Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Our Top Ten Urban Farming Books

 My husband is intensely passionate about gardening. I am insane over books- so much so that I can't get on the e-reader train. Yet. How would I fulfill my book hoarding desires?  Here is where our passions meet- Our Top Ten Urban Farming Books. In no particular order:

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four MealsIf you have ever seen a documentary about food production in the US- Micheal Pollen is in it. This book breaks down how food production works in the US and why it doesn't work for a lot of us. I appreciated how it highlights the differences between BIG organic and smaller, sustainable farms. A modern classic.

Texas Gardening the Natural Way: The Complete Handbook- Howard Garrett. This is a great reference book for the organic gardener. Tried and true information on plants that grow in your area which is esp. important for gardeners in Texas. You remember reference books? We used them before the Internet.

You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Start & Succeed in a Farming Enterprise - Joel Salatin. Joel Salatin is the kind of farmer you picture when you picture a sustainable farmer. He is a real character and writes a lot of entertaining, informative books. You Can Farm is my favorite. It gives practical advice for how to start your own farm and make it profitable.

Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden And Your Neighborhood into a Community Heather Flores. How great is that title? It says it all. One of my all time favorite books. Lots of fun projects, such as starting worm composting in an old wooden nightstand that we have utilized over the years.

Gaia's Garden, Second Edition: A Guide To Home-Scale Permaculture -Toby Hemenway.  This is a great introduction to permaculture and how good design can solve just about everything.

Permaculture: A Designers' Manual- Bill Mollison.  If Gaia's Garden is the introduction, this is the conclusion.The bible of permaculture by the father. Not cheap but covers it all.

Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer Novella Carpenter. Oh this book is fantastic. Novella rents a place in Oakland and turns a vacate lot next to her house into a organic garden filled with chickens, bees and even pigs. She is hilarious and it is inspiring. I still have a yearning to keep bees years after reading it. Someday.

Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle - David Wann.  This book is not about gardening per se. It is about slowing down our lives, spending less and stepping off the consumer treadmill. I appreciate the ideas and read it when I need a reminder.

The Winter Harvest Handbook and/ or The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener (A Gardener's Supply Book)- Eliot Coleman. Eliot Coleman runs a farm in Maine. A book about Winter growing in Maine may seem like it does not apply to Texas but he has a lot of practical ideas of how to keep the growing season going through all four seasons.

Organic Farming: Everything You Need to Know- Peter Fossel. This book helps shows how to turn a non-organic garden or farm into an organic operation. It shows the steps to starting a garden business and even covers marketing basics and where to sell your produce.

Did I miss any of your favorites? Let me know!

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Friday, February 24, 2012

Keeping the Cats Out and The Kids In


DKITW's school has raised garden beds that no one was utilizing. We discussed helping her classroom set up a small veggie and flower garden. Her teacher stated that no one was using the beds because stray cats were using the beds as litter boxes. Umm gross. Can I just go a little Bob Barker on my fellow citizens of San Antonio and ask everyone to spay and neuter their pet? We love cats as much as the next guy, but not in our gardens esp. if you plan on having kids digging in the dirt.
So we worked out a plan. DHITW cleared out all the old dirt from one of the beds and replaced it with fresh soil. Then we covered the whole bed with pine tree branches. Cats do not want to attempt to dig through pine tree branches. (Where did we find pine tree branches? We hypothetically might have still had our Christmas Tree laying around the backyard. Some landscape hoarding comes in handy! You can also buy fresh pine tree branches.) For the next week, I would check on the bed to make sure the branches were deterring the cats before we let the kids plant. It was working so we brought in the kids. We removed the branches directly before DKITW's class planted Johnny Jump-Ups (transplants) and Dragon Tongue Beans (Bush Bean Seeds). They got a big kick out of the names. Then you replace the branches taking care to cover as much of the bed as you can without crushing the plants. The pine needles let in enough sun and water that the plants will grow right through them.
Little Bean Plant Popping Up

Johnny Jump-Ups

Over time the needles will fall off and compost the bed. As the plants grow larger, the cats stay away looking for an easier place to dig. We have tried this at home as well and had success. I really like this trick because it is all natural and safe for kids and cats.

