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: dead peppers

The big freeze in North Texas is diminishing our chances for growing our own produce this fall and winter. The peppers are toast, but I salvaged what I could.

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The tomatoes I picked last weekend are turning red and we had a lovely roasted tomato pasta dinner tonight.

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We have the potential for snow tonight so I’m not sure exactly how everything left will do. The agaves are covered. We have the ice melter handy and our trusty snow shovel ready. It’s been raining on and off all day and things are wet so there is the potential of a frozen driveway gate, frozen alley, frozen roads.

The weather is much colder than normal. It’s a little sad for the urban farm, but it feels very eating holiday-ish. And its lending itself to cooking lots of slow cooked foods.

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The roasted tomato pasta dinner tonight was simple: a bunch of the Sweet 100s that have been ripening inside, some peppers from Pure Life Organic, some peppers from our garden, two little zucchinis, an onion, three garlic cloves, three anchovy filets, garlic olive oil, and some fresh ground pepper on a tray. Roasted it up at 400°F for 30 minutes in our Breville toaster oven, then when it was done, I tossed with a little frozen basil puree. I added some chopped up chicken sweet Italian sausage too so I threw it into the frying pan with the sausage chunks and mixed it all up, but the sausage isn’t necessary. It would still be delicious without the sausages. I added the penne directly to the sauce in the pan, tossed, added a little bit of grated parmesan and it was delicious. Most of the meal came from the urban farm or Pure Life Organic farm which makes me really happy. And there’s enough for lunch tomorrow.

The Gs are all very snuggly because it is cold. Today’s gratuitous dog photo shows you the bond between the newest Gs:

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photo by Bruce

 

The toy near George’s head is one of his mice. They are kids’ toys from IKEA and he loves them. Perfect size for his big mouth.

Sow: urban farm update

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Lots of amazing stuff is happening on the Urban Farm. We’ve had amazing weather and rain! June’s been cooler than normal at night, but we’re back into the 90°s during the day. Everything’s looking quite jungle-y and very green. The blackeyed peas are getting bigger. The okra is producing and we’ve had a couple of meals from it. The feral tomatoes are starting to turn red. The Malabar spinach is covering the trellises. The basil seems to grow as fast as I cut it. I’ve been picking peppers right and left. It’s a great time of year where I’m not buying produce at the store, except for fruit. And I’ve been giving it away like crazy.

Here are a few photos of what’s been going on:

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We’ve had several weeks of beets now. The Detroit reds have won for best all around flavor so they’re the only ones I’ll grow in the fall. 

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I’ve harvested about 10 of the feral Sweet 100s. After all the tomatoes are harvested I’m going to leave the plants in the ground and see if I can get a second harvest in the fall.

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The feral tomato plants covered with bird net so the birds don’t eat all of the tomatoes

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Since I didn’t know I was growing tomatoes, I had to rig up a way to keep the bird net in place. Hooks on the fence, a couple of tomato cages and some bricks were my solution.

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Okra is well underway

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Flowers on the green bean vines

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Bell peppers are going strong

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A big black and white bug seems to like green bean leaves

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This weekend our pal Fred is going to make some of his famous jalapeño poppers using these beauties. They are amazingly delicious bacon wrapped, cheese stuffed jalapeños that are grilled on the BBQ. I will harvest Friday.

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Lots of jalapeños

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The tomatillos look like patio lanterns. I can’t wait to make salsa verde. The plants are probably at least 4 ft tall. You can see poblano peppers in the background.

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This shot of the blackeyed peas is about a week old. They have doubled in since then.

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Tiny tomatoes turning red

And for today’s gratuitous dog photo of the day, here are my bathing beauties enjoying their pool:

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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

So: welcome back

Hello! I am officially starting my 2014 today. I realize that it’s March. So far there’s nothing about 2014 that’s been a normal year. Sad things have happened (will get into that another post). Things are looking up, however. My ankle is healed (though it hurts with weather changes). Good news abounds. And there’s so much to look forward to.

It’s going to be an awesome year.

First, the Mortroski Midcentury is going to have a ton of visitors. Many dear friends will be coming for quick visits and long weekends. It’s going to be fun to catch up and hang out. The first visitor of 2014 comes this Friday for dinner. I have not seen her in many years, perhaps since she graduated from college (she was one year ahead of me). I love that Facebook has helped us reconnect after all this time.

