Monday, June 29, 2009

Herbs on a Berm

So here's the completed dead wood swale. As you can see- it looks like a small hill with herbs planted and then some mulch we freed from my neighbors bulk pick up. Or alternately- you would have no idea we buried a bunch of wood under here. Which I guess is the point. That herb on the end is citronella- the mosquito repellent. You can also see a stepping stone I made with some old broken pottery and cheap cement. I used a large plastic take-out container as the mold for that one- but it didn't work as well as the mold I bought to make stepping stones.

If digging a huge trench isn't your thing, you can also just make an above ground branch pile and put soil on it. Otherwise known as a hugelkultur. I like to call it a Hoggle after that gremlin from the Labyrinth. For some reason the 80s come up excessively in this blog. Hoggles are suppose to be great for growing potatoes. I am planning to try it next time since my last method of potato growing didn't work out too well.

"Where everything seems possible and nothing is what it seems."- The Labyrinth Tagline

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mulch, Farm City and Food Inc.

All we have been doing in the garden is some much over due mulching. We should have mulched months ago. We snagged a ton of tree leaves from our neighbors bulk pick up- but it still wasn't enough. It annoys me to buy mulch when so many people are throwing away perfectly good mulchable material. But it got to the point were it was do or die. And some plants were already dying. I even took photos of our different kinds of mulch- but mulch is so unsexy. There's nothing exciting about mulching. So carrying on:

I opened Pandora's box by starting book reviews. I read another fantastic book- right up my ally- called Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter. (What a fantastic name for an author. Our next daughter shall be named Novella.) She gardens in a vacant lot with bees, chickens, ducks, pigs! in ghetto Oakland. Oh god- its fantastic and funny. And made me believe I could keep bees. You should read it.

On the list of other things I highly recommend, the movie: Food Inc. I embarrassingly teared up at the beginning when they show the chickens in a feed lot. I am overly attached to our chickens. They are not bright animals but they are entertaining and give us delicious eggs. I should have known there was much worse to come. This may be one of those things you don't really want to know about- but we all have the right to know where our food comes from. We put this stuff into our bodies. It was amazing. And heartbreaking. And informative. Plus I love Michael Pollan.

Since the heat has been frying our garden there hasn't been as much to post about- hopefully watching Food Inc and reading Farm City will keep you busy in the meantime.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Pick a Peck of Peppers

(Not yet pickled)

The peppers are coming in! Hooray! We used a few jalapenos and mystery peppers to make a spicy tomato sauce for dinner. We have about 4 pepper plants growing that are mysteries. My daughter helpfully pulled out all the labels I had on them when they were sprouting and put them into a neat pile off to the side. We also were given another mystery pepper as a gift. But heck a hot pepper is a hot pepper. A little mystery is part of the spice.

We also have some bell peppers growing. Baby bells just starting to form.

And I will leave you with a video of Ballapeno and the Puffy Taco dancing. Only in San Antonio.

Monday, June 22, 2009


We ate our first Moon and Star watermelon. It was delicious. There were quite a few more seeds in it than I expected, most likely because the watermelons you buy at the store have had the seeds bred out of them. The fruit was amazing though. My husband and I split it in two and enjoyed it as a garden snack while we planned our fall beds. There are more growing just waiting to be picked.

Hot tip: They are ripe when the stem starts to brown or when the spot that has been resting on the ground has turned a pale yellow. Wait too long and they will get squishy or split open.

We are also growing cantaloupe. We dug a circle space out to seed them and then let the vines just run along the grass. The grass invites too many bugs though and can make the melon damp- so we have taken to putting plastic bags under the larger melons while they finish ripening. Mark Twain and I agree, homegrown fruit is the best.

The true Southern watermelon is a boon apart, and not to be mentioned with commoner things. It is chief of this world's luxuries.When one has tasted it, he knows what the angels eat. It was not a Southern watermelon that Eve took; we know it because she repented.
Mark Twain

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Our First Egg!

I have been wanting to write this post for months! We got our first egg! We were outside bbqing for Fathers Day when my father-in-law asked when we would start getting eggs. My husband replied, "Any day now. We have been keeping an eye out for eggs." So then I start looking around the yard and hidden in the Cana Lilies is a nest with two little eggs in it! They are quite small- but I have read that the first few usually are as the chickens are just getting the hang of laying. We cooked one up immediately and it was delicious. Now we will go out gathering them every day.

Happy Fathers Day!