Other tricks include planting plants cats dislike such as Rue, using cat stay away spray, or mulching with smooth river rocks. There is always the if you can't beat 'em, join 'em method where you pick a spot of your garden to plant cat nip and put in a small sand box/ litter area far away from the rest of your beds.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Progression of the Herb Spiral

 How to Make an Herb Spiral
 What we planted
How it looks today.

What's Blooming Now

 Arugula in bloom
 Dorset Golden Apple Tree
 Maroon Bonnets
 Mountain Laurel with a bee friend

 We keep our rose petals in a basket in the house for potpourri.  Hot tip from my lovely mother-in-law.

Our cat using an empty pot as a pillow.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Strawberry Transplants

DKITW and I did a little strawberry planting today. Strawberries are usually only annuals here in San Antonio because the heat of summer kills them off. We have had a rare plant or two last through the summer but the productivity never really recovers. The plants prefer well draining soil on the sandy side. Most of the soil around us is clay so we always plant our strawberries in containers or raised beds. Here is DKITW with her picture tutorial of how to plant a strawberry transplant.

 You gotta shake up the dirt and loosen up the roots. We usually pull some of the bottom roots off to free the plant.

 These kind of pots are good to catch the runners that the plant will drop.
 Almost berry time already!

 Water them in and fresh strawberries will soon await you.

Earth Art

Dirtiest Kid in the World loves making art. It is her thing. Here are a few of our favorite simple art projects that involve nature.

In the fall we went on lots of nature walks in the woods near our house and enjoyed gathering up different color leaves. One day, when we brought some leaves home in our pockets, we decided to draw a trunk, glue them to some paper and make a picture of a tree. Since then, often times when we go on walks around the neighborhood, DKITW will pick up leaves and take them home to make more trees. This leads to conversations about why there are less colorful leaves in the winter and why some leaves have different shapes than others. It is so simple- but she loves it and it keeps her entertained on long walks. I also highly recommend art projects kids can complete without your help.

DKITW also enjoys making books. She draws what she sees growing around the yard. That Malabar Spinach is spot on. We plan on making a flower press book with real wild flowers in the spring time. You should plan on making one with us! It will be epic.

DKITW got this sweet coloring book for Christmas. It has prompts about what to draw. This one says Draw Laundry Drying. She drew a dryer hanging from a clothes line. Does that revoke our green cred?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Tale of the Tomato Transplants and the Cold Frame

DHITW build our cold frame at the beginning of winter out of free and found materials. The sides are made out of scrap pieces of wood, wrapped in plastic sheeting that our mattress came in and have two found windows as the top. This will keep your plants a few degrees warmer on those rare cold days and nights. The South Side of your house is a great place to put a cold frame because it will shelter the plants from the wind but will still get a lot of sun. Having a simple cold frame can expand your growing season and help you get a head start on your seedlings and transplants. Starting your veggies from seeds or smaller transplants and growing them yourself can save you a lot of money.
Here are our seedling tomatoes in the cold frame from a few weeks back. We also bought some small tomato transplants a few months back at a discount because they were out of season. We planted them in larger pots and keep them in the cold frame when it gets chilly. When it warms up enough to plant our tomatoes in the garden, we will be set to go.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Dogs DO Eat Carrots

After I wrote about our puppy eating carrots, a few readers told me their dogs love eating carrots. I then researched online that some vets recommend carrots or even frozen carrots for healthier dog snacks. Dogs can not really process raw veggies but apparently they are great for the crunchy chew and better than the high calorie junk food dog snacks you can get at the store. Well, color me shocked. Our older dog ate a beer can, the carpet and numerous remote controls in his youth but would never and I mean never eat anything resembling a vegetable. Who knew? I guess you guys did. Go on with your veggie eating dogs.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Broccoflower Cont.

I just can not get over this plant. We have eaten it twice now and it tastes exactly like cauliflower. But I think I would enjoy cauliflower more if it always looked like this. Nature is crazy.