Lila Stevens

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since Jan 08, 2013
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Recent posts by Lila Stevens

This is so cool! I actually went down this "rabbit hole" probably 10 years ago or more, before I even had kids, and was just interested in crafting with recycled materials, using recycled building materials, etc. If I remember correctly, the paper clay can also be made from newspaper, and can even include dryer lint. I never actually got around do doing it, but I do remember being very excited about these ideas and making all kinds of plans

Thank you for reminding me of this! I now have 2 little kids who are just getting to the age where we can do this together and they can play with it. Something like this will definitely be in our future plans.

I love the pink room, btw. Compared to the brightly colored plastic toys kids are used to, it's very mild, and it's just one small part overall, so it's not overwhelming.
1 year ago

wayne fajkus wrote:Henry, i am in a similar situation and feel i made a very creative solution for the problem. My fence will be an arbor. Think of an old clothesline pole. The fencing will be 4ft tall and at a little over 6ft, there will be a 4 to 5ft wide "tee". Wire will be strung along the tees. Grapes, kiwi, or nothing will be grown on the arbors. It should be beautiful when the plants mature.

I have started on it. Most of the fence is done. I just need to install the tee portion of it.

That design sounds like a great idea! I was wondering what plants I could grow on a fence and not have the deer just devour from the outside. Will they not eat grapes and kiwi? Any other vines they don't like?

We'll probably be moving to your general area later this year, so all of your posts are especially helpful to me.
1 year ago
Thank you for posting all of this! I'm hoping to move to Central Texas within the next 6 months, and all of this is very inspiring and useful for me. I won't have the funds to do these kinds of earthworks, but this all gives me a lot of food for thought about what I can do there.
1 year ago

Sam Stephens wrote:
Some very valid points in these replies.  Notice most of them revolve around temperature and rainfall. The Texas climate has always been unpredictable back to the days of the first homesteaders on the Spanish Land Grants.  Later, settlers from the South brought their pigs - which promptly died from the heat.  That is why our dominant barbecue is beef brisket.  Pulled pork, so common in the South,  is a late arrival here.  Early settlers also stopped roughly along the north/south line of I-35 because "My God, there were no trees!"  They just pulled back into the Piney Woods and got by just fine.  Later emigres were braver and ventured farther westward.  It takes 25" (at least) annual rainfall to support hardwood trees.  The only thing I water during the high summer is the orchard. I remember my first summer here when I was amazed that the wind was so hot it seemed to burn your skin and ALL my landscape plantings put in later than I should have on a new home died regardless of how much I watered.  That was 30 years ago and I realized quickly I was not in Georgia any more.

A bumper corn crop always eludes me.  Celery and rhubarb don't work either.

I spent a decade in the Eagle Ford of South Texas where rattlesnakes were a weekly occurrence.  Fewer of them up here but we do have an abundance of copperheads.

The varmints will ruin a garden.  Skunks,rabbits,armadillos are bothersome. Hogs and deer are a garden and orchard disaster.  A solar powered electric fence around garden and orchard and a German Shepherd dog thwarts much of the damage.

The chicken coop is varmint proof to date.  NO chicken wire!  1/4'' hardware cloth completely encloses the run.   I lose several chickens every year during the free range portion of their day to coyote and bobcats.

I don't recall if you plan on being off grid or not but air conditioning during the summer is almost imperative.  I am in the home stretch of finishing a small cabin with a hybrid power system.  I flip the main disconnect on the grid power usually late September and I sometimes last into May before I have to energize it again. My off grid power source is 1250 kW solar.

Building restrictions here are minimal.

I really loved those Loblolly piney woods! I looked at  a few properties with huge, towering pines on them. So pretty, and serene, and I'm sure they cool things down at least a little too. I admit, the descriptions of the summer heat give me some pause. But here in Hawaii, I am just a little too hot almost all the time, if I'm out working, which I am almost every day. If I'm not hot, it's because it's pouring rain on my head, which is often. So I'm thinking if for 6 months of the year I can be pretty comfortable, over-warm for 3 months out of the year, and then be forced to take 3 months off during the summer to just swim and play with my kids, maybe that isn't such a bad thing.

I would not be trying to live without AC, much as I hate using the power on it. A lot of the properties I am looking at have manufactured homes on them. Or on raw land, a second-hand manufactured home can be brought on very cheaply. I was thinking to make them more energy-efficient, i could build an over-roof over the whole thing that extends into a deep, shady porch on the North, East, and West sides, and a smaller porch on the South side to allow the winter sun through the south-facing windows, but shading them from the summer sun. My handicapped parents find swimming very therapeutic, so I would build in an above-ground swimming pool at the edge of their north-facing deck (or wherever the prevailing breeze comes from) for easy access for them and so that air passing over their pool might be cooled a bit before entering their house (on days or nights when it is cool enough to have windows open at all, that is). Large shade trees will be a must on whatever land we would buy. Does that sound reasonable?

I'd like to build a "real" house in the future, but I don't want to be renting in the interum while the building process inevitably drags on (been there, done that). So manufactured homes seem like a good solution. And when we do build, they can become guest cabins or additional dwellings for other folks, or whatever. I'd like to use metal roofing and do water catchment in large tanks for gardening, etc. I heard in the old days in the Bastrop area many farmers who did not have a well actually lived on water catchment.

Thank you for all the good varmint info. I was thinking a perimeter fence around the house and stuff I want to protect, and a few dogs.

I heard that corn is hard to grow there due to a particular kind of moth (or the caterpillars that are its young), but if you install bat houses around your place, the bats will take care of the moth and you can grow corn. Corn is nice, but the main thing I miss living here in Hawaii is growing tomatoes. They grow here, but poorly for so many reasons. I really miss the feeling of wealth that comes with having a surplus of beautiful, tasty tomatoes.

1 year ago

Mike Barkley wrote:Howdy. I'm originally from the Austin area. CenTex is a great place to live. Or not. It depends. It gets quite hot & many people can't handle that. Austin is not the same since the Armadillo was closed.  the dillo

Austin & the nearest towns have become very expensive places to live due to the large influx of people in recent years. The Giddings & LaGrange areas aren't quite as pricey & are more suitable for country homestead living. The pastures start getting less rocky & greener as you get toward those areas too. One cow/5 acres is optimistic west of Austin & north into the hill country. The dry rocky land just can't support that. People do raise cattle there but it normally requires huge external inputs &/or huge amounts of land. Those two cities are fairly close to Austin as well as Houston & San Antonio. Bastrop & Lockhart are nice country areas but they are effectively part of Austin already. Wimberley area is nice but has many tourists in the summer months.

Being completely off grid there is not as straight forward as it might seem. I know the owners of the greenest home in Haye's county. San Marcos area. They are very environmental people & she was an architect that designed their house. They were required to hook into city water & septic & electric. The official policy was you don't have to use it you just have to install it and pay for it. I looked into homesteading properties all around the area & found that to be true pretty much everywhere in CenTex. That might be different an hour or more drive from Austin. About half way to Waco seemed to be less restrictive.

CenTex scorpions. One normally only sees those except during breeding season or when moving rocks. Their sting is rather nasty but not life threatening or even dangerous for most people. No doubt there are people who are severely allergic though. For the most part scorpions are not a big problem unless in an infested area. They glow under UV light so that is fun to see.

Venomous snakes. Those are a very real concern. Some places have them & some don't. Coral snakes are very shy & rare to see. Rattlesnakes are more common but also shy. Those will simply go away given half a chance to escape. Unless you have a large gathering of rattlers living in one area. That is a more serious problem to deal with. They do make nice belts & taste great. Be aware that rattlesnakes mate for life so if you see one there is probably another nearby. Water moccasins on the other hand are very aggressive. They will charge right at you to defend their territory. They are true reptile reprobates. My favorite snake bite kit.    

