A garden is the best alternative therapy.

Posts tagged ‘vegetables’

Baby Veggies

It is always exciting when our vegetable garden starts producing.  After a few failures in the past two summers due to pests, disease and/or uncooperative weather, it is encouraging to see the plants bursting forth with tiny veggies that will continue to grow into harvest-able crops. I’ll get to those mini-veggies in a minute, but first, BIG news.  Well, sort of.  The spring/summer garden offered up its first harvest over the weekend – a single zucchini measuring 9-inches long!  I am amazed at how fast zucchinis grow!  I literally watched it grow a few inches in a matter of two days and a few more are just a day or two behind it.  I think this one plant will provide enough zucchini for us to eat for a few months – and bigger than we’ve been able to get at the grocery store.  The first picture below was taken on Saturday.  I chose not to harvest it then because I wanted it to get an inch or two larger.

Then, on Sunday, I awoke to find the same zucchini had grown almost two inches to the size of a large dinner plate!

Well, that’s the big news.  Hey, I relish in good news, whatever it is!

Now for the mini-veggie photos!  We have tomatoes, habaneros, green bell peppers, cucumbers, yellow squash, jalapenos and what looks like cantaloupe starting to form!

baby cucumber (tied with nylon cord to tomato cage)

teeny jalapeno

small Early Girl tomatoes clustered together

healthy nub of a habanero pepper

tiny yellow squash (foil to deter vine borer)

beginning of bell pepper

could it be? a cantaloupe fruit?

All of these plants received a healthy watering on Saturday, followed by a 12 oz. cup of freshly brewed compost tea to top them off!  Here is the yeasty smelling, foamy, frothy mixture right before I served it up!

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The New Garden Bed

Last week, I wrote about the new garden bed I built on the north side of the house.  Although I’ve been growing veggies in raised beds in other parts of the yard for the past couple of years, I decided that I needed to do something different this season.  The main reason for building a new bed is that the veggies simply weren’t getting enough sunlight.  Vegetables require at least 8 hours of sunlight a day to be really productive and the other beds only allowed for a max of six hours of direct sunlight before being shaded from the house or the fence.  In years past, I’ve had struggles with low productivity as well as powdery mildew on my cukes and squashes.  I think the low productivity was, in part, due to the shortage of direct sunlight and, also in part, due to the extreme heat (tomatoes stop setting at consistent temps over 85 degrees, for example).  I am also fairly certain that the powdery mildew proliferated due to the amount of shade the plants received.  Being exposed to full sun all day should help this situation.  If not, I’ll be trying some different techniques to get it under control.  More on that later should the need arise.

This new bed is about four feet wide by eight feet long.  It is now in a location where 100% of the bed receives direct sunlight all day long.  If it performs well, I just might expand it for the fall, perhaps putting another 4×8′ bed next to it.  This summer, I’ll be growing tomatoes, jalapenos, bell pepper, habaneros, cucumber, yellow squash, zucchini, watermelon and cantaloupe.  I skipped the bush beans this season, but might end up putting them in the additional bed if I decide to build it for fall.

 

the new garden bed

cantaloupe leaves

 

zucchini

tomato plant

mmmm, fire.

cucumbers

yellow crookneck squash

jalapeno

green bell pepper

In the Garden 3.26.11

I have finished transplanting all of the veggies for the spring garden.  In my little plot, I have 2 tomatoes (celebrity and early girl), 2 bell pepper (green, cal wonder), 2 jalapeno, 2 habanero, 2 cucumber, 1 squash (yellow crookneck), 1 zucchini, 1 watermelon (crimson) and 1 cantaloupe.   Right now there is quite a bit of space between the plants in the 4′ x 8′ plot, but I’m sure space will be a premium in a couple short months.  I totally forgot to take photos, so I’ll have to update the blog later this week with pictures.

