June 6, 2007

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This ranch ain't big enough for the two of us. J. David Bamberger restored 3,000 acres of overgrazed Carter Ranch to its native condition, eliminating Ashe junipers, prickly pear cacti and greenbrier, and returning the terrain to its native condition, grasslands similar to that pictured above.  (Photo by William Scheick)

  The garden reader:
A Hill Country nature-western

By William Scheick
University of Texas at Austin

Jeffrey Greene. Water from Stone: The Story of Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve. Texas A&M University Press, 2007. $24.95. 218pp.

Jeffrey Greene's Water from Stone is a whodunit nature-western set in the Hill Country near Johnson City, Texas.

The culprit: ranchers who overgrazed the land during the last century.

The accomplices: Ashe junipers which quickly laid claim to the destroyed terrain.

The sheriff: J. David Bamberger, who ecologically restored thousands of acres to their rightful owners.

It's a story of business savvy turned against rapacious market interests, a nature-redemption tale that would have heartened the spirit of environmental iconoclast Henry David Thoreau. It's a story to move a gardener's heart, already deeply attuned to nature’s productive beauty.

The plot of Water from Stone is deceptively simple. A man sets out in 1969 to purchase a Blanco County nature-crime scene, "a lousy piece of real estate … nobody else wants." That place turns out to be the 3,000-acre Carter Ranch. It's covered with shallow-rooted Ashe junipers, prickly pear cacti and greenbrier (gotcha vines) growing in bare limestone. The Ranch’s only source of water is a useless well of smelly sludge the color of blood.

The Ashe junipers are squatters. They have rapidly occupied overgrazed terrain, where they aggressively maintain their hold by depleting watersheds and shutting out local plants. Whether or not Ashe junipers are the rapacious water thieves they are often said to be — David Bamberger is certain that they are — these trees certainly create an inhospitable environment for other, more earth-friendly vegetation.

They have to go. So Mr. Bamberger clears them out, replacing vast tracts of these junipers with native grasses. The result, as Mr. Greene's book-title suggests, recalls the famous biblical scene where Moses strikes a rock and water miraculously spills forth. As various grasses take over their rightful heritage on the Carter Ranch, they enable the recharging of the Edwards aquifer. Soon springs and seeps appear, followed by creeks flowing year-round.

Mr. Bamberger names this reclaimed place Selah, the word appearing at the end of many Old Testament psalms. The Hebrew word means "pause to reflect," and that is exactly the educational intention behind Mr. Bamberger's wildlife preserve. It's a conservational lesson, late in the day, "written" large on the land for all of us to study and ponder.

Mr. Bamberger, who sometimes comes across as a difficult my-way-or-the-highway sheriff, certainly deserves and has in fact received credit and praise. He spent his money, time and life transforming Selah. His vision, inspired by Louis Bromfield's Pleasant Valley, and his personal transformation in the course of learning and then teaching others to care for the earth are nothing less than inspiring.

Even if Water from Stone is a fitting testament to the man, some readers may wish the book conveyed better the splendor of Selah itself. The author, a Bamberger family relative living in France, honestly confesses little familiarity with this Texas landscape. As a result, his book is more about the visionary than the vision. Selah is represented, to be sure, but some readers will long for a closer encounter with the stirring marvel of the restored land itself. Photographs might have helped.


  Gray water alternative for sub-irrigating landscape plants

By Edith Chenault
Texas Cooperative Extension

When the weather turns dry, Texans may start thinking about the best ways to avoid high water bills and still maintain their landscaping. Gray water may be one option, said Dr. Bruce Lesikar, Texas Cooperative Extension agricultural engineer.

Gray water is the water that has passed through showers, sinks, bathtubs or washing machines, Lesikar said. It makes up about half of the water used in the home and normally passes into onsite wastewater treatment systems or city sewer systems.

"The typical resident will have about 30 gallons per person per day," he said.

"Gray water is a source (of water) that's already paid for, and you can use it in your landscape," he added.

