Sow: free car wash

ThawLast week was bitter cold. Ice. Snow. Frozen roads. Cars in ditches. Tow trucks making a mint. Cities trying to keep the roads open with sand. TV news channel weather people excited to have the news all to themselves. School closures. Gleeful children. Working from home which isn’t nearly as fun as it sounds, unless you count not having to commute, being able to put on sweats and a t-shirt, staying makeup free. (It is very productive, however.)

Dogs running around like puppies in the white stuff. Eating snow. Carrying chunks of icy snow in their mouths. Playing ’til exhaustion.

In North Texas, one thing you can count on is that frozen precipitation of any kind doesn’t stick around for long. We might get 4 inches of snow, but by the next day it’s gone. Better get your snowman built, your snow angels made, your snowballs thrown. Still, we have a snow shovel and ice melter on hand and we’re glad to have them for the one, two or three times a year that we need them. Old habits die hard.

Since Saturday evening, it’s been rain. Nice slow steady rain with a few pauses. It’s pleased me to no end. Free car washes! Clean patio chairs! Clean sidewalks and streets! Happy sprouts! Full rain barrels! Sage flowers! More daffodils!

Spring is so close that I can feel it. I’m getting little signs of it from the peach and plum trees too. They may be blooming by the weekend and while it doesn’t last long, it’s beautiful. It doesn’t hurt that it will be in the upper 60°s starting tomorrow. A bit of sunshine and the urban farm’s spring crops will be well underway. I can’t wait.

Around here, some people talk about the weather—all types of weather—like it’s some kind of foreign enemy to be despised and battled. They get grumbly because they have to pull out the umbrella or a raincoat. They complain that there are no clothes flimsy enough to keep them cool. They rue having to put on socks. I like the change in wardrobe, even though it means soon I’ll have to put away the sweatshirts and flannel pajama. And this time of year, I love the idea of Mother Nature getting ready and cleaned up for a big vibrant party of blooms and greens.

Rain means change. And change is good.

 

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: 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.

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

So: in summary

Hey! Long time no write! Me, not you. To say that 2014 has been full of surprises is a major understatement. If there’s one thing that 2014 has been, it’s unpredictable. And while many parts of its randomness have been fabulous, they have also sucked up my writing time.

First, let me bring you up to speed about the weather this summer in North Texas. You may remember my frequent rants about the ever-changing weather patterns and their effects on the Urban Farm. This summer, the weather was milder than the usual 100 day strings of 100°F+ temperatures. It rained. Several times, even.

Second, plants like it when they aren’t trying to survive on the surface of the sun. They like it a lot. And they produce tons and tons of vegetables. And when you plant things that thrive on the surface of the sun normally, they go crazy for the cooler weather. I’m not complaining: I have bags of black eyed peas, okra, and roasted tomatillos in the freezer. We have enjoyed many yummy meals and so have our friends and coworkers!

It’s still going too. Fall crops are in — spinach is sprouting, kale transplants are getting bigger, collards are fighting some bug that’s nibbling one them, chard is so beautiful. My coworker’s chickens Jenny and Penny are enjoying all of the “chicken treats” I  bring them from the garden and giving me some eggs in return. The composters are full so I’m glad for the girls.

 

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One of my many instagram photos from the 2014 harvests. Follow me @julie_petroski

 

And that darn feral tomato plant has gone completely insane. I named him “Seymore” after the Little Shop of Horrors’ plant. Seymore is covered in tomatoes (again) and taking up all of raised bed #4. I’m looking forward to more free tomatoes!

 

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Seymore! He’s a Sweet 100 tomato plant.

Third, we built things! Painted things! Traveled to see things! Bought a big thing! More about that later in the month since I’ve decided to force myself to write again by doing NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month). Wish me luck. I may need to can and schedule some posts in order to fulfill my !

NaBloPoMo_November

Fourth, 4th Quarter. Work’s been a little bit busier. Interesting stuff though, so I’m definitely not complaining. In fact, my company let us go home at 3 pm tonight since it’s Halloween. Sweet! Now I don’t have any big plans for it, but if you do, have a great time and don’t eat too much candy. I’ll talk at you tomorrow.

Back by popular demand (ok, mine) is the Gratuitous Dog Photo of the Day!

George says, "it's about time, lady."

George says, “It’s about time, lady. Get back to blogging already.” Photo by Bruce

 

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: 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: 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: signs

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Photo by Bruce

Sign of the times. Follow the signs. Here’s your sign. If you flip through my iPhoto library, you’ll see that signs frequently capture my eyes. I like ’em rusty. I like ’em slick. I LOVE them when they’re funny (at least to me). And I really love putting fun signs amongst the veggies and flowers of the Mortroski Midcentury Urban farm.

Our latest arrival is the word “Garden.” Made by a metal craftsperson, it caught Bruce’s and my eyes when we were out looking for some planters for our patio last weekend. Needless to say we never found the right pots, so the search continues. Maybe we’ll just go for some smaller format stock tanks…

Here’s the sign on the wall of the new part of the garden (Fig tree is just out of frame to the right):

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Raised bed #4 has the out of control salad greens, the power greens (kale, spinach, chard), and the rogue tomato plants. A pot of mini roses that are not doing great and a pot of mint are also in this photo. And the little wood square on the fence is a window so our little kid next door neighbors can watch the garden and the Gs. Photo by Bruce

I love how happy it is—so cheerful and fun. And the primary colors are really nice on the wood fence.

One more happy addition is our new garden owl. Not only is he a wise old welcome sign, he’s also a rain gauge (the yellow glass tube) which will be fun to see fill up during our wacky Texas downpours. Here’s hoping for rain very soon!

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Wise old rain gauge • photo by Bruce

Slowly, but surely, we’ll collect more fun stuff to brighten up the plants. I am looking forward to seeing the evolution. After all, change is the only constant, in life and in gardening.

For today’s gratuitous dog photo, I thought I’d share that Bruce informed me that the Gs are being very lazy today. Clearly Gidget needs a nap:

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So tired • photo by Bruce

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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