Sunday, June 24, 2012

Growing Trees from Groceries

I am such a dork about science. I read in The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities that if you freeze peach seeds, it tricks them into thinking winter has come and you can get them to sprout.

So we took a whole bunch of peach seeds and cherry seeds from organic fruits we gobbled up, threw them in a freezer bag and froze them for a few days.
Freezer Seeds
 Then we planted three each in 3 gallon pots that we had.

Not Dirt- Future Trees
We still had tons more seeds so we threw them in with the potted tomato plants. I figure this way we know they will be watered when we water our tomatos. Then if they do sprout - we won't have to transplant them into bigger pots for awhile.

Not just tomatoes- also future fruit trees. I hope.
I have no idea if any of this will work. But we dug this peach tree out of my mother-in-laws compost pile last year and its doing great.

Compost Peach Tree
Not all fruit seeds will grow into proper adult trees with edible fruit but peach trees and cherry trees seem to be a good choice to try. Toby Hemingway, Author of Gaia's Garden, Second Edition: A Guide To Home-Scale Permaculture responded to a question about growing fruit from seeds thusly: "Most stone fruits grow more or less true from seed, unlike apples and pears. They may reach a different height than the parent tree, since they aren't grafted to a controlled rootstock. Seedlings can grow very vigorously and self-select for your local conditions, so they have their advantages too."

Basically he is saying that the fruit from your seed grown tree will be edible but will grow really tall. I can work with that. Why don't you throw some stone seeds into your freezer and try growing grocery trees with us? Science experiment trees! I will post some follow ups as they (hopefully) grow. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Speak for the Trees

 I feel really inspired to plant trees. Digging a hole and planting a tree that might be there in 100 years (1,000 years) feels like such a tangible solution to what ails us. I am currently reading this book:

It is so good. The man planting trees is attempting to clone the world's champion trees. Its amazing that no one was working on this task before this alcoholic had a near death experience.  The champion cloning story is interspersed with so much fascinating information on what we know and don't know about our trees. Why didn't I grow up to be a tree scientist? Sometimes I feel like everything that needs to be known is the world has already been discovered and then I find out scientists don't even know how trees die. One chapter that really grabbed me focuses on all the chemicals that are released by trees and how those chemicals affect us as we walk through a forest. Maybe that relaxing feeling you get in the woods is caused by crazy tree chemicals. I mean really?! Really. The book is taking my normal love of trees and cranking it up to 11. If it was the right time of year to plant trees in Texas- I think my last dollar would be gone into my imaginary orchard.

Satsuma Orange

We have planted at least 15 trees in our yard. Mostly fruit trees. If you are looking to put more trees on your space- consider trees that can give you food. There is a movement to plant perennials vegetables because it saves soil and time. Fruit and nut trees are the ultimate in perennial food stuffs. But there should also be a space in your land and your heart for slower growing trees that you may never get to truly enjoy.
We planted an Elm in our front yard. We live in an area named Olmos which means Elm Tree. Our tree is so small- but I hope many years from now when I am long gone, it will be a giant storing all the carbon dioxide, providing shade, calming spirits and releasing all sorts of crazy tree chemicals on future generations.
Mexican Plum

We also planted this Mexican Plum three years ago. It's starting to look like a real deal tree! To plant a tree and nurture it is really something to be proud of.

 If you are in San Antonio- you can get together with your neighbors and apply for a grant for free trees, mulch and watering bags for up to 25 trees! Our neighborhood did it last year. The grant application is due July 27, 2012. Each district is allotted 100 trees! We are trying to increase the tree canopy for the city. More trees means less pollution, lower temperatures in town, and less excessive water run off. Go get your free trees neighborhoods of San Antonio. Here is more information:Apply for free trees.

If you are not in San Antonio- maybe your city is looking to expand its tree canopy as well. You should check it out. I am also planning on joining The Arbor Day Foundation this fall- with your $10.00 membership fee you can get 10 free flowering trees! (or they will plant 10 trees in a national forest for you) That's really neat.

Sadly tree planting season is not until the winter for us Texans. But put a tree on your holiday wish list. I'll just be here scheming up more ways and places to plant trees until then.

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

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sowing San Antonio

Southern Peas

What can I plant in San Antonio or Austin in the middle of June? Glad you asked.

Right now you can plant- cantaloupe, warm season greens, okra, southern peas (black eyed peas), sweet potato slips, and pumpkins!

It is a great time to pop in some pumpkin seeds to have pumpkins for Halloween! Put them in the front yard for all your Trick or Treatin fun.

Even if you don't love to eat black eyed peas- you can plant them to add more nitrogen to your soil for fall. They are a great cover crop. It is about to get crazy hot and there is not much you can plant in July so take some time to pop in some plants now!

One thing you can plant in July is tomato transplants. Read the previous post to find out how to make your own for free!

