A tomato slow down

And a pepper pick-me-up.

Almost on cue, the garden is packing it in for the summer. The tomato vines are drying up. Some fruit ripens on brown vines. Other fruit dehydrates where it hangs. 

With some help and a helper’s chipper, any soil exposed by the dying crops is now mulched by the gift of a fallen limb.

It may be a bit early, but I couldn’t help myself. I have the first of the fall crop transplants sown in plugs in the laundry room. 

The outdoor oven (aka the weather) has begun. Perhaps I’ll set aside some corn stalks for Halloween. They’re drying where they stand quite nicely.

Rain rain…

Here to stay…coming back another day…

With no rain to speak of for a few months it seemed, and then three weeks in a row of serious rain things are a bit…soggy. The mosquitoes aren’t the only happy life forms at the moment though.

The sweet potatoes have blossomed and blossomed again.
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And the bee butts are grateful.
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The fungal mat is showing its true colors…
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Including this interesting specimen who starts out in tiny pillars that open into perfect little raindrop goblets.
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As unhappy as my onions are (I’m pretty sure they’re goners) the lemon basil has a mind to go from occasional herb plant to full on ground cover. I may have to help that little broccoli out before its trying to push through a jungle.
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More rain expected for the next two days, and it started again yesterday. I do hope everyone stays safe this time.

Bees and seeds

DH and I were talking about the internet the other day. These days, it’s hard to “run out of internet.” There is so much of it to begin with, in addition to the social aspect, the interactive pieces, and the dangerous Bermuda triangle that is Wikipedia that it’s easy enough to waste away an afternoon just click-click-clicking.

When we first met, you could still quite easily “run out of internet.” If you ran out of questions you needed answered or topics to read up on, you were done. That, and there just wasn’t the sheer volume of content on the internet then that there is now, never mind any social media rabbit holes to fall down.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the internet. I work on it all day. I use it on my phone exponentially more often than I use my phone to actually call people. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been out with friends, someone has forgotten the name of a movie or street of a restaurant recommendation and the comment has been made: “You know, you have a phone for that. Look it up.”

I just wonder how much of our lives might be spent doing time-wasting things that don’t do anything or help us be anything. When I’m sixty, I won’t remember that funny meme I just saw. Or maybe I will. But I hope I have more memories of people and moments and adventures than I do of content I witnessed through a screen. (I’m rambling. Through a screen.)

However, I love gardening for how it roots me back down to what I do love about the internet. The blanket flowers bloom nearly year-round in my garden. They attract the honey and bumble bees, the birds and the butterflies. Recently, they attracted a new bee in a shiny black coat that I didn’t know. I pulled out my phone, searched, and learned right there in my garden – a carpenter’s bee.

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Then, if I so desired, I could dig more deeply and possibly discover which of the 500 possible species of carpenter’s bee had paid a visit to my flower bed. Or not. (I chose not.)

The other sort of learning I love best about gardening, is the learning of discovery. Experiential knowledge has always stayed in my brain much more concretely than other sorts. I’d known about onions. I’d known about their blossoms. I’d known about their seeds. What I hadn’t known was how their blossoms transformed into seeds. Did the seeds come with parachutes like dandelions and lettuce? Did they come in shells akin to sunflowers? Nope. They grow in pods more like larkspur and flax. Now just to learn how to get onions from young sprout to sturdy start…

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Fall is here.

Fall has started early this year here in Central Texas. Last year we didn’t see temperatures stay below 100 until October. We didn’t see rain until November. This year, the rain has already come. Today’s rain is a steady drizzle soaking the earth, enabling the oaks to soak up their thousands of gallons, the summer stresses to be washed from the shrubs, and the winter growth to start off strong. The rain earlier in the week came light and quick – just enough to wet the streets, muddy the gutters, and dust off the heat.

Fall in Texas is different from the Pacific Northwest of my childhood in many ways. One of the ways that I still am not used to, is the behavior of the trees.

Depending on variety, some trees behave as expected. They have bud break in spring, turn itchy green before summer, find their golden hues in the fall, and drop leaves to the floor with the frost. Others, behave as above with a second bud break. This tree already had its leaves, most of which were lost in the heat of the summer, but it is still driven by the need to put forth its progeny. This bud will break into a few itchy-green leaves, and one bunch of powdery seeds.

Speaking of fall, does anyone know of the best way and time to prune an overgrown sage?

This is a hybrid variety that is growing in maybe six inches of soil depth, with neglectful watering, and still managed to take over the sidewalk in its entirety. I had its twin in the front bed, pruned it back months ago, and it has since died for my efforts.

Also noted in this photo: the strawberries survived and I’m overdue on edging the lawn.

