Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cross-pollination Potluck!

Lots of excitement in and out of the garden these days. We have new families participating in the garden and am meeting lots of like-minded friends in the greater Austin community through a permaculture design course I'm taking.

So, I thought it might be nice to bring these two groups together for an informal gathering at my house this SUNDAY, Nov. 3rd @ 5-8pm  2808 Pickwick Lane (78746)

The Rollingwood Community Garden will be open prior to potluck from 3-5pm.  Hoping you'll get a chance to check it out before heading over to my house.

I'll have beer/wine, pumpkin soup and bread.  Bring whatever else you feel!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Early Fall Harvest

Fall Planting and Harvesting

  It has been wonderful being involved with the autumn planting at RWCEG. Evan and I had planted part of Bed 1 right around the Autumnal Equinox (Sept 23) when my parents from Phoenix, AZ were visiting. My mother has been an avid gardener for years and my father has taken his hand to growing citrus trees in the past few years, so they were rather interested in helping us with new planting. To our amazement most of our plants have thrived, especially the Mustard Greens to date. The mild weather and abundant rain fall have been such a blessing for the garden. Our mustard greens have grown so much that we have already reaped our first major harvest about month after planting! Below is a picture of Evan next to some of the plants and a Red Giant Mustard Green leaf that he harvested. After our harvest, we ate them with hamburger, and it really added a lot of spicy flavor!

Evan admiring the crops he planted in Bed 1
Evan excited about harvesting mustard greens.

Red Giant Mustard Green leaf harvested by Evan

Is It Snowing at RWCEG?

     Unfortunately, there have been a few problems discovered at the garden. The Southwest corner of Bed 1 has a huge ant mound. The ants do not appear to be hurting the plants, but they are a nuisance to us gardeners. We have treated the corner of the bed and along the base with the ant insecticide, Andro. I believe this has reduced the ants, but they are still there.
    Also, despite the fact many of the plants have grown several large healthy leaves, many of them are riddled with small holes. Upon close inspection during day and night time hours, several small green and black/yellow caterpillars have been discovered to be the culprit. They are usually found on the underneath side of the leaves. We have been diligent to squash them as they are found, but we know this can be quite a battle. As a result, infected plants in both Beds 1 and 2 have been dusted with Bt powder. (See end of blog for details of Bt). Since the Bt insecticide used is a white powder, the treated plants appear to have "snow" on them as shown in the picture below. So far Bed 3 does not appear to have a problem but a close eye should be kept on it.

Snow? No! Beds 1 and 2 have been dusted with BT due to hungry caterpillars.

Hope to see more garden members at RWCEG at our new community time: Sundays 3-5 pm. The place really comes to life when we have the whole community there at the same time.

A few details about "BT" for those interested:
  • Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a naturally occurring bacterial disease of insects. These bacteria are the active ingredient in some insecticides.
  • Bt insecticides are most commonly used against some leaf- and needle-feeding caterpillars. Recently, strains have been produced that affect certain fly larvae, such as mosquitoes, and larvae of leaf beetles.
  • Bt is considered safe to people and nontarget species, such as wildlife. Some formulations can be used on essentially all food Crops.

- Glenn & Evan Starnes  10/25/2013

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

New Garden Gathering time- SUNDAYS 3-5pm

Hello Garden Folk,
We have planted most of the beds just in time for this incredible rain.  AND decided to change our meet time on the weekends to SUNDAY 3-5pm to hopefully allow more friends and families to come by, learn and get involved in our little green slice of paradise.

Stop by this Sunday, Oct.20th @ 3-5pm (as always, weather permitting :)

Monday, September 30, 2013

RWCEG Steering Committee Meeting next Tuesday, Oct.1st @6:30 pm

RWCEG Steering Committee Meeting--Tuesday, Oct.1st @6:30 pm

Come to the garden and join in on the planting and tending of the Fall season!  We would love to see some new faces in the garden and are happy to work with your schedule and availability, even a commitment of a half hour for watering once a week is appreciated.  It's a great way to unwind from the work/ school day and connect with nature and your family.

Can't make it to the meeting but want to get involved?  Just send an email to and we'll get you in to the mix.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tues. Sept 17th-Opportunity to help design sustainable garden beds and learn about soil

We had a great turn out at the wicking bed workshop last weekend and eagerly began emptying out the tallest garden bed to install our wicking system (click on link to learn more)

while shoveling out soil, we noticed the perimeter wood frame we installed three years ago was rotting and the structure, without the soil, had become very rickety.  

