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.