Herb Society Holiday Bazaar

Join me on Tues Dec 1 2015 from 9:30-11:30 at Zilker Botanical Garden (inside the garden center building) for the annual Austin Herb Society Holiday Bazzar. I will have a booth there to give out advice and sell gift cards for my services. There will be other vendors selling herb plants, jewlery and other herb-related goodies. I hope to see you there. 


Logro Farms

Last week I made an afternoon trip to Logro Farms, located on Fitzhugh Rd off 290 west. It’s next to Jester King Brewery and Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza. The mushroom farmers take the spent grain from the brewery and use it as media to grow oyster mushrooms, a gourmet variety popular with chefs. They sell the mushrooms to the pizza place next door, making for a hyper-local, extremely sustainable food system. Other chefs are buying uo the oyster mushrooms too. They are also growing hydroponic produce for the pizza place in a very tidy greenhouse. The mushrooms are grown in a special little building that is padlocked to maintain just the right conditions for them and to prevent contamination from other organisms, so I didn’t get to go in there. Ryan, one of the owners, told me they have plans to expand the mushroom production and lots of ideas for how to use the leftover spent mycelium (kinds like mushroom roots). Also, a few weeks ago my husband and I celebrated his birthday at Jester King Brewery, and our friend Joel who works there gave us some samples of the beer they brewed with smoked sea salt and the oyster mushrooms. It was unusual to say the least and would pair well with steak. 

Speaking of leftover spent mycelium, Ryan was nice enough to give me about 200 lbs of that stuff. So…they grow the mushrooms on spent grain, but they also mix in other byproducts like sawdust and coffee grounds. Mushrooms are not plants- they are decomposers. They grow in this mix of stuff that would otherwise be thrown in a landfill. As they grow they partially decompose the stuff they are growing in, making sort of a kind of unfinished compost that still has the mycelium in it but doesn’t have enough nutrition left for the mushrooms to continue growing. I’m experiementing with the stuff Ryan gave me to see what will happens in a home gardening environment with this byproduct of his mushroom production. 

I put some in my compost pile, to see if it will boost the speed of decomposition in my pile. I scattered some over/mixed it into my newly mulched flower beds to see. If the mycelium would age the wood chips in there to a darker color and if the spent grain etc would add nutrition to the soil for the microbes and my plants. I also “planted” some in a couple of tree stumps and a pile of wood chips to see if they will grow. I also gave some to my neighbors for their compost piles. My one neighbor is composting using black soldier fly larvae so it will be interesting to see if they eat it up.  So far not much has happened but it’s only been a few days. 

I’m thinking I whould go get more of it and put it in its own pile to finish composting. I would like to mix it with granite powder from a nearby granite recycling center and with worm castings. I think that might make the perfect all purpose compost for Austin soils. 

By the way, I heard about all of this thru the Austin Materials Marketplace and the Austin Compost Coalition. Both of these awesome organizations are making huge strides to keep resuseable materials out of landfills! I’m happy to participate in both. 

We shot a news segment out there that was super fun! And you can also grow mushrooms at home with Logro’s home growing kit. 



Why Monarch Butterflies mean something to me

A few years ago I caught a NOVA special about Monarch Butterflies. As the opening PBS credits were rolling by I remembered two encounters I had with these odd creatures. 

I remember growing up in Cleveland, working with my mom in her “square foot” style veggie garden which also had lots of flowers growing in it. These giant orange and black butterflies would visit the flowers and my mom and I would always notice, comment and delight. I thought the term Monarch was a little overblown because they seemed kind of clumsy and floppy even though they were so striking and lovely. 

In 2001 my husband and I moved to Austin, TX and I had an office job that I hated. I was sitting outside at lunch and noticed a Monarch Butterfly soaring above the 6 story building where I worked. What the hell? I didn’t know they could fly like that. I thought about the butterfly all afternoon. Now the name made more sense. 

Back to the Nova special… I had heard that the butterflies migrated but I didn’t know anything about it. Turns out the fly all the way from Canada to Mexico, many of them crossing the great lakes on their way. I have a major soft spot for Lake Erie, and knowing that every year butterflies fly all the way accross it blew my mind. My mom lives just a mile or so from the shore so no wonder we saw so many floppy butterflies- maybe they were totally pooped from flying accross the lake! 

When the butterflies get into Austin they start to fly together in big groups. I have been lucky enough to see a few of these groups come through Austin, one huge group on particular came through my neighbor’s yard when his Golden Raintrees were blooming. There were so many of them that I could hear their wings flapping and the trees rustling with their weight. It was so weird.  

I found my way from Cleveland to Austin in my life, and knowing that the Monarchs make a similar, but longer, and more harrowing journey endeared them to me even more. I feel so much love for them that I am planting my front yard with plenty of plants for them including as many milkweeds as I can find. Check out my news segment about the Monarchs at Natural Gardener! Have you seen any Monarchs this year? 

Habitat loss from widespread use of herbicides and pesticides due to GMO crops in the argircultural midsection of the US is one cause of a major decline in Monarch numbers in recent years. Please plant some milkweed, limit your pestiside use and go organic! 


Celebrating Texas Trees

March is a good time to notice Live Oaks! These are the most common shade trees in Austin. If you’re not from Texas you may be alarmed to see our native Live Oaks, Quercus virginiana var. fusiformis, dropping their leaves in March. Don’t worry! Live Oaks are semi- evergreen, so they keep their leaves all winter. They drop their leaves in March and grow them back right away. My friend who grew up in San Antonio told me that he remembers raking up leaves from the two Live Oaks in their front yard during every spring break. Their semi-evergreen nature inspired their common name- they are ‘live’ when other trees are bare. Huge, long-lived and sprawling, these trees are icons of Texas’ history. 
Monterrey Oak, Quercus polymorpha is another favorite well-adapted shade tree and is also semi-evergreen. It looses its leaves more gradually.  It seems like they drop one leaf everyday during the winter until they are bare in the spring. Their leaves grow back right away too. Fast-growing, drought tolerant and reliable, this native of Northern Mexico and South Texas is a new favorite among Austinites. It’s narrow, lolipop shape makes it great for small yards. 
Another common shade tree that is perfect for urban yards is our native Cedar Elm, Ulmus crassifolia. It has a tall, thin shape to fit into narrow spots. Its leaves turn bright yellow in the fall before they drop. Young Cedar Elms have weird, corky growths on the stems that are called ‘wings’. The wings make the young trees look like ugly ducklings at the nursery but I promise that little weird tree will turn into a beautiful swan when it grows up.