Friday, June 19, 2009

My Daughter:The Chicken Whisperer

This is what I watch every morning as I drink my coffee. It is hilarious. You would think the chickens would be terrified of her- but they love her. I think its because she brings them treats and snacks. She is the chicken whisperer.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Friend or Food

We have started letting our chickens free range all day. The hens haven't bothered the garden like the roosters did. They dig a random dirt bath here and there but they don't eat the establish crops. My daughter has worked out a system of throwing out food and then petting them as they eat it. Which then progressed into throwing out food, grabbing them and hugging them. Its a skill. She is not the only one who has noticed how much more lovable free range chickens can be. They run to the back gate when we get home and follow us around the yard as we work. They seem a lot more like pets now.

One issue though- they should be laying eggs within the next few weeks- but how will we know where they are laying them if they are only in their coop at night? Is there a certain time of day chickens lays eggs? Early morning would be ideal since they would still be in their coop with a nesting box. Its gonna be an Easter egg hunt around here every day.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tomato Time

We are in the beginning of a mad tomato harvest. We also have quite a few peppers. Salsa and sauce here we come!

PS- Those green tomatoes are not a special green variety. My daughter, the ace harvester,hasn't mastered her colors yet. We let her picks ripen in the window.

Dead Wood Swale

We read about dead wood swales in Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway. Since dead wood can hold a great deal of water, you can bury it under the ground and use it as a sponge. As it has been over 100 degrees around here lately (A forcasted cold front this weekend will put the highs in the high 90s- brrrrrr) and with no rain in sight- we are desperatly looking for ways to keep water in the ground. I also like the permaculture idea of no waste- we get to use our trimmed tree branches for good.

We dug a huge trench about 3 feet wide and and about 1.5 feet deep, then we dug a thin trench inside it.
Sorry the photos are not so great- we did it all at night so we didn't die of heat stroke. We put rocks at the bottom of the little trench to make air pockets for the water to stay in.

Then we threw in all our tree trimmings.

Then we put the dirt back on top of it making a berm on one side and a shallow side where the water can catch. I also threw in some of our red wiggler composting worms for good luck. We also made a clearing/ drainway from were the water usually flows from the side after a rain to direct it into the swale. We are going to plant the berm with herbs. Hopefully this will keep more water under the veggie garden were we want it. I will post finished photos when it is complete.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Rollie Pollie Trick

For the most part, rollie pollies eat leaves and plants that are already on the way out. We haven't had much of a problem with them eatting any of our plants. Until yesterday. I went to cut a cucumber for a salad and saw tons of them had infiltrated it. It might be that another pest got to it first and they were just cleaning it out.

My mother-in-law taught me a trick to use an orange rind cut in half placed near the plant. We happened to have an orange on the way out to the compost- so I put it near the cucumber plant. (I had already cut off the affected cucumber and put it into the compost- lest anyone assume I ate a rollie pollie salad). Then today I checked under the halves and there they were. On the ground and in the rind. I scooped them up and threw them into the compost. There are still a ton more. Its a trick I will have to use a few times to actually move them away from my cucumber- but still- very easy to do.

Another easy way to kill them is to make elaborate shoe box houses filled with grass and sticks and dirt and keep them inside it for a day. I learned this the hard way, repeatedly, when I was 7.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Epic Failures

09 potato famine

I write this blog for a few reasons. 1. Because even though we have bought many blank books with the intention of keeping a gardening journal- we never quite do. This is now our photo journal. 2. To share ideas with friends just starting out with their homes and gardens. 3. Because its a pet peeve of mine how gardening books and articles make gardening seem so hard and I want it to seem more accessible. Yes there is some very proper way of making compost- but if you just dump a bunch of food trash into a pile- it will still compost! Its amazing. Books and experts can be very intimidating to a beginner. I would know.

Stating all that - nature is also painfully humbling. Someone told me recently our garden was intimidating. I do not mean to falsely portray our garden as some magical place where everything goes right. Here are a few of my favorite EPIC FAILURES:

1. Remember when I was going on and on about what method will grow potatoes best? Well I put only compost in my buckets and when I went to harvest them- the soil was soaking wet and not draining. They were filled with plenty of worms and June bug larva and about 6 of the tiniest potatoes you have ever seen. No mashed potato feasts this year.

2. Then, we have this here tree. A Caesalpinia Mexicana. Has been called one of the world's most beautiful trees. Wouldn't you agree? We call it the stick tree. Every time its gets little leaves, we think its taking off and cut back on the watering, then it dies again. But there is hope for this one- its getting leaves again and I think we have finally learned. We hooked the dripping facet up to a hose that we are running out to the base of the tree.


