Tree thirty.

DH has been the driving force behind the trees in our lives. He hopes to have an orchard someday that is a testament to his love of a good medley. Almonds and plums and avocados living in harmony? He’d like to try it anyway.

Being as we don’t plan to stay in this home forever, he limits his tree fixation to landscape trees. Except for when I give him keep-in-a-pot-as-long-as-necessary varieties for his Someday Orchard.

You met the Mexican White Oak and one of the pecan trees already. Let’s check in on Bill the Lime Tree. He’s been outside for about a month now, and after our serious storm last week, I had cause for concern that perhaps all of his little limes had been knocked off.

Never fear, they hung in there. He’s even taken the time to make some more buds and stick out some new leaf shoots.

You’ve also met June before. She did lose some plum blossoms in the storm, but hurried some new ones out in no time!

And what you can’t see here, is that so far one of these little flowers has already made a teeny tiny little plum! I had no idea a potted plum tree, roots to tip only 5 feet tall, would make a plum (or more)!

I also have a new introduction to make – the Mulberry tree. When we moved in, we had no idea what kind of tree it was. Then it started making fruit and my gut told me they were mulberries, but my brain said not to eat them until I had confirmation. So I waited. And waited. And then we had DH’s folks over for dinner – both of whom had known mulberry trees in their childhoods – and they both promptly popped a berry off of a branch and into their mouths. I quickly followed suit. Last year, the berries were a bit small and tart. Not knowing what it was, I hadn’t watered it. Since it didn’t rain more than a half an inch between mid-January and early June, the tree made do as best it could.

Now it’s actually raining, and I’m watering it between, we may have some mulberry jam in our future – fingers crossed!

Right Bed, say hello to your new inhabitants.

As I’m sure many of you do, I have a particular way I like to do things. Oddly enough, I think that defaults into a particular way things should be done.

Years ago, I encountered someone who had decided in their marriage, that “should” was a dirty word. I rolled this thought around in my brainpan for awhile, and over the years, have done my best to remove “should” from as many aspects of my life as possible.

Enter gardening. Gardening, in our household, is my realm. It’s what I love. It’s what I read about. It’s what I decide. It’s what I do. But the more gardening has grown for me, the more space, and the more work, the more I’ve needed to ask for help. DH is happy to help. DH is not happy to necessarily do things “my way.” Oh, right. Sharing.

I remember just over nine years ago, talking with DH, and worried that with how much we talked about every little thing, that someday we would run out of things to talk about. DH assured me that day wouldn’t come.

So here we are, still finding new conversations to navigate. We made it through, like we always do, by donning our work boots, and wading through the muck together. Amusingly, with gardening, that’s as literal as it is metaphorical.

And look what we accomplished!

All of the henbit, all of the dandelions, all of the thistle, and all of the creeping, crawling, t-bar-rooting grass dug, discovered, and carried to the rubbish bin.

A quick dusting of sulfur, and we called it a day.

Then, on Sunday, I headed out late in the afternoon to finally let my tomatoes loose from their Sonic cups, and into the soil.

And then two days later, we had the biggest thunderstorm I’ve ever witnessed. The sky glowed lavender in the middle of the night. Thunder that lasted for nearly a minute at a time. Water literally pouring from the sky in solid sheets. The flash flood warnings had been up all day. The next day, the creeks raced one another to the sea.  It’s amazing what a terrible drought will do to your perspective. I don’t mind the rainy days this spring. I revel in them. I still don’t do well with two cloudy days in a row, and miss my sunshine when it happens, but will take every drop of water the sky wishes to give us, but look how happy the pond is these days…

So what happens when it dumps buckets on the freshly turned soil?

Beaten down baby tom-toms, and a cracked surface.

Thankfully, the community garden gods that be, delivered a new truckload of mulch sometime in the past three days!

That catches us up to…Wednesday.

Saturday, it was time to prep more of the bed to get ready for peppers. DH was responsibly studying at home, so it was up to me to get as much done as I could. In the three or so hours I was there, I managed to not get sunburned, water the squash, the melons, the beans, and the tomatoes again – and dig another 60 sq ft or so. My hamstrings (go figure) are still sore. But! The weeds are out, the earth is crumbly, and the worms were found. (Not that they were lost.)

That was it for Saturday, so when my borrowed shovel returned to me, I packed up the dog, my dusty self, and headed home.

Sunday was much less labor intensive, but I must say the heat is already pushing me to restructure my day to avoid the late afternoon. Sunday was transplanting my pepper starts from their Sonic cups (happy hour at Sonic, if you don’t have a Sonic near you, is dangerous) into most of the rest of the Right Bed.

DH and I had stopped by Green and Growing for some diatomaceous earth and mycorrhiza. The mycorrhiza made an appearance in each hole before laying the pepper roots in the ground. I just learned about mycorrhiza on an episode of Central Texas Gardener – apparently it is a beneficial fungus that creates a happy relationship with the roots of most plants. It enjoys the carbs the plant roots offer, and in exchange delivers minerals and other nutrients to the roots of the plant. It also is purported to help with water absorption which is always appreciated in this area.

The diatomaceous earth was purchased for a few reasons:

  1. Fire ants have invaded the crack between the sidewalk and the lawn, and also like to travel on the Right Bed’s border board. I’m allergic and have yet to boil enough water to kill them off or make them relocate.
  2. Supposedly it can help with other pests (caterpillars, I’m eyeing my chard since I can’t find you myself) so I thought I’d give it a try for that.
  3. And since I did remember to get some, and forgot to pick up more rock salt or bring a beer to the gardens, my nearly-demolished Soleil beans (and their neighbors) got a border sprinkle.

And so, the bugs were battled and the peppers were planted.

In planting the peppers and accounting for how many of each variety had survived my neglectful sowing process this year, I realized that in twelve pepper plants, I had zero bell peppers. Did I mention that I don’t eat tomatoes? Or hot peppers? So so far, the Right Bed is all for DH. I’m ok with that. It’s just kind of funny that I didn’t realize it until now.

Pepper Plants Planted

  • Anaheim (two)
  • Cayenne (two)
  • Chinese Five
  • Czechoslovakian Black (sadly, only one)
  • Fish
  • Jalapeno (three)
  • Poblano (two)

With twelve in the ground, I have room for at least three more in that area, and have yet to decide what’s going in to the bean spots when they’re finished, so perhaps that means I do get to go plant shopping after all!

And while I’m on the topic of seedlings I’ve killed so far this year, I’m fairly certain all of my ground cherry sprouts kicked the bucket in their secondary pots. If the tomatoes were happy, and the peppers were mostly happy, I’m not sure what went wrong, but shall try and try again.

Stringing string beans with string.

There are a lot of ways to grow green beans. Bush beans are the compact varieties that purport to not need supports. Pole beans need a decently tall support system.

I’ve seen people use beautiful trellises. I’ve seen 1″x1″ sticks whipped into a teepee. I’ve seen wire cages and a myriad of other contraptions. When I first started growing beans in 2007, they were in a pot on a balcony.

That pot wasn’t going to hold a trellis. I didn’t have the budget for a wire cage either. I thought about using the balcony railing itself, but with afternoon sun hitting this balcony straight on, I wanted it mobile in case my learning curve required movement. I looked around my small space, and found a bamboo stick. I had some string left from a tied quilt. A longtime fan of building forts with what’s on hand, I thought to build a climbing “fort” for my beans.

Things I learned from this project:

  • Bamboo stakes, in a pot, will lean.
  • Bamboo stakes, in the earth, will rot, break down, and snap off.
  • Beans want to grow UP, not around. In this arrangement, I ended up with multiple stalks climbing up the bamboo stakes themselves, not around the string as I’d hoped.

And so adjustments were made. For the last four years, and again this year, I’ve used the same simple system. I ditched the bamboo stakes all together. I kept using the same string, and from last year to this one – I’m actually using the exact same pieces of string.

