Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Winter Solstice sunrise at Sylvan Rodriguez Park

The morning of the 21st. my Dear Friend and I went to Sylvan Rodriguez Park in Clear Lake City to watch the sun rise in alignment through the middle of the standing stones. It was cold, cold, COLD! For the Galveston Bay area at least... There was frost on the grass, steam rising from the lake, and even with a big fleece wrap and winter boots on I was close to shivering.

But totally worth dealing with the cold to be there. The park has a central area with a labryinth in the middle, ringed by a circle of trees, pairs of standing stones, and smaller stone blocks which serve as benches. The pairs of standing stones are aligned in a way that the sun rises on both the winter and summer solstices through the middle of a pair of the stones.

Since it was such a cold morning for our area, there were only about ten people there to watch the sunrise. Also, being a work and school day, that probably kept people away as well. I'll be back in summertime, and will be spending more time exploring the park itself between now and then.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Garden update for early November 2012

My Fall garden is doing so-so, although I did have a bounty of produce to pick this morning. The ten greenish yellow things are Meyer lemons. There are so many that have gotten so large that they are weighing the branches of the tree down to the ground, so I had to go ahead and pick a bunch of them before they're fully ripe. But the good thing about Meyer lemons is that they are perfectly useable at this stage so they won't go to waste at all. I had a bunch of different bush beans as well. There are two lonely little burgundy beans, but many more tiny ones and flowers on the plants. A decent little handful of thin green beans, and also of broad Italian green beans. And at least a pound of dragon tongue beans (the kind of yellowish green ones with purple speckles). Also, I had a bunch of smaller peppers. A few chocolate bells, one very red bell, a green bell, a couple orange bells, and one that didn't make it all the way to orange. Also a bunch of jalapenos both red and green. Underneath all of that stuff in the bowl are miniature "fairy tale" eggplants and a few long dark "Ichiban" eggplants. A few piddly little radishes too, a purple one, and a couple white ones.

The weather has been absolutely screwy here. It's November already and we're still seeing highs around 90 degrees some days. That's stunted the growth of a lot of my Fall stuff. And some of the rest of it succumbed to pests. But there are things that are still doing quite well. My long Japanese cucumbers are producing cukes, and there is a big one that should be ready to pick by the beginning of next week. The beans are all doing well and my few beets that managed to make it through the heat are starting to grow. We had a few short cold fronts come through, but that was enough to let a handful of tomatoes set, so I will get something for my efforts. My zucchini plants haven't been destroyed by squash vine borers yet, and are making male flowers, so I keep an eye out for females to fertilize. Maybe I'll get something from them this year?

I still have more radishes to plant, lettuce, spinach, kale, carrots, turnips, kohlrabi, chard, and green onions. I may be leaving something else out, can't remember. I do know that next week will be time to get a lot of seeds going in hopes of actual cool weather to come. I may try more beets, who knows, they might do something for me.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Fall is my favorite time of the year

Fall is my favorite time of the year. And where I live, we're just starting to see the first changes in the weather. It'll be another month before it really starts to feel like fall, but for now, I'll take slightly cooler mornings and evenings and be happy to have them.

I never decorated for fall, just Halloween. But this year, I spent a little bit of money on some simple decorations for the living room to get started with. The little display in the photo cost less than $20, and that includes the fabric placemat and candles. It's not much, but it's a start and I can add a bit more this weekend, and keep adding a little bit here and there, as I can. Eventually I'll have enough to decorate the entire living room, just like for Halloween and Christmas. I figure I can leave the fall decorations up until the first of October, then swap them out for Halloween, then put them back up the first of November and leave them there until Thanksgiving. I can stretch my decorating season out from the beginning of September through the beginning of January! I don't really decorate for spring, the color scheme of our living room just isn't good for springy colors. But that's okay, I like fall and winter best anyway.

I've got a few little silk flower decorations that should be in the photo too. But Gizmo the cat decided to mess with them (only the silk flowers, he couldn't care less about the candles, or fake pumpkins and gourds) so now they're put up in the entertainment center and probably will get used high up on the baker's rack where he can't reach them. One of them had a velvet-ish sunflower in the middle, and I woke up one morning with it on the ground in the bedroom doorway. He hadn't torn it up, just took it off the tabletop and dragged it there. Maybe he brought it to us as a present?  Who knows... But even after the "hey, new stuff!" curiosity wore off, he kept messing with them, so away they went.

I'm starting to see fall and Halloween stuff everywhere in stores now. The supermarket had a display of pumpkins the other night, and I bought a few $.99 cent pots of bronze colored fall mums at the garden center to plant in pretty containers this weekend. I may go back for more since they're inexpensive, colorful, and easy to care for. They had bright yellow, bright orange, bronze, violet, and burgundy.

I'm going to have to get the ingredients together soon to mix up a batch of "Russian" tea mix. If you have never had it, it's an old housewife recipe where you mix powdered tang, instant lemon tea mix, and some ground cloves in a container, and just use as needed with hot water. There are different recipes with different proportions and slight tweaks in ingredients. But the basic premise is spicy, orangey, tangy hot tea. But it just screams "FALL" to me, because that was when I always seemed to have it as a kid. It's an alternative to spiced cider, which I usually wait and make on the first really cool and windy night of the season. But I'm craving Russian tea now, so I'll have to put the ingredients on my shopping list.

So, it's been a week since we lost our cat, Shadow, and I'm still really sad about it. It's getting better though. This weekend we're going to have to level the ground out where we buried him, and since it'll be a while before I can get his memorial statue, I'll put a large pot full of those fall mums there on a paving stone.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Saying goodbye to my kitty, Shadow. He was the best!

Shadow's last day: Pixel on left, Gizmo on right, comforting and staying close to him.

It's almost a week now since we lost our oldest cat, Shadow. He was 17 years old and had weathered some pretty serious health problems in his life, due to the fact that he originally came from a very unhealthy home where he was not being properly cared for. He never grew to be very large, and always seemed to be a bit more fragile than any of our other cats. We almost lost him around age 10 when he just started to waste away and the the vet couldn't find anything medically wrong with him. But, we found a different vet who embraced a combination of holistic and conventional veterinary medicine and we tried some nutritional and alternative therapies that helped nurse him back to health so that he could enjoy several more good years.

About six months ago, he started to act sick again, so we took him to the vet for a checkup. They couldn't find anything wrong with him based on the exam and tests, and said that given his age and health history, he was reaching the end of his life. We tried some of the things we learned from the holistic vet and it helped bring him back a bit, but he just seemed old and tired after that. So, we made the most of the time we had left with him.

Late last week, he started acting funny again, and just got worse over the long holiday weekend. I had to resort to his "if all else fails" food to get him to eat. Turkey baby food. The cat would literally inhale an entire little jar of it! By the end of the day last Monday, he wasn't even wanting to eat much of the baby food, so I knew he was in bad shape. We took him to the vet and they couldn't find anything medically wrong with him aside from what looked like the start of an upper respiratory infection. He was given an antibiotic shot, some IV fluid and nutrients, and sent home with antibiotic drops and said we could try feeding him liquid nutrition supplement for cats. We were told that he would either get better fast, or deteriorate fast. But that it really looked like he was starting to shut down and would most likely not get better.

Wednesday morning it was clear that he wasn't going to get better. We called the vet and they said there was nothing more they could do for him and that unless he started to show signs of distress, to just keep him comfortable, give him water with an eyedropper to keep him hydrated, and say our goodbyes.

My husband had to work a long day Wednesday and was so very afraid that by the time he got home Shadow would be gone. In the morning, two of the other cats, Pixel and Gizmo got on the bed, on either side of Shadow, and just laid there with him for a few hours, comforting him and keeping him company. Tipsy was still semi-confined from having a minor surgery, so once Pixel and Gizmo left, I brought her in to visit Shadow and spend some time with him too. After the cats had their time with him, I laid down and let him crawl up beside me and into the crook of my arm and held him close for a couple of hours. He was very tired and weak but he purred and kneaded his paws, and was aware of where he was. I talked to him and told him what a special and sweet boy he was and how I knew he was tired and it was okay to let go when he was ready.

