Wednesday, April 27, 2011

April Garden Update 2011

It is hard to be excited about the garden after it was smashed by hail on April 14th, but ~2 weeks later, it is nice to see how well it has recovered.

The purple heart is blooming, but the leaves are all beaten up. This used to fill the garden near the Cottonwood tree, but the chickens love to scratch in this area so most of the purple heart has been killed off. It still hangs on in the area right around the tree and I know it will refill the garden over the course of the season.

My 'Paprika Yarrow" is growing and blooming nicely. It has spread some, and I hope it will fill the whole area of the flower bed.

My Swiss Chard survived!

It is battered and beaten, but it lives on... phew. Of all of the plants, this one seemed to take the worst beating from the hail.

I planted four varieties of chard this year. The red is "Rhubarb Chard", it is the most scraggly of the bunch and has the poorest performance.

The large yellow is... umm the strongest variety... bu I will need to check my garden journal for the actual name.

The pale white stems were Fordhook Giant. It has the second best performance and seemed to withstand the hail better than the others (could be location too, it is near the mint and may have gotten some protection from that).

The small yellow stems at the front are Fantasia Chard. It is doing fairly well, probably ranks third out of four varieties.

Scattered through the gardens are German Camomile

(the ferny light green plants near the hose). I bought this as a single 4" pot from Northhaven Gardens and there were hundreds of seedlings in the pot. I was able to carefully break the cluster of seedlings apart and planted them all over the place. They seem to be doing great this year. Camomile is a medicinal herb and the flowers are harvested for a calming tea, it can also be used to lighten hair color.

This awful picture is the red amaranth I planted. Amaranth is a grain and ornamental and will grow to five feet tall according to the seed packet. I planted to varieties, but only the red seems to have germinated (no sign of the Golden Amaranth)

The amaranth is over seeded in my asparagus bed. The poor asparagus just limps along.

I saw a few spears, less than 10 and definitely did not harvest any. This is New Jersey Giant (?) planted last year from ugly dried out roots. I need to get a real start of asparagus from my mom. Her patch of asparagus is about 15 years old, and completely untended it has produced more asparagus than she could eat this spring.

The snow peas are starting to produce, it has been too hot for them to really do well. These peas are from my spring planting. The winter peas I planted all froze out in one of our ice storms this winter.

My spinach did not freeze this winter and it has been a great producer. This short little three foot row has kept us in spinach since about February. Unfortunately, due to the heat it has started to bolt. I keep pinching off the tops, but it keeps sending up new ones.

My poor tomatoes. Most of the main plants were damaged by the hail, but most have grown back from the roots.

The squash looks great. Strongest by far is the zucchini (black beauty)

Weird angle on this photo, but the first hill of squash along the fence is zucchini, then yellow crookneck squash (poorest performance), then a hill of the mixed squash (same mix I grew the last two years with excellent results).
The squash mix has already bloomed.

Last is the dead out hill of cucumbers. The four plants I had were completely obliterated by the hail and did not grow back.

Brussel sprouts... I have no idea. Is this what they are supposed to look like? When do they produce sprouts? I suspect that they already made the sprouts and they are now just getting leggy. A few weeks ago, I noticed very loose leaf clusters forming along the main stem of the plant, but they never resembled brussel sprouts to me. It may just be too hot to grow these here. Too bad.

My lovely Red Lasoda potatoes are growing great and I spotted the first few blooms a few days ago.

I only bought 2.5lbs of seed potatoes this year, I wish I had bought more to fill the whole section of garden. I waiver between wanting to try lots of varieties and also wanting to grow huge quantities of what I know will do well.

The beans are blooming. I planted three varities: Jade Bush, Black Valentine, and Blue Lake. It seems that my three bean mix from previous years did better, but it could also just be the weird weather this year that is causing them to grow so slowly.

Jerusalem Artichokes are coming up everywhere. I have replanted from this patch, taken a 5 gallon bucket full of plants to my MIL, and still they keep sprouting. Silly me for moving these spreading weeds to three different areas of my veggie garden over the years. Oh well, if I have to deal with an noxious spreading plant, I'm at least happy this is an edible noxious spreading plant... and it blooms very prettily in the fall, like little sunflowers. I kind of have a love hate relationship with this veggie, mostly I love it, but boy can it be a pain.

Speaking of noxious spreading plants, yikes my mint is going nuts. This little 4" pot purchased in 2009 now covers a huge swath of my garden. I find little mint plants popping up 10 feet away from the parent plant... all connected by a pencil thick root system. I'm happy to weed it, it smells pretty and I have been replanting it in tricky areas of the yard where nothing else seems to grow. The kids like to pick handfuls of leaves to sniff.

New to me this year is corn. I have never planted corn before, claiming I did not have the space, but hubby got me a huge variety pack of heirloom seeds this year and I did want to try something new.

Plus pumpkins, pumpkins, pumpkins... we had about 10 pumpkins to decorate this Halloween and after the holiday, they were carried around the yard by the kids, dog and squirrels. This spring, pumpkin seeds are popping up everywhere. In the garden,

on the path

by the garage door (where we walk all the time)

in the lawn... I'm going to try and let most of them grown (apart from where they will get mowed or stomped) in the wild areas of the garden. It would be fun to have lots of pumpkins, but I'm not counting on them to do great. Last year, I allowed a volunteer pumpkin to take over a huge area of my garden and it only produced one small pumpkin.

Overall, the spring garden is doing well, despite the cold to hot to cold weather and hail. My tendency this year was to plant lots of varieties of plants, but not huge quantities of any one kind (except tomatoes, I have a full section: 9 plants of tomatoes). I will see how it works out for me. Right now, I'm wishing I had planted more potatoes and less winter stuff (beets, broccoli, radishes, carrots--all doing poorly and taking up room). It is hard not to be distracted by all the pretty seed packet descriptions. It is all a learning experience. Like every year, late April and May are the glory days of the garden. Plenty of rain, not too hot, not too cold, everything growing great, it is hard not to be excited.

Friday, April 15, 2011

What the Hail?

Spring in Texas usually means unpredictable weather, and true to form, we got that last night...

April 14th, 2011

At about 10:30 I woke up to a big storm and the rain sounded heavier than usual.

Sure enough, it was hail that was pounding down on our roof. The black line through the yard is a full sized 1 inch garden hose.

Most of the hail was marble sized

Some was even golf ball sized (this one had melted a bit, but you can see how big it was).

In just a few minutes it had covered our yard in ice

As soon as the hail stopped (and I made sure our family, critters and house were safe) I rushed out to my garden to survey the damage.

Poor squash, poor tomatoes

my swiss chard looked more like swiss cheese

This morning, April 15th, I woke up to see that there was STILL ice on the ground.

As of 7:30 this morning when I left the house, there was still a solid covering of ice in our yard. Our whole neighborhood looked about the same with shredded leaves covering the ground, limbs down and a mess everywhere. Less than 2 miles away at the kids daycare was a completely different picture, just a nice damp 'after spring shower' glow to the gardens and trees. Sigh.

I'm thankful that it was not worse for us than it was. The storm only lasted about 10 minutes before it blew over, but those 10 minutes were spent with me running helplessly from window to window trying to see what was happening (yes, I know, standing by a glass window with giant icy projectiles hurtled toward it was not a good idea).

In the daylight, my garden looked even worse than the night before

tomatoes were snapped off,

the formerly regal looking mullein was in tatters

oddly, the potatoes looked great... I am keeping up hope that after our sunny and 70 degree day today the rest of plants will perk up and recover nicely.

Or maybe a trip to the garden center is in order

Yep, typical spring in Texas.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Making Wine... the process

Like everything else we do, we took a bunch of photos last year (2010) of our wine making process. I never blogged on it, because we fully expected it to be a flop. Now that we have a successful batch, I am really excited to look back over our process so we can be sure and repeat it for 2011.

So back in May of 2010 (May 9th to be exact) we had extra mulberries

The raw weight was seven pounds ten ounces (I must have skimmed some off the top for eating, because in my notes, I see we only used six pounds of berries for the wine batch).

We dumped the berries into a clean, food grade bucket and mashed them with a potato masher (notice the hand written recipe and calculations in the background?).

mash mash mash until it was mostly liquidy

We then poured in a gallon of boiling water

then lidded the mash and set it aside for a few days in a cool dark place (our master bathroom)

A few days later, we strained out the pulp leaving a cloudy purple liquid. (May 15, 2010)

The pulp was composted.

We then added lots of sugar and left in the bucket for four more days.

On May 19th we decanted it into a 3 gallon carboy and put an airlock on it. We wrapped the bottle in a black trash sack, being careful not to seal it too tight, it needed air, but it also needed darkness. This contraption has sat in the corner of my master bathroom for 11 months. We would peek at it occasionally, for a while it bubbled, then it got cloudy, then it got clear and finally, we tasted it--11 months later.

Success! First tasted April 5, 2011.

A few notes:
1) I have the actual recipe and proportions we used in my notebook
2) We did not use commercial yeast, we intend to, but never got around to it. This was a huge chance to take and we assumed it was probably not good. By not adding commercial yeast, you are gambling that the right kind of yeast exists in the fruit or air and will make good wine. By buying yeast, you make sure you get the right kind of yeast for wine. It was really lucky that we got drinkable wine.
3) We have no idea the alcohol content of this batch, we have the tools, but we should have made a measurement when we started the process and again at the end. The comparison is what tells you the alcohol content. We do know that it has a nice kick to it, I only drank one glass and had a nice gentle buzz. Hubby drank two glasses and said he'd had plenty (man speak for a buzz?). Neither of us woke up with any bad side effects the next day (some cheap wine and I feel awful after just a glass). My understanding is that wine kind of self regulates, over a certain alcohol content the yeast will die, so it is impossible to end up with 100 proof... no plans for us to start any distilled liquors, yet. Is that even legal?
4) Did I mention it was SWEET? My dad would never drink this--he likes a dry wine, but I'm guessing my sister will love it. Hubby likes it, and he tends to like a drier wine than me. How sweet? My favorite wine is port, and this is similar to that level of sweetness. For any 'real' wine drinkers out there, don't laugh at my unsophisticated palate.