Monday, January 30, 2012

Time for Taters

I planted my potatoes already.  What am I crazy?  President's Day weekend has been my traditional potato planting time of the year for quite a while, but not this year.  With this insanely warm weather we've been having, I think I'll roll the dice and live dangerously. 

Planting potatoes this early is not without risk.  I'll need to be prepared to cover the plants if the weather takes a turn to the extreme, which is not uncommon here in Texas. 

Why would I want to take this risk and plant early?  Timing.  To have a good harvest of potatoes, I need to grow healthy, strong plants when the temperatures are cool.  I have a feeling that summer is coming early this year.  In order to harvest in May, before temperatures get too hot, I need to get going and plant early.

When I purchased my seed potatoes a week ago, I selected mostly smallish potatoes, to reduce the number of potatoes I would need to cut and prepare.  The larger potatoes can be cut, but cut potatoes need to be treated with wettable dusting sulphur and allowed to dry.  I'm going to admit right now, I usually don't have the patience for this.  Oh sure, I treated the cuts, but then I stuck them right into the ground.  Naughty girl.

There's all sorts of fun ways to grow potatoes, but I'm a rather boring and old fashioned follower of the trench method.  My hubby dug these beautiful trenches for me.  He likes homegrown potatoes as much as I do, so we usually work on this project together.

This year I'm planting 2 - 3 X 12 foot raise beds with potatoes.  One bed will be planted with the Kennebec and the other will be planted with the Red La Soda.  The potatoes are placed in the trenches about a foot apart and covered with 4 inches of soil. 

As the potatoes grow, we'll pull the soil in around them until we reach the top level of the bed.  After that, we'll mound up dirt, compost and hay around the stems to promote more potato growth and hopefully keep the soil moist and cool.  The drip irrigation lines are a little out of sorts during this whole process, but eventually they'll be level with the plants.

I love homegrown potatoes.  Potatoes you grow yourself can't compare with their grocery store cousins. Homegrown potatoes are incredibly firm and flavorful.  Both varieties I like to grow, Kennebec and Red La Soda, are thin skinned, so there's no need to peel them.  They taste so fresh and don't have that mustiness that you find in grocery store potatoes. 

I hope I've inspired you to try to grow potatoes yourself.  I'm going to close with a picture from April of 2010.  The potatoes in the foreground are bookending a small stand of blue bonnets, and look at how green it was back then.  Almost like Ireland, huh?  

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Egg Cartons are for Eggs

Egg cartons are an engineering marvel for the transport of eggs.  The original designer of the egg carton probably never foresaw the wide variety of craft and garden projects for which the humble egg carton would be put to use. 

One such garden project, that I decided to try, is to convert an egg carton into a seed starting tray.  At first glance, the egg carton seems to be the perfect container for this purpose.  The carton is divided into 12 perfectly sized seed starting nooks.  An egg carton fits perfectly onto most sunny window sills.  And, the best part, egg cartons are free.  What more could you want?

So, back on January 11th, I decided to experiment with both styrofoam and cardboard egg cartons to start some seeds.  I read about some pros and cons for each type.  The cardboard version seemed to find favor for the fact that it broke down easily, but many people complained that the cardboard got prematurely soggy.  The styrofoam version was popular with some because it was re-usable and didn't get soggy.

The cardboard carton needed little preparation except to cut off the lid and fill the cells with soil.  The styrofoam carton by contrast needed drainage holes.  This can be done easily by punching holes in the foam with a nail.  Even though it was an extra step, it was simple to do. 

I planted lettuce in the background carton, peppers in the middle carton, and basil in the front carton.  The germination rates in the cartons did not seem any different from using an egg carton vs. a plastic tray.  Although, I will say when using a heat mat, these tiny celled cartons heat up very quickly.  I had to put a towel between my heat mat and the carton to lower the temperature.

There are 2 problems that I saw with using the egg cartons.  The first is that the soil in the cartons dry out very quickly.  The cardboard cartons in particularly dried out very quickly.  In order to slow down the process, I placed the cardboard cartons in plastic bags.  The bags helped keep the soil moist, however, the cardboard turned into a wet, steamy, soggy mess.  Now, the cartons are practically falling apart, and I can't wait for my seedlings to get big enough to move to their new home in a 4-inch plastic pot.

I would have to say that egg cartons are best saved for eggs and perhaps those cute little Christmas tree ornaments that you make when you're in Kindergarten.  I don't think I'll be using egg cartons for seed propagation again any time soon.  

Given the choice, I would pick a recycled plastic tray.  A plastic tray, like the one below, holds moisture without falling apart.  Plus, I can recycle the same container again next year and the year after.  You can't say that for the cardboard carton that sits to the right.   

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Magic Celery

Did you know that you can grow celery from the bottom part that you would normally toss aside.  It's magic.  

First, cut the bottom portion of celery stalk.  Reserve the top portion for your favorite recipe or a snack.

Dig a hole in the vegetable garden deep enough to completely cover the celery, and plant the celery in the hole with the freshly cut side up.

In 10 days, the progress was amazing.  I can hardly believe my eyes.

I saw this experiment on the internet, but I didn't totally believe it would work.  Well, what do you know?  I think I actually see my first stalk forming. 

So, will this magic celery grow to a full-sized celery bunch?  Only time will tell...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A New Excuse to Drink Wine

I enjoy my daily, heart healthy glass of wine as much as the next gal, but after a while all those wine bottles start to add up.

