Sow: spring 2014 update

There’s something so amazingly satisfying about popping out the back door right off the kitchen and picking a super gourmet salad right out of your yard. So far in spring 2014, the things you’d want in a really good salad are growing like gangbusters.

We still have the same set up: 4 raised beds and 3 stock tanks plus a few large pots.

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This is my master planning document. My pal Lisa gave me the PDF with all sorts of gardening planning stuff for Christmas 2012, but this year, I’m only focused on filling this out.

It’s so hard to read so here’s what’s where:

Raised bed #1:
-Pole beans at the back on the trellis
-2 poblano pepper transplants
-2 yellow bell pepper transplants
-2 bell pepper transplants
-2 tam jalapeño pepper transplants
-2 larger basil transplants

Stock tank #1:
-1 poblano pepper (accidentally got an extra)
-tomatillos from seed

Large pot in front of stock tank #1:
-cilantro

Raised bed #2:
-Pole beans at the back on the trellis
-Clemson spineless okra (same kind I grew last year)

Stock tank #2:
-Red velvet lettuce (another favorite from last year)

Raised bed #3:
-Pole beans at the back on the trellis (and last year’s Malabar spinach seems to be coming back)
-bok choi
-Detroit dark red, early wonder and chioggia beets (more favorites from last year)

Stock tank #3:
-French breakfast radishes (a personal favorite)

Raised bed #4:
-Bloomsdale spinach
-Nero toscanakale
-5-color silverbeet chard
-Arugula
-Mixed salad greens (Q’s special medley, gourmet baby greens)

Whew! It’s busy on the urban farm this year and everything’s been growing like crazy.

So without further ado, here are some photos of stuff growing:

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French breakfast radishes: 73 harvested so far!

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chioggia beets: first one picked on 5/4/14

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first bok choi: picked 5/4/14

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a sample salad green harvest — I’m giving it away too!

This weekend we also did a few improvements to the urban farm in preparation for fencing off the urban farm from the rest of the yard:

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mulched and added pavers in the weedy part of the yard. fence is going where the grass starts.

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Guinness “helping” in the back of the truck with the mulch. Gidget is eating dog food that spilled in the bed.

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The rest of the urban farm

Hopefully I’ve caught everyone up enough! Harvesting is underway and each night I look forward to seeing what kind of growth happened while I was at work.

Gratuitous dog photo of the day:

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Gidget “helping” me lay sod in April


Sow: seed signage

Must be something in the air. Or maybe it’s because I don’t have any kids that are in a Texas high school and need me to make a homecoming mum. You really must watch this video to understand this state’s fascination with something so ugly, huge and ridiculous:

Yes, I have a glue gun and I recently picked up a laminator. That’s why I decided to make some fancy-ish garden signs so that I remember what plants are which when the seeds I planted on Labor Day start springing from the ground (so far bok choi, snow peas, and mesclun are winning for speed).

First, I grabbed the seed packs (yes, they are all Botanical Interests) and made color copies of their pretty fronts.

lots of seed packs

lots of seed packs

You may wonder why earthy-crunchy me didn’t just reuse the seed packs. Two reasons: I haven’t necessarily emptied each pack and there’s important growing info on all four sides so I like to keep them for reference. And I suppose the third reason would be that I’m not sure the laminator could take the thickness of multiple layers of seed packet paper.

Second, I fired up the laminator. It’s only the third time I’ve used it. It’s not a very fancy one and cost less than $20 including 100 sheets of laminating plastic. A bargain! It has two settings: cold, which is for fragile items like old photos and hot, which is for paper things like my seed pack fronts.

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laminator

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The first package going into the laminator

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Laminated radish seed pack front right after it came out of the laminator

It was super easy so I just kept feeding the plastic covered seed pack fronts into the laminator. It really didn’t take very long. I trimmed off the excess plastic and was left with the seed pack front signs:

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A few laminated seed pack fronts 

Third, I wanted a post for each sign so I grabbed my glue gun and fired it up. I picked up some craft sticks, aka popsicle sticks, at Target. They’re inexpensive and I think they’ll be durable enough to stand up for the season. And if they don’t stand up to water and soil well, I bought 60 so I’ll have replacements available.

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the sign posts

When the glue was flowing, I made a thin line on a stick:

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the thin clear line

Then I slapped on a laminated seed pack front and pressed down for a second or two:

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voila: a little seed sign!

Here’s one for the arugula washtub:

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the arugula feels special now

It didn’t take very long and I had a lot of fun with this little craft. Best of all, anyone who looks at the washtub, planters, raised beds and stock tanks will know exactly what’s growing there. It was a great Thursday night activity.

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lots of seed signs ready to plant

Have a great weekend, everyone!

 

 

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: do over Sunday

This weekend was not particularly good for productivity. Saturday, we plowed through all of the chores by 3 pm and decided to chill for the rest of the evening. And there was a great rainstorm.

Sunday, neither of us wanted to do anything. But after all the rain, our rain barrels were all full (overflowing actually), except for one. It was the one that we have been talking about moving for a while now—it was over by the peach and plum trees. So first, Bruce needed to move a sprinkler. Lots of digging. In the heat. And a trip to the local big box home improvement store for more PVC pipe than we actually needed.

Once the sprinkler move was done, we moved the rain barrel. Which also meant changing the gutters. While Bruce worked on that, I was in charge of leveling the ground, putting down stone, and leveling the blocks that the rain barrel sits on. The photo below is a bit misleading—it needs to sit on blocks for gravity help the water flow from the hose when you’re filling watering cans and buckets.