Best of luck hot summer gardeners! You can grow your own food!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Tomato Surgeon


One last tomato tip. Say you have some tomato plants that look like they they won't make it through the summer or that looks like this:

Yikes!* You can also use this method if you just want to grow more tomato plants in the Fall. Just choose any tomato plant in your garden that you'd like more of.
Before you pull up the plant as a total loss- here's a tip. Take cuttings from the newest growth. Make sure your cuttings are not affected by any fungus, mold etc.  You want a fresh and green piece from the end of the plant. Cut it with an exacto knife and trim off the lower leaves and branches as well.
Put the cuttings in a jar of water on a sunny windowsill. The plants can soak up a lot of water, so make sure you don't let them dry out. You want to change the water out daily, much like you would with cut flowers. In a few days they will have roots, and you can put them in pots. In 2 weeks (sometime in July) you can plant these in the garden for fall tomatoes! Look at you making fall tomatoes happen for free! I mean- really- you can't beat free.

Here is a close up of sweet potato slips we cut the same way two days ago. Those are the little white roots starting to grow. 
Growing vegetables in South and Central Texas can be confusing because the planting times are different from most other places. People are often asking me what can I plant now and when can I plant ____? (fill in your favorite vegetable) So I am going to add a new feature called Sowing on the Second and Sowing on the Seventeenth and do my dangest to actually post at least a short post on the 2nd and 17th of each month letting you know what you can plant NOW and how you can get ready to plant what comes next. Since I missed the 17th this month- look for the first sowing post soon.

To those I promised amaranth seeds- sorry for the delay but they should be on the way soon! I didn't forget about you.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Troubleshooting Tomatoes

Only two things that money can't buy- and that's true love and homegrown tomatoes. -John Denver

If you are wondering why store bought tomatoes taste horrible, read this:

But I warn you this is a quote from the introduction: "In the chilling words of Douglas Mollory, South Florida's tomato fields are "ground zero for modern-day slavery." Mollory is not talking about virtual slavery, or near slavery or slaverylike conditions, but real slavery."

I mean sorry- I know you came here to read tomato watering tips but to say this book was eye opening is really an understatement. People working in the fields are sprayed directly with pesticides! On their person! Where is the humanity? Check the book out if you want to find out more and also find out why store tomatoes taste horrible. I'll leave it at that.
On to you growing your own tomatoes!

Tomato Problem: Birds are eating your tomatoes.

Solution 1. Pick your tomatoes just before the are ripe and let them ripen inside. A few days inside will not hurt the taste. Birds seem to have acquired a palate for tomatoes the day before you are going to pick them. They like them better a little green. Nothing worse than seeing a Brandywine you were about to pick yesterday destroyed because you waited a day. I have been there.

Solution 2. Cover your plants in bird netting. Bird netting can be a bit of a pain because it gets tangled up in everything but it does the job. I also read in Mother Earth News that you can use old lace curtains and they won't get so tangled. Once I find some vintage lace curtains at the thrift store, I will test it out for you.

Solution 3. Plant some yellow or orange tomatoes. This is totally unscientific but the birds leave our non-red tomato varieties alone.
Tomato Tip 1: Only water at the base of the plant. Getting water on the leaves can make the plant more susceptible to fungal diseases.

Tomato Tip 2. When you see a tomato has been pecked by birds or partially eaten by bugs, remove it from your plant or it will just attract more bugs.

Tomato Tip 3. If your plant has a fungal disease or spider mites (you can see little webs), you can use neem oil. Neem oil is a common organic pesticide and can be found in most nurseries and even big box stores. The sooner you catch it and treat it- the better. The part of the plant that was affected won't produce but that plant's new growth can provide you with fresh tomatoes.

Tomato Tip 4. If you find you can not save the plant- pull it up before it spreads to your others. You will want to be careful if you put it in your compost pile- the pile needs to get hot enough to kill any disease. If you are not so exact with your compost- it is better to burn the plant or dispose of it another way. You don't want next year's sweet homemade compost to be carrying disease.
Hope this helps your harvest! And please share any tomato tips you have learned!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Obsessed with Kale Salad

Yeah we still have kale. Yeah it is a cold weather crop and 100 degree weather is certainly not cold. But it is still growing and it hasn't gotten too bitter or too tough. It has not yet gone to seed. So I eat kale salad every day knowing that its days are numbered.  Just ask anyone at any potluck I have been to in the last oh 3 months. KALE SALAD!

People are often telling me they dislike kale. My hairdresser told me it tasted like a garnish and he couldn't chew it. I know I am beating a dead horse here people but try massaged kale salad. Under no circumstances are you to eat kale just straight up tough as nails on a sandwich. Dirtiest Kid in the World does it on occasion- but she is odd. I highly recommend cutting out the rough stems, and breaking it up with your hands and oil. Then we dress it with vinegar, agave or honey and mustard. You can throw in whatever you have growing in the garden. Usually we use carrots since it is a winter crop but lately it has been tomatoes.
 Hot tip: If it has not gotten bitter but has gotten a little too tough- you can make the salad the night before you want to eat it and the dressing breaks it down so it is perfect the next day.

