Auntie Em's Guide to Life

A guide to all the important things in life- marriage, family, cooking, gardening, reading, travel, Christian living… And whatever else grabs my attention!

See, the Winter is Past…

The flowers appear on the earth...


This is the Day…

this is the day the Lord has made

What will you do with your day?


Garden Tips– Growing Watermelon

This is my first year to try watermelon– last year I had great luck with cantaloupe, which really surprised me– so I decided to try. I got the Sugar Baby variety. I re-read Mel Bartholemew’s classic Square Foot Gardening, and figured I could plant them near a trellis so they wouldn’t get too spread out. However the trellis hasn’t been built, so I’ve just been corralling the vines as much as I can!


I have had no trouble with them so far. I picked the first one yesterday after watching and waiting (im)patiently! Here are some things I’ve discovered along the way:

1. Melons are heavy feeders. Square foot gardening says you can plant them 1 per square foot, but make sure you’ve got fertile soil. Fortunately, my compost pile provides lots of nutrition.

2. Melons like LOTS of sun and heat. Fortunately we’ve got plenty!

3. I actually thought of this one myself after digging and digging, trying to find where each vine was planted: Mark where you plant them so you can water at the roots. The vines get so long and intertwined that it’s next to impossible to find the root. You don’t want extra water on your leaves– that can cause problems– besides wasting a lot of time and water. Next year, though, I’m getting taller markers– like paint mixing sticks!



3. How do you know when to pick?

  • You can count days, assuming you’ve kept good records and know how long your particular variety is supposed to take to reach maturity. However, I bought these as seedlings so I wasn’t sure exactly how old they were.
  • You can “thump.” You want a dull, hollow sound. The only problem is that these sounded right, days ago!
  • Do the tendril/spoon test! (Directions below)

Pick when the “spoon” and tendril closest to the stem are brown. These signs were new to me; I read them then went to Youtube for a demonstration! watermelon green tendril not ready

This one’s ready. Can you see the little brown spoon and tendril?

watermelon brown tendril and spoon zoomed out

Look a little closer:

watermelon brown tendril and spoon

And here it is! It was absolutely delicious– so juicy! If you’ve never tried growing watermelons, try it!

growing watermelon


More Lessons on Marriage from the Garden

Lessons om Marriage from the Garden

School has been out for 3 weeks and I’ve been working, working. working in my yard and garden! I’ve learned some lessons about gardening, and many of these translate to marriage really well. (If you missed the first “Lessons on Marriage from the Garden,” you can read it here.)

1. Don’t procrastinate!

Thugs like this will set seed and then the weeds in your garden will be like Medusa’s head. Remember, you cut off one and 7 more grow?

Don't procrastinate!

I like the old saying “One year’s seed is seven years’ weeds.” Pull up those flowering weeds early, and if you can’t dig them out, at least break off the flower heads before they go to seed. I’ve never used a pre-emergent herbicide but if it prevents seeds from germinating in the first place, even better.

out of control weeds

Don’t procrastinate in your marriage, either! Have you ever put off doing something for your spouse because you were doing something for someone else? (GUILTY!) How about avoiding talking about a problem in hope that it will go away on its own? Some problems are compounded and made much worse when you put off dealing with them.

2. Procrastinate! Be patient!

I planted bush green beans for the first time this year. A little 4×4 square gave us enough to eat green beans about 4 times a week for 3 weeks. (I don’t get tired of them!) According to the rules of square foot gardening, you’re supposed to rip plants up as soon as they are past their prime so you can replant immediately. Bush beans, unlike their climbing cousins, are supposed to give one big harvest and then be done. But when that time came, it was the last few weeks of school, and I just didn’t have the energy or time to do it. Lo and behold, I’m getting a 2nd harvest. Not as big as the first, but a decent one.

Be patient in your marriage, too. There have been times when I was about ready to throw in the marital towel, right over Mr X’s head, but I’m so glad I didn’t. At our 32-year mark, he has matured into the most caring, thoughtful husband. Our relationship is the foundation for every other relationship, and is such a source of strength and joy. There is nothing so rewarding as having shared stories, histories, children, and family.

3. Keep alert.

It’s easy to overlook things in the garden. Sometimes fruit hides under the leaves and unless you get down low and move them aside, you will miss them. I hadn’t even seen flowers on this okra, and found it only when I was down planting something in a neighboring bed.

okra surprise

It’s really easy to miss cucumbers! Mr X likes them very small, like the bottom one. I’ve let them get so big I had to cut them up and put them straight in the compost pile.

Pick cucumbers before they get too big.

And sometimes something besides a veggie is hiding among the leaves, like a wasp. OOPS. Allergy to wasp stings discovered!

wasp sting allergy

Be alert in your marriage too. Things can lurk undetected — resentment, neglect, selfishness to name a few– and if you aren’t watching carefully and “weeding them out” as they appear, they can grow and get out of control.