We have two of this type of rain barrel. Photo from http://www.suncast.com/productdisplay.aspx?id=534&pid=137

We have two of this type of rain barrel. Photo from http://www.suncast.com/productdisplay.aspx?id=534&pid=137

Anyway, once we had it in place and the downspout was fixed, we filled it up with extra water we captured from the overflowing rain barrels (we used big buckets and our reno trash can). Well, it promptly sprung a leak! And it had a hairline crack. Ugh. Bruce has repaired it temporarily with silicon and I ordered a replacement this morning. One step forward, one step back.

As if that wasn’t a big enough trial in the triple digit heat and soggy humidity, I noticed that Stock Tank #3 wasn’t draining properly. Malfunction! For some reason stock tank 3 was not draining at all and turned itself into a tomato and pepper killing, foul smelling swamp. After digging up and moving the transplants that were drowning, I dug out a quarter of the wet dirt and mixed it with dry dirt from an empty planter then cleared the drain. It seems to be on the way to drying out. Fingers crossed. It did look better this morning.

Both Bruce and I were exhausted from all of the digging and the heat. But I have to say after being covered in mud for the better part of the afternoon, it sure felt great to shower.

As for the do over, even though it’s Monday, I’m going to treat tonight like it’s Sunday. Water the garden. Putter around. Watch a little tv. Turn my brain off and rest my sore muscles.

Sow: spring garden phase 1

Today I was literally outside from sun up to just before sundown. Today was Presidents’ Day in the U.S. and for some reason, my agency had it off for the second year in a row. (Hey, I’m not complaining. There aren’t nearly enough mandatory holidays in this country and I’ll take whatever I can get).

I’ve been planning today in my head for weeks: Phase 1 of the 2013 spring garden. It’s Phase 1 since there are still many winter crops that are not all done and there are still transplants that need to come in — like tomatoes and peppers.

One caveat: like most of my “project” plans, I did not plan that it would take as long as it did. At least it was a beautiful sunny day, slightly breezy and I had no real plans for later on in the evening.

I started out this morning by making radish seed tape. Bigger seeds, faster making time.Remind me next time I bring this great idea up, not to bother. It really didn’t  make planting any easier or faster. And I have quite a lot remaining. Hopefully I can use it for second and third crops. Or this fall. Or give it away. Sigh.

I also upcycled an empty plastic bottle and some plastic skewers from one of those Edible Arrangements into name tags for the plants. I used my trusty Sharpie collection on the plastic. It seemed like a good idea and it shouldn’t get wrecked by the rain so we’ll see how well they hold up in the coming months.

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a tag made from a skewer and a piece of a club soda bottle, radish seeds in the background

After that, it was time to weed the front flower beds. Actually I should say “de-grass” since the type of grass that grows here runs sideways like a centipede. I spent a couple hours pulling out long strips trying to eat the little perrennials and become part of the landscaping.

don't worry, I was supervised while performing all of this manual labor

Don’t worry, I was supervised while performing the manual labor (if you look carefully, you’ll see also George in the window)

invading grass + a flower the previous owners planted

invading grass + a flower the previous owners planted (it’s the tiny white thing)

Once all of that was done, the 3G Network and I headed to the backyard to dig in the dirt. I was surprised that I was the only one who actually stayed outside the whole time. Lazy animals wanted to sleep on their comfy beds not the driveway or grass.

Lots of winter crop clean up. Harvesting (lots of spinach, collards, kale, mixed lettuce, fennel). Moving herbs to a window box off the kitchen so they survive the heat of spring and summer. Cleaning up tools, yard waste, dog waste, and just generally puttering around. It was an excellent day.

Here’s the end result (and no, I didn’t take a photo of my aching back!):

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Raised Bed #4: Tomato bed prepped and ready for 8 tomato plants, plus basil once it gets a bit warmer. I added the mini rose bush at the end to help with pollination.

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the whole operation minus the peach, plum and fig trees

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Stock Tank #3: This is the stock tank where a few of the carrot and radish seed tapes now live. I unfortunately planted it the wrong way. I planted long rows and should have planted width rows for a larger yield. I may dig up what I planted today tomorrow before work and start over.

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Raised Bed #3: thyme and oregano are growing just fine so they’re staying put. This bed contains beets as well as the still growing fine collards, cilantro and some spinach (the “fence” is to keep George from digging and/or napping in the nice warm composty dirt)

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Stock Tank #2: mint in the pot in front, spinach in the front and back, red romaine lettuce in the dirt

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Raised Bed #2: another fence for George, this one has the remainder of the salad greens and the parsley I planted last fall. today’s seeds included: mache, more mesculin, a fancy lettuce called red velvet, bok choi and snow peas

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Stock Tank #1: has a drainage issue so it’s drying out for now before I add anything else to it. I moved the washtub full of greens in front of it for now and you’ll see there’s some bright green leaf lettuce, a fancy kale and some spinach at the front and back.

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Raised Bed #1: the one that started this whole thing — beets where the George fence is, kale still going strong, chard, brussels sprouts (I’m hoping to harvest very soon), English peas at the back.

Whew! Truly a great day in the sun. I wished I had time for a nap once I got everything done, but I didn’t. No rest for the wicked I suppose. It’s almost guaranteed I’ll sleep through the night tonight. I just hope I can move at work tomorrow!

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.

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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!