Category Archives: Photography

Apartment Gardening: Container Citrus Tree

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Citrus aurantifolia: Mexican lime, key lime, bartender’s lime

Living in an apartment after 17 years in rural Connecticut has been a bit of an adjustment.

The one thing that I miss the most (besides my dear friends), is my yard and garden beds. Of course, I miss the cacophony of birds singing, yelling and calling, and the lovely back roads, but I found a windy drive from Houston to Magnolia, Texas that meets my twisting, turning back road needs. What I haven’t had is a patch of soil just waiting for me to transform into a place for green, growing things. And now that I am living in the Houston area, I can garden all year long. Yay!!!

This past Saturday, my granddaughter and I drove the 25 minutes or so to Tomball, Texas to a wonderful garden center where we found herbs, flowers and my first container-grown citrus tree.

I chose Citrus aurantifolia as my first specimen because of the many uses for its extremely flavorful fruit. I grew up in Miami, and the first time I tasted key lime pie, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. When I was raising my young family in St. Petersburg, Florida, I made my first key lime pie from bottled lime juice. It was delicious, too.

What pushed me toward choosing this variety of citrus to grow is my love of tequila and lime together in a variety of ways. I make my own simple margarita-like drink which typically consists of my favorite tequila, lime juice (fresh squeezed is best), and a teensy bit of agave syrup (no more than a teaspoon). Sometimes I add equal measure of sparkling mineral water to make it an alcoholic soda. I don’t like salt, so a quick stir and I’m good to go.

Okay, I could talk about margaritas or what I pass off as margaritas for paragraphs. I even have a holiday margarita that is delicious which I will save for another time. Back to Mexican limes (which I will call them since I am now a few hours away from Mexico).

I also use lime juice for guacamole, limeade, tarts, cooking, drinking, and to give away. The woman who talked me into buying this variety said that they easily produce 40-50 limes. Although I am modifying my expectations because I plan to keep this tree smaller by root pruning after a few years, I fully expect a good harvest in a couple of years.

I also plan to purchase a Mandarin orange variety when my budget allows. It is on my gardening wish list.

Now, for those who also live in the Houston or Gulf Coast region, growing citrus is not without hazards.

The salesperson who assisted me had to ensure that I lived within the quarantine zone of the nursery due to citrus greening. Citrus cannot be brought into or taken out of two quarantine zones in Texas. I live in Harris County, so I cannot take my tree out of the quarantine zone that includes Fort Bend, Harris and Montgomery Counties. The other quarantine zone is located in the Valley which includes Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy Counties.

A few years ago I would not have been able to purchase a citrus tree in this area at all; sales were halted in an effort to stop the spread of citrus greening.

With my purchase comes the responsibility of watching for signs of any diseases and/or pests that threaten the commercial citrus industry.

What I have learned, however, is that it is wise to never wait to plant a tree (or buy one). Fruit trees require time to grow large enough to produce fruit, sometimes 5 years or more. If you ever want to grow fruit in your yard or in a container, do your research and find a variety that thrives in the growing conditions that you have where you are.

Also, research, research, research. Read, talk to experts (many from different backgrounds — organic, conventional, etc.). Remember that your area’s extension agents are there for you. Your tax dollars pay their salaries, so don’t hesitate to tap that source.

My next posts will be about container herb gardening and gardening with my small children. Cuteness is guaranteed.

 

 

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Snowy day in New England

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Old goat house

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Mountain laurel, a native shrub to Connecticut

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Mums are still alive even in December

Don’t rake those leaves!

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For years now we (that’s a royal we) have not raked leaves in the fall.

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Some years they were left in place untouched until spring due to my own health issues (nothing gets done around here unless I plan and organize the job). Some years, we did something a little different:

Mowed the leaves and left in place.

As a final mowing (my yard is mowed no more than 6 times each summer season), the yard is mowed chopping up the leaves. But even that is not recommended. It might be better to wait until spring to mow those leaves.

