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: live, learn

I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m not very pleased with the Urban Farm at the moment, although it looks nice from the mulching two weekends ago. (Side note: We’re getting really good at mulching—this morning we mulched the front flower beds ourselves. Oddly, lots of cars slowed down to watch me spread the mulch around. I can’t figure out why. Either they didn’t think it was an ok thing to do on Sunday morning or they were shocked to see homeowners doing their own yard work. I really enjoyed it—and it gave me a good look at the growth of all the perennials and shrubs planted last year.)

This fall growing season does not seem to be going very well yet. My kale seeds never sprouted. The two kinds of beet seeds I planted have not turned into a bounty of beet sprouts, much to my (and Bruce’s too) disappointment.  Eating lovely roasted yellow farm-grown Ontario beets last weekend made me yearn for beet harvest time again. I guess next weekend I’ll plant some more seeds and see what happens.

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this is what I’m dreaming of

After a chat with one of the horticultural experts at North Haven Gardens today, I’ve decided not to move forward with growing my own blueberries. I just don’t think we have enough space for two bushes that need their own 4″ x 8 ” raised bed. I’m worried about crowding the fig tree that hasn’t given us any figs yet. Sorry birds!

And then there’s my nemesis: the tomato plants. They’ve made me want to rip them all out of the ground and throw them in the composter. They are not looking very well. So far I’ve pulled three. There are four more left.

But before you think the worst: don’t think I’m giving up on the Urban Farm, because I’m not.

Lots of good stuff is happening, but at this point, I’d like to think of my approach as realistic. I’m getting schooled by the climate—and maybe even though this is my second fall season, I’m not the best student. I love digging in the dirt and seeing the results of weekends spent outside. But I’m thinking that I’m going to stop experimenting with tomatoes. I may grow Sweet 100s or some other kind of cherry or grape tomatoes in a large pot, but I’m going to leave the big juicy and heirloom ones to the professionals. I can pick up delicious ones at the hippie-yuppie grocery store. Or from a real farmer at a farmers market.  So I don’t see some improvement in the tomato plants I planted in July by next weekend, I’m pulling them out next weekend and planting collard greens. Or something else that likes fall/winter in North Texas. Maybe even more lettuce since after yesterday’s rain storm, none of ours looks too great. The bok choi looks puny, snow peas are still small. {cue the violins, right?}

But the okra? Still going strong. Same with the basil. Same with the peppers. Same with that wild and crazy Malabar spinach which now is thickly covering the trellis since we haven’t harvested any for over a week—it also has lovely tiny purple berries. Bush beans are flowering. Chard seeds have made 5 viable plants. Stuff is happening, it’s just taking it’s own sweet time. And I’m not as patient as I should be.

After the kale seeds didn’t happen, I picked up 6 kale plants at North Haven Gardens today — 4 Nero kale (the Italian one that looks like palm trees) but also 2 Russian kale with their pointy leaves and purple-y veins. The parsley seeds didn’t sprout either so I grabbed two Italian flat parsley transplants. It’s funny because the cilantro seeds are doing their thing and I’m excited to see the results. But I guess you just never know if conditions were right, the birds were hungry while I was at work, whatever.

Tomorrow morning, I’m going to fertilize everything and see what happens.

And with that, I leave you with the gratuitous dog photo of the day:

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Godiva also likes to see what happens, usually from a human vantage point

Enjoy your Sunday evening!

 

 

Sow: mulch better

Sorry, folks. I know I’ve been MIA for much longer than normal. My feeble excuse is work’s been pretty intense and snuck away to the Great White North for a much needed girls’ weekend with two of my pals.

While I was gone, Kate from the yummy foodie blog Tea and Tamarind nominated sowsewso for the Shine On Award. (I’ll take care of the formalities of accepting later. Maybe on the weekend.) Thank you, Kate! I appreciate your kudos and I thank you for the nudge that got me to write today’s post.

But in the interest of catching you up on what’s been happening on the Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm, I need to show you a ton of photos:

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ugh. untidy garden.

Summer’s been rough in the aesthetics department. The pine straw mulch looked great for a while, but then it seemed to help the grass grow back in the places where we didn’t want it.

So we started ripping up the landscaping cloth

So we started ripping up the landscaping cloth around the raised beds and stock tanks. Notice who appears to be doing most of the work.

