A garden is the best alternative therapy.

Posts tagged ‘winter garden’

In the Garden 11/21/10

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve been in the garden for any length of time.  Life has been busy.  We received news that we are expecting and will be having a baby at the end of May!  We’re very excited.  Needless to say, we’ve been visiting family as well as getting our third bedroom ready to receive the little one.  I don’t expect to be spending too much time in the garden this winter, but I do have a few things going.  I have sown my wildflower seeds, but have yet to see anything sprout yet.  I planted cornflowers, poppies, echinacea, black-eyed susans, blackfoot daisies and scarlet flax.  I also have a bed of spinach going and it’s doing well.  The broccoli plants are quite large – much further along than they were last year at this time.  The pepper plants are still producing.  Carrots are getting tall.  And lettuce seeds have sprouted.

Spinach bed

More spinach

broccoli

A few bell peppers

cayenne peppers

More cayenne peppers

harvested and dried cayenne peppers

red bell pepper

carrot tops

new herb garden (chives x 6, thyme x 2, oregano x 3, parsley x 3)

Also, the Copper Canyon daisies are in bloom, the indigo spires are still going strong, as well as the verbena, Four-Nerve daisies and trailing lantana. This is a shot of the Copper Canyon, Indigo Spires and Tuscan Blue rosemary:

 

 

 

 

Fall is Coming

I took a much-needed leave of absence for the last month or so.  The hottest month of the year in Central Texas is August, so there was little I could do in the garden besides try to save a few plants that burned up in the hot, dry weather.  Now that the hottest weather has passed, I’ve managed to get outside the last couple of weekends to survey the damage, pull up unwanted plants and do a little maintenance.

The veggie garden is all but finished for the summer, but I still have some peppers and tomatoes that should be producing through the fall.  I have some broccoli in the ground now for the fall/winter garden.  I do have plans yet to get spinach, carrots and lettuce in the ground as well.  I can’t believe it’s that time of year again.  Last spring we were lamenting the fact that we would have no more fresh spinach and lettuce for awhile and now it seems it’s come around so quickly that I’m a little behind.

yellow and green bell peppers and cayenne in the back (not visible)

broccoli!

I certainly intended to be ahead of the game at this point, and indeed I was a month ago.  I sowed several broccoli and spinach seeds inside, but – due to neglect – they suffered and I decided to let them die off.  I bought broccoli transplants instead.  I made sure to put them in a different bed this season as it is recommended to plant them in the same place every three years.  The spinach I’ll sow directly as soon as this week – the time is right now.  The carrots will soon follow and then I’ll do successive plantings of lettuce through the winter.  I can’t wait until I get them on my plate!

The herb garden suffered a bit through my neglecting it the past month.  Then we received such a torrential downpour from the leftover tropical depression that the plants just looked downright ugly.  I harvested what I wanted, then ripped up the remaining plants and threw them onto the compost pile.  Fire ants had moved into the bed, no doubt relocating from some other spot due to all of the rain.  Having the garden bare was a good time to kill them off using several pots of boiling water.  I think I succeeded in killing most of them off, as is evident by the piles of red carcasses!

flat parsley, chives and oregano

In the meantime, I have more chives, parsley and oregano going, but I need to find some thyme as well.  I don’t plan to grow any more sage in the herb garden, and instead have expanded on the chives and oregano – and hopefully thyme (all the local nurseries were out).  I use those three herbs more than anything  – well, those and rosemary, but I have the rosemary planted elsewhere.  The basil plant grew so large due to my continuing to trim off the flowers that the weight of it finally tipped it over following the heavy rain.  I pulled a good six cups of firmly packed leaves off of the one plant and made pesto.  I have a tub of fresh pesto in the fridge that we’re eating on (we put it on some homemade pizza the other day and it was outstanding!) and another tub frozen in the freezer for later use.  I still have so many dried basil and sage that I can seriously provide for our needs for the next year or two, provided they stay fresh.

Butterfly garden

The butterfly garden is not disappointing me.  In early March I landscaped the area and dropped several plants in.  Now they have taken over the spot and are putting on a good show.  The verbena didn’t suffer at all through the summer and I’ve had to trim it several times to maintain a nice, compact bush.  The Texas lantana is sprawling out everywhere, especially now that I’ve cut back all of the fennel (which, by the way, is now growing back!).  The fall aster is gearing up for its fall show, with a beautiful display of lavender flowers.  The black-eyed susans look like they’re done for the year, but I’m still hoping they’ll come back this fall.  There are a couple of new flowers, but the foliage looks pretty bad.  The trailing lantana continues to push outward across the gravel walkway and will need to be cut back … again!  It has not stopped flowering since March.  The far end of the butterfly garden is in desperate need of re-spacing.  I’ll have to transplant the salvia greggii and the zexmenia, which has been overcome by the indigo spires and copper canyon daisies.  I’ll most likely have to move the rosemary, as well.  Since the tarragon didn’t make it through the summer, I now have room to move it over.  I’ll wait another couple of weeks to do that.

