Sow: education & expansion

Despite having a cold and the weather being gray and kind of misty, I had an action-packed Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm weekend.

Saturday afternoon, Bruce and I attended Terrific Tomatoes — a three-hour long class on how to grow better tomatoes in North Texas. Well, I certainly know a few more things that I did wrong with both the spring and fall crops. I now know that I have to plant the transplants a lot deeper. I know how to fertilize correctly. I know when to plant (very soon) and that I’m going to have to cover them whenever the temperature threatens to get below 40° F. We learned about the best varieties to plant, pests, watering, and pretty much everything you might need to know about tomatoes.There’s even a new kind of grafted tomatoes which may be more tolerant of our rapid weather swings and crazy heat. We’re excited to get planting. But we need to wait until mid-February.

A green zebra from our spring 2012 crop

A green zebra from our spring 2012 crop

Like I said this was an outdoor weekend. I harvested the last of the carrots and bok choi this morning and puttered about the garden first thing this morning.Then we got down to business. After taking the 3G Network for an extra long walk, we all jumped in the pickup and headed out to the country to pick up the first amendment for the spring 2013 Urban Farm season. Our closest Tractor Supply Company is in Mesquite which is about 25 minutes from our house in North Dallas—it’s not really that country but it’s where the rodeo takes place.

All of the dogs enjoy riding in the truck (we have a crew cab with flip up seats in the back which makes it a perfect canine transporter). Godiva loves to surf the console and perch between the front and the back so she can see where we’re going. Guinness and George are tall enough to look out the windows. Luckily they’re all good passengers.

stock tank

example of the type of stock tanks we have, they are normally used as water containers for livestock

Once we got to the Tractor Supply, Bruce picked up our 3rd stock tank and some landscape cloth (more about that in a few paragraphs). They’re great for growing lots of stuff but I think this spring, we’ll focus on growing root veggies like carrots and beets in them. Right now the two that we have are full of spinach, red romaine and kale.


the Urban Farm under construction today

the Urban Farm under construction today

Next, we dropped the stock tank and the dogs off at home and headed back to North Haven Gardens for another raised bed kit, earthworm casings and a truck bed full of bags of soil, composted cow manure, compost, and top soil. We headed back home to get super dirty assembling the raised bed, moving what seemed like hundreds of bags of stuff, and filling up the new stock tank and the new raised bed. We scattered worm castings amongst all the raised beds—something we learned from Saturday’s class. Supposedly not only will we get richer and more active soil (which will hopefully lead to bigger, tastier veggies), we’ll also get earthworms since there are earthworm eggs in the castings. What we learned in the class is that preparing the beds while ahead of planting lets beneficial microbes get active in the soil. That doesn’t matter to the 3G Network—they just enjoyed sniffing at the fresh dirt. Hopefully we don’t find George-sized body divots or Godiva sized holes dug in the middle of the new bed…

the new raised bed and stock tank plus the 3G Network

Then we began making the Urban Farm look nicer. Bruce put the farm sign back up on the fence.

Next, we put down landscaping cloth amongst the 3 stock tanks and the 4 raised beds to help kill off the weeds around them. Next weekend (or maybe this week if we’re ambitious and work cooperates), we’ll be adding some pine straw mulch—something else we learned about during the class—which will make it a lot nicer to walk around everything. It will also help to make the yard look nicer and more finished.

I folded up the frost cloths. This week’s temperatures are going to be in the 60°s so unless something changes, we won’t need them.

Finally, I picked a bunch of kale, collards, mixed salad greens and spinach for tonight’s dinner and tomorrow’s lunch. Have to say that after all of this, I’m a lot tired and my cold will probably not keep me up tonight!





Sow: headlamp harvest #2

Happy Friday! Not only is it Friday it’s also it’s Robbie Burns Day (an excuse to drink scotch) and the Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm seems to have rebounded from the frosty nights. HOORAY!

