Tuesday, March 31, 2009

If You Plant It, They Will Come

Did I mention we are growing corn? I'm hoping some old timer baseball players show up.

We are growing using the Native American tradition of the "Three Sisters." Planting corn, beans and squash together. The beans climb up the corn for support and give nitrogen to the nitrogen hungry corn and squash. The squash shade the ground to keep moisture in and deter pests. Apparently the nutrition of the foods also complement each other. It's so simply genius it hurts my brain.

Hot tip: If you want to grow corn- its better to grow at least 3 small rows as opposed to one long row. It helps with the pollination.

Here are two of the three sisters- squash and corn.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Beneficial Nematodes

So two of my favorite things will make a late appearance to this blog.

Our German Shepard Grover and my favorite nursery in town Shades of Green (http://www.shadesofgreensa.com/.) How they didn't get mentions before is beyond me.

Let's start with the dog. He is a bit of a flea mongrel. Last year, I went to Shades of Green, a gem of an organic nursery near our home with beautiful fountains, flowers and friendly staff, to buy DE because we had fleas in our detached garage. Also known as the worlds best dog house. We have friends who live less large than our dog. The Shades of Green employee asked why I was buying so much DE and when I told him about our flea problem, he highly recommended beneficial nematodes for our yard. Now back when we lived in a small (flea infested) apartment and I was less wise- I tried everything to get rid of these fleas. Sprays, bug bombs, exterminators, flea collar, expensive flea baths. Basically, the only thing we got rid of were a few brain cells burned out by the noxious chemicals we were breathing in. So I didn't have much faith in these so called microscopic organisms.

I've seen the light! I have been saved! These things are amazing. They kept fleas off our dog and out of our yard for 6 months. I know not all organic "earth friendly" products work as well as we may hope- I'm looking at you organic bubbles. But this does.

Simple how to:
Nematodes come on a little sponge. You can store them in the refrigerator for a short time if needed. It's best to release them after a rain- but I'm not going to hold my breath. You should spray in the early evening.

When you are ready- you soaked the sponge in water. It will tell you how much water depending on how large of a sponge you bought. We got the pack that says 1 million nematodes for 2000 sq feet. Then we used a container you attach to your hose so they get evenly distributed. (My organic husband wants me to note that this is the only Ortho product he would ever buy and it pains him they even got this much money from us.) This is obvious but important- make sure the container you use has not previously sprayed chemicals or you will just kill your nematodes. Spray them over entire yard, then water again to get them into the soil and root system.

Ta Da! No more fleas. We apply it twice a year and have a happy dog.

Potato Update

Hmm I should have gotten bigger buckets...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Je Ne Suis Pas La Rose, Mais J'ai Vecu Pres D'elle.

"I am not the rose, but I have lived near the rose."
There was a scraggly rose bush in a back corner of our fence when we moved in. It languished neglected in the shade for about a year until we transplanted it to the front yard with full sun. Now we are treated to amazing blossoms. The rose is almost too pretty. I like something a bit more subtle. The quirky daisy studying alone in the library. But maybe that's just me.

Free At Last

It's such a nice day that we decided to let the chickens into their chicken yard while we garden. They are in heaven. It is a shady area behind the garage that didn't have a lot going on. We seeded rye grass a few months ago. (Which we also use as a cover crop in other areas of the garden.) Around the same time, I came across an entire flat of Brussels Sprouts about to be tossed at a local nursery and planted those back there as well. The better our chickens eat- the better we eat. As Michael Pollen says, "You are what you eat eats,too."

Feed Me Seymour

One of our artichokes is almost 6 feet wide. Its growing one artichoke. That better be one tasty veggie.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Come Lettuce Adore Him

We are letting our lettuce go to seed. Once it gets too hot- the lettuce turns bitter. Our lettuce went bitter weeks ago. Ah, the joys of growing in Texas. Although I will miss the fresh salads, I think the lettuce seeds look so interesting- tiny dandelion puffs.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Sugar Snap Peas

Yum! These never make it into the house. We eat them off the vine.

Bonus: As a member of the legume family, they are also nitrogen fixers- or plants who take their nitrogen from the air (as opposed to other plants that take nitrogen from the soil) and then deposit nitrogen back into the soil when they die. (to get really technical it involves good bacteria- but this is my simple laymans definition.)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Things We Have Learned The Hard Way

That we would like you to learn the easy way.

Verbena is poisonous. Our daughter grew sick, very quickly after eating a leaf of the verbena plant in our front yard. Luckily, she hadn't swallowed it and after removing the leaf- she was fine. There are many common plants that are poisonous. With a little one accustomed to picking and eating out of the vegetable garden- its important to know what is poisonous out there in the world.

