My Austin Garden In April

After an unseasonably warm winter, we’ve lucked out lately with some beautiful (not sweaty) weather lately. I’m doing my best to enjoy it while I can, and many of the plants are enjoying it as well. Even the fireflies are finally out again. Here’s a sampling of what’s been going on in my central Texas garden.

Cultivated Edibles

Only a few of my tomato seedlings and none of the eggplants survived. One thing I’ve learned this year is that cleaning the pots and using fresh potting soil really does result in healthier starts. Right now there’s one cherry tomato plant and one Roma tomato plant out in the yard, with one last seedling (started from a random tomato) still in the house.

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Cherry tomato starting to stretch out
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Roma tomato with a long ways to grow

The jalape√Īo pepper plants were eaten when transplanted outside. One my coworkers says that rats love them. I’ll bet the squirrels love them too. ūüė¶

At least one of the bell pepper plants is untouched, plus one more still inside.

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Bell pepper plant

The cucumbers and nasturtiums were planted in partial shade this year. Last year they looked really heat-stressed in full, full sun. Now that the trees have leafed out, though, I’m worried they may be in too much shade. Only time will tell.

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The fava bean plants which survived the winter have finally started producing pods.

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Fava pods at the base of one plant

I’ve planted random seeds all over the backyard. The bad thing about this is I always have to¬†be more careful where I step or I could squash a cherished seedling.¬†It’s also difficult to cut down the weeds while avoiding seedlings. That might explain the weedy situation of my backyard currently. But yesterday, I saw a dark sprout that I marvelled at recognizing it as a squash. Several sunflowers have sprung up, the beans are obvious, and many are a mystery.

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Butternut squash seedling
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Royal Burgundy beans

Sadly, I haven’t yet seen anything¬†that looks like a melon vine yet. It’s only the start of April, though, and I still have extra seeds to put out. I will have delicious melons this summer!

I finally pulled up some carrots in March. They were delicious even though there weren’t too many of them. A couple of dozen carrots from three packs of seeds is very unimpressive. I may have to¬†be a more attentive carrot gardener next year, because I really do love carrots.

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Paris Market and Scarlet Nantes carrots

I only got four corn plants from the whole pack of corn seeds. Maybe if I had watered more… nah. I’m probably not going to try corn again anytime soon.

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Corn, mulch, and a few not-corns

The cilantro is already flowering. I didn’t pick any because to me cilantro tastes like soap, but I’m hoping to harvest some coriander seeds before my current supply is exhausted. It’s one of my go-to herbs. Strange how that works.

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Cilantro en route to becoming coriander seed

Is the Fuyu persimmon tree dead? It still looks like just a stick in the ground.¬†The trouble with transplanting a dormant tree is that I have no way to gauge how healthy it is and if it there’s anything I can do to pamper it a little more. I did give it the scratch test, and there is a bit of green beneath the bark. I’ve also read in multiple places online that it can take months for a persimmon tree to come back after being transplanted. But I really really hope I don’t have to wait much longer.

Fortunately, the fig, kumquat, and citrus trees (meyer lemon and satsuma mandarin) are more visibly alive. The citrus leaves have some yellowing, but I’ve applied a little bit of nitrogen fertilizer and have been careful to water them only as needed. Most of¬†the other trees nearby have leafed out happily and the sea of green is mesmerizing. Even the pecan trees at long last have bits of green starting to extend from their branches.

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My new kumquat tree!
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Texas Everbearing fig still going strong
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Meyer lemon, surviving bug attacks

Landscape Plants

After months of patient waiting, the Bluebonnets are finally showing a bit of their namesake color. Unfortunately, grass and weeds are encroaching all around so they don’t get the full attention they deserve. Next year if I can get some started from seed, I’ll plant them out in the front yard bed.

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Bluebonnet plant finally in bloom

During my last stop at the nursery, I was looking at all the seed packets and finally decided to try some lemon grass. The envelope said “Germinates in 3-5 weeks” and I was prepared to practice some patience, but after just four days the first sprout appeared! Now must be the perfect time for it to germinate here, so I just started another couple of small containers today.

