Monday, August 26, 2013

A much belated update, and Fall garden plans.

This update has been a long time coming because life decided to kick me in the gut, and keep kicking me in the gut several times over the past few months. It was overwhelming to the point that I said to hell with the internet, to hell with blogging, and to hell with all the activities I enjoy.

But, things are getting better, so it's time to start living life again.

August is when we start planting for Fall harvests in our gardens in my growing area. Tomato and pepper transplants go in at the beginning of the month, and no later than the end of the month if you get some big transplants that have already completed that month of growing. I didn't plant any tomatoes this time, I just didn't have it together to go get the plants and get them going.  Of my pepper plants, some are still alive and kicking. I was at a plant nursery yesterday afternoon and found large pepper transplants for 99 cents, so I bought some to replace the plants that died. If they don't produce anything, I'm not out much so it was worth the risk. I've got what I like to use in cooking. Jalapenos and various colors of bell peppers.

I did get some Summer squash seedlings started earlier this month. I have a bit better luck with them in Fall than Spring. The squash vine borers aren't as bad this time of year. I planted straight zucchini, round zucchini, and yellow crookneck squash. Also, new this season I planted some white scallop or "pattypan" squash. Believe it or not, I've never eaten one since they don't sell them in any of the supermarkets I shop at, and the one time I saw them at a farmer's market, I didn't buy any because I didn't know what to do with them. I'm hoping to get at least a few to try out.

It's time for cucumbers to get started now. I got a short row of lemon cucumber seeds planted in front of a narrow trellis at the corner of my side patio, where there's a lot of sunshine. As soon as the soil is dry enough to work, I'll be planting the main section of cucumbers. By the middle of the week for sure. I'm doing half Asian long cucumbers, and half common cucumbers for salads or pickling.

After the cucumbers, it'll be time to start getting beans going. I love green beans (and any other color of pod beans) so I will be planting a lot. They do amazingly well here in Fall, so I always plant as many as I can. This time I have basic green beans, flat Roma beans, purple pod beans (which turn green when you cook them), yellow wax beans, and purple streaked dragon tongue beans.

I'm also getting my herbs going again. Basil, rosemary, oregano, thyme, dill, mint, lemon balm, parsley, cilantro, and chives. I was at a specialty plant nursery yesterday, I had a birthday coupon I needed to use, and also got a bee balm plant to help attract pollinators, and a patchouli plant. Patchouli is a big bushy plant that can tolerate our climate well. It's more or less something to have as a novelty plant. I like the smell of patchouli leaves, they're much more subtle than patchouli oil. So when I have a patchouli plant, I'll pick a leaf now and then and rub it between my hands for the fragrance.

When it actually starts to get cooler, is when I can plant all the cool weather veggies. I've got loads of beet, radish, and kohlrabi seeds. Lettuce, kale, chard, and spinach too. And carrots! I bought some colorful carrot seeds (a pack of mixed orange, white, yellow, red, and purple) along with a pack of just purple. And when I ordered some seeds I got a free sample of carrot seeds that make little round gumball shaped carrots. The wild card for this season is romanesco, a broccoli variant that makes really beautiful heads that have a sci-fi spiraling fractal shape to them.We're really in too hot of a climate for them, but I have heard of people having some luck in this area. I figure seeds are cheap and easy to start, so who knows? If nothing else, the leaves are edible. I'll be putting in some traditional broccoli transplants in late Fall though.

As far as flowery things, I'm going to put out some colorful chrysanthemums here and there in the sunny areas, but that's about it.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Knee-deep in yarn! All kinds of knit, crochet, and loom projects in the works.

It's that time of the year. Too hot for me to spend time outdoors during the middle of the day, so I look for indoor things to keep me occupied. Making things with yarn is my thing right now. I can do it anywhere there is air conditioning or shade and a breeze, and I'll have neat stuff to pack away for when the weather gets cooler.

I've made all the basic hats and scarves that I can realistically use, so I decided that this Summer I would make other things I can wear. I'm at a skill level where I can make simple garments, so my goal is to complete at least three pieces of clothing to add to my wardrobe by the time it gets cool enough to wear them. And a few accessory odds and ends and holiday gifts along the way. Currently, I've got these six projects going, I switch back and forth among them when I get bored with one or need a change of pace.

1.) Circle crochet vest: It's a simple project as far as skill level, but it is time consuming and uses a ton of yarn. I'm about 80% finished with it, but had to pack it away until I can get a few more skeins of yarn to complete it. Neither of the local stores that carry the color I need are anywhere near where I live. So, it'll be on the back burner until next weekend, when I have time to get to that part of town again.

