hundred yards away. Then a long, straight cloud image showed up, and the flame icons disappeared.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Wildfires in Central Texas

I am in San Antonio at the moment, watching (via satellite) the relentless advance of the wildfire that was burning in the Bastrop area yesterday. It is now less than one pasture away from my land. The pasture separating the fire from my land is 3000 acres that was planted in Bermuda grass with only a few trees. I hoped that maybe the relatively wide expanse with not very much fuel might have stopped the fire, but it doesn't look as though that's going to happen. I heard that the fire easily jumped  Colorado River in Bastrop County.

None of my domestic animals are on the land at the moment. There's furniture and stuff I'll be sad to lose, and most of my books. My cute little travel trailer, and the pole barn and the 3/4 ton Ford pickup and the pump house and pressure tanks. But I can live well without these things. I guess the old oak and hickory trees will be the saddest loss.

My losses are nothing compared to the losses of my friends who live there and who will lose their homes and livlihoods.

It's weird to think back to two days ago when I was last at my land. Sometimes, I stop for a moment as I"m about the close the door and walk away and think, "Goodbye, little house." I didn't do that when I left Saturday. I was in a hurry to get to Lockhart to take care of some work I needed to do there. It never occurred to me that it might be the last time I'd ever see my cozy little trailer.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Texas Drought Continues, Despite Rain and Floods Elsewhere


"The year 2011 continues the recent trend of being much warmer than the historical precipitation-temperature relationship would indicate, although with no previous points so dry it’s hard to say exactly what history would say about a summer such as this one.  Except that this summer is way beyond the previous envelope of summer temperature and precipitation."

In the city, there are dead shrubs, and even a few large trees that have not been able to withstand the desert-like conditions. In the country, corn and even milo crops are brown and shriveled. Many farmers have plowed everything under, and the fields are just sitting there, waiting for wind to blow the soil away. It's pointless to plant winter wheat with no rain. Pastures, like many of the front yards in the cities, are bare soil with a few tufts of dead grass. Most of the cattle are gone. Ranchers with the means to move their breeding stock to other parts of the country did so. Some are importing hay from states such as Montana. But many ranchers have sent even their breeding stock to slaughter, beause they could not afford to keep them alive.

Former ponds are now dry depressions lined with cracked clay like shards of broken pottery. Creek and river beds are dry. Even large lakes have been reduced by evaporation to less than half their former volume. 
Rain will show up in the 7-day forecast from time to time, but the meteorologists have to revise the forecast later to 0 precip.

There is one very small bright spot in all this: the drought has been so severe that it even seems to be affecting the grasshopper population.  If the grasshopper population is low at the time of year when they lay eggs, the population next year will be relatively low. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011


When my grandmother Lois Lamar was a child, she would spend a couple months in Galveston each summer. Her father would have to stay in Austin where he worked, but he would join Lois and her mother in Galveston on weekends. Lois, born in November, 1899,  was in Glaveston for the 1909 hurricane. She told me that she and her mother left their cottage and sheltered in a brick building in the center of the city. Being a child with her mother close by for comfort, Lois slept through the worst of the storm. The adults were too nervous to sleep. The memory of the 1900 hurricane was too fresh.

I recently acquired a book about the 1900 hurricane, Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson, which tells the story from the point of view of Isaac Cline, the regional head of the U.S. Weather Bureau. A timeline of the weather bureau shows that in 1898 President McKinley ordered the bureau to establish a hurrican warning system in the West Indies. Wireless telegraph service made this possible. According to Larson's book, the Cuban meteorologists had a better understanding of hurricane behavior than their U.S. counterparts. Unfortunately, Luther Moore, national head of the U.S Weather Bureau at the time, had ruled that only U.S. meteorologists could make wireless transmissions (Cuba was under U.S. control at this time, after the U.S. victory in the Spanish-American war). The Cuban meteorolgists expected the tropical storm that made landfall in Cuba on August 27, 1900, to turn toward the west toward Texas. But Cline, in Galvestron, only received the opinions of the U.S. meteorologists, who were sure the storm would head north over Florida and up the east coast of the U.S.