It is different from black water that comes from the toilet or kitchen sink. Black water has the potential to have many solids and therefore cannot be used on landscapes without treatment, he said.

Gray water is not without risk, though.

"It does come into contact with the human body so there is a risk for having organic matter as well as pathogens," Lesikar said. "So it needs to be used safely and wisely."

Also, gray water may contain high concentrations of sodium and phosphorus from soaps, detergents and cleaning products. If not leached out, these can build up, harming soil health, he said.

State regulations affect how gray water systems may be installed and used, Lesikar said. A typical gray water system consists of a diversion valve to direct gray water to the reuse system, a tank to separate solids, an effluent screen to trap solids before they leave the tank, an overflow pipe with two black-water valves going to the onsite wastewater treatment system or municipal sewer, and a distribution system delivering gray water to the plants. The pipe for distributing the water must be purple to designate that it is reclaimed wastewater.

A gray-water system must be used to avoid ponding or build-up of water on the ground surface, he said. Ponding may cause nutrients and salts to build up in one place in the yard, or it may attract nuisances like insects.

Plus, if pets play or roll in wet areas, they could bring wastewater back into the house.

"Because there is the potential risk in ponded water, pets may be exposed to pathogens," he said.

Typically, gray-water systems that are whole-house systems are completed at the time the house are built.

"If you are planning on a gray-water system, you have to start by planning early," he said. "Houses that are on blocks or above the ground do have the ability to be re-plumbed to separate gray water for use. For houses that are on slabs, it is more difficult to separate the sources once the house is built."

If washing machines or other sources are on exterior walls, however, homeowners can plumb through the wall and access that water, he said. However, the gray-water tank must be able to overflow through two black water valves to the onsite wastewater treatment system or municipal sewer to be in compliance with state regulations.

Gray-water systems may be used on all soil types. However, sites with heavy clays will not easily accept water and will tend to be wet during winter months, Lesikar said.

In that case, have a diversion valve at the beginning of the system. This allows the gray water to be diverted to either onsite wastewater treatment systems or city sewers if needed or if conducting maintenance on the system.

Like most everything else, gray-water systems do need routine maintenance, and the solids will have to be removed from the tank periodically, he said.

Wear gloves when working on systems to protect against pathogens, Lesikar cautioned. The diversion valve, though not required by state regulations, will allow water to be diverted into black-water systems and reduce exposure to pathogens.

Tanks and rigid purple pipe may be purchased at plumbing supply stores, he said. However, flexible pipe may have to be painted purple, he said.



Properly cared for, this live oak will grow and flourish. (Photo by Chris S. Corby)
  Maintain your trees for the long haul

By Dr. E. Thomas Smiley
Arboricultural Researcher, Bartlett Tree Experts

You’ve made an investment in your landscape and planted trees that you hope can grow and flourish over time. Don’t just walk away and forget them. Once your trees are planted it’s important to maintain your investment for optimal results. There are many considerations to keep in mind as trees mature.

Trees are not carrots. Watering of trees is often mismanaged with sometimes disastrous results. Tree roots do not go straight down, but spread horizontally as much as two to three times the height of the tree. As a result, it does little good to water a tree at the base of the trunk. Instead, water should be applied slowly at the dripline for optimum uptake.

Trees are not plastic. They require nutrients for optimum growth and vitality. An undernourished tree is more susceptible to pests and disease, and it will definitely not maintain its shiny leaves like a plastic counterpart. A regular nutritional program will help keep your trees healthy and beautiful. Better yet, a tree care professional can greatly enhance the vitality of your trees by feeding them exactly what they need based on a soil analysis.

Trees are not alone. Part of maintaining a tree is realizing that it exists in a diverse environment where other plants compete for resources such as water, light and nutrients. Undesirable weeds and invasive plant species can divert important resources. Cultural practices such as using mulches to discourage weed establishment can help keep the landscape in balance.

A tree care professional can help provide regular maintenance so you can enjoy what your trees are, rather than what they’re not.


