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Enjoying the modern conveniences of life in a sustainable manner through technology, resourcefulness, and Zone 8a (North Texas) Gardening.

Friday, February 24, 2012

We're off to a great start

It's been awhile since I last updated you on how my seedlings were doing. In fact! Some of them were transplanted outdoors this week! Come with me as I take you on a tour of my garden-to-be.

Back row: Fish pepper, marigolds (should be germinated by now)
Front row: Rosa Bianca eggplant
Containers with no growth were planted this weekend and contain various herbs: lavendar, summer savory, dill, chamomile, rosemary, mint, and lemon balm

Back row: Basil, Carnival Mix Peppers, Chives (not germinated, planted 2 days ago)
Front Row: Basil, Cumin, Cilantro (not germinated, planted 2 days ago), two sets of spinach
Back row: Lettuce (Red Sails, Four Seasons, Romaine), leeks (poor germination rate), broccoli (romanesco), tomatillo (green mexican)
Front Row: Cabbage (Red Delight, Early Jersey Wakefield) Cauliflower, Ventura Celery, two of Green Goliath broccoli

Three Artichoke
Heinz and Roma Tomatoes recently transplanted
Borage, Cherokee Purple Tomatoes
Looks like I didn't get any pictures of my Zinna, but they are doing very well and have been recently transplanted into the plastic cups as well.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Celery - Quick Grow Method

Not sure where I read this, but I decided to give it a try.

Legend has it that if you put the base of some celery in some water, it will grow a new stalk of celery.
Well, I've got two celery bases and water, so why not give it a try.

Fast forward about 3 weeks and check out what I have growing in my kitchen...

Its time to place these babies in some dirt (still indoors until temps are > 55) and see if I get some stalks.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Preserving Lettuce !?!

If you've read my post What's the Deal with Lettuce you know that I find lettuce perplexing. I, as many others, love a good, cool, crisp salad on those hot summer days. But lettuce doesn't grow in the summer; its a fall/winter crop. You can't preserve it until summer either. You can't even preserve it for longer than a couple weeks. ...... or can you?

Just because of my preference to eat hot meals in the winter, I stumbled upon a method of preserving lettuce. Leave it in the garden! These beauties have looked exactly like this for about two months now. No way would they last that long anywhere else! The green one is looking like I better pull it soon, but its been there since December!

Ok, now stop laughing. I know you seasoned gardeners figured this out long ago. But this is my first fall garden, so I am just now figuring out such things. Now only if I could figure out how to get fresh homegrown lettuce during the heat of July.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Go broccoli Go!!!

Packman is described as having prolific side shoot production and I must say that this description is spot on!

Check out my (one) broccoli plant that germinated and survived our entire winter. Ignore the netting covering it. This will be the 4th side shoot harvest from this plant. AND it also delivered a huge head earlier in the season.

Spring Carrot Planting

North Texas is best suited for planting carrots in the fall. However, my fall crop was disappointing because of my heavily compacted clay soil. I decided to try again, but this time try in grow bags...until my soil can be amended enough to properly grow carrots.

Just as in the fall, this to is an experiment to see what happens.

I built these custom grow bags to plant the carrots in. I then made my own seed mat, following the instructions found on Annie's Kitchen Garden Blog.

I drew my lines 3" apart in both directions and glued a seed everywhere the lines intersected.
Here's a close up
Next I placed this, along with some carrot seedlings that I had already started into one of my grow boxes.
I covered the paper lightly with peat moss, watered, and covered with cardboard until they germinate.
We'll see how this works.

Potato Planting - Take 6

Yep, 6. It took 6 attempts to finally get my potatoes in the ground.

Last year was my first year with a real garden; so, this fall/winter was my first gardening off season. Last fall, I extended my garden to 12 4x8 beds and only used 4 of them for a fall/winter garden. In the other 8, it was my intention to plant cover crops, however, that never materialized.

Fast forward to Valentine's North Central Texas Potato Planting Day. We are planting: Yukon Gold, Russet, Purple Majesty, and the standard red potatoes that you buy at the grocery store.

Take 1: A few days early, I excitedly head out to the garden to prepare the bed for planting. And what did I find....
Yep, a bed full of weeds. What was I thinking! I purposely let the weeds grow because I figured they could act as a cover crop since I didn't get mine planted in time. Come spring, I would just till them in and all would be well. But as I stood there looking at this jungled mess, reality hit me. Weeds don't die, they multiply. Even if I tilled, some would stay rooted, others would reroot and who knows how many seeds are currently growing roots.

Take 2: Till

As expected that first tilling would not suffice in getting this bed as weed free as possible. Think. Think. I came up with what I hope turns out to be a brilliant idea.

Take 3: I raked off all the dirt that was loosened by the first tilling and then tilled again.

Take 4: Repeat Take 3
No Pic

Take 5: Lets do it one more time, just to be sure.
After this take all of the weeds have been uprooted and removed from the bed...Take 6 of Potato Planting should be perfect.

Take 6: Plant the Potatoes....Finally!
We first covered the loose soil with a few inches of leaves and sat the potatoes in place
Next, we dusted the potatoes with sulfur and put some sulfur in the hole. We buried them about 4" deep under both soil and leaves. The dirt at the back of the bed will be used to hill the potatoes as they grow.
I also planted some potatoes in my custom made grow boxes; just to compare growing methods.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Custom Grow Bags/Boxes

After the disappointing results of my carrots, I decided that I would try to grow some in a grow bag. I searched for some that would be suitable and found that these bags cost about $15 each and they were plastic. Plastic isn't breathable and it could get rather hot in there. There are cheaper, breathable grow bags but they are $8 and only last about 1 year.

Since I am able to sew, I immediately wondered how much it would cost me to make my own grow bag. The fabric store had Burlap on sale that weekend, so I devised a design and a plan. I would make my own 18" x 18" square grow bags.

It would take 5 yards to make 6 bags of varying heights (some for potatoes, some for carrots, and some for things like lettuce). With the fabric on sale, this would cost me $13 with taxes. + $2 for heavy duty thread that was also 50% off. So $15 for 5 bags! I am already way ahead of retail. Plus my bags will last more than one season and be breathable.

Here is what I did:

First I cut one 6' long strip to be the side walls of the bag and I cut an 18" x 18" strip to be the base of the bag.

I sewed the two ends of the long strip together and then sewed this piece to the base.

Now I have a bag. However, since its burlap, it doesn't stand up on its own.
I tried a few things to get it to stand that I didn't like.
In the end, I decided to go ahead and use some left over cedar wood from our garage to make frames for the bags. Thus turning the bags into boxed. The cedar wood is basically cedar fence panels and cedar furring strips/shams. A 6' cedar panel costs just under $2 here and an 8' furring strip costs the same. I needed one of each per box.
Here's a box after (dh's) construction. He used a staple gun to staple the burlap to the box...could have done this a little neater.

In the end, the grow boxes cost $7 each. Since I already had the cedar fence panels in my garage, the box's true cost was $5. I expect the cedar boxes will last 5 or more seasons. I had a deserted raised bed garden made from cedar that lastest 5 years easily before I pulled it up and it was exposed to the elements all day everyday; these boxes won't be. I have no clue as to how long the burlap will last; my guess would be 3 years...based on seasonal use. This stuff is strong and very durable. So let's say that my $7 boxes will last 3 years = $2.34 per year. Better than $8 per year if I do say so myself.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Return of Squash, II

Earlier, I shared with you an Italian Stew recipe. What  I didn't share with you is why I chose to cook that recipe. Basically, I was looking for another recipe that included squash or zucchini. I still have a freezer self full of both and need to find more creative ways to eat them before my family swears them off for good. It's almost like a horror movie....will squash be on the plate.....arghhhhhhhhhhhhh....more squash.

So I have been particularly interested in recipes that 'hide' the inclusion of squash/zucchini.

I'll name this horror series: The Return of Squash.

In this segment, I bring to you a casserole dish of squash, zucchini, and polenta. You basically saute the veggies
lightly fry the polenta and use it to line a casserole dish.
Cover with the sauted veggies, sprinkle with cheese, and stick it in the oven for 30 minutes.
The dish is good, but it does a poor job of 'hiding' the squash. So if you don't want to taste the squash, then this isn't the recipe for you. But it does give a different flavor to eating squash so that it isn't the same ole, same ole. Polenta is kind of like corn meal...to give you an idea of its role/taste. I found the recipe on Allrecipes.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


I want to wish everyone a Happy Valentine's Day.

The DH and I pretty much ignore this day, but this year I couldn't resist getting him a gag gift...I got him an angry bird..lol.

But as for gardeners in North Texas, Valentine's Day marks the day to plant potatoes. So what I really mean by Happy Valentine's Day is Happy Potato Planting Day!

This will be my first time planting potatoes and here is what I have planned:
  • Yukon Gold (purchased from Home Depot)
  • Russet (purchased from the nursery)
  • Purple Majesty (purchased from Farmer's Market)
  • Red Potatoes (purchased from grocery store and sprouted in cabinet)

Pics on our Valentine's Day Potato planting coming soon......

Monday, February 13, 2012

Two Heads are Better than One

I have finally had another broccoli plant produce a head of broccoli. It was injured slightly by a frost which turned it slightly purple; but none the less I finally got another head of broccoli.

It isn't as big as my first head was; only slightly larger than an apple. But perhaps this is a sign that my broccoli growing days are looking brighter.

However, this week, I enjoyed a nonedible garden harvest that has really excited me!

Check out more exciting Harvest over at Daphne's.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

I absolutely cannot believe what I saw today!

I had just pulled into my driveway and I saw something reddish on camellia. I slowed down to take a closer look and this is what I saw.

I almost burst into tears. You see Camellia, she's special to me. My husband and I built our home together and we designed all of our landscaping. This was my first time ever having a yard in my life. My first time choosing plants and placing them. I remember the day I bought her; from Home Depot. I had a special job for her; she was to announce that winter would soon end. I chose a special spot for her. The north east corner of our front yard; she would get morning sun, be protected from hot afternoon sun, and will get some of the late evening sun after the hottest part of the day had past. She was to be the cornerstone of our front landscaping transitioning the front yard to the side yard. I had read enough that I didn't expect her to bloom for a couple of years. Two years passed, three, then four. She had betrayed me. She was lush and beautifully green, but not a bloom in sight. I finally learned that my soil had a ph of 7.0 and she preferred acidic soil. So I came to the cruel conclusion that she would never bloom; but she would still be my cornerstone. She was my first afterall. Then today, eight years later, I come home and she is blooming in all her glory. Blooms are every where. She's made her appearance and her message is loud and clear....Winter Will Soon End.

Blooms in February! Exactly what I wanted you for. Thank you Camellia! Better late than never....

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Italian Vegetable Stew

Your wish is my command.

The Italian Vegetable Stew that I made earlier this week with garden grown spinach, tomatoes, and zucchini was absolutely delicious.

Much better than standard vegetable stew. If you don't like zucchini or eggplant; don't worry because after the stew cooks for so long; the flavors blend wonderfully and you can't tell one thing from another. As you can see below, the only things still recognizable are the carrots and potatoes. I made a few substitutions based on what I had on hand.

