Friday, August 31, 2012

Bloggers Go Orange For Hunger Awareness

I was invited to participate in National Hunger Awareness Month with Bloggers Go Orange for No Kid Hungry. A big part of gardening for me is the ability to provide my family with fresh, homegrown food. I believe everyone has a right to healthy, pesticide free, non-toxic food. It is unacceptable that nearly 1 in 5 children in America are at risk of hunger and that that number is almost 1 in 4 children here in Bexar County. Because I was raised in a family of teachers, this stat really stood out to me-78% of teachers who see hunger in their class spend an average of $26.00 a month of their own money to buy food for their classroom. Find out more from the hunger in our schools teacher report.

Often times we can read these stats and gloss over them. We are so busy in our everyday lives and some of us may be struggling to support our own families. But these are real children, real neighbors with a real need in our community. Over the month of September, I am going to spotlight three agencies here in town working to alleviate hunger in our community; The Dinner Garden, San Antonio Food Bank and Meals on Wheels. I have made a donations to each in honor of National Hunger Awareness Month and invite you to do the same if you are able. Or donate some volunteer time, host a food drive, or grow some extra veggies. Together we can help make a difference in our community. If you are ready to get start now, the San Antonio Food Bank has a neat calendar for 30 ways to help during the 30 days of September.  I just downloaded the Charity Miles app and I am going to try it out today. Please join me in the fight against hunger.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Upgrade Your Rain Barrel

Four way hose connector + 4 female hose ends

The most recent issue of Mother Earth News features an article showing how to improve your rain barrels. Since much of the country is in a drought, now is a great time to test it out. A whole lotta rain can be captured from your roof- a lot more than can usually be stored in the average sized rain barrel. This method saves the rain water directly in your garden, where you want it, instead of overflowing the spot near your barrel.You can read our original detailed how to make a rain barrel here. We just took one the original barrel we made in that how to and improved it with these few steps.

Purchase a 4 way hose connector and 3 female hose end replacements OR a Y-two way hose connector and 1 female hose end replacement. Female hose replacement is just a funny name for metal end of your hose that connects to the facet.

1. Screw the 4 way hose connector onto your existing facet on your rain barrel. 

2. Cut up an old hose* into 4 parts (or 2). Attach female hose end replacements to hoses following the directions on the package. 

*To get a little more specific on how we cut our hoses, we attached the hose to the barrel, then walked it out to where we wanted the water to go in the garden and cut it off there. Then we attached the first female hose end replacement to the cut hose piece, attached that to the barrel, walked it out to the next place in the garden we wanted water and cut it off forth.

If you don't have an old hose laying around, ask friends and family or keep your eyes open during trash pick up. Lots of old hoses with holes and leaks are thrown away every day.

3.Now depending on your garden layout and water needs, you can either feed these hoses as is to fruit trees or other areas of your garden that can handle a lot of water OR you can drill some holes in the hoses so when it rains and the barrel fills up, the water will drain right into your garden where you want it.

4. Check your garden after the first few downpours to see if you drilled the right number of holes. Drill more if the water is flooding an area or duct tape up some holes if the water can't make it to the end. You can also clamp off the end of your hose by folding it over with a c-clamp or duct tape if you want to prevent too much water from spilling out the end.

Viola! You built a better mousetrap rain barrel.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Throwing Shade

Romanesco Italia Broccoli
DHITW built us a shade house on the cheap. He used mostly found lumber, wire mesh, shade cloth and a whole bunch of burlap sacks we got for free from our local nursery. It cost under $100.00 to make our shade house. If you bought all the lumber new it might run you closer to $200.00.
To start seedlings for fall outside in Texas, you are going to need a really shady place. We wanted a shade house that was large enough to walk into and with different areas for potting and transplanting. We also built wooden boxes that fit underneath the shelves for worm composting. Then when we water the plants in the shade house, the water will leak down and water the worms. Worm casting are amazing compost and this keeps the compost and the seedlings in one convenient place.  Another plus to building your own shade house is you can also design it to transform into a greenhouse. In the winter, we will take down the shade cloth and burlap sacks and cover the wire mesh with plastic sheeting to keep the plants warm.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Garden Of Her Own: Continued