A few things that are growing in our yard or our nearby park that are poisonous:
  • Butterfly Weed
  • Lantana
  • Elephant Ears
  • Larkspur
  • Morning Glory
  • Daffodil
  • Buttercup
  • Daisy
Also, many plants that are poisonous to people are also poisonous to pets.

You can avoid planting these plants in your yard if you choose- but you will likely still encounter them at playgrounds, friends homes and so forth. Education might be the best route.

For a more complete list: the poison control website:


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Face Only An Aggie Could Love

So you'll never guess who invented the Maroon bluebonnet. Two A&M alumni, trying to make red and white bonnets for an American Flag planting, called off the search when they ended up with maroon.

They are quite charming. Although, I have to say, I prefer the traditional blue bonnet, and not just because I graduated from UT.


Two years ago we planted a bed of poppies. With the help of the birds, we are still getting volunteers popping up all over the yard. I love the idea of plants volunteering.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Chickens Make Their Internet Debut

We raise chickens in our backyard. Our backyard in the center of San Antonio. After a long fiasco involving our friends dog, a not so reputable farm on the south side, and three roosters- we went to a feed store and picked out three spring chicks. 95% guaranteed to be hens.
Little known fact: You do not need a rooster to get eggs. Hens will lay eggs regardless and in fact if you are raising chickens for eggs and fun in the city, you do not want a rooster. ( Trust me.) Also you don't want your eggs to be fertilized. That could make for an unfortunate breakfast surprise. These are our three pullets: Omelet, Scrambles and Migas.

Our chickens live in a chicken tractor that we move around the yard daily so they get fresh grass and bugs to eat (while fertilizing the lawn and garden.) We also planted a lush little chicken yard behind the garage but they are stuck in their tractor for now after we saw a hawk perched on top of their coop looking in eagerly.

Making Worm Composting Cute Since 08

I love our worm compost bins. Last winter when we decided to try vermiculture, we called all the local garden centers and bait shops in town but it was the wrong season for red wiggler worms. Who knew worms had a season? So our generous friend Suzanne (http://suzannemireles.blogspot.com/) gave us a sock filled with worms! It was a great present. We used an old wooden nightstand from a thrift store and drilled about 10 holes in the bottom. Then we put strips of brown packing paper we had saved, fruit scraps and a few hand fulls of dirt in the top drawer. After a few months when the worms multiplied, we expanded to the bottom drawer too. Now we pull out worms as treats for the chickens. We would be willing to pay it forward and pass on a sock full of worms to anyone else wanting to start their own worm composting operation. Its hours of entertainment for my daughter to stir the dirt looking for worms. She's a weird kid. We've cleaned out the bin once and used all the castings for our potted plants and house plants first. We still had some left over so we gave worm compost treats to my other favorite plants outside.

Hot tip: Worms love watermelon rinds more than life itself.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Container Potatoes

We often set up our gardening adventures like science experiments. Putting plants in different areas of the yard or watering different amounts. My husbands gardening philosophy is "Let's just try it." I read in a dusty library book to plant the whole seed potato without cutting it up. Every other source I have come across has said to cut the potato into chunks with an eye before planting. What's a girl to do? I just tried it- both ways. Top photo:Cut up potato. Bottom Photo: One whole potato.

Hot Tip: I collected the buckets during bulk pick up trash days. The buckets need holes in the bottom because potatoes need well draining soil- and people are often discarding large buckets with holes in the bottom. Perfect fit for free potato containers.

I drilled more holes in the bottom and threw in some mostly, but not totally, decomposed compost from our bins, a handful of sand from the sandbox and some potting soil. I planted two buckets with cut potatoes and one bucket with one whole seed potato. They are all coming up nicely! Potatoes are tubers so you want more going on underneath than on top. After the plants come up- I throw more compost on top and bury them again.

We also have potatoes growing in the ground. Common gardening knowledge is to only plant certified disease free seed potatoes and not just a regular store potato that sprouts in your kitchen. But we had one sprout in the kitchen and you know how we do... We are trying it.

In the fall when we harvest- I'll report back on what worked best.

Your Reputation Preceeds You


Patience is a Virtue

This is the first year we have tried to grow strawberries. I've heard its difficult in Texas so I only bought a few to see if we could get them to work. We planted 3 in a strawberry pot to keep the berries off the ground. They have been doing great. I regret that we did not buy more. Something is eating them though. My daughter. Its a popular fruit around here and neither of us like to share.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Friend or Foe?

This is eating our dill plants. Foe.

But it is a swallowtail caterpillar that will one day grown up to be a beautiful butterfly. Friend.

We don't mind sharing with friends. Since we have about 30 dill plants growing-we are going to transplant the little dill to multiple areas of the garden- in case the caterpillars get overly ambitious and try to eat them all.