Wild pigs. They are a big problem in some areas. They taste excellent marinated overnight in homemade peach brandy & slow cooked in the ground Hawaiian style. Or BBQ'd with mesquite. YUM!!!

Gardening was a year read round activity for me there. Never had much luck with potatoes, corn, or berries though. Figs grow there easily. I planted tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, & the usual assortment of green veggies in early spring. Would get a decent crop by June. Then spent summers watering trying to keep them barely alive. In early fall they would thrive again & produce a bigger & better crop than spring. Chards do reasonably good there most of the year. Broccoli planted in late summer or early fall would produce a few heads throughout winter & then more large heads & side shoots in the spring. They would then flower & attract bees & make seeds. Packman broccoli, no longer available for sale. Planted cilantro once & it self seeded every year after.

Floods. Oh yes. Big ones. Water is a huge concern in CenTex. It seems there is either too little or too much. Edwards aquifier (the primary water supply) is already severely overdrawn.

Fair warning. Chupacabras. (couldn't resist)

Thank you! Yes, I liked Giddings and La Grange quite a bit too. Very pretty, to my eye, and seemed like good land for what I want to do. I did not make it to Wimberley, but did to San Marcos, and do want to explore that area further next time.

I'm not really planning to be completely off-grid. I just like the idea for not having to get permits to add on or build a guest cabin. And I like the idea of being able to experiment with things like straw-bale or cob building without having to clear it with the county.

I guess our hosts' place must have been infested with scorpions; there were a lot! My daughter got stung and it was much like a bee-sting. Not a huge deal, but not something you want to be surprised by in bed. I was told free-range chickens will help bring their numbers down. We did patrol the house with a black-light pen every night, and yes, that glowing trick of theirs is very cool!

Good to know about the snakes. I grew up with rattlesnakes in California, and we just learned to be cautious as kids; learned where they were likely to be and were careful. I doubt Texas will be any worse. There's just something extra creepy about a venomous water snake, you know?

We have a huge problem with wild/ feral pigs in Hawaii. They are a huge nuisance and so destructive. I'm guessing, in Texas, a fence and a couple of livestock guardian dogs would keep them, and the deer away? I love deer, but wow, they were everywhere we went in Texas, even walking around the edges of suburban neighborhoods in the evenings, eating from people's yards and gardens. I think I would budget in the cost of fencing, if not the whole property, then at least an area around the house for garden and orchard. I just wonder if I would need high fencing for the deer if I had dogs keeping an eye out.

It sounds like even with the overly hot summers, and unpredictable temperatures, I would still be doing a lot better gardening there than here, and be able to grow many more of the foods that we actually like and eat. Looks like a large garden and orchard with plenty of diversity is probably the key.

1 year ago

wayne fajkus wrote:Good point Stephen. Blackberries yes, raspberries no.

I plant different peaches.  Out of 5-6 each trees, one bloomed before freeze, the others are just now blooming. I call my multi chill hour approach a success. I hope to get some peaches every year from some trees.

Pear is in full bloom.

Oh, raw cows milk can be sold here. Local sellers get $8 gallon for it. Not sure what inspections are required.

Good to know! I'll be sure to plant a variety of fruit trees and hopefully get a decent harvest of something most years.
1 year ago

Sam Stephens wrote:I am one hour east of Waco.

Large garden, expanding orchard, bees and chickens.

n Texas, you do two gardens.  A Spring Garden that starts in January and lasts hopefully through June and a Fall Garden that starts n August and lasts maybe until  Thanksgiving.  Zone 8b is great for growing a wide variety but very unforgiving and harsh at the same time.  Over the years I have learned that extraordinary measures to grow something were generally not economically productive.  I concentrate now on varieties that are generally successful   year after year and that allows me devote more time to the other myriad projects.

