Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Checking out books and websites to help plan the garden

The weather is so crazy that it is hard to plan for the cold weather crops and "hope it is not beastly hot all sprig and summer." I spent this morning trimming tree branches and have many more to go. I am also building 4 compost piles to really build up the soil and expand my usable space. I clearly do not have enough green to put in but figure that the leaves will break down and provide much needed organic material to hold moisture near the plants. I had to move some of the planters to accommodate the giant tree my neighbor has that is providing too much southern shade in the afternoons-nice for them but bad for us as it really blocks the sun. I am almost out of rainwater too. The last 55 gallon barrel is ready to be pumped this week. I certainly hope we get some rain soon. I did have time to cover my gutters with the mesh to keep more of the leaves and berries out of the rain collection system this coming year. Initially I was going to get rid of the gallon jugs and the 3-5 gallon buckets but I am glad I didn't as they have really helped support the rainless fall. 

So back to the topic of books and websites. I found a couple of great books on display at WBCL and grabbed them up. One is Gardening for a Lifetime by Sydney Eddison where she outlines that your garden can get way ahead of what you can keep up with and how to simplify the garden to suit your abilities and desires over time. The other is going to be a favorite One Magic Square by Lolo Houbein. She has 30 different plot plans so you can grow a square yard or more and learn to grow vertically.  This is a lot like the square foot garden plan without the rigidness of artificial soil and special beds. I am sure as I browse the collection of gardening books there will be more. The book that set me on the track to "grow as much of our own veggies as possible" was Animal, Vegetable, Miracle : A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Nippy weather means it time to plan for garden frost

Great article in the Statesman on preparing the garden for these frosty nights. Nippy weather means it time to plan for garden frost
I put up some ideas for making your own pots and starting seedlings on the reference page with links to videos.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Threat of frost avoided

Wonder what makes a person run out with all their sheets and old towels to the yard? It is the dread term "frost alert" or "freeze warning." Usually there are a couple of false alarms but you just don't know if it will be a miss or a hit so out to the tender plants I go. Of course, this time the weather took a pass but the dry wind was a real thing to deal with last week. I would hate to lose the tomatoes, peppers and  eggplant while the warmer weather drifts in and out over the next few weeks. Some of them will come into the "green house" and some will have a portable hot house dropped over them. I am thinking of keeping 2 of the cherry tomatoes out by the lettuce and just covering them if it gets chilly with the hot box from PVC and plastic. The NZ spinach is going crazy so hope it keeps liking the cooler weather. Rain barrels are still supplying the water but I am ready for a bit of rain to replenish them. I replanted the red leaf lettuce to pots and put it into the green house as the bugs or squirrels just won't let them alone but the bibb lettuce is doing fine in the garden.

Lots of "putting by" this morning! I am liking the NZ spinach better and better! I haven't steamed any until this am and it does not cook down very much, unlike regular spinach. Was able to put up servings of the rainbow chard, NZ spinach, beans, hungarian hot peppers, habbenero peppers, egg plant and have spinach and lettuce for dinner tonight. I cut some of my cherry tomatoes and brought them into the house to ripen.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tricking the squirrels out of the seedlings

Not too pretty but it is being effective in keeping the squirrels from eating all the lettuce and spinace before we can. Each seedling is getting transplanted into a plastic collar made from 1/3 of a 2 liter soda bottle or used styrofoam cups with the bottoms cut out. The nicest side effect is they are acting like mini-terrariums so the seedlings are growing well. I have moved any trays of starters inside to keep them growing until I can transplant them (now if the cats will leave them alone!)
I have tried interplanting the lettuce with the carrots in their bins too and so far, so good.
The spinach, chard, broccoli, and caulifower are growing great and not being attacked. None of the peppers or tomatoes are being targeted either so we are slowly picking those.
I need to plant a bed of peas soon, just need to figure out which place to put them. I hope to use them as both a food and cover crop this year. We will see. It is still not very cool and it is mid November.
We will get enough NZ spinach for a quiche today--next year I will plant 2-3 times as much of this as it has been a real producer!
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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Wells Branch Gardening group discusses soil sampling and planting with native plants

Having 2 guest speakers worked well for the group to get information on how to do their soil samples and where to send them. Janet Church even brought the sampling bags and applications to submit them. She had information about sending samples for organic sampling as well. Apparently A&M not only does the sampling but sends a list of recommendations on what to do to correct deficiencies. 

Shelley Palmer brought a number of booklets to help homeowners plan the kind of landscaping they would like to install and information on a grant from the city that defrays the cost of implementing the change from turf to less thirst landscaping. Catch is that you have to remove 500 or more sq ft to qualify. At $20-30 per 100 sq ft plus the water savings it is something I certainly am considering. I wish we had known about this before we converted the side yard to a wandering walk this spring and put in the 2 walks in the backyard with just borders to water. Tripling the perennial bed out front too would have been to include in this type of project. To check the program out go to: City landscape program
Next month we'll meet to discuss landscape plans and winter plantings. 

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Cultivation by squirrel and other oddities

 The other morning I went out to the garden and found about a dozen little holes around the plants but didn't seem to be trying to dig up the plants. Judging from the squirrels I see on the fence and tree branches, I think they are my unwanted helpers. I am sure they are burying things I do not need in my garden. I replanted the broccoli and cauliflower they unearthed and find they do not like wetter soil so are leaving most things alone now--or they have buried all their nuts!
 I spent some time this morning transplanting lettuce and bok choy. Hoping for a bumper harvest of both over the winter. I have quite a few red ruffled leaf coming along and the remaining broccoli and cauliflower are doing well. The spinach that I planted in 2L bottle collars is also thriving--not like the plants this spring. maybe that is the key--get them big enough so the little bugs leave them alone. Carrots are doing well in their tubs so should have some to move around and harvest next spring.

I am also beginning to move some of the peppers and tomatoes into tubs to move into the "greenhouse" and extend their growing season should we have cold snaps at night. A couple are against the shed where they will get more warmth and 3 are already inside. We'll see what works best over the next couple of months. Last year putting all the plants so close together inside created a bug problem that I had trouble solving. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Gardener's group to meet Nov 6

What a great meeting this is shaping up to be! Come early at 11:30 for a seed and plant exchange then stay for this great program beginning at noon. 

First we'll have not one but two guests from the Native Plants Society of Williamson county who are master gardeners or naturalists (that means that they know quite a lot and have taken special certification classes) then we'll  be having a plant and seed exchange. Our first guest Janet Church, who knows something about soil, is bringing kits with her and will explain how to take samples and submit them to the lab for analysis. She says she is open to questions about the whole topic of soil so we can ask anything we want. I think she may have information on what to do with the results and may be able to elaborate on the soil problems guide I got from my on-line gardening group. 

Then WB resident Shelley Palmer (at left pointing out a tree to residents) will  lead a discussion on  “Sustainable landscaping with Texas native plants." She’ll talk about the reasons to do this, how to do this, resources and a city of Austin program that might be of help. This is so timely as the requests for funds need to be into the program by December. She will be bringing a box of the Green Grower books also.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Busy revising the plantings and transplanting

Expanding front perennial bed

Anyone who comes down our street has noticed our ever expanding shade garden of mostly perennials and seems to be waiting to see when it will reach the sidewalk. I am adding equal parts of peat moss and vermiculite over a weed barrier then adding composted soil on top. It seems to be working well. Finally the top is a layer of shredded cypress.
ruellia & salvia

 I was able to find 2 low mounding perennials that seeded well and transplanted gold dust alyssum and rock Soapwort today as they all have their 2nd leaves. I put them into groupings of 6-8 plants figuring some will make it. They take the shade and will only get about 6" tall and are supposed to spread. I also added liriope interspersed in each new area to hold the soil and provide interest until I can replace some of them with another planting. The blue and white salvia are blooming like crazy and I think all of the plumbago  are going to finally grow. I even found one of the 
mums & asters
ornamental peppers that came up from seed in the beds. The ruellia are blooming and taking hold in most of the spots. Lois tells me that they may begin to act like weeds--not for a while yet, I hope.

roses, mums & salvia
The asters,  mums, and vincas  I got at Lowe's are providing a lot of color next to my ever bearing roses. It is really pretty coming up the walk with all the blue, purple, and red rioting there. I had hoped for a bit more yellow with all the marigolds but not much of that survived the hot summer or spider-mites. The lantana looks great in pink/yellow so I guess that will do.

Out back we have another section of paver walkway completed. I am not sure but we may be paving our way to Austin at this rate. I will border it with the liriope that is getting way too tight and have a nice protection when it rains to keep the soil in the adjacent beds.

Broccoli and cauliflower are taking well and liking the cool nights. I found tiny tomatoes on one of the 5 plants I have in pots. All of them are blooming and will soon be moved into the greenhouse room by the windows if it gets much cooler at night. The peppers are covered with buds but not setting any fruit that I can find. The eggplant is covered with beautiful purple blooms and lots of little fruits so I expect to pick quite a few of those. I love the oriental ones as they seem to grow better and are nearly seedless. Beets and carrots are both up. I moved some of the beets apart to give them more room. The bibb lettuce is bolting with the continued hot days but will soon be replaced with some ruffled red and more bibb as the days get cooler. I have to let the plants get a bit bigger before transplanting as the bugs are cutting them off even with collars around them. The multicolored chard are doing OK but nothing to brag about and the NZ spinach seems to be winding down but the regular spinach is not making it--bug or snail bait supreme!
I'm still considering getting the soil sampled as something is still not in sync with the plants. I am enjoying using the myfolia program to track the plants.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Fall Crops to Grow

A gardening friend in OK posted this to the list serve and I am sharing her very good information. 

So what kind of crops can you grow in your garden? Oh boy, lots of good stuff! There are different varieties of crops you can grow. And you have to consider which ones will work for you based on your tastes, and the timing of your first frost (11/5 here in Austin.) There are cool-weather crops, and cold-weather crops. 

Cold-hardy vegetables include the following (maturity is in parenthesis): These guys survive some frost and can be found as transplants around the area now. 
Brussels sprouts (90 days)                                                               Cabbage (70 days)
Collards (75 days)                                                                                Kale (55 days)
Parsnips (100-130 days)                                                                   Spinach (45 days)
Garlic (best planted when winter is really close)

Cool-weather hardy vegetables include:
Lettuce (45-60 days, depending on variety)  seed them directly, transplant them, or seed them into flats
Mustard greens (45 days)                                                               Radishes (25-50 days)
Rutabaga (90 days)                                                                           Snap peas (50-60 days)
Turnips (60 days)                                                                              Carrots (50-70 days, depending on variety)
Broccoli (70 days)                                                                            Cauliflower (60 days)
Green onions (50-60 days)                                                           Beets (55-60 days)
Swiss chard (30-50 days)

From this list, I know that I am going to be erecting a couple of cold frames to keep tender lettuce and such from freezing but it made it last year through 2 snows so I know it will work.  I have the PVC and need a couple more connectors to do it better than before.  I also am using the bed next to the shed which gets more light and is an easier area to build the cold frame over. 

I start all my seeds on the bathroom windowsill in flats. It has great early morning sun, lots of light most of the day (I have them sitting on a mirror to add more light) and I keep a better eye on them until they are up and going. It is cooler than the yard in the summer and works well until it gets really cold. Some plants, like various cabbages and salad greens, simply won't grow if the soil is warmer than 85 degrees. The plants move to the picnic table from the windowsill with dappled light but more sun, then to the garden when they are past their second leaf.    

She says the key to successful fall planting is to get the plants growing to catch the last wave of summer heat AND allow them to mature before the first frost hits. You also have to keep seedlings moist; drought stresses young plants, especially fall veggies, so it's important they not dry out. 

Where to Plant  More than anything pay attention to plants that do not like to follow each other. Fall is no time to stunt their growth. Planting broccoli and other brassicas in the same place season after season here encourages bugs so I am trying out a pyrethrum powder to combat the cabbage worms that already found the chard.  It seems a lot safer than the sevin dust I tried in the spring out of desperation.

I am mulching with a combination of grass clippings and shredded office paper. We have such a small yard now that I never have enough clippings. I am also still adding 1/4 volume of vermiculite to every area I prepare to help retain the moisture in the soil in addition to mulching.

Lastly, the tender crops  Most of the peppers are already in large pots and all the new cherry tomatoes are. This makes it so easy to just whisk them into the sunroom when temperatures get too low. I even got new bulbs for the grow-light. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Wells Branch Gardening group has its first meeting at WBCL

We met Saturday and brainstormed on the kinds of things we'd like to discuss or find out and times to meet in the future. We settled on the 1st Saturday of the month at noon at the Wells Branch Community Library. We are working with Natosha Gibbs to be a regularly sponsored group. Our next meeting is November 6th and we decided to have someone in to talk about soil sampling and have a plant and seed exchange. We are hoping Shelley today from Central Texas Native will be able to do this as she is a resident.  My friend Liz, who is a master gardener in Williamson county directed me to the agriLife Extension for information about sampling. I found the form for urban soil and downloaded it from this link. It appears that the Travis county office suffered considerable rain damage and is not currently open.

As a group we really wanted to focus on more organic gardening and water conservation. Tara pointed out that residents were eligible for the rebate on water barrels with a receipt. Austin's program includes all areas that are served by them like our MUD. More information on this is at AustinWater page with tons of information on water conservation and the rain barrels, including ones purchased on craigslist. She also recommended myfolia.com for tracking your plantings and more. The link is on the left.

We also discussed the location of local Farmer's Markets in Austin and the surrounding areas. If anyone knows of locations and times, it would be helpful. I added Johnson's link to the list at left and it last a resouses tab that lists several. George Holcombe pointed out that the Eastside Cafe has its own garden and irrigation system. It might be worth a field trip to see the gardens there.  George is using a well laid out drip irrigation in his garden.He is just off the trail and the garden is well worth a look.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Transplanting and planting time in September

The cool weather has me reinvigorated! I have been transplanting my lettuce from the picnic table (we may actually be able to use it this fall) into the garden mixed with a new multi-colored chard. The chard does not seem as ruffle leafed but it is pretty with red and yellow stems. I may even put some in my shade garden out front. I added a few spinach transplants to the far end and my seed some directly at the other end. Last winter that made them official bug food though so maybe more flats and transplants.