A marriage, like a garden, can be a source of delight. But neither just happen on their own. After the wedding/planting, you’ve got to constantly maintain it. And in marriage and the garden alike, dealing with little problems as they happen can save lots of time and heartache later!

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

Genesis 2:15


Thugs in the Garden

THUG– a cruel or vicious ruffian, robber, or murderer. (NOTE for word nerds: The etymological roots and history of this word is fascinating– the followers of a cult in India from before 1356 till supposed eradication around 1840. They were estimated to have murdered a million people during those centuries!)

Modern day thugs are a bit different: They lie in wait till someone comes along, then attack. They look innocent enough.
green bean tendril thug
But look a bit closer and you’ll see sharp spines. The same things that enable those green beans to climb up a trellis will scratch whatever part of your body happens to rub against them! I also had a pretty good scratch on my face, right below my eye. It was fun saying I got attacked by a green bean tendril!attacked by green bean thugs
Even if thugs aren’t violent, they are so inconsiderate. They breed indiscriminately. They propagate way too many offspring, with no thought of how to provide for them, or who will have to do without in order to support them.
This year the thug tree is the sweet gum. I’m finding seedlings EVERYWHERE!


Boston ivy is one of the few Southeast Texas plants that actually changes color in the fall and give us some pretty yellows and reds. (Most of our plants are evergreen, or go straight from green to dead.) I had a large vine climbing an oak out my back door, but last fall you could see the seeds falling like rain. Baby ivies have taken over. The parent plant is now cut! But I have a lot of cleanup to do- pulling up babies (that sounds so cruel) and pulling up established plants. This Boston ivy has almost completely covered the azalea underneath; it’s struggling to get nutrients and light.


In the picture above, you can see a few of the biggest garden thug at my house, alstromeria! They make an unusual, pretty flower in the late spring, but then they begin their life of thuggery… spreading underground by runners… making seed heads and blowing seeds all around, taking root in any little space they find, whether it’s a flower bed, crack in the driveway, or potted plant. You can see where they almost took over a whole bed.

alstromeria thugs

They killed the mock orange on the right. I moved the strangled cannas struggling for life, and dug out as many alstromeria tubers as I could. The hydrangeas have never looked better!hydrangea

But look a little closer and you’ll see an alstromeria bloom that evaded arrest, just waiting to start spitting her seeds out and starting all over again! (It’s gone now!)alstromeria thug

There’s a little thug-ette that’s been making herself at home for a few years, and she’s getting a bit too bold all along my sidewalks: I never knew her name till I researched it today. I found out it’s Commelina, or asiatic dayflower. A beautiful blue flower with a name that pretty ought to be welcome, but she’s worn hers out! Each of the nodes (joints) along the stems can take root, making it very difficult to pull up and control.



Then there’s the American Beautyberry… a nice well-behaved, low-maintenance bush. Bright green foliage all season, pretty little light pink flowers in the spring and summer, and almost neon purple berries in the winter. It’s attractive to bees, butterflies, and birds, being one of the few berry plants to provide food for the birds through the winter. However. Those birds then fly around and… well you know… they leave beautyberry seeds all over the yard, then I have to fight the seedlings!


Last but certainly not least in my garden thug tour is black and blue salvia. It has the most spectacular deep blue flowers! But, put it in loose rich soil and it will spread like wildfire. This behemoth started life as a 4″ pot about 4 or 5 years ago, and has been pulled up and shared a lot already. Definitely a thug.


When you are choosing plants for your garden, check out Dave’s Garden to find out if it is an invasive plant or there are any other bad qualities. Remember too, if it’s low-maintenance on the front side (as in being a perennial, and not having to replant every year), there will be at least SOME maintenance on the back side, in trimming back or thinning and separating. Only you can decide if it’s worth it to you!


A Merry Heart– June 2

A merry heart is good medicine…

Proverbs 17:22

Auntie Em has been working in the garden during every spare minute. School will be out in one more week, and I’m looking forward to being able to write a bit more– in the meantime, let me share my garden with you! It makes my heart merry; hopefully it will do the same for yours!

Some pretty flowers– black and blue salvia (spreads by underground roots, so if you have good soil, be vigilant about keeping it in its place!) and giant iris. I love blue in the garden!

In the garden- black and blue   image

Easter lilies that waited till Mother’s Day to bloom– but when they did, it was pretty spectacular! And I was inspired by Pinterest to make a shade pot– I love the way it turned out.

In the garden-- Easter lilies In the garden- shade pot

Mr X moved a baker’s rack that was holding junk in a junk room/extra bedroom, and I straightened up the front porch. I also made a sun pot and gave a hibiscus a buddy.

image image

I cleaned up a front bed after buying some time planting potatoes, and am halfway to having it done. I’m putting a few things in the front, then laying newspaper and mulching. Don’t the hydrangeas look happy?