 

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I read that many people use newspaper to more successfully smother grass and weeds, so we got several coworkers to save their papers for us

once we got all the old stuff up, we could put down the newspaper

once we got all the old stuff up, we could put down the newspaper

then it had to be soaked so that it stuck to the ground better

then it had to be soaked so that it stuck to the ground better. again notice it’s Bruce doing all of the work.

mulch applied over the wet newspaper

mulch applied over the wet newspaper. it already looks better, right?

 

we ended up doing about 1/2 of the garden on the first day because we ran out of mulch

we ended up doing about 1/2 of the garden on the first day because we ran out of mulch. still it looked much better.

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it’s a little hard to see everything, but once it was done, it looked awesome. thanks to Bruce for all the help.

It’s been about two weeks since we completed the mulching. I’d like to say that the grass/weed mixture is 100% smothered and the mulch looks perfect. I’m afraid that this weekend, I’m going to need to pull out some grass. But still if I’m vigilant, I’ll be able to keep things looking nice.

That’s important since it’s patio season again in North Texas. Time for sitting on the patio enjoying adult beverages with friends as we watch the 4Gs and their doggie pals romp around the yard. I can’t wait. It’s really lovely.

As for the urban farm, my kale seeds haven’t sprouted and after a few weeks of waiting and watching the chard sprout and thrive, I’m giving up and picking up some transplants this weekend. Bok choi is growing well. Beets are a little disappointing so I’m going to plant more seeds. Beans are doing their thing and flowering so I’m hoping for a bumper crop. Various salad greens are growing well.

Tomatoes are a disappointment once again and may get pulled out. They are a complete mystery to me. I tried everything, fertilized as directed, watered, and the weather wasn’t that hot. But some of the plants are flowering again so maybe there’s hope.

Snow peas seem to be taking their own sweet time, but maybe they don’t like being so close to the okra. The okra may get pulled although it could still keep producing until the frost kills it. I’ve been giving it away and I have a huge bag of it in the freezer. I’d love to make some pickled okra but that is a little more of a time commitment than I can do. I’d like to get some collard greens growing. Peppers are going crazy. Basil too. Radishes are turning into cute little seedlings. Malabar spinach is thriving and so pretty. And the peaches I froze back in the spring are reminding me that it’s time to make jam.

You’ve probably gathered that I haven’t been spending much time with urban farm. Hopefully I get a bit of time out there this weekend.

And now it’s bedtime.  So I bid you goodnight and leave you with a gratuitous (and nap-tastic) 4G photo:

"hey people, where are you gonna sleep?"

“hey people, where are you gonna sleep?”

 

 

 

 

Sow: happy birthday, fig tree

One year old!

Congratulations, fig tree! You’re a year old.

After yesterday’s lengthy post crashed and I lost it the first time, I forgot to mention in the rewrite that our little fig tree has been a member of the Mortroski Mid-century Urban Farm for a full year now.

Whooohooo!

Last year at this time, it had about three leaves and really only two branches. It was about 1 foot tall. I was pretty proud of it though because I got it for free since my favorite garden center had a crazy loyalty program that gave you Canadian Tire-type money whenever you bought something during their promotional period.

You could only cash in that fake money at certain times. Because last year was the start of the MM Urban Farm, I bought a lot of stuff. Truckloads of dirt, compost, transplants, seeds, raised bed kits, organic fertilizer, worm castings, gloves. I very well may have been North Haven Gardens’ best customer in 2013.  And I held off purchasing that tree until I knew I could get it gratis.

With not much care, just a bit of organic fruit tree fertilizer in the spring and water when the sprinklers are run, the tiny fig tree has since doubled in height and is getting a nice set of leaves. Unfortunately, the birds ate all of the 12 tiny figs it produced back in the spring so no figs for us. That is why, if you have recently posted about your lovely fig trees and jam/preserve making or shown pictures of delicious fig salads, desserts and appetizers, I may have seemed a tiny bit, ok, VERY, jealous.

While I wasn’t planning on a bumper fig crop or anything like that, I was hoping for a small taste of the bounty to come.

Damn birds. Hope they enjoyed the figs, though that’s doubtful since they ate them before they were barely developed and definitely not sweet. They also ate all of the figs off the neighbor’s tree that I occasionally sampled from in the past in the name of research. (How else would I know what a Celeste fig tastes like? The varieties that grow in North Texas aren’t the same as the ones shipped to the yuppie-hippie grocery store. Those are mostly from California.)

Can’t wait to see what year 2 looks like for the little tree, especially since George is no longer interested in it.

Ok, little tree, let’s get growing and producing more figs, shall we?

Have a great day, everyone!

Sow: move along mosquitos

Mosquitos love me to the point of leaving huge welts that last a long, long time. Big red marks that fade very, very slowly. They look ugly for a long time too.

It’s been a problem for me my whole life whenever I lived in a buggy place. When I was a little girl living in Indiana, our day camp had a sleep over for the and the next morning they had to call my mom to have her pick me up. Not only was I covered with bites, I also had a fever. The mosquitos had made me sick! And yes, like every other kid in the camp, I was doused with OFF before retiring to my sleeping bag. Didn’t work. Unfortunate, because I loved camping.

For whatever reason the mosquitos have always loved me. Maybe my blood is just tastier? Sweeter? Redder? Or maybe my skin is thinner and easier to bite?

Now that I live in the West Nile Virus capital of Texas (not really but you’d never know it from listening to the news about the West Nile epidemic we’re experiencing), I’ve taken matters into my own hands. The city threatens to aerial spray unless everyone does their part. So I do mine.

Remember, the Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm is all organic so I can’t Napalm the backyard with any old chemicals. And the 3G Network spends a fair amount of time back there too. But I need it to work so I can enjoy digging in the dirt and sitting on the patio on a warm breezeless evening.

Here’s my answer:

cedarcide

 

Using a hand-held fertilizer spreader, I covered the entire backyard with CedarCide this morning before work as George chased Godiva around the yard, stopping only to shred a toy. It was the perfect day to do it since it was a bit breezy and that helps with the spreading (and keeps the little bastards from biting me since they can’t fly if there’s wind).

Last year I had terrific luck with CedarCide after learning about it at North Haven Gardens. It lasts quite a while, smells pretty nice, and it doesn’t bother the Gs (or their humans) one bit. After this application, I’ll probably need to apply again in a month or so depending upon how much rain and wind we get.

Standing water is a no-no if you are trying to prevent the mozzies so the birdbaths get dumped and refilled daily. All four rain barrels also get dosed with Mosquito Dunks once a month. Don’t they look like little donuts?

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Yes, they are chemicals, but apparently the more natural ways of treating the water do not work nearly as well.

As for the Gs, they get monthly heartworm prevention medicine. Guinness was heartworm positive when we found him and had to go through treatment twice to get rid of the disgusting, murderous heartworms. It was bad enough that it was super expensive, but it was horrible for him to fight through. No walks for months. Poor Godiva didn’t enjoy having her big pal so sick for so long.

Just thinking about mosquitos makes me feel itchy and I’m inside! They are definitely one part of outdoor life in North Texas that I could do without.

Do you have mosquitos or other nasty bugs where you live? What do you do about them?

Sow: water

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One rain barrel is empty and the way things are going the next one will be empty soon. Good thing we have three viable rain barrels. It helps when we are only allowed to water two days per week (ok, you can water by hand more often).

Hopefully the rain storms will come to Dallas again before the weather heats up. It’s been a wet night here in Greensboro, NC where I am visiting our other office for a meeting tomorrow. I bet it will be beautifully green tomorrow morning. But no rain tomorrow night when I’m traveling back — the little commuter jets are too small for a good storm to be anything but scary. Hello barf bag!

Everything on the urban farm is doing amazingly well. I am looking forward to picking snow peas this weekend. And beets. And radishes. And of course plenty of lettuce, chard, and spinach. It should be a great photo!

Nerd that I am I read the latest issues of Urban Farm and Texas Gardener magazines on the plane this afternoon. Just haven’t had the time to catch up on my reading lately for some reason…

PS: If you haven’t watched this video, you really should. I promise it will be worth your time, whether you are a new graduate or graduation was ages ago:

Sow: nice surprise

Last night’s demo/floor prep was mostly as expected, dusty, dirty, noisy, and without event, except when all my clothes fell on the floor during the closet “organizer” demo that took place in my closet. Then it became filled with swearing and scrambling to put together a fix — yeah, Bruce! No big whoop, just have some dusty stuff to wear (I’m sure 47 years of dust and grime will brush off and not stick) and clothes lying on the lounge sectional, in a guest room closet and in piles throughout the house. That’s ok, Guinness likes soft things to sleep on, everyone is ok, everything’s fine. I’ll probably put it all back tonight or at least put the stuff that can hang high enough to stay out of the floor dudes’ way on Saturday.

While I was making dinner last night and Bruce was getting the tools and stuff ready for last night’s demo fun, the door bell rang twice. Since no one usually just drops by, even the neighbors text us first, we figured someone was selling something, which meant they were ignoring our No Soliciting sign. The Gs went insane and threw themselves against the front window when the person didn’t leave so Bruce had to investigate.