2.) Soft and fuzzy cocoon jacket: This is another very simple project, but also a time-consuming yarn hog. Also, I'm not 100% sure about it given how the crocheted up fabric is coming along so far. It's a bit heavier than I had expected. But I'm far enough in with it that I'm not going to waste the work by undoing it. Depending on just how heavy the final piece of fabric is, I might leave it as a lap blanket instead of seaming it into the jacket.

3.) Colorful striped shawl: I'm not so much a shawl person, but I do like to go sit out on my swing in the back yard and read. And a shawl would come in really handy when the weather gets a bit chilly. Also, the knitting is simple enough to make steady progress, but has a few new techniques to challenge me and build my skills. It's a learning project for sure, and the colors are fun.

4.) Knitted purse: A smaller version of a tote bag I already finished. VERY simple knitting, so it's something I can do when I just want to keep my hands busy. And a smaller project too, so I can totally bring it to a coffee shop or needlecraft meetup to work on and not make stupid mistakes from being distracted or have to keep track of vast swaths of fabric or huge balls of yarn.

5.) Crocheted white cotton yarn purse: I'm almost finished with this, but have been procrastinating making the sewn cotton broadcloth lining. I've got to make progress on some sewing projects and mending work at some point in the near future, so I'll suck it up and get it done.

6.) Knitting loom lap blanket for my Dear Friend: He requested a warm and soft easy-care blanket for Christmas, so I figured Lion Homespun yarn worked up on a knitting board would fit the bill. Mindless but tedious work, I can do this while watching TV or listening to an audio book.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Garden Update and harvest photo, early May 2013

Picked this morning: A couple good handfuls of Dragon's Tongue bush beans, several Husky Cherry Red salad tomatoes, a couple red jalapenos, a couple green jalapenos, and a scrawny little banana pepper.

The things that are doing well are doing really well. Bush beans are in full production, the pole beans are starting to latch onto the lattice they're planted against, the tomato plants all have lots of baby tomatoes on them, the jalapenos are starting to put out peppers slowly but regularly, and the blueberry bushes are covered in ripening fruit. The sweet peppers are growing still, and probably won't start to set fruit for a while. The cucumber vines are growing very slowly, not sure what their problem is. The first melon vines to sprout are growing well, the second planting is starting to come up. Herbs are so-so, and I've finally got some eggplant and squash seedlings that are big enough to transplant.  The big lemon tree, orange tree, and satsuma tree have all set fruit, the younger lemon tree is blooming now.

I am SO looking forward to cooking with those beans. Dragon's Tongue beans when picked fairly young are tender and sweet, with a distinct bean pod flavor. Unfortunately they lose their vivid purple streaks when cooked, but they retain their yummy flavor. IMO, the best way to cook them is to boil until just barely fork tender, then drain and toss with a pat of butter and sprinkle in a pinch of salt and maybe a couple grinds of pepper. You can also toss the cooked beans in shallot butter for a nice flavor too. The shallot really works well with the sweetness of these particular beans.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Texas bluebonnet eye-candy


One of my favorite things about living in Texas.

Every year, during springtime, we take a day-trip out of the city and through an area where there are always a lot of wildflowers. Some years we're just passing through on our way somewhere, some years flower-viewing is the point of the trip. Some years there are only a few flowers, other years they bloom in abundance. To me, it's officially Spring when the wildflowers start to bloom.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Pom-pom yarn scarf completed! And I will get a chance to actually wear it this week.

So, I finished the scarf tonight. It ended up taking 2.25 skeins to get the length I wanted. I'm not sure what I'll do with the remaining bit of yarn, it's too little to make anything. I might go back to that Michael's store and see if they have any more in the same dye lot. If so, I'll buy another skein and make a cowl or neckwarmer that I can just pull over my head when I don't want to have scarf tails hanging down. I might even be able to get one out of the little bit of yarn I have left. Once the fabric is knitted up, it's insanely stretchy.
And if the predicted cool front actually makes it down here towards the end of the week, I can wear it before I have to pack it away 'till Fall. It goes great with this coral top and denim jacket. I've got jeans very close to the same shade of denim as the jacket I can wear with it. The top is actually a tunic, so just above the knees in length. The jacket is waist length. So, it'll look kind of funky with the bottom of the top hanging out from under the jacket. But funky in a good way. I just don't know about shoes yet, but since it'll be cool, maybe one last wearing of some boots before the long stretch of sandal weather?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Current knitting project. I'm late to the pom-pom party!