  Gardening tips

"To propagate my Oak Leaf Hydrangeas Hydrangea quercifolia and Annabelle Hydrangeas Hydrangea arborescens," writes Grenetta Bledsoe, "I like to propagate by simple layering. Simple layering is done by bending a flexible stem or branch to the ground, wounding the under side of the bent branch, applying a rooting hormone (which is helpful in rooting), and then burying the wounded portion into a vertical position in the ground. Hold the branch in place with a rock or peg. (I use a pair of wire cutters and a wire clothes hanger to cut pegs. The corners of the wire clothes hanger make a perfect V shape. One can get two pegs from one wire hanger.) Cover the wounded part of the stem or branch with some soil. Layering is very successful because you are not actually removing the branch from the plant at the time of the layering process. The new plant you are attempting to propagate is still attached to the parent plant so it is being nurtured by the parent plant throughout the entire process. I prefer to do simple layering in early spring, and most of the time, the plant is ready to be removed from the parent plant for transplanting in the fall."

Have a favorite gardening tip you'd like to share? Texas Gardener's Seeds is seeking brief gardening tips from Texas gardeners to use in future issues. If we publish your tip in Seeds, we will seed you a free Texas Gardener T-shirt. Here's a chance to get published and be a garden stylist as well! Please send your tips of 50 words or less to the editor at: Gardening Tips.


  Did you know...

The long living gingko tree was originally prescribed for old people's problems because of its sympathetic association with aging. We now know that tea made from the leaves of the gingko contains chemicals that improve circulation to the brain so more oxygen is delivered and brain function is improved. Some think it could be helpful for Alzheimer's sufferers and may reduce the likelihood of strokes. Since it is also a blood thinner, folks should not use it without a physician’s supervision.


 

  Upcoming garden events

Austin: The Fifteenth Annual Texas Bamboo Festival will be held on Saturday and Sunday, August 25 and 26 at Zilker Botanical Garden, Austin. Sponsored by the Texas Bamboo Society, the event will celebrate the wonders of bamboo with presentations, demonstrations and education information, including Bamboo 101, a Bamboo Kite Making Workshop led by Greg Kono, and Bamboos of Southeast Asia presented by Harry Simmons. Bamboo plants and crafts will be for sale. For additional information, call (512) 929-9565 or visit www.bamboocentral.net.

San Antonio: The San Antonio Botanical Garden is sponsoring a trip to Italy September 4 through 15, featuring Italy's villas and gardens. Escorted by Bob Brackman, the Director of the Garden, an exceptional itinerary has been designed for lovers of leisurely travel and beautiful homes and gardens. Famous for their gardens, Italians still build on their ancestors' legacy with the creation of exquisite country villas surrounded by terraced, fountain-filled gardens that have become symbolic of Italian style. Experience the rich cultural heritage of Italy. Visit special gardens, famous museums, the important cities of Florence and Rome, plus the Lake District, and the small villages which make Italy so charming, such as Cinque Terre, Santa Margherita and Tuscan villages. Feast on fabulous Italian cuisine and enjoy la dolce vita. Land cost per person sharing is $3550 plus air, which includes a $100 tax deductible donation, most meals and gratuities. For more information, contact Marianne Martz of Fuller Travel at (210) 828-6311 or marianne@fullertvl.com.

Rockport: The Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardener Association “Hidden Gardens Tour & Fall Plant Sale” will be held Saturday, September 29 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for the Hidden Gardens Tour and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for the Fall Plant Sale at Green Acres, 611 East Mimosa Street at Pearl Street, Rockport. Get your tickets and maps at Green Acres for this one-day event in addition to purchasing those much-wanted plants that you can’t find anywhere. The maps will lead you to wonderful Hidden Gardens in both Aransas County and San Patricio County. Be sure to take the time to wander through the demonstration gardens at Green Acres, which are continuously being updated and maintained by the Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardener Association. Admission is $10.00. For pre-registration tickets and/or questions contact the Aransas County Texas Cooperative Extension, Rockport, at (361) 790-0103.