blooming milkweed (from cuttings) and verbena

indigo spires salvia and copper canyon daisies (right)

trailing lantana and four-nerve daisies (foreground)

whirling butterfly gauras

fall aster staring its fall show

zexmenia with a couple of blooms

Texas lantana and fall aster

thyme walkway

And the milkweed is doing well, too.  The largest suffered through the heat and dropped most of its leaves, but it has since rebounded.  The other cuttings are really flowering now.  Those that I started from seed are getting larger.  I was worried about them for awhile.  I had to water them literally every day to keep them alive through August.  The ground was so dry that a huge crack opened up along the entire length of the bed.  I lost a handful of the forty plants I had because they fell into the crack!  I put down some fresh dirt, mulched with compost and that seemed to work, but it wasn’t until all of the rain the past few weeks that the crack has filled in and the plants have taken off.  It’s almost time for the monarch migration.  I don’t know if they’re far enough along to generate much interest from them as they migrate, but there is always next year!  I was shocked to discover a couple baby monarch cats on them today, … so, we’ll see!  Despite my expectations, it looks like they ARE going to flower this year, even though they typically do not the first year from seed (which surprises me since I planted them in July!).    I have also harvested a hundred or so seeds from the cuttings that produced pods.  Perhaps I can get them going next spring …

milkweed bed grown from seed

milkweed plant

the cluster at the top indicates they will bloom soon

baby Monarch caterpillar!

I also ripped out all of the spearmint.  I wanted them to flower, which they did, and because of their invasive tendency, I decided to do away with them.  I pulled them up a couple of weeks ago, which was no easy task – they’re roots and runners sprawled in all direction.  Yet, after two weeks, there were no signs of them coming back to life, so I decided to plant a couple Turk’s Cap plants as well as Autumn Joy Sedum.  We needed more red in the garden anyway.

Turk's Cap (rear) and Autumn Joy Sedum

That’s all the updating I have for now.  I’m off to the nurseries to see what I can find, then I have a day cut out for me.  I’ll be brewing some more compost tea and doing some transplanting and trimming.  I’ll be back with some updates in the next few days, so thanks, in advance, for checking back.  I’m sorry, once again, for my absence the last month or so!

If you don’t mind, leave me a comment and let me know what you’re up to in your garden!

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.

Catch the bolting broccoli before it flowers!

Bolting broccoli

The high temperature yesterday was nearly 80 degrees – a big swing from the low temperature of 42 degrees we enjoyed overnight.  The broccoli plants must have gotten confused and thought it was summer because they spent all their energies stretching their crowns up to the sky!   (Broccoli will bolt when the weather is too warm, which means stretching up towards the sun to begin flowering.)  Fortunately, no flowering occurred, and we harvested and each ate a large portion of broccoli with our dinner last night.   Calabrese broccoli has a very mild flavor, and it was delicious steamed and plain.  I’m not usually one to eat broccoli stalks, but I found myself really enjoying the softer center of the stalk.  I had to stop myself from peeling off the outer skin, reminding myself that it is full of nutrients, too.  I think that when I’m finished harvesting crowns and shoots, I’m definitely going to harvest what I can of the stalks, cut them up and freeze them for broccoli cheese soup later on.   I’m wondering how my two newest broccoli plants will fare after transplanting them.  Will they produce well or simply bolt?  Well, there’s only one sure-fire way to figure that out.  Plant them!

Meanwhile, the spinach plants have really grown in size the past week or so since my last post.  Abundant sunshine mixed with some rain showers here and there works like magic – with the added help of fish emulsion foliage sprays!   I think I’ll make a big salad tonight for the family, mix in some spinach leaves, red sail lettuce, buttercrunch lettuce and cosmo savoy lettuce.  If we still have our homegrown carrots left, I also like to shred carrots on my salad.   Using ingredients I have at home (Bragg’s Raw Organic Apple Cider Vinegar, organic extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, ground savory, and dried fennel), I can add homegrown dried thyme, lavender, rosemary, sage, oregano,oram and basil to make a nice Herbs de Provence salad dressing to top it off.  Nothing fancy to the herb recipe, just a couple tablespoons of each, mixed together well.   (Incidentally, this is also a great marinade for chicken.)

I harvested three heads of lettuce yesterday because I have so many maturing at the same time.  I washed and spun the leaves and brought a full grocery sack up to work for my colleagues to enjoy.  Looks like over half the bag is eaten!  There are a couple other gardeners here who like to share their bounty with the rest of us, so it’s nice to be able to have enough to share as well.    I’ll probably need to cut down a couple more heads and run them over to my mother-in-law’s house this weekend.  Don’t want good lettuce to go to waste!

Broccoli bed after harvesting

More broccoli crowns forming

Accumulated Snowfall in Austin Area

Round Rock received a few inches of snow this morning and again this afternoon.  We got off of work early and arrived home just in time to watch some strong flurries of clumps of snowflakes – some measuring a couple inches across!   I’ve not seen snow like this since living in the Midwest.  It’s a shame it will all be melted by tomorrow!

The garden didn’t seem to be minding the snow at all.  I snapped a few pictures.  After all, it’s not every year we get snow in Round Rock!

the main lettuce bed with parsley

carrot greens are weighed down a bit by the snow

I dug out these spinach plants ...

these weren't as covered

but these are barely showing through!

the second lettuce bed

Really, the broccoli seems quite happy with it's frosty blanket

Macro Monday

For Macro Monday, here are pictures of the broccoli plants in the garden (all can be viewed larger).  They’ve grown considerably the past week and all plants are now displaying crowns.

Broccoli crown #1

Broccoli crown #2

Macro

Broccoli crown #3

Broccoli crown #4

Macro #2

Broccoli crown #5

Broccoli crown #6

Macro #4

Broccoli crown #7

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Sunny Sunday in the garden + Macro Monday

How about the wonderful weather in the Austin area this weekend?  The ground was still really wet, but the skies were clear and sunny.  I was actually working in the yard wearing shorts and a tank top!  Until the cold front blew in late yesterday afternoon!

Garden Two-Week Update:

We’ve enjoyed a few harvests over the past couple of weeks, including carrots, spinach and lettuce.  As you can see by the pictures below, we’ve consumed several heads of lettuce.  Yet the weather is still cool, so there’s time to grow more.  I have twelve more seedlings started and I also direct sowed an organic lettuce blend into the main lettuce bed where I’ve harvested the other plants.  We’ll be enjoying lettuce for the next couple of months.   The parsley is just going crazy.  I dropped four plants in last September/October and they flourished in the cold winter weather.  We have more than we use!  It doesn’t make sense to harvest and dry it because it just doesn’t taste the same when it’s dried.   To celebrate Macro Monday, I snapped a close-up of the stems of one of the parsley plants.

Lettuce bed one of two

lettuce bed two

Organic lettuce mix - newly sprouted

Hardening lettuce transplants off for my mother-in-law

Another Macro Monday shot - this time of parsley stems

The carrots are still developing.  I’m waiting for them to get fatter, but without sunlight they grow pretty slow.  We’ve just had so much overcast weather lately.  Still, I like the look of carrot greens.  They look so feathery.  I snapped another macro shot of some emerging leaves.  Because I had extra room in the spinach/carrot bed, I went ahead and sowed three short rows of carrots, two rows of Danver’s and one row of Big Top.

the carrot canopy

For Macro Monday - an emerging carrot leaf

The broccoli is standing tall and growing wide.  Right now we have about six crown forming on the nine plants, with the largest one measuring about 2 inches across.  I wish I knew some incantation to make them grow faster!  Anyway, I have another five broccoli plants started as well.  I should put those in the ground in the next couple of weeks.  I just need to let them develop a little longer and then I can harden them off.  I think this new crop will develop faster – we’ll only be seeing longer days and more sunshine ahead.

the broccoli plants are really growing large

the crown now measuring two inches wide - we have 5 more started

The spinach is looking nice.  Even after taking a couple dozen leaves, they’re filling out and making more!  I have a total of two dozen plants right now at different stages.  I also have one spinach plant growing indoors right now – yes, it appears to have survived getting eaten by the cat!   It’s already past the time to get any more seeds sown until fall, but I should be enjoying spinach for the next month or so at least – and hopefully in increasing abundance!

One of three spinach beds - also newly planted carrots (top right corner)

The herb garden is fairing well.  The sage is definitely looking rough, but that’s because we’ve gotten so much rain and it prefers to be dry.  I got out there and trimmed the curry plants and harvested a lot of marjoram as well.  It had grown so leggy and bushy – I wanted to get back to the compact look it had last summer.  I got an herb-drying rack from my mother-in-law over the holidays, so I put that to use in the back closet.  I’ve got three large handfuls drying and a handful of oregano as well.   I have three thyme plants that I picked up at a discount last fall, too.  I don’t know where I’m going to put them yet.  I want to get a couple of basil plants and several more chives.  Perhaps I can work them into one of the existing beds, or work it into the landscape beds I want to build this Spring…

the herb garden 2.14.10

And I have a feeling the mint will take over this bed by the end of summer!

mounds of mint!

Here’s the corner of the wildflower bed.  It is just teeming with plants!

Wildflower bed, back corner of yard

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