3. Fish in the rain barrels- Disclaimer: We love animals, don't call PETA. We were keeping goldfish in our rain barrels to eat the mosquito eggs. Often, we run hoses out of our barrels and let them slow drip into the beds as needed. What is a slow drip to us is not such a slow drip to the fish. Not once, but twice, we have forget about our fish friends and let all the water out on them. Yikees. They only cost 11 cents at the pet store. 11 cents! What costs 11 cents these days? But with summer upon us- there is just not enough water to keep them happy (alive). Sorry fish friends.

Our fish in happier times.

"It is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong, than to be always right by having no ideas at all."- Edward De Bono

Monday, June 8, 2009

Living Forts: The Bean Teepee V. The Sunflower Fort

The sunflower fort came in nicely after all. Some of the multi-headed ones got too heavy and fell down. That does not bode well for multi-headed sunflowers. Still the sunflower fort is somewhat lacking. The leaves at the bottom of the plant fall off by the time the flower blooms so the walls are a little sparse. I think next year we could improve on a few things and will try again but I am also going to attempt to make another living fort: the bean teepee.

We have a climbing bean teepee already, but the current one is too small to get into. In the future, it could very easily be made into a larger fort with edible walls. The walls are densely covered with vines and shade is a necessity in a Texas fort. It is inviting, cool green with pretty flowers and yum yum beans. Whats not to like. I am considering this one a small practice model for our future amazing bean teepee fort.

Derek Zoolander: What is this? A center for ants? How can we be expected to teach children to learn how to read... if they can't even fit inside the building?
Mugatu: Derek, this is just a small...
Derek Zoolander: I don't wanna hear your excuses! The building has to be at least... three times bigger than this!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Gaia's Garden

So on the recommendation of my fantastic friend Suzanne- I have been trying to track down the book Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway. I had visited every book store in San Antonio- at least twice- since a new version was coming out in May and I was falsely led to believe some stores would get it in then. No luck. This weekend we vacationed in the equally fantastic city of Austin and I walk into Bookpeople (great bookstore) and low and behold- there it was shining on the shelf. I think a tear came to me eye.

Now I have shown serious restraint on this blog about recommending or even mentioning books. That is because I have a book reading/ buying addiction. If I start telling you about one book I like - then I get overwhelmed with all the other books I like that you REALLY MUST read. And I don't want to yell at you in all caps like that. But this book is great. Its as great as this months edition of Mother Earth News- which at every article I exclaimed out loud, "This magazine is really good. No really good," to my husband. Then the next night when he got a chance to read it he couldn't help but say the same thing.

That's how much I like this book- Gaia's Garden. Its about using permaculture practices at home. Some of the stuff we already do but some suggestions are intriguing and explained in a way I think I can actually accomplish by myself. I'm only about half way through- but I am going to go out on a limb and recommend it.

And since I can't stop there- I also want to recommend my other favorite garden -esq genre books:

Food Not Lawns

The Omnivore's Dilemma

I am going to go live out on the land but have no clue what I am doing genre:
Farewell My Subaru
Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology

I am going to work on enjoying the simple things in life instead of material things:
Simple Prosperity

Why nature matters for kids:
Last Child in the Woods

You have any favorite garden type books? I will read them. I'd love recommendations.

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” Marcus Tullis Cicero

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

New Flower Bed

I used my birthday gift certificate to make a new flower bed in the front. We had a thin strip of grass between the bushes and the front walkway that was dying to be turned into a flower bed. I went with mostly oranges, yellows and whites- some perennials, some annuals.

We also trimmed the bushes back and used the leaves as a cover until we had a chance to covered it all up with compost.

Compost really makes it look a lot nicer and helps keep what little moisture we have in the ground. We get our compost by the truckload from Fertile Gardens- they have good stuff. We bagged some up after our last delivery and have been slowly using it ever since.
A rue we picked up at the Festival of Flowers. The swallowtail caterpillars are eating one up so soon we will have some more butterflies.

A Blackfoot daisy.

Honestly- I can't remember what this is called.

We have had a hell of a time finding more four nerve daisy (yellow in the middle) They are native and do well. Everywhere we ask- people have said tons of people are requesting them and hopefully they will get more soon. My husband thinks we should go into the four nerve daisy wholesale business.