We gave my daughter a special little garden spot by our old deck where she got to pick all the flowers and plant them herself. When we were tearing out the deck to make way for our new patio, she was distraught about losing her special garden space. So we built her a raised stone bed right into the new patio. When the weather cools off, she will get to pick out some more special plants to fill her new garden. Until we can plant more flowers in the garden, we put rocks in to keep the chickens from taking their dust baths inside.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Right now we are harvesting lots of Okra. Hot tip: When you go to pick Okra, it is important to wear long sleeves and gloves because Okra will make your skin prickly and itchy. If you are brushing past the Okra or start harvesting without gloves, the sooner you can get inside to wash up, the less itchy you will be. We harvest the Okra when it is between 3-4 inches long and then pickle it. Crunchy yum.
Dirtiest Kid in the World's Casual Recipe for Pickling Okra
1/2 part water to 1/2 part vinegar, dill, garlic and salt. 
Boil everything, throw Okra in, then turn it off.
Eat immediately or mason jar it in the fridge.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Sowing San Antonio: Fall Gardens!

Romanesco Italia Broccoli

 September is almost here! Now is the time to weed your garden beds, turn in some compost, and plan what will go in your garden for fall!

Starting in September you can plant:

Artichoke Crowns/ Transplants, Beets, Broccoli Transplants, Brussels Sprout Transplants, Cabbage Transplants, Carrots, Swiss Chard, Collards, Kale, Kohlrabi, Mustard Greens, Bunching/ Green Onions, Peas, and Radishes!

After typing all that out- now I am excited for fall! Order your seeds! Draw your designs! Crack open your cookbooks! Fall is the best time to garden in South Texas.
Drawing Up A Permaculture Design for Fall

My favorite place to order seeds online is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds- but there are lots of great seed places out there. I encourage you to skip the GMO seeds and anything that Monsanto has had a hand in. Which is a challenging but not impossible task- as a Texas gardener- you are used to those odds.

Getting Your Beds Ready For Fall

Let's get your garden beds ready for fall!

 If you are ready to get your beds set for fall but they are currently filled with plants, and mulch- you have the option of just adding a 1/2 inch-1 inch of compost right on top of the mulch! Just make sure to weed first so you aren't composting and tending your weeds.  The heat will help break down the mulch sandwiched between the soil and the layer of compost. The mulch then decomposes and adds durable organic material to your soil. Also, not turning your soil will protect your mycorrhizal fungus. Your beds will then be ready to plant for Fall!

If don't have plants or mulch in your garden or if you expect to do a lot of direct seeding of small seeds (By the way, lots of people lose their garden in the middle of a Texas Summer! It's normal- you didn't do anything wrong.) then you can weed, clear out the dead plants and mix in some compost.

If you have mulch, but want to start fresh this season, you can push back the mulch and just add in some compost. All my hot tips involve adding in compost. The better your soil is- the better your plants will do. Period. Stop. End game. It's all about the soil.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Sowing San Antonio: August

Malabar Spinach Climbing an Aloe

What vegetables can I plant in my Texas garden in August? So it is mid August and you want to plant? You love the heat and want to spend more time outside? Ok, sure. Why not? Get your vitamin D on.

You can plant lima beans, cucumbers, warm season greens, and potatoes. If you have any pepper transplants- now is the last chance to pop them in for the season.

The hardest part about gardening in August is the heat, kids being out of school, keeping the plants watered. It is especially important to keep your seedlings watered because this super hot heat will kill a tender baby plant with a quickness. I planted pumpkins at my daughter's school back in June and I was able to slack off and not water as often as I should most of the summer. August rolls around and bam- kills off some of my baby pumpkins. C'est la vie! If I can just keep the rest alive until next week when school starts up again, we will be in business come Halloween.

Really I suggest you ditch the warm season green (I mean let's get real, if you cared about WSG you could have planted them months ago) and work on designing your fall garden. September is right around the corner. ! ! Hooray! ! I will give you an early Sowing Fall Gardens Post soon so you can gather your seeds and garden dreams.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Aquaponics: Urban Fish

We have been considering starting an aquaponics system at our home. You raise fish, such as tilapia, in one tank. Then you pump the water to another tank filled with gravel and microgreens. The fish waste water fertilizes the plants. The gravel creates more surface area which houses beneficial bacteria. Then the bacteria and the plants clean the water which then flows back to the fish tank. There really is no "grass fed beef" of fish. There are not many truly sustainable, healthy options for sale in stores. We have read about systems made out of aquariums, barrels, giant tanks, bathtubs and more.

Open call: Does anyone in the San Antonio area have an aquaponics system you would be willing to show us? We would love to see one in action! Email me :

Here is a neat video of Will Allen of Growing Power and his aquaponics system to give you an idea of what I am talking about. Ours would be on a much smaller, family sized scale.  Video!

Sunday, August 5, 2012



I am kind of wishy washy on raising animals for meat. The more I read about how watered down the organics standard has become and how suspect our grocery store meat is- the more I want to raise more of our own food- and that includes meat. But I try not to interact with the broilers. It makes me sad! What can I say? I have a sentimental heart. I wouldn't make much of a hunter.

Gahh Don't Look at How Cute They Are
I appreciate the fact that our animals live well. They are living the chicken dream. We feed them fresh greens, bugs, compost fruit scraps, scratch- the whole bit. They take dirt bathes and mosey around pecking for worms. We know they haven't been pumped full of any pesticides, hormones or antibiotics. We keep the broilers in a chicken tractor that we move around the yard so they can have fresh grass and bugs. It is amazing how much larger they have grown than the silkies in such a short time. In a few months time, they will be big, bumbling chickens and when that time comes, it will be time to feast.
Our Bumbling Free Range Laying Hens
Noodles My Favorite Chicken
Reading Farm City (Don't Worry! I didn't forget about Sustainable Book Club), I am reminded how much of the book focuses on the author raising animals for dinner. I had mistakenly remembered the book focusing more on gardening and bee keeping. The author Novela Carpenter, keeps an assortment of animals to eat, including rabbits. I just can't get my mind wrapped around killing a bunny yet though. I think the next step for us will be aquaponics.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Poisonous Plants or Things We Have Learned the Hard Way

 *This was one of the first posts I wrote back when DKITW1 was a baby. Now that we have a new baby out in the yard- I thought it was time to bring it back.

Who needs videos when you have chickens?
When you have kids that are accustomed to eating out of the garden- it is important to educate yourself about what is poisonous out in the world. Nature is not something to be feared- but is something to be respected.

Things we have learned the hard way that we would like you to learn the easy way.

Verbena is poisonous. Our daughter threw up very quickly after eating a leaf off the verbena plant in our front yard. Luckily, she hadn't swallowed it and after removing the leaf, she was fine. After a call to poison control and a moment of zen, I, too, recovered. There are many common plants that are poisonous.

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 is the the best route.

For a more complete list: the poison control website can be found here.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Stone Herb Spiral

Here is a slightly different take on our brick kitchen herb spiral. I just love herb spirals. You can find our how to on herb spirals here. You know- it doesn't have to be herbs. You could make a butterfly garden spiral or a hummingbird garden spiral. Inspired.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Sowing San Antonio August

What vegetables can you plant in August in San Antonio?

None- stay inside.

Ok I lie! You actually can plant in your garden right now.

You can plant summer squash, eggplant transplants, corn, warm season greens, and pepper transplants.

Now is also a great time to get your beds and garden plans prepped for fall. September is just around the corner and that's when we get to go planting crazy! You are going to want to have everything set to go - so don't go so overboard planting summer squash that you won't have room for all the fall goodies. Or make more beds! MUST HAVE ALL THE GARDEN BEDS! Who needs a lawn? Not me.

Mulchapaloza 2012

I'm using this photo of my baby petting a chick to trick you into reading about mulch.

Why should you mulch?
To protect the soil from the heat and to keep your soil and plants from drying out. It also adds organic matter to the soil. Mulch also keeps weeds down and stops them from spreading. Adding mulch is really important in Texas!

How do I mulch?
Once your seedlings are established, you can mulch 2 inches or even more. You do not want to mulch right up to the plant though because it makes them more susceptible to pests and diseases. Give the plants a couple of inches of space. For example, you can make a 6 inch ring around the stem.

What kind of mulch should I use? We prefer hardwood mulch. Most hardwood mulch comes from trees that are already being cut down because of development. We do NOT like cypress mulch because they knock down big trees in riverbeds just to make mulch. YIKES! No! We need those trees to clean our rivers. Just say no. Fine shredded cedar and pecan mulch are also decent choices. We have been told pecan mulch deters cats because its so sharp. Pecan mulch can be a little trickier when you are direct seeding because the mulch can collapse back into the hole. You can get mulch at soil yards, nurseries, big box stores... etc. If you find yourself at a big box store, the best choice there is Texas Native Hardwood. But again- remember that you can get a better deal at a soil yard.