There was no ship-to-shore wireless service at the time, so the residents of Galveston knew nothing of the hurricane until the storm surge hit. Even then, they still had no idea of the ferocity of the storm. Isaac Cline stayed with his wife an children in their home just 3 blocks from the beach. By the time the eye wall made landfall, it was far too late to seek shelter. Cline's house was demolished by a steel rail road trestle, its inhabitants flung into 20 foot deep, debris-loaded water.

The hurricane remains the United States' deadliest natural disaster. 6000 - 8000 people died that night, and the city, which had been so beautiful the day before, was a pile of rubble and rotting corpses of humans, horses, dogs, cats, chickens, cattle, and wild animals.

There are many variables associated with weather events, some of them quite subtle. Even with satellite images that allow storms to be tracked at the level of meters and even centimeters, no one can accurately predict when a group of thunderstorms will become a tropical depression, nor can anyone say with any degree of certainty whether or not a troical depression will become larger and stronger.

The weather in the southern U.S. in 1900 was unusually warm, as it has been this year. For the areas 100 miles or more inland from the coast, the hurricane would have brought relief from the heat, as a major hurricane this year would bring relief from the drought. 

I grew up in Houston and lived through several hurricanes, the most notable of which was Carla in 1961. I made a sail from wood scraps and a sheet, put on my roller skates, and let the wind push me down the street (what were my parents thinking, to let me do such a thing???). We filled the bathtub, and glass jugs, with water, in case we lost water service. The electricity went out, and neighbors gathered at my friend Beth's house, because her family had a gas cook stove. The streets flooded, and we kids made rafts. I remember it all as good fun. But we were more than 50 miles in from the coast, and only the streets flooded, not our houses. The scariest storm I've experienced was when I was first building the house at Altamira. I had built only a small cabin at the time, and there was no siding yet on two of the walls, just a plastic tarp. There was a metal roof that amplified the sound of the storm. The rain beat down, and the wind blew fiercely and there was almost constant thunder. It was difficult to distinguish the roar of the wind from the crash of thunder. In the morning, a large oak tree about 20 yards from my cabin had been twisted until its trunk broke. A small tornado, I guess. 

I must be thinking of storms because I long so much for rain. I have to go to Tilmon today to water the few remaning trees that have not been killed by grasshoppers: a sophora (Texas Mountain Laurel), 4 loblolly pines, a magnolia (bad grasshopper damage but still hanging on), 3 roses bushes (damaged but still alive), two turk's caps (for some reason, the grasshoppers leave these alone), and vetiver grass, which the grasshoppers don't touch. Vetiver blades have sharp edges, which I think must put the grasshoppers off. These days I dread going there. With the oil well, the grasshoppers, the drought, it's like descending into the outer chambers of hell.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Celebration of Nature

I've noticed that, at least in my time and place, people tend to pick up the philosophical principles according to which they run their lives as package deals. I think this has probably been true for most people most of the time from when humans were first able to think about running their lives according to anything other than instinct.

Since I dislike inelegant sledge-hammer types of technology, people often mistakenly assume that I am against all forms of advanced technology. They also mistakenly assume that I am a vegetarian and a supporter of liberal politicians (liberal as in the modern USian usage of the term). If I tell them I do not give blanket support to the Democratic Party, they assume I like Republicans. And so forth.

One of the things people tend to assume about me, since I enjoy spending time away from the city and since I like to try to work with nature rather than against it, is that I am a tree-hugging nature-lover. I don't so much love nature as appreciate its amazing complexity. I work with it rather than against it out of laziness and the desire for efficiency. One thing I know about the way nature works: every contestant in the game of life is fighting a dangerous, constant battle. Rich city people can thank advanced technology for their ability to forget about the fight for days, weeks, even lifetimes. By rich, I mean anyone who can afford a constant source of electricity, clean water, temperature control, food, and medical technology. Rich people can pay someone else to fight the battle for them.

