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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So: lollipop moments

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Sometimes the things that we might think of as throw away moments can be a big deal. You know what I mean. A smile at a stranger in line next to you. A casual chat with a distant coworker in the elevator of your office tower. Opening the door for a mom with her hands full of toddler and shopping bags. Helping a contractor lift a huge compressor into his truck. Letting a neighbor know that they’ve got a damaged sprinkler that’s flooding their yard. Sharing a chuckle. Letting someone else go first. You’ve got the idea.
We all have the power to make life better for those around us. All it takes is a tiny bit of effort, hardly more than you’d be spending otherwise.

And in case you don’t believe me, watch Drew Dudley’s little video from a few years ago:
One of my coworkers shared the TED talk with me back in August and I finally watched it yesterday. It got hidden in the recesses of my inbox, I’m ashamed to say. But it was a lovely thing to watch. It was an excellent reminder that when it all comes down to it, it’s not always the big things that make a big difference.
I have a far-away friend who lights up a room when she walks into it. She is one of those people who is always trying to do those little things that make life so much better for everyone else. You just feel better knowing that she’s around. Maybe that’s because she doesn’t shine, she sparkles. And she shares those sparkles liberally, almost like she’s covering a cake with sprinkles. She doesn’t just have your back, she’s got you covered.
It’s rare that you ever see that sparkle dim. But this has been a very tough year for her. She’s done her best to keep on keepin’ on because that’s just who she is. I’m sure it’s been tough. But one thing I’ve noticed is she’s always refueled by other people’s kindnesses towards her. Even the smallest thing can bring back her sparkle and allow her to keep making the world a better place for others.
What if the person you smiled at while you were picking up your coffee was like my friend? What if the tiny effort required for you to push the corners of your lips up could make the difference for more than just you and that person? Or what if it was like Drew Dudley’s lollipop moment story? Would you pass on some caring? Or would you pass on caring?
Today’s gratuitous dog photo wants you to know she thinks I’ve been typing way too slow tonight. Gidget’s ready to go to bed:
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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: 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

 

Sow: urban farm update

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Lots of amazing stuff is happening on the Urban Farm. We’ve had amazing weather and rain! June’s been cooler than normal at night, but we’re back into the 90°s during the day. Everything’s looking quite jungle-y and very green. The blackeyed peas are getting bigger. The okra is producing and we’ve had a couple of meals from it. The feral tomatoes are starting to turn red. The Malabar spinach is covering the trellises. The basil seems to grow as fast as I cut it. I’ve been picking peppers right and left. It’s a great time of year where I’m not buying produce at the store, except for fruit. And I’ve been giving it away like crazy.

Here are a few photos of what’s been going on:

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We’ve had several weeks of beets now. The Detroit reds have won for best all around flavor so they’re the only ones I’ll grow in the fall. 

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I’ve harvested about 10 of the feral Sweet 100s. After all the tomatoes are harvested I’m going to leave the plants in the ground and see if I can get a second harvest in the fall.

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The feral tomato plants covered with bird net so the birds don’t eat all of the tomatoes

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Since I didn’t know I was growing tomatoes, I had to rig up a way to keep the bird net in place. Hooks on the fence, a couple of tomato cages and some bricks were my solution.

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Okra is well underway

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Flowers on the green bean vines

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Bell peppers are going strong

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A big black and white bug seems to like green bean leaves

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This weekend our pal Fred is going to make some of his famous jalapeño poppers using these beauties. They are amazingly delicious bacon wrapped, cheese stuffed jalapeños that are grilled on the BBQ. I will harvest Friday.

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Lots of jalapeños

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The tomatillos look like patio lanterns. I can’t wait to make salsa verde. The plants are probably at least 4 ft tall. You can see poblano peppers in the background.

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This shot of the blackeyed peas is about a week old. They have doubled in since then.