During an Austin Organic Gardener's meeting, the speaker, Lucinda Hutson, showed a cool slide show featuring her use of glass bottles to edge a garden bed.  She even used cork as mulch, and I thought this would be a great way to use our excess wine bottles and corks.

Here's my interpretation of the wine bottle edging project starting with prepping the bottles.
Removing Bottle Foil Ring
Rinsing Bottles to Remove Labels
Clean Bottles Ready for the Garden
The wine bottles lined up below will be replacing the low dry stack stone edging to the right of the picture.

With the stone removed, my darling assistant dug a trench to accommodate the bottles.  I was going to help, but someone had to take pictures, right?

After placing the bottles in the trench, we packed soil tightly on both the front and back sides of the bottles. Fortunately, we had some soggy soil that had been left in a wheelbarrow during some rain, and it worked great for this purpose.

Uh oh, we're a few bottles short of finishing.  I guess it's back inside for more wine...

So, a couple of weeks have passed and here we are... the finished product.

Looks like we'll be collecting cork for bit longer...

Monday, January 16, 2012

Foliage Followup: Winter Interest

In the winter, when the majority of blooms have faded, what remains?  Today Pam Penick asked garden bloggers to look for interesting, moody foliage in their gardens in her foliage followup blog.  
So, I took a walk around the garden and the mood I sensed was a wistfulness for spring. Perhaps the garden was just reflecting my own mood.  Any chance of canceling winter due to lack of interest? 

Lovely new foliage of a Knockout Rose. 
Fuzzy and fun in any season:  Lamb's Ear.
Dusty Miller brightens the winter landscape.
Warm weather shrub, Purple Vitex, still hanging in there. 
Purple Heart is taking advantage of the mild winter.
Artichokes are at home in the winter garden.
Trailing Rosemary in bloom.
Jerusalem Sage has large, showy yellow flowers in the Spring.
Artemesia 'Powis Castle' foliage is soft and lacy.
The yellow flowers of the Oregon Grape Holly (Mahonia Aquifolium) will develop into purple grape-like berries.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Fall Vegetable Garden Paying Off

The compost bin seems to think it's time to plant potatoes, but elsewhere in the garden it's time to harvest veggies planted back in the fall.

The cabbage and kale have been nibbled by caterpillars, but I guarantee you that they will still taste wonderful.

The artichokes are looking good.  Wire fencing will act as a support for row cover fabric if temperatures drop into the 20's.

Freezing temperatures improve the flavor of rutabaga.  This year's freezes have been few and far between, but a couple of freezing nights was enough to do the trick.  The rutabaga are fabulous.

Here's a nice surprise.  I think I see enough Brussels sprouts for dinner.  Pan sauteed with a little garlic and olive oil... yum.

Tonight's harvest of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and rutabaga will make a tasty meal. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Big Challenges, Small Solutions

One of the big challenges with a large garden is filling it with plants. Dividing garden spaces into smaller areas, can make the task seem less daunting.  However, two acres is still pretty big, and some of my garden spaces are larger than the average suburban backyard.

Budget and lack of time have kept me from filling these spaces with plants over night.  But, that's okay with me, because creating these gardens has been a journey, not a destination.

In fact, these gardens have been created and recreated; done, undone, and redone again many times over the years.  Everything is a work in progress.  I continually reconstruct the garden as I discover plants that don't work, my own changing tastes, and my desire to try new ideas and new plants.  Here are some of the gardens I've been working on: 
  • Roman fountain garden
  • pond garden
  • front yard garden
  • disappearing fountain garden
  • pool garden 
  • backyard/dry creek garden
  • vegetable garden
Dry Stack Rock Beds Surround Roman Style Fountain
Water Lilies and Parrots Feather in Garden Pond 
Spring Petunias Bloom in Front Yard Garden
Disappearing Fountain After Installation of Rock
Swimming Pool Area Overlooking Dry Creek and Backyard
Veggie Garden Spring 2010
As you can see, I still need a lot plants to fill in all the empty spaces. Over the years I've found that planting anything smaller than a 1 gallon size plant in my garden is a recipe for failure.  A little 4 inch transplant just doesn't have the root system to survive my infrequent watering  and weekend warrior gardening practices.

Still, 4 inch transplants are a good buy and an excellent solution for filling in empty garden spaces on a tight budget.  These days a 4 inch perennial costs about $2, and a 1 gallon perennial costs about $6.  That means, for the same $6, I can have 3 plants if I buy the 4 inch size.

So, here's one solution:  buy small 4 inch transplants in the fall/winter and grow 1 gallon plants in the greenhouse for transplanting in Spring.
Greg's Mist flower (front left), Texas Betony (front right)
Greg's Mist Flower Bumped up to 1 Gallon
Mountain Sage (Salvia Regla) Gets Bumped up to a 1 Gallon Pot
Sometimes I get lucky and find good sales.  These shasta daisies were .99 cents at Barton Springs Nursery.  I snatched up five and they were going fast.
Shasta Daisies (Front Left)
Shasta Daisy Moved up to 1 Gallon Pots
Two other small solutions for making plants are to propagate new plants from cuttings and divisions, and to grow plants from seeds.  Seed starting is one of my New Year's resolutions.  Seedlings, which have been started in the house, will soon take their place in the greenhouse.  The plant table in the greenhouse is filling up with plants, but I will soon have a larger storage shelf to accommodate more seedlings.  Yippie!  This is so much fun!

Greenhouse Plant Table