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This is what my mother’s vegetable garden looks like in the middle of winter.  
 
She works hard at growing a variety of vegetables in her two raised beds.  On Wednesday nights, we all gather for dinner at her house and get to enjoy many of the delicious vegetables straight from her garden.   
 
Sadly, her plans for this season’s vegetable garden faced a serious setback.
 
 
My mother fell and broke her leg while cooking dinner with my youngest daughter.  Both bones in her lower leg suffered multiple fractures, and a metal rod had to be inserted down into her tibia.
 
Understandably, she cannot put any weight on her foot for at least two months.  So, while she works hard at physical therapy to gain as much independence as she can – we decided to help out with her garden.
 
 
My kids, along with my nephews, were eager to help with Grandma’s garden.  We stopped by the nursery to pick up broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and leaf lettuce transplants while I brought some carrot and radish seeds from home.
 
Lucky for us, she had already amended her soil with one of my favorite soil amendments – used coffee grounds (from Starbucks).  I added some of my favorite organic vegetable fertilizer for the garden, and we were ready to start planting.
 
 
I instructed the kids on where and how to plant the vegetable transplants in staggered rows.
 
My sister was also watching us and even stepped in to help out, despite the fact that she never gardens.  
 
 
The kids were eager to help out their grandmother, and we all enjoyed out time out in the garden.  
 
I took a few photos to bring back to her at the rehabilitation facility where she is recuperating, to show her what her grandkids had done for her.


My mother is doing well and is working hard at her daily physical therapy sessions so that she can get home as soon as possible.  We visit her daily, and her room has pictures drawn by her grandchildren and cards from friends and family.

On our most recent visit, my grandson discovered the delights of pushing around his grandpa using great-grandma’s wheelchair.  His smile and laughter brightened everyone’s day.
 
Meanwhile, back at the vegetable garden.

 

 
I came back to check on the newly planted vegetables.  Most were doing quite well, but I did see a few plants with telltale holes in their leaves.
 
 
I discovered the culprit nearby.  Cutworms are caterpillars that eat holes in leafy vegetables as well as ‘cut’ off young vegetable transplants at their base. 
 
  
The cutworms did kill some of the newly transplanted broccoli, but most of the leafy greens were fine other than a few holes in the leaves.
 
I brought my favorite organic pesticide, BT (Bacillus thuringiensis), which kills the caterpillars.  I like to use Safer Brand 5163 Caterpillar Killer II Concentrate, 16 oz in my own garden, which helps keep the caterpillars at bay.
 
 
I sprayed all the vegetables, taking care to spray both top and underneath the leaves.  
 
BT can be reapplied every 7 – 10 days until the caterpillars are gone.  
 
**Note; it can be hard to find BT in your local big box store or even some nurseries.  However, you can find it offered online from garden supply companies and Amazon (affiliate link).
 

Have you planted any vegetables this season?  What are your favorites?

*This blog post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). Thanks for your support in this way.

When much of the nation is freezing their socks off, and their gardens are covered in a blanket of snow, I realize how much of a blessing it is to live in a climate where I can harvest vegetables from my garden in January.
My latest excursion out to the vegetable garden found Swiss chard, leaf lettuce, peas, spinach, broccoli, and carrots ready for picking.
 
Except for the broccoli (which I had other plans for), all of my freshly-picked veggies were going into our salad.
 
 
One crop that I have really enjoyed growing this year, is Swiss chard.  It grows so easily and I love its rainbow-colored stems.  
 
Believe it or not, Swiss chard tastes delicious in salads.
 
My lettuce had a tough start this fall with caterpillars eating much of it until I brought out the big guns – BT Bacillus thurgiensis, which is an organic control for the caterpillars.  It worked just great! I used Safer Brand 5163 Caterpillar Killer II Concentrate, 16 oz.
 
I won’t go into all the details of how it works, although it is quite interesting.  For those of you who would like to learn more about BT, click here.
 
 
Here is a close-up of my salad.  You can’t see the carrots too well, but they are there.
 
 
It was so refreshing and delicious, especially when dressed with my grandmother’s ‘Top Secret’ Salad Dressing.  
 
 
I have recently revealed my grandmother’s secret recipe to my daughters, who now can make easily.  
 
So, what is in store for my vegetable gardens this month?
 
I have planted another crop of radishes, carrots, leaf lettuce and spinach.  
 
Next month, will be a busy month in the garden with getting ready to plant warm-season veggies.  
 
I can hardly wait!

I don’t think that my sister’s chicken has ever seen a caterpillar that large before.

Do you think she will eat it?  Or will the caterpillar emerge victorious?
I’ll let you know at the end of this post…

Those of you who have ever grown tomatoes probably recognize this green, horned caterpillar.


