Sow: Spring 2016 experiments

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Repurposed washtub planter with sage, rosemary, thyme and oregano

If you’ve read any of my gardening posts (the Sow ones), you already know that I really don’t know what I’m doing. Sure, I’ve been planting and harvesting stuff in North Texas for a few years now, but it’s always a bit of a crapshoot. Trial and lots of error. Lots of error.

 

Herbs always have done very well for me, especially during the cooler months (November-February).

 

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The kitchen herb planter had a fantastic winter. Parsley is bolting but the flowers are pretty.

 

Of course, cooler is never a given, even during the winter here. I barely had to cover the garden at all which is unusual for North Texas—there are usually a few days of very cold weather, ice or even snow.

No snow/ice days for us this year.  The unpredictable weather here is always a challenging variable, but I also like to make it hard on myself by trying new things.

 

For spring and summer 2016, I’ve planted some of my favorites (aka plants that have grown well for me):

Bell peppers (transplants from North Haven Gardens)

 

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Jalapeno peppers (transplants from North Haven Gardens), shown here with a rogue red romaine lettuce

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Anaheim chilis (transplants from North Haven Gardens)

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Basil (transplants from Trader Joe’s)

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Sweet 100 tomatoes (transplants from North Haven Gardens)

IMG_9951Okra (seeds from Botanical Interests) — still tiny because it’s not hot enough for their usual fast growing

IMG_9959Black eyed peas (seeds from last year’s harvest that were from plants grown from Botanical Interests seeds) — even tinier than the okra so not shown.

Shishito peppers (transplants from North Haven Gardens)

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I’ll be planting tomatillo seeds (from Sweet Corn Garden Organics) very soon—probably this weekend. Just waiting for it to get slightly warmer during the daytime hours. The plants grow like weeds here and I make a lot of salsa verde, so this year I’m planting double the amount I planted last year.

 

 

And now, without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to my 2016 experiments:

Artichoke (transplant from North Haven Gardens)

IMG_9957Black Bean (transplant from North Haven Gardens)

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Arkansas Traveler tomatoes (transplants from North Haven Gardens)

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Mortgage Lifter tomatoes (transplants from North Haven Gardens)

IMG_9953Flying Saucer squash (transplants from North Haven Gardens)

IMG_9956Fingers crossed for a successful growing season! And for keeping Gidget from eating all the plants!

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although I have netted and fenced the fig tree, it looks like there are just a few figs left for spring. luckily it is sprouting more which should be ready in the summer.

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And maybe we will have plums this year too — Gidget and Godiva are doing a fine job of squirrel scaring.

 

 

 

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Sow: free car wash

ThawLast week was bitter cold. Ice. Snow. Frozen roads. Cars in ditches. Tow trucks making a mint. Cities trying to keep the roads open with sand. TV news channel weather people excited to have the news all to themselves. School closures. Gleeful children. Working from home which isn’t nearly as fun as it sounds, unless you count not having to commute, being able to put on sweats and a t-shirt, staying makeup free. (It is very productive, however.)

Dogs running around like puppies in the white stuff. Eating snow. Carrying chunks of icy snow in their mouths. Playing ’til exhaustion.

In North Texas, one thing you can count on is that frozen precipitation of any kind doesn’t stick around for long. We might get 4 inches of snow, but by the next day it’s gone. Better get your snowman built, your snow angels made, your snowballs thrown. Still, we have a snow shovel and ice melter on hand and we’re glad to have them for the one, two or three times a year that we need them. Old habits die hard.

Since Saturday evening, it’s been rain. Nice slow steady rain with a few pauses. It’s pleased me to no end. Free car washes! Clean patio chairs! Clean sidewalks and streets! Happy sprouts! Full rain barrels! Sage flowers! More daffodils!

Spring is so close that I can feel it. I’m getting little signs of it from the peach and plum trees too. They may be blooming by the weekend and while it doesn’t last long, it’s beautiful. It doesn’t hurt that it will be in the upper 60°s starting tomorrow. A bit of sunshine and the urban farm’s spring crops will be well underway. I can’t wait.

Around here, some people talk about the weather—all types of weather—like it’s some kind of foreign enemy to be despised and battled. They get grumbly because they have to pull out the umbrella or a raincoat. They complain that there are no clothes flimsy enough to keep them cool. They rue having to put on socks. I like the change in wardrobe, even though it means soon I’ll have to put away the sweatshirts and flannel pajama. And this time of year, I love the idea of Mother Nature getting ready and cleaned up for a big vibrant party of blooms and greens.