It was low twenties here for 3 days straight early this week and then 70s-80s a few short days later.  It appears I lost a good portion of my peach crop.  Apples and plums are yet to bloom. I covered my emerging potatoes with straw and they survived. English peas, onions and asparagus were unfazed.  Bees were going full blast with new brood and overnight their food supply all but vanished.   I will probably have to feed them for the next 3 weeks.

Average last frost date is March 27.  I have spent the last two days planting the entire spring garden.  Rolling the dice because I hope the cold weather is over but I KNOW come June it will be a blast furnace that will burn a garden to a crisp even if you irrigate profusely.

Raspberries (for me) were a losing challenge.

The extreme weather changes did concern me a bit. I do like to know what to expect! We experienced a bit of that when we were there in November. Days in the low 50s, and then all of the sudden we were back in shorts in the high 70s. Have you noticed the weather being more unpredictable in recent years, with climate change? I am curious if it is getting worse. I feel like this may be the thing that drives me crazy trying to garden there. But if there are certain things that do well overall, I think I can be satisfied. I'm sorry about your peaches, though. I think that would about break my heart!

I was told if I move there I should just take the summer off from gardening and go swimming.

1 year ago

wayne fajkus wrote:There is plenty of good land within 1-1/2 hours of Austin. There's plenty of rocky land with no access to wells also. It would probably take a week to look around and ask the right questions..

One concern in texas is encroachment. We are growing so fast that corn fields are turning into housing subdivisions. I would go more rural than original thought or look for lazy towns that have an anti growth philosophy. But so many other things to consider like hospitals.

I would look East. Stay off the i-35 corridor.  Grainger, holland, academy. Its on a line of the main hiway that was displaced by interstate 35. Its river bottom land. Not sure if it is hilly though.

The most beautiful hill country imo is Fredericksburg.

Thank you! I wanted to get out to Fredericksburg, but did not make it on that trip (2 small kids in the car that would rather not be). I'll also have my elderly parents living with us, so yes, things like hospitals become a concern. My husband also likes to be not far from a city, the opposite of me, but I can at least see how a large city nearby can benefit us economically.
1 year ago

Anne Miller wrote:I agree with everything Tyler has said.  

I have lived in several places in Central Texas.  I liked Lockhart the best though I have heard they are now having a problem with feral hogs.

I also really liked Athens though it is half East Texas and half Central Texas, almost North Texas.

Most of Central Texas has too many people and too much traffic for me.

Thanks! I did like parts of Lockhart as well.
1 year ago

Tyler Ludens wrote:I've gardened in Central Texas for years and it definitely has its challenges, mainly the unpredictable weather.  We can have drought with no rain for months and then it might rain 12 inches in 24 hours.  In the winter it can freeze at night and be 80 degrees during the day.  Soil here can be very fertile prairie clay, played-out old cotton fields, or tough gravelly caliche.  As far as agriculture, it is worthwhile finding out what the rules are in the counties you plan to look at to see what the minimum acreage is to get agricultural tax status, which can cut your property taxes in half.  Each county is different.

When looking for land, avoid buying something at the top of a hill, as the soils there are usually thin.  Also, avoid buying in a flood plain or seasonal creek, because flash flooding can be a major problem here.

I've lived in Texas on and off for decades and have never seen a Water Moccasin. I've only ever seen one Rattlesnake, but many Coral Snakes, which are only dangerous to little children.

Hope that helps some!

Thank you! I was hoping to find something with some elevation change. Floods are a little scary to me, so I'd like to have a small hill to build on, and lower land for gardening, etc. I will be sure to pay very close attention to flood plains. I already go around digging around in the dirt when looking at properties, and I did find that soil quality can vary a lot! But after growing on solid lava and having to provide every single bit of soil for my plants, either by hauling it in or by composting, I have a real can-do attitude when it comes to improving existing soil. But, of course, i would prefer to start with something nice so I can focus my efforts elsewhere!

Good to know about the snakes. I'll be sure and educate myself and the kids about coral snakes.
1 year ago