If you are not familiar with this green menace, let me introduce you to the ‘tomato hornworm’.

As their name suggests, they love to eat tomatoes and the leaves on their plants.

What you may not know is that also like to eat potato, pepper and eggplants as well.

What is even worse, is that they can be a little hard to find.  With their green color, they blend in well with the tomato plants.  Tomato hornworms also tend to hide underneath the leaves.

At this point you may be wondering if you have these pesky caterpillars on your tomato plants.  How can you tell?  

Well, some telltale signs include holes eaten from the leaves and tomatoes.  You may also see little green pellets (caterpillar poop) on the leaves.

The only way to know for certain is to go looking for them.


So what do you do if you find out your tomatoes are infested with these caterpillars and how did they get there in the first place?


Well, tomato hornworms grow up into moths who in turn, lay eggs on the underside of tomato leaves.  The eggs hatch in about a week and the newly emerged caterpillars start eating non-stop for 4 – 6 weeks.


As if that weren’t enough bad news, as the caterpillars grow larger, they eat more.  After about a month on gorging themselves, they drop into the soil where they form a cocoon and transform into a moth who will start the cycle again by laying eggs.


How can you do to get rid of them?


Well, there are a few ways to get rid of them and even help to prevent them in the future.


– The easiest way to get rid of a current infestation of tomato hornworms is to simply pick them off and dunk them into soapy water, which kills them.


– If pulling off large, green caterpillars isn’t your thing, then you can spray them with a product that contains Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), which infects the stomach of the hornworm, killing it.  Bt is safe for animals and plants.


– There are some wasps that will act as parasites to the caterpillars and lay their eggs directly onto them.  The eggs hatch and the larvae eat the caterpillar.


Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not have to deal with tomato hornworms at all.  So, I am all about prevention.


– In the fall, till the soil around your tomato plants.  This will unearth any cocoons that are attempting to overwinter in the soil, which kills them.  Do this again in spring, before planting new tomato plants.  This is usually 90% effective in getting rid of tomato hornworm cocoons before the moth emerges.


Okay, so back to the chicken, caterpillar face-off…


My sister’s chicken Francie is a ‘naked-neck’ chicken and yes, she is supposed to look that way 😉

It turns out that the chickens were a little put off by the large size of the caterpillars.  So, they wouldn’t touch them.


That is until… the caterpillars were cut up into smaller pieces.  Then the chickens couldn’t eat them fast enough. (I know, kind of gross, isn’t it?)


**I want to thank my sister, Grace, for her fabulous pictures.  You can find out more about her photography, here.




*This blog post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). Thanks for your support in this way.*

Last week, as I walked out into the back garden, I noticed something that didn’t look right with my a few of my yellow bell shrubs (Tecoma stans stans)

The photo, above, shows how they should normally look, however, last week, they looked like this….

Definitely not normal looking and manyM of the outer leaves were skeletonized, and it got worse. All four of my yellow bell shrubs had the same symptoms.  So, did my orange jubilee shrubs, which are closely related.

To be honest, I was a bit stunned to see the damage.  You see, I had grown these beautiful shrubs for over 14 years and have never seen this before – not even in landscapes I managed or when consulting.

What was interesting is that other shrubs right next to my yellow bells and orange jubilee weren’t in the least bit affected. So, what is eating my leaves?

I looked at the symptoms – the skeletonized leaves, the fact that many of my leaves were ‘rolled’ and little black dots (insect poop) told me that my shrubs were suffering from ‘leaf rollers,’ which are tiny caterpillars that roll the leaf around them while they eat.  It is hard to spot the caterpillars themselves, but the damage they cause, usually makes it easy to diagnose.

Now that I noticed my yellow bells and orange jubilee shrubs being affected – I have noticed these same shrubs being affected in my neighborhood, along freeways and other areas.  I don’t know why leaf rollers are affecting these shrubs all of a sudden after all these years.  I suspect it is the higher than normal rainfall we experienced this summer, but I don’t know for certain.

Regardless of why leaf rollers are affecting these beautiful shrubs – there are ways to get rid of them. Here are a few different options:

1. Prune off the affected growth and dispose of the leave in the trash can (not in your compost pile).  

2. Treat your shrub using a biological pesticide that contains BT (Bacillus thuringiensis),  which is ingested by the caterpillars.  BT basically ‘eats’ its way from the caterpillar’s stomach outward. I use Safer Brand 5163 Caterpillar Killer II Concentrate, 16 oz.

3. You can use an insecticide spray to kill the leaf rollers.

4. Lastly, there are systemic insecticides that are applied around the plant and are taken up by the roots – but, their use can lead to the build-up of resistant insects and can have other negative environmental effects.