See? I did mow and edge! But really, last year DH helped edge this bed in planks, and also helped dig in six posts and screw in cross beams to create a top structure that mimicked the rectangular shape of the bed. From there, he screwed in anchor screws every 3″ for me where the beans would be, and strung wire across the width of the bed. From those wires, I tied off falls of string, which met with the beans on the earth.

At the end of the season, I carefully saved the strings so as to not let them knot, and here they are again! In my crop rotation, the beans are under sections that lack the cross-wires. Because I wanted to get this done in the snatch of evening light I had available, I didn’t ask DH to add more wires. Instead, I ran a cross-string from one wire to another, and tied my drop lines from it.

Now the beans are set. When each one buds its climbing vine, the string is ready. I learned (and finally remembered!) to string the beans before the climbing vine appears. Once it does, it will grab onto whatever it can…other beans, tomatoes, onions, weeds… and getting it to gracefully retreat to take to the string as you want can damage it, or whatever it’s attached to.

But what about bush beans? Don’t those stay compact and not need a structure?

Yes, and no.

Bush beans definitely won’t grow 10 feet tall, it’s not in them to do so. They will on occasion, depending on variety and environment, grow tall enough to fall over. When that happens, the beans you were hoping to nurse onto your plate, or into your saved-seeds, will be devoured by the hungry critters on the ground. Or mold. Or mildew. Or otherwise allow diseases to enter into the plant more easily, creating an issue.

So, I give them a hand. They don’t necessarily get strung on strings (unless I have extra strings) but they may get some good mulching, or string, or a random trellis I acquired. Anything to give them just that little boost to stay off the soil can help.

Last year, I gave the Tiger beans a little string, and left the Yin Yang and Soleil beans alone. The Yin Yang beans didn’t mind, but the Soleil were a little iffy. So this year, the Tiger will get their structure – perhaps a trellis akin to a vineyard? We’ll see. The Soleil, unfortunately, are being demolished by a mystery pest.

The near ones are the Yin Yang, the middle are the Tiger, and the back ones, that are small when they’re not eaten, are the Soleil.

Any ideas on the pests? All I’ve seen are rolly-pollies. The damage looks like caterpillars to me, but I haven’t seen a single one.

Trees turning itchy green.

Growing up in Oregon and Washington, spring comes as a full season. Winter leaves, and the world begins to both thaw and dry out. There’s a season up there where all of the new growth has yet to reach its expected greenness. At that stage, everything is a bright, glowing green – or as I like to call it “itchy green.” It’s so green, you think it will make you itch just to look at it. It’s so green, you can tell the plants were just itching to pop from their dormancy.

Occasionally things here turn itchy green, but usually not all at once, and not for very long.

But there are things coming forth from their hibernation. Like our new Mexican White Oak tree, which surprisingly to me (although it shouldn’t have been), puts out new growth in the form of frosted leaves.

We put in two trees last year as well, well, DH did. Two pecans. One is a Choctaw, and the other…I’ll have to check the tag. Here’s one budding out with fuzzy little tassles.

This is a bush that was in place when we moved in. I’ve never liked it. It’s pokey. I think it’s a Holly Bush. I have a hard time enjoying things that need hedging. It also makes the entrance to the garage feel a little boxed in.

So why not take it out? Put something else in? Because I have a soft spot for the bees. What you can’t see in this photo, is that this bush is currently putting out very fragrant, tiny little blossoms and is covered in dozens of bees.

And so the bush remains.

 

Boing! – goes the springy Spring.

Look at what’s waking up!

Last winter, my mother and I planted some nasturtium seeds in my front flower/herb bed. I’ve recently read about how nasturtiums don’t like close quarters, and go figure that they haven’t poked their heads up yet in this lovely, reseeded-on-its-own mess:

But never fear! The nasturtium seeds that didn’t appear last spring in the back bed found their roots and put forth this cheerful face:

But I’m not sure how much they really mind a crowd, because look at where this little smiling face is hanging out:

And did you happen to spot that blue spot down to the right of the Blanket Flowers? At the end of the spring last year, I swiped some roadside seeds. I tossed them in the back of this bed, and imagine one of my “oops! forgot the sprinkler was on!” moments floated the seeds to the forefront. I’m glad. Doesn’t she look happy?

