The cost of having a green yard in Austin, Texas

IMG_0419I took a few pictures over the past couple of days of the flowers blooming in my yard. Sorry to say that the 100+ degree weather we have been experiencing lately is playing havoc with the greenery AND my water bill as I finally had to turn on the soaker system that I have installed. I held off as long as I could and even now, it only runs every 3 days and then only for 30 minutes.

The last water bill I got told me that I was using 3500 gallons less than my neighbor, whichever one it is, so I don’t feel bad about it. Even so, at $100 a month, I will be glad to see some rain. It is not only the yard that needs the water as the ponds all experience some form of water loss due to evaporation and plant growth. I have automatic fillers on all of the ponds but I usually regulate when they come on.

I was talking to a neighbor friend who is also an avid gardener and told her that I was going to plant and hopefully grow only those plants that seem to hold their own in the Texas heat. As it is, most of my yard is stocked with Texas natives but occasionally, I try to grow something more exotic which invariably doesn’t make it. So, no more experimenting. I am going to stay with the tried and true as I know they they will grow. Famous last words…

Enjoy the pictures

Austin Pond Society August Meeting 2015

DSC_4323The Austin Pond Society held their monthly meeting last evening at the Zilker Gardens Meeting room. It was attended by about 40 members who got to participate in a pot luck dinner. The beauty of pot luck is as the name says, you never know just what you will end up with. We were lucky and all of the different dishes, and there were a lot, were delicious. At least the ones that I tried were very good and I know that even though I tried to take a little piece of every dish, my plate filled up and I had to miss some. I guess I could have gone back for more but I try not to do that if at all possible. What I like about pot luck is that many people bring their favorite foods which have recipes handed down through generations and I get to try once in a lifetime food.

Following the delicious meal, the Speaker for the evening was Chris Smartt, owner of Sol’stice Gardens in Dripping Springs. He entitled his talk, Lemons and Lemonade and focused it around some of the ponds he has worked on either reclaiming ones that have deteriorated with time or because of owner error either in the construction or the complete lack of maintenance. He also talked about using difficult spaces and what can be done to either fill or brighten them up. Unfortunately, the memory card in my video camera was playing up and I lost some of the presentation. If, you have never been to Sol’stice Gardens you really need to make the 15 mile trip to Dripping Springs and view this wonderful place. There is so much to see especially in the art works that are on show there. For more pictures on their art and other items click this link.

Below is the only part of Chris’s presentation that I was able to capture.

APS Chris Smartt 8-17-2015 from Francis Allcorn on Vimeo.

Following Chris’s presentation, the group launched into a discussion on bogs and water filtration for the ponds. It was very interesting listening to the various questions and discussions and we hope that some of you have a better understanding of what a bog  or filtration system can do for your pond.

Below is the video of this discussion. I had to split it into 2 parts as it was too big to run through the Vimeo process.
Part 1

APS Business 8-17-2015 part1 from Francis Allcorn on Vimeo.

Part 2.

APS Business 8-17-2015 part2 from Francis Allcorn on Vimeo.

The meeting closed out with a threat from Jeannie, our President, that unless someone steps up to fill the Hospitality position on the Board, next months meeting will be Pizza for dinner. The threat doesn’t carry much weight as personally, I like pizza as do many others but if anyone wants to volunteer for the Hospitality position, I can guarantee you will be the most loved and most popular member of the entire organization.

With the drawing for the door prizes the meeting closed out.

Next month’s speaker is Sara Earl from Blue Gold Systems.

Blue Gold Systems

Blue Gold Systems

Hiking at Milton Reimer’s Ranch 8-16-2015

Pedernales River

Pedernales River

I looked at the temperature and it said that it was 92 degrees and the high would only be 97 for the day. So, I thought to myself that it would be a good day to explore a couple of new (to me) sites that were comparatively close.

I promised myself that I would only go and scope out the first one, the Milton Reimer’s Ranch off Hamilton Pool Road. I packed my cameras just in case there would be some decent pictures even though I promised myself that I would spend most of my time in the car.