We had been told by our garden consultants at the time of initial construction that the Douglas Fir wood planks we used would eventually rot over time and need to be we thought we would take this opportunity to look at OTHER types of raised bed construction that would be ECO, ECONOMICAL, BEAUTIFUL and SUSTAINABLE!  Some of the suggestions were cinder block, stone masonry and recycled plastic wood plank decking as perimeter building materials.  Our plan is to do some research this week and meet back at the garden next TUESDAY, Sept. 17th at 7pm to present options, brainstorm and come up with a SUSTAINABLE SOLUTION.  We welcome ALL to come and join the brain trust.  

In addition, we will have a guest speaker, Patrick of Microbial Earth Farm, who will talk to us about soil testing and food forests!  

Hope you can stop by for the "constructive" fun!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Dirt on Texas Grub Worms

Background: During a garden community gathering on Saturday morning, September 7th, several members were involved in shoveling out all the soil from Garden Bed 1 as the first phase to install an experimental water wicking system. During this effort, a large “grub worm” was discovered deep in the north-west corner of the bed. Out of concern for the worm and future plants, my son, Evan, removed the worm and transplanted it outside the garden (near the chimney swift habitat across the park).  See below for images of the grub worm.

Evan holding a Grub Worm found at RWCEG

Close up of the Grub Worm

Identification: As the so-called “garden entomologist”, I was asked to identify the worm and determine if they are a potential threat to the garden. Per my research to date, I believe the grub worm to be the larvae stage of a scarab class beetle commonly known as the May Beetle or June Bug (most common is Phyllophaga crinit).  I base this on positive image identification from several websites. Furthermore, back in June, Evan and I discovered a few adult June Bug beetles caught and strangled in the bird netting that covered that garden bed at the time. Below is a picture of one such tangled beetle in the netting. Also included is a clear picture of a June Bug beetle.

June Bug beetle found caught in netting at RWCEG back in June.

June Bug (Scarab) Beetle

Are they harmful?  Unfortunately, grub worms can be harmful to lawns and gardens. They eat the roots of grass and vegetable plants (up to 200 times their body weight!). They have been known to destroy lawns if there is a large number of them. However, since the grubs cannot bite or sting, they are benign to people. Since we only found one grub in the garden bed, I doubt it would have been a serious threat, but it is good it was removed.  Since the other garden beds have had all or most plants removed, it would probably be a good idea to sift through the soil of these beds to clear them out if found.

Organic Control:  Of course there are several chemical pesticides on the market used to control grub worms, but according to a “” website, “non-chemical controls include applying beneficial nematodes. These are microscopic round worms that attack white grubs and other soil inhabiting insects. Nematodes need damp soil to travel down into soil where the grubs are feeding. Apply at least ¼-inch of water before and another ¼-inch after spraying the nematodes on the lawn or garden soil. These worms are available in stores or through garden supply catalogs.”  But of course, the best way to remove a grub worm is to find it and then have Evan humanely remove it. Like his garden pest pet, Big Green (a tomato hormworm caterpillar), he actually thinks grub worms are “cute” and has great respect for them.

Further Information:  As gross as it may seem to many of us, several cultures eat Grub Worms indigenous to their areas. For those interested in knowing more details about the life cycle of these creatures and control methods, I encourage you to check out the following websites:

      - Glenn & Evan Starnes

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Evan's Garden Pet, Big Green

    Here is a funny story regarding the psychology of a ten-year old boy with respect to bugs.  The other day I found a few tomato hornworm caterpillars eating our tomato plants in the backyard. I informed  my son Evan, and he became very upset. He had recently been looking at blown-up pictures of these creatures and thus had an inflated image in his mind as to how large and destructive they are. Furthermore, he kept crying that they were "going to pop out at him and 'stink' him".  I think he said this because Mel Bartholomew (author of "Square Foot Gardening") mentioned they can have a foul smelling musk. After pleading with me to help, we went out together to rid our garden of these insidious creatures that had all but destroyed a few tomato plants. However, once Evan finally got a close look at them, he decided they weren't the terrible giant stink monsters he had feared, but rather, he thought they were "kind of cute"!  Anyway, to make a long story short, Evan now has a couple of "hornworm pets".  He is feeding them the rest of his tomato plant in a sealed container and hopes to see them mature into Hawk Moths. As Evan points out, Hawk Moths are good pollinators. We are keeping an eye for these guys at RWCEG because a single worm can eat an entire tomato plant! Below is a picture of his new pet, "Big Green".
        - originally written by Glenn Starnes on June 22, 2013

"Big Green"

The Hawk Moth Arrives!