It has honestly taken me years  to remember to call these Blue Bonnets. I would always initially say Blue Bells, and then quickly correct myself. They’re currently blanketing the roadsides here in Central Texas. Not in the breath-taking numbers they have in the past, but with such a mild winter I’m not surprised.

Let me fine a nice photo showing what they can do…

Other smiling faces are showing up around the house as well. These ones are from a seed packet from DH’s mother, and they remind me so much of Alice In Wonderland! Don’t they just put that song in your head? “You can learn a lot of things from the flowers…”

We’ve all been busy.

I’ve been busy lately, busier than usual, with work and also with training with DH’s mother for a mini-triathlon. Work takes most daylight hours, and then the training often took the rest. Now that Daylight Savings Time has come (or gone, as it were) the evening hours stay lit until nearly 8pm. Who else has been busy? The plants! Look how they’ve grown!

I’ve had a lot of catching up to do, can you tell?

This is my overgrown backyard garden, surrounded by an overgrown lawn full of overgrown weeds, two weekends ago. Last weekend, the lawn got a buzz cut, the weeds did, too, and everything got cleaned up with the edger/weed-whacker.

More to come!

Growing like a bean!

At least, that’s what I expect the phrase means.

Here’s the Left Bed on March 7th.

A dreary day for us here in Texas. On the left we have Yin Yang beans. In the middle, my trusty Tiger Eye Beans, and in the back (or on the right in the photo) are Soleil green beans.

And here we are again, on the 10th.

See those four little legs in the top left? They belong to the Bean Guardian.

He’s doing a stand-up job keeping the birds away.

While down there, a new volunteer raised its hand. My best guess is that this tired ol’ bed actually housed an asparagus plant? And that said asparagus plant was the “Hmm, I wonder what this is?” that I saved during the turning under/root-removal process? Any confirmation of asparagus, or ideas of alternatives?

If it is asparagus, it will be my first. I know its a perennial, and that likely its rather upset with me for digging its bed all topsy-turvy. Other than that, I’ll have to read up on asparagus and see how to care for it. Hopefully it doesn’t mind too much the squash I sowed nearby.

Sown on the 11th were my melons and some of my squashes. These varieties are all new to me this year, which is both exciting and leaves me full of trepidation. Will they grow? Will they harvest? Will I like them? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Melons

  • Edisto 47
  • Kansas
  • Tigger
Inter-planted with Sunflowers!
Squash (so far)
  • Early Golden Crookneck
  • Lemon
  • Kamo Kamo

Also, I did a simple soil test kit (I buy the little ones for $4 that do pH, Nitrogen, Potassium, and Potash) on the Right Bed. As expected, the pH is high. So far each soil test I’ve done in a new area has been in the “dark green” or “8+” range. Thankfully, I have some sulfur on hand to mix in. Surprisingly (and thankfully) the Potassium and Potash are both at reasonable levels! This is a first, since usually when I build a garden bed I’m starting with undernourished turf-just-removed soil. The Nitrogen is low, but that’s easily fixed with some Blood Meal.

Planned for the left bed are two more squash varieties, the tomatoes, the peppers, and if they ever arrive in the mail – the sweet potatoes and strawberries.

 

(Thanks to DH for the pictures! We walked to the gardens this time, and in remembering my Hori Hori, seeds, graph paper plans, and gloves, I forgot a camera. Hooray for phones!)

The things to which we grow accustomed.

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest of the US. I grew up in grey drizzly falls, cold wet winters, and misty meadow spring times. Summers in the PNW are a magical time. Days that seem to last for weeks full of gorgeous sunshine, emboldened life all around, and crisp cool nights full of hoodies and jeans after the sun goes down.