I had passed this site several times on my drives around the countryside and knew exactly where it was located. Turns out that it was only 15 miles form my house just the other side of Bee Caves. I spent an interesting ten minutes talking to the Travis County Parks guard lady that was manning the booth as she explained to me the layout of the park and the different trails. This park caters for hikers, horses and mountain bikers. I told her that I was just going to explore with a view to coming back at a later date to actually do some hiking and she thought that a great idea as it was so hot. The park has a total of 500 acres and is set along the Pedernales River which has cut quite a deep gorge through this part of it’s long and winding course. Incidentally, the entry fee is waived for people over 62.

Interesting rock formation

Interesting rock formation

I took off along a windy two lane road for about 4 miles until I came to the first of four trail-heads. This one is the biggest of the trail-heads and has access to trails, swimming in the river and rock climbing along with restrooms and pavilions for picnics and gatherings. It also has three separate scenic overlooks which I plan to visit at another time. This was the busiest of the trail-heads probably because it has swimming facilities.

I pulled out of this stop and on to the next one which was a smaller than the first but had more or less the same conveniences. All four of the trail-heads have access to the River although the trails are designated as Primitive meaning that they can be a little difficult with the rocky terrain and the steepness of the slope.

At the third trail-head, I got out of my car for a look around and sort of half got ready to walk just a little bit. I put on my hat with the neck protector and grabbed my camera bag and walking staff and decided to climb down to the river to get a few shots. The trail was decidedly primitive and I had to take a considerable amount of care as I clambered down the rocky terrain. I wished that I had changed into my hiking boots but I was not about to go back as I was nearly at the bottom. The river bed is fully fifty or more yards wide but there was not much water flowing and I had to walk a bit to get to it. I took pictures of everything and there were some impressive rock faces all around me. Another couple passed by and like most hikers, acknowledged me with a wave which I returned.

Showing the river's width.

Showing the river’s width.

I looked at the lower trail and decided, what the heck and started walking along it following the flow of the river. The trail was pretty easy most of the way although by now, the temperature was probably close to 100 degrees but I felt good and was really glad to be out, walking. There are some very interesting rock formations and caves along the way. I followed the trail until I came to a spot where another stream flowed into the river. This stream was dry and it looked liked the trail went in two different directions. One was to continue along the river bank and the other went up the hill on a pretty steep incline to bring me back to the upper trail. I opted to go upwards and again, it required taking a lot of care as I literally scaled the rocks to go upwards. When I reached the top, it brought me to a gravel path which was the upper trail and I headed back in the direction of my car taking pictures along the way as I went. This trail as with the lower trail, has information boards about the local scenery, animals trees and other interesting information. It was much easier walking as I eventually reached the parking lot and my car. I changed out of my sweaty clothes and sat a while resting from my exertions. At one time, the Park Ranger drove by checking the lots but as my car was the only one in this lot, moved on quickly.

Easy trail

Easy trail

I drove to the next trail-head which was the last one and similar to the one I had just left. This one also has a climbing area for those willing to risk their necks. I probably covered about three miles in the hike that I took. So much for not hiking because it’s too hot…

Altogether, there are about 18 miles of trails of various kinds including Primitives, Hike and Bike and Multi-use which includes horse riders. The scenery is a mix of typical Texas hill country grassland dotted with trees and shrubs. After all. it is designated as ranch land. Some evergreen oaks close to the river are of a good size.There were signs of fire although none of them recent.

I plan on going back to hike one of the longer trails and this time, I will remember to change into my walking boots.

It’s Hot out there…while building a Skippy Filter

The finished unit

The finished unit

I got up early today with the view of getting outside and working a bit while it was cooler. That is, if you call 80 degrees cool as it quickly warms up here in my part of Texas. The overnight low was 74 and the forecast was for it to be at least a 100 degrees and could go as high as 104.

I had a couple of small projects that I wanted to get done. After the success of changing out the filter material in the big ponds and the small ponds filter systems to Lava Rock, I really wanted to do the same thing for the rest of the filters that I have located on the various ponds.