I am a rich person, by the above definition. There have been periods in my life when I was not rich, when I was not completely sure I'd have enough food, when I could not afford to pay for medical help, when I did not have an entirely secure shelter from the rain. The periods when I was not rich were real eye-openers with respect to nature.

The grasshoppers that have devastated my country garden are a reminder, and I've just had a particularly gruesome reminder due to misplaced trust in a building contractor.

This man, who came highly recommended and whom I trusted, recently built two chicken pens for me. After the first one was built, I noticed there was a gap at the top of the pen. The contractor used a method similar to the one I used at Altamira when I built pens and pole barns, except that I attached the wire to a wood frame on the outside of the poles, so there was no gap between the wire and the roof of the pen. The contractor had his men attach the wire directly to the poles and cross pieces. This leaves a gap at the top of the wire, large enough for my cat to crawl through.

I pointed out the gap to the contractor, and asked him to be sure and not leave a gap on the second pen, and to fix the gap on the first one. He told me he would. This is where I made my big mistake: I trusted the contractor when he said the work was done and did not climb up to inspect the tops of the pens with my own eyes.

Relying on the contractor's word that the pens had been properly constructed, I put 4 mature hens, 10 pullets, two roosters, and 17 half-grown guineas into the pens. When I arrived at Tilmon last night, I caught a possum and a raccoon enjoying chicken dinners, inside the second pen. These two, plus probably all the other small predators in the neighborhood, killed all 4 mature hens, 8 of the pullets, both roosters, and all the guineas.

I've buried the bodies to get rid of the death-smell, and sent an email to the contractor with photos, to give him a graphic demonstration of why I asked him not to leave gaps at the tops of the pens.

The scene last night, viewed by by flashlight, was worthy of a horror movie. Here are a few photos of Nature in Action. Imagine seeing this in brief, disjointed glimpses in the beam of a flashlight while breathing the odor of decaying flesh. Dark cavities with ragged edges, wet with blood serum. Maggots like glistening, squirming grains of rice. I wanted very much to run away and never come back. But I stayed to clean up the mess. It was still horrible in the morning, but not nearly as bad as it was at night.

It occurs to me that what a good horror movie does is make the viewer see what it would be like if one were dropped into the jaws of Nature, without the protection of human technology. Of course, the slaughter of my birds was not really completely natural, since if they had not been penned, they would have been roosting high in trees instead of on roosts that possums and raccoons can reach with ease (in the trees, owls could have been added to the list of potential predators), and absent their association with humans, the birds would probably have had sharper instincts. But still ...

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The San Antonio Garden

I've put my country garden on hold until I can figure out how to work around the grasshoppers. I've thought of a couple of new things to try. One is an automatic watering system. The soil at Tilmon is sandy, so even after a deep watering, the upper layers of soil dry out quickly. Until plants get their roots down deep, they suffer from lack of water when I'm not there during the hot part of the summer to water them every 2 or 3 days. The plants that were kept in containers through the summer last year survived with only minor grasshopper damage. This year, when they were planted in the ground, they didn't survive. I dug them up, planted them in containers, and brought them to San Antonio. Three have died -- a Fuji apple, a peach (lost the tag and don't remember what variety of peach), and a catalpa. The rest seem to be thriving. I've already planted two peach trees. two mulberries, a fig, and a pineapple guava in the garden here in San Antonio. Looking good in containers are an Anna apple, a Le Conte pear, and an Ein Shemer apple. Thes Israeli apple trees (Anna and Ein Shemer) can take the south Texas heat and need very few chilling hours. The grasshoppers have killed 4 peach trees, 3 pears, an apple, and a fig. (I'm making myself feel bad taking inventory in this way; I need to focus on the future instead)

Asking why the trees survived in containers but not in the ground, I came up with the following answers:

1. soil
2. location
3. frequency of watering

I've tried enriching the soil. This actually seemed to increase the grasshopper damage. I guess they were getting more nutrients from the plants grown in healthy soil. I tried planting in the ground where the containers had been. The grasshoppers still defoliated the trees.

