Friday, March 21, 2014

Play it Again Onions

On  a recent trip to the Hope Farmer's Market, I saw the most beautiful green onions at the Yard to Market booth. The tops were beautiful, but what really caught my attention were the fabulous roots. I knew these onions would be perfect for a little experiment that I have been wanting to try.

Did you know that you can re-grow green onions and have fresh clippings on hand whenever you need them? Well, you can. Re-growing onions is both fun and frugal. I tried a similar experiment with celery, which you can read about in my blog, Magic Celery. The celery experiment worked great, so I'm pretty excited to see what happens with the onions.

To get started, simply cut the green tops off of the onions and reserve them for your favorite recipe. For this experiment, we'll only need the bulby bottoms.

Grab yourself a pot or a nice patch of ground and space out some holes for each of the onions. I found my gloved finger made the perfect sized hole.

Plant each onion root, leaving the top poking up out of the soil. Water well and place in a sunny spot.

In just three days, noticeable sprouts will begin to form.

In know time at all I'll have a wonderful harvest of green onions for soups, baked potatoes and salads. Give it a try!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Go for the Gold

When I grow beets, I go for the gold! Golden beets that is.

This year I'm growing both red and golden beets, but at harvest time, it's easy to tell them apart. The golden beets are bright yellow all the way through to their leaf veins, and the red beets have these beautiful red, striped stems.

If you've ever prepared and cooked red beets, you know that the red juice can be quite messy, but not so with golden beets. Red juice aside, I just prefer the taste of the golden beet. They are wonderfully sweet without that earthy taste that sometimes accompanies red beets.

Roasting really brings out the flavor of root vegetables. Tonight I'm roasting golden beets and carrots tossed with olive oil, a bit of thyme, salt and ground pepper in a 400 degree oven. After 30 minutes, the vegetables are fork tender and oh, so good.

Nutritious and low in calories. You can't beat beets.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

My Backyard Weather Station

As a gardener and weather-geek, I was thrilled to get this weather station as a gift from some very good friends this past Christmas.

I had been dreaming of my very own weather station for some time, but my Libra decision-making skills were on the fritz. Weighing the pros and cons can sometimes slow down my purchases. So, as you might imagine, I was thrilled to get such a wonderful gift.

This professional weather station provides lots of cool features including the ability to monitor weather remotely via a smart phone or personal computer.

True to it's advertising, the Acurite Professional Weather Center came with very good instructions and was very easy to set up.

The Acurite internet bridge connects to my wireless router which enables the transmissions from the outdoor weather station to be sent to the internet.

What really appeals to me about this system is the ability to monitor the weather in my backyard via an iPhone App. The Acurite Acu-Link application is free to download, and as soon as I created an account and completed the online setup, I was off and running.

The outdoor weather station offers five weather sensors in one compact unit. For best results, the weather station needs to be in an open location with no obstructions. The recommended distance from the ground is at least 5 feet. The unit comes with a solar cell which needs to face south to properly orient the wind direction vane. Unless you know exactly which way is south, you'll probably want to use a compass to get this right. 

The station has components to monitor temperature, humidity, wind, rainfall, and atmospheric pressure.

The temperature display has an awesome design. It shows today's high and low temperature as well as changes over the last 12 hour period. If more information is needed, I can look at the records tab to see what's been going on over the last year.

Rainfall and rainfall records are available in a format similar to the temperature. The rainfall collection cup on the outdoor unit automatically empties each 24 hour period, which is very handy.

Wind speed and direction are fun to watch if you like to know the second those cold fronts start blowing in.

Another cool aspect of having your own backyard weather station is the ability to share your information with other weather-geeks. Wunderground offers an application that allows people to register their weather station so others can see it.

The wunderground map allows me to pinpoint weather stations of interest in my neighborhood, the city, or beyond.

Here's the weather station at the Natural Gardener. I've heard this can often be one of the coldest spots in town.

With so much weather information at my fingers tips, I can weather-geek out whenever I want. How fun is that! Thanks Jeanne, Marty and Jen! 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Nothing Fishy Here

I just completed one of the easiest gardening projects ever! There's nothing fishy about it, but it does involve an old fish bowl.

For this project, I used a very cool plant called tillandsia. These plants are sometimes called air plants because they are epiphytes and absorb their nutrients through their leaves instead of through their roots.

There are 100's of different tillandsia plants, but I decided to limit myself to just three for starters. I purchased my tillandsia at The Great Outdoors for $4.49 per plant.  They had an excellent selection, so I selected three plants that looked very different from each other for the greatest variety.

Here's a closeup of the first one I selected called tillandsia abdita. Tillandsia are bromeliads, which is most apparent in this particular plant.

This tillandsia with the grayish, white foliage is called tillandsia harrisii. The ghostly foliage is a nice contrast to the red foliage of the abdita.

The final plant I selected is called tillandsia x'floridana'. I love the grassy nature of this particular specimen. I think this one would look very cool in a beach themed terrarium.