When I was a child, I lived in upstate NY and people were always forcing me to try this trout! You have never had fish THIS fresh but I hated fish. They insisted I try theirs and I hated it still. This is how I feel when people tell me they don't like kale- I want to make them my kale salad and force it on them. You have never had kale until you have had this kale salad...

It is also great juiced with red grapes and lime. I am sure you will all be happy when the kale finally croaks and you never have to read about it until next winter. ...Or kale chips. OK I'm really done.

I now enjoy fresh fish. The end.

Key Hole Gardening Seminar

OK so that title pretty much sums it up. I received an email from Keep Texas Beautiful asking if I would inform my readers about a Key Hole Gardening Seminar coming up in San Antonio.  I often get emails from people offering to let me say road test say a new sports car for a week if I will write about it in my blog- I then briefly consider how I could relate me driving a Lexus to you planting squash but ultimately decline. Although if I ever get offered Solar Panels- I will sell out and never look back. Anyone? ...Anyone?

I thought y'all might actually like to know about this convention.  (Just to be clear-I get absolutely nothing from passing this knowledge on to you except the warm fuzzy feeling of spreading the good word about compost.) Keep Texas Beautiful is working towards three main goals: litter prevention, beautification and waste reduction. I can get behind that mission. I love making food from trash! I want everyone to experience it. There are quite a few interesting looking seminars at all different price points. You can find out more here.The Key Hole Gardening Seminar is about making the self fertilizing gardens I mentioned in this post. Here's a little tidbit from their press release:

"A keyhole garden is a sustainable way to grow your own food in a very small space. It is a 6’ diameter garden that recycles and composts while it is growing, and often has been coined self-fertilizing and self-watering. A center basket captures kitchen scraps to maintain the composting nutrients and water. Without any native soil, layers of cardboard, leaves, phone books, clothing, leather items, junk mail, donkey manure, grass clippings, and branches are digested by tiny critters and microbes to create the finest compost you can imagine.
The session will be lead by Deb Tolman, who holds a doctorate in environmental sciences/resources and geography from Portland State University. With more than 30 years experience in academic and landscape design, she also has extensive training in plant nutrition, economics and environmental education." 

It's $15.00 Monday, June 25th at 1:00 at the Westin Riverwalk, located at 420 W. Market Street.  Let me know if you go and what you learned!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


 The question everyone asks when they come to our garden is 1. What is that giant purple plant? A: Amaranth

Question 2: What is Amaranth? It is a grain like quinoa and has been used in many ancient civilizations through out time. You can actually harvest some varieties seeds as grains. Other types of amaranth seeds can be used to make mini-popcorn. You can also harvest the leaves but we only prefer the leaves when they are small. Once the plant starts flowering and the leaves grow larger, the taste becomes less appealing. Besides the novelty of harvesting your own grain, amaranth is a beautiful and unusual plant. We planted seeds once many years ago and it easily re-seeds itself each summer and pops up everywhere. I am fascinated by amaranth because some experts think it can help alleviate hunger in Africa because it grows like a weed and needs little water. The grains are the highest in protein of any grains and contain other important nutrients. It's a neat, funky little plant. Well, maybe not so little. It towers over our corn.
Amaranth growing with corn
We have alllll the seeds, so if you would like to grow some just let me know and I'll shake a few off a plant for you. Each plant contains 100s of seeds and this is a fail proof impossible to kill plant. It also makes great chicken snacks and tall fort walls. Happy Gardening!

Gardening for Special Diets

Look at this cake! Gluten-free homemade cake by my lovely sister-in-law Arielle. Her blog, Arielle Clementine, is usually about gourmet cooking but right now she has a story up about her garden and my pickle loving nephew.

Growing your own food is healthier and tastier than store brought produce for everyone but homegrown food has a special place in the hearts of people with special diets. I personally can not eat gluten. It makes me (and a lot of other people) really sick. It is tiring checking all the ingredients in packaged foods and challenging to eat out. There is a fear that products have been mislabeled or cross contaminated and I will end up ill There is such a  simplicity in walking out my backdoor to pick fresh, healthy food that I can be certain has not been cross contaminated by anything. I know exactly what I am eating and that includes all the pesticides, sugars and dyes I am NOT eating.

People on all sorts of special diets can enjoy this "simplicity" benefit. I know gardeners who grow their own food for the paleo diet, vegan and vegetarian diets, raw food diets, peanut allergies and so on. People who are attempting to eat only organic can save money by growing their own produce. If you or a loved one has a special diet, you will love how growing your own food puts you back in control of your health.

I also highly recommend herb gardening for professional and homegrown cooks. Fresh herbs can be outrageously expensive to buy at the grocery store but are one of the easiest things to grow in Texas. No need for special runs to the store to make your favorite tomato sauce or pesto. Try a kitchen herb spiral!

I've been sleeping so strange at night
Side effects they don't advertise
I've been sleeping so strange
With a head full of pesticide
-Bright Eyes