In the garden- hydrangeas image image image

But the veggie garden has been taking up most of my time. Before long it will be brutally hot outside and I want to get as much as possible done before that. We have planted asparagus, corn, beans, lettuce, and herbs in existing flower beds around the house.

In the garden - veggies in the flower bed image

But because we have all this dirt, and one of my rules is Be Frugal, I started talking about expanding. Mr X took the ball and ran with it, mowing and bagging leaves, raking them up for mulch. He built a beautiful sturdy trellis and walkways with treated lumber, and we’ve added a lot of space to plant. It’s not all planted yet but the newspaper and leaves are killing the grass, making a wonderful topsoil that will be great when it does get planted.

New garden bed image New garden bed image




A Merry Heart– April 15

A merry heart is good medicine…

Proverbs 17:22

I spent most of the day in the garden yesterday so in honor of God’s wonderful handiwork, enjoy the beauty of flowers blooming!

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What a Difference a Day Makes!

I was not home much this week, since we are in the middle of UIL Concert and Sightreading season. I spent 2 days at our middle school contest, playing the piano for our 2 choirs plus 4 others, then drove to Houston after the 2nd day, spent the night, and judged a contest the next. I try to walk around my garden and visit my plants every day, but I didn’t get to spend much Time out there. However, after I had been gone a full day and almost 3 inches of rain fell, I could really tell a difference!

English dogwood (mock orange) had exploded.

.English dogwood

Sugar snap peas and Little Marvel peas grew tall and started blooming.

Little Marvel peas Sugar snap peas

Louisiana iris began blooming.

.Louisiana iris

My potatoes grew way too tall! I’m out of dirt to hill up around them.


And the big news of the day– Hardy gladioli were barely budded out last time I saw them, then I came home to this:

Hardy gladiolus Hardy gladiolus


Around the Garden– March 30

Spring is definitely here in Southeast Texas, although we had a slight hiccup and some near-freezing temps early this week! I picked this little bouquet a few weeks ago- daffodils, narcissus, hyacinth, saucer magnolia (tulip tree), camellia, and some rosemary sprigs.


Early this season we visited the farm of a good friend and I got a load of manure and topsoil– if you are a gardener, you know how excited I was! Plus, I got to see several baby cows!20130129-154803.jpg

I planted lettuce for the first time– it’s looking beautiful! I planted more in the ground, and some more in a large pot, several weeks apart. I wish I liked radishes– they looks pretty but taste like dirt to me.

20130327-200405.jpg 20130327-200356.jpg

I got an apple tree this year. As with any new bed, I like to lay down several layers of newspaper to kill out the grass and weeds. Mr X used a piece of twine as a handy little compass to make the brick border an even circle. Then “we” (there’s the “marital we” again) saturated the newspapers, then topped with a thick layer of leaf mulch, which we also saturated.

20130327-200335.jpg 20130327-200324.jpg 20130327-200300.jpg

I’m afraid the broccoli is about done. From what I’ve read, when the temps get about 70, they begin bolting to flower and seed. I put in some newer ones about a month ago, thinking that it was the age of the plant that made a difference, but they are flowering too.


Basil seedlings coming up. I need to pot them up!


I didn’t know that saucer magnolia would root where it touches the ground, like azaleas do. Here are 3 new ones that took root. I hope they will grow into new trees!


How is your garden growing?

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Auntie Em’s Garden-Fresh Broccoli

Springtime is very near here in Southeast Texas!



tulip trees,


and narcissus are blooming,


and hyacinths and even a few brave azaleas are peeking out.

Last spring I planted a few broccoli plants and was amazed at how prolific they were! I didn’t think broccoli would thrive in our hot weather. I did give out by June but had made tons before that. So this year, I got a dozen plants and we have had an abundance! I used it to make my broccoli salad at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but for you veggie purists, this week I made it plain. May I just say how much better broccoli is when it’s fresh from the garden?

Cut your broccoli when the buds are tight. I let some of these go too far– there were even a couple of flowers! If more flowerets are forming, be sure to leave them there. 20130205-063716.jpg

There will be one large head– I’ve already cut this one– then the plant will continue to produce side shoots,


unless you let it go to seed. I let this one go too long so decided to sacrifice it for next year’s seed. Notice there are no side shoots because the energy is being used in seed production.


Wash it good. I haven’t used pesticides but we do have animals that run loose in our neighborhood!


Chop it as much as you like. I like fairly big chunks, so I cut the florets off but don’t chop them.


When you cut the broccoli when it’s young, the stems are plenty tender. I used all of this.


I put it in a small glass bowl, added about a tablespoon of water, and covered. Microwave 1 minute and stir. Depending on the amount, you might need to cook another minute. Then, go ahead and add a tablespoon of butter! MMM…. delicious…. and so good for you!


Auntie Em’s Garden-Fresh Broccoli

1 large or several small broccoli florets, chopped

1 TBS water

1 TBS butter, salt and pepper to taste

Combine in microwave-safe bowl. Cover and cook on high 1 or 2 minutes.


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