   As some may recall, I related an amusing story a month ago about my son Evan choosing to make what was a garden pest into a pet. Evan had intentions of destroying a few tobacco hornworm caterpillars (Manduca sexta) that were eating his tomato plants until he realized how "cute" they were. We started with 3 or 4, but only one made it to maturity and started to pupate about 3 weeks ago. To our surprise, this species does not build a chrysalis or cocoon from a hanging branch, but rather, burrows itself a few inches under soil. This past Friday, Evan's hornworm pet, Big Green, emerged as a large moth. The moth species is Manduca sexta, but is commonly called the hawk moth, hummingbird moth, or the orange spotted sphinx moth.

We took the moth to the RWCEG garden in an enclosed hamper Saturday morning to show it to the garden community. That same evening we released the moth to her freedom from our yard (a good distance from RWCEG garden. We do not want the prodigy to become a pest there). Based on the narrow width of the antennae, I believe this moth is a female (males have wider antennae). My kids were very impressed with how beautiful the body of this insect was when the wings were extended. The body is quite thick with large orange spots along the side. The whole body of the moth appeared to be fuzzy. We took several pictures and video. Below are a couple pictures of the moth during her release. We hope you enjoy them.

      -Glenn & Evan   originally written July 19, 2013

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Wicking bed garden project-Sat. Sept.7th 9am

Hello Garden Friends,
Now that it's officially "Fall", with Labor Day over, kids back in school and nothin' but 100 degree temps in sight,  I humbly invite you back to the garden this Saturday, Sept.7th at 9am to transform one of the raised beds to a WICKING BED.    What's a wicking bed, you might ask?  Well as of two weeks ago, I had no idea either, until I went to a Transfarming meet-up at my new friend Arturo's house, where he lead a class on aquaponics and introduced us to all sorts of alternative growing methods, one of which, was wicking beds.

A wicking bed is essentially a raised bed that is extremely efficient at keeping it's plants hydrated and holding in vital nutrients in the soil which otherwise get washed away.  I have noticed over the past 3 years (yes, it's really been three years!) of intense gardening in our 3- 4'x12' beds, that no matter how much we "love" our soil in the form of composting, fertilizing and planting nitrogen-rich cover crops--the beds are just plain tired and the production and yield of vegetables and fruits is way down.

So I'm thinking we try an experiment and remove all the old, tired soil out of one of the beds, install a waterproof bed liner and PVC subterranean watering system and fill it in with fresh loads of compost and soil and see what happens this fall.  I know at minimum, we'll be saving a ton of water and hopefully seeing a major uptick on the fall crop production.  Hope you can bring a shovel and join me Saturday on another adventure in the great garden experiment!

This is a wicking bed.  Notice the PVC pipe that creates a subterranean watering system.  Arturo says he waters ONCE EVERY 3 WEEKS!!!!  Compare this front bed to the one in the back that is a standard raised bed.

This is Arturo's super cool greenhouse aquaponics set up.  I plan on trying this at home!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Tomatoes, Poppies, Swallowtail Caterpillars!

Life has been good in the garden--lots of rain, sun, cool temps and no frost have given us a bang up growing season of lettuces, sorrel, chard, mint, beets, parsley, cilantro, peas and our first ripe yellow tomatoes!  Come on by Saturday mornings to take home some of the harvest.

Marigolds, daisies and these lovely poppies add a splash of color to the garden and help deter pests 
Sometimes it's tricky to know what's a good bug and what's not, apart from the obviously welcome and easily recognizable ladybug.  Luckily we have Becky Combs as our resident bug researcher.  She is forever collecting bug specimens and taking them to Natural Gardener for analysis.  I'm hoping she might share her in depth knowledge in a blog post soon (c'mon Beck!)  The other day she was informing me on good caterpillars and bad when she noticed several brightly colored swallow-tailed caterpillars on the dill and fennel stalks. 

I counted about 4 of these beauties on Saturday.  Hopefully they will make cocoons soon and I'll keep you posted as they mature and morph. With any luck, we should see them turn into this...

Isn't nature the coolest?  Thanks Beck for keeping us informed and creating a habitat for these beautiful and important creatures.  See ya in the garden!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

"Food is the problem and the solution"

Please take the time to watch this TED talk with my new hero, Ron Finley.   He is whip smart and passionate about growing healthy food in the vacant lots and street medians of So. Central LA.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A big, fat THANK YOU to RWC, Dick Pierce and RWCEG volunteers!