Once I gathered all of my supplies, this project literally took less than 5 minutes and that was only because I paused to wash the dusty fish bowl first. I used some old tumbled glass with marbles for the base and gently pressed the tillandsia into them so they would stand up on their own, and that was that. Project complete.

The tillandsia plants need to be run under water twice a week and set in bright indirect light. How easy is that!

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Sweetest Nectar

If you have a large container and an warm space for winter protection, you can grow the sweetest nectar you will ever taste.

Oranges, lemons and limes all can produce fruit as patio plants here in Central Texas.

While the blooms are forming for the new fruit to come, I'm enjoying the final fruits of last year's harvest. 

I grow my oranges organically and while they may not be beautiful on the outside, they are quite wonderful on the inside where it counts.

I'm growing a satsuma orange in a 20 inch ceramic patio container. Last year, the small tree produced more than 30 oranges and today I'm juicing the last 6 fruits of that harvest.

These oranges are super juicy and very seedy.  Since seeds can be easily excluded, these oranges are perfect for juicing, but a little challenging to eat in slices.

With my old school, hand juicer, I juice each orange half one at a time. It takes a little elbow grease, but it's so worth it.

Six oranges yield a full container of rich, pulpy juice sure to give you a juice-gasm. 

One sip and you can tell this juice is special. I'll savor it's wonderful sweetness very, very slowly.  There will be no more juice till next year. Such sweet sorrow.  

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Cauliflower Soup

From the garden to my belly, nothing is more rewarding to me than harvesting food and bringing it to the table.

When the ingredients are this fresh and this beautiful, I really want to them justice.

The florets of this Romanesco cauliflower are amazing to look at and amazing to eat as well.

Let's make some yummy soup.

To make this cauliflower soup you will need the following ingredients.

1 medium head cauliflower, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped 
1/4 cup celery, choppped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2-1/2 cups water
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 can chicken broth
1-2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 can evaporated milk
1/2 c milk
4 ounces cubed colby jack cheese
salt and pepper to taste

In a 4-5 quart stockpot, combine the cauliflower, carrot, celery, garlic, water and bouillon. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer until the vegetables are tender (do not drain).

Add the milk and continue to heat on medium. Mix the cornstarch with cold water in separate bowl. When the soup is bubbling, add the cornstarch mixture stirring continuously. Add extra chicken broth to thin the soup to the desired consistency as it thickens. Add cheese and stir until melted.

This creamy soup is so hardy and warming on a cold day, you'll feel good all over. Garnished with some parsley, it's tres magnifique!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

My Very Own Grassicles

Are late season freezes getting you down? Turn that frown upside down and have a beautiful grassicle!

I love the word "grassicle". Grasses frozen in movement are so fabulously lovely! The Plano Prairie Garden posted some wonderful grassicle photos in early December. I didn't realize at the time that I would have my very own grassicles in March. Crazy times!

Today the birds will dine from crystal chandelier bird feeders. Eager for the extra calories, a steady stream of birds continue to visit the feeders even in the bitter cold.

Flash frozen veggies anyone? No worries. The heavy weight row covers will provide protection until we thaw later today. We are going to thaw, right?

Until the thaw, the garden is a wonderland of icy crystals.

Every garden plant takes on a new dimension of beauty when frozen. A crape myrtle with seed pods and branches still intact creates a magical web of ice.

The berries of this Oregon grape holly will have to wait for warmer days before they can ripen, but ripen they will. While rare, late season ice storms have coated the berries in prior years and they always pull through.

It's really quite spectacular what a little frozen water can do to something as mundane as a live oak.

All this ice is a fun distraction, but this late season cold weather is getting in the way of my gardening plans. I've got tomatoes to plant and cucumber seeds to sow!

What's a gardener to do when even the lettuce and the broccoli is struggling to keep warm?

I'm dreaming of a fabulous harvest, but all I can hear is the clock. Tick tock. Tick tock. Time is wasting. I need to get those tomatoes and other warm season veggies growing and well-established before the heat sets in if I want a bumper crop.

I'm not going to let this cold weather slow me down. I bought my tomato and pepper transplants and bumped them up to 1 gallon containers. In these mobile pots, I can move the plants to a sunny indoor window, the greenhouse, or a under a shady tree depending on what nature throws my way.

I've started sowing other warm season vegetables seeds indoors, because I think this year indoor seed starting will be key to getting an early start. The primary reason is the soil temperature and the effect on seed germination. Here's an interesting Aggie Horticulture link discussing soil temperatures.

Soil temperatures are very cold right now and if this cold weather continues, the soil will be slow to warm. Cucumbers, squash, melons and okra prefer warm soil temperatures of around 70 degrees for seed germination, so giving these seeds an early start indoors will give me bigger seedlings when I can finally plant outside.

Under seed starting lights or in a sunny window, I can get a head start for the warmer days ahead. I can almost taste those fabulous home grown melons now.  Stay warm out there!