I know pom-pom yarn has been a thing for a while now, but I had put off buying any because it seemed a little bit expensive for a novelty yarn I'd never worked with before. I didn't want to buy some and have it end up stuffed away in my yarn stash, never to see the light of day again.

But, I had stopped at Michael's yesterday to pick up an item for a gift swap I'm participating in, and saw that they had the Loops & Threads brand "Pom-Pom" yarn clearanced out to $1.99 a skein. The skein band had instructions for a basic rectangular knitted scarf, which called for two skeins. I wanted to make my scarf a little bit wider and longer than the one pictured on the band, so I bought a third skein. I also had to buy needles because I didn't have any 3.5mm on hand. Turns out, that I could have used slightly bigger needles and it wouldn't have mattered. Oh well, I've got them for future projects now. The colorway I picked is called "Outdoors" and I love the bright pops of turquoise and coral. (Two of my favorite colors!)

I probably won't have an occasion to wear it anytime soon, unless I finish it fast and we get one more really cool night this season. But, it'll keep until the end of Fall when it cools off again. With all the different colors in the yarn, it will look nice either in late Fall or early Spring. I've already decided that it'd go great with faded jeans, a longer tan colored top made from a heavier weight knit fabric, and my tan Birkenstock clogs.

Casting on was easier than I thought it'd be (the Michael's website has a little video showing how) and knitting with it is surprisingly easy too, once you get into the rhythm of the stitches. The scarf is made of garter stitch, so just rows of the knit stitch over and over again. The trick is to knit on the strand of yarn between the pom poms, and let them fall between stitches. Other brands of pom pom yarn have the pom poms spaced farther apart, and you make two stitches between each pom pom. And it gives a tighter, heavier, and thicker fabric. With this brand, you do one stitch between pom poms and you get a looser, slinkier fabric. Which I like better anyway since it doesn't get very cold where I live, and it was only meant to be a fashion scarf and not necessarily for warmth. I suppose you could do two stitches between each pom pom with this brand, if you used even smaller needles. But I like the way it's turning out, so I'm sticking with how I started it. Casting off is supposed to be pretty tricky, but the video shows a method that works well for that too.

I don't think this one is going to be sitting in my UFO pile until Fall. I think I'll probably finish it up soon and just pack it away. The only other yarn projects I have going right now are a couple of  simple crochet purses in cotton yarn. I like to switch between knit and crochet projects because they use my hands in different ways, and I can work longer that way without hand fatigue. Knit a while, crochet a while, knit a while, etc...

Monday, February 18, 2013

Garden update 2-18-13

I was able to do some garden work this past weekend. Not as much as I would have liked to get done, but still a fair amount.

The blueberry bushes have been fertilized, got nice new mulch put down on top of the soil, and are all ready to burst into bloom. One has even started to put out some flowers already. I've got four varieties (having a few different varieties near each other helps with overall production). All are of the "Rabbiteye" type of blueberry, which works well in our hot and humid climate. The varieties I was able to find locally when I bought the plants were Climax, Tifblue, Premier, and Powderblue.  The Tifblue is already blooming, the Premier bush looks kind of scraggly but is covered in tiny buds. The other two are somewhere in the middle. Another point of having different varieties is that they bloom and bear fruit at different periods during the season, so it's good to have an early variety, a mid season variety and a later variety so that you have a longer harvest season. My four bushes are still young, but will produce a bit of fruit this year. I don't know how much they'll produce when they reach maturity, it'll be interesting to see though.

I also planted five Better Bush tomatoes in large pots to put in the front of the house where we get full sun, along with some small yellow marigolds as companion plants for both the health of the tomatoes, and to provide a pop of cheerful color against the green plant and terra cotta pot. Better Bush is a hybrid that does well in my climate and is suited for containers. It makes tomatoes that are bigger than a cherry or salad tomato, but not a giant slicer. Pretty much an all purpose little tomato. If they do well for me, I'll be using them mostly to make homemade marinara sauce. They were an impulse buy at the garden center Sunday morning because they were such big and healthy thriving plants.

Then I got the two heirloom "black" tomatoes in large containers too. The variety is "Black Russian" and they are supposed to be compact plants that produce well. Heirloom tomatoes have been really hit or miss for me. But these were from a reliable supplier, and planted in fresh new rich soil in the prime sunny spot of my yard. So they have the best odds of doing well.

I also got my two jalapeno plants into their pots. I always seem to have more jalapenos than I need, they are very productive little plants here. So this year I chose two varieties, Purple pod jalapenos (which are green inside and are as hot as a standard jalapeno) and "Tam" jalapeno which is a hybrid that has all the jalapeno flavor with only mild heat.