It turns out it was actually a woman from the neighborhood association (kind of like a homeowner’s association, but without the annoying rules and restrictions and set up mostly for social reasons to foster community in the neighborhood). She came by to tell us that….drum roll please….we won the Yard of the Month for May! What an amazingly nice surprise, especially since the inside of the house looks so terrible at the moment!

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The Mortroski Midcentury has the Yard of the Month for May and the sign to prove it — thank you NPNA and Calloway’s!

She’ll be back to take photos for our neighborhood e-newsletter today (light was not good for photos at 6:45 pm last night — too bright), but Bruce took a few this morning.

Here’s what it used to look like before we moved in (image is approximately 2.5 years ago, massively Photoshopped photo courtesy of the listing agent):

front of 10950 rosser road

Before (photo credit: seller’s real estate agent)

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After (photo credit: Bruce)

You can see we replaced the mailbox, front door (added side lights and windows, painted it red), added a new porch light, new windows, new water-restriction friendly landscaping, removed a bunch of grass, pulled out the crumbling brick “planters” and the hollies. A lot has happened since we moved in!

Unfortunately for our neighbors, all of the exterior changes were done over a period of about 6 months, maybe longer even longer (I’ll wait for Bruce to correct me and then update this post), so the front of the house really looked bad for a lot of that time. When it looked really bad, we joked that we would definitely win for the Worst Yard of the Month — I even thought about making a parody sign to acknowledge our eyesore sweet eyesore.

But now the house has become a landmark of sorts for the neighborhood. We’re “that house with the red pot in front” or “the house with the red door and the red chairs on the porch.” It’s great for delivery people and people visiting for the first time. Can’t miss us now!

In case you’re curious, here are a few photos of the plants:

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The landscaping is all native Texas perennials so stuff happens all year ’round. If you look carefully you’ll see a doggie in the window next to the flag (it’s George).

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Other side, more Texas perennials and that’s a striped agave in the red pot. A nod to the Great White North with the Muskoka chairs (aka Adirondack chairs) on the porch.

Bruce and I pulled down the crumbling brick “planters” (really not wide enough nor deep enough for mature holly bushes with trunks 10 inches in diameter so they were busting out through the sides) one hot spring day (my main job was hauling the brick to the backyard using my garden cart where eventually we loaded into a dumpster some months later—Guinness and Godiva liked the odds of furry creatures living in the brick ruins and were sad that the bricks went away). But first we had to cut down the hollies (not as easy or as fun as you might think) the summer before getting the windows installed. They grew back despite being cut to the ground. So we had to chop them up again before the planter demo. And heavy equipment eventually had to be used to pull them out (though not by us).

Once we realized that we were completely over our heads with figuring out the landscaping plan ourselves, we attended a session at North Haven Gardens on landscaping and meeting Berrit from Roundtree Landscaping last summer. We had planned to get a plan, then install everything by ourselves. Berrit listened to our desires to have a lower impact, native landscape while minimizing the amount of grass we had to water during the hot Texas summers and drew up a plan that’s a lot like what ended up being planted. She also gently suggested that we should leave the sprinkler moving and planting to the professionals (she was right). She was fantastic to work with and we’re so glad that we worked with her.

You can’t see it but in the enlarged planting beds, the Roundtree crew changed the sprinklers to drip irrigation and the sprinklers for the front grass to NP rotors, a type of sprinkler that gets more water into the ground verses spraying in the air. They planted small plants since they will just get bigger and spread as the years progress. Everything was planted in late August 2012, except for a bunch of daffodils which were planted in February 2013.

The trees are a lot happier too. They’re getting watered deeper and better so we hope they’ll stay out of our plumbing (a big problem down here) from now on.

It’s so nice to be recognized for the changes in the yard, but truthfully, we didn’t do it to get recognized, but to make our house look more inviting and more our style. Like everything we’ve done to the Mortroski Midcentury (with the exception of the big plumbing mess), we did it because we wanted to. We’re trying to bring back some style to the place. So far so good.

PS: Guinness and I are going to the vet at 4 pm as planned. He’s still not ok and I’ve been giving him rimadyl (anti-inflammatory that he has been prescribed for his back and neck issues caused by wrestling with George and chasing Godiva) for the pain. He’s eating and drinking, wagging his tail, etc., but tried to bite Bruce when Bruce was poking around in his mouth. There’s something that hurts and it needs to get looked at. Update tomorrow.