**Whenever using any pesticide – follow directions carefully. For my shrubs, I will prune back the damaged growth and not apply pesticides. However, if the leaf rollers continue to attack, then I may decide to use a product with BT.

So, if you have yellow bells or orange jubilee shrubs – check them to see if they are being affected by leaf rollers.


**If your bougainvillea leaves are showing signs of being chewed – they may have been visited by ‘bougainvillea looper caterpillars.’  For more information on how to recognize and treat these caterpillars, click here.
Thankfully, the rest of my garden is looking healthy 🙂

Last fall, I planted a flower garden with my children using their old, plastic swimming pool.  You can read more about “A Children’s Garden in an Unusual Place” if you like.  The flowers grew and the kids loved taking care of watering their new plants.  

My mother, (Pastor Farmer), had a few cabbage transplants that she had purchased for her vegetable garden left over and gave them to the kids.  So, we planted two cabbages in the flower garden.

Like most children, my 3 youngest children love to play outside.  One morning, my daughter ran in and told me to hurry outside “to see something really neat.”

What they had discovered was a little caterpillar on one of our transplanted cabbages.  It was so small that I had to put on my “old lady” reading glasses just to see him clearly.
The kids were so excited about their find that they were jumping up and down.  Isn’t it amazing at how the simple things bring such joy into a child’s life?
 
Here is the caterpillar, who the kids named “Wormy”.  I apologize for the out of focus picture, but it is the best one that I have of him.
My children moved a patio chair right next to the the garden so that they could observe their new pet closely.  For three weeks, they would hurry home from school and run outside to sit and watch him – (at least I think it is a him).   
Then in January, the rains came and one day, we could no longer see “Wormy”.  My fear was that maybe he had been washed away by the storm.  To be honest, the kids were not too upset because by that time, they had tired of watching him all of the time and had moved on to watching their new rose shrubs grow.  I am thankful that at least “Wormy” lives on in our pictures and I have another childhood story to share with my children when they grow up.
By the way, the Three Little Roses are doing well and I will post pictures soon.  There have actually been a few surprises.
I hope you are all having a great week!

Okay, you may be thinking, what am I talking about?  Well long ago, on a spring morning, I noticed an intoxicating fragrance in the air that reminded me of grape bubblegum.  Well, there were no candy stores nearby, but I did notice a small tree with beautiful purple blossoms.  It turns out, that the fragrance was coming from the flowers.

The flowers hung down like grape clusters and I later found out that this tree was called Texas Mountain Laurel (Sophora secundiflora).  

I have wanted to share this tree with you for a long time, but wanted to wait until they were flowering.  Well, yesterday as I was visiting my mother (Pastor Farmer) at Double S Farms, I noticed that their Texas Mountain Laurel were beginning to flower and so hurried home to prepare this post.
There are so many wonderful things that I love about this tree.   Of course, the fragrant, purple flowers are my favorite thing, but I also like that this tree is evergreen, drought-tolerant and easy to maintain.
They are native to Texas, New Mexico and Mexico.  They grow approximately 20 – 25 ft. high and 10 – 15 ft. wide.  They grow naturally as a large shrub, but are often seen trained as small trees. 
This beautiful tree is hardy to approximately 20 degrees F.  So, I highly recommend trying it in your landscape.  

They flower in March and their grape bubblegum fragrance is unmistakable.  Seedpods are formed shortly after flowering stops.  I am not a huge fan of seedpods in general, but I really like the ones from this tree – their creamy color and shapes add interest to the tree.

Inside the seedpods are bright red seeds that are extremely hard and poisonous.  Long ago, Native Americans would use the seeds to create bracelets and necklaces.

*One year, my nephews, (Mr. Green Jeans & Monkey Boy), took the seedpods and painted them yellow and painted little snowman faces on them and gave them as gifts for Christmas.  I still have mine and it decorates my Christmas tree every year.

There is a another variety that has gray leaves, which is also just as beautiful in my opinion.

*Caterpillars can become a problem during warm weather, but you can just ignore them and/or pick them off.  If you see loose webbing on the leaves, that is a sign that it is infected by caterpillars.  The damage caused from the caterpillars does not usually hurt the tree.  It helps if you detect the eggs before they hatch and remove them.  Since caterpillars usually infect the new growth, I just prune off the affected areas.

Texas Mountain Laurel is a slow-growing shrub/tree and so I recommend buying the largest size you can afford if possible.  Like so many flowering plants, there are those who formally prune it and remove all of the beautiful flowers – PLEASE don’t do this.


And so in closing, the next time you detect the fragrance of grape bubblegum in the air, look around you and see if you discover the beautiful Texas Mountain Laurel nearby.