Rain means change. And change is good.

 

Sow: dead peppers

The big freeze in North Texas is diminishing our chances for growing our own produce this fall and winter. The peppers are toast, but I salvaged what I could.

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The tomatoes I picked last weekend are turning red and we had a lovely roasted tomato pasta dinner tonight.

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We have the potential for snow tonight so I’m not sure exactly how everything left will do. The agaves are covered. We have the ice melter handy and our trusty snow shovel ready. It’s been raining on and off all day and things are wet so there is the potential of a frozen driveway gate, frozen alley, frozen roads.

The weather is much colder than normal. It’s a little sad for the urban farm, but it feels very eating holiday-ish. And its lending itself to cooking lots of slow cooked foods.

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The roasted tomato pasta dinner tonight was simple: a bunch of the Sweet 100s that have been ripening inside, some peppers from Pure Life Organic, some peppers from our garden, two little zucchinis, an onion, three garlic cloves, three anchovy filets, garlic olive oil, and some fresh ground pepper on a tray. Roasted it up at 400°F for 30 minutes in our Breville toaster oven, then when it was done, I tossed with a little frozen basil puree. I added some chopped up chicken sweet Italian sausage too so I threw it into the frying pan with the sausage chunks and mixed it all up, but the sausage isn’t necessary. It would still be delicious without the sausages. I added the penne directly to the sauce in the pan, tossed, added a little bit of grated parmesan and it was delicious. Most of the meal came from the urban farm or Pure Life Organic farm which makes me really happy. And there’s enough for lunch tomorrow.

The Gs are all very snuggly because it is cold. Today’s gratuitous dog photo shows you the bond between the newest Gs:

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photo by Bruce

 

The toy near George’s head is one of his mice. They are kids’ toys from IKEA and he loves them. Perfect size for his big mouth.

Sow: big chill

The frost cloths are out. I just straightened them on the agaves since it looks like the wind has been busy in our yard. The frost cloths are also on the raised beds and stock tanks, protecting the kale, chard, mustards, collards, bok choi, lettuce, spinach, and peppers.

I never got the garlic in the ground over the weekend. It may very well be too late for a 2015 harvest.

Even though tried to be strategic with my planting and where I planted each thing, I am a bit worried about the longevity of the fall plants on the urban farm. We very well may have picked the last peppers. We may not be eating bok choi next week at this time as planned. We may not get much more from the rest of the garden if the below 32°F/0°C temps keep it up for more than a few more days. I guess I’ll be spending more time and money at Trader Joe’s since it’s the cheapest place to get decent looking and tasting organic produce in this town.

Fashions have changed overnight. Sweaters and scarfs are out in full force. Turtlenecks. Tights. Blazers. Most telling is the outerwear. The people are wearing all sorts of coats that we don’t see much around these parts: puffy jackets, wool long coats, fleece. I had on my snowboarding jacket, a toque and gloves for this morning’s 5:30 am dog walk. I’ve replaced my usual yoga pants with sweats. We’ve put blankets on the bed. I’ve given the Gs their little fleece blankets on their dog beds which everyone absolutely loves. I’ve broken out the flannel pjs.

The heat is on. Unlike the air conditioner, it usually doesn’t get used all that much. Tonight it keeps clicking on.

Even Gidget is cold. She’s outgrew her old pink puffy coat—we donated it to an animal rescue group last spring. We will need to find her a new one in the next few days. Believe it or not her fur is so short that she gets very cold, even though that doesn’t ruin her love of the outdoors.

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Even though it might not sound like I’m excited, I am. It’s nice to have seasons, real seasons, extremes. And it reminds me that as this year winds down, there is so much to be excited about. But that’s a story for another day.

Sow: freeze coming

The prediction of the first really cold night in North Texas gets everyone all worked up. It’s on the way for tomorrow night supposedly. No, it’s not going to snow. Or even make icy roads. Still, already people are battening down hatches and digging out their warm coats and sweaters—boots made their fashion appearance as soon as the temperatures dipped to 80°F. Brrrr.

While I don’t necessarily mind pulling out the headlamp and the frost cloths to cover everything up once I get home from work in the pitch black that’s 6:30 pm, I realized last year that sometimes such attempts are utterly futile.

