As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists. ~Joan Gussow

Gardening

First Harvest of the Season

Exactly one month ago, I planted my winter garden. Today, I harvested my first greens! Today’s harvest was kind of a “forced harvest,” meaning that I had to thin out my quickly growing plants–beets, arugula, lettuce mix and dill. This week I will continue to thin the greens that I will lightly saute–Red Russian kale, Dinosaur kale, turnip greens and bok choi. Besides being so much more economical than transplants, seeds also yield more because you generally plant more than you will actually let fully mature. This makes for wonderful young salad greens that are so tender and delicious!

L-R: 2 rows of beats, turnips

Beet row after being thinned (Notice the tomatoes that self seeded between the beet rows? Will have to remove them)

L-R: Turnips and Dinosaur Kale; dill in the mid-background

Patch o' Arugula

Lovely mix of tender young greens!

The base of a quick salad with my egg (on left) and farmers' mkt egg (on right). I'm pretty proud that my egg is so deep yellow/orange! That's a sign of a WELL-FED chicken!


Planting a Garden=Instant Gratification

If you’re looking for some instant gratification in your life, I highly recommend you plant a simple garden with winter greens, garlic and herbs. Not even 7 days went by before I started to see that my little seeds had sprouted. Hooray! I think I’ve mentioned this before, but gardening makes me feel like a little kid again–every morning I go out and water to keep the little guys plenty moist. It’s always a surprise to see how much they’ve grown since the previous day!

Baby beets!

 

Lettuce mix

 

Row o' Kale!

 

Spinach! (or some other type of green...)

 


Winter Garden!

For the past three years, I have been putting in my winter garden the second weekend of October. I was hesitant to plant anything given our “worst drought in Texas history” status. Thus, I decided to go cheap this year by only using seeds, as opposed to a mix of seeds and transplants (you can buy one plant for about $2.00 vs. 100 seeds for $2.00). This way, in case the weather does not cooperate, I would not be out that much money. (And it doesn’t look like it will….read on…)

It felt good to get back in my garden and rub my hands through the dirt and compost. I’m pretty proud of my soil–each year it gets better and better. That is the secret to good crops, you know–it’s all in the soil.

Not only did I go cheap this year, but I went easy. The plants I chose are mainly a mix of greens and herbs, though I couldn’t resist planting beets (which always seem to do well for me) and turnips (first time!). Plants in which you only eat the greens (lettuce, arugula, dill, cilantro, bok choi are some I planted) do not need as much energy as plants that produce a fruit or flower in which you will eat–tomatoes, squash,  cabbage, broccoli. Less energy also means less water, which I feel is my only choice right now.

Mixing in compost to the soil--I do this every time before I plant to enrich the soil

 

Arranging seed packets according to where their contents will be planted

 

Burying a shallot to grow more shallots

Two weekends ago it did rain. In fact, over 2 inches fell at my house. For the first time since last winter, my rain barrels are full!!!!!!!!!!!!

So that’s the good news. It rained–really rained–for the first time in 7 months. I actually celebrated the occasion in style by taking a walk through Zilker Park and along Town Lake with Dixie by my side. We returned to the house both soaking wet.

But the good news ends there as I read this headline in the Austin American-Statesman: No More Outdoor Watering in Austin by Spring? This article scares the bijesus out of me as I know that this could be a reality awaiting us just around the corner. My grand Cedar Elms in the backyard could die. All my native plants would even have a hard time surviving. And gardening food, forget it. A reader commented at the end of the article that the City should have enacted Stage 1 and 2 water restrictions earlier in the summer; I could not agree more. Throughout the whole dreadfully awful summer of 2011, I questioned why we were allowed to water twice a week or hand-water anytime. Give me a break! It also angers me to think that the City would ban all watering–can you equate watering St. Augustine with native plants that provide habitat for fauna or what about golf courses and community gardens? Are they equal? (I’m curious if Austin’s Sustainable Food Policy Board will take up this issue in the coming months…)

Anyway, its a sad way to end this blog entry, but the situation here in TX is dire. And Gov. Slick Hair Perry, you better keep praying for rain (and for a better debate coach).


When Life Gives You Limes, Basil and Mint…

In case you’re living under an insulated rock, you know it’s about 400 degrees outside. Ok, just 104. But close. Anyway, it’s hot, folks. My garden doesn’t look good. I’m pretty sure the incessant heat is killing the pollen and/or blossoms as my tomatoes, peppers and tomatatillos have slowed way down. However, my mint and basil have not been phased–if anything–they are basking in this dreadful heat. So hows about a basil/mint limeade to cool off?

I got the base of the recipe from a neighborhood listserv to which I subscribe and then kinda eye-balled it from there. I love this recipe because you don’t even need a full-blown garden for some homegrown satisfaction. Herbs such as basil and mint do great in containers!

Ingredients

  • Handful of fresh basil and/or mint (stems and all)
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar

Directions

  1. First you want to make a simple syrup. Pour water into sauce pan and turn burner to high; add sugar. Stir until sugar is dissolved (it doesn’t need to boil).
  2. Remove pan from stove and let simple syrup cool a bit, maybe 5-10 minutes.
  3. Add washed herbs and leave in for a minimum of an hour (I left mine in the fridge all day as I was going to be out and about).
  4. Discard herbs [into compost] and pour simple syrup into a (preferably) glass container. It should stay good for a month in the fridge.

To make a limeade, combine the following and serve over ice:

  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 12 oz cold carbonated water
  • 1/4 C simple syrup (more if you want it sweeter)
  • [Cachaça, rum or vodka, if you desire)

No shortage of basil or mint

 

Let the infusion process begin

 

Perfect--outside because with the heat and drought, there are hardly any mosquitoