You Can Grow Your Own Food!

So many of us love the idea of growing our own food but lack of space, sun, and let’s face it, time get in the way. If you’re in that crowd, don’t despair, there is an answer – edible landscaping!

Many vegetables and herbs are as beautiful as they are delicious. This makes them perfect candidates for sprucing up your landscapes as well as your dinner. A wide variety of edible plants offer splendid texture and color for most any landscape. And you can position them just about anywhere that receives six or more hours of sun a day.

Consider existing landscape beds. Chives, parsley, prostrate rosemary and smaller varieties of artemesia are excellent border plants. Basil is a beautiful and delicious accent plant. African Blue Basil grows to maturity as a tall plant with stunning purple bloom spikes that attract many species of bees. Sweet basil planted with Purple Ruffles basil offers interesting textures as well as bright green and purple color in the garden.

African Blue Basil
Sweet and Purple Basil

Herbs provide interesting textures and colors in the garden or strategically placed containers. Spend time outdoors to identify where your landscape receives at least six hours of sun. Start small by planting one or two containers in the sunniest spot in your landscape. Vegetables and herbs can be tucked into an ornamental planting bed. Just remember to consider the mature size of the vegetable to provide adequate space for it to grow. Large containers are perfect for growing many vegetables and herbs. Make certain that the container has a drainage hole. Purchase good quality potting mix to fill vegetable or herb containers. Place the container in its final location before filling with soil.

One in three households in the U.S. is growing food and children involved in growing vegetables are more willing to eat them.

Zucchini

In our southeast Texas climate, now is the perfect time to begin growing warm season vegetables. Just follow these easy steps and you’ll be well on your way:

  • Make a list of your family’s favorite vegetables and/or herbs
  • Decide which plants you want to grow
  • Purchase starts to create an instant garden
  • Buy general purpose organic fertilizer and compost
  • Identify the nearest water source (hose bib) for a garden hose or plan to hand water
  • Dig only where each plant will be planted
  • Add a small amount of fertilizer and the plant to the planting hole
  • Gently replace the soil around the roots and stem of the plant
  • Cover with an inch or so of good quality compost
  • Water thoroughly
Asian Eggplant

Ultimately, let your palate be your guide. If you plant what you love to eat you’ll be more likely to harvest and prepare the fruits of your labor. Common warm season vegetables include beans, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, and okra. Some warm season herbs are basil, dill, mint, oregano, rosemary and thyme. Local groceries, hardware stores and home supply stores have vegetable and herbs ready to add to your landscape. Set aside an hour or two and begin to grow your own food.

Growing tomatoes in a sunny container

For more information, check out these helpful gardening guides from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.

Cherry tomatoes

Try this delicious recipe using tomatoes grown in your own landscape!

Create a delightful family project by harvesting, cleaning, and preparing the chemical free vegetables and herbs you have grown. Let children make suggestions about what they would like to eat. Involve your family in meal planning and cooking. Sharing edibles from your own landscape is a very rewarding experience. List your favorite vegetables and start now!

Tell Mosquitoes to Bug Off…

BUG OFF- USING MOSQUITO REPELLENT

Recent rains and warm temperatures have produced a bumper crop of flood plain mosquitoes. Fortunately, these annoying biters are just that, annoying; they don’t carry disease. Unfortunately, The Woodlands has other species that do. So, before you head outdoors, especially at dawn and dusk, reach for a repellent that keeps the biters at bay.

There are nearly 50 species of mosquitoes in The Woodlands and likely as many choices of repellent. Make it easy on yourself, choose one that contains one of the four, EPA approved active ingredients: DEET, Picaridin, IR3535, and oil of lemon eucalyptus. EPA makes it even easier to find a repellent that meets your specific needs with their online search tool.

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Air BeeNBee

Looking to purchase new property with a small footprint and a big return on investment?

What if you could build a house for pennies and fill it with tenants who get right to work improving the house and the whole neighborhood?