You already heard about Seymore the feral tomato plant (actually plants — I found that he created several clones of his wild armed self). He’s gone because no amount of frost cloth would protect his crazy girth (and I’ve already got cute little super red tomatoes happening on my kitchen counter. I guess they like it inside the nice warm kitchen).

The peppers may be ok but they might not be (more about that later). The kale, chard, bok choi, arugula, lettuce, collards, spinach and mustard should all be fine. The herb box close to the kitchen door will be ok since the brick walls keep their planter warm. I’ll pull the little wheeled herb garden closer to some nice warm bricks.

But there was some major picking this past weekend so that all of those plants lives would not be in vain.

First casuality: Malabar spinach. Last year, I foolishly thought covering it would keep it going. It is on a trellis so that was not a good idea and made for a nasty melting, black-leaved mess to clean up. I got a huge metal bowl worth which will last us a couple of weeks in our breakfast green drinks.

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Next was bye-bye basil. There’s a lot that grew from two little plants. So I gave away two gallon ziplocs and have another two washed and ready to be turned into pesto tonight. Just throw it in the food processor with garlic, olive oil, pine nuts and parmesan and then pack it away in the freezer for eating in the cold miserable months. Brings a smile to my face just thinking about those delicious dinners.

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Peppers are a little iffy and I’m thinking about going out tonight and picking the biggest ones that remain on the plants. This morning before work I roasted several trays of poblanos and jalapeños for future meals. I’ll peel them tonight and into the freezer they go to brighten up soups, stews, Mexican dishes and more.

I fully intended to plant garlic yesterday, but as I mentioned yesterday, I really don’t know how to rest but I ran out of steam. Maybe tomorrow morning before work when I water everything that’s still alive. Farmer Megan gave me some nice bulbs just waiting to be planted and it will give some bio-diversity to Seymore’s former home (Raised Bed #4). Let’s see how cold it is in the morning.

And even though it’s not Throwback Thursday, here’s a major brown dog throwback for the gratuitous dog photo of the day:

8 week old Godiva

8 week old Godiva

Sow: So long, Seymore

You showed up randomly among the spring crop of kale and chard and quickly swallowed them up with your fast-growing leaves and vining tendencies. All summer long you provided handfuls of sweet 100s pretty much whenever we wanted some.

I’d say you’ll be missed, but ever since Godiva decided that you were sheltering furry small mammals under your vines, I’ve wanted to pull you out. Today we did that and look what you produced:

The old timers around here say those little green tomatoes will ripen. Then I will turn them into roasted tomato sauce, which will be awesome in the middle of winter.

Thank you for showing up and thank you for making lots of tomatoes!

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Now here’s the gratuitous dog photo of the day:

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That’s gidget’s crate Guinness is in!

Sow: crazy ideas

Zatarains

not exactly plant seeds • image from McCormick.com

I’m beginning to think I have a reputation as a girl who will try anything once. In the garden, people! (Remember, “Sow” is in the title of this post, not “So.”)

If you’ve followed along with me for the past couple of years, you’ll recall that I’ve tried many “experiments” at the Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm thus far. Some have been dismal failures. Like every tomato plant I’ve put in the ground, not counting Seymore the feral Sweet 100 that’s eating Raised Bed #4. Cabbage. Broccoli. Brussels Sprouts. Squash of all kinds. Watermelon. Cucumbers.

Some have been fabulous. Copious amounts of tomatillos filling the freezer! Black eyed peas galore! Every single kind of pepper producing faster than we can eat or give away. Malabar spinach. Beets. Two little basil plants that I have had to “prune” and bring to work by the bushel basket. Kale. Chard.

But this experimental idea, shared with me by my pal Mack one night on Facebook, has got to be the weirdest—and the most tempting: plant a Zatarain’s crab boil bag. No, Mack did not make it up. It’s a thing. Supposedly you can grow all sorts of amazing peppers. Over 21 varieties. Cilantro and a whole bunch of other amazing herbs that go into this New Orleans’ delicacy.

If the Kroger by my office would have had a box of Zatarian’s yesterday, I would have bought it and planted it just to see what happened. I would have had the most amazing story to tell you!

Or so I thought…

Turns out, if you Google it, it’s (wait for it, I know you’ll be surprised) a really well executed April Fool’s Day prank!