The one variable left, unless I've overlooked something, is water. I had an automatic watring system set up to water the containers.

So this is the next thing I'll try in my attempts to make the land at Tilmon into an edible garden.

Meanwhile, the garden in San Antonio is taking shape. We have a small 1-story house (2200 sq ft) on half an acre, so there's a lot of garden space. The existing shrubs and small trees include anaqua, sophora (aka Texas mountain laurel), nandina, pomegranite, and loquat. There are three oak trees, which I have not precisely identified (this is a whole different biosphere from Altamira and Tilmon, and many of the trees are different), an elm (I think), a palm which I think is a Windmill Palm, but I'm not 100% sure, some china berries, and some trees I've never seen before that have very brittle branches. One recently fell across a part of the garden I'd been in only a couple of minutes earlier. It was a large tree, about 40 feet tall. There's another growing next to where it was and seedlings coming up all around. I think I'll keep the one that's still there as a nurse tree while the young fruit trees are getting started, then have it removed. The wood is so brittle, I think it's probably dangerous.

There were no shrubs defining the perimeters of any of the garden spaces. The place was mostly a jumble of weeds. I've let many of them grow back, just to hold down the soil and give the birds and lizards food and refuge. There are many sunflowers, which attract dozens of cardinals and doves. The hedges I've planted are growing so you can sort of see the outlines of the hedges; there are always dozens of tomatoes and peppers to eat and give away and many flowers blooming. I was pretty sad for a while, because of the grasshopper devastation in Timon. I felt like a failure as a gardener. But I'm beginning to feel better now, as the SA garden takes shape.

Here are some photos. Next year at this time, I'll look at these and say, "It looked so bare!" But it's a beginning. I've included a very quick and very rough sketch of the part of the garden directly behind the house. The yellow highlighted areas are raised beds. The Hever Castle Buddleia is planted along the drive way. There are cannas planted in front of the ugly wooden fence. they should grow tall enough to almost complete hide it. In front of the buddleia (looking from the direction of the house) are shrub roses. In front of the rose bushes are various perennial flowers including salvias and day lilies. The Pride of Barbados (what San Antonio garden would be complete without this flamboyant shrub?) is against the stucco wall of the back underpinning. The house is built on a slope. The floor is at ground level on the north side and high up off the gound on the south side. The south side was the front yard when the house was built. Later, the lot to the south was subdivided and sold, and another house was built on it. So the back of our house now faces the street. This all sounds very confusing as I read it. I apologize for that, but I don't have time to go back and make it clearer now, as the outdoor temperature is getting bearable. Time to go outside and play in the garden. It gets too hot here for gardening to be enjoyable except in the mornings and evenings. At those times of the day, it's rather pleasant.

Knapped Flint

While I was sitting in the garden day before yesterday digging a hole for a Fanick's phlox, I found a piece of flint. This is unusal, as flint does not seem to occur naturally in my yard.

It looks like a spear head someone threw away when it was only partly done, probably because it split in such a way that the finished head could not be shaped correctly. I wondered if I was just imaging this scenario. Was this a partially finished, or just a piece of flint?

Below I've pasted in part of an article from This is about knapped flint from the eastern hemispere, but I would think it should also apply to flints worked in Texas. My spear head (if that's what is was going to be) has ripples, bulbs of precussion, secondary working (see right edge of upper photo), fissures. Hard to see how it could be anything other than knapped flint.

I've been told that there was once a spring in our back yard. This is not difficult to believe. San Pedro Springs park with its spring-fed swimming pool is less than half a mile from here. It's easy to imagine a group of people spending time here, toward the top of the hill overlooking the San Antonio River bottom. To imagine that someone sat in the same place as I was sitting when I planted the phlox, making spear heads, talking. I wonder if he cursed when the flint cracked and ruined his spear head. Of if he just shrugged, "Meh," tossed it away and pulled another piece of flint from his bag. I say "he" and "his" because I'm pretty sure men made the spear and (later) arrow heads and did the hunting and fighting.