Today is a good day! I did another headlamp harvest of fresh produce for our lunches. Here is some photographic evidence:

cilantro -- finally getting bushy

spinach — finally getting bushy


my trusty headlamp



collard greens by headlamp light and flash


lettuce growing like weeds


the little washtub on wheels is now a lettuce farm for real! lots of crazy colors too


today’s harvest (a bit dark): collards, spinach, red romaine, misc leaf lettuce, a little bok choi, mustard greens, lots of kale


lunch salad of mixed greens ready for toppings (like that yellow pepper in the frame)

You may notice that the gardens are looking a bit shaggy and are in need of some serious TLC. I’ll have to save my puttering and planning (and seed planting) for Sunday because tomorrow I’ll be judging the Small Market ADDYS (advertising contest in the US) for the fine club located in San Angelo, Texas in the morning. Judging creative is a lot of fun—and I’ll get to meet some people from other agencies. I’ve helped out for the past 4 years so

My afternoon will be spent back at North Haven Gardens for a 3 hour class in Tomato Growing. Yes, another tomato class! This one is taught by Leslie Halleck, a professional Horticulturalist. I’m going to make sure that I have lovely tomatoes this year, by golly!

And while I’m not of Scottish descent, Bruce is, so I’ll leave you some words from a traditional Burns Supper:

Ye Pow’rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinkin ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer,
Gie her a haggis!

Sow: being realistic

Yesterday I learned what I was NOT going to do in 2013. You see, I went to a seed starting class at North Haven Gardens, a local independent nursery that is committed to educating their customers. I went with the hope that I’d leave ready to start my spring tomato plants today.

I left with the realization that starting tomato seeds is better left to those with plenty of time on their hands. Perhaps that’s why the class was filled with snowy-haired experienced vegetable gardeners. We were all pretty hardcore though—we fought a torrential downpour and walked through deep puddles to get across the garden center to their auditorium.

An assortment of 2012's spring tomatoes and peppers

An assortment of 2012’s spring tomatoes and peppers

But starting tomato seeds successfully in north Texas requires many things. You need some sort of medium to house the seeds (peat pods were one option). You need a heating pad to help keep the soil warm enough. You need a light source to go 12-14 hours a day. You need to water daily or perhaps even more frequently. And this needs to happen for at least 8 weeks to get the little buggers started. Then you may need to transplant them to a bigger pot if it’s still not warm enough for them to go outside. When it is warm enough to bring the baby tomato plants outside, you need to slowly introduce them to the outside conditions over a period of about 10 days. Finally, you can plant them in your raised bed or garden.

No thank you. I will be picking up my tomato and pepper transplants as soon as they are available. And I will appreciate the work and effort that the nursery workers had to put in to give them a great start.

But lest you think I soaked myself for nothing and wasted about 1 1/2 hours at North Haven Gardens yesterday, I assure you, I did not. I learned what I  did wrong with my tomatoes last year (fertilized before flowering instead at the first signs of fruit). I was told how to keep my tomato and pepper plants around for at least 2 crops (plant in spring, trim after spring harvest is done, water water water all summer, and in October, you’ll be rewarded with more peppers and tomatoes). I learned that when I heard the weather report that we were having our first frost that I should have run outside and picked all of the green tomatoes and brought them inside — they would have continued to ripen on our counter throughout the winter (it takes time, but we could have enjoyed them). I heard more about why we need to be aware of the crazy weather here and keep the frost blankets handy all the way through April.

I picked up a three new swiss chard plants. The cold took its toil on three and here it is still ok to plant transplants of chard, kale and other greens.

I also talked to one of the garden experts about strawberry plants and learned that if I want to grow strawberries and have any reasonable quantity, I need to plant enough to fill 1/2 of a 4′ x 8′ raised bed (they are a perennial here and would get better year after year). I’m thinking about it, but not sure it will be worth the effort.

Just trying to be realistic.