Good on ya, Mack. You got me. I wanted to believe! I wanted a whole passel of Cajun peppers and herbs. I wanted to tell the world about my crab boil garden—maybe McCormick would have sponsored the garden, you know, like NASCAR sponsors drivers. I’d wear the Zatarain’s logo proudly.

Alas, now I need to come up with another crazy experiment for Spring 2015. Got any bright ideas? And don’t say money tree. I hear the climate’s not right in North Texas.

Your gratuitous dog photo of the day is a bit of a throw back to a few year’s ago when we only had one G:

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We’re both a bit older now, but we’re still just as cute • photo by Bruce

 

 

Sow: storm’s coming

The sky’s been dark and ominous for a big chunk of today. Can’t blame the end of Daylight Savings Time either—everyone’s anxiously awaiting the storms that are supposedly coming over the next three days. Today we have a 30% chance of rain, but I’m willing to bet it’s higher. Tomorrow it’s at least 50%.

Can you see me doing my rain dance? You see, I always know when a big thunder-boomer is coming. Besides George pacing, panting, and needing his Thundershirt, my noggin’ tells me so. I get these weird little headaches that don’t go away, no matter how much water I drink or what kind of headache pill I pop. It’s very common here—several of my coworkers have the same thing happen to them. And they don’t let up until the storm is well underway.

Still, a bit of pain is no big deal when it means 1) full rain barrels, 2) free water from the sky, and 3) happy plants.

Speaking of happy plants, I’d really like the spinach to get going. The little teeny sprouts are super cute and all, but I’d like them to be bigger and heartier before things start getting colder around here. I planted them in the stock tanks to help protect them from the cold a bit. And of course, I’ve got frost cloth for the entire set up.

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Spinach sprouts, a few days ago

The Malabar spinach is definitely on it’s way out and needs to be pulled out. I was hoping that there would be a bit of cross over between the two so we’d have a constant supply of spinach but alas, that is not meant to be. Good thing the chard is doing its thing. After such a weird summer, the fall veggies seem to be taking their own sweet time.

Perhaps the lesson for this fall is patience.

Gratuitous dog photo of the day:

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Gidget sleeps well anywhere and everywhere

Sow: Gilroy experience

While I’m not a Native Californian, the years I spent in both Southern and Northern California have definitely shaped who I am. My love of dirt may be genetic (my paternal grandparents were farmers), but my appreciation of produce comes directly from California. Until we moved there when I was 12-ish, vegetables were mostly frozen or canned. Oranges came from nearby Florida (we lived in Savannah, Georgia). Then we moved to California, where produce was everywhere. My memories? The Irvine Ranch market. The citrus groves. Strawberries and artichokes. The lemons, grapefruit, loquats, and avocados in our various backyards. The Los Gatos farmers’ market. My mouth still waters thinking about the produce I purchased a million years ago as a new college grad—I sure could make $20 go far and provide a week’s worth of meals thanks to farmers like Dirty Girl Produce.

There really is something amazing about getting your food directly from the people that grow it. Hearing the stories of how it came to be, the trials of the weather, the experimentation with new crops and varieties, makes you feel like what you’ve been allowed to buy is a real miracle. Because it is.

I spent my teen years near the Garlic Capital of the World. Gilroy, California claims that title. Driving through there with my family and later as an adult on my own cross-California adventures, I was fascinated by the distinctive smell of millions of cloves of garlic growing in the hot inland Northern California sun. It was strong. It was pungent. It made me hungry even though it was so overwhelming.

One late summer I visited the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival with a pal from college. We tasted garlic ice cream and garlic wine (don’t bother) but also delicious aioli and artichokes and scampi. The very smell of garlic makes me think of California. Not just driving through Gilroy with the windows down, smelling that heady vampire-repelling smell, but also walking through North Beach in San Francisco. If I had to pick an official culinary scent of California, it would be garlic. Sorry oranges, strawberries, and wine. You are definitely in my top 10, just not in the coveted #1 position.

And I’ve always wondered how garlic grows.

So when Farmer Megan at Pure Land Organic posted that she needed help getting next years’s garlic harvest into the ground, I jumped at the chance and volunteered for a few hours of labor, a free lunch and a bag of amazing organic veggies (gonna need to make some roasted peppers and another batch of cowboy candy with the bounty). How cool would that be? Bruce got volun-told I’m afraid, but he was excited to help too.