The herb garden is also expanded this year.  Throughout the garden, I now have:  1 culinary sage, 5 parsley, 2 dill, 2 fennel, 2 tarragon, 3 oregano, 4 thyme, 6 chives, 2 rosemary and 2 basil plants.    Sadly, my marjoram plant from last fall died, so I’ll have to get another one.  I’ve found that growing herbs is a very worthwhile investment.  We use a lot of herbs.  In fact, we use one or more of these herbs on a daily basis, so having them at our fingertips is quite helpful.  From a cost perspective, organic herbs at the grocery store can run between $4 and $6/jar.   If I buy fresh, organic herbs cost about $3 for a small handful.  By the time they reach the store, they aren’t always in the best condition either.  Having our own garden means we have our own fresh herbs whenever we need them.  If we want, we can also dry sprigs to put in jars for later use.  Most of the plants cost less than $3 each, and will produce many harvests – many will produce over a number of seasons because they are very hardy.   They are also very low maintenance plants that are fairly drought resistant.  If you are new to gardening, I really recommend starting an herb garden.

I’m happy to report that the lantana plant, which I feared dead, has sprouted some nubs of green growth.  Thanks, Carolyn, for urging me to give it more time.  It’s a few weeks behind the other bush right next to it, but should catch up quickly.

I have a few milkweed seeds that have germinated.  The rest of them should be coming up soon, too.  I’ll let them grow for about four weeks before I transplant them in their final destination along the northern fence line.  It looks like I have about ten that made it through the winter and have another twenty cuttings on order, so I should have a total of about forty to fifty total plants in bloom by mid-summer.

The four-nerve daisy plant is going crazy!  I can tell it’s ecstatic that spring has arrived!  Can you?

My wife has a pot of amaryllis bulbs we’ve been meaning to separate into different pots for some time now.  She got them from her grandmother in Houston, who’s been holding on to them for years.  Before that, they came from my wife’s great-grandmother’s garden.  (If we have a girl in May, we’ll give the baby my wife’s great-grandmother’s name, Eve, as well as my mother’s maiden name, Rose.)  Although we haven’t separated the bulbs, we are happy to say that one of them has started blooming this spring.   Is this her way of saying she approves??  We’d love to think so!  I still hold out hope for a boy … 🙂

There’s really not much else to report.  I had some fun photographing a hoverfly that seemed to really enjoy the euryops flowers, spending the better part of an hour flitting from flower to flower.  He was wary of me and often hovered just above me as I readjusted myself to take photos.  I sure wish I had a macro lens to get in really close and capture more detail.  These are the best I could come up with!


Out of the Old Comes the New

It is hard to believe that it has been four months since my last post.  Life has been really busy.  The holidays, the loss of my grandfather, getting ready for the baby who’s scheduled to arrive at the end of May … so many things and very little time for gardening.  Good thing there’s not much to do over the winter in the garden!

The past two weekends I have spent a considerable amount of time in the yard straightening up after the winter, getting things ready for spring planting and installing a new garden bed.   We had such a dry fall and winter that the yard really was in poor shape.  I lost a crop of broccoli as well as lettuce due to the hard freezes.   I should have covered them and mulched better, but I really thought they’d do alright.  Unfortunately, I was wrong.  Luckily, the spinach fared alright through it all as did the carrots and we enjoyed the harvests.  The spinach is finishing up now – literally going to seed as I write this.

Bloomsdale spinach going to seed

This spring, I have Celebrity and Early Girl tomatoes in the ground, along with bell peppers, habaneros, cucumbers and zucchini.  My wife also wanted to try watermelon and cantaloupe, a first for us, but we’re going to give them a go.   Looking back at the garden’s performance last year, I made the decision to put together another garden box – this time on the north side of the house where it will be in full sun all day long.  The other boxes just didn’t allow for enough exposure to the sun because of how the shade falls in the afternoon.  They only received – at most – six hours of direct sun, but most vegetables need at least eight hours to be really productive.  The new garden box measures eight feet by four feet and is a lower profile (half the height of the others).  This may prove to be small for the watermelon and cantaloupe, but time will tell!

The dry fall and winter also made for a very disappointing wildflower bed.  As the year before, I sowed the seeds in October, but they just never came up.  I made sure to keep the ground moist, but stopped after about thirty days when it was apparent that they weren’t going to germinate.  Instead of letting it sit there completely bare and taunting me with weeds, I worked it over and bought some transplants as additions to the butterfly garden.   Those include:  two Texas Lantana, two Trailing Lantana, two Fern Leaf Lavender, two Mexican Mint Marigold (tarragon), two scarlet verbena, two Mexican Heather (cuphea), and two Euryops.  I also sowed Maximillian Sunflower seeds in the northeast corner of the yard (down at the very end of the photo immediately below).

What was once the wildflower bed is now a home for flowering natives

Scarlet verbena flowers

Euryops flowers - "African bush daisy" - part of the Plants for Texas program

Trailing lantana - these two new transplants makes a total of three in the garden - I love them!

Fern Leaf Lavender- a new addition this year and part of the Plants for Texas program

Fern Leaf lavender flower - BEAUTIFUL!

Tarragon - I think this is Mexican Mint Marigold

Spontaneous primrose almost ready to flower (reseeded all over the yard from last year's wildflower bed)

Despite the dry spring thus far (I think our last significant rain was back in September), the perennial flowering plants are coming back to life.  Out of the old, comes the new – as they say.   Already, I have about ten milkweed plants coming back to life.  There are still about twenty that haven’t come back yet.  I’ll give them more time and hopefully they will.  In the meantime, I’ve sown another twenty seeds as replacements if they don’t come back.  If they do, well – the more the merrier (at least for the Queen and Monarch butterflies!).

Milkweed is coming along already!

It seems I’ve lost one of the Texas Lantana.  It has yet to sprout any new growth, but the other plant just a few feet away is already rebounded.

Texas Lantana

The Black-Eyed Susans have come back up, and it seems they’ve also reseeded around the original plants.  I left enough room for them to fill in!

Black-Eyed Susans

One of the purple prairie verbena is starting to make its way back, but the other is still lifeless.   They bloomed all the way from March through winter until we received snow.  I sure hope they do so again this year – the butterflies loved them.  In preparation, I pruned them back several weeks ago.  I’ll give them a couple more weeks to see if they made it through the freeze.

Purple prairie verbena starting to come back on one side

The fall aster has also spread its growth outwards, creating a larger diameter of new growth.  It is such a pretty plant once it begins flowering, so I’m already anxious to see how big it will grow over the summer and how spectacular it’s fall show will be.

Fall aster

The Four Nerve Daisies are a wonderful part of the garden.  The foliage is evergreen, unlike most of the plants in the garden.  It was lonely in its little corner of the bed while everything else retreated for the winter, but it continued sending up yellow flowers through the fall and early winter.  Now that spring has arrived, it has grown considerably and has a multitude of new flower stalks ready to open up!

Four Nerve Daisies

The rosemary bushes are also evergreen and unscathed from the winter months.  Here you see both plants, the prostrate rosemary and the Tuscan Blue.  The prostrate put on a show of blue flowers late in the fall.  I prefer the flavor of the Tuscan Blue, though both are highly aromatic.  I love to run my hands through them and take a deep breath!  MMmmmm!

Prostrate rosemary (foreground) and Tuscan Blue

Another evergreen plant is the Double Knockout rose bush.  It is covered with new buds and soon will be adding some great red hues to the garden.  I can’t wait!

Double Knockout Rose Bush

Both Copper Canyon Daisy plants are sending up new growth, too.  In the fall they were absolutely covered with yellow blooms.

Copper Canyon Daisy

I was worried about the Zexmenia, but it has surprised me.  Just in the past few days alone, it has sent up a lot of green leaves…

Zexmenia

Salvia greggii was also green throughout the winter, and with the onset of warmer weather, has really bushed out (these were taken after I pruned it back a bit).  I have two different colors: white (foreground) and red (behind).

Salvia greggii

One of my favorite plants in the garden is the Indigo Spires salvia.  It died back completely to the ground over the winter, but it is going strong now that spring has arrived.  It grew to over four feet tall by four feet wide last year, covered in eight inch long spires of purple flowers that were a favorite of bumble bees and honey bees.

Indigo Spires salvia (two plants)

The Autumn Joy sedum was a late addition last fall, but it turned out to be beautiful with pink flowers that darkened to red.  It died back to the ground over winter, but you couldn’t tell it by looking at it today.  Also, Turk’s Cap has just started popping up over the past few days.

Autumn Joy sedum

 

the other sedum plant, up close

Turk's Cap growth (all within the past three days)

Whirling Butterfly Gaura bushes also died back completely during the winter.  Judging from the growth they’ve put on the past couple of weeks, they could easily be twice the size that they were last year.  These were also a hit with the honey bees last year and added a whimsical feel to the southern side of the garden as the flower stalks twirled and whirled around in the breeze.

two Whirling Butterfly Gauras

new buds on the Gaura bush

this Gaura bud already shows signs of additional life ... not quite sure what these little guys are

The Spanish lavender is looking a little lean, but it is still managing to form flower buds.  These were very popular with the honey bees, too.  After it flowers, I will prune it back by a third and hope that it bushes out again.

Spanish lavender

Since I use so much thyme in cooking, I have a total of four plants now.  This one is easily a foot in diameter and is starting to flower.  My favorite chicken marinade uses a couple teaspoons of fresh thyme leaves, a tablespoon each of fresh rosemary and oregano leaves, 1/2 cup of olive oil, a teaspoon of sea salt and the juice of two lemons.  GREAT on the grill!

English thyme

thyme flowers

And, FINALLY, the herb garden.  In the pots, I have peppermint from two years ago.  Due to neglect, it mostly died (yes, you CAN kill mint!), but it’s coming back again.  In the bed below are chives (which should be flowering soon)(6 plants), oregano (3), thyme (2), and Italian parsley (3).  Two of the parsley plants almost succumbed to the freeze, but, with a little pruning and care, they have put on more leaves and soon will be huge bushes that will threaten to crowd out the other plants.   I plan to add a couple of basil plants as well to the garden, which I’ll probably pick up tomorrow.  They will have to go elsewhere in the garden as they won’t fit in here.  Also, in the bed behind the lantana, I have two fennel plants, two Italian parsley plants, and three dill plants (all of which are host plants for swallowtail butterflies – Yes, I love those big black beauties and will be raising a few more broods this year!).  They will all go to flower and be a good nectar source for all of those beneficial insects that are welcome guests in the garden.

Herb garden, 3.19.11

Oh, I almost forgot.  I put a new bed in the front yard, outside our bedroom window.  I have two Desperado sage bushes in there (planted last fall) and have just recently placed about fifteen blue lobelia plants and about twenty red pillar salvias.  They are remarkably colorful (like most salvias) and should attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.  Take a look at this striking, scarlet beauty!

Red Pillar Salvia

 

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?

Coming home, it’s not only me who has grown

Sometimes, a simple week away from the everyday life can have profound effects on one’s peace of mind.

When we chose our camping destination in Colorado, it was important to us to be in an area that was free of as many artificial distractions as possible.  We didn’t want electricity.  We didn’t want running water.  We didn’t want cell phone reception, Wi-Fi, internet, television, cable, radio …

It was nice getting back to the basics, to “chop wood, carry water”.   We had to haul our water in a water bag some fifty yards to our site, where we filtered it for drinking or for use in cooking, showering, cleaning, etc.  We relied on good old fashioned solar energy to heat our shower water.  While we had a propane stove for ease in cooking, we also cooked over a fire, started from flint and steel and whatever dry tinder and firewood we could collect.   At night, we didn’t have a television to sit in front of, or separate rooms to disappear into.  There was the warmth of the fire, and us, huddled around it, talking, laughing, and letting our minds entirely unplug.

I slept well despite being inside of a tent at 10,000 feet in the wilderness at 45 degrees!  Perhaps it’s because that was the first time in years my body/brain had rested without the constant bombardment of cell phone and wi-fi radiation, electromagnetic energy from the electrical currents we wire our houses with, and the unending stimulus of media at my fingertips!

There are truly important things in life, and then there are unimportant things.   Sitting on the mountain, that distinction became quite clear in a number of areas in my life.  We waste so much time and energy building lives full of man-made things, while we are largely cut off and clearly do not value as much as we should the natural world that has been the cradle of humanity since our days began on this planet.  The grandeur of the mountains has stood for all to see for millions of years, and I’m happy that man – with all of his selfishness, materialism, and overconsumption – had the sense to reserve parts of America as wilderness areas, to be untouched for future generations.

I don’t know where the path leads that our global consciousness has set out upon.  I don’t know why many people have to go through the darkness to understand and appreciate the light.  On our present course, we’re flirting with disaster, destroying our planet with the toxic run-off of our industrialized world.   It saddens me that so much of our society is completely severed from the natural world – their home!   How lost we all must feel at times, as we attempt to conform our lives to an artificial design.

Sitting in traffic for two hours everyday it is quickly apparent how many people look completely unhappy and zombified by their jobs and too many stimuli …

I’m ranting here, sorry.  Isn’t it funny how, after you’ve been gone from home awhile, your house looks different?  Something about the lighting, the colors seem strange … We all noticed it when we returned home.  Surely nothing in the house has changed.  Was it just us that changed?

Colorado definitely left its mark on us again, but we aren’t the only ones who have changed.  We returned to a jungle in the backyard.  Ok, not quite, but MY how everything grew while we were away!  The Austin area must have received a lot of rainfall.  The verbena had all but grown together, choking out the milkweed.  The lantana grew by leaps and bounds and is intertwined with the fennel that has exploded in yellow flower umbrels.  The creeping lantana is spilling out across the gravel walkway and engulfed more milkweed planted nearby.  And the beans are putting on now, and the tomatoes that were void of fruit before we left now have about 15 tomatoes.  The peppers are just chock-full-o peppers, too.

It seems I do better when I’m not trying to garden.  🙂

Texas Lantana in the foreground (I trimmed it back some) and fennel in the back

Butterfly garden bed after trimming. I didn't know verbena spread so quickly. It's branches propagate readily by rooting where they hit the ground.

Butterfly garden bed after trimming the lantana, indigo spires and butterfly weed.

Our pepper bed: cayenne, orange bell pepper and anaheim

Maters!

And more maters! Thought I'd have to wait until fall!

Ring-o-Fire cayenne. Yes, they ARE extremely hot!

Cal Wonder Orange Bell Peppers (green until mature)

Bean-o-plenty

Baby beanlings

Every leaf I turn over reveals more beans ... (Tendergreen and Bush Lake)

Anaheim peppers - marked as jalapenos when I purchased them!

the black-eyed susans are really looking great

the spearmint bed is flowering now

spearmint flower

hibiscus

double knockout roses

Common milkweed is now flowering (grown from cuttings)

common milkweed flowers

Lady Bug oh Lady Bug, do you want a feast?

A Year of Change

It was just over a year ago that my wife and I decided to start a little garden.  It started with a strawberry plant that we killed after enjoying a mere handful of berries.  I’m glad that didn’t discourage us and we decided to keep adding more and more plants.

At first it mostly centered around vegetables, but my wife wanted flowers, too, so we added hibiscus, gardenia and lavender.  Then we added cuphea, lantana and lobelia.  By the end of the summer, I had caught full-blown gardening fever.

I built a few more beds and went to work planting a fall garden.  Half of those plants didn’t make it, but I kept going.  I planted a bunch of colder weather vegetables like lettuce, broccoli and spinach.  They did outstanding and really started producing once the coldest part of winter was over.

Then we realized that we didn’t want to just grow vegetables.  We wanted to do some landscaping and enjoy the back yard a bit more.  The back yard was a completely empty palette before we started work on our projects.  Now, just months later, I’m happy with the results.

Am I done planting?  Not on your life!  We’re going to continue to expand the garden and beautify our back yard.  We want to give back to nature.  So, we’re doing it all organic, and growing native plants that beneficial insects love.  Stick around another year, we’ll have a lot more to show for it!

The side yard before any garden beds or butterfly garden

The back yard before any work was done - just a lonely strawberry plant

Back yard now

Now I just need to get some furniture.  The small makeshift bench has served a purpose, but I never intended to keep it so long.  I want a couple of nice benches, a couple of bird baths, and some little items of interest.