How to Identify Knapped Flint Tools.

Markings on knapped flints
Whilst the use of some flint tools is obvious from their shape and size, many are not, and it requires an expert to ascertain their exact use and age. But perhaps more importantly, how do you tell if a piece of flint is a tool, or just a piece of flint?
Knapped flint has several characteristics, and while none are fully diagnostic of a knapped flint, virtually all knapped flints will display one or more of the following, as displayed in the picture.
  • Ripples (ripple marks on the flat surfaces radiating away from th point of percussion)
  • Bulb of Percussion (a small lump left in the flint immediately below the point it was struck)
  • Secondary working or 'nibbling' (fine working on the edge of a tool to sharpen or resharpen it)
  • Point of Percussion (sometimes shows as a small area of damaged or crumbled flint where it was struck, above the bulb of percussion)
  • Percussion Platform (the flat 'edge' remaining where the flint was struck from the edge of a flat face of a core)
  • Fissures (fractures produced by the shock of the knapping)
  • Percussion Scar (a scar of less cleanly cleaved flint below the point of percussion)
  • Polishing (occasionally scrapers and similar tools will show signs of a high polish from much use, though the fully polished tools, ie. stone axes, sometimes seen in museums, are very rare finds, and would have had more to do with wealth and ceremony than 'working' tools)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Saving Green Lives

I have given up trying to grow fruit trees at Tilmon, or anything else other than mesquite, juniper, prickly ash, and bull nettles. The grasshoppers have beat me, at least for now.

I tried everything I could think of, short of toxins that would kill birds, amphibians, and mammals along with the hoppers: NoLo Bait  horticultural kaolin, low-dose Sevin bait (Eco-Bran), putting black plastic on the ground around the trees, putting screen cages around the trees, coating the leaves, branches and trunks with pepper spray. Nothing seemed even to put a dent in the number of grasshoppers knawing at my trees. I had one particularly healthy peach tree that survived last year's grasshopper defolitation. I even hoped it might be large enough and strong enough to survive this year and maybe produce fruit next summer. When I left one Sunday, it had a fine big canopy, higher than the top of my head. The following Friday when I returned, it had been completely defoliated and the branches eaten down to nubs.

The fuckers are even eating the needles off my 2-year-old pine trees. (please forgive my rude choice of words, but I can't think of anything more appropriate).

I couldn't bear to just let everything die. I started digging up the trees and shrubs and moving them to San Antonio. There was no point in trying to move the pines -- they crave acidic soil, and the soil and water in San Antonio are toward the alkaline end of the pH scale. So I left them. I also left two rose bushes that, for reasons I cannot yet grasp, the grasshoppers are not molesting, and one rose bush that is being eaten but is too large to comfortably move. If they completely defoliate it, I will cut it back and dig it up. The turk's caps seem to be holding their own, and one pear tree that's planted among some prickly ash trees. This is my most promising clue: the plants that have not been destroyed by the hoppers are the ones planted in close proxmity to prickly ash trees.  Two of the pines are next to prickly ash trees, and so far these pines are OK. I will certainly follow up on this clue, especially if the plants close to prickly ash trees continue to survive mostly intact.

I have brought to SA in containers fig, apple, pear, and peach trees, rose bushes, day lillies, cassava, blue berry. The blueberry is risky, since blueberries like acidic soil -- I'll add some sulfur to the container and hope for the best. This fall after the weather cools, I'll take the blueberry back to Tilmon and plant it next to a prickly ash tree.

Here's the way the trees looked after the'y been worked over by the hoppers. This is a Le Conte pear. the trunk and baby limbs are white from the kaolin coating I put on the to try to keep the hoppers from girdling them and killing them. That much, at least, did work.