Hot tip: You can recognize a swallowtail caterpillar from a similar looking monarch caterpillar because the swallowtail has spots instead of full stripes.


Let’s hear it for vegetables!-Michelle Obama

Our chard has really taken off this year. It's nearing the end of its days in our garden as it prefers cooler weather and its about to get scorching hot.

Confession: I do not particularly enjoy chard. People keep offering the suggestion to use it anytime you would normally use spinach. Problem is we have an over abundance of spinach and I love spinach.

One way I do enjoy chard is to use the stalks in place of celery. Yummy, crunchy and since celery is in the dirty dozen of foods to avoid unless grown organically- our grocery bill wins as well. (http://www.greenthinkers.org/blog/2006/06/organic_dirty_dozen.html)

One member of our family loves chard. Bonus points for spotting my daughter as she dives in headfirst to eat some breakfast chard.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Cats and Bats Living in Harmony.

Bat-face Cuphea.
Pansy: Yellow Whiskers.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Compost Part 1

My whole life has been spent waiting for an epiphany, a manifestation of God's presence, the kind of transcendent, magical experience that let's you see your place in the big picture. And that is what I had with my first compost heap. -Bette Midler

Bette said it first- but I also felt it. Or maybe I should say I felt it with my second compost heap. My first experience with compost was at my Aunt's home. A self proclaimed accidental killer of plants. We owned a plastic compost bin that stayed in the corner of our yard- for years. It attracted bees and smelled and scared me when it was my turn to dump the compost. We never used it- or turned it. It's existence was baffling to me. This particular chapter has no happy ending. We moved away and left the bin.

I married my husband- we bought a house. One of the first things we did was build a compost pile. I was older and wiser and he is a master Gardener. With a capital G. I loved throwing our food waste into the pile because I now love not making trash. This was reward enough for me. After a year, a few turns and the occassional watering- we stirred it around and had awesome, perfect healthy soil. It was like finding treasure for me. I was visibly excited. We made this from trash! WE MADE SOIL FROM TRASH! It was that exciting. Maybe because of my former misgivings about the compost pile of yor. Maybe because I'm easily excited. It was truly amazing to me. Still is.

I moved on to vermiculture next- but the regular old compost pile still has a place in my heart. We now have three piles in various stages of decay and a beautiful snapdragon garden growing in our old spot.

The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.

One of my favorite things in our garden was planted long before we got here. A Meyer Lemon Tree that our neighbors say was planted by an older woman who lived here over ten years ago. The first year we lived in our home- we didn't need rain barrels. It rained. Every day. For 3 months straight. That lemon tree blossomed and bore 100s of lemons. We were giving away lemons by the wholefoods bag full. We made every lemon recipe in the cookbook. I was hooked on fruit trees.

We decided to plant two more fruit trees on our property this winter. Originally, the plan was two peach trees but after a discussion with a very knowledge gardener working at Fanicks Garden Center(http://www.fanicknursery.com/), we came home with another citrus-a Satsuma Orange and a dwarf Southern Flame peach. Its important to go to a place where they know the area- fruit trees have an important consideration: chill hours. Each variety of tree has a certain requirement for the chill hours they need to produce fruit. What may seem a small geographical difference- say Boerne Texas vs. Central San Antonio- actually has slightly different chill hours during the winter and this can effect what variety will thrive in your backyard. You can research your areas chill hours on line but good garden centers should be informed on what will work in your area.

The wonderful thing about fruit trees (you know, besides the fruit) is the gorgeous blossoms. Encourage bees and uses any accumulated rain water for your fruit trees and you will be rewarded.

There will be a rain dance this Friday, Weather Permitting.

The weather will permit. This is South Texas. Whats a Texas gardener to do?

Enter stage left: rain barrels!

The newest members to our gardening family.

Hot tip: Buy 13 cent goldfish after a heavy rain, throw them in the barrels and let them eat your mosquito eggs to their hearts content. If they die? Fish emulsion. So far ours have survived. 2 weeks and counting.

Originally we planned to buy rain barrels premade from Dave the Barrel Man: http://www.davethebarrelman.net/. I think they ran from barebones 35.00 to fancy upgrades 65.00. Reasonable...

Still we decided we could make them cheaper and it could involve my husband buying tools. Two requirements to any home improvement project.

The barrels themselves are food grade 60 gallon plastic and were around 25.00 from Dave.
Food grade barrels are important so you can get barrels that held oh say- Cajun hot sauce - and not oil or car washing soap.

Side note: who was ordering 60 gallons of hot sauce at a time? If you can find that person- you can cut out the middle man and get your barrels for free.