Without further ado...I present the recipe (whatever is in '( )' are my notes):

4 garlic cloves (I used minced garlic)
1 small acorn squash diced (I used potatoes; they worked wonderfully)
1 red onion sliced
2 leeks sliced (used more onion)
1 eggplant sliced (without skin)
1 small celery root diced (used celery)
2 turnips sliced
2 plum tomatoes chopped (use chopped tomatoes that I canned from the summer garden)
1 carrot sliced
1 zucchini sliced (with skin)
2 red bell peppers
1 fennel bulb sliced (didn't have any; omitted)
6 oz swiss chard (used spinach!)
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp chili powder
pinch thyme, oregano, sugar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
vegetable stock and water to nearly fill pan (used water and chicken boullion)

1 oz chopped basil leaves
4 tsp chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients -except the last 3- in a heavy bottom pan with a lid. Mix well. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, then cover and simmer for 60 minutes or until vegetables (potatoes) are tender. Be sure it doesn't stick! Sprinkle in the remaining basil and parsley and season with salt and pepper.

Turns out that this post is now the first (original) post of my The Return of Squash series. Search post titles for 'The Return of Squash' to find the others....they are all interesting, sneaky ways to use squash.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Spring Garden Planting

I've started some thing quite early, but there is a method to my madness. One thing that I learned last year is that the heat here in Texas can be so intense, that most things will just stop producing in July and August. So my main goal is for my crops to mostly be done by mid-July. That not only helps them avoid the hottest part of  the summer, but I get to avoid it too! Some days I would have to wait until almost 8:00 pm before it was cool enough to go out and do gardening chores.

So let's take a look at how the Spring Garden is fairing so far:

I had two little helpers eager to help me fill all the cavities with soiless seed starting mix. They were slow, but they did a good job, vacuumed up the small mess they made, and they were free!

Now the celled-flats were ready for planting and planting we did.
The Marigold and Nasturium and Borage are all being used as companion plants. I'll let you know if there work or not. The zinna is for the flower garden.

These are the 2nd and 3rd flats that I have planted thus far. Some of the plantings in the first flat are ready for their first move.

The top row is broccoli, broccoli, celery, cabbage/cauliflower and the bottom row is empty, leeks (that haven't germinated after two weeks), one column of artichokes--two already transplanted and the 3rd was reseeded two weeks ago), then two rows of Cherokee Purple tomato and the last set is 2 varieties of lettuce. I have started setting this flat outdoors to acclimate them...except the tomatoes of course.
The tomatoes were transplanted into these cups and they are now sitting on a window seal. The one overgrown broccoli shown above was also tranplanted into one of these cups. The other broccoli is so far behind because the overgrown one was planted two weeks before they were. It was the only broccoli that survived the legginess. All the others I pulled out and reseeded because they were too leggy.
The two celled-flats are sitting under lights on the new bar we just finished for our bedroom.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Horse Manure in Vegetable Garden?

I have just discovered a source for free horse manure, but I am afraid to use it. I have two small boys who love to 'help' me in the garden and I know that fresh manure can contain pathogens. However, the stall that I can get manure from isn't fresh, but I am also not sure how aged it is either. I only know it isn't fresh because he piles the manure and lets it sit there and the pile that I cam pull from doesn't stink and it is crumbly, but I can't say that it is 4 months or 6 months old nor that it ever heated up. What do you think? Is there a way to tell how aged horse manure is? Are there any signs that say its done and can now be used in the garden?

If you saw my post about carrots, then you know I can really use this manure. I have heavy clay soil and have been gradually amending it due to cost....so this free manure could be a great addition!

Harvest Monday

This Harvest Monday brings us some ups...

Not Pictured: A bowl full of lettuce used on Saturday hamburgers.

A large bowl full of broccoli side shoots from my one broccoli plant. This is the 3rd harvest of side shoots from that one plant. In total, I would say if you add the head to the side shoots; this is probably a 32 oz bag worth of broccoli...not bad from one plant! Had the others survived, I would be swimming in broccoli right now.

I pulled two carrots from the garden. I was fairly surprised that one carrot got so thick. I have tough clay soil that hasn't been amended well yet. So these carrots were really an experiment.
and some downs.....
This is the rest of the carrots. Yep, nice green tops and absolutely no roots. I didn't think my clay soil would grow carrots well, but I didn't expect results to be this bad. Oh well, I've got another plan that I am working on for spring carrots.

Check out more productive harvest over at Daphne's!