So, this morning I started out by building a new Skippy filter using a 20 gallon tub. I needed to do some work to it first like drill a hole and install the 2 inch drain system. I found a 2 inch fitting that reduced to 1 1/2 inch threaded fitting that had a flat area wide enough to take a rubber washer. I cut the washers (2) out of an old piece of liner material and placed both of them over the threaded end. I followed up with a thin layer of Plumbers Putty and then placed it through the hole with the threaded area inside the tub. On the threaded area, I didn’t have a washer large enough to fit over the 1 1/2 inch screw fitting so I had to make do with a piece of hard plastic from a storage box that I had also cut out a 1 1/2 inch hole. I secured the whole thing with a threaded ring washer used on electrical conduit. It worked perfectly and after tightening the whole thing up I finished it by placing 2 inch Tee fitting set parallel to the pond level so that water could flow out both sides.

Showing the 2 inch Tee

Showing the 2 inch Tee

In the bottom, I needed to make a water chamber so that the water would have a free flow as it came out before rising up through the lava rock to the drain. For this, I use 2 layers of plastic fluorescent light grid cut to shape and set up on 2 bricks, one either side of the pipe. The pipe itself is 2 inch and is set like an inverted Tee. On the ends of the Tee were 90 degree opposing elbows to create a flow of water. The center upright stands just above the rim of the tube and is eventually connected to the pipe from the pump. The theory is that the water comes in the top and then circulates from the bottom so that it comes through the Lava Rock and out the drain and back into the pond. The Lava Rock traps the dirt pretty efficiently. The 100 gallon one that I have installed on the big pond has really cleaned up that water. Incidentally, it works well to not glue the elbow situated on the top of the inverted Tee. This allows for easy removal of the grid when it is time to clean the unit. Otherwise, the center hole has to be pretty big to slide the grid over the elbow.

Lava Rock

Lava Rock

After completing the construction, with the final hook ups done in place, I filled it with 2 bags of the Lava Rock and then turned on the water to check that it worked properly. Satisfied with my work, I turned my attention to the old existing Skippy filter. I wanted to move it to a different location so that I could feed it with the main pump which is why I opted to build a new unit giving me more time to move the existing filter which is powered by a separate pump and contains the old filter material which I am replacing with the Lava Rock.

Showing the outlet

Showing the outlet

Moving it from its current location turned out to be easier than I had anticipated. Using mostly brute force and the judicious placing of a short 2 x 6, I moved it out onto the path and maneuvered it onto my dolly to be wheeled to the pond nursery area where I start all of the new pond plants. I will remove the Iris currently growing in it, clean it out and make any repairs that are needed and re-use it on one of the other ponds. With it gone, I was able to spend time on tightening up the electric fencing around that pond. I have fencing powered by a doggie shocker around all of my ponds to keep the Herons and Raccoons away from the very large Koi. You can see the fences in the pictures although they barely register with me as I am so used to them.

Now that I have a “spare” 20 gallon filter unit, I can take my time in preparing it to replace one or the other of the 2 existing ones that I have left, both of which have pretty extensive growths of Iris and Orange Canna. I may wait until the winter when the growth had died down before working on these two. As I pointed out above, the current “spare” unit also has a large growth of Iris in it which I need to dig out and re-plant somewhere or I might just give the Iris away. By the way, I do NOT plan on planting anything in the new filters. I would prefer they do not get enmeshed with roots even though the roots also act as a filter.

It took me all day to complete the project, I had to take a break and go to Home Depot for the fluorescent light grid as I was out of it but this only took about 30 minutes. Needless to say, my car would not drive past the Starbucks in Bee Cave so I had to humor it and buy a small latte. This tied me over until around 4:00 pm when I stopped for a tea break, but other than that, I was at it all the time. Funnily enough, even though it was a 100+ degrees, I never felt at any time that it was too hot to finish the project. I made sure I had plenty of water and I had liberally applied sun block and I was working in the shade for most of the time.