The seedlings are doing okay, the Lipstick peppers are doing the best, the Ghost peppers doing the worst. The Little Finger eggplant somewhere inbetween. I think at least some will make it to transplant stage. But I really need a lamp/heat mat setup to sprout seeds in the winter for spring planting. Next year...

My next project in the garden will be to transplant all of the bell peppers into their containers (and the one funny little "Red Peter" pepper. After that, I will prepare all the March planting (cucumber seeds, bush bean seeds, herbs, eggplant, zucchini, and at the end of the month the melons. And in the meanwhile I will be adding flowers here and there as I go for color in the garden and to attract bees and butterflies.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Garden Update: Seeds Sprouting and transplants to pot this weekend.


I'm seeing the first seedlings from my little plastic seed starter greenhouse. It's really a kids' toy but seems to be getting the job done just fine.

I decided to try three different kinds of seeds in it. Bhut Jolokia or "Ghost" pepper (insanely hot crinkly red pepper), Lipstick pepper (very sweet little cone shaped red pepper), and Little Fingers eggplant ( clusters of small finger-shaped dark purple eggplant). I hadn't seen anything break the surface of the dirt and then all of the sudden they'd just shot up like crazy. I'll be having to find them some good sunshine now so that they can start to grow strong and healthy in preparation for transplanting. Fortunately we've got the sunny weather, and it shouldn't be too cold at all for them in the daytime. It'd have been nice to start them on a warming mat, and then put them under a grow lamp but I just didn't have it in the garden budget this year. Next year though, I will be more prepared for seed sprouting and probably even try and grow my tomatoes from seed instead of getting transplants. But a grow lamp is pretty much a must because they have to be started indoors so early in my growing zone.

As far as new transplants, I've got 8 baby broccoli plants going now, as well as 3 Husky Cherry Red tomato plants (and one more to transplant this weekend). I also picked up a bunch of starter pepper and a couple more tomato plants at a local nursery that is really in tune with our growing zone and climate. 2 each of a green, orange, and red bell pepper, a purple jalapeno,  and a "Red Peter" pepper (which makes rather naughty looking peppers),  And then two "Black Russian" heirloom tomato plants, the only heirlooms I'm going to take my chances with this year. I may go back to the big box garden center and get a few Better Bush hybrid tomato plants, but haven't decided whether or not I want to deal with them or not. Same with full sized eggplant. It just depends on where I have space once what I have already is where it needs to go.

And I also got a trailing rosemary plant to put in the big pot I usually grow rosemary in. It's a tall pot, so I figured the trailing variety would be pretty there.

When the time comes in the fairly near future, I'll be planting Japanese Long cucumbers, Dragon's Egg cucumbers, and possibly some Lemon and Marketmore cucumbers. Also Dragon Tongue beans, Roma II beans, and Trionfo di Violette beans (which will be grown up a trellis as they are vine beans instead of bush beans). I'll probably also find room in the garden to try and use up all my old bush bean seeds before they get too old to do anything. I've also got some mini cantaloupe style melon seeds which can be trellised, and will probably find a place to trellis some more of the Rich Sweetness 132 melons. And some round zucchini and the rest of my herbs.

No new trees this year. No budget for them, and I need to put effort into the ones I have. The only tree I'd consider getting would be a lychee I could put in a big pot, but that's probably not happening this year. But who knows... If I find one at a decent price, I'll think about it.  My mature Meyer lemon tree produced like crazy this year, and needs some serious pruning and TLC. As do the immature orange and satsuma trees. The immature Meyer lemon seems to be doing just fine so I will leave it as-is and just give it some fertilizing once the growing season starts.

The blueberries are coming along nicely, time to fertilize them as well. The plants have nearly doubled in size since I bought them last year. All but one are thriving and I should get a fairly decent amount of fruit this time. Even the one that isn't thriving still looks better than when I bought it. They will get fertilized too so that they're ready to do their budding.

The rosebushes are coming out. The area we have them in at the front of the house just isn't a good rose area, and would need extensive soil amending and building up into a raised bed to do right by them. Only one plant is healthy and it is really healthy. I will probably leave it be, so I can still have some roses to enjoy. We just didn't know much about growing roses, and put in really cheap plants from a discount store that weren't all that great to begin with. When I'm ready to try roses again, I'll do it right. So, once most of the roses come out of that area, semi-decorative veggie pots that need full sun are going in their place.
Fortunately it's going to be a very nice weekend, this weekend. We've got a lot of yard work to do. The oak tree decided to finally finish dropping leaves, and the yard and most of my containers are a mess. I've also got a second round of compost going,

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

2013 garden planning. Already? Yes, already!