In his article Scientists Urge: Don’t Rake Your Leaves! – Here’s Why, David Wolfe cites the National Wildlife Federation’s recommendation that readers not rake up and throw away leaf litter. Here is Wolfe’s summary of the benefits of leaving leaves in place:

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Leaf litter provides habitat for creatures (small, smaller and smallest), nourishes the soil, and not raking keeps leaves out of landfills, reduces carbon emissions (no leaf blowers, please — hate those things), and gives you more time to do other things.

Les Harrison, UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Director, in Leaf Litter: Do the Benefits Outweigh the Work?,  discusses the benefits of allowing leaves to remain in place:

  • moisture retention from precipitation
  • stormwater runoff slowdown
  • availability of nutrients for organisms and soil as they are broken down

Although his article mentions the year-round drop of leaves in Florida, the science behind his recommendations apply to all parts of the country.

We do rake leaves off of the driveway because they are quite slippery and make it more difficult to remove snow in the winter months. But those leaves are raked into areas nearby beneath shrubs and trees so their nutrition is not lost to the environment.

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Rethinking fall chores is easy: just don’t rake those leaves!

First snowfall – video

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Surprise snowfall this morning in Connecticut, New England, USA. Snow before Halloween is unusual in the southern half of the state. After about two hours it turned to sleet and then rain leaving only small, sheltered reminders of the winter to come.

Note: Video and still photography captured using Canon Rebel T3i. YouTube video put together using YouTube Video Editor which was a complete nightmare. Never again.

Autumn in New England

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Fall in New England is pure pleasure. The  colors, textures, sounds and even smells evoke a sense of tradition, comfort and home. For those who can’t make it here to Connecticut and other northeastern states to witness the changing of the leaves, there are people like me who are happy to capture the beauty and share. Enjoy!

Updated photos (forgot to export with watermark)

Connecticut woods in June

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Early morning sunlight reveals interesting veining on these Sassafras leaves

My Sassafras patch is thriving after removing a few saplings that were blocking sunlight. I located another Sassafras near my driveway that would benefit from clearing more saplings and a few of the larches that the previous property owners planted (that are not doing well in that location anyway).

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Poison ivy casts leaf-shaped shadows

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Beautiful birch bark that seems to have some kind of black mold

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Clustered Bellflower Campanula glomerata is a volunteer that was most likely the result of a migrating bird. I initially thought this was in the Gentian family.

The Clustered Bellflower is a food source to butterflies and other pollinators so I will let it stay.

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The only characteristic of this Clustered Bellflower that is different from images I found online is the flower stem on my plant is green while those in other photos are red.

The book New England Wildflower Society’s flora Novae Angliae : a manual for the identification of native and naturalized higher vascular plants of New England by Arthur Haines (2011) indicates that Campanula glomerata has been found in many New England states except Connecticut. I’m guessing a migrating bird dropped the seeds and they are now naturalizing.

Beautiful, edible landscape

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Late spring and early summer in Connecticut can be just as lovely as the first blooms of spring. Most flowers in my yard have yet to open as the early fake spring that occurred in March seemed to actually delay the progression of flora in this region.

I have few blueberries forming, but more blossoms and buds on flowering plants that do not bear fruit. My pear tree has some fruit as well, but certainly fewer than previous years.

I have this partial shade-loving Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa) in my front yard, and this year it is completely covered in gorgeous flowers.

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Kousa Dogwood in front yard. Growing around the Kousa Dogwood are lowbush blueberry plants and Sassafras trees.

The white parts are bracts, not petals. The actual flowers emerge from the bumpy green center.

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Over the years, I removed most of the cultivars on my property, allowing the native plants to grow. But this small tree is too beautiful to destroy.

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Four white bracts are the background for the tiny flowers that will emerge before the fruit ripens into a beautiful red color.

The bumpy fruit from the Kousa Dogwood is listed as edible. I never thought to taste them. I might try to make jelly this fall.

Through the forsythia

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The snow kisses the trees

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What a wonderful, beautiful quote. Lewis Carroll knew. He just knew.

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Can’t see the forest for the trees? That’s changing.

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I am beginning to see the forest. Tree skeletons are beautiful, too. Contrasted against the birch leaves, the bare tree trunks are lovely.

I can see the forest

I can see the forest