On the way home from the nursery last time, I came across this stalked bulbine, sadly abandoned on the sidewalk. This is a spreading perennial, so I’m delighted to add it to my garden.

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Stalked bulbine

It’s the perfect time for taking cuttings here in central Texas. …or so I’ve heard. I’ve never successfully rooted a cutting before. Anyhow, I took a few cuttings of my rosemary and salvias. Once I learn how to propagate these properly I’ll be able to grow a full yard of delightful plants. At the same time, the layering method is also being used to try to root branches¬†of these plants that I can transplant next year.

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Rosemary cutting time!

Sadly, the Esperanza also never came up. I’m going to take this as a sign that perhaps I shouldn’t try to plant things in January. The weather fluctuations between the 30s and 80s are probably too much for any reasonable plant to bear unless they already have a good foothold. Or maybe it’s just for advanced gardeners.

Wild Edibles Discovery

When I first saw the¬†wild onions in side yard, I thought they were the garlic chives sprouted from seed I scattered. Well, nope, the chives never showed. I’ve since seen the wild onions in other places around the neighborhood and even saw them mentioned on tv so I’m sure of the identification. I can’t seem to get a good picture of these, though.

Also, I knew wild blackberries live in some¬†places around town but I’ve never seen them firsthand. That explains why when I first snapped this picture I didn’t even consider it as an option until further explanation. Time to start cultivating the weeds!

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A wild blackberry perhaps?

… but I can sadly no longer recall where exactly¬†I took this picture and can’t find it anywhere. At least now I know better.

But the best discovery of all was the identification of one backyard tree as a Mulberry.¬†I don’t remember seeing any fruits last year, but maybe I wasn’t looking. Or maybe the squirrels got them as soon as they were ripe. This year my eyes will be open. This weekend I also made the fortuitous discovery of a tree with already-ripe mulberries not far away and they were amazing! I can hardly wait for the fruits on my own tree to ripen.

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Leaf and fruit sample from my tree. So the internet could tell me what it was.
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Ripe mulberries discovered in front of a house in the next neighborhood

 

The Literal Windfall

Thursday morning was windy here in Austin. For a few hours, the winds averaged 20 miles per hour, and as I worked at the office I’d often stare out the window for a moment to watch trees swaying in the wind. I was mostly excited about the cooler weather that was on its way in, but when I got home Thursday evening something even more exciting happened. My back porch was sprinkled liberally with pecans! I greedily gathered as many as I could from the porch and surrounding yard and ended up with this large bowl of pecans before having to leave for other obligations.

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Pecans! Beautiful pecans!

There may be some undesirable pecans in that batch as I learned soon after by reading some pecan-gathering instructions from another windfall recipient. I’ll sort them out at some point, but in the meantime I gathered two more bowls full of pecans and have them all hanging out in an extra produce bag. Waiting a couple of weeks for them to cure will be difficult but so worth it.

I’m full of gratitude at the moment:

  • That the house we got earlier this year already had a couple of mature pecan trees. It had been a dream of mine but I was uneasy about the ten years or so that it would take for a newly planted pecan tree to start producing.
  • That some other folks for whom a yard littered with pecans would have just been a nuisance didn’t get this home. ūüėõ
  • For being healthy enough to go outside and pick the pecans from the ground one by one without pain or too much effort.
  • For the extra exercise opportunity. My thighs may have been a tiny bit sore today, but it felt good.
  • That there are now more pecans at the farmers market. While I already had my bags full of good stuff today, next time some of those are sure to go home with me. Have to stock up while they’re in season!
  • And finally, for the cool weather that the wind helped bring in. It was in the 40’s this morning, which for Austin is true Texas weather. It won’t get that chilly again for a while, so the brisk air was savored while it lasted.

And that, my friends, is what a windfall is. ūüôā

The Fall Garden Begins!

It may feel pretty hot again here in Austin, but there’s some hope that we’ll see a little relief not too long from now, like those couple of beautiful weeks that we saw last month where it was a pleasure to be outside.¬†A few weeks ago I described the couple of garden beds I planted during that brief pleasurable time. But now I¬†know that it’s time for fall gardening. And it’s all because of this.