I transplanted the broccoli this morning and will pick up BT at Lowe's today. Using the companion planting theme (if it works) I seeded beets between them. The New Zealand spinach is loving the recent rains and the cooler nights and growing like crazy (lower left) I am getting a cup or so a day from this little patch.

The new cherry tomatoes are thriving in their pots so maybe we'll get some tomatoes this fall and winter after all. The purple basil is going crazy as well and needs to be harvested again. For a plant that is hard to start it sure gets going well.

I expanded the shade garden in the front yard another 5 feet and need to mulch it. Our plan is to bring it all the way out to the junction of the front sidewalk and driveway. 

I have some house plants in there that will have to come inside this winter if it freezes and lirope and a number of perenials which I hope to add to this fall. The Laura Bush petunias are finally doing well and blooming. The plumeria has held on and the new ruelia is taking hold. 
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Friday, September 3, 2010

Revising the beds in September

This week George came into the house and looked so sad. The spider-mites have attacked all the marigolds in the front garden and even with spray, we are not winning. The tree is giving this garden too much shade so it needed a makeover badly but its been too hot and dry to attempt it before. 

Today it rained about 1/4" so I pulled out the sick marigolds and began to move plants around. We have lots of liriope along the walkway and in the back garden and it is blooming with pretty little white and purple spikes. I put some bunches here and there then pulled out some of the Aspidistra plants I had on the front porch with their pretty white blooms and added them. Lastly a few more blue salvia and a couple of the Laura Bush petunias and the bed does not look half bad. I guess I should have taken a "before" but it was way too sad!
The area down the side of the garage with the new walk way does look beautiful. I moved a few of the Red tropical sage from the front walk where they are dwarfing the blue salvia to along the garage wall behind the liriope. The marigolds over here are still holding on. Of course the crepe myrtles are thriving and dropping seeds everywhere. Turns out to be good mulch under the plants.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

End of summer cleanup correcting mistakes

I thought the garden would do better this year. I put so much work into it and added so much to it that I should have gotten more. Lots of mistakes this year to try to rebuild the garden though: I added a lot of compost/garden soil that made it drain so well that the plants are dying of thirst! I added peat moss for the same reason--more organic matter but it makes the soil dryer and again all the plants are thirsty and cannot catch the water as it goes by.

Yesterday I ordered 2 4 cu.ft. bags of vermiculite to add to the garden and have been lining some of the areas with weed cloth to try to retain the moisture in the garden and keep the weedy shrubs next door from sucking out all the moisture.

I did good with the rain barrels though. I have not used city water once on the garden and I still have about 60 gallons of water in a barrel and a couple of smaller buckets. It is about time to rain again. I would have connected the ones at the end of the line but still am not sure where I want them so maybe by spring I will be sure. I would love to put in the drip irrigation I planned next year. 

My new pickle cucumbers are blooming (corner blue-green pot) and the zucchini seems ready to bloom and has no bugs on it. The peppers are budding up all over the place but no putting on fruit--maybe in a week or so as it cools in the daytime. The eggplants are also blooming as I flood them daily with water. The lettuce and chard on my picnic table is doing well-maybe can go into the ground in September. 
The lettuce seemed to grow fine even with the heat--shady table gave it a high of about 94 instead of the 100+ in the garden. The green beans in tubs are also doing well--the ones in the ground died of thirst. 


Saturday, June 19, 2010

May and the plants are thriving

I keep thinking that the garden is going to thrive any day but all I am getting is greens. I found and installed a pump for the rain barrels not on the PVC system. It was only $9.95 at Harbor Freight and works well. It does need its handle permanently attached. I haven't had to use any water other than rain so far this year.

I was out in the garden peeking around and have about a dozen little eggplants on the plant I wintered over in the greenhouse.  It has been blooming for a week or so but the hot weather this week "bore fruit." The two new plants also look like they are going to set. So exciting! Now if the
tomatoes will put on more and ripen.....
I am really having issues with the bugs this year--some kind of mite. Suddenly I have Asparagus coming up so I am going to baby it. Only 2 of the 5 roots of Raspberries have leafed out. I am tending the others but don't hold much hope. 

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spring gives us a start on so much

We got really crazy this year and decided to expand the garden in the back for vegetable, add a garden in front for flowers and put in a cement paver walkway from the front to the back along the garage. I am getting garden dirt so we can get all this started.
 I had never grown potatoes and saw on the internet that they could be grown in laundry baskets so that is something we are trying. Got sets of youkon golds which we like.
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