It was a beautiful, not-windy, evening under the twinkling lights of the garden.  Children running in and out with fresh picks to place amongst the delicious dips and treats lovingly prepared by our garden fairies.  We had a nice group of women (and even some men!) come to hear Dick Pierce extol the virtues of clean, garden living.  He challenged us to live simply, 800 sq.ft. per person is plenty and plant more compact, raised bed gardens, (4'x4' and 8 hours of sun is all you need) in our FRONT lawns to create community.  He suggested planting more fruiting trees and what might work around garden; pomegranate, pear, plum and even some apple varieties.

I think the RWC is already planning to plant some dedication trees...

All in all, it was a great night for community and discussion about sustainability.  Thank you so much to all of you who came out, helped out and participated in our great garden experiment!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

RWCEG hosts RWC- Tues. Feb.26th 5-7pm

We are so excited to unveil our latest project to the Rollingwood Women's Club next Tuesday at their monthly meeting.  It's something we've been working on really since the garden's inception and is crucial to our mission to educate and inspire our community about how to grow your own food sustainably.

Early this month we installed four 18"x 36" signs on the exterior of the garden's perimeter fence explaining our mission, square foot gardening, rainwater collection and composting methods employed in the garden.

The text was created by Abigail King, graphics by Lisa Kirkpatrick and a group effort was headed by Don Harris to install the signs.  They're up for all to see and create a fun and informative addition to the hike and bike trail.

Thanks Rollingwood Women's Club for funding this important addition to the lower park!

Our guest speaker for the meeting will be 
Dick Pierce, of the Sustainable Food Center's "Citizen Gardner" program.  Dick is a force of nature when it comes to inspiring others to grow and connect with their community through food and I hope you can all come to the garden to hear him speak at 6pm Tues. Feb. 26th

Since the meeting starts a bit earlier than usual, 5pm, we wanted to create an activity for any kids that might arrive in tow.  Our scarecrow is in dire need of some new attire; old clothes, gloves, scarves, hats, and wigs plundered from your dress-up stash would be much appreciated.  With the help of the kids, we hope to keep her looking fresh.

Here's some inspiration.  See you at the garden soon!


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Looking for a few good tires...

Virginia Rogan used to help out at her kids school garden and mentioned a fun project planting potatoes in tires.  I have not been able to stop thinking about it--the space saving resourcefullness and sheer fun of digging through dirt with the kids to find little tuber treasures is right up this garden's alley.  So when I read in today's paper that it was time to start planting potatoes, I was ALL over it!

Here's a link to a beginners guide to gardening with kids:

Hoping you'll let me know if you have a tire or 2 laying around that you might want to contribute to the project?  And maybe some, past their prime, sprouted organic potatoes sitting in your pantry?
More soon.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Year's resolution

Hello Dear Garden Friends and Welcome to 2013!
It's been a tough growing season in the garden.  Lots of rain in the Spring and a dry warm Fall has left what usually is our best fall season of hearty greens, cauliflower and broccoli, full of little black bugs and worms.  We fight back with organic deterrents, vigilant eyes and fingers to squish.  At a certain point you just accept what you get and make due with less than picture perfect produce and the occasional worm in your cauliflower.

This is just one of the many lessons to take away from our sweet, green oasis in the park.  Another, for me, has been PATIENCE.  In the outside world I move fast and like everything else to follow suit.  When a project lingers or stalls, I get antsy.  The garden has been a slow journey.  We managed the great feat of getting the garden built with the help of a huge turnout from the community, but the day-in, day-out care and planting has fallen to a handful of us.  We are NOT complaining.  I have always felt that worse case, this garden is small enough to be managed by a single person, and if that single person happens to be tending the garden and a curious kid wanders over from the playground, maybe that kid  plucks a sweet pea off the vine and tastes, or places her hand on the cistern to see how full it is from a recent rainfall, or he gets to take a turn rolling the composter, watching the fresh greens magically turn to brown nutrient-rich soil.  And MAYBE, that kid goes home, tells his family and they try cooking something new or planting some of their own sweet peas.  This is the slow and important process of the garden.

Luckily, that happens every time I open the gate, and I think this is what keeps all of us inspired and willing to keep showing up on Saturday morning to open that gate, head to the farmers market and keep on planting, no matter what.

Here's an article from Mark Bittman that pretty much sums up the patience thing.

We have our next Garden meeting Saturday, Jan. 12th, 10am at the garden where we'll be approving final educational signage.

Unveiling of the Educational Signage will be at the Tues. February 26th meeting of the Rollingwood Womens Club.

And for those of you that have resolved to get more involved in the community, there are 2 seat openings for the Rollingwood Park Commission.  Please contact Robyn Ryan @ 327-1838 for details.