Must be getting used to the heat…..again.

If you click on any of the pictures, they will enlarge and can be quickly changed by use of the side arrows. To get back to the blog, press the escape key.

The Little Birds, a Miracle of Nature – Part 2

Pair of wrens

Pair of wrens

Success. What a wonderful word. I’m sure that it is very appropriate even when applied to acts of Nature. I’m talking about the Wrens and the babies they have been raising just 2 feet from my back door. See my original blog.

Yesterday, I went outside and spotted one of the babies on the ground under the nest. So I carefully picked it up and placed it back in the nest. Next thing I knew, the second baby jumped out and landed in a box containing glassware to be re-cycled. I fished that one out and put it back in the nest and the first one jumped out again and landed under a small step into the doggie door. I moved the step and rescued the baby bird and put it back in the nest and became aware that both of the parent birds were no more than 5-6 feet away from me and kicking up a fuss.

Then it dawned on me. The bird that I had seen yesterday on the brim of the hat was getting ready for the “big event” The birds were deliberately jumping out because it was time for them to leave the nest and all I was doing was getting in the way. My pathetic efforts of rescue were misguided so I hastily bid a quick retreat and from a safe distance, watched as the parent birds coaxed the babies into the air. The first couple of flights were short and ended up with the babies crashing onto the ground but finally they were up, although somewhat shakily, following their parents into the nearest tree.

Then I lost sight of them but could hear them still in the trees as they acclimatized themselves to their new mode of transport. I was so fortunate that I was able to witness this phase of the baby’s life and even luckier to be able to hold them both. They were so small and so delicate and yet perfectly formed. I walked around for the rest of the day like a proud father with his first newborn.

Today, when I went outside, I could hear the babies around somewhere as they demanded food from their parents but was not able to see them. I consider myself one of the lucky few to be able to watch Mother Nature in all of her glory, so close as these Wrens went about raising their two babies. I felt even more grateful that the babies survived to fly off and join the world of nature.

The Little Birds Don’t Know When to Quit

My hat and the nest in it

My hat and the nest in it

I wrote in an earlier blog of my experiences with a pair of Wrens that busily went about their business of building a nest, laying a couple of eggs and finally spending their time in trying to raise their chicks. Read the blog. They did all of this no more than 10 feet away from where I was busy tearing up the deck and then repairing the septic system that was underneath it. Unfortunately, this story does not have a happy ending as one morning when I noticed how quiet it was and peeked into the nest which incidentally, was in a pair of waders that I had hung up, I found a large tree snake that had crawled up onto the patio table and then up the waders and had eaten the two babies. The adult birds were in the trees above me chirping away like mad either at me or at the snake or both. Anyway, the end of that story was in me carrying the snake further down the garden and releasing it to live another day. At the same time, I removed the waders so as not to tempt the Wrens to re-use that particular nest.

About three weeks ago, I noticed a pair of Wrens building a nest in one of my wide brimmed hats that I have hanging up outside my back door. This nest is no more than two feet away from me when I use the door to go in and out and I wondered how the Wrens and I were going to share the space. It turns out that they chose to ignore me while they were taking turns to sit on the eggs of which again, there are two and now they are feeding their babies, they wait for me to move away before they approach the nest. I can see them on the bird feeder that I built patiently awaiting for me to move so I hurry out so as to give them their space.

Close up of the nest

Close up of the nest

I have peeked in the nest a couple of time, once when one of the birds was sitting on the eggs as I startled it and it flew out and I had to leave the back light on for it to find its way back that evening . Must not have done any damage as the eggs both hatched. Now as I glance in on my way into the house, all I can see are the two little birds with their beaks wide open as they beg for food. They make a lot of noise when either of the parent birds are near as they clamor to be fed.

Even as I write this, the parent birds a hustling back and forth each with something in their beak to feed their hungry babies. I spent some time watching and it occurred to me that their trips were not as frequent with food as the first pair of birds. I think that food is not as plentiful now that things have warmed up as it was when I was working on the septic system which was a couple of months ago. The parent birds are having to work a lot harder to find food.