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the last polar vortex incident

Second, it’s almost time to get outside and play in the dirt. Today I trimmed the fruit trees and cleaned up the front beds, but I am yearning to plant the spring seeds for the Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm. Perhaps next weekend. Planting would have happened sooner, but we’ve had a thing called a polar vortex this winter—it’s returning tomorrow to bring frosty temperatures (below 32° F/0°C) to North Texas. A winter advisory on March 2?!?Early appearances of the polar vortex (with accompanying snow and ice) pretty much wiped out all of the winter crops. Kale, carrots, and collards are all that’s left. Coincidence that they all start with the same sound?

As you may have guessed, I’ve officially given up on tomatoes in 2014. If you are in North Texas, I will trade you some of my salad greens, green beans, herbs, kale, collards, peppers, spinach, okra, or black eyed peas for successfully home-grown ‘maters. Seriously. I’m done.

Third, Bruce and I have ramped up on our volunteer activities with Duck Team 6 so you’ll hear more about it.

Fourth, we are taking off on a little adventure in April. Just a long weekend, but we’re treating it as a scouting mission for retirement. And we get to spend some quality time with family members that we rarely see.

Fifth, Bruce has a big birthday this year and decided that he really wanted to attend a big UK 80s music festival in August. So we are in the process of planning a trip to London and then a train journey to the north for a weekend of “glamping” (glamorous camping) at the Rewind Festival.

Sixth, I am going to be an aunt again. My brother, his wife and their darling twin 4 year olds are adding a little sister to the family in September. I’m excited about the princess party potential!

See, 2014 is going to be awesome! And while I will definitely get the sowing going as soon as it’s safe to put the seeds in the ground, I’m also planning to finally get the sewing going. So, please stay tuned and Happy 2014 to you!

Gratuitous dog photo of the day: Guinness enjoying the last polar vortex

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frosty paws for Guinness

 

So: 2013 lesson

Patience. Stillness. Acceptance. Calmness. Since the 23rd of December, I certainly haven’t been up to my usual tricks.

There’s been no way to cram my Christmas break chock full of visiting, errands, crafts, gardening, organizing, sewing, DIY projects, or really anything that requires lengthy standing. Instead I’ve gotten well acquainted with my insurance company’s online portal, watched a lot of HGTV and the Cooking Channel, reconnected with the sofa, cuddled with all of the Gs, slept way more than I have in years, and sat. And sat some more. And sat some more.

I’ve gotten pretty good with the crutches (Bruce constantly tells me to slow down).

It’s not what I planned.

Looking back on 2013, there’s plenty that did not go as planned.

Take the Urban Farm. Try as I may, I just cannot make tomatoes happen here in North Texas. Cherry and grape maybe, but certainly not anything larger. Same goes with squash, cucumbers, English peas, brussels sprouts, and pumpkins. But okra? Peppers? Kale? Lettuce? Malabar spinach? Swiss chard? You better believe I’ll be planting tons of all of those in 2014. Alas, the big ice storm at the beginning of December while we were off in Palm Springs celebrating our 18th anniversary pretty much wiped the winter veg out. Hindsight being 20-20, it’s a good thing. There’s no way for me to tend it or harvest at the moment and veggies don’t generally wait around 4-6 weeks to be picked. But that said, all the time spent in the garden was very well-spent and I look forward to February when I’ll be back in it.

Take sewing. It’s in the name of the blog, but after February, the machine has stayed ensconced in its case and resided in the spare bedroom closet instead of on the dining room table as I planned. And given my mishap, no sewing is happening any time soon (can’t use the pedal/presser foot). But while I’ve been sitting around, I’ve been surfing Pinterest for inspiration. Looks like I’ll be busy in 2014 if I attempt even 1/2 of what I’ve pinned.

Take work. The end of the year (aka Q4) was as busy as always. (PS: I learned at my management training session that life-work balance is a complete myth and that striving for it just makes people crazy. Don’t do it). Other than writing for work, I did a few pro-bono animal rescue press releases. Doing necessary household chores was exhausting. The dog hair tumbleweeds grew. There were few Christmas decorations this year. Luckily I had made most of my Christmas gifts throughout the year, dehydrating, preserving and saving the harvest, so packing them up was nice and easy.