It’s how we spent today:

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Farmer Allan, me, Farmer Megan taking a break • photo by Bruce

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Garlic planting volunteers • photo by Farmer Megan

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Farmer Pop’s planter • photo by Bruce

In short it was awesome! Bruce and I put around 2300 garlic cloves into the ground. And it was super easy thanks to Farmer Pop’s (Megan’s dad) handy dandy John Deere ride-on planter.

 

All Bruce and I had to do is sit side-by-side for a couple of hours and push root ends of  garlic cloves into the holes that the planter made, then pinch the soil over the holes. Easy peasy! Such a nice day to hang out outside.

And now I know how to plant garlic. I’m going to add it to the rotation at the urban farm and get some in the ground next weekend. Thanks for the planting lesson, Farmer Megan!

Today’s gratuitous dog photo of the day comes from last night’s surprise on Bruce—he’s got a big birthday coming up and we have a very busy next couple of months so the friends who visited us last night decided to celebrate his birthday early. Here, Gidget is helping with the birthday candles and Guinness is asleep on the sofa!

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Happy (early) birthday, Bruce!

Sow: seed saving

It’s been one of those months. Actually 2014 has been one of those years. I started this post on July 7 and for one of the oh-so-many reasons I haven’t written much this month, including the extra crazy daily harvesting, it got saved to draft.

Well, I’d better get back to writing since believe it or not, in North Texas, late July and the beginning of August is the right time to start getting stuff in the ground for the fall garden.

Yes, I am well aware that it’s the time of year when our little piece of heaven resembles the surface of the sun and children try to fry stuff on the sidewalks and even 5:30 am almost too hot to walk the Gs. But the grass has been unnaturally green for a good long while and the tomatillos and okra are touching the sky. I thank both the random rainfall we’ve had and the fabulous drip system we added to the urban farm.

We are in for another few days of abnormal rainy and cooler weather which seems to be the new normal down here. I hate to say it but it breaks up the sameness even though George has to sleep in his Thundershirt. (I really need to get him a modeling gig with that company.)

One plant that needs to get its seeds planted pretty soon is cilantro. Although you’d think that cilantro would grow wonderfully all year ’round here, it doesn’t. Like many Texas residents, it hates the heat. And the humidity also makes it look ugly, much like my crazy giant Texas hair last Thursday and Friday.

As soon as the weather heads up past 80°F (around 27°C, if I remember right), cilantro goes right to flower and starts tasting like soap. But if the taste of soap brings back wonderful childhood memories of special quality time spent with mom after expressing yourself with colorful grown up words, you’re in luck. You just won’t get any takers in the Mortroski Midcentury. We’ll eat ultra-bitter arugula and like it, but not soap-flavored tacos and guacamole.

I decided instead to let it go to coriander. Yes, that’s right cilantro the fresh green plant makes seeds that are ground into the spice coriander. The plant is also called that in some places, but it’s a little confusing when you ask for it as coriander at the supermarket around here. The dude you ask will take you to the little bottles of spices lined up in alphabetical order, not the produce section.

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Cilantro seeds (aka coriander) drying

So basically, I made my own pack of seeds to plant for the fall/winter crop. And all you have to do is let the cilantro go to seed, then let it dry out on the plant. Then cut the stems and bring them inside to dry out a bit more. I felt a few days was enough.

Next you’ll want to pack your patience or be in an especially cheerful, focused, or maniacal mood because you’re going to pluck the little seeds from the twiggy leftover bits of plant. One. By. One. I actually found it pretty therapeutic, but I also like to destem bushels of basil or shell blackeyed peas before work. Do it at your leisure, however. It does take a little time and if you rush, they go everywhere and one of your dogs will eat them and have breath that smells like an Indian restaurant, which is an improvement in George’s case.

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Coriander up close — looks just like the seed pack or the spice jar!

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The finished result: looks like I’ve got more than enough for fall planting — might have to share

So the cilantro seeds go back in the ground next month. Even though all of the other herbs are growing like crazy it’s the one I miss the most. Maybe it’s that soapy taste. I do have a fondness for spiciness.

Since I know you’ve missed the gratuitous dog photo of the day, I’ll give you a couple:

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Godiva tolerating George

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George tolerating Gadget