Urban Wildlife

It has been a while since I posted anything about the local wildlife (or anything else, for that matter!) but now I’m looking forward to some long anticipated “spare time”!!!

Living in a small town (just over 7,000 people) surrounded by countryside, from time to time there are some unusual visitors to my garden.  Squirrels are everywhere, of course, and provide great entertainment for me and my dog, but we also have entertaining ducks each spring!  Black Bellied Whistling Ducks come in each year to breed and raise their young.  They don’t seem to like water but they roost in trees and on peoples’ rooftops!  “Whistling” is the noise they make when they fly, and they must be some of the noisiest ducks on earth!


While on the subject of birds, everyone’s favorite is the hummingbird, and there are plenty of them.  Mostly the Ruby Throat Hummingbirds here.  Some of the most colorful are the Red Cardinals, and the Red Winged Blackbird; the most common are the Mockingbird (the State Bird of Texas) with its amazing range of songs, and the rambunctious Blue Jays.  The most unusual in these parts is the Road Runner, which used to be fairly common but is rarely seen now.

Garden.Roadrunner on roof.2

Mosquitoes here are “as big as helicopters”, but fortunately there are a few critters that like to eat them.  Goldfish in my pond eat them, as do frogs and toads, although they don’t eat enough to be an effective population control.  Frogs and toads abound in my garden – sometimes after they “sing” all night, a couple of days later I’ll find strings of eggs lining the pond followed by hundreds of tadpoles.  Today I found a toad submerged in a watering can and I thought he had drowned – when I tipped the can up to wash the body out, he came to life and hopped out by himself!  The one in the pond is a Bullfrog, who sounds like a fog horn!


Red Eared Slider turtles sometimes migrate up the road from the creek, and one had a family of cute little baby turtles a couple of years or so ago in my pond.  They made such a mess that I had to find new homes for them.  Grasshoppers of all colors and sizes, more snails than I have ever seen in my life, and one time a black water snake who hung himself in the recirculating pump in the pond.  Red Shouldered Hawks, Caracaras (Mexican Eagle), Ruby Crowned Kinglets all come to visit, and even fluffy little bunny rabbits from time to time.  Opposums, Armadillos, and almost as many stray cats as there are snails!!!  The one in the photo was sitting on a piece of screen material covering the rainwater collected for watering plants.



Using the bounty of nature.

“Using” is not a good word, since it is often “used” in the negative sense of the word.  To me, the word “use” means accepting the gifts that nature or any other source gives us – and this post is about jamming’.  And jellin’ .  And marmaladein’.

For more years than I remember, I and my mother, grandmother, and probably before that, have been making jams, jellies, pickles, chutneys, and marmalades from whatever is available at the time.  Seasonal, is the word.  Seasonal is good, because that means that the produce source is picked at its peak freshness.  There are some variances of course, because how many of us have access to home grown, fresh pineapple?  Or bananas?

I’m not going to post my recipes on my blog (duh!  Why would I do that?)   Making jams and jellies is not rocket science – all it takes is imagination, a feeling of what goes well with what, but traditionally marmalade must be made with citrus to be marmalade!!!  One of the nicknames the French have for the English is “Les Marmalades” – basic marmalade  is simply orange, lemon, and sugar.  But there are many other members of the citrus family that make excellent  marmalades!!!  Of course, we are also known by the French as “Les Rosbifs”!!!!!

While “Marmalady” is the name I use on my products, I also make jellies from all kinds of  wines,  herbs, fruits and vegetables, and various fruit jams according to what is in season.  Herbal and Rose Petal Vinegars, are delicious on salads or steamed vegetables, and preserved lemons make a surprising and tangy addition to any kind of meat, hot or cold!

