So: great house

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Pretty in pink (photo by Trish at Three Dog Bakery Plano)

As you can guess by the big smile on Gidget’s face, she’s pretty happy that Bruce bought her a puffy coat last weekend in preparation for the earliest frost in 13 years that came on Tuesday night. Buying dog jackets/dog clothes of any kind is new territory for us since our bulldog didn’t need any additional insulation and the other 3Gs have thick natural coats. Poor Gidget doesn’t have a lot of insulation and her white coat is very short. Now she’s protected from the elements and won’t shiver during her twice daily walks with the rest of the pack. And believe it or not, she really does seem to like the jacket.

Other dogs are not so lucky. While our Dallas weather is unpredictable at best, sometimes it gets below freezing and that’s not good for outdoor dwelling dogs. So this week, Bruce built a dog house for Duck Team 6‘s Outreach Team to give to a nice dog named Goliath (and I helped). On Monday evening after work to be exact. For about 4 hours until we figured our neighbors would call the cops on our use of power tools in the later hours of the evening. Should have started on Sunday!

This dog house was different than other dog houses. You see, Goliath is a senior Great Dane who has lived outside his whole life. And like most GD’s, he’s very tall. So he really needed a mini shed. Unfortunately, a mini shed wouldn’t fit in Bruce’s truck assembled. So Bruce designed a modern dog house that was made of a preassembled floor, walls, and roof which could be joined together in Goliath’s yard.

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The floor: plywood base with deck posts to raise the plywood off the ground and keep Goliath warmer

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Bruce assembling the frame for the first wall. He attached plywood to one side of each frame.

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Test filling the walls together. The back wall is higher to allow water to drain easier off the single sheet of plywood roof.

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One wall done, on to the opposite wall.

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Gidget making sure Goliath’s house will be sturdy enough.

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Two walls done, on to the sides

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Framing up the side walls

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Final assembled house with Goliath inside—he likes it! It just needs a coat of paint.

More photos are available on Duck Team 6’s Facebook page Operation Goliath if you want to check them out. Bruce got Goliath setter in before the temperature dropped and he said Goliath seemed very pleased with his new digs.

However, on Tuesday night, one of the Gs was not so pleased with her home:

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Naughty Gidget decided to remodel.

And while I did have a lovely harvest on Sunday afternoon:

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Sunday’s harvest from left: bok choi, tons of basil, mixed salad greens, Russian kale, Swiss chard, nero kale, haricots verts, Malabar spinach, bell peppers, Anaheim peppers, jalapeño peppers

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salad greens growing away

it was not a great week for the urban farm. With several very cold days and frost, some plants couldn’t handle it. I have yet to assess the damage thoroughly (I was traveling for business starting early Wednesday morning and got home late last night), but it looks like even with the frost cloth as protection, several of the pepper plants and the Malabar spinach have bit the dust. Oh well, more compost for the spring!

Today’s gratuitous dog photo features four familiar mugs:

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4G Network on a coat buying mission (photo by Trish at Three Dog Bakery Plano): Guinness, Godiva, George, and Gidget

Sow: black death

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Poor orange bell pepper! It may need to be replaced or just a trim. Will reassess Friday. (Peas are doing fine at the back of the bed)

Dead plants make me sad. Last night, a black and crispy mixture greeted me as I covered up the peppers, tomatoes and basil by headlamp in anticipation of yet another cold night.

Since last night, I’ve been the kind of gloomy grumpy that lingers through the next day, despite my best efforts to perk myself up. And I’ve tried. I watched a badly produced video on composting and read a homesteading magazine featuring pictures of baby goats and showing me how to make the garden signs I’ve been planning in my head. To no avail. I’m still grouchy.

However, I’m hopeful that today’s beautiful weather with sun and a high of 68°F will perk the garden up. When I recheck everything tonight while watering, I’ll be greeted with growth and greenery and some of the black death and crispiness will be gone. At least the peas won’t let me down. Neither will the kale and chard. And the Red Velvet lettuce is doing just fine.

On a side note, this morning when I walked into the office, the beautiful hydrangea I received for my birthday was drooping, blue-purple flowers looking wilted and shriveled up. DAMN! Another plant murdered! Can’t I catch a break with even the indoor plants this week?!?

After kicking myself for not checking it before I left last night and spewing a string of colorful and descriptive words, I gave it a good drink and hoped that it would go back to its beautiful self before my coworker (the giver) came by to check it out. More sadness. More gloom. More grouchiness. Ugh.

Luckily my coworker is out today. And luckily, no plant-a-cide happened. The water worked its magic and it’s just as blue and beautiful as it ever was. Whew. That perked me up a tiny bit. Especially since I know zero about hydrangeas except that they can shift color depending upon the soil.

And lest you think I’m stretching the truth about the croaking happening around me and wondering if I’m being an overly dramatic Garden Diva (by the way, I do have a t-shirt that says “Garden Diva” — thanks, Simone!), I’ve snapped photo evidence, taken this morning before work as I assessed the damage in daylight:

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A crispy, wilted green bell pepper. It was sheltered, but I guess it wasn’t warm and sheltered enough. It will need to be replaced.