Sound good? Then it’s time to invest a bee house!

Meet The Renters

Native Solitary Bees, also known as pollen bees, account for approximately 90% of bee species native to Texas. Because these bees are not honey producers and don’t have the ‘job’ of protecting and providing for a hive, they’re not aggressive and are fine around children and pets. Most solitary bees only sting when provoked (smashed, swatted or sprayed) and they’re safe to have in the garden.

The most common bees to take up residency are mason bees, leafcutter bees, carpenter bees and sweat bees. A couple hundred of these friendly neighbors can pollinate as many flowers as a thousand honeybees!

In Spring and Summer, a female bee will select a cavity or ‘room’ in your bee house, fill it with food, lay eggs, seal the room shut, and then move on to her next nest. She won’t revisit or defend the nest. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the stored food, winter inside the nest and then emerge in the spring to start the cycle all over again, providing you an endless stream of renters and pollinators!

Hard Hats Required: Construction Zone

Bee houses come in many shapes and sizes; something roughly the size of a birdhouse is common for most urban landscapes. Whether purchasing a pre-made one or building on your own, consider the following:

Be sure to avoid pressure-treated wood – the chemicals deter would-be inhabitants. If you want to up the curb appeal you can paint the roof and sides; just allow a few weeks for the smell to wear off before bees will move in.

Provide a variety of “room” sizes for bees to choose from – about 1/8″ to 1/2″. A variety of materials provide dark tunnels perfect for nesting: bamboo, hollow reeds, cardboard tubes, small logs or tree branches. Commercial premade nesting tubes or blocks are also available. Whatever material you choose, make sure the tubes are all cut 6″ to 8″ deep, allowing plenty of room for bees to nest. Use sandpaper to smooth any rough edges at the ends. Make (or purchase) extra tubes so you can change out rotten or damaged ones over time.

The back of the house should be closed and the front open. A roof will help keep rain out and should extend 2″ over the front.

After collecting your materials, fill the frame with various sized rooms and add in some bits of nature (pinecones, branches, foliage) in any gaps around the sides, to make the bees feel at home. If you’re concerned about birds or other predators, cover the front of the house with chicken wire.

Room With A View

Find a spot in your yard within 300 fee of plants that flower, aka bee food. Distance is important as some native bees don’t travel very far to find food. Place the house on the south side of a building, fence post or tree that gets morning sun and afternoon shade.  The higher the better: place the house a minimum of 3′ from the ground. 

Avoid hanging your house from a pole or hook; it will swing too much to be considered a safe home by bees. Best to have the back of the house flush with a sturdy object. Once your house has residents, DO NOT MOVE!  If you must relocate, wait until November when most of the tubes will be filled with eggs waiting to hatch in the spring.

Upkeep

Bee houses require little maintenance; however check periodically that the house remains dry and no mold or mildew is occurring. Look for signs of pollen mites, chalkbrood, and parasitic wasps. All are threats to your bee house. 

Your bees may be fine on their own, but the best way to prevent the spread of parasites and disease is to “harvest” your cocoons at the end of the season, or around mid-November. To do this, simply open the nesting tubes and remove the contents. Separate the cocoons from any debris and wash them off in a bowl of cool water. Then place into a container, such as a Tupperware with air holes, in the fridge. Store your cocoons through the winter until temperatures break 50 degrees consistently. At that point, they can be placed in an open container, outside near their nest.

To learn more about harvesting solitary bees, check out this video by Bee Built.

If not harvesting, consider replacing the tubes every few years to reduce potential disease or infestations that are harmful to your bees.

To provide the best long-term housing option, AVOID PESTICIDES in your landscape, certainly around the bee house.

Identifying the types of bees in your neighborhood and meeting their specific needs will help you become the best landlord you can be. Check out the free iNaturalist app for help in identifying and documenting the activity in your yard.