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A carrot!

Normally carrots take forever to germinate. Sometimes it feels like they never will. But one of my Paris Market carrots has already poked its head out of the ground and is telling me that it’s time to go.

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The canary melon vines have come back to life
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The pumpkin vines are also in bloom

I’ve decided to use go without any soil amendments for the fall garden and see what happens. No compost (because none of mine is ready) and no purchased mulch (crumbled leaves and grass clippings will have to do). But some new seeds were a must. As far as my Buy Nothing New project, I count seeds as food and therefore allow myself to buy anything I reasonably believe I can use. Last weekend I visited Shoal Creek Nursery to stock up. Reading about soil health recently, I ended up getting a few different legumes to experiment with, as well as¬†some buckwheat. (Ignore that the buckwheat package says it’s¬†for sprouting. I’m gonna plant it!)

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I intended to buy carrot and onion seeds, but things happened.

I’ve resolved to plant one row or square of something every day. So far it’s been just cowpeas and snap peas, but I have a lot of back lawn left to plant.

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The area chosen for cowpeas turned out to be really rocky. I cleaned out some, but it’s a good thing I wasn’t planning to plant carrots there. It’ll need more work in the future.

This morning I discovered something else wonderous.

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Some of the cowpeas sprouted already!

So today my husband and I went back to the garden center to get some onion seeds and maybe a few more beans to get into the ground while there’s still time. Somehow, with earlier season seeds on sale at 75% off, I ended up with this…

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So many seeds!

At least I’ll have plenty of time to learn about some of these varieties before starting them out in the spring. Other than carrot seeds (because I love carrots) and perennials, that’ll be it for me this year. Including the carrot seeds I bought a couple of weeks ago, I’ve spent altogether just over $20 on seeds and don’t at all doubt that I can grow $20 worth of food with minimal additional input. Well, that’s it, time to get gardening!

And my apologies for all of the exclamation points in this post. I’ve been messing around in the garden regularly for a couple of years now, and this is the most variety of veggie life I’ve ever had thriving at once so it’s pretty awesome. ūüôā

Eat Your Weeds – Purslane

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Fresh-picked purslane

I’m not an expert forager. The only plants that grow in my area which I know are edible are pecans, dandelions, and purslane. Edible pecans are super rare in my experience thus far. And I still haven’t eaten dandelions because I haven’t yet gotten past the fact that they’re dandelions. But purslane? It’s like a dream.

I was very careful the first few times, checking the smooth petals to make sure it was really purslane and not the poisonous spurge or some other unknown. Once reassured, I pulled off a leaf to try it out. Purslane tastes more like spinach than anything else, with just that little bit of tang in the crisp succulent leaves. Now it sticks out like a sore thumb whenever I pass a bunch, and if the area looks safe (not subject to chemical treatments, too much car exhaust, etc) I’ll grab a bunch and pluck off a few leaves at a time to drop into my mouth and savor during my walk.

Purslane is¬†a true superfood, too. Iron. Magnesium. Omega 3 fatty acids. So many vitamins and other minerals. People have been eating purslane for thousands of years and praising its health benefits, so you know it can’t be all bad.

After discovering this bunch on the way home yesterday with lots of fresh growth probably due to the recent rains, I hurried over to my side yard where a few purslane plants were already growing. Unfortunately, they did not fare as well with the rain. A mold or some other disease got to them and they had started turning whitish at the edges. One side of the purslane patch still looked pretty happy, but upon further consideration I just left them. There’s plenty of other purslane. It grows all summer here, and summer isn’t over quite yet.

The August Garden

It’s 76¬į outside right now! A couple of days ago at this time it was a toasty 104¬į. Not only that, but there’s rain. It’s just been drizzling most of the time, but it still came out to an inch here yesterday and more is on its way.

That’s why this weekend I needed to throw as many seeds as possible into the moist garden beds to prepare for fall. If it gets too hot again (fairly likely), some of them won’t make it, but that’s a risk I have to take.