Chutneys are also high on my list of “favorites” – traditionally served on the side to accompany assorted curry dishes, or with cold meats – much the same way as you’d use pickles or herb jellies.  They are condiments, sweet, sour or hot and spicy according to the fruit or vegetable used.  Try tossing a spoonful or two of chutney into a meatloaf or meatballs just for a flavor change, or you can add some to gravy for the same reason.  Use chutney with roast pork instead of apple sauce, with turkey instead of cranberry sauce; with ham instead of mustard.  Pour 1/4 cup over a block of cream cheese and serve with crackers or cocktail bread slices.  Mix into sour cream to make a dip, or use on baked potatoes.

Fruits for 2018 – some old, some new, but nothing blue!

The Texas Everbearing Fig I planted about 30 years ago keeps on going!  Right now there are a few mummified figs which need to be removed, but otherwise it looks great.  The birds have already started checking it out, even though it won’t have ripe fruit until July.  Then there will be a race to harvest, at the same time leaving a few with the birds and squirrels!  Several branches have bent down and show signs of rooting, and I also have a dozen or so cuttings potted up in the shed.

I have two pear trees, planted about the same time as the fig.  One, “Anjou”, unsuited to this area, has never really produced well and now shows signs of dying out.  The other, “Orient”, has been great, and is looking ready for spring!  Its fruit is of the hard type, but has a wonderful flavor and is good for eating, cooking, and making my favorite pear chutney.  Just look at the colour of those new growth spring leaves!!

“Moro” Blood Orange is planted in the ground also many years ago, but doesn’t reliably produce due to our always-odd winter weather.  This year, for the second year running, it lost every single leaf due to prolonged freezing temperatures; thankfully it has totally leafed out now, but we’ll have to wait until the end of the year to see if the shock has encouraged it to produces blooms.

Meyers Improved Lemon is doing wonderfully.  I think it is in its 3rd year in a large container, inside on a closed-in porch in winter and outside as soon as it warms up.  This year it is absolutely covered in that heavenly scented blossom – if I open the door to the porch the whole house is perfumed!

Also on the porch are a 3ft tall “kitchen” lemon, so-called because it was grown from the seed of a lemon when I was making marmalade, but who knows if it will ever bloom or produce fruit.  It sits next to the Meyers to gain encouragement!  Next to the lemons are a Kaffir Lime, from which the leaves are the part that is mainly used in cooking.

Just outside the porch in a sheltered place where it can be popped back under cover, is an unknown variety of strawberry in a hanging basket.  Such pretty pink flowers!  Hoping to get some big fat juicy strawberries this year!

As for “New”, the latest acquisition is an “Aprium” tree – a cross between an Apricot and a Plum.  Purchased in January, it has been sitting in its own tiny pot on the porch until a couple of weeks ago, when it graduated to a large container outside.  It had beautiful pink and white blossoms, one of which turned into a fruit already!  It has leafed out very well, and I can’t wait to see how it does as it matures.


Maybe later I’ll add some “Blue” – several friends are trying Blueberries in containers; that sounds like an interesting possibility!!!

….. Lillie for a day.

… a flower which perisheth at night,
and buddeth at the sunne rising,
… and therefore is called
the Day Lillie, or Lillie for a day.
John Gerard, 1597

Daylilies are enjoying a resurgence of popularity, so it might be timely to explore the facts and fictions of this beautiful flower.  Written Chinese descriptions of daylilies date from about 3000 B.C., and the first illustration appeared in a Materia Medica (Tu Ching Yen I Pen Tsao) compiled by Kou Tsung-Shih, in 1059 A.D.  Traditionally in China they were grown for their nutritional and medicinal properties.  They were considered a popular cure for melancholy and grief, and it was claimed that if a pregnant woman wore a daylily she would give birth to a son.

