A garden is the best alternative therapy.

Posts tagged ‘preparation’

Planning The Garden

There are a number of factors I consider when I am planning my garden for the season.

The first thing I consider is, “What do I want to grow?”  That usually gets me looking online or in seed catalogs for seeds.  If you have ever looked at a seed catalog, then you understand what a difficult task it is looking through the catalog to find the variety you want to grow.  Not all varieties are created equal, however, and a prolific variety on the East Coast won’t necessarily be prolific in the Deep South.  That brings me to the next consideration.

What cultivar/variety is right for my area?”  Luckily, one is not without resources.  A simple internet search for recommended cultivars for your area will most likely provide most of the information you need.   When I type in, “recommended cultivars for Central Texas”, I find a helpful article in the Examiner with a long list of varieties growers in our area have particular success with.   I discover that, for best results, if I want to grow broccoli, I should obtain seeds of the following cultivars: Packman, Premium Crop, and Green Magic.

After determining what crops I want to grow and what varieties are best, it is usually a matter of shopping around to find those specific cultivars.   “Where can I obtain seed of the varieties I have chosen?”  Because the big seed companies are not located in my area, I did a search for “seed companies in Texas”.   I found that Willhite seeds carries many cultivars recommended for my area because it is a local seed company.

The next consideration is, “When is the recommended planting time for this crop?” along with the related question, “How long until harvest?”  Sometimes this makes a big difference on what ends up growing in my garden.  I may want to grow okra this fall, for example, but it isn’t the right time of year to plant them.  Or, I may want to grow bell peppers this fall, but it is now too late to start them from seed and I will have to transplant instead.   To determine the right times of the year to plant certain crops, I rely on the Travis County Aggie Planting Chart, which is the most local I can find.  I use this to determine the window of opportunity I have to get seeds or transplants in the ground.  If you do an internet search, you should be able to find something similar for your area.

Once I have chosen my crops, selected the variety for my area, and determined the correct planting time, it is next a consideration of, “Do I have room, and where will I put them?”  For me, this usually entails drawing an illustration of my yard and planting area.  I garden out of raised growing boxes, and I am limited to nine separate areas to grow in.  By drawing out the plan, I can visualize how the crops will be arranged in the garden.

Fall/Winter garden diagram

Another equally important factor is, “What have I grown in those locations before?”  It’s important to rotate most crops, planting them in one location once every three seasons or so.  By keeping record of what you have grown when and where, you can most accurately maintain a good crop rotation schedule to keep your garden plants and soil healthy.

Since I have several different boxes located in varying exposures to full sun, I also have to think about, “What crops do best in the longest amount of full sun and what crops do okay with a little more shade?”

Finally, it is important for me to think even one more season ahead and ask, “What will I want to plant the next season?”.  If I am planning a fall garden, I am also planning my winter garden.   This is because the fall garden will roll right into the winter garden, as I stagger in new crops after harvesting the old.   This is important so as to effectively use as many boxes I can at any given time.  For example, I am growing tomatoes and peppers this fall.  I already have them transplanted and have figured a max of sixty days until those plants have produced and will be done for the season.  According to my calculations, that means I will be ripping them out of the ground at the end of September, leaving that box open for winter planting.  If I plan my garden right, I’ll be able to use that box immediately to start a new crop.

Time to Think About A Fall Garden

It seems just a bit strange in the middle of the summer to think about fall planting and what my family will be eating fresh from the garden this October and even Thanksgiving.  Yet, if I want to be ahead of the ball, I really should begin my fall garden now and go ahead and send off for those seeds.

Another thing to think about is that some fall crops will not have time to mature before winter sets in, so to have a harvest, I will need transplants.  (I already have my tomato and pepper transplants in the ground for harvest later in the fall.)   Also, keep in mind that if you are growing from seed for later transplanting, it can take 4-6 weeks until the plant is ready to transplant.  So, if you have a transplant date of 9/1, for example, it’s time to get those seeds started now!

As July winds down, here are some important vegetable planting dates for Central Texas to keep in mind:

Start Now:

Broccoli from seed for transplanting 9/1
Cauliflower from seed for transplanting 9/1
Spinach from seed for transplanting 9/1

Now Through the First Week of August:

Plant your winter squash, you don’t have much time left
Plant another round of cucumbers

Now Through the Second Week of August:

Transplant those pepper plants (it’s too late to start from seed)
Transplant those tomato plants (it’s too late to start from seed)
Plant another round of sweet corn if you’ve got the space

By End of August:

Plant summer squash varieties (zucchini, yellow, etc.)

By Beginning of September:

Plant another round of snap or lima beans

Also on the horizon:

Carrots can be started September 1st

Snap and snow peas in Mid-September

Garlic, cool weather greens, lettuce, spinach , shallots and turnips all on horizon the last week of September.

What are your plans for a fall garden?

Update: Garden Path and Butterfly Garden installation

***UPDATE*** (I have transplanted creeping thyme between the flagstones on the path, click here to view Thyme To Transplant Between the Flagstones)

The landscaping project is well on its way now.  After coming home early yesterday, I drove down to Austin Landscaping Supplies and picked up a 1/2 yard of soil for the native plant beds.  With a little help from my daughter, we cut open a bag full of paper grocery bags, then used those to line the bottom of the bed (after the sod was removed).  Then we unloaded the dirt and dumped it in one of the beds.  The half yard was enough to fill one of the beds completely.   Then Michelle and I got up early this morning so I could strip the sod from the other bed, then we ran down to ALS again for another half yard.  With my daughter and my wife’s help, we had completed the beds before noon and were sitting enjoying an ice-cold glass of tea while we marveled at our work.

We arranged the plants in the bed to get a feel for how they will look.  We had to play with them a little – and we still have about thirteen plants that are being shipped and haven’t arrived.  Ten of those are milkweed plants and three are black-eyed susans.  They were on sale with reduced shipping, so I thought, “Why not?”  Butterflies love B.E.S., and mine that I’m growing from seed are not looking great.  We haven’t yet transplanted any of the plants, but that is something we’ll tackle today or tomorrow.  I just wanted to put out a quick update of the progress.

Native bed 1: Verbena, Aster, Milkweed, Lantana, Black Eyed Susans ... and more

Native bed 1: Verbena, Lantana, Fall Aster, Milkweed, Thyme, Black-Eyed Susans and more

Native bed 2: Indigo Spires, Salvia Greggii, Rosemary, Mexican Mint Marigold, Black Eyed Susans, Copper Canyon Daisies, Trailing Lantana, Zexmenia, Butterfly Weed, Milkweed, Four Nerve Daisies

Another view of the second native bed

Installing a gravel path and butterfly garden – WIP

***UPDATE** Please visit my new post for updated progress on this project

We have wanted to do something with the backyard now for quite some time.  The garden boxes are nice and all, but we really wanted to create a butterfly garden and a little place to sit and relax.  I’ve never done any landscaping before, but I thought I’d try a small landscaping project to make some of those dreams a reality.  The area right off the back stoop gets so much traffic from us coming in and out – and letting the dog in and out, it has become quite an eyesore, and a muddy one at times.  The same goes with the area in front of the garden boxes.

I started by drawing up the backyard then playing with a few ideas to see what worked.  I ended up deciding on a gravel path leading from the back stoop left towards the garden boxes and wildflowers.  I then thought of adding another path going the opposite way to the corner of the yard where the mint bed is.   That looked kinda funny all by itself, so I drew in flower beds on either side of that path and created a little corner of the yard surrounded by flowerbeds.  As I did some research, I learned that gravel paths are nice, but you don’t want to have them lead directly to your back door because you’ll end up tracking rocks into the house and driving yourself crazy.  So, I decided that I would transition the gravel paths to the back stoop with flagstones.

It started with a drawing...

Here are a few pictures of the yard before I started any actual work.

Off the back stoop (before)

This shows the corner of the yard (before)

The side of the house nearest the mint bed (before)

Here is the view of the yard from the herb garden - see all of the dead grass? (before)

Flagstones are kind of expensive!  Luckily, I found some flagstones on Craigslist for $1-$2 each, so I went and picked them up and put them in the back yard right off the back stoop.   After doing more research, I decided I wanted to allow room to plant creeping thyme between the flagstones to make the arrangement a little more attractive.  I have obtained about a dozen Mother of Thyme plants that will spread up to 3′ each.  I plan to lay a little more dirt between the stones and transplant the plugs in between the stones and let them do their thing.  The enticing part about having thyme between the stones is that every time we walk on the stones and brush against or step on the thyme, it will release its fragrance into the air!  How wonderful!

Flagstones as laid out.

The flagstones are mostly all the same level, but I do have a couple of them leading directly up to the stoop that I inset a little higher than the others.  This is to lessen the huge step from the stones to the back stoop.  I think the stones will look really nice once I lay more dirt and plant the thyme.

As you can see by the above picture, I also laid the gravel path.  I installed landscape edging around the path to contain the gravel, then purchased the gravel from a local landscaping supply for $14 for a half yard.  I went back and forth between types of gravel for some time.  I decided against the decomposed granite and smaller pea gravel because I didn’t want to track it anywhere.  I also edged the path with a quartz rock border.  The rocks I’ve had in a huge pile on the side of the house since pulling it out from around a few trees in the front.  This is a better use of the rock.

This is the gravel path after laying the gravel on one side

I’ve stripped the sod from half of the beds, and will have to buy some soil to put in, but this is the basic layout.  In the far corner, I put a few more flagstones around an area where I want to put a bench.  I will also get a couple of chairs and a birdbath to put in there somewhere.

I spent about $75 on plants here and there.  I got several from the Natural Gardener.  These are the varieties I chose:

Mexican mint marigold (2 plus the seedlings I sowed)

Indigo spires salvia (2 plants)

Four nerve daisies (1 plant)

Fall aster (1)

Salvia greggii (I chose two: one white and one orange.)

Zexmenia (1)

Texas Lantana (2)

Copper Canyon Daisies (2)

Purple moss verbena (2)

Butterfly weed (1)

Trailing lantana(1)

I also have a few rosemary plants, two Tuscan Blue and one Prostrate to add in the mix, as well as alyssum, dusty miller, black-eyed susans, parsley and fennel.  Oh, and I almost forgot the 10 milkweed plants.  I’m sure that butterflies will eventually find our backyard irresistible!   Most of these plants are Texas natives, require low water once established and should do quite well for us.

What do you think?

*****UPDATE***** Please visit my new post for updated progress on this project.

Eat What You Make

Addie Broyles wrote a good article for yesterday’s Statesman entitled, “Rediscovering the Art of Eating In,” where she highlighted the efforts of author Cathy Erway as she stopped eating out at restaurants for two entire years.  Erways book, The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove, is a memoir of her experiences of cutting out prepared restaurant foods and instead preparing every meal herself in her own home on her own stove and is packed with recipes and tips on becoming more self-dependent in the kitchen.

While I haven’t read the book, Broyles’ article peaked my curiosity.   I, too, made the decision a few years ago to cut out as much processed and prepared foods as I possibly can.  This was not so much a matter of saving money, as Erways’ subtitle suggests, as it was a matter of eating healthier and becoming more self-reliant.  As Broyles points out, there are entire generations of young people who do not know how to cook a meal for themselves.   They have become dependent upon the agriculture, manufacturing and retail industries to bring them the foods they want with as little effort as possible; however, not only are prepared foods and restaurant fare full of artificial ingredients, trans fats, genetically modified organisms, high-sodium, sugar, and preservatives, they are missing one hugely important and nearly universally ignored ingredient: love.

I believe that, in everything we do or make, we expend energy and that energy is reflected in what we do or make.   That energy is conveyed to others in a very real sense.  In the case of food preparation, that energy goes straight into the food.   If the person preparing the food doesn’t use quality, wholesome ingredients, is slaving away at a hot stove to meet ten orders at one time, and is irritated at the front of the house manager for griping them out for arriving twenty minutes late to work,  that energy is conveyed to your food.  Or if the food is not prepared by human hands, but by machine, where is the love in that?  For the same reason, I opt to make bread by hand instead of using the bread machine.  It simply tastes better.  Likewise, I don’t eat restaurant food prepared by people I’ve never met, which is processed food their manager bought from manufacturing plants states away!

I remember growing up in the Midwest.  My mother gardened, canned and preserved a lot of our food for a number of years when I was younger.  She also cooked most of the meals we consumed.   Only occasionally did we go “out to eat” and just as rarely she would grab something on the way home from work.  Nothing compared to home cooked meals, however.  When I went away to college, I realized how much I missed my mother’s cooking.  The dining commons had a large selection of prepackaged, frozen and reheated (or worse, microwaved) items, and most of it was gross and/or bad for me.

Was she just a great cook?  Did she possess a certain skill that made her food taste better?  I do think she is an awesome cook, but I think the secret ingredient was, you guessed it, love.   She wanted us to have a good, wholesome meal – not the “crap you can get at a restaurant”.  She knew then that restaurant food is, for the most part, less healthy than a home-cooked meal.  The truth of the matter is that the restaurant industry, and the conventional food industry as a whole, has only gotten less healthy as the years have gone by.  She wanted to prepare a meal for us, made with ingredients she grew herself, and whipped together with her hard work, energy and affection.   It showed.  Mom, if you’re reading this, let me tell you that I appreciate all of that hard work.  Now I know that it was a LOT of hard work.

Since going to a 90%+ organic diet a few years ago, we’ve cut back on most processed foods and almost all processed foods that are not organic.  We never eat out.  Fast food?  Absolutely not!  That means that all of our meals have to be prepared by our own hands.  That takes time, energy, planning and a lot of patience and love.   It is difficult, I won’t lie.  We both work downtown and we have to fight traffic to get home in Round Rock.  We generally get home after 6:30.  It would be all to easy to do something quick, but we have found joy in taking the time to prepare nutritious, wholesome, well-rounded meals and sitting down together at the dinner table to talk about our days.   I guess it would also be easy to send our daughter off to school with money to buy the lunch they provide.  Instead, we send her to school everyday with a healthy meal.  That takes time out of our morning to prepare, but at least we know what she’s eating.  The kids take notice, too.  At first, they teased her a little about her bag of carrots and cucumber slices and about eating organic, but now they don’t.   I think she’s educated them a little.

That’s because we’ve educated her.  She knows how important it is to eat healthy and appreciates the meals we prepare for her.  She gets in there and helps us out a little here and there, and I know she’s learning how to cook for herself at the same time.

Most of my peers look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them how and what we eat, and, more importantly, what we don’t eat.  They invite me out for lunch with the firm and I have to decline because I just don’t eat that crap.  I could do without the MSG, hydrogenated oil, excess salt and God knows what else.   We have all heard the sayings, “you are what you eat” and “your body is your temple” and “garbage in, garbage out.”    That is why we choose to prepare our food ourselves for every meal.  This is also why we started gardening, to grow more of the food we eat so that we are in charge of nurturing it, loving it, preparing it and offering it to one another with love.

Here’s to healthier eating!

Vegetable Planting Dates for Central Texas

Spring is almost here. What/when should you plant? Read below.

I decided to do a little research so that I can put those dates out there for anyone else looking for vegetables to plant in Central Texas and when to plant them.

I discovered that the Travis County website has a monthly planting calendar that is quite helpful. In addition, I used the Aggie Planting Chart that I’ve referred to many times on this blog, as well as another calendar put out by Texas A&M research center in Stephenville (North Central Texas) and a calendar put out by Austin Organic Gardeners.  Below is the information I compiled.

Herbs: Almost all herbs can be planted this month, either by seed or by transplant. One exception would be basil, which will not tolerate even a light frost. Parsley should be planted in the first two weeks of March.

March 1st – 15th:

Beets
Broccoli (season ends)
Chard
Collards
Endive
Kale (by end of first week)
Lettuce
Mustard (season ends)
Peas (season ends)
Radishes
Spinach (season ends)
Turnips (season ends)

March 15-31:

Basil (wait until the end of month)
Beans (lima, snap, black-eye peas)
Beets
Cantaloupe (fourth week)
Chard (by end of third week, season ends)
Collards (by end of third week, season ends)
Corn (sweet)
Cucumbers
Eggplant
Endive (by end of third week, season ends)
Kale (by end of third week, season ends)
Lettuce (by end of third week, season ends)
Pepper plants (wait until end of the month)
Pumpkins
Radishes (by end of the month, season ends)
Spinach (New Zealand variety, cold weather varieties are done)
Squash
Tomatoes
Watermelon (fourth week)

When is your last freeze?

Dave’s Garden has a great tool you can use to enter your zip code and receive your area’s last/first frost dates.

Not only that, but it will provide local “detailed station data” highlighting the percentage of likelihood of receiving frost at particular dates in your immediate area.  The result summary will also tell you when you are virtually guaranteed to/not to receive frost.  For example, a search for Round Rock, Texas came up with the following summary:

My results: "You are almost guaranteed that you will not get frost from March 30 through October 31."

With that information in mind, you can sow seeds indoors according to the seed packet directions and have them ready to go when Mother Nature is ready!