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.

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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

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: 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: 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

Sow: incarcerated fig

The Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm isn’t just for veggies (or dogs). We’ve got three fruit trees too: a plum tree and a peach tree that came with the house and a very young fig tree I planted a couple of years ago.

Little fig tree is coming into its own this spring and when one of our Canadian visitors pointed out that she saw tiny little figs sprouting, I knew something had to be done STAT!

You see, we have roving bands of marauding grackles even though the 4Gs do their best to chase them from the yard. Those naughty birds spend a lot of time picking our neighbors’ three fig trees clean of any figs, so we needed to take action, quickly, before they realized that our little tree was chock full of yummy figgy goodies. And yes, they eat the baby figs green. Bastards.

Taking action was easy enough. Bruce went to the local big box home improvement/garden center store during his lunch break to pick up just two things to build the tiny tree’s prison: bamboo stakes and bird net. Now before you go all PETA on me about the bird net, it’s not for catching birds, it’s for covering plants so the birds won’t get in there. I have used it with great success for several years on my sad tomato experiments with no winged casualties (there was a deceased bird near the urban farm last year, but I suspect feline foul play, not bird net) and once it’s in place, the birds (and squirrels) stay away, mostly because the plants look different.

Here are a few figgy photos so you can see what I mean:

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figs galore! shot through the bird net.

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bird net close up — see the yummy tiny fig?

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the fig facility: yes, those are binder clips!

The stakes are around 4 feet high so the fig tree is still more petite than me. But unlike me, it still has the chance to get taller.

The bricks are an inelegant temporary solution. It was very windy during the install on Monday night so I thought it might not be prudent to cut the bird net then. I’m going to adjust the bird net when both Bruce and I are at home this weekend (he was in Boston during the install and I’m in California until Saturday) and then pin it down using landscaping pins for a better look.

As for the office supplies in use, I find that binder clips are very helpful on the urban farm. I use them during the cold months to secure the frost cloth to tomato cages, the lips of the stock tanks, the bars of the trellises, and even attach the ends of the frost cloth to itself. That’s why when I noticed that theses stakes were so thin that the bird net’s holes could slip down and touch the fig tree, I grabbed a few. I may concoct another solution that looks a little better, but for now, they’ll stay.

So now that the fig tree is all locked up, hopefully I’ll be able to report back in a few months with a nice big fig harvest. I’d settle for a few to eat with prosciutto and cheese or on top of a yummy salad, but my dream is to be able to make fig jam and give it as gifts. It just may be another few years. Sigh. A girl can dream.

If nothing else, fruit trees teach us patience, something we all can use in our fast paced world.

Today’s gratuitous dog photo:

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Gidget likes to bark at the photographer. It’s almost as good as saying “cheese”.

And a special treat for today, a gratuitous business travel shot from my current home away from home (and former stomping grounds):

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San Francisco Bay Bridge

It really was as picture postcard perfect as it looks. But don’t feel too jealous: I’m about to spend my entire day today (8:30 am – 7 pm PT)  in a dark room! But still I took a quick walk at 6:00 am in the early morning fog to pick up a Peet’s Coffee at the Ferry Building. I won’t lie, trips like these make me miss the Bay Area…

 

Sow: thundershirt time

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Georgie modeling his trusty Thundershirt, closely supervised by Godiva • photo by Bruce

The last few days have been atmospherically messed up in the much of the US. Denver got snow in May. California’s got Santa Ana winds and fires burning out of control. Dallas has got cooler than usual temperatures and epic thunderstorms.

While the Urban Farm totally digs the big drinks of water (everything is ultra green) it’s been getting and it’s appreciating the break from 90°F temperatures, sweet George is not exactly a happy camper. You see, George senses every change in the weather. He’s a canine barometer. And he’s terrified of loud sounds of any kind. So Texas-sized thunder booms are not sounds he likes to hear.

This morning, he tried to hide in my closet. And he tried to sneak out the back door and go to work with me. What he really wanted to do is snuggle with someone all day long.  He pants. He paces. He freaks out. He is nothing like his usual slobbery kiss-giving snuggly self. He doesn’t make his special happy sounds. He won’t get a tennis ball. Even holding his “babies” (his stuffed toys) in his mouth doesn’t give him comfort.

But the Thundershirt does. When we know there’s stormy weather coming, George becomes a doggie burrito. We swaddle him like a newborn in his special velcro covered shirt. Maybe the other Gs laugh at him a little. He doesn’t care. He may look a little silly, but he can relax. So can we.

They have been so effective for George that several of our friends have tried them on their dogs. Would you buy a garment to help your dog relax?

Today’s gratuitous dog photo: You may remember this one from a recent post, but a goofy George picture gives you a better idea what “normal” looks like for him:

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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:

123 Product Photos, LLC (http://www.123ProductPhotos.com/)

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: not alone

 

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According to the National Gardening Association, 33 million US households have food gardens at home. To put that into perspective, the US Census Bureau estimated that there were 115,226,802 households in the US in 2012.

Still it’s nice to know that there are other people in the US digging in the dirt, getting filthy, and eating the fruits of their labor. But there needs to be more!

(Don’t worry. I’m not going to get all political. If you’re into that, you already know all about GMOs, the industrial farming complex, and the various conspiracy theories. And if you’re not into it, you might want to do some research on your own, but it’s up to you.)

I’m more interested in getting you to grow stuff just because it tastes better. You know I love the yuppie-hippie grocery store. But I’m sorry, in the great state of Texas, no store’s produce holds a candle to the stuff I’m growing in my little urban farm. Even Bruce agrees. And I like nothing better than grabbing a big bowl and walking over to the raised beds and stock tanks to pick dinner.

And truthfully running my fingers through the dirt probably makes me into a nicer, calmer person. That’s my gardening’s gift to the rest of the planet.

So why not join the revolution? Put a few herbs in a pot and call it an act of defiance. Eat something you’ve grown and say “Viva!”

Gratuitous dog photo of the day:

George is exhausted from all the fresh air. Photo by Bruce.

George is exhausted from all the fresh air. Photo by Bruce.