This earlier arrival of fall has helped make up my mind on sowing some cooler weather varieties. Earlier this week I made it into the backyard bed to sow some peas – Golden Sweet and Sugar Ann. The Golden Sweet claims to grow 6′ tall and have purple flowers. I’m looking forward to the little paintbrushes of color in the future. Sugar Ann claims to not need any structure, and I’m going to believe it. It took a few days longer to sprout than the Golden Sweet. Both were up within the week. Now to use the giant bamboo pole DH brought home for me to construct a climbing structure for the Golden Sweet…

Sown yesterday:

  • Garlic – Cheyenn Purple, Silver white, and California Select
  • Onions – Austrialian Brown and Violet de Gamme
  • Cucumbers – third year saved Marketmore 76
  • Beets – Detroit
  • Broccoli – Early Green Heirloom (I’m not sure this is the actual name…) both sown and transplanted
  • Kale – Lark’s tongue
  • Chard – Perpetual
  • Collards – Even’ Star Land Race
  • Lettuce – transplanted a few mysteries. They could be any of about eight varieties.

I was set to also transplant some Amazing Cauliflower…until I started working their bed and dug straight down into a giant fire ant nest. Escaping with a single bite (and no sting) I called it done for the day.

Onions from seed: Attempt number six.

My fall garden is planned. It’s sketched. It’s charted. It’s timeline-ed. And this year, I’m also ready with Plan B through Plan E so that I don’t encounter the same issues as last year and spend most of my winter with an unnecessarily empty garden.

I ordered my garlic, some Chiogga beet seeds (because Cylindra was just too tiny for my tastes), and have had my seed trays going for awhile now – cat interruptions aside. I have have plenty of greens seeds, carrot seeds, and other plotted plants seeds leftover from previous trips to the drug dealers seed catalogs…

I tried to order my onion starts. Sold out.

I tried another farm. Sold out.

Another, and another. They all ship January through May and are asking me to check back this fall, to pre-order for next spring.

Well, crap. A decent section of space has been designated onion space. I know our climate will allow for onions planted in October. Apparently the climates of those who sell onion starts are a different story.

I recently learned the difference between Short Day Onions and Long Day Onions (who knew?) and that solved the Mystery of the Failed Onion Seeds of 2009. The Puzzling Case of the Attempts of 2010, 2011, and 2012? Still puzzling.

They germinate just fine, as seen here in January:

And they gain some height just fine, as seen here shortly thereafter:

And that’s about as far as I can get them. From that stage, they put out itty bitty little white legs, that may or may not be roots, and try their hardest to die while I try my hardest to keep them alive.

I have a three-pronged approach this year.

  1. Richer seed-starter mix. I learned this past spring that onions are hungry little guys, but want the food far from their root zone. This will be for the indoor attempt.
  2. The bird method. Meaning I’ll prep the soil where I want the onions in the fall, sprinkle the seed, and water if needed. Otherwise, I’m going to leave them be and see if I’m just getting in nature’s way.
  3. Order onion starts from a company that ships as early as December. If my indoor sowings and outdoor sowings both fail, we can still have onions.

Anyone out there grown onions from seeds before? Any tips to getting them from leggy little blades of green to actual plants?

Beginnings and ends.

I think I’m still getting used to cycles in this part of the globe. As a child, the pensive hours, the long days indoors, and the ends came in the winter months before the beginnings of spring. The holidays were there to keep you company. With family, with baking, with decorating, with giggling cousins or parents’ friends’ stories, the long grey days seemed warm (and the wood stove helped!) There was candlelight and cookie icing to brighten the end of the year and hold everyone over until the daffodils broke ground. Until the green shone through the drizzle. Until the beginnings began again.

This part of the world, you get your cabin fever in the summer. You get addicted to the AC. You avoid the UV. You make your alphabet soup with different letters, but it’s still alphabet soup. It occurred to me today, that as I finish harvesting the carrots, the beets, the chard, the beans. As I finish harvesting the more sensitive families of food, it’s time to sow the seeds for the fall. Minus the heat-lovers and the cool-friendly, the rotation is about the same – what grows in the spring grows again in the fall, except here the die-out is over the summer.

So the onions, beets, and carrots will begin again in October, even though they’re also ending now.

The peppers and tomatoes are still going strong. They are loving the heat, but will soon lose their taste for it when it averages another 10 degrees higher each day. As they end, their seeds are dried, labeled, and stored for sowing just after Christmas.

It’s an adjustment, to find new-growth withdrawals as summer officially begins with the solstice tomorrow, but I make do.

It’s simply odd. When the winter doldrums are setting in for most gardens I hear about, read about, or dream about, they are ever-surprised at the winter growth going on in my beds. It only makes sense that when other gardens I hear about, read about, and dream about are in full growth swing with their flowers blossoming, their growth beginning in the summer: I have the same surprise, the same envy.

And so, I help new life into the world. I bring the sunshine in. I sow the seeds of the next cooler season and watch hope grow. Hope for evening breezes, for light sunshine kisses, for days so glorious you beg them not to end.

This time, hope takes the form of Lemon Basil, Cumin, Dark curly leaf parsley, and always – always – a volunteer squash.