The only produce left to be picked in my garden are the few containers of beets I managed to plant back in fall, a handful of jalapeno peppers on a couple plants that are still plugging along, and some kohlrabis that may or may not mature into bulbs over the winter. Also about thirty more Meyer lemons and a few Marrs oranges. The only herbs left are oregano (is growing like mad still), chives, my bay tree, lemon balm, and some mint. Oh, and the blueberry bushes are doing well and taking a break from all the growing they did since I planted them.

And since my location here south of Houston has a year-round growing climate, I have some things to plant this month, whenever it stops raining enough for dirt to dry out enough to work with. I've got baby broccoli plants to transplant, and lots of seeds can get planted now too: Carrot, kale, chard, turnips, kohlrabi, beets, bunching onions, and parsley.

Then starting in the later half of February, the spring crops start to get planted. I've got a lot of work ahead of me before I'm ready though. We're replacing the big storage bins we'd been using to grow cucumbers, eggplant, and bush beans with rectangular raised beds. Which won't be very hard to actually build, it just needs to get done. I priced replacing the containers every few years versus building simple beds out of cedar planks, and the wood frames will cost less and last longer. Really the only reason I used the big storage bins for planting was that I found them on sale for next to nothing at a discount store because they were missing their lids.

I'm going to re-plant some tried and true favorites again this year: Dragon's Tongue beans, Roma II beans, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, cherry tomatoes, Rich Sweetness 132 melons, Marketmore cucumbers, and Asian Long cucumbers. More Fairy Tale eggplants if I can find them again at a nursery, and the same basic kitchen herbs. Rosemary, thyme, basil, cilantro, and maybe sage this time too.

I also ordered some new varieties of seeds to try from Baker Creek heirloom seeds . A sweet little red pepper called "Lipstick" as an heirloom alternative to the Yummy pepper variety. I'll probably pick up a couple Yummy plants just to hedge my bets though. And a different round zucchini since I just never had much luck with Rond de Nice. Also "Little Fingers" eggplant. An heirloom that seems mostly comparable to Fairy Tale. It makes shorter stocky bushes like Fairy Tale, and produces fruit in clusters like Fairy Tale. But instead of being teardrop shaped streaked fruit, they are thin finger-shaped dark purple fruit. I also got a pack of seeds of a different miniature melon, Minnesota Midget. It's a lot like Rich Sweetness in that it makes shorter vines, small fruit, and can be trellised. But it's a cantaloupe style melon.  I also ordered a pack of Dragon's Egg cucumber seeds, which makes small white oval fruit. I'm going to put a trellis against the front wall of the house and will probably grow them there because they seem like they will be fairly decorative. Lastly, on request of my Dear Friend, I ordered a pack of Ghost Pepper (Bhut Jolokia) seeds. One of *the* hottest peppers on the planet. They're apparently tricky as hell to grow, but we've got a hot enough climate to give them a fighting chance. I'm still not sure I want to try one, well maybe a tiny sliver. But I know some chiliheads who will appreciate some if they make anything.

I also received a pack of fancy purple vine bean seeds as a secret santa Christmas gift from a kind and generous garden fairy and have a decorative metal trellis to plant them against to bring some color to my patio. The vines are supposed to be purple, the leaves have purple veins, the flowers violet, and the beans purple and long-producing. They're an Italian variety so they'll be iffy in the kind of heat we get here. I'll be planting them early as possible to beat the heat and hope for the best.

And shocking but true... I'm taking a bit of a break from tomatoes this year. Aside from the bush cherry plants that did so well last year, I am only planting a few full-size plants this time. And possibly no heirlooms. If I have a craving that won't stop for a dark heirloom tomato, I can just shell out at Whole Foods or Central Market and be done with it. LOL!

I still haven't decided whether to put the orange tree in the ground or leave it in its' container. It can stay there until I make up my mind. It's mature enough for a good crop this coming year, I just need to do some pruning on it at the beginning of next month to keep it growing strong. I pulled all the fruit off of the satsuma and second lemon tree as they were having problems, after pruning them too, I will see how much regrowth they get this spring, and see whether or not I can leave some fruit to ripen on them as well. The Marrs oranges are pretty, fragrant, and sweet. But don't have much of an orangey flavor to them. Just sweetness. But the rind is very sweet above the pith, so if for nothing else, I'll grow them to make candied orange peel and marmalade.

That's pretty much it, I'm sure I forgot something or another. But this blog turned into a ramble, and I need to log offline.