I’ve been in Texas for more than eight years now. Today is our second or third day of drizzle. Cold (for Texas) and days (instead of minutes, or hours) of rain. I honestly forgot what it was like to live someplace where outdoor activities were restricted by the wet and the soggy. In the PNW, there is no such thing as “too hot.” I loved the 105 degree August days. On the rare occasions where the thermometer in the vineyard would break 110, I would bask in the heat. Literally. Over the last few years, Texas has inculcated my flesh and understanding of “too hot.” I’ve acclimated. Anything under 70 degrees and I wear a hoodie. (Hoodies used to be reserved for anything 25-50 degrees, and coats were only used for particularly hard rains, or extending periods of playing in the snow.) In contrast, jeans and long sleeves in the 70s feels fine. I am not a true Texan, who will still wear jeans and long sleeves comfortably when the mercury has added a third digit to the scale.

I digress.

Today I found myself in an odd place. I had forgotten what to do when it rained for days. Last night, I baked. Today, we went shopping. (Shopping! I never go shopping.) Hoping the winds blustering about would carry the rains west to the desert, to the peach farmers, to the wild flower fields, and give me a sunny gap of an afternoon. It was not to be.

What to do?

Well, there were those 8-10 pounds of apples we’d been hanging onto for worringly-possibly too long…

DH, months ago, took it upon himself to buy some organic apples (I forget if they were Braeburn, Fuji, or Gala, or a mixture), peel them, and blend them with some blackberries and honey into an applesauce. I was ecstatic. It was delicious. And it was portion-sized out in the freezer such that if I caught it just-so in the thawing process, I had the most delicious fruit slush snack.

About six weeks ago, organic Fuji apples went on sale again. $0.83/pound. We bought as many as we thought we would peel, which ended up to be about 8-10 pounds. And promptly forgot about them. Work ate me, school and work combined to swallow DH whole, and here we are.

Apples – peeled, cored, and roughly chopped. (You don’t have to peel them if you don’t want to. Apple peels tend to upset my stomach, we we compost them.)

Honey – a spoonful per blenderful is all you need.

Blackberries (or other flavoring) – about a handful per blenderful.

Or, if you’re a visual person:

Blend, and pour.

Stack ’em up, and freeze all but the one you want to eat first (in this case, the glass one will stay in the fridge.)

We ran out of blackberries (or so we thought, before we checked the deep freezer) and DH did what he does best – gets a crazy idea, that just might work, that turns out deliciously. In this case? A ‘Rita Ringo Sauce. (Fun fact of the day: Ringo is Japanese for apple.)

Lime juice (from two limes), honey, and apples. After a quick taste test, I wonder if I shouldn’t add a splash of tequila, freeze some in a Popsicle tray, and wait for summer!

And, because I couldn’t help myself…

Texas’s state flower is the Bluebonnet. Something I recently learned, is that blue is the dominant gene for the flower, but not the only one. I actually saw these lovely flowers for sale last spring at the grocery store. Last spring I had yet to install my garden bed, and every pot already had a tenant. Last spring, I passed on bringing these home. This year, I had so many places I could put it, that I succumbed to the desire. I did only buy one pot, currently on my kitchen counter, but may just have to go back and get 2-4 more to round out the native bed I started.

What do you do when rain comes during your garden time?

The spring rains are here?

I add a point of inquisition (a fun way to say ” question mark”) because my previous experience of the last eight years here has no history of spring rains. DH claims they were here when he was a child. That the rainy season has similar raining habits, but shifts its timing during the calendar year.

This weekend held hopes of finishing the weeding and turning of the Right Bed in the community gardens, so my tomatoes could escape their Sonic cups on time.

I’m not certain this soggy soil will allow my dreams to come true this time.

Never fear! Chill hours are good for the plum tree, the water may give us sweeter mulberries, and a restless evening brings…bad decisions.

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After melting, adding eggs, sugar, cocoa, and vanilla it was ready for the oven.

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A quick run to the store later, and the doubly bad decision is just about ready.

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If you can believe it, this chocolaty indulgence of epic proportions wasn’t even my idea! As DH said, ” You’re welcome, and I’m sorry.”

Stomach ache, here I come!