So: polar vortex slowdown

Before anyone states the obvious, I am well aware that in Texas we tend to have warmer weather than the rest of the country during the traditional winter months. BUT NOT THIS YEAR! (Yes, I am yelling.) It has been very cold, much, much worse than usual.  There have been travel delays and “ice days” off from work. Our winter coats, toques, and gloves imported from Canada are getting more than their fair share of use. No offense, but if I wanted weather like this, I would have stayed in Canada and had a plentiful supply of winter fashions that are really warm, drivers who can drive on ice and snow, snow tires, and public transportation for those days when I’m too Californian to venture out on my own.

Yesterday was beautiful and truthfully, somewhat “normal” by north Texas standards for March 1. It was gorgeous, sunny, warm, the kind of day that makes you really glad to be in Texas at the edge of winter.

Today is a completely different story. The daffodils which so bravely pushed their way up to the sun over the past two weeks now lie flattened on the front lawn. They have been pelted by tiny pellets of ice all day long today and exposed to below freezing temperatures starting late last night. I’m glad that they brought joy to me and to several neighbors walking by yesterday. Maybe they’ll rally once the temperatures head back up.

I doubt the peach and plum trees have faired so well. The peach tree was in partial bloom. The plum tree hasn’t started yet. I may be incorrect about the possibilities of fruit, but I fear that it will be the opposite of what happened last year and I should horde my last few jars of precious peach jam. Or at least share them with people who will really appreciate them. Fingers crossed that the plums will pull through. Both trees are gorgeous and I brought the cuttings from pruning into the house—I have two lovely bouquets that will boost my spirits all week if the cold continues.

The driveway is a sheet of ice, as is the sidewalk. The street in front of the house has not been as well-traveled as usual today. Sunday morning dog walkers and runners were absent. The little kids and parents heading to the park were nowhere to be found. The yard and the neighbors’ roofs are white. Neither are supposed to be that way.

Facebook was filled with parents’ statuses about missing kids’ sporting events, friends afraid to go to brunch, parties being rescheduled. Yes, that is what ice, snow, sleet, thunder sleet (yes, there is such a thing and it’s loud), and the newly coined “polar vortex” does to North Texas.

The Gs didn’t enjoy being pelted with ice bits. Godiva’s thick coat kept them hidden away and even a rough toweling couldn’t get them all out. Guinness was irritated by the wetness as usual. I hope he’s peed today. George, being George, did what he had to do and ran for the door to be let in. Gidget got muddy. She’s the most unfazed by the change in the elements. Perhaps her feral life comes back to her during these uncertain weather situations.

We all spent the day inside, hanging out. The Gs following us around sleeping while Bruce and I cleaned up, rearranged, and organized. Bruce braved the elements to grill lunch—he’s still Canadian, eh! Stuff got done, but it was a very chill day. We haven’t really left the house. Lots of coffee was drank. Lots of time in our cozy office/tv room. All the Gs tested out Gidget’s recently reassembled crate (a subject for an upcoming post for sure). Birthday cards got written. Birthday gifts wrapped. Mulch and compost ordered. Menus planned. Lunch food prepped. DIY tv shows watched. Dog pedicures happened. Magazines re-read and put into the recycling bin.

And despite the fact that our plants are not very happy and neither are the drivers, I say THANK YOU, POLAR VORTEX! It was a good Sunday to slow down and enjoy each other’s company. Perhaps more Sundays need to be spent this way, just with warmer weather. I hope wherever you are that you had some slow moments to your Sunday. May you wake up tomorrow reenergized and ready for whatever the week brings you.

The gratuitous dog photo of the day looks a little scary but is actually very sweet since George and Gidget do so much together:

George and Gidget sharing a bully stick. Photo by Bruce

George and Gidget sharing a bully stick. Check out those white teeth! Photo by Bruce

 

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Sow: peachy

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Yes, of course, tomatoes were harvested today (and were given to the Gs pal Tracy when she came by at lunch to let them out), but I discovered the next big harvest when I was out dumping my poor dead plants garden debris in the composter.

While I was sleeping or at least spending time worrying about the urban farm, the peach tree has gotten busy making peaches. I’m pretty excited about it especially since the plum tree hasn’t produced anything this year.

So tomorrow morning, I’ll start climbing the ladder and plucking down peaches before the birds, squirrels and perhaps even neighbors who know they’re there get them. It’s best to pick them a little green then let them ripen in a paper bag.

I’m hoping to have enough to make jam again. However, my plan is to blanch (skin comes off easier), peel, and cut up the peaches now and freeze them in gallon size ziplock bags. That way I can make jam in the fall, when it’s cooler. Closer to the holidays also.

Truthfully I just don’t have that kind of leisure time right now. It isn’t hard, just time-consuming because there are a lot of steps. But oh so worth it.

Last year I made a ton. In cute little jam pots with a fun label. Gave most of it away and it was a big hit. My grandma who’s 97 said it reminded her of the jam she had as a child.