At this point, I’m guessing Fransi is saying “I told you so.”

You see, my lesson for 2013, delivered at the very tail  end of 2013  is obvious to everyone, including me: slow down.

I’ve always had tremendous energy. The stamina to stay awake and working for days. The ability to throw myself into many different things at once and get it all done. The desire to see things completed and delivered neatly. In high school, my parents worried that I was over-programming myself. I told them I was just fine, but fell sound asleep on family vacations. Like the time we went to Yosemite. Surrounded by beauty, I had to be awakened at every stop. Sitting still in the car, seatbelt on, just shut me down and sent me to Slumbertown. The same thing happened in college. After final exams, I knew better than to start a job right away. The batteries needed to be recharged.

We had a mini-vacation in early December. In Palm Springs, we walked, went on an amazing mid-century architecture tour, rode cruiser bikes, hung out with my parents, went swimming, chatted with strangers at happy hour, visited with Bruce’s aunt, uncle and cousin. I marveled at how well I slept in our cool little mid-century boutique hotel. And I was surprised that things like canceled flights, having to change airports three times, middle seats, and unexpected expenses including plumbing issues and arborist bills from the ice storm didn’t phase me. Why? It was completely escapist. I went with the flow. But I guess it wasn’t enough of a recharge.

And so, here I am again.

This physical break in my foot and the break I’ve had from work and the usual responsibilities have brought me rest, though I can’t say relaxation, exactly. It’s more medicinal than soul-feeding. Even with our annual Boxing Day party, I just sat. It was really all I could do. And poor Bruce had to carry on with the party preparations, running around and picking stuff up. Still, I have to say it was the best one we’ve had. I really had a chance to visit with our guests and catch up with dear ones we don’t see often. And I relished each and every hug. Of course, I parked my butt on a chair near the door so no one could leave without me seeing!

Lest you think I’m ending 2013 on a sour note, let me assure you I’m not. It was a fantastic year. I reconnected with friends I haven’t seen in years (yes, you, Ida-Rose and Laura). I spent loads of time outside. I got to see my best friends (Reesa, Clair, and Simone) much more often than we thought geography would allow. The Gs, Bruce and I fostered and kept a puppy (Gidget) and found volunteer work that we really love (the Gs especially enjoy it when we are bagging dog food).

Gratuitous dog photo:

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It’s definitely cold enough for Gidget to put on her puffy pink coat tonight

We got to see a fair amount of far-away family members. My grandma turned 99 on Christmas Eve! Work was great. We spent more time discovering Dallas and are inspired to try lots of new stuff in 2014. We hung out with Fransi (one of my advertising idols). I read so much great writing—especially blogs. I ate lots of great things, including stuff I grew. Whew! 

As the last few hours of 2013 happen, my wish for you is that you appreciate all that you have right at this moment. If you’re making resolutions, think about what you’ll gain, not what you’ll lose. 

As for the residents of the Mortroski Mid-century, to celebrate the end of 2013 and the start of 2014, we’re going to make a pizza, then I’m going to put my foot up, watch a little tv, call some friends and family, and probably hit the hay long before midnight. Remember the Gs don’t really get what all the fuss is about — their tummies will tell them it’s time to wake up long before this human is ready to rise. Bruce is walking all 4 at once for the next few weeks, so please think positive thoughts for his poor back!

Cheers to you all and Happy New Year!

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Happy New Year, y’all!

 

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: 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!

So: faraway friends

Love or hate social media, it’s here to stay. To inform us of world events that our local journalists might not be reporting on. To tell us what’s going on in our hometown. To discuss PR gaffs and career suicides. And that’s only this week.

For me, it often brings wonderful surprises on days when things aren’t exactly going perfectly. That’s what happened yesterday.