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This was one of the bushiest of the tomatoes. It will need to be replaced since the frost and cold have fried its top and probably stunted its growth for good.

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Another tomato plant, fried at its top. This is one I will assess on Friday, especially since it’s part of the red water tray experiment. It was also one of the taller plants.

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A common crispy leafed tomato (probably one to replace). This one makes me sad because so much of it got damaged.

See what I mean? Hopefully this is the end of the frosty and cold nights and we can get back to good tomato growing weather. Don’t let anyone tell you that growing tomatoes in North Texas is easy. I struggled last spring, last fall, and this spring has also been a battle. And if by chance you figure out what I did to entice Old Man Winter to come back for a visit, could you let me know? He is not welcome back in Dallas until at least November.

Sow: dream trees

When I moved from Savannah, Georgia to Southern California when I was in 7th grade, the fields of oranges everywhere captured my imagination. To see oranges growing in neat rows of trees and to smell the orange blossoms was just heavenly to me. Those orange groves at the Irvine Ranch are now covered with homes, not orange blossoms, and Orange County has pretty much completely lost its namesake.

Southern California was amazing to a 12 year old who really liked plants—especially ones that provided things you could eat. The farmers markets and even the grocery store were chock full of produce I had never seen before. You have to remember that having the produce selection we now have in the grocery stores is a relatively new development. Before we moved to Southern California, much of the vegetables and even some of the fruit our family ate was either frozen or canned.

Half way through 8th grade, we moved north to the San Francisco Bay Area. While, of course, I was sad to leave my friends and school, my new (to us) house had many things we didn’t have in Irvine’s densely packed tract neighborhoods. A backyard pool, perfect for a girl who loved swimming and swam competitively. But even more exciting were the trees. This house had three special trees: a lemon tree, a grapefruit tree, and best of all, an avocado tree.

All three trees were prolific producers. And yes, it is actually possible to get sick of avocados when they are constantly part of meals from breakfast (avocado omelets—delicious with monterey jack and topped with a bit of salsa), lunch (in every kind of sandwich as a mayo replacement), dinner (on salads, as salad, topped with seafood salads, mexican-inspired dishes, etc.). The avocados were small by our grocery store standards, about the size of an egg. But they were delicious.

The lemon tree came in handy nearly year ’round. The blossoms made the back patio smell divine. If we needed a lemon, lemon juice, lemon zest, lemon as a garnish, anything you could think of using lemons for, there was always plenty for the picking so it seemed to me. They were thick skinned and yielded only a bit of sharp acidic juice with a hint of orange. I now wonder if they were the prized Meyer lemons.

My father and I loved the grapefruit tree too. It produced orange-sized grapefruits. For weekend breakfasts, I would squeeze the juice by hand and make a pitcher of the fresh juice for the family. I suspect perhaps my father made after-work or weekend cocktails for himself and my mother by adding a bit of vodka because one day an electric juicer showed up and we began having pitchers of the juice at the ready.

I don’t know who planted those three trees. It may have been our eye doctor—his family lived in the house before we did. Or maybe the family before that. The trees were old. The lemon was trimmed into a bush, but the others were large (at least to a 13 year old) trees.

After experiencing life with those wonderful trees, I’ve always wanted some of my own. The Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm currently has a peach tree, a plum tree and a baby fig tree that we planted last fall. The previous home owners neglected the peach and plum, but my dad, the son of farmers, showed me how to prune them to ensure that it not only produced fruit but also didn’t injure itself when the branches became too heavy. It rewarded us with plenty of fruit for the birds (very top of the tree), squirrels (ground and anywhere they could climb), and us (I grabbed a ladder and picked several weekends in a row). And I made delicious jam. Friends and family have already put in requests for more.

The final batch of 2012 jam, made in September with fruit I prepped and froze

The final batch of 2012 jam, made in September with fruit I prepped and froze

I’m not sure that the figs will make it to be turned into preserves. We love figs right from the tree. Maybe in a salad with a bit of cheese. With proscuito. I want to have so many figs that I am sick of them, then I will make fig jam. Last year our baby tree gave us 3 and the birds/squirrels/wind maybe another 3. But the nursery said I’d be surprised how fast it will grow. You see, this fig tree is a Texas native.

In the previous house, I attempted to grow a potted lime tree with cute little baby limes that the garden center told me would be perfect for slicing in half and shoving into the neck of a Mexican beer. I killed it, mostly because I had no clue how to take care of it. I’m guessing that it fried in the blazing Texas sun.

You see, citrus trees (and avocados too), do not really grow in north Texas. Despite our exceptionally hot weather from say March to the end of the October, our winters are unpredictable at best. We get snow (like Christmas Day 2012) that sometimes lingers. We get frost for several days in a row then it’s 80°F. Patio lemons and limes must be brought inside for the winter It’s definitely not California here. Down south, closer to Mexico, is where you must go if you want citrus to grow. Like those beautiful Texas Ruby grapefruit (had one for breakfast today—amazing).

So for now, picking lemons, limes, grapefruit and avocados from my own trees are only a dream. But peaches, plums and figs are a delicious, though completely different, substitute.