Daylilies made their first appearance in Europe in the 16th century.  It is believed that medieval Mongolian settlers planted the yellow Hemerocallis flava in Hungary, and that the orange H. fulva was carried by traders to either Venice or Lisbon.  Later in the 16th century, European herbalists (Dodonaeus, Clusius and Lobelius) described and illustrated both species.  They noted that H. fulva did not produce seeds.  The term”Day Lillie” first appeared in Gerard’s The Herball or Generall Historie of Plants (1597).  A century later, the pilgrims brought them to America.  Settlers carried the sturdier H. fulva west with them and it became known as the homestead lily.  George Yeld, a British school teacher with a love for alpine flowers and access to a local nursery, started to hybridize daylilies in 1877.  His original cultivar, “Apricot” won a Certificate of Merit in London in June 1892, and three years later the newly acquired H. aurantiaca var. major set his breeding program off with new vigor.  This variety became the parent for many of his best introductions, and about this time, another Englishman, Amos Perry started his own breeding program from a collection of plants from Italy.  Fast forward a couple of hundred years, and we now have possibly thousands of named varieties, thanks to the breeders and hybridizers in their quest to produce flowers of all shapes and sizes in a veritable rainbow of colors.

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Diploid, Tetraploid – what does this mean?  It is all in the chromosomes!  Diploids have 22 chromosomes, 1 set of 11 from the pod parent and 1 set of 11 from the pollen parent.  Tetraploids have 44 chromosomes, giving them twice the genetic materials as diploids.  This gives the hybridizer more opportunity for breaks, or more dramatic advances than made with a diploid.  Triploids are seldom seen now in Daylilies.  They have a triple set of chromosomes and are generally infertile.  Diploids can only be bred to Diploids, and Tetraploids to Tetraploids.  Even if you don’t want to venture into hybridization, Daylilies are a joy in the garden, and if you can bear to dig them up, enjoy them at your dinner table!!  If Daylily flowers are harvested when fully open they make a superb and very ornamental addition to the salad bowl.  The petals are quite thick, crisp and juicy with a delicate sweetness at their base due to the nectar they contain.  At this stage they are also at their most nutritious, containing reasonable quantities of protein (mainly from their pollen) and carbohydrates (from the nectar) as well as good quantities of iron and vitamin A.  The flowers can be dried and used as a flavoring and thickener in soups, etc.  Young shoots & rots can also be eaten raw or cooked, and make a delicious vegetable.  The tough fibrous leaves can be dried and braided into ropes to make a fine pair of summer sandals!!


Original article by me in May of 2012, photo of salad by Glutenfreeabundance.



The Marmalady Connection

Some of you who know me personally, know that I love to make marmalade.  And herb jellies.  And chutneys, and lemon curd, and, and, and ………..

So some time ago I had this notion to venture into the world of Farmers Markets, and came up with the label name of “Marmalady”.  That is me.  I have a blood orange tree, in the ground, which produces only sporadically because occasionally we get hard freezes in the winter which knock out all hope of fruit production.  It is too big to think about covering.  I also have a lemon tree in a container which I can move around according to the season, and it does produce wonderful lemons (an essential ingredient in marmalades and many other fruit and herb jellies), and two lemon trees which I grew from seed and are planted in the ground.  Who knows if or when they will produce!

One of the less flattering (or even derogatory) names the French have for we Brits is “les marmalades” because of our love of eating the stuff on toast for breakfast.  (I have even heard they call us “les rosbifs”, but that is another subject altogether!)

Marmalade evidently is an acquired taste.  I suppose I acquired it as soon as I could eat solid foods, although marmalade is not really solid.  It seems to be one of those tastes that one either loves or hates, nothing in between.  It can be made with orange, lemon, grapefruit, or any combination of citrus fruit.  Kumquat Marmalade is very nice, but hard to make because of those fiddly little fruits that need to be processed!

Recipes abound on the internet for the use of marmalade, one of my favorites being marmalade cake.  Also roast chicken basted with marmalade.  When I was growing up, my mother made hundreds of pounds of marmalade every December/January from “Seville Oranges”.  These oranges were of the bitter kind, and always a favourite for marmalade.  For a little extra festive touch you can always add rum or whisky to your pot!