I snuck another look inside the nest and one of the babies was getting adventurous and was climbing out onto the brim of the hat. It just sat there as we looked at each other but hustled back inside when the parent bird came back.

You can just see one of the babies

You can just see one of the babies

The quality of the pictures are not the best. There is so much yellow around, I couldn’t get it out of the shot. Obviously, this is an unfinished story and there will be a part 2 to report on the babies progress hopefully up to when they learn to fly. Stay posted

Things that are happening-whether I want them to or not….

Danny with his buddy Richie

Danny with his buddy Richie

It has been a real interesting last couple of days in the Allcorn residence.

Yesterday morning, I followed my usual procedure to go out and get the newspaper from the driveway which I always read as I am eating breakfast. Based on the time it takes to eat a Ciabatta roll cut in half to make two slices and then toasted and to drink at least half of a cup of coffee is usually how long it takes to peruse the local newspaper. Sometimes I finish reading before I finish eating which goes to show that there is not a lot of very interesting stuff in the paper, at least for me. I am not a great lover of American sports and the write ups about soccer are few and far between unless one of the National teams is playing. Then I can usually find a couple of paragraphs mostly denoting just how wonderful the teams are or if they lose, the many reasons why they did. The rest of the paper is filled with newsy articles about local goins-on and some world news. There is always an article attacking President Obama either for what he has just done or for him not doing it. Go figure… And then of course there are the flyers inserted to tell me about back-to-school sales or other similar items that I have absolutely no interest in purchasing. All in all, not a very stimulating read early in the morning. The one page that I do peruse very carefully, just in case my name is there, are the obituaries. So far, I have been lucky and have not yet read that I have passed on to that great soccer team in the sky…Gonna hate it when I do.

Anyway, while I was outside I heard cars screeching on Thomas Springs and looked up to see a couple of dogs entering my driveway. Normally, dogs that have broken loose are pretty skittish around other people but that was not the case this time. The biggest dog looked like cross between a Wolfhound and a German Shepherd. He was tall and rangy and had the longest legs I have ever seen on a dog. The other was just a little black dog not much bigger than a big puppy and obviously was very attached to the big dog. My experience of trying to get stray dogs to come to me has not been very successful in the past and they usually either run away or make a big circle around me and go on their way. I am always concerned that they would run back into the traffic. This time however, the big dog spotted me and came galloping towards me with a grin on his face as though we were long-lost buddies. The little guy followed dociley along behind and he even let me make a fuss of him as well. I grabbed the big guys collar and led him through the garage with the little guy following along and opened the door to the house which also opens up into the laundry room. Both dogs darted in and I shut the door. Easiest dog capture I have ever made.

I fixed them a bowl of hard food and some water which they proceeded to empty all over the floor. While they were at it, they also distributed hard food everywhere. I left them in there while I finished breakfast and had time to think about what my next move was going to be. Obviously, they could not really stay in the laundry room which got me thinking about putting them in the old dog run that I have on the side of the house. This is an area where the gate opens into an enclosure that is fenced on two sides with a 6 ft high wood picket fence and on the third garden side, a 4 ft high chain link fence. The house makes up the fourth side. Years ago, it was my dog run when I had four Cocker spaniels and a Maltese and they used to spend the day in there while I was at work. That was more than fifteen years ago. It has not been used much for anything since and I always promised myself that I would do something with it one of these fine days. I’m still working on that…

I hoped they were leash trained as I wanted to move them as simply as possible and luckily for me, both of them were perfect gentlemen on their respective leashes. I led them back through the garage and to the gateway that leads into the dog yard. The both trotted along and went in without any fuss. So I left them to go back and get their food and water having to spend time gathering the hard food back up again and then placed it in their new and hopefully, temporary home.

Two of my dachshunds were very brave as they barked at the two newcomers through the fence. The newcomers barked back and for ten minutes there was this awful racket as they went at each other. A real Mexican standoff. I went back inside after things quieted down and for a few minutes everything was fine to the degree that I got ready to feed my own pack of starving animals.