Here's the way they look after being in their containers in San Antonio for a couple of weeks, with much TLC from me in the form of fish emulsion fertilizer and solutions of micronutrients:

There is one peach tree, the one that was especially beautiful and healthy just a month ago, that may not make it. It's a very sad sight, indeed. Yet I did notice a tiny green tip emerging a couple of days ago, and there are now two small leaves. It's too early to tell for sure, but I think it may survive. The rose bushes are leafing out as though to shout, "What doesn't kill us makes us stronger!"

My husband commented that he can now see why people resort to using strong poisons on insects. The problem is that the poisons are only short-term fixes. Better, in my opinion, and certainly more elegant, to figure out how to discourage the hoppers without wiping out a large % of the other animals in the region as well.

In addition to having an Idea (prickly ash as nurse trees), I am also raising some guinea keets.  Now that I've saved many of the trees and shrubs, I'm no longer as sad about the situation. I'm able to take an interest in it as an interesting experiment. I'm glad I wasn't depending on those fruit trees as a major source of food. I guess if I had been, there would have only one thing for it: I would have had to master the art of grasshopper cookery.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

It's Been a While

Blush Noisette in Drought Apr 2011
I didn't feel like writing anything in the blog for the longest time. I even thought of trying to sell this place or sticking a mobile home on it and renting it out and never coming here again. The weather and soil here are challenging enough without toxic neighbors. The situation with the oil well got even worse, as the opertor began venting large quantities of "sour" gas into the air. In mid-March, I sent the following to the operator, with a copy to his attorney (names left out to protect privacy):

Dear WWW

You are not properly disposing of the toxic gas coming from XXX #1 on the YYY lease. Instead, you are venting the gas directly into the air. The level of hydrogen sulfide in the air is high enough to cause burning eyes and throats on my land. I suspect there are also high levels of hydrogen cyanide and sulfur dioxide. I became dizzy and sick to my stomach after breathing the air for four hours last week, and my neighbor ZZZ told me he and his family have suffered similar symptoms. ZZZ has emphysema, and he says the gas from the well makes his cough worse. ZZZ's grandson's wife, who also lives on the land next to mine, is pregnant. Hydrogen sulfide can cause birth defects if a pregnant woman is exposed to it.

Because of the gases you are venting from your well, I am unable to spend more than two or three hours on my land when the wind is blowing from the north. Besides violating state rules on on H2S safety, your venting H2S into the air is denying me the use of my surface rights.

Please correct the situation immediately. 

The situation was altered within the next couple of days. Now the operator is piping the gas half a mile away and releasing it on someone else's land. So the air at the Berry Farm smells sweet and fresh, but someone else has to breathe H2S.

Here's the thing that makes me feel especially sad: I am not an innocent party. I use gasoline and oil in my car. I use methane and propane. I buy goods that have been transported across long distances, using fuel that comes from wells like the one next to my land. Even the photovoltaic system I used at Altamira required fossil fuel to make the equipment and ship it. At this very moment, I am consuming electricity created by generators running on methane (natural gas).

I've tried living without electricity, and I didn't like it. Even before I put in the electrical system at Altamira, I used kerosene and propane lanterns. Even when I heated my house with a wood burning stove, I used a gasoline powered chain saw to cut up the wood. I loved my chain saw. I love machines. I don't have any desire to return to life as it was in the 18th century.  What I'd like to have happen, if I were writing the script, is small-scale photovoltaic and wind systems that wouldn't require huge power lines, and more efficient energy storage systems, and perhaps a completely new energy source.

The weather and land here at the Berry Farm continue to be vicious. Hard to believe, but there was a frost here this past week. The low temperature for the week at the Austin airport was something like 46, but it got down to 32 here, just 40 miles away (and to the south!). Killed the new growth on the catalpa tree and grape vines and even one of the sophora trees, which is a tough central Texas native. Made the fava bean blossoms shrivel up and turn black. There was frost damage to the new leaves on the pear trees.  It's all very discouraging. The gardening mentors of my youth told me: "Plant your corn when the mesquite trees start to leaf out." The mesquite trees were wrong this year. Then, of course, there's the lack of rain. Pity I don't have the contact info for the person to whom to write a cease and desist letter concerning the weather.

