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

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Sow: better than baking

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Ingredients for life: bok choi, mint, spinach, and salad greens


Yesterday morning, I had the pleasure of meeting one of my neighbors. She lives in the next little town over and is another Duck Team 6 outreach volunteer (she is in charge of donation collection). And I surprised her with a big bag of produce that I picked minutes before she arrived.

Mindy and I don’t know each other. She and Bruce work more closely together so I had heard her name but never met her. But she had come by the house the night before to drop off a couple hundred pounds of donated dog food and she and her two kids had been in driveway (it’s in the backyard) and saw the Urban Farm. Bruce said the girls were really excited about the idea of growing food. He showed them how to pick a radish to take home and told Mindy that she should also throw the greens into that night’s salad (try it, it’s delicious if the greens are super fresh). He was happy that the kids showed so much interest, but didn’t think anything more of it, since our next door neighbor kids love looking at the garden too — he even cut them a window in the wood fence so they can see the garden and the Gs playing.

Well, that night, Mindy texted Bruce to say that her kids are bugging her to start a garden! They never had a vegetable so delicious! They wanted to get right to it on the weekend! Unfortunately, it’s too late for that, unless all they want to grow is Malbar spinach, okra, and black eyed peas! But they had the right idea.

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I had to do something to keep those kids loving vegetables. So I picked gallon ziplocs of bok choi, salad greens, and spinach. Threw in a bouquet of mint. And when Mindy showed up with more dog food yesterday morning, I had a nice surprise waiting for her. She was thrilled and knew the kids would be too. And I told her if she let me know when she was coming to drop off food, there was more where that came from (at least through the very hottest part of the summer).

Used to be when I wanted to make friends with a new neighbor, coworker, or volunteer, I’d bake something. I dare to say, that a big bag of just picked organic produce makes people even happier than cupcakes these days. You should see people’s faces light up when I share the bounty. I have my “regulars,” like Tracy, the lady who looks after the Gs. She also looks after the Urban Farm when we travel so it’s only fair that she gets a weekly delivery. Same with my sweet admin who makes my work life so easy and keeps me running smoothly. But dropping off a veggie treat to someone who’s not expecting it is almost more fun for me than the person receiving it. I love to hear how they enjoyed it and the recipes they made.

And now for your gratuitous dog photo of the day:

Duck Team 6 Volunteer Guinness taking guarding the donated dog food very seriously • photo by Bruce

Canine Duck Team 6 volunteer Guinness taking his job guarding donated dog food very seriously • photo by Bruce

Even if all you can grow is a tiny planter of herbs on a window sill, next time you go to dinner at a friend’s house, cut a tiny bouquet and tie it to the ubiquitous bottle of wine with a bright ribbon or rustic cord. I’ll bet you a quart of okra, you’ll get a similar reception.

 

 

 

Sow: perfection is overrated

When we first started the Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm, I thought that I had to do everything just right or my garden wouldn’t grow. I tried to mix up the soil and compost just so. I tried to line up the transplants so they would grow neatly and symmetrically. I tried to make sure that the little signs were lovely and durable. I tried to be very organized with my tracking.

Flash forward to Spring 2014. After a very disappointing winter growing season, I didn’t have a lot of patience or time for perfection. I bought mostly seeds, not plants, although I did buy herb and pepper transplants. I bought organic compost from a local Boy Scout named Kyle, not the fancy garden center. And I literally threw seeds into the ground and hoped for the best. Well, I did use a tool called a Garda Dibble which probably helped a lot:

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Garda Dibble: a fun and brightly colored garden tool

 

So how does the Spring 2014 garden grow?

Just fine. Well, better than fine. Our weekend guests from Toronto said how pretty it looked. (That made me very happy.) It is very green and lush, soon to be even more lush after two super ugly north Texas rain storms over the past 5 days.

Best of all, it’s supplying us with veggies a plenty with lots to give away. Our guests enjoyed many yummy meals filled with ultra fresh veggies from a kale/chard salad to spinach omelets to bok choi stir fries. And of course, lots of raw radishes!

Want to see? Here are some of my views from yesterday:

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malabar spinach growing like weeds

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beautiful rosette bok choi with a two radish photobomb

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baby bell pepper, all shiny and new

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more bell peppers, a bit bigger though

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pole beans have doubled in size since last week and are climbing away

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wacky spiky lettuce!

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yesterday’s harvest: bok choi, salad greens, kale, chard, more radishes (although they are almost done), the first jalapeño, spinach. it’s an amazing abundance!

In the fruit department, the little peaches look plentiful. And there are figs happening too! The teeny tiny figs are so small you almost can’t see them. Time to get some bamboo stakes and bird net so I can see some of them through to maturity. And maybe there will be fig jam this fall.

One of my favorite quotes for 2014 is “all great changes are preceded by chaos.” The Spring 2014 garden’s chaos is teaching me an important lesson: not only is it clear that perfection is overrated, but also sometimes what happens is just a happy accident that works out even better than you could have ever imagined. So go with the flow! Here’s to my 2014 goal of more imperfection and more happy accidents because life’s just better when you chill out.