I can think of no better compliment.

Sow: mort

These days, with North Texas temperatures headed back up to the 100°+ days, early morning is the best time to head out to the raised beds and stock tanks for a little harvesting, cleaning up, watering by hand, and digging before work. It’s getting closer to surface of the sun weather, by next month, it will be here and I’ll be devising shading systems for some of the raised beds. And even at 6 am, it’s still hot. But it’s cooler than at 6 pm so I doused myself with OFF, grabbed my buckets, garden scissors, watering can, and compost bucket and started to get busy.

It’s usually a good time to clear the mind and get focused for the day ahead.

Just not today.

While watering the tomatoes, I found something that made me very sad: a poor bird that looked like it died trapped in a bit of the bird net. The net covers the tomato plants but this bird was on the part on the ground. It’s the part that I pin down to keep the critters out.

I say it looked like it was trapped, because I have a feeling that it was dispatched by one of the Gs, most likely Godiva the Huntress, since she wasn’t coming near me or the garden. It didn’t look crushed or torn, but a little bit flattened, like maybe someone tried to de-squeak it. I’ve found dead birds before, killed by cats or other predators, dead on impact with windows or walls. But this one made me feel terrible as I wondered if the bird net wasn’t there, this little bird would have had a chance.

resting up for tomorrow

resting up for tomorrow

Death was a theme in the garden from that point on. As the weather gets hotter, the lettuce crops are on their way out. I pulled some that was going to seed and began to ready their bed for the fall tomato crop (yes, it’s almost time to start thinking about planting them). I noticed that all of the cucumber plants were toast except one (partially because of not getting watered while we were in Canada). I pulled out the dying and dried up pea plants. I pulled some of the brown bean stalks. I harvested the remainder of the 3rd crop of bok choi and put the stalks in the compost bucket. As the bucket got more full, I felt even more sad.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve gotten really attached to these plants. Yes, of course, I talk to them and encourage them to grow and do their thing. I know they have a lifecycle and that when they reach the end, they have to go to make room for new plants.

Today it was a little like saying goodbye to old friends. The lettuce and all of the leafy greens have done so well for me. They’ve looked so pretty and brightened up the Urban Farm. And for just $2.50 a seed packet, they produced tons of green stuff since January. An excellent return on such a small investment. But they’re done.

today's leafy harvest: bok choi (right), lots of lettuce (left)

today’s leafy harvest: lots of lettuce (left), bok choi (right),

It’s really taking me a while to get used to the garden circle of life. Just when I get used to a rhythm and a routine, something changes. That’s life though.

But in the midst of all of this death, life. A small toad hopped by as I was doing my thing. He startled me out of my funk. I’ll take him as an omen of unexpected goodness to come.

sow: composted

My birthday composter

My birthday composter

Going away on an extended business trip for a week meant that my birthday composter got an extra large helping of partially decomposing stuff this morning and multiple spin cycles.

(So happy Earth Week composter! Hope you enjoyed all of your treats! Kick back, relax, make some nice compost, and I’ll keep feeding and spinning you.)

Have you ever touched fuzzy zucchini? If you haven’t, it’s slimy and furry at the same time. Like it’s covered with soggy white hair. Now you can safely skip seeing it yourself and say “ew” with me. You’re welcome.

Same goes with celery that’s gone bad. It turns into a pile of limp, watery yet fibrous brownish slime. Again, thank me for sharing that visual. Hopefully you’ll never have to see it in real life. It’s not pretty.

But all those fuzzy and slimy veggies made the composter really happy. It’s been cooking away and breaking down everything I’ve been feeding it for the past month. No bad smells. No animals breaking in for “treats”. No unwelcome bugs (I’m hoping that earthworms find their way inside naturally).

The produce peels, tea bags, coffee grounds, parsley, egg cartons, toilet paper cores, napkins, dryer lint, dog hair, rotting produce, apple cores, banana peels, egg shells, grass clippings, leaves, pine straw, garden waste, tomato vines, newspaper, and paper towel rolls are turning into the stuff gardeners love. This batch is almost finalized (there is a limit to how much you can put in) and then it will sit for about a month until everything is broken down. I’ll start its twin and by the time that one is ready to go, the first one will be finished the process.

Yes, it is a little bit of work. Some re-training on what not to throw away. A trip out to the composter every other day or so. Washing out the little collection bucket when it gets gross. Spinning the composter. I think of all of those things as fun—and an investment in future crops.

It’s pretty exciting to think that what is basically garbage is turning into fertilizer and a growing medium for the Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm. It’s all going down in a very under-utilized part of the side yard by the plum and peach trees. And soon I’ll be able to load up the wheelbarrow and take freshly made compost over to the raised beds.

Composting is kind of like growing stuff. It’s dependent on a variety of factors (materials, weather, water, heat). Even if you think you’ve timed it perfectly, it may take fewer (or more) days than you think. It can be a bit dirty. But in my opinion, it will be well worth the effort—and the wait.