Fort Worth, Dallas: Visit America's very best, rarely seen, Private Gardens. The Garden Conservancy's Open Days Program has been opening the gates to America's best private gardens since 1995. The 2007 season features more than 350 gardens across 21 states. Learn about gardens participating in your area through the Open Days Directory, an annual publication listing open gardens with garden descriptions, open dates and hours, and directions. To purchase a Directory or for more information, call (888) 842-2442 or visit www.opendaysprogram.org. The $5 admission fee supports the expansion of the Open Days Program around the country and helps build awareness of the Garden Conservancy's work of preserving exceptional American gardens such Peckerwood Garden in Hempstead. 2007 Texas Open Days: Fort Worth: October 14; Dallas: October 20.

Waco: The Texas Gourd Society presents its 12th annual Lone Star Gourd Festival October 27 and 28, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Saturday and from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Sunday, at the Waco Convention Center, 100 Washington Ave., Waco. Featured will be gourd artists and crafters, demonstrations, seminars and much more. Admission is $5 for adults; children under 12 are free. For additional information, visit www.texasgourdsociety.org.

Belton, Temple, Killeen: The Bell County Master Gardener Association will host the Fall Glory garden tour Saturday, October 20, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Gardens in Belton, Temple and Killeen will be showcased. Admission is $5 for adults. For additional information, contact Sue Morgan at (254) 698-8668.

Garland: The Garland Organic Club meets the first Sunday of each month in the little red school house at 1651 Wall St., Garland. All interested gardeners are invited to attend. For more information, call (972) 864-1934 or (800) 864-4445.

Allen: The Allen Garden Club meets on the first Thursday of each month at 7:30 p.m. at the little blue-gray house located at 102 N. Allen Dr., Allen. For more information, visit www.allengardenclub.org.

Austin: Austin Organic Gardeners meet at 7 p.m. on the second Monday of each month at the Zilker Botanical Gardens in Austin. For more information, visit www.main.org/aog.

Rockport: An herb study group founded in March 2003 meets the second Wednesday of every month at the ACISD Maintenance Department (Formerly Rockport Elementary), 619 N. Live Oak Street, Room 14, Rockport at 10 a.m. to discuss all aspects of using and growing herbs, including the historical uses of the herbs and tips for successful propagation and cultivation.

San Antonio: The San Antonio Herb Society meets at 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month at the San Antonio Garden Center, 3310 N. New Braunfels (corner of Funston & N. New Braunfels). For more information on programs, visit www.sanantonioherbs.org.

Dallas: The Rainbow Garden Club of North Texas meets the second Sunday of each month at 2 p.m. Everyone is welcome. Meetings are held at member's homes and garden centers around the area. For more information, visit www.RainbowGardenClub.com.

Dallas: The Dallas Organic Garden Club meets at 6:45 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of each month at the Fretz Park Recreation Center, located at the corner of Hillcrest and Beltline Road in Dallas. For more information, call (214) 824-2448 or visit www.dogc.org.

Arlington: The Arlington Organic Garden Club meets from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. on the last Thursday of each month (except November and December) at the Bob Duncan Center, 2800 S. Center Street, Arlington. For more information, contact David at (817) 483-7746.

If you would like your organization's events included in "Upcoming Garden Events," please contact us at Garden Events.


  Texas Gardening The Natural Way is the complete guide to organic gardening in Texas

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$37.31 plus shipping*

Order by calling 1-800-727-9020 or order on-line.

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  Fiber row cover valuable year-round

Grow-Web encourages plant growth and development, and also provides protection from insects, birds, diseases and frosts. It is also air and water permeable and allows for ventilation. Grow-Web provides excellent protection to seedlings when applied directly to the seedbed.

 $30.64 per 12.3' x 32.8' roll (includes shipping!)

Order by calling 1-800-727-9020. Not available through on-line bookstore.

(Discover, MasterCard and Visa accepted.)


 


Texas Gardener's Seeds
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