I bought a couple of packets of carrot seeds from Wheatsville while grocery shopping and pulled out a bunch of leftover seeds from this spring or last fall. Well, except for the turnip seeds which were intended for 2008 and which my mother found somewhere and decided I was the right recipient for.

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Seeds that went into the garden this week

So, without further ado, here’s my garden after living in this house for six months. The pics with all the wilted leaves are from Friday afternoon obviously, when the plants were trying to protect themselves from the heat.

Cucumber Variety Bed

This bed has not just a few cucumber seeds planted, but also nasturtiums, watermelon radishes, Jaune Du Doubs carrots, and a couple of broccoli. That may be too much to plant in this little bed, but I really wanted to get more things in the ground.¬†And my experience with carrots is that they take many months to grow so they’ll probably wait to grow until I get rid of everything else.

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Future cucumber bed

The smaller cucumber bed that I prepared recently seems to be doing well enough. I’ll have to thin some out yet again. It’s always painful to see plants go in the compost, but it’s the recommended way for plants to have room to thrive.

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Baby cucumber plants, wilted in the summer sun

And right next to that, not worth it’s own topic is the yellow squash bed. More accurately, it’s the pile of dirt that I stuck some squash seeds into a couple of weeks ago when there was rain forecast. We’ll see whether or not I can still get a decent-sized squash from my yard.

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Yellow summer squash

Variety Bed #2

Unfortunately, the dirt in these new beds has dried up a bit since the summer harvest. I need to figure out how to start getting my mulch on. You can see a volunteer pumpkin vine growing in the corner of variety bed #2. This bed now has seeds for radishes, turnips, spinach, and a corner patch of lettuce.

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A place for vegetables

Melons

This is the same melon bed I’ve had all summer. Only now, I threw in a couple of seeds for Paris Market carrots because I read melons and carrots make fine companion plants and they should start really growing around the time I get those melons out of the way. That is, unless I have to tear up the whole bed to get the melons out.

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Melon vines still everywhere!

I tried looking very carefully for melons Friday¬†and was surprised to discover¬†what looks like an almost-ready cantaloupe. I’ll be keeping a close eye on that!

In the newer¬†small canary melon bed, it looks like the plants are ready to be thinned again. There’s no telling if they’ll have time to produce this year.

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Canary melon vines

Lemons

Well, no, there aren’t any lemons yet. I planted this tree from a seed less than two years ago so there are still years to wait. But look how leafy and green it’s getting. I’m excited already. Do baby trees need to be pruned at all though? I’m wondering after seeing just how much it’s leaning after the rain.

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The Meyer Lemon tree at 21 months

Bell Pepper

No signs of any fruit, but it’s still hanging in there.

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Bell pepper wilting its leaves to avoid peak heat

Peas

Finally, I¬†soaked and planted the peas from last spring and planted them in their own little plot. Unlike last¬†spring’s peas, these will be in my own backyard so I can closely monitor them and pick them at perfect ripeness.

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The pea plot

Gratitude Journal #4

I’m grateful to have clean running water, for the amazing social powers of the internet, for having a comfortable¬†bed to sleep in every night. But here are just a few other things I’d like to call out this month.

My Mom

For many reasons, but in this case because she let me borrow her loppers. These trees were covered with poison ivy and virginia creeper, but after a couple of sessions with the loppers attacking the lower vines, the poison ivy leaves above have shriveled up and died.

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So many trees! ūüôā

This mouse

Because it’s cute. I pass by this construction site every day on my way from work. As soon as I approach, this little guy darts off to hide. Not sure if it’s the same mouse or if I’ve seen many different ones, but if so they’re all cute. It¬†draws my attention away from the ugly parking garages recently built.

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Construction-site mouse

The squirrel that ate my melon

One day I was sitting by my bedroom window staring out into the garden when I noticed some quick movements in the melon patch. It was a squirrel engaging in a most curious behaviour. It would quickly stand up tall, look around in every direction, and then crouch back down again, and was doing this repeatedly.

There was something yellowish in its hands. And then in its mouth. The squirrel somehow knew that the treasure it had found doesn’t normally appear¬†on its own, and that its rightful owner might come to claim it. It looked all around but didn’t see me, all the while chomping and chewing away guiltily.

I hadn’t noticed a melon outside earlier, but sure enough when I went outside to check (after the squirrel had left) there was a canary melon sitting there under some vines¬†and weeds. I don’t believe squirrels should ever have to feel guilty about anything. I took the melon from the patch and placed it in a clear area where the squirrel could return and eat guilt-free.

And it did.

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Squirrel-damaged canary melon

Mother Nature

Because she rewards those who share.

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Another melon in the making

Compost – a better land fill

In 2014 we were staying with my mom while saving up for a house, and there was a large backyard used mainly for the exercise of mowing the lawn. But then, I learned about composting. It was incredible. The onion skins, the carrot tops, the apple cores that were filling up the trash can every day and making it all stinky could instead be thrown out into the backyard. After the labor of raking up a yardful of leaves, instead of stuffing them into brown paper bags for yard waste pickup, they could just be piled up in the backyard messily.

Even though my mom’s not a gardener, composting piles were immediately useful as there were some dips in the yard and a couple of holes where shrubs had been dug up and wouldn’t be replaced. All the compostable material went right into those spaces. It would mound up for a while, but then it would break down or compact. Then more could be heaped on top and eventually that would flatten out also. Of course, this is similar to the concept of sanitary landfills, but without having to put all the produce trimmings in plastic bags first and then sealing them underground forever where¬†they wouldn’t benefit the soil.

Fast forward a couple of years to¬†this February. My husband and I had just bought our own house. One of the very first projects on my agenda was to set up a compost bin so I could have plenty of rich humus for future gardening projects. Being frugal, I found some hardware cloth¬†that had been abandoned in the back yard, secured it into a cylinder shape with some twist ties (my husband has a whole collection that he’s saved),¬†shoveled¬†the grass off of its new location, and “planted” it. Success! All the food scraps we had, all the yard waste, I just threw it in there for our first five months without ever turning it, watering it, or whatever else it is that people do with compost piles.

From the outside it hasn’t looked like much has happened and I didn’t really expect much when finally turning / moving the compost to a new bin this weekend. But I was hoping, and was rewarded with this.

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Rich on the inside!

Although the outside was dry and didn’t sustain any kind of life, some of the inside was rich, moist, and full of bugs helping to break it down further. So now I understand why you’re supposed to turn the pile, to get some of that other material on the inside and benefiting from this goodness. Maybe in the future I’ll turn it more than once every five months. We’ll see.

As for the new compost bin, I needed one that was just a little larger. Strolling around the neighborhood during bulk pickup week turned to my advantage when I found a perfect-sized portion of chickenwire, which I’ve used as my new enclosure.

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The new compost pile

You can see a bit of the mess I made shoveling out another section of grass and some of the heavy clay soil underneath. I should probably add that back into the compost. The pallet was used for a gardening project earlier in this year, but it had bugs around it that looked like termites so into the compost it went too! At least it’ll help serve as a support. The new bin is¬†about half-filled from the contents of the other full compost bin. And I’ll start filling up the old bin again (it’s closer to the house) while this one breaks down. If I wasn’t so lazy, I just might have compost for the fall garden. But, meh, I’ll settle for spring. ūüôā

Interested in learning more about composting in your backyard? Zero Waste Chef has a great post on Composting for the Lazy.

The Garden after 4 Months

Yay! Four months after moving in, I’m finally eating more food from the garden. For a short while anyhow. All of May was clouds, rain, and thunderstorms, even into the first week of June. The rain finally cleared a couple of weeks ago, but the plants didn’t get any opportunity to sunbathe without the heat. We’ve had highs in the 90’s almost every day since, and it’s not going to get cooler again for months. (Time to start planning the fall garden!)

Here’s the breakdown for all my food plants:

Tomatoes & onions

I was elated when the first green tomato that I picked and left on the dining table as an experiment actually started turning red after a week or two. Fortunately, after the heavy rains let up several of the tomatoes started turning red on the plant. Unfortunately, with the dry weather, several leaf-footed stink bugs took up residence. I saw some while they were still nymphs, but my collapsed tomato plants are kind of¬†a big leafy mess to pick insects out of and most hid when they saw me coming. I’ve harvested a couple dozen of these tomatoes so far and will probably pick the rest tomorrow. Even if they’re still green,¬†I want them for myself and not for the stinkbugs.

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Roma tomatoes visited by a leaf-footed stink bug

The onions around it never grew very large¬†bulbs, but I’ve been harvesting a couple every week. They’re still full of good oniony flavor.

Cucumbers

I love cucumbers but had to give a couple away this week because they were all coming out at once. Like the tomatoes, they didn’t fruit until the rain stopped and we started getting sunny days. I’m not sure if these plants will make it much longer. That picture was taken just a couple of days ago, and in that time many more leaves have already started curling up and giving in to the summer heat. They probably would have produced more if I had planted them more upright so that I could more easily¬†find the cucumbers at the right time instead of when they had swollen well past the diameter of large supermarket cukes. Lesson learned.

Melons

July should be melon month, so I’m trying to be patient but it’s hard. Every day I go out there to look at this tiny watermelon hoping it will have grown a lot, but I can’t really see any difference day-to-day. There’s one other similar looking melon that I’ve found also. Not sure if they’re from the Crimson Sweet seeds I planted or from one of the bastard melon seeds. I planted them all in the same area and the vines are completely intertwined now.

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Baby watermelon

I just saw this one for the first time a couple of days ago. It’s larger but was in hiding under the foliage. Looks like¬†the cantaloupe seed I planted.

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Here’s hoping that there are others hidden away. ūüôā Also, I really hope a couple of canary melons come out this summer, but I’ll end up picking up a couple from Engel Farms at the farmers market anyhow.

Squash

I think my squash plants are dying already also. They’re certainly less vigorous now. Spoiled by the constant rain but¬†then sudden heat. Even though the yellow squash here hasn’t grown full-size yet, I’ll probably pick it tomorrow to ensure I get some sort of harvest from this crop.

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Squash plants no longer vigorous

Scattered plants

I¬†transplanted this bell pepper a few weeks ago now, and it looks pretty happy although there’s still a ways to go before it’s large enough to produce any fruit.

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Bell pepper

The lemon tree sapling that was starting to look good last month is looking even better now, but the other one is pretty dead. ūüė¶

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Lemon tree – 1 year 8 months old

The tomato plant I recently transplanted into the front garden bed is starting to look pretty happy also.

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Tomato plant in the front yard

The jalapeno pepper that’s in another bed out front is still pretty small, but peppers are supposed to be able to stand up to the Texas heat so it probably still has plenty of time to grow. I obviously didn’t do a very good job of removing grass from this bed.

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Jalapeno Pepper

Not pictured here but yesterday I also¬†stopped by my mom’s to pick some oregano and the garlic that I planted in the garden there last fall. I got five good sized bulbs with nice papery skins so they probably won’t need too long to finish curing. There are still a couple more to harvest, but I’ll do that next week when I go collect seeds from the lettuce plant that bolted a while back.

Book Review: The Third Plate

Dan Barber’s The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food is full of stories of people who are trying to create a more sustainable food future, from eating smaller fish to growing local grains. We haven’t gotten to this book yet in book club but I read it anyway because I’m curious to see what foods other people consider to be the most sustainable.

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The stories are those of people who are working to create more sustainable versions of fois gras, Iberico ham, fish farms, wheat, veggies, and more. Considering how eating less meat is recognized in the intro as a necessity for sustainability, it amazed me how much time Barber spent describing how geese, pigs, and fish were being raised with minimal harm to the animals and with minimal or even positive impacts on the ecosystem. But I suppose if a foodie is eating less meat, the meat s/he does eat had better be damn good.

The book also discussed how wheat flour became white–less healthy but longer-lasting. How farmers are growing veg from heirloom seeds to help protect seed diversity in a world where many seeds are now owned by corporations and can’t be saved for replanting. How companion planting can create better plant health, improve the soil, and prevent the other dangers of monocropping.

The following quote was particularly interesting:

If you have a hankering, as I do, for the old days of our young republic, when farming was what farming should be–small, family-owned, well managed and manicured, a platonic paradigm of sustainable agriculture–think again. Today’s industrial food chain might denude landscapes and impoverish souls, but our forefothers did much of the same.

This is something I’ve read more about since. When Europeans discovered the Americas with so much fertile land that had been well-tended by the Native Americans, they felt no qualms about sapping the life from an area before moving on to another plot. (In the past week I’ve also read a bit about how Native Americans were used as slave labor before the Europeans realized they succumbed too easily to smallpox and other diseases and opted for African labor instead. I need to look into this a bit more, but what I’ve heard so far is really disturbing.)

On the seed front, although heirlooms are trendy right now, this book presents a counterpoint which is actually pretty compelling. Heirlooms are varieties that are as much as possible unchanged from older generations. But they’re usually not local to our area. And our environment has changed, too. So there’s something to be said for scientists who do the work to continually breed new varieties that grow well in different areas, that are resistant to diseases, that have been developed to make that variety economically viable to farmers as an alternative to the same old monoculture varieties. As long as the seeds are open-pollinated and not patented, it doesn’t seem so bad to me.

The problem, he said, is that farmers are often, like Klass, planting very old varieties with low yield–the problem with heirloom anything–or they’re planting conventional varieties with¬† no flavor. “Without a breeder to support the continual betterment of the plant, an alternative to conventional wheat will never establish itself.”

But the focus with farming is on improving the soil to create plants that are nutrient rich instead of fed artificial NPK fertilizer. This may mean growing perenials that grow deep and persistent roots to improve the soil. It may mean rotating crops, growing cover crops, and providing compost as the ideal soil amendment. Not building the soil could have devastating consequences, as he described from the wisdom of Dr. William Albrecht.

Of the diet-related diseases that have spiked in the past century, the obesity epidemic would seem to have been impossible to predict. And yet, in the 1930s, Albrecht came close. He knew that cows grazing from well-mineralized soils ate balanced diets. But when kept in a barn and fed a predetermined grain ration, they never stopped eating, overindulging in a vain attempt to make up with sheer volume for what they weren’t getting in their food. Albrect believed our bodies would likewise stuff themselves for the same reason. Starved of micronutrients, he said, we will keep eating in the hope of attaining them.

Although this book was really oriented towards foodies, I found most of the stories very compelling and informative. Personal changes this book has helped influence:

  • In the future if I’m craving seafood I may try eating smaller varieties of fish. (Although if I go to Luby’s I’ll probably swap out my usual fish for some broccoli.)
  • Not sure if this will happen, but I’m seriously considering growing some of my own grain next year. Not much but some.
  • Next year I’ll definitely also try out the Three Sisters planting of corn, beans, and squash.
  • On my next seed-shopping trips, I’ll look more at open-pollinated non-heirloom seeds (still staying away from the patented stuff) in addition to the heirloom options.
  • I’ll continue to cut down on eating out. (It’s rarely anything good for me).
  • I’ll regularly buy our whole wheat flour from the vendor at the farmers market. It’s way more expensive, but I have to support it to help make sure it stays available.
  • (But no, don’t expect to see any foie gras or Iberian ham on my plate.)

In conclusion, the best note to leave on is the wisdom shared throughout all of the stories, that “knowing about the natural world is a more enjoyable way to be in the world.”

The Garden After 3 Months

It’s been a month since my last garden update, making it three months since we moved into this new home and started attempting to grow some food. It’s been storming a lot lately, so it’s great that the plants haven’t been damaged by the harsh weather. Plus with all the rain, I haven’t had to water much.

Lately I’ve also been reading articles and blog posts about people just starting their veggie garden now, and there’s always a brief moment where I think to myself “Wow, they must be crazy!” Living here in central Texas, the clock is already counting the days until the sun becomes insanely menacing and kills the garden for the summer. So without further ado, let’s get to business.