Today’s gratuitous dog photo:

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Gidget enjoying a weekend morning belly rub.

Sow: voluntold

In the gardening world, there are plants known as “volunteers.” These sneaky little devils are not planted by human hand. They just show up and take root. They could be “planted” by the wind, dropped from a bird’s beak, carried by naughty squirrels moving yummy seeds to their eat later stash, or even hidden in the depths of a compost pile.

In my case, it’s possible they’re here to test my sanity, patience, and goodwill to plant-kind.

After my terrible luck with tomatoes for the last two years I vowed that I would NEVER EVER grow them again. And I meant it. Well, I guess I’ve been “voluntold” by the wind, birds, squirrels, compost or something else to grow them this spring. Maybe rejecting tomatoes will be the best thing that ever happened to my tomato farming. Teaches me to give up on a type of plant.

See, two volunteer tomato plants have appeared in Raised Bed #4, where I grew tomatoes last year. They’re nestled in between the thriving power greens: spinach, kale, and chard. Sneaky bastards. Of course, I didn’t have the heart to pull them out once I realized what they were. They’re doing quite well, flowering, growing,  and enjoying the new irrigation system. They even have nice red cages to protect them as they get bigger. Maybe if I continue to ignore them they’ll be fabulous. I can almost taste the ‘mater sandwiches now…

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Volunteer tomato #1, barging in on the spinach

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Volunteer tomato #2, crowding the kale

My other volunteers cheered me up. I was really sad when the beautiful Malabar spinach got hit by the first frost and croaked. Two little plants provided lots of people with green leafy goodness and looked so pretty covering the trellis at the back of Raised Bed #2 all summer and fall. Well, I guess it’s a perennial or it’s decided to be zombie spinach because it’s back. And it looks like it’s more determined than ever — the little plants seem to be doubling every day. Hopefully it doesn’t squeeze out my one surviving bush bean that’s just starting to get close to the trellis. Or bug the okra. But I know I’m going to be happy to have it around when North Texas’ crazy summer temperatures get too hot for regular spinach. I bet it makes great green drinks.

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Malabar spinach is back! Green drinks for everyone!

But I can’t really complain. Even though I wasn’t planning for them, these volunteers are all doing great. And they were 100% free. I’ll keep you posted on how they do.

 

Gratuitous dog photo of the day:

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Godiva decided to see if Gidget’s crate was good for naps. Photo by Bruce

sow: dirty gardener

 

IMG_3758Guilty as charged! It was a fantastic Labor Day long weekend for getting stuff done—with plenty of time for relaxing. Although I slept in for the first time in eons, I spent most of Monday afternoon outside digging in the dirt. Perfect timing too since it rained on and off all morning long—a lovely way to start the day lounging about and drinking coffee, although Guinness was not impressed with what the wet weather did to his morning walk.

Monday’s harvest was pretty awesome (notice the seed packet next to the pile of produce):

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The chard is the last of what I planted last fall. As you may have gathered from the seed pack, I planted more. The peppers are all still going strong as is the okra (it’s all as tall as me now so it’s getting harder to pick) and they’ll keep going until the first frost hits them. I decided to freeze the nearly 1.5 pounds of okra I gathered up since it will be nice to pull some out in the middle of winter and use it in soups or stews.

But picking wasn’t the most important part about Monday. Serious digging happened. And I’m not talking about the hole that Gidget and George have been making next to the driveway when no one’s looking.

Why? Well, because fall’s here. Ok, truthfully, fall’s not really here until September 21 or so and it’s still close to 100°F almost every day, but it’s time to get fall seeds in the ground. So I started by soaking some snow pea and beet seeds on Saturday evening. The snow peas are already sprouting and they were planted on Sunday afternoon!

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Monday, I dug, added compost and soil, pulled weeds. moved stuff around. And I did a lot of squatting which is why my body was a bit sore yesterday—and my brain was too tired after work to blog.

But not too tired to get one more thing done. Bruce and I worked on clearing out the flooded stock tank (#3) last night. I used about 1/2 of the dirt to augment the other beds and tanks on Monday, then he finished clearing the rest of the soil out into two wheelbarrows. We added three bags of crushed stone, then tested the draining (works fine now). So we loaded the 1/2 of the dirt that was left back in and I’ll get more dirt on the weekend so I can plant carrots and radishes.

Can you tell that I’m excited to get new stuff in the ground? Here’s what what I planted on Sunday (all seeds are from Botanical Interests):

  • Oregon sugar pod II snow peas
  • French filet bush beans (had to plant more since I think the birds may have eaten some of the seeds I planted a few weeks ago)
  • Gourmet blend beets (check out the seed pack above)
  • Detroit red beets
  • Five color silverbeet Swiss chard
  • Nero Tuscana kale
  • Red velvet leaf lettuce
  • Qs special medley mesclun
  • Cilantro
  • Italian parsley
  • Bok choi

Here’s what’s sticking around from the spring planting:

  • Malabar spinach (going crazy still)
  • Oregano (moved into a planter)
  • Thyme (moved into a planter)
  • Mint
  • Jalapeño peppers
  • Anaheim peppers
  • Clemson spineless okra
  • Orange bell peppers
  • Green bell peppers
  • Marigolds (moved to the bed with the fall tomatoes, they help attract bees)
  • Black diamond watermelon (a gift from a friend that is finally just starting to produce watermelons)
  • some of the basil (see below for details)

My arugula patio planter experiment is going very well. We’ve been harvesting handfuls for sandwiches and burgers—it’s really yummy. Definitely going to do it again next summer and maybe try a couple of additional planters to increase the volume.

I picked up some sprout seeds over the weekend and will be trying out growing those on the window sill just as soon as I get some quart mason jars (I thought I had some, but I only have 1/2 quart jars). I really love them on sandwiches and am a little worried about all of the illnesses that store-bought sprouts seem to have. (The instructions explain how to properly disinfect the seeds so there is little chance of getting sick.)

The fall tomatoes are cranking away. There’s fruit on the Indigo Rose and Celebrity plants, flowers on the rest and I’m already dreaming of tomato sandwiches and caprese salads. The warm days and cooler nights appear to be working their wonders. I pulled a tomato (sweet 100 so Bruce won’t care) and a bell pepper (green) plant that were formerly in the flooded stock tank and really didn’t appreciate being moved. They weren’t doing well, so it seemed a better idea to use the space to plant something else.

I’ve had an exceptional season for basil. I’ve made pesto several times, frozen some, given tons away. Last Thursday I gave away 10 1-gallon bags of the stuff to some coworkers:

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I love basil and it’s so gratifying to grow—that’s why it makes me so happy to share it. While I have had great plans to make another couple of batches of pesto to freeze (I have everything I need, just need to do it), I haven’t gotten around to it yet. But I did make a lovely basil-watermelon-feta salad from a recipe one of the basil beneficiaries suggested (thanks, Lauren):

 

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Martha Stewart’s Basil-Watermelon-Feta Salad

 

It was pretty and delicious and I plan to make it many times—I even made a small batch of it for our work lunches today.

The basil is also doing double duty as housing. If you look carefully at the photo below, you will see the toad that has lived in Raised Bed #4 all summer. He arrived when the tomato jungle was making tons of shade and has stuck around. Last night, I saw that he’s made a little hut from the mulch around the basil. Hopefully it keeps him hidden from Gidget (she keeps looking for him, perhaps because she has a taste for toads).

 

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Toad in a hole

But as cute as it is, a toad isn’t a dog.  And it won’t satisfy your desire to see gratuitous G photos from the long weekend. Here are a couple of my favorites of George and Gidget, who are quickly becoming best friends:

 

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George has a ball in his mouth that Gidget really wants

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Hope you’re having a great week!

Sow: distributing wealth

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Big bunch of fresh basil becomes a tiny jar of dried basil.

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But I still had more basil so I loaded it back up again.

The great basil dehydration experiment has been a great success. And very enlightening. Never again will I wonder why such a small bottle of a spice or herb costs so much. You saw how much basil I picked on Sunday. It had to be taken off the stems, washed, spun dry, then dehydrated for about 2.5 hours. Basically 1/2 of that became what’s in the tiny bottle in the photo above. That bottle isn’t full so I’m continuing to dehydrate to fill that bottle and hopefully at least one other the same size.

I also brought one of my work pals a huge bouquet of basil:

basil bouquet: like flowers but edible

basil bouquet: like fancy flowers but edible

It caused quite a stir—before I knew it, I was dispensing gardening advice since another coworker has been having bad luck with her basil. And by the end of the day, the bouquet recipient’s boss was looking for some basil too. Luckily I have plenty more where that came from so I can bring them each a bag (though not probably as bountiful as the basil bouquet) tomorrow.

The malabar spinach is also growing like crazy so I brought a bag (repurposed from the yuppie hippie grocery store) for another coworker who is working hard to eat right and exercise.  Picking the bagful didn’t really make much of a dent in the vines:

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big bag full of spinach

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Malabar spinach vines are surpassing the trellis

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Malabar spinach and the fall tomatoes

There’s lots happening in the garden so I also brought a small bag of okra to the basil bouquet recipient. She’s a fan of okra (I checked since it’s such a polarizing vegetable) and was thrilled to get some. I hope she made something delicious with it:

paper bag of okra with some red jalapeños thrown in for fun

paper bag of okra with some red jalapeños thrown in just for fun

I’m really loving the okra, but it will be at it’s end fairly soon. So this morning I planted the fall bush beans:

Fall bush beans got planted today

Fall bush beans: chopstick is for making a hole for the two beans that need to get planted in each hole.

I also saw a familiar friend. I haven’t named him yet because I wasn’t sure he’d stick around (or not end up in George’s mouth). Got any suggestions for a name?

My toad pal. He hangs out near one of the raised beds.

Look carefully for my toad pal. He hangs out near one of the raised beds.

And I’m continuing to hit the reset button: Bruce and I went to the gym again tonight for more cardio and abs/planks. Gotta say that I’m feeling it. Well, at least I know that my muscles are remembering what to do.

Have a great night!