After that, I let him rest on his own until my husband got home. We checked on Shadow and he was alert but very weak. We fed him some liquid supplement and water with an eyedropper and he swallowed it readily and seemed to perk up a little bit. After that, we left him to rest, had our supper, and went for a drive to get some fresh air and for me to clear my head as I was emotionally drained.

We took turns checking on Shadow through the evening and giving him water and little bits of liquid supplement, neither of us wanted to go to bed lest he pass away while we were sleeping. Around two in the morning Thursday morning we went to give him a bit of water and he seemed really out of it. He drank the water but when I tried to give him a few drops of the liquid nutrition, he didn't want to have anything to do with it. I decided that it was time to let my husband have some private time with Shadow to say goodbye.

I went into my craft room to work on a project and about a half hour later, my husband came in to tell me that Shadow was gone,  he went very peacefully, purring and being petted. Later in the morning, when the sun came up, we buried him in the back yard, next to a bench I like to sit on. I found a cat garden statue online that looks SO much like Shadow and will be the perfect memorial to him. As soon as I'm able, I will go to the local garden center that carries that brand of statuary and place an order for it. I'll put it in a tray-shaped planter surrounded with low-growing flowers and that will be our little Shadow space where we can sit and remember him.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Gardening, scrapbooking/papercrafting, renaissance faire plans.

I took a couple of large pots and made "teepee" trellises with tall thick bamboo stakes, and planted some more of the Rich Sweetness 132 melon seeds in them. So far the seeds I have saved from the spring crop of melons has had at least a 75% germination rate. It's the first time I have successfully saved seeds, so I'm all kinds of proud about it. If all goes well, I'll have 8 more vines, the same as I had going in spring. Next spring I am planting the entire side driveway gate with them, enough to cover the entire gate in vines. They grow well, don't require a lot of fertilizer, are drought tolerant, and heat/humidity tolerant. I have more than enough saved seeds to do so!

I also got my cucumbers planted, three varieties. Japanese long cucumber (which has already sprouted) and will be ready to thin seedlings by next weekend. And a smaller planting of Lemon cucumbers in front of a decorative trellis on the side driveway, 12 vines total. And something new, a miniature bush or short vine type cucumber called "Picklebush" in 5 gallon buckets, 3 vines/plants to a bucket, with 3' tall bamboo stake teepees for the plants to latch onto and be supported by. It'll be 18 plants total for those.

And so far one long oversized windowbox type container of kohlrabi seeds, mixed purple and green.

By the end of the week, I'll have the first of my bush bean seeds planted. Some Roma 2 flat beans, and some Dragon Tongue bush beans. They're like a green bean but kind of pale green/yellow with burgundy-purple streaks. I have read nothing but rave reviews about them, so I am looking forward to seeing what they do for me. I'll have 15 plants total of Roma 2 and 12 total of Dragon's Tongue. I'll also be planting some plain old green beans (Blue Lake variety) and burgundy beans too. But I'm staggering my bush bean plantings out for the next month or so to make sure I have plants maturing and producing at different rates.

I had intended to get my zucchini seeds going this past weekend but ran out of soil, energy, and time. I'll have to buy a couple bags of soil for their containers and get them going sometime this week.  And then the rest of the stuff gets planted a bit by bit, as the temperatures cool off.


On to scrapbooking and paper crafting. I joined two Halloween/Fall themed gift swaps on a large scrapbook forum I belong to. One is more of craft supplies with a few gift items, the other involves handmade stuff and mostly gift items. Halloween is my favorite holiday and Fall is my favorite season. So I really wanted to get in on something fun this year. I used to belong to a Yahoo group that did monthly swaps, and I really miss the shopping and planning and packing. And then getting something fun in return.

The first swap, I'm done shopping for and will be shipping out after the 15th when I have more spending money. The second swap is more about crafting so I have a lot of work to do. For that one, we're giving a container (altered box, paint can, candy bucket etc.. ) and filling it with Fall/Halloween themed craft supplies, decorative items, candy, accessories, and a handmade or altered decorative item. I've got her container about halfway finished, got her candy bought, one of her decorative items, and most of her accessories. I just need to finish the container, get the rest of the things to finish the altered decorative item, finish it, and pick up a few more goodies. I'm really striving to get that one out as soon after the middle of the month as I can, as it has to go all the way to Canada.

Until I get my swaps out in the mail, other craft projects are on hold. Which is fine, I really didn't have anything that needed to be urgently done. I have a couple peasant tops cut out to sew, but it'll be warm enough to wear them for quite a while still.


The one big thing my husband and I do every Fall, is to go to the renaissance festival that takes place north of Houston in October and November. We usually go one of the last weekends, when it's cooler and more pleasant to be outside all day long (unless there is a freak early October cold front, then we might go twice).  We're really hoping to get comp. tickets again this year. Last year a family member was able to pass a couple along to us, as he gets all kinds of event tickets and passes through his job. If not, it's okay. But if so, that will save us a good bit of cash that we can spend at the festival. Money is tight right now, so we don't have a lot to just go out and blow on fun stuff. Now that my Halloween swaps are pretty much all bought for, I've been saving for the festival. I pay cash most everywhere, and I take all ones and coins from my change and put them in the "fun kitty". When I have a bit extra above ny change after all the necessities are shopped for, it goes into the cash stash as well. I've got two more months to save, so we'll have plenty to spend, even if we do wind up buying tickets.

I like to have enough cash on hand that we can have plenty to eat, plenty to drink, plenty to tip performers with, and a bit extra to buy something from the shops before we leave. It adds up fast too! 

Most years, we dress up in costume. This year, if we want to do so, I have my work cut out for me. My peasant underdress neckline is way too big, as are the sleeve elastics, and the bodice/corset vest is looser than it should be and in bad condition. I can  make do with the dress just fine by taking in the neckline and sleeve elastics. It's in great condition and just needs altering. But the bodice may pose a problem. I took it in several inches for last year and didn't reinforce the new armhole cuts and it ripped a little. I'm thinking I can patch it from the wrong side to reinforce it. I really don't want to sew a new one. They're tricky to fit and take a while to do right. I've got fabric from when I wanted to make a new costume a few years ago and decided to make do with altering what I already had. I may just wind up making the new one after all. It won't be a peasant wench costume with a bodice, but rather an Italian renaissance type costume consisting of a high waisted jumper-style overdress on top of a basic peasant gown. I already have a simple white peasant gown, it just needs smaller elastics too. So, we'll see what winds up being the easier option. Thankfully husband's pirate shirt and pants just need to be re-dyed with fresh black dye and maybe taken in a little bit at the waist and hips. Easy enough that he can probably do it himself!

When I go, I go mainly for three things:  Musical acts, Peoplewatching, Food/Drink. I want to say that since 1989, I have only missed one year. And that year I was just having too much trouble with my back to manage it physically. The one thing that makes it challenge for me is the walking. The grounds are huge and spread out. Fortunately there are concrete benches and big sturdy stone planter rings around the trees to sit and rest on. And they are *everywhere*. But there is literally more than you can realistically see in a day, and when I'm stuck sitting more than walking, I have to plan the day very carefully to be able to see and do everything I really want to. I will even do reconnisance work and look at the performance schedule online before we go and map out a route around the grounds, That takes a little bit of fun and spontenaity out of it, but it's what I have to do to get by. I am more mobile this year than last, so I should be doing more walking this time.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My Fall 2012 garden is officially underway!

This past weekend, I finally got my tomato plants and new pepper plants planted.

I only bought four tomato plants this time, two of which I don't expect much from. But two I have very high hopes for. I got two little transplants, a Roma plant and a Homestead plant which may or may not mature by the time the weather cools enough to set fruit. I also got two large grafted tomato plants. Black Krim heirloom grafted onto a hardier and more disease-resistant root stock. Supposedly you can get a much better result from heirlooms in our climate by growing them this way. The plants certainly are hardy and full and growing faster than expected. Whether they produce fruit, we'll have to wait a while to see. They better! They are significantly more expensive than the basic grown from seed transplant plants. But, I had a birthday gift card from the particular nursery that stocks them, so I figured it wasn't a big gamble to try a couple out this season. I wanted to get them transplanted over 2 weeks ago but was sick with an ugly virus and between recovering from that and the heat, just couldn't handle being outside much.

The peppers I got were two more jalapeno plants that are supposed to make bigger peppers, they're called "Mucho Nacho". 2 of my bell peppers and my other basic jalapeno plant, along with the 3 Yummy peppers all are surviving the heat, and still producing, but much more slowly and much smaller fruit in the heat. If they make it to cooler weather, they will give me more decent sized peppers until it gets cold enough to kill them off.

This morning I prepared the two large tub-sized containers that I plant cucumbers and bush beans in, so I can plant the cucumber seeds tonight or in the morning. I was amazed at the sheer number of earthworms living in those containers. They have loads of drain holes in the bottom, so they are more like raised beds, so the worms can come and go into the earth and containers. The soil is healthy and happy and I only had to add a little bit of organic matter to replenish it. Let's hope it gives me some good cucumbers this season to make up for the major fail of spring.

By the end of this coming weekend I'll have planted the cucumber seeds, some of the kohlrabi seeds, zucchini seeds, the first of the bush bean seeds, and some more Sweet 100 melon seeds. Also, some starter peat pellet pots of herb seeds and a couple of thyme plants I picked up at the nursery.

As far as what's still growing and producing? I have a couple dozen Meyer Lemons on the tree getting ready to start ripening, and a couple of small Ichiban long eggplant plants that are producing here and there, and six remaining Fairy Tale eggplant plants that are producing slowly in the heat. Also the Yummy peppers are giving me a bunch of little peppers, and I saw a baby bell pepper on one of the plants yesterday. Many of the herbs died, but both the sweet basil and Thai basil are thriving. Mint is near dead, but will come back, as will lemon balm. I thought the oregano was a goner, but am seeing new growth and lots of green in the pot. One of the other things I need to do this weekend is snip dead leaves. Oh yeah, the blueberry bushes are getting along just fine in the heat and have doubled in size from when I planted them last Spring. LOTS of love for my blueberry bushes! I am looking forward to eventually having mature plants that give a decent harvest.

As we start to see cooler weather here, I will plant beets, turnips, romanesco, broccoli, lettuce, kale, chard, radishes, spinach, and carrots.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

I went curb shopping tonight, shamelessly in front of a neighbor!

One of the families down the street from us moved out today (Wednesday) and tonight when D.H. and I were on the way home from the store, I saw that they had put a stack of flower pots out for the trash along with a bunch of bags of garbage.  We stopped and snagged them because they were in good condition. I guess they didn't need them or have room for them where they were moving.  I wound up getting two large fake terracotta style pots. One is easily six gallons, the other four, both can be used to grow vegetables in. Three smaller 2 gallon real terra cotta pots, perfect for herbs. And a half gallon to a gallon sized fake terra cotta pot that has a lot of decorative texture on it that I'll put some kind of flower in and put out on the front porch.

The lady across the street from the now-empty house was standing in her driveway talking on the phone and smoking a cigarette, and shot us the hairy eyeball. Too bad, so sad, as far as I know there isn't an ordinance against "curb shopping" as long as you don't make a mess digging through stuff. I know that people come through every time we have "heavy trash" day to pick up salvageable items, and it's never a big deal. If I hadn't picked up the pots, somebody else would have in the morning.

I rarely find the goods, because the pickers come out before dawn. We just happened to have made a late-night run to the drugstore and saw them first.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Waking up with a pre-dawn thunderstorm.

About an hour ago, I woke up to the rumbling of a pretty good sized thunderstorm getting ready to roll through my area. I don't know why, but I have always loved storms. Even when I was a little kid, my mom had to resort to threats to get me to come in from the yard when one passed over our neighborhood. When I was 13, Hurricane Alicia blew through the Houston area and like the damn fool that I am, I was out in the front yard during the worst of it, standing with my arms out to the side, leaning into the strong winds, and feeling the rain stinging my face. My parents were on the front porch hollering at me to come inside, but I was just standing there, overwhelmed and overjoyed by the brute force of Nature. While I was out there, the wind literally wrenched the big "Y" shaped tree in the front yard apart, sending one half crashing down into the street, and the other half crashing down across from me. I still wouldn't come in, and it took a threat of being completely grounded for the last couple of weeks of Summer vacation to get me to move.

This morning's storm was just a garden variety Texas thunderstorm. Lots of lightning, thunder, and rain. At the house we live in, there is a deep covered front porch and a nice big bench to sit on up against the wall, where the rain can't reach. I like to sit out there and watch storms whenever I can. The one this morning did not disappoint. Lots of lightning, some of it branching, and even one bolt that flashed crosswise across the sky in front of me. Along with thunder, enough wind to set the wind chimes chiming, and a good amount of rain. Which I'm grateful for, the garden and trees needed it. It only lasted about a half-hour then turned into a gentle rain. Once the show was over, I walked out to the porch railing, reached out to collect rainwater in my hands, and washed my face with it. It felt good, and was the perfect start to the day.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Garden blog: Seeds I hope to plant.

Here are the seeds I am going to try over the next several months. The warm weather ones that I can get a second crop out of before it gets cool, the cooler weather ones that can't handle the summer heat, and the cold tolerant ones that we can pretty much plant in the dead of winter here.

From left to right, top row:

- Roma 2 bush beans. These grew really well in my Spring garden, and bush beans of all kinds do extremely well here in the fall. It's really nice to have fresh from the garden green beans at Thanksgiving! I can never plant too many bush beans...
- Red stem Swiss Chard. Chard does so-so here, but it can go in pots, so it's worth planting in random containers that I don't have other plans for.
- Japanese long cucumbers, will try these again for cooler weather. They grew very well, but without many bees, I just didn't want to be out hand pollinating in the heat. The cucumbers we did get from thenm were fantastic though.
- Round carrots, never grew these, but they are small enough for window boxes and look awfully cute. And the seeds were free, so can't beat that for a try-out variety.
- A more heat tolerant variety of spinach, I'll get this one going earlier than usual. My spinach did okay last year, I just wish I had more of it.
- Kohlrabi, I love this vegetable, both the bulb and leaves. Will try planting earlier this year to get bigger bulbs, and plant more of them too!

From left to right, bottom row:

- Rich Sweetness 100 melons. I will experiment with these fast maturing little melons, I have plenty of seeds saved from the Spring crop, so even if they don't make fruit, it's worth the risk.
- French breakfast radish, this one did so-so for me, I'll wait for cooler weather this year. Husband loves it because it is very spicy, me...not so much.
- Italian parsley, it'll stay warm enough to grow this one for a couple months now in pots, even if the plants never get that big, they're very useful in the kitchen.
- Dragon tongue bush beans, going to give this one a try too, they got rave reviews for flavor and productivity, and the pods are pale green and purple streaked. Easy to find among the leaves.
- Russian red kale, I'll try this variety out in large containers when it gets cool. Kale is a first for me this year. I buy it all the time, but have never grown it.
- Pink radishes, are supposed to be more sweet than spicy. Planting these for me, not husband. Radishes do awfully well here, and mature FAST so we can continually plant them in all but the hottest months.

From left to right, top row:

- "Easter Egg" radish color mix. Most of these are spicy, I'll finish out this seed pack for my husband, he will literally sit and eat these raw like fruit.
- Colorful beet mix. These grew well for me last year, I'll try and finish out the seeds in an early planting this year, even if I only get tops, beet greens are good.
- I grew the turnips last year just for the tops to eat as greens. I might let them go for actual bulbs this year, we'll see.
- Purple stem spinach. It tasted great, but I planted it too late last year. Will try this variety again because the leaves are perfectly sized for salad.
- Good old basic red beets. I love beets, both the roots and the greens. This variety grows very well and very fast here. And they do really well in long window box containers.
- Bush pickle cucumbers. I'm giving these a try-out since they don't need trellising, if I get enough to make one jar of pickles, I'll be a happy camper.

From left ro right, middle row:

- Baby round squash. These plants make really pretty lacy leaves, so they are decorative as well as productive. I researched how to manage vine borers, so I'm going to give them one more try this year.
- Golden stem chard. Again, they do well in random containers, so I'll give them a go this year. Last year I didn't have much luck, will plant earlier this time.
- Red and green romaine lettuce mix. I'm trying these from seed to have ready for cooler weather, if they flop, backup plan is to buy baby lettuce plants come time to transplant.
- Mesclun mixed baby lettuce mix. I like to grow this in shallow containers, and pick it very young for tender salad greens.
- Romanesco broccoli. Husband impulse bought this based on the photo on the package. We really don't have the right climate for it, but I figure we'll plant some and see what happens. If nothing else, broccoli stems and greens are edible. Will plant baby traditional broccoli plants when the time is right for them.
- Cosmic Purple Carrots, I planted these one year. They didn't get all that big, but they were colorful and tasty. I'll leave them in the ground a lot longer this time to see if I get mature roots.

From left to right, bottom row:

- Dill. Just plain old dill weed. I only want it for the fronds to use fresh, so I don't mind that it most likely won't have time to mature before it gets too cold for it.
- Cilantro, it bolts very fast in our climate, even this slow bolting variety can't tolerate the heat. Again, it just needs to grow enough to give me fresh green tops for cooking.
- Basil, this variety grows pretty fast, and packs a lot of punch flavor wise. And the plants are so compact they can go in flower pots wherever there is a sunny spot.
- Lemon cucumbers, I'm trying these again. Like the Japanese long, by the time they bloomed, it was too hot to be outside hand pollinating. The vines are more compact, I have a couple decorative trellises to grow these up.
- A good old standard bush style green bean. These make slim and tender pods, and make a fair amount. They grow fast and in small spaces. I'll fit them in somewhere.
- Burgundy bush beans. Again, I'll make room for them. They grow fast and are very heavy producers. The purple pods turn green when cooked, but they're still fun to grow.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Can't sleep, might as well blog about garden stuff.

I've got an hour to kill before I have to be at the gym to use the pool, and the gym is less than ten minutes from my house. So, time to get in a quick blog before I gather my stuff up.

It's time to prepare for the Fall garden. Right now the only things producing are eggplant and melons. I've also got a bunch of peppers still ripening as well as green lemons and oranges. It's time in the Houston area to get Fall tomato transplants into the ground. I never started any from seed, so I'll be going to buy some baby plants later this morning from a nursery. The goal is to get the plants going and keep them alive while it's so hot, and then by the time the temperatures drop to where they're able to start setting fruit well, they'll be mature and ready to produce. The problem is, very few plant nurseries actually have the tomato plants in stock when we need them here. Mid-February for Spring/Summer and late July - early August for Fall/Winter. Local independent nurseries are the only ones that consistently have what we need when we need it. The one I am going to today is one of the best in the area. There are others, but I have an unused birthday coupon from them, so that was the deciding point.

My Meyer lemon tree gave me a bumper crop this year, and the branches were so loaded down that they were bending towards the ground. I really didn't see how I could put them in slings, so I did some research. I found that green Meyers are completely useful so I picked about a dozen of the biggest ones off the ends of the branches to take some of the burden off of the tree. I had a couple wedges in some tea yesterday and yes, they are good. They taste almost like a lime but kind of like a grapefruit, definitely sour citrus but not really bitter at all. The zest smells great too.  I was hesitant to pick them, but now that I know they won't go to waste, I'm happy.

I also found an invasive little native vine growing up through the branches too. It's something called a "Guadeloupe Cucumber". Apparently the fruit are edible in the pale green unripe stage, but when they darken they become toxic and can give you a whole world of stomach woes. I'm going to finish ripping out the vines this weekend, and probably taste a couple of the fruit just to see what they're like and if they have any ill effects on my system. If not, I'll save the rest and use them up since they are the color of green grapes. I like the idea of food just sprouting from the ground without any effort.

I just placed an online seed order, and with the seeds I already have, will now be completely set come cooler weather. I ordered some spinach that has a better heat tolerance, some Dragon's Tongue beans, a radish variety that is supposed to be more sweet than spicy, some kale, white/green kohlrabi, and a variety of Italian parsley that is supposed to grow well most anywhere. I've still got Italian style broad beans, plain old green and burgundy beans, carrots, lettuce, chard, beets, turnips, zucchini, cucumbers, spicy radishes, melons, and a few varieties of herbs. When the time comes, I'll buy baby broccoli plants and try my hand at them again. I might pick up a few more pepper plants today too, depending on what the nursery has on hand. Big bell peppers don't do so great here, but hot peppers, little sweet peppers,  and poblanos certainly do!

My Spring annual flowers are all dead from the heat or bolting and leggy. I'll probably replace a few of them for color, but mostly cool weather I try and concentrate on growing all the leafy veggies that would just fry in the heat. Later on in Fall, I'll probably get some more chrysanthemums and such. I have a few I've been babying along in containers and they keep coming back for me. I need to try and revive them again so they'll be ready to bloom when it cools off. All if my ivy is thriving. Ivy will thrive after the Zombie Apocolypse. I don't think I could kill ivy if I tried, unless it involved a flamethrower. If I have a spot I need to decorate a bit and it's in a difficult area light-wise, I just plant some fancy leaf ivy. My pretty little Fuschia hanging basket fried in the heat, even though I kept moving it and babying it and trying to nurse it along. It just couldn't take it anymore. The impatiens are on tall stalks now. Scraggly and leggy. They're in long windowbox type containers. I'll pull them and plant beets, radishes, and turnips there when it cools off. All three do well in that kind of a container.  The begonias are all tall and scraggly too. Time to pull them up and start preparing the containers for something new.

The last time I ordered seeds, I got a freebie packet of little round carrots that I think will grow just fine in a shallow container as well. The carrots are about the size of a quarter gumball, and I'm looking foward to planting them and seeing what comes of them through the Fall and Winter.

That's all the time I have to ramble about my garden. Time to go swim.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Photos from Moody Gardens in Galveston, TX

For my birthday last year, I got a couple of yearly membership passes for D.H. and I to Moody Gardens in Galveston. It's not that far from our house, and we both like to go watch IMAX films and look at the exhibits. Since the passes are set to expire this week, and we won't be renewing them until the beginning of Fall, we decided to spend a couple days seeing and doing everything that interested us while we had the chance.  Here are some of the many photos I took while we were there,

Above, are the penguins being fed by their handlers. You can see the penguin exhibit from both ground level and underwater vantage points, depending on which viewing window you're looking through.

Above, is a little fish that I had to get a photo of because he was hanging out right up against the glass and being still. My camera doesn't take great photos in low light without flash, so most of my fishy photos didn't come out as good as this one.

This pretty bird landed right on  the rail a few feet away from where you walk through the rainforest habitat, and was completely unafraid of the people walking by and stopping to look at and take it's photograph.

A pretty coral colored flower I spotted on the way to ride the paddleboat. The grounds are covered with tropical plants and butterfly attracting flowers. There are walking paths outside of the pyramid buildings that are lined with beautiful landscaping.

This is the paddleboat we took a ride on. It goes for a spin around a body of water behind the Moody Gardens property. This thing is absolutely HUGE! There are climate controlled rooms to ride in, as well as plenty of park benches outside up front and on the upper deck if the weather is pleasant. We rode outside because it wasn't too hot that evening.

One of the two giant river otters at the gardens, sleeping on a warm rock in the afternoon. That morning we were able to watch them be fed and play and swim around for a while.

This was one of the few butterflies that had landed on an observation and feeding platform in the butterfly garden section of the rainforest pyramid. The rest were flying around or landing high up on the netting that keeps the butterflies in and the birds and climbing animals out.

Seahorses in the aquarium pyramid. I have always been fascinated by seahorses,and there are several different kinds on display there at Moody Gardens.

A sculpture of giant crystal rods outside the back entrance of the main visitor center. The water features were drained for some reason that day, but the sculpture was still worth getting a photo of.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Harsh reminder of why I don't log into Yahoo Messenger anymore.

For almost a year, the most I have done on Yahoo Messenger has been to log in every month or so as invisible to check offline messages. But over the weekend I was thinking about a person I used to enjoy chatting with but lost track of. I decided to log on and see if their account was even still active and maybe, just maybe... have a chance to say hi and see how they had been.

Their screenname didn't even show up on my friend list, so no luck there. But this guy I used to enjoy chatting with as a friend messages me the instant I log on.  For about ten minutes he is acting as excited as a kid at Christmas to see me online and gushing over how happy he is to get to chat with me again.

And then asks what I weigh now.

I get an icky feeling in the pit of my stomach. I know the guy is exclusively into tall supersized women but from the start has respected the fact that I'm in a committed relationship and am not looking for anything but somebody to enjoy friendly chat with. Because we're just friends and would never be anything more, it really shouldn't matter what the number on the scale says. But apparently it does.

I type the number and the response is "Oh, so, you're still losing?" I reply that yes I am, slowly, but steadily.

He never responds. Not because he had to log off or lost his connection. But because I am no longer fat enough to be worth making small talk with.

 It shouldn't matter to me, no big loss and all... but I still felt a little bummed out over it.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Rich Sweetness 132 melon review

The first ripe Rich Sweetness 132 melon of the season, one more followed the day after, and I got a third one today. I let the first two drop from the vine on their own. They only had a few inches to fall, so no damage done. I noticed that they are a lot darker in color than the photos I have seen of that variety. The third one is lighter in color, the same as the photos I had seen, and didn't slip from the vine by itself, it came off in my hand when I lifted it to get a better look at the color. So, still ripe, just not as ripe as the first two. I wish I'd taken a photo if it, but I sent it along in a veggie bag to my inlaws without even thinking to.

But to the one in the photo....

The melon itself has a strong almost tropical melon fragrance, very pleasant. I can imagine an entire bowl of them filling a room with their scent! I chilled it in the fridge before cutting it because I was told that would enhance the flavor. As you can see from the photo, there are a lot of seeds in these tiny little melons.

They look a lot like a lemon cucumber from the inside, and the flesh is just a pale off-white. Once you remove the seeds, you're left with a thin layer of edible firm-fleshed melon. There isn't much to these little things, but the flesh that there was tasted very good. I've heard reviews that these melons were bland, but the melon in the photo wasn't bland at all. It was sweet enough for my tastes, and flavor-wise seemed like a cross between a honeydew and cantaloupe. Just a pleasant melon flavor overall. Maybe letting it get ripe enough to slip the vine on its own added some extra sweetness? I don't know, but I will sample the next one like I picked this morning for comparison.

You can't really tell from the photo, but the size of each melon is that of a medium lemon. So you get four decent little slices of melon from each fruit. Enough for a snack, or to add to a fruit salad or melon cup. Since they are such compact plants, you'd want to plant a lot of them to make sure you had enough to satisfy you. I will be planting more for sure and more plants at a time.

But since they're an heirloom variety, you can save seeds. And each little melon has enough seeds to start an entire crop from! I harvested the seeds from this melon to save to plant some more and try for a Fall crop. I scooped the seeds out, separated as much of the gel and membrane as I could by hand, and then gently rinsed them in a fine mesh sieve, rubbing off as much of the rest of the melon goo as I could. Then I dropped the seeds into a bowl of water, and scooped out any that floated and discarded them. The seeds that sank, I patted dry with a paper towel, and spread out on a glass plate to dry in an area with good air circulation to finish drying.

As you can see,  that's a lot of seeds from one little melon!  Overall, the plant has exceeded my expectations. It's a great fruit option for containers in hot climates. And since it can be trellised without having to make slings or other supports for the melons, it doesn't take up a lot of precious space in urban gardens. It'd work well on a balcony or patio garden, Even trellised up some lattice against a sunny wall or fence. The vines are pretty enough for edible landscaping too.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Garden haul of the day: First melon, only(?) cucumber, and more...

Things I picked in the garden today:  A foot long (at least) Japanese Heirloom cucumber, several Fairy Tale eggplants, and a Rich Sweetness 132 melon.

The melon went from green stripes to brick red and orange over the span of like two days. I didn't think it was ready yet, I expected the colors to be brighter from photos I have seen of this variety of melon. But, when I went to check on my plants today, it was on the ground, it had slipped off the vine on its own. And it smells really fragrant, so it's ripe! I was told by an experienced gardener to let it sit on the counter for a few days and then chill in the fridge a couple of days before eating it to get the best flavor. I'm going to do it becuase all their advice has worked so far. But damn, that's going to require more patience than I'm used to!  There are about ten more of these little cuties in various stages of development on the vines, and hopefully more will set after I am able to harvest a few more. I need to see if it's too late to plant seeds. Maybe not. It might not hurt to give it a try. They're heirlooms, so I can save seed from what I harvest, so no shortage of them, plenty to experiment with.

The cucumber seems to be the only one so far to make it to maturity. I don't know what the problem could be except it got so very hot so fast this Spring and I got my cucumber seeds in the ground a month later than I planned, but still at the very end of the suggested planting time. They do well in Fall, so I think I'll just give them another try in a couple of months. But, that's one huge and funky looking cucumber! I hear the flavor is mild and refreshing. I'll find out tonight because I'm making cucumber-yogurt salad to go with supper.

And then more of the Fairy Tale eggplants too. I haven't decided what to do with them yet. I know I want to try smoking some to make a spicy smoked eggplant spread. If we BBQ on Sunday, I'll give it a shot. I've got some poblano peppers that need to be picked, I was going to put them on the grill, then pop them into a closed container to sweat the skin loose, peel them, and make stuffed peppers. Probably do them at the same time as the eggplants.

Tomatoes are pretty much done. The temperature is too high for them to set fruit, so the last of the green ones will ripen and I can try again in Fall. I took the last big harvest of them and made another batch of homemade spicy marinara sauce to freeze. The peppers are all doing well, I'm about to harvest a LOT of the orange Yummy peppers in the next few days. I think I want to make sweet and hot pickled pepper rings with them. I've got a couple red jalapenos, to slice up and use in the jar, maybe add some carrot and onion too for a mixed pickle? The green beans are done, and the other eggplants are straggling along right now. I'll try fertilizing them again, but the older plants may just be worn out.

Still lots of lemons on the lemon tree, and a few oranges on the orange tree. The satsuma tree got sick (citrus leaf miners) so I picked the fruit I had left on it to take some of the stress off. It seems to have worked because it's bouncing back. The blueberries are about all done, but putting out new foilage, so that's good. Herbs are going well for the most part too.

Now, it's time to start pulling up tomato and bean plants and planning for Fall.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Garden to Table: Roasted Fairy Tale Eggplants

As I showed before in an earlier blog, the Fairy Tale eggplants, fresh from the garden. The bowl they're in holds approximately a quart, and they're only a few inches long.

I trimmed off the green tops, and then sliced each eggplant in half, down the middle. Afterwards, I tossed them in a big bowl, with some olive oil and a little bit of black pepper and sea salt. I arranged them on  a couple of small baking sheets (I only have a countertop oven right now) cut side down and baked for 30 minutes at 375. At that point they were done enough to serve but I wanted them really roasty and dark, so I flipped them and cooked a further 15 minutes.

When they came out of the oven, the insides were very soft. Next time, I will let them cool, scoop out the insides, mix with a little lemon juice and some spices, and make something kind of like Baba Ganouch. As they are, the skin is tender enough to eat too, so I just popped them in my mouth in one piece. You could also take a spoon and just scoop the inside out of the skin and eat them that way too.  Or just eat like you would an artichoke, leaving the skin behind.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

10 years older, 100 pounds lighter.

As I was going through my old scrapbooking things, I found some photos from an outing we took almost ten years ago to the day, when I was at my highest weight. I know I'm just over 100 pounds smaller now, and am really noticing a lot of changes in terms of how it feels to live within my body at this size. But I never really noticed the visual changes. I guess because it's been so gradual, over such a great length of time, it was too subtle to notice from month to month and year to year. I remembered the outing, but have very little recollection of day to day life at that size, except for the fact that I really wasn't happy and felt very much trapped and limited by mobility problems, health issues, and the logistics of having to function at that size. But all that aside, I was smiling in the photo, and I do remember having a lot of fun that day. Life wasn't unbearable, but it just wasn't anywhere near as good as I knew it could be.

The main difference now, is that I have more mobility and independence. I grew up and into adulthood being extremely independent and that was always something I valued. When I lost that independence, I lost part of what makes me feel like me. Driving the car we owned was impossible back then, and even if I could have squeezed behind the wheel, I could barely walk, so what would I do once I drove where I wanted to go? If we'd have had the money to buy a different car, a motorized wheelchair, and a lift mechanism, maybe it'd have been easier to live with. But as it stood, the only way life would get better was if I was to change my body.

And I did. Without resorting to surgery or deprivatory diets. Without punishing exercise regimes. Without self-loathing or body hatred. I worked out the problems, took steps to correct them, stayed with it, and remained patient. I learned to eat intuitively for health, took control over bad food habits, and found ways to exercise that did not hurt. Over the years, those things have allowed my body to take care of itself, and return to a more natural weight (for me) and a better state of health.

I lost some friends who embrace a die-hard anti-weight loss philosphy. But I gained more of a life in the process. Fair trade in my opinion. We only get one life, sometimes you have to do whatever you feel you have to do to make the best of it.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Fairy Tale Eggplants!

My "Fairy Tale" eggplants are starting to produce like crazy!  They set in little clusters of miniature eggplants, that are purple with gray-ish streaks, although one of the plants is coming out more of a grayish violet color. Nothing wrong with them, just a slight genetic variant. At maturity, the plants are at most a couple of feet tall, and the eggplants 3-4" long. They are growing beautifully in 5 gallon buckets and similar sized decorative pots. They'd be perfect for a patio or balcony garden, They've already earned a permanent spot in my garden, and I'll be ordering seeds for next year. I lucked out and found the plants at a garden center for 99 cents per transplant size plant. I planted 10 total, and after one got eaten by a caterpillar and stray cats dug up one and seriously damaged another, I have 7 healthy plants and one that's straggling and struggling along.  They're somewhat decorative little plants too. They make broad green leaves with flowers that have a very slight violet tinge. They only need a short stake at the main stem, that is completely hidden in the foilage. I can see next year planting them at the back of a flower bed, fronted by a low-growing plant, maybe lavender colored Alyssum?

As to what to do with the actual eggplants? I'm going to take these and just remove the green tops, slice them in half down the middle, brush with a bit of olive oil, sprinkle with a little bit of sea salt, and then just roast them in the oven. I hear they grill up very well too. I'll have more to try that out with by the weekend. But you could do anything with them really. The skin is perfectly edible because it's so thin, and they have a minimum of seeds. Baba Ganouch or something similar? Cube them up into small pieces, roast them, slightly mash them, mix with some lemon juice and spices, and chill to use as a bruschetta type spread? Hollow a bit out of the center and stuff them for dainty little appetizers? So many yummy possibilities!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Scrapbooking: Taking new interest in a former hobby.

Above is a scrapbook layout I made several years ago, 2005 I believe it was, of our day at the Houston International Festival. It was one of the last handful of layouts I made before I took a long break from scrapbooking and concentrated on using my papercrafting tools and supplies to make cards and artist trading cards instead.

My scrapbooking style was never really artistic or trendy. I just used it as a way to make glorified photo albums of occasions, events, outings, friends, family, pets, and other random parts of our lives that I wanted to document. Pages of photos with pretty papers and other embellishments to help capture memories. 

From the beginning, I knew I was a textbook example of a non-traditional scrapper. Not having kids (by choice) is the biggest and most obvious reason why, but only one of many. I really enjoyed going to scrapbook crops, and for the most part it wasn't really a problem being different, because we all had plenty in common for idle chit-chat while we were working. But, as the scrapbook hobby trend started to fade, and the crops were held less frequently and with fewer participants, an element of exclusionary cliqueishness and junior high mean girl pettiness began to emerge among some of the women.

A couple ugly experiences with those kinds of women put me off of going to scrapbooking crops, and after that I gradually stopped working on layouts at home too. And then I didn't even take and print out photos like I used to. There is a span of about five years where I only have a few sets of photos from things we did. I lost a lot of photos in a computer crash, but that doesn't account for all of those years,

But, last year, a childhood friend of mine spent a few days visiting Houston, and one of the things we did was flip through my scrapbooks, because I had some layouts with photos of people she remembered from back when as well. That got me thinking about it again, and within the past couple of weeks, I've started going through my supplies, and CDs of photos, and preparing to start up with it again.

My town is hosting a couple of all-day scrapbook crops this Summer at a community center, and I think I want to go to at least one of them and see what it's about. Also, I found out about a town not too-too far from me that has a scrapbook strore that is supposed to have a really friendly group of women who come to the crops.

This weekend, I bought a few supplies, and ordered some photo prints to work with. Maybe I'll get back into it. Even if I don't enjoy the crops anymore, I have my sewing and craft room to work in now.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Garden update: Tiny little melons!

Looks like a tiny watermelon, right?  It's actually a Rich Sweetness 132 Melon that's as big as it's going to get, but nowhere near ripe yet. When these tiny little melons ripen, they turn a vivid yellow-orange color with red-orange stripes. It's a rare heirloom variety from the former Soviet Union, and I have to say it's exceeding my expectations in the garden. I planted it because it can be grown in containers and trellised. The melons are only about a quarter pound each, so they don't have enough weight to pull themselves off the vine before ripening. Also, I read that they're good for hot areas and are drought tolerant. The temperatures are already in the 90's and we're not having much in the way of rain. I have 8 vines going, four each in two large pots. I put a tall square tomato cage in each pot, and trained a vine up each side and then onto the fence they're sitting in front of. Each vine has at least one fruit on it. There are about a half dozen at full size, just waiting to turn color and several more tiny ones, the size of olives or so. They'll supposedly produce all Summer and into the Fall, barring some kind of insect or disease problem. So far, so good though. A few leaves here and there look kind of scuzzy, I need to trim them off this weekend.

The reviews on the flavor are mixed. Most people say it has a very mild generic melon flavor. Which I might like, so I'm lookin forward to actually tasting one. If nothing else, they'll make good additions to fresh fruit salad, or maybe cubed up and drizzled with a little bit of Midori and then chilled. I still have seed from the original pack. It lists as having 15 seeds per pack, but there were probably twice that. And being an heirloom, I can save the seeds (which I probably will) .

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Crocheted purse in progress - bottom section complete.

I found a pattern that was very close to the kind of purse I want to make, except larger than I wanted. The pattern calls for two strands of yarn used together and a larger hook. My crochet guru told me that I could use one strand and a smaller hook and get a proportionately smaller bag, so that's what I set out to do.

I'm using inexpensive cotton worsted weight yarn on a cone, in bright white. And a size H hook. I started with a G hook, but that made a denser fabric. I wanted a more open and mesh-y texture, so I went up a hook size to get the look I wanted. I'll be lining the bag in white twill, so all the little holes won't be a problem. The bag includes a button flap, so I found this white ceramic button at the craft store that I thought would be perfect for it.

I completed the oval bottom, and am just starting to build up the sides of the bag, It's worked in the round, although not in a continuous spiral, you chain and start each new row. The pink marker notes the last round of the base, so I won't lose track of how many rounds to go up before it's time to stop. Although, with this bag I think you could make it as tall or short as you wanted.

By the way, here's the pattern link:  Crocheted Circles & Stripes Tote Bag Pattern

It took a few tries to get the hang of crocheting in an oval, but once I figured out the spacing of the increases and paid close attention to my stitch markers, I was able to complete the bottom section. The sides will be mindless crocheting, just row after row after row of double crochet rounds to make a tube.

After the sides, there will be the flap, strap, and a pocket for the outer back part of the purse. Although I might make the pocket a square instead of a circle as the pattern shows, or even not put the pocket there at all. It all depends on how long it takes me to get the body of the purse and the flap completed. But I like external little pockets on my purses to hold my phone and keys, so it'll probably be worth my while to include it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Garden veggie haul, 5-23-12

Picked today, clockwise starting at top left:  Assorted herbs (thyme, oregano, and rosemary), patio tomatoes as well as two yellow pear tomatoes underneath. To the right of that is one green bell pepper, and several golden "yummy" peppers beneath one Ichiban eggplant. Coming back around from right to left, are some Roma II bush beans, followed up by some basic bush green beans (I think maybe they're Blue Lake?) And then running in a circle around the beans are a bunch of Husky Cherry Red tomatoes.

A truly awesome little haul!

Some of the herbs, most of the tomatoes, and the big bell pepper are going into a batch of homemade spaghetti sauce, along with a couple beautiful big tomatoes I bought at the farmer's market. The rest of the cherry tomatoes are going into a batch of tabouli, and the Yummy peppers will go into a cucumber salad with some cucumbers from the market as well. The Roma beans I'll probably just blanch and lightly sautee' with a bit of butter and salt and pepper, and the thinner green beans are just enough to maybe make one jar of pickled dilled beans. The eggplant will get cut up and sauteed with some mushrooms to go along with the spaghetti sauce.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Crocheting: Learning a new skill, and picking a new project.

I haven't done any crocheting or knitting in quite some time. Instead, I've been doing a lot in the garden, as well as working on random projects around the house. Also, it just didn't feel quite right to work with yarn when it's so hot and humid outside. I know that's a silly reason, but it is what it is. I was at the library Thursday, which is also where they hold the weekly crochet (and knit) group, and one of the women who participates is a librarian and asked where I'd been. I realized that I've missed the needleworking group a lot. The social part of it is as important as learning new skills and working on projects. Since I don't have any really big projects planned, I thought about what I could work on that I could use now, instead of having to pack away until Winter.

I'm really not into little decorative projects all that much, and don't really have much interest in making small useful projects like dishcloths either. I did however, think that it'd be a fun project to make a white cotton crocheted purse for Summer. And decided this at around ten o'clock last night. Fortunately, there's a Walmart with a craft section about five minutes from my house! I got a big cone of white cotton yarn for the purse, and then also bought a small ball of cotton yarn in a really pretty shade of red because I just really liked the color and figured it'd be something pleasant to look at when I do practice work.

I spent some time looking online at purse patterns, and narrowed it down to a few, but that red yarn kept calling to me, and I thought "FLOWER!"  It'd make a really pretty flower! I've never crocheted a flower before, but figured it couldn't be that hard, since I've finally made it into the "intermediate" category as far as crochet skills. So, I got out a hook, and got online, and went to Youtube to find a tutorial.

I used this tutorial, as I've used some of her other tutorials before and the instructions and video are very clear and easy to follow. Youtube: Crochet Geek- Crochet Flower - How To Add Rounds  This one was no different. I only had to rip out stitches twice (which is pretty good for something new to me) and when it was over, ended up with a pretty yarn flower. I decided to only make two layers of petals, since it was getting pretty big and also since it was getting really late and I wanted to get at least a few hours worth of sleep before this morning.

I pulled part of my hair back, and made a ponytail with it, and secured the yarn flower to the hair elastic with a bobby pin, through one of the back loops. It looks pretty cute that way. I'm going to look for a little clip to stitch it to, so that it's more secure than just a bobby pin.  And make more of them in different colors!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Garden Update: Roma II Bush Beans

I got my first picking of Roma II Bush Beans this morning. There are about as many left on the plants to finish growing, and still some flowers to set. I'll get two decent pickings and then probably one or two a little smaller. That's the thing about bush beans as opposed to vine beans. They produce all in one short-lived burst and then taper off production really quickly. Vine beans tend to produce all season.  But since I have such limited space, bush beans tend to work better for me. Come Fall, I will plant several more bean plants, and break it up into two plantings, two weeks apart, so I have a more steady supply. Possibly buy some very long bamboo stakes to make tall teepees, and try some vining beans too.

I'm going to use the ones I picked today in a really simple side dish for two. Just the beans, stewed until tender, with cherry tomatoes, garlic, some fresh herbs, a pinch of red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. I'd like them any way to be honest, green beans of all sorts (along with yellow and purple beans too) are one of my all-time favorite vegetables.

I've never grown this kind of bean before, and never even had a chance to eat them fresh, only frozen. You just don't see them fresh in the supermarkets, not even Whole Foods or Central Market. They may show up from time to time at farmer's markets, but I haven't seen them. Which is strange because they are very easy to grow. I guess they don't ship and store well? You hardly ever see organic green beans in general either. Maybe every once in a while I will see packages of them in one of the larger supermarkets or the local organic market, but they're rare to find. More incentive to grow my own.

I had planted them in 5 gallon buckets, thinned to two plants per bucket, but not all survived because the neighbor's free-range cats dug some up. They put out a lot of runners, more than bush beans usually do, so I made short bamboo stake teepees to help support them and that worked out really well. They're in an area that doesn't get full sun, but does get a fair amount, and they seem to be doing as good as I can hope for them in that area. Full sun is a hot commodity in my garden, so things that will tolerate a little shade and still produce enough to be worth their while, get planted at the edge of sun and shade. Eggplants and cucumbers tend to do okay there too. Not as productive as full shade, but enough for our use. I save the few sunny spots for tomatoes, peppers, melons, citrus, blueberries, and sun-loving herbs.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Garden update: 5/9/2012 - With photos!

Things that are growing in my garden, photos taken yesterday evening as the sun was going down. Pardon the photo quality, my phone camera isn't all that great.

Above is a flat of "Fino Verde" basil seedlings. A compact bushy plant with a more spicy flavor than sweet basil. They'll be ready for transplanting around the end of the month I think.

Above are some "Roma 2" Italian style broad green beans. They're coming along nicely. I have 7 or 8 of these plants, and they're supposed to be heavy producers, so I'm looking forward to a nice harvest. Come Fall, I intend to plant 12 of the plants since they're doing so well.

Above is the first cucumber of the season, I believe this one is a Japanese heirloom. It might be a Marketmore though., I can't remember which I planted where. LOL! I hand fertilized it just to be sure. I haven't seen many bees around, and it's easy enough to give Nature a helping hand.

Above are a LOT of maturing jalapeno peppers. Hot peppers always do really well for me, I guess they like the hot and humid climate. Home-grown is always hotter than ones I find at the store too.

Above are lots of Meyer lemons maturing on the older of the two trees. The younger tree isn't producing this year, but I read that they sometimes do that, alternate bearing years, especially when immature.

Above is the first bell pepper of the season, this one gets picked when it turns red. Bell peppers don't produce as well for me as hot peppers, but the ones that do make it to harvest are very tasty.

Above is a cluster of yellow pear tomatoes. When ripe, they'll be bright yellow and about an inch and about an inch and a half long.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Gardening update, early May 2012.

Above are some things I picked from my garden yesterday. Ichiban eggplant, Black Beauty eggplant, Ghost eggplant, Husky Cherry Red tomatoes, Tifblue blueberries, and sweet basil. I also had picked a larger Patio variety tomato on Saturday, which got used right away.

Aside from what I've been picking, there are loads of peppers forming on the plants. Mostly jalapenos and Yummy sweet mini peppers. But also one good sized bell pepper so far, and a couple of tiny poblanos. The other bell pepper plants have plenty of blooms and maybe a few have set already, I haven't checked very carefully. And I have a bunch of tiny little Italian style wide green beans, about an inch or two long. I've got loads of cherry tomatoes setting, and even though the other tomato plants did poorly, there are about a dozen fruit set amongst them so far, and they are still growing and blooming, so maybe I will get a fair harvest from them yet. Nothing like last year though. The cucumber vines are growing well, and some have even started to flower, but so far only male flowers, which is to be expected, the males always bloom first, then you start to see females. The melon vines are growing like crazy too. I am very, very excited about them and am really hoping to see some fruit come July. Herbs are doing well, except for the Cilantro, which is already starting to bolt from the heat. But I have plenty of seeds and can keep planting more. Citrus trees are doing well too. Lots of baby lemons, as well as a few oranges and satsumas. I also planted a ton of assorted color impatiens in the back yard for color and they are doing really well. As are the few begonias I planted at the same time.

So, so far, so good, we'll just have to see how things go when it really starts to get hot over the next month.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Garden update for Earth Day!

I spent a few hours working in the garden today because the weather was perfect for it. Mostly doing upkeep work, but I did harvest a few things.

The pile of leaves on the left is lemon balm, to dry and make tea from. The long green branches up top are rosemary. There is one large-ish Black Beauty eggplant, 4 Ichiban eggplants, and one mature along with one baby "ghost white" eggplant (which coincidentally makes fruit that look exactly like an egg).

Above is a close-up of the Black Beauty eggplant. They can grow a good bit bigger than this, but this is about as large as I like to let them grow, this way they don't have all that many seeds and aren't bitter. I prefer the taste and texture of less mature eggplants, that's why I pick the Ichiban when they're still small. I like to slice them down the center, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, roast them, and eat them skin and all.

Everything else is doing okay. I've got loads of baby Husky Cherry Red tomatoes, and quite a few Yummy peppers. The other tomato and pepper plants aren't getting quite as much sunshine, so they're lagging a little. Green beans, melons, and cucumber plants are growing well and on schedule. Herbs are doing well too. I planted several eggplant plants that make tiny eggplants, and they're starting to grow and will probably make some fruit by the end of Summer. Herbs are doing well, basil seeds are sprouting, and it looks like I'll have all 18 little starter pots to transplant into 6 long windowbox type containers in a month or so. That many because it's a small bushy variety of basil I can plant 3 plants to a container. I want to make some pesto this year, but will need a lot of basil at once. The seed pack said that this variety "Fino Verde" is good for pesto. It's either the same thing or very closely related to Spicy Globe basil, which has a really amazing flavor, I personally prefer over good old sweet basil.

I got to harvest the first of my blueberries, can't remember which variety though. I've had five ripe berries so far, and it looks like there will be a handful ripening over the coming week. There aren't all that many this year, but the plants are young, so it'll be a while before a full harvest.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Garden update and photos

I decided to do a garden update blog, show some photos, and talk about how the unseasonably warm weather has been affecting the plants.

Currently planted and growing:  Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, bush green beans, cucumbers, melons, citrus, blueberries, and an assortment of herbs and flowering annuals for some color. The weather has been unseasonably warm this Spring. We really never got any freezes over Winter, and the afternoon highs have been steadily in the 80's with a few days all the way up into the low 90's. Some of the plants are growing fast and spindly. But, they are growing, and the tomatoes and eggplants are fruiting. No baby peppers yet, but they're blooming. The bush beans, cucumber, and melons are seedlings, but coming along nicely. The mint is already starting to look worse for the wear, and I've moved their pots into more shaded areas, hopefully with daily watering they'll hang in there.

Above is my bay laurel tree, it's been growing in this pot for a few years now, next year it'll be time to move it into a larger one. When I got it, it was one little stalk with maybe six leaves on it. I've been cutting it back a bit every Winter to encourage it to bush out more. I've got four branches going now, maybe I can get it even fuller. In the ground, the trees can grow quite large, but you can keep them pruned to a managable size in a large pot. I had one at least eight feet tall and with at least 8-10 branches growing at my parents' house, but they're temperate trees, and it died in a rare Houston hard freeze. So, I decided that since they are so slow growing, it'd be best to grow one in a pot that could be moved against the house or even into the garage if we get another hard freeze. It's the true bay, and the leaves have a really pleasant aroma and flavor fresh. They're stronger when dried, but fresh does work for cooking.

These are some blueberries, ripening on one of the blueberry bushes. I don't know which specific variety this particular plant is, I forgot to check the tag, but they're from the "rabbiteye" type of blueberry bushes that tend to do well here in our climate. They look nice and blue, but are nowhere near ripe yet, I expect they'll need another month at least. If all the berries on the four bushes ripen up well, I'll have enough to make one batch of muffins. Which is fine, they're not mature specimens by a long shot, it was nice to be able to get enough fruit to sample this season. I'd love to plant an entire hedge of blueberry bushes, but have no idea where it'd go.

This is my Marrs orange tree, I have growing in a large pot, actually it's a storage or laundry bin from Walmart, I just cut off the rope handles. This tree is possibly going in the ground next Spring, so no need to invest in a fancy pot for it.  It just bloomed, and there are a few dozen tiny oranges on it, about the size of raisins. But, I have to pick most of them off, and at most let four grow and ripen. It's still too immature to even think about supporting a full crop. It needs energy to go into growth, not making fruit. If I keep it pruned and in pots, it'll only get about 6' tall. But in the ground it can get twice as tall and very wide. It's fairly cold tolerant, and after a couple more years of growth, would be able to handle all but the worst freezes we get in this area.

This is my main tomato planting area, several varities in 5 gallon hardware store buckets. They're great for tomatoes as long as you use good soil and keep them well fertilized. The pots in front are two types of basil. Plain old sweet basil in the larger pots, and a spicy globe basil in the smaller pots.  The basil is absolutely loving the hot weather, so I am going to get several little starter pots going with basil seed for later in the season.  The tomatoes are growing and blooming and setting fruit. I decided not to pick off the blooms until they grow bigger because for all I know by the time they fill out, it'll be too hot for the blooms to set into fruit. I figure with the screwy weather we're having I'll just be glad for whatever I get.

This is a little cluster of three Patio variety tomatoes. They're compact and sturdy little plants, perfect for containers, but they make decent sized fruit. Not a big slicing tomato, but not a cherry either. I had a lot of luck with them last year, so I planted four of them this year. I have five altogether set on the four plants and several more blooms that will probably set fruit within a week or so.

These are all my containers at the side driveway, where I also get full sun. The large orange pots in the back are where my blueberries are planted. For this year at least, we may build a bed for them at the side of the yard next year. The two larger green pots on either side with the cages/trellises have melon seedlings. An unusual heirloom variety called a "Rich Sweetness 132" melon, that makes fruits that are about the size of a peach. I figure that if the vines outgrow the trellises, I can just anchor them to the top of the fence, and grow them right across. The smaller green containers have peppers and tomatoes. 3 of them have "Yummy" variety sweet peppers, and 2 have "Husky Cherry" tomatoes.  Both the peppers and tomatoes are smaller bushy varieties that are good for containers. The little gray pots have yellow chrysanthemums in them for now, and probably where I'll put my basil seedlings if I have any luck and they make it transplantable size.