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.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Creative Easter Fun: Dyed eggs and pastel mosaic manicure.

I don't really celebrate Easter in much of a big way, but I do enjoy dyeing eggs, the pastel colors, and all the other Springtime themes associated with the more secular aspects of the holiday. This year, I dyed some eggs, and painted my nails in a multicolor pastel mosaic manicure.

The eggs were kind of an impulse thing. I hadn't really planned on doing it, but I saw some really interesting egg dyeing kits at the supermarket Friday night that hooked me in. The one I picked was the Paas "tie dye" egg kit.  It wasn't your basic dip and dye kind of thing, the process was pretty involved. It came with a plastic clamshell type egg holder that you poked holes into, wrapped an egg in a wet piece of cloth, closed it up inside the holder, and dripped concentrated dyes through the holes in the holder with a small dropper, onto the cloth, where they transferred to the egg. The results were nowhere near as vivid as the photos on the package, but it did make a really neat marbled kind of pattern. It was fun, and totally worth the few dollars I paid for the kit. I kept them in a bowl in the fridge and admired them all weekend. But once the weekend was over, we ate them. LOL!  Next year, I will look for the same kit, but mix up the dye in double strength concentration to try and get darker colors I wound up with so much extra dye by following the package instructions, I could have done two dozen eggs easily.

Thursday I painted my nails in a fun multicolored pattern. I had six pastel shades from the Sally Hansen quick drying line (in the triangle shaped bottle). Pink, orange, yellow, green, blue, and lavender. I painted a blob of each color onto each nail roughly in a mosaic kind of pattern. Once it had dried, I put a coat of a sheer shimmery pearlized flake-ish polish on top to give it some sparkle and help camouflage the rough edges between some of the colors. This is the best photo of the ones I was able to take. It didn't last long though, I chipped it up working in the garden Sunday.