Squash Bed

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Yellow squash blooming

It was only about a month ago that I planted this found pallet with a bag of compost, yellow squash, and a couple of nasturtiums. There are plenty of leaves, I haven’t seen any insects yet, and I think that little guy at the bottom center of this picture may be the beginning of my first-ever homegrown squash.

Melon Bed

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Various melons and nasturtiums leafing out

I planted three varieties of melon in this bed–cantaloupe, canary melon, and watermelon–and expected them to be sprawling out of the bed more by now. But it’s okay, they may just be waiting for the warm weather that’s coming very soon.

You can see from this picture that my bright idea to use these hollow-frame doors for the garden beds turned out to be a rather poor idea. They’re not holding up to the weather as well as the plants are. Lesson learned: even with the best intentions upcycles sometimes quickly become downcycles.

Cucumber Bed

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Cucumber vines taking full advantage of the tomato cages
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An infant cucumber!
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Holey radish leaves

The cucumber plants look pretty healthy so far. They’re vining out everwhere and I’ve seen at least a couple of baby cucumbers. The radishes that were planted in the bed haven’t fared so well, but I didn’t expect much from them since they’re a cool season crop and were primarily here as a companion plant for the cucumbers. I did get to eat a few of the radish leaves before insects got to them, and the roots are pretty much non-existent.

Tomato Bed

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This is what happens when you grow tomatoes without support.
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Adolescent tomatoes

I’ve gradually been eating the onions from this bed. They’re not big-bulbed, but they’re still oniony and with plenty of greens. The tomato plants have been crowding them out anyway.

Speaking of tomatoes, I bet these two plants have a gazillion little tomatoes growing on them. I can’t bring myself to cut any of them off, so we’ll just have to wait and see if the plants have the strength to bring all of these babies to adulthood. I’m eager to try a truly fresh tomato for the first time.

The real star of the show in this bed, though, is the borage. I didn’t know what this was before this year, but it is beautiful. And surprisingly huge. The leaves are supposed to taste a bit like cucumber and they really do! A bit fuzzy, but you can either just deal with it or cook them so the fuzz texture goes away. I hear they’re also prolific self-seeders so there just might be even more borage in my future.

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Flowering borage
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Borage flower

Lemon Tree

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Meyer lemon at 1 year 6 months of age

My first Meyer lemon plant is still sprouting more leaves, so I think it’s going to make a come back. It’s still many, many years from fruiting though (if it ever does). Sadly, it looks like the other lemon plant didn’t make it. It maybe time to start a couple more, which means it’s lemonade time!

Front Yard

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Small transplanted Jalapeno and tomato plants with a couple of marigolds in between (and grass and weeds)
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Front bed in progress

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve started pulling some of the grass and weeds from the area by my house. My mom brought some rounded brick pavers she didn’t want anymore, which has blocked off a section of grass-free zone. I mulched lightly with some newspaper ads and planted some marigold and zinnia next to the couple of rosemary plants that I added almost immediately after moving in.

Digging up the beds a bit has unearthed tons of small stones, and I’ve already started on adding a row of these stones right next to the house, both for walking on and to keep bugs slightly further away from the structure.

Up front, I also transplanted a couple more tomato plants and a jalapeno plant. Not sure yet how well these will grow since they’re on the north side of the house, but any greenery up front will add to the curb appeal.

Coming Soon

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Lonely bell pepper infant

I have a large hollow brick so this weekend this little guy can go outside and be amongst friends. If there’s one thing I’ve learned gardening, it’s that plants hate being pampered and are most likely to thrive if you let them do their own thing. Maybe I’ll get better at gardening eventually, but why worry if they do just as well on their own.

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Rosemary babies

I’d read online that rosemary is very reluctant to start from seed, so I wasn’t expecting much. But they must have liked some of the warm weather we had when they were planted because these sprouted right up. Then again… we’ll see how long they survive.

Well, that’s it. There are so many other foods I wanted to plant, but I’m still a novice and shouldn’t get too far ahead of myself. As the storms ease up, I’ll need to be extra vigilant about insects who want my delicious veggies for themselves. No way, insects! They’re all mine!