Get your bee house buzzing with activity then sit back and enjoy your new neighbors!

Earth Day GreenUp: Join the Clean Your Block-Party this Saturday!

Join the green team of volunteers sweeping our community for litter this Saturday, March 26, 2022 at Earth Day GreenUp. Team up with family and friends to target litter in our parks and green spaces. Each year more than a thousand GreenUp volunteers remove over 4,500 pounds of litter - the equivalent of 76 of our curbside trash carts!    

On the day of the event, check in between 8 and 10 a.m. at one of eight Township parks. There you’ll receive disposable gloves, bags, a map to a nearby cleanup location and a limited supply of trash grabbers. Please bring your own reusable water bottle and work gloves. Once you’ve checked in it’s time to head out and clean up. The event runs until 11 a.m. but finishing earlier is fine.   

When you’ve returned bagged litter and equipment to the check-in site, it’s time to party! The Woodlands Township, your local Village Association, and event sponsors will host “clean your block parties” at each check-in site. Enjoy a pizza lunch and celebrate your efforts with your neighbors from 11 a.m to noon.  

On event day, remember:

* All participants will need to sign a waiver at check-in if they did not register online. Participants under the age of 18 must be signed in by a parent or legal guardian.

* Wear appropriate clothing – long pants and closed-toe shoes or boots are recommended.

* Remember hats, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, reusable gloves and water bottle.

Earth Day GreenUp is coordinated by The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department with support from Waste Management, Woodlands Water, H-E-B, Howard Hughes Corporation, Chevron Phillips Chemical, Papa John’s Pizza, Keep Texas Beautiful and The Woodlands G.R.E.E.N. 

For more information, please email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or call 281-210-3800.   

Join Earth Day GreenUp 2022  

Online registration is now closed, but walk up participation is welcome.   

Check-in:  Saturday, March 26, 8 to 10 a.m. at a location near you.  

  • Cleanup:  8 to 11 a.m.  
  • Check-out & Clean Your Block Party: 11 a.m. to noon   
  • More Info:  Call Environmental Services at 281-210-3800   

Creature Feature: Opossums

Opossum or possum, however you pronounce it, we’re talking about one cool marsupial. Prehensile tails and opposable thumbs equip them for skillful climbing. They help rid our lawns and woodlands of grubs, ticks and other damaging insects, clean our roadsides of disease-spreading carrion, and they make great parents, to boot. Read on for more cool facts about our neighbors, Didelphis virginiana, whose origins trace back more than 65 million years!  

Fast Facts: 

  • The only marsupial (pouched mammal) in North America 
  • Male opossums are called jacks and females are called jills. Babies are called joeys. 
  • ‘Playing possum’ is a real defense used to confuse a possible predator. 
As they grow, offspring emerge from the mother’s pouch and will cling to the mother for up to two months as they continue to develop

What do they look like? 

  • Up to 30 inches long and weigh about 15 pounds 
  • Cone shaped nose with a pink tip, hairless ears, short legs and a long hair-less tail.  
  • Fur color is variable from pale gray to black. 

What do they eat? 

Opossums are omnivores who eat primarily animal matter such as insects, earthworms, small mammals, snakes, birds, fruits and vegetables. They are also amazingly immune to snake venom, so rattlesnakes and cottonmouths make the menu too. If available, they will dine on pet food, garbage cans and bird feeders. 

What eats them? 

  • Predators include owls, coyotes, hawks, snakes, foxes and feral cats.  
  • An estimated 19 million opossums are killed by vehicles every year in the United States. 

Why do we need them? 

Opossums are extremely beneficial to the environment. They eat a variety of critters considered pests or vermin by clearing your yard of roaches, mice and rats. In one season an opossum can consume about 5,000 ticks, helping minimize tick-borne diseases such Lyme disease.  Also known to eat carrion which minimizes disease in the environment.

Interested in learning more about local wildlife? Check out these past articles: