Friday, August 31, 2012

Summer Garden 2012--a recap

Oh my, four months with no garden update here. I'm going to try to hit the high points and low points of the last few months just so I have some sort of digital record. The garden started off beautifully in the spring, all neatly spaced and tidy. Then we spent a week at the beach at the beginning of May and it grew into a jungle--a producing jungle, but still a jungle. --New this year was a permanent water solution. A 4 way hose splitter and city water on a timer for 30 minutes every single morning from 6-6:30 am. I could definitely see an improvement in the early garden. --We put up the shade cover in early June. Unfortunately, it got a few tears in it this year from the T-posts I used to support my tomatoes. The fabric did not ravel and I should be able to use it at least one more year. Shade cloth was taken down on Aug 25th. -- bush beans did very well early on, my favorite was still the three bean seed mix. I had a huge harvest of beans the first week in May. It was two of my big mixing bowls full (and the weight is listed in my garden journal) and turned into 6 quarts of frozen beans. Not very long after this photo was taken, the bean leaves started to get spots on them, the spots quickly spread up the row and soon the whole patch was affected. The beans that were on the vine were dry and spotty as well. I ended up pulling the whole row on May 15th. From my internet wanderings it appeared to be a type of rust that affected the plants. --It was a great potato harvest this year. Over 20lbs of nicely sized potatoes with no bug problems. The potatoes have kept very well, we are still eating them from the potato bin and it is August 31st. -- The Swiss Chard was a winner in the spring and early summer, then the pesky chickens discovered it and stripped off the easy to reach leaves. Then the pesky sparrows got in on the party and stripped every single bit of green off of the stalks. By the end of June, I stopped trying to protect it from the birds and just gave up. Next year, I plan to plant the chard inside the garden too and maybe some in the front flower beds. It is so pretty and maybe with lots of it, I will get to eat some too. The leaves got HUGE this year, some were 14 inches across and over 3 feet long. --Herbs. Bumper crop for Purple Basil this year, too bad I don't know how to fix it so it is yummy. It is so pretty, I have to give it a chance each year. It was a bum year for Lemon Balm, I have a few stragglers that did not die out, but only one seedling started that I could see. Usually Lemon Balm is something that comes up everywhere. The regular sweet basil is doing great too. It is planted near the hose divider so I'm sure it gets more water than anything. --What a bizarre year for squash. I planted right on schedule, the plants came up and faltered, got leggy, then just flat out died. I even gave it another try in June after the potatoes were harvested and had the same terrible results. All of my seed is from NHG, just like every other year, but maybe it was a bad seed year? Not sure, but I did not even get to eat any of my own squash this year. How sad. First photo is end of April, second photo is mid May. --Sweet Potatoes, I got over 30 slips from store bought 'eating' sweet potatoes (photo from April). I also was successful at starting some of the wonderfully sweet Korean Purple sweet potatoes (we discovered these at the Korean super market, they have bright purple skin, white flesh and taste like candy). My mom brought about 10 of these slips home and the vines are going nuts at her house too. She has had great luck with sweet potatoes in years past. I never have. Hopefully between the two of us, I can eat some home grown sweet potatoes this year. --Tomatoes were great early on and then just blah this year. Harvested the first tomato of the season on May 15th. First flush of fruit were so thick it looked like clusters of tennis-ball-sized green grapes. After the first round ripened, the fruit set was minimal. They were staked on May 15th, had shade cloth, daily water. I'm going to pull all but the cherry tomato out this weekend. --Eggplant. Nothing but blooms and aphids. Very disappointing. Perhaps they did not like the shade cover. This is the first year I was able to keep the plants alive (cut worms have gotten them every other year, so I suppose that is a victory) --Peppers. GREAT! First big harvest was over 7 pounds and there is another big batch out there waiting for me now. I pickled the first batch, but ended up using the wrong kind of pickling spices and they don't taste the way I wanted. --Grapes?!? We briefly had a few clusters of green grapes which I kept an eye on until they disappeared. I guess the birds knew they were ripe before I could get to them --Children. Not really grown in my garden, but growing so much all the same. This is a drawing from my boy in mid-May. It is my garden, and me--mommy--with a watering system and a red light that shows when the garden needs water. I must be a fanatic if my 5 year old is designing garden watering systems for me. The three year-old is more interested in the animals and the idea of a farm with real live farm animals. For now, all we have are the chickens, and the bees, and the dog and the cat and the fish... okay, so it is like a mini farm here. If it were not for the auto watering system, there would not be much of a garden story for 2012. It has been a busy travel year for us. We spent a week at the beach in May, a week touring Scotland (yes SCOTLAND!) in July, and then a week at the cabin in Canada. More travel in three months than we have done in years. It has been fun, and also a bit overwhelming.
After all of that travel fun, we are home now, school has started and now it is time for fall planning! This fall I'd like to get in another crop of bush beans, turnips, radishes, more swiss chard, and I'm going to give the summer squash another attempt. I love my garden.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Jubilee and the Ebb and Flow of Growing Things

This looks to be an amazing year for Mulberries. It is only April 13th and already the sidewalks and road around 'our' Mulberry trees are stained purple with dropping fruit.

They are not really 'our' trees, they are located in the yard of a vacant house about 3 blocks away from our home. In 2010, we first began to harvest from this yard and luckily, I was able to meet the owners and get permission (and odd looks, but I'm used to that) to harvest from their messy trees. All in all, over about 3 weeks in May 2010, we harvested about 14 pounds of mulberries from those trees. We made jam, syrup, juice and the most delicious wine--not to mention eating ourselves silly of the fresh fruit. In early spring 2011, I lamented to Curtis that we had overdone it on the syrup because I still had several jars left over from 2010 harvest.

In 2011, I carefully watched the calendar and the trees for a repeat performance, but it never happened. The trees produced some small fruit, but what little there was was snapped up by the birds, it never even got a chance to stain the sidewalks (my clue when whizzing by at 30 mph that the fruit is ripe). Pounds of Mulberries collected in 2011... zero. I was very happy for those leftover jars of syrup--and the lovely wine-- from 2010 because that was the only taste of Mulberries we got in 2011.

Andrew harvesting mulberries in 2010, see the stained sidewalk (and stained boy)

For 2012 it appears that the harvest will be early and significant. Already hubby and the kids picked about 3 pounds of berries in one trip. We hopefully will be able to replenish our wine stash, and make more syrup. From all I have heard, most fruit bearing trees and plants follow a cycle of ebb and flow. Pecans will have a bumper crop, followed by a bum year the same for oaks and others. I've definitely seen good and bad years in my garden, despite my constant and consistent efforts.

This is a good lesson for me about gardening in general. I can tend and prepare carefully, but sometimes there are just bad years. God even told us about this in Leviticus 25. Every seventh year was a kind of restart year (and every 7x7 years there was a Jubilee when everything was returned to the original clans). I don't fully understand it, but I do find comfort as a gardener that this is all part of the big plan. From Leviticus 25:

18 “‘Follow my decrees and be careful to obey my laws, and you will live safely in the land. 19 Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and live there in safety. 20 You may ask, “What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops?” 21 I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years. 22 While you plant during the eighth year, you will eat from the old crop and will continue to eat from it until the harvest of the ninth year comes in.

Pretty neat stuff, even if my mind does get a big boggled when I try to figure it all out. I'm hopeful for a great garden year this year. April 13th and there are blooms on my tomatoes, my beans and my potatoes. The squash is a bit scraggly, but still coming along. This week, I planted my okra seeds and four sweet pepper plants. In a few weeks, I will put in my sweet potato slips (from my MIL).

Good year or bad, I get such joy from working in the garden, planting seeds and tending the precious plants.

All the photos are from the 2010 harvest--and the bottling of the 2010 wine (in 2011).

Friday, March 9, 2012

Early Garden 2012

The first weekend in March I took a gamble and put in a few rows of my spring/summer garden. Planting this year was less effort and more effort than in years past because hubby has decided that tilling is not good for the soil--I'm not exactly sure why it is not good, but I'm willing to give it a try this year. The garden has had a rough time the last two years, we got some produce, just not very much, so a change is probably in order.

Not tilling meant less effort up front because I never had to wrestle with the tiller, but also more effort because I had to use a hoe to loosen the top layer of soil (I'm not exactly sure if that is okay per hubby's 'new idea', but shhh, I know no other way of getting seeds planted without lovely loose soil). Luckily, over the last 7 years we have worked so much compost and organic matter into the soil, we have a really good base, so I don't think we'll be missing out by not tilling in the amendments I have poured on over the winter (4 bales of straw, a load or two of mulch, a truck load full of composted cow manure, 2 huge boxes of horse manure) All of that is mostly broken down into the soil, the larger chunks I just raked into the path areas.

To make room for the new season, all the 2011 garden hold outs were pulled--mostly just turnips and mint (argh my weedy mint is taking over the back quarter of the garden). There is one row of peas and one row of Kale which will remain along the back of the garden.

We have harvested and eaten turnips all winter and there was still enough left over to fill a child's wheelbarrow.

Garden layout wise we went back to planting in standard rectangular rows instead of the more visually pleasing V shaped planting beds. This was a decision based solely on ease of watering. From the looks of things, we will have another dry year and my #1 concern is making it easy for me to water my garden.

With lovely 70 degree weather I put in a 2 x 20 foot row of green beans (tri-color mixed, Jade, and Contender), a 3x20 foot row of summer squash (round, patty pan, caserta, cocozelle, umm.... 5 varieties in all) and 9 tomato plants. In all honesty, it is probably too early for tomatoes. But it is so hard to resist the flats of lovely plants at the nursery.

March 8 and 9th are cold and rainy, 42 degrees, but with a lovely slow drenching rain. I could do without the cold, but the rain is just perfect to kick off the growing season.

The oregano and parsley are doing great

The aquaponics set up is just so so, there is some nice lettuce and a few swiss chards, as well as the lavender I'm starting from cuttings (the main lavender plant is blooming now)

The hens are loving the longer days and have started laying again with gusto. They also love the 'chicken fort' that Andrew built for them from a cardboard box. He loves that they lay their eggs in their fort.

I did not think I was ready (I'm still bummed we 'missed' our winter) but bring on spring 2012.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Spring Signs 2012

It has been a strange and mild winter and early spring here in North Texas. We never got our winter, no snow, no ice, only a few freezing days. In general it has been mild and dry. The weed grass has green up quickly and we've already had to mow twice in February.

My spring bulbs--paper whites and narcissus-- bloomed in mid February. No sign of the giant Amaryllis flowers just yet.

Our big male cottonwood tree has bloomed it's nasty pollen 'pony tails'/ pollen tassels the week of March 1st (not sure what to call the 3 inch long structure that holds the pollen, in our tree, they bloom out bright pink and yellow, then fade to just yellow). As soon as the pollen pods open, the tree is swarmed by birds looking to eat the tiny green caterpillars that are often inside the pods. This means one messy week in our yard. Between the yellow pollen dust, the bird poop and the dropping pods and pony tails, I know to accept a filthy car and to not hang out any laundry on the clothes line. As of March 5th, the pony tails are starting to drop which signals the end of this mess. In the next few days we'll start to see the first green leaves budding out.

So far it is a light year for dandelions, probably because it is so dry. The bees love the dandelions, so I'm hoping we'll see more over the next few weeks--yes, I'm hoping for weeds in my yard. Ha ha.

The Forest Pansy Redbud in the front yard bloomed on March 4th.

The bees have been able to fly for most of the winter. Our local beekeeping friend said that his hive inspection this weekend revealed that his hives were full of honey and he had to add a super. Typically Feb and March are rough times for bees since they have had to live off of their summer and fall honey stores all year. For them to be full of honey means that they were able to fly and collect nectar over the winter and did not have to rely on stored honey as much. This could be a good sign that this will a strong year for the bees.

We are still a full 3 weeks before the average last frost date for our area, but things are looking very spring like out there. So much so, that I've already planted a good portion of the garden on March 4th.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Hot New Hobby

Hubby took an 'Introduction to Blacksmithing' class from the local junior college in the spring of 2011 and he was hooked (and also the fall of 2011 and the spring of 2012...). Three short hours each week was just not enough blacksmithing time, so in November, he bought his own propane forge and set up shop in our back yard.

Apart from the huge mess right behind my back door, it was a lot of fun to watch him work from the comfort of the warm house.

It is neat to watch the iron get red hot in the forge and then to watch him bang, twist and ease it into shape.

He is very prolific in his creations, in fact, a good portion of our Christmas gifts this year were homemade:

House numbers for Lin and Joe

Treble Clef for Randy

Huge Iron 'J' for Ted

Leaf Door Knocker for Barbara

To further encourage and support his hobby (and to encourage the grass to grow again by the back door), we cleaned out the area behind our garage and set up a proper smithy for him. I miss getting to see him in action as I putter around the kitchen, but I do like having my back yard back.