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Tiny tomatoes turning red

And for today’s gratuitous dog photo of the day, here are my bathing beauties enjoying their pool:

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Sew: ball of confusion

Like many women of a certain age, my love affair with Pinterest waxes and wains. It’s directly proportional to the amount of time that I need to spend waiting for something or someone. It is a major time vortex. If I’m not careful, I can be in there for hours, pinning recipes I’ll never make and holiday crafts that I’ll remember long after Christmas is past. It’s a late night guilty pleasure, much like some lovely chocolate or some nice leftover snagged out of the fridge.

Pinterest is also my messy filing cabinet. My armchair travel agent. My restaurant critic. My dreams of crafty magnificence. My tentative plans for the big 50th birthday trip I’m planning for Bruce. And of course, a slew of sewing projects for the day when I finally allow myself to get onto the sewing machine and mess around.

There’s also a board devoted to the Gs. And to this blog, though I am massively behind on my pinning (sorry, Frances, and everyone else who loves Pinterest and would prefer to find my updates there).

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Gidget the black and white dog with her partner-in-crime George • photo by Bruce

As you may have gathered, Gidget, the newest G, is the youngest and remains to this day a “handful”. We thought we were done with her  crate (which takes up far too much space in our office/tv room), but every time we put it in the attic, she shows us that she really needs to be in solitary confinement when there are no humans in the house. I assume her four legged siblings are too busy napping to administer any discipline or tell her that she’s an idiot if she pisses off the two-leggeds with the opposable thumbs that can open the magic cold food box, the treat cabinet and the food bin.

In any case, Gidget needs to be busy. And don’t let that sweet and innocent look fool you, she likes to tear stuff apart. Maybe “de-stuff” is more accurate. Dog beds. Dog toys. Stuffed animals. She loves to make it snow fluff all over the house.

So I decided that a ball of confusion might help her with her drive for mayhem. While it’s not really a “sew” project, it’s as close as I’ve gotten in a while:

8. For a dog who loves to tear apart stuffed animals, make a durable activity ball with a Hol-ee rubber ball, scraps of fabric, and treats.

So first, you get a Hol-ee rubber ball (thanks, Bruce!):

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Then you need strips of fleece or some other durable-ish fabric that Gidget won’t destroy immediately. I chose my funky dotted (yet extremely hole-y) bathrobe that I got for free from Ulta when I purchased a whackload of ever-so-necessary cosmetic products around Mother’s Day, Christmas or another important retail holiday.

 

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Next I broke out the wedding gift sewing box that truthfully hasn’t gotten much use in 19 years, except when Bruce needs to fix something of his (sorry, Mom, you know I’m hopeless as a housewife):

 

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Then I started shredding up the bathrobe. The good thing is the sash was already cut to desired thinness. It just needed to be cut into more manageable pieces. The rest of the robe was another story. Let’s just say, we have enough bathrobe to make another ball or restful with clean strips once the current strips are too slobber covered to restuff.

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First strip is wound up and inserted into the Hol-ee ball:

 

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Crammed full of carefully coiled bathrobe strips, ready for Gidget to rip out:

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Once the ball was ready to go, everyone except Guinness seemed very interested because it was a new toy:

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Gidget seemed interested:
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But in the end, the leader of the pack decided to test it out first to make sure it was suitable:

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She was pretty proud of herself:IMG_5286

Since Sunday, there have been strips of cloth all over the house. I keep stuffing them back in. And sweeping up the fringes. While Gidget is interested in this ball of confusion, it appears that Godiva and George are the biggest fans. (Guinness does not play with toys at all.)

And if you’re expecting a gratuitous dog photo today, I’m afraid that you’ve gotten so many in this post that you’re not going to appreciate another. So instead, I leave you with a gratuitous garden photo that’s foreshadowing:

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Black eyed peas: they’re what’s up next

 

Sow: tree rat vendetta

This is not an ode to the cute, furry and omnipresent squirrel in all its varying colors (ours in North Texas are gray, by the way). If you want that, you’d better go right now to Evil Squirrel’s Nest and have a whirl around that blog. Tons of cartoons and photos. Get your ultra cute tree rat fill. I’m not publicizing those critters here.