Sow: spring fever

Although it’s a bit gloomy-gray out, when George and I went out to pick lunch this morning by headlamp, I knew that I would have a hard time being inside today. So much so that, even though I had time for a break, I dared not go outside. I might roll the windows down and drive. And I might not come back, as crazy-stricken with spring fever as I am.

While work is fun and cool stuff is happening inside, there’s so much going down at the Urban Farm. Tomato flowers! Lettuce that has doubled in size! Tufts of bok choi! Beets that need to be thinned! Carrot shoots coming up in neat little rows (thanks, seed tape)! An almost full grown radish! Rose bushes greening up and getting leaves! Pea shoots starting to reach toward the trellises! Garlic sprouts! (All exclamation point worthy!)

I’ve been dreaming of planting jalapeño and bell pepper transplants. Getting the spring basil plants in the ground. Figuring out what to do with the patio pots (edible or just pretty? that is my question). I want to feel the soil on my hands (and face) and the sun blazing on the back of my neck. I want to yell at George for trying to catch butterflies and Guinness for trying to catch bees. I want to catch Godiva digging the hole she shares with George. I want to bask in the flowering beauty of the plum and peach trees now that Bruce added a gate to that part of the fence. I want to get the composter going  and turn those garden and kitchen scraps into this fall’s fertilizer. I want to wear flip flops and sit on the patio, cool drink in hand, watching the plants grow and the Gs roll in the grass. I even want to pull weeds in the front yard again.

(I’m itching to get outside if you can’t tell.)

Two walks through the neighborhood each day with Bruce and the 3G Network plus some weeknight watering and limited poking around in the raised beds isn’t doing it for me. I need more. And since my allergies aren’t going completely insane anymore (touch wood, right?) I am even more ready to plant some stuff and enjoy the outdoors before it becomes The Surface of the Sun (aka North Texas’ version of summer).

Luckily for me, it’s almost the weekend. Well, it’s Thursday, the Gateway to the Weekend(TM) and this week, it’s my Friday. You see, on Monday, I decided to give myself a little gift. I’m treating myself to a vacation day and spending Friday doing what I wanted to do. So I’m prepping for Spring, starting with a much needed pedicure to get ready for sandals and open toed shoes, then doing a little bit of wardrobe refreshing, topping it off with a visit to North Haven Gardens for some transplants. (I could do without the shopping but I really must go. I have a lot of client visits coming up and I need to look sharp. Ugh.) A perfect day that hopefully will go as planned and the shopping gods will deliver lovely work clothes and great bargains to me in record time.

So I’m getting up at 5 am as usual tomorrow. Starting my day as early as I can. No rest for the wicked. Or the spring feverish.

 

 

Sow: happy hour

After work today, Bruce and I went to a happy hour at North Haven Gardens, our favorite garden center. Yes, happy hour. Yes, the kind with snacks and wine. And tons of plants. We were surprised to see how many people were there, but as Bruce pointed out people like free drinks on a Friday night.

 

We grabbed a glass of wine and headed out to the vegetable transplants to pick out our eight tomato transplants and some rosemary to plant tomorrow. There was a pop-up class on tomato planting but after all of our tomato training we were feeling pretty ok with selecting our plants.

We also had a look at their display vegetable beds and found these guys next to them:

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So Bruce decided to get me some poultry too:

 

 

IMG_3994Believe me, I’d like real chickens, but I think the 3G Network might love them more. So for now, this metal rooster to put in the garden will have to do. If you ask me, it’s better than flowers and quieter than real chickens.

 

 

Sow: weather change

It’s back to the wild North Texas weather again. Rain. Wind. Thunderstorms. Mud. Back to 40°F temperatures. Pollen galore.

And it’s not even consistent across the metroplex. A coworker mentioned that there was some sort of snow-like ice pelt-y thing that wasn’t hail landing on her front lawn. She didn’t even know what to call it. At dinner tonight with some friends, the husband mentioned snow in Oklahoma.

Yet today was the first day my favorite nursery had tomato plants. Go figure.

Spring comes shockingly early in North Texas. Spring bulbs are already poking through the soil. Our daffodils are already 3-4 inches out. There are buds on the peach and plum trees. I’ve seen a neighbor’s tree with big pink flowers in full bloom. In February. Tomorrow it will be 66°F.

I still can’t get used to it.

A green zebra from our spring 2012 crop

A green zebra from our spring 2012 crop

However, I’m not complaining. My plan still is to pick up eight lovely tomato plants either Friday night after work or on Saturday morning and get them in the dirt on Sunday. Don’t worry, I’ll keep the frost cloth handy.