I've been reading a book about relatively abrupt climate change (that appears to have been global in scope) in the 16th century -- the beginning of what's known at the Little Ice Age. There's something to be learned from those times. In particular, the Dutch people provided an example of a good response, which was to change the way they grew food, adopting a more diverse range of food crops and changing their methods of farming. The French, on the other hand, provided an example of how NOT to respond. They insisted on keeping their traditional ways of farming, even if it meant death by starvation to thousands.

Speaking of thousands, there are thousands of baby grasshoppers hopping around the Berry Farm. I'm trying Surround kaolin spray on the fruit trees, putting a thin layer on the leaves. I think I'll try painting the trunks with a thick layer. The most horrible thing the grasshoppers did last year was eat the bark on the young fruit trees, girdling them, which caused them to die.

On the brighter side, the roses and phlox are beautiful, and the collards taste better after a frost.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

USDA Deregulates GM Alfalfa

The USDA is considering only two options:

1) fully deregulate GM alfalfa OR
2) conditionally deregulate it by placing certain rules and restrictions on growing GM alfalfa that would minimize or limit contamination of non-GM crops (including organic).

Far as I can tell from what available online, the only advantage of growing the GM alfalfa is that one can eliminate all non-GM plant life on the field by spraying the herbicide Roundup.  According to Gurain-Sherman* using Roundup does not increase yields significantly, even over the short term. In the long run, weeds will become resistant to Roundup, either through naturally occurring mutations or through borrowing the Roundup Ready gene from GM crops. Herbicide resistance has already become a large problem in some locations (

*Gurain-Sherman,D. 2009. Failure to yield: evaluating the performance of genetically engineered crops. Cambridge (MA): Union of Concerned Scientists.

Dangers of Consuming Genetically Modified Organisms

American Academy of Environmental Medicine:


There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects. There is causation as defined by Hill's Criteria in the areas of strength of association, consistency, specificity, biological gradient, and biological plausibility.The strength of association and consistency between GM foods and disease is confirmed in several animal studies.2,6,7,8,9,10,11 
Specificity of the association of GM foods and specific disease processes is also supported. Multiple animal studies show significant immune dysregulation, including upregulation of cytokines associated with asthma, allergy, and inflammation. 6,11 Animal studies also show altered structure and function of the liver, including altered lipid and carbohydrate metabolism as well as cellular changes that could lead to accelerated aging and possibly lead to the accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). 7,8,10 Changes in the kidney, pancreas and spleen have also been documented. 6,8,10 A recent 2008 study links GM corn with infertility, showing a significant decrease in offspring over time and significantly lower litter weight in mice fed GM corn.8 This study also found that over 400 genes were found to be expressed differently in the mice fed GM corn. These are genes known to control protein synthesis and modification, cell signaling, cholesterol synthesis, and insulin regulation. Studies also show intestinal damage in animals fed GM foods, including proliferative cell growth9 and disruption of the intestinal immune system.
Regarding biological gradient, one study, done by Kroghsbo, et al., has shown that rats fed transgenic Bt rice trended to a dose related response for Bt specific IgA. 11 
Also, because of the mounting data, it is biologically plausible for Genetically Modified Foods to cause adverse health effects in humans. 
In spite of this risk, the biotechnology industry claims that GM foods can feed the world through production of higher crop yields. However, a recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists reviewed 12 academic studies and indicates otherwise: "The several thousand field trials over the last 20 years for genes aimed at increasing operational or intrinsic yield (of crops) indicate a significant undertaking. Yet none of these field trials have resulted in increased yield in commercialized major food/feed crops, with the exception of Bt corn."12However, it was further stated that this increase is largely due to traditional breeding improvements. 
Therefore, because GM foods pose a serious health risk in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health, and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health and are without benefit, the AAEM believes that it is imperative to adopt the precautionary principle, which is one of the main regulatory tools of the European Union environmental and health policy and serves as a foundation for several international agreements.13 The most commonly used definition is from the 1992 Rio Declaration that states: "In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation."13