No, this is an angry rant. A declaration of war from normally peace-loving me:

“Ok, tree rats, there are now 5 peaches on the huge peach tree. As of Friday, the branches were packed with little developing peaches. Now, there are green peaches all over the yard with one or two bites out of them. If you’re going to steal them and eat them before they’re ripe, you need to finish them. And when you do finish them, you guys keep leaving the pits where Gidget can get them. She’s going to break a tooth just like Guinness did a couple of years ago. We do not need another vet bill for a slab fracture. So as of tonight, every time I see you near the garden, on the fence, in the bird bath, anywhere in the yard, I’m opening the back door and yelling ‘Squirrel!’ Enjoy the exercise, you little bastards.”

I am not kidding.

I am furious there will be no 2014 peach jam. It was going to be the Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm’s fabulously delicious Christmas gift. And I was so excited about spending an afternoon cleaning and peeling peaches, prepping them for freezing (it is too hot to make jam in North Texas in July), then finally making jam one afternoon in November when it’s cool enough to break out the canner, boiling water, sterilized jars, and cooling racks. It’s a production that I look forward to. It’s two afternoons of fun. And they’ve been stolen away from me. Bastards.

2013 Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm Precious Peach Jam. Little did I know how precious it would be in 2014.

2013 Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm Precious Peach Jam. Little did I know how precious it would be in 2014. Luckily we have two big jars left.

After my angry post yesterday, my Facebook friends have made quite an assortment of suggestions about how to ensure we have peach jam in 2015. Better dog training. Crown of thorns attached to tree. Metal object hanging from the tree that you switch up when the squirrels aren’t as afraid. BB guns. BB guns with scopes. Air guns. (Remember, we’re in Texas so firepower solves problems, y’all.)

I have defended the squirrels from the Gs since we’ve moved here. No more. I’m thinking the dogs are finally going to get their wish and taste squirrel for the first time.

Here is the gratuitous blood-thirsty squirrel hunter photo of the day:

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Gidget on Saturday between three dog beds, minus their covers (which were in the dryer). Photo by Bruce

 

 

 

Sow: long weekend landscaping

It’s been a long day with a very tight deadline for work, so I’m up late and writing more as a little wind down, despite my laptop feeling like it’s overheating from the exuberant pounding I’ve been giving it all day. Whenever I am away from the office for a week, there’s usually some sort of fallout. I expected today to go exactly the way it did and I was not surprised.

On the plus side, the weekend was a long one (Memorial Day here in the USA), so today, you’re getting lots of photos. First up was our long weekend landscaping project which fortunately was not hampered by all the (much needed) rain that we’ve been getting since Sunday.

A few days ago, I mentioned that Bruce and I were very unimpressed at the high cost of the type of patio planters we were looking for so we looked to the Urban Farm for a little inspiration: Stock Tanks! These mini stock tanks from Tractor Supply Company are absolutely perfect for some patio accents. Now we just need to find some patio lanterns (ah, a wee bit of Canadian content for you hosers).

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Look at me all covered with dirt and happy as can be. We picked up two tiny stock tanks for the new patio and put blue agave and lemon coral sedum in them. I like ’em! • Photo by Bruce

And guess where they're made...

And guess where they’re made…and if you’re wondering what the blue thing is in the driveway, it’s Gidget’s and Godiva’s wading pool • photo by Bruce

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Mini stock tanks in context after the first of the weekend’s rain storms. At least all of the plants, the grass, and the Urban Farm are super happy with all the water. Our new rain gauge said we received 1/2 of an inch yesterday.

Lots of good stuff to harvest yesterday…and more today.

The gigantic harvests are starting. Lots of good stuff to harvest yesterday…and still more today. From left: power greens mix (spinach, chard, kale), big bag of mint, a huge head of curly lettuce, a bell pepper, a bunch of beets, two jalapeños, and a big bowl of salad greens. 

As a special treat, it’s gratuitous dog photos galore!

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George could finally relax and sleep through the night again. • Photo by Bruce

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And here’s a little update on my sweet pal Murphy: here he is with his new sister Harley. He looks pretty content, don’t you think? • photo by Debbie