All of a sudden, all hell broke loose with a cacophony of sound as everyone started barking all over again. I rushed outside only to see that the big dog, whose name I had discovered was Guthrie, at least that is what it said on his dog tag, had jumped the fence and was loose in the yard. I got everyone quieted down and they all kind of formed a truce at least temporarily. Seeing that none of the dogs wanted to go to war, I opened the gate and let the little black one out. This set off another round of barking until they got used to looking at each other. All four of them spent the next 15 minutes tearing around the yard exploring every square inch of it. Well, the new dogs explored the yard and my dogs explored the new dogs. Guthrie tried to get into one of the 80 gallon tubs that I use to start the water plants but this one had lilies growing in it. I hollered and he backed off only to try the one next to it which also had plants in it. So I hollered again and he slunk off and then the both of them decided that the ponds looked tempting and tried to push their way through the wire fences that surround the ponds. I have to report that the electric doggie shockers worked perfectly as they both leaped back in doggy surprise. That kept them out of the ponds.

In the meantime, I had got out my trusty drill/screwdriver and gathered up some new fence pickets that I happened to have lying around and went to work on raising the chain link fence to where Guthrie could no longer jump out. It was kind of very haphazard patch job but I hoped it would do the trick. At the same time, I walked around inside the run and discovered that the only place they could dig out was by the front entrance gate where they had first entered the run. The only reason I knew it to be a weak point was because they already had a hole about 6 inches deep which the little guy could have squeezed through. So, back outside the gate to place a couple of big rocks to block their escape route under it.

Feeling good about my efforts, I led Guthrie back in with the little guy following and shut them in for the night. I heard them barking occasionally in the night and my own dogs answered which made for a pretty broken nights sleep.

The next morning, I wandered over to the window and could see that they were both still in the run and went into the bathroom to prepare for the day ahead. Next thing I heard was this outburst of more barking and when I looked out the window and this time the little dog was out and running around the yard. Guthrie was kicking up a fuss as he could not get out. Apparently, the little guy had discovered where the chain link had come unattached from the gate enough for him to squeeze through and he had lost no time in doing just that. His big buddy was way to big to fit through hence the cries and whines for being left behind. I put the little guy back in and blocked up the hole he had found and went back to eat breakfast.

I should mention that I belong to a neighborhood group that stays in touch via a website that allows us to post anything (within reason) on it to share with our neighbors. I had posted a piece the night before about these two lost dogs in the hope that someone would recognize them and provide some information on the real owners but when I had looked in the morning, the one lead that was there did not pan out when I checked it out. I had been wondering what my next course of action if I could not find the owners for as cute as they were, I really did not need anymore dogs having got my original number of eight down to a much more manageable three all by their deaths through old age or illness over the years. By the way, there is a separate story why the eight dogs that still needs to be told.

Richie, my male Dachshund, was acting strange as though he had his nose out of joint over something. He would not come to me or pay any attention when I spoke to him. I guess he was giving me the doggie equivalent of the “cold shoulder” because he thought that his territory, his kingdom, was being invaded by new tenants one of whom was by far bigger and much stronger than him.

There was a ring on the doorbell as I was getting ready to take a bite out of a slice of toast and marmalade and there was the little old lady standing there. She introduced herself and then explained that she was not a member of our little group due to her not using a computer but she had a friend who was and had spotted my article about finding two dogs. As soon as she mentioned Guthrie I just knew that it was everybody’s lucky day. Her for getting her dogs back, mine for not having to worry about what to do next and finally the two dogs for finding their human again. I led her back to the run and it was a great sight to see her reunited with her puppies which she finally leashed up and led back to her car. We spent the next ten minutes as she told me some of their doggy stories much to my amusement.
I was never more relieved or more pleased as she drove away. It’s just great when things have a happy ending.
Oh yes, Richie is back to his normal cheerful self again and the best part is that I still only have three dogs…