I didn’t have much time to take breaks during the workday and it was a very long day. But when I checked Facebook quickly after a meeting ended a tiny bit early, I received Surprise #1: A post from my pal and former co-worker Shannon. While eating at Swiss Chalet (a rotisserie chicken restaurant) in Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, Bruce posted that we were there and, I think, took a photo and tagged me. Shannon, who now lives in the Caribbean (lucky girl!) saw it and messaged that she missed the Chalet dipping sauce (a hallmark of the restaurant). When I got back to Dallas, I messaged her and offered to send her a few packets (they’re sold in the supermarket and you just add water and boil to make it).

I’m not sure if she thought I’d really send it, but I did:

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Shannon’s treat

 

She got the packets and my note yesterday and posted to Facebook the photo and a thank you. Apparently it got there close to her birthday (it’s taken several weeks to get to her little island) so she was doubly thrilled at the timing.

And so was I. As you know I love to write notes to people, even to strangers through More Love Letters. I was so glad to make someone’s day just a little better.

Little did I know that my somewhat stressful and very action-packed long day was about to get AWESOME. A while back, I saw that my “friend,” artist Lisa Loria had posted a photo of a beautiful jewelry box that she had painted and I inquired about it.

First, let me explain “friend.” Lisa and I are Facebook friends. We have never met. We do not live anywhere near each other. But we have tons in common including a love of gardening and making stuff from repurposed items. And we’re both pretty sure that we’d enjoy spending the evening together on a nice patio, wine glass in hand.

The main thing we have in common is a long-time real-life mutual friend (ok, he’s a ex-boyfriend) who we are also Facebook friends with. Our mutual friend is the same guy who introduced me to Bruce. I’ve known him longer than I’ve known Bruce—over 20 years!

Lisa and I were constantly posting pithy comments and liking each other’s zingy retorts to said mutual friend, so I thought she’d be someone I’d love to know. I knew she was an artist, but I didn’t know much more about her. Still she said yes to my request to be Facebook friends.

One day I saw that she posted a photo of a larger painted jewelry box that she had done for herself. I had a similar jewelry box from my childhood, a gift from my parents when I was probably 12 years old. I had kept it all these years for sentimental reasons, not because I actually used it. And I really didn’t like how plain it was. It was ivory and rather bland.

So I asked Lisa if she’d consider painting it for me. She would have carte blanche on the design because I liked her work I had seen on both Facebook and her blog. I said she could fit it in when she had time. I was in no rush to get it back.

She accepted the commission. Whoooohoooo!

I emptied it out—I sorted through it all, kept a few things for my brother’s daughters, “found” a few things I had forgotten about, and donated the rest. And off it went to California, the place where it had originally come from (well, it was probably made in China or somewhere else, but you get what I mean).

Yesterday, at around 7:30 pm CT when I was still at the office, working on a huge project with lots of moving parts, I saw Lisa’s post  and the picture that she tagged me in. The jewelry box was almost complete! Oh happy day! It was so beautiful and I absolutely loved it.

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By 8 pm, she had finished it and posted another picture. And by 8:30, her status was a blog post about the jewelry box and our unique friendship created by an ex-boyfriend and Facebook. You can read it here  at http://lisaloria.blogspot.com (she’s also got more pictures of her jewelry boxes if you’d like to see them).

It seems this is a week of retrospection regarding friendship. I’ve read several blog posts about friends they’ve never met, people have talked to me about reconnecting with long lost friends and the new friends they’ve made by participating in social media. My personal rule about being “friends” with people I’ve never met is that if we lived near each other, they’d have to be someone I’d sit down with in a café or bar and have a drink and a conversation. Or eat a meal with.

Bruce and I have some long-time friends that he “met” through a chat room (how ancient) on a singer’s website. He chatted with them for years and got to know people from all over the U.S.

One day, we decided to meet up with a bunch of those friends from Detroit so that we could all hang out, eat dinner and see a show. It was amazing – but really shouldn’t surprise me at all. They were all people that we had something in common with. And through the years there have been more concerts, visits, dinners, roadtrips, and backyard bbqs. Several visited us in Toronto, one friend has even visited us in Texas and another may be coming when the surface of the sun temperatures get cooler, perhaps in October.

Speaking of travel, I’m on the plane right now, so I should wrap up this post and get on with working since it’s about when my day normally starts. But here’s your gratuitous harvest photo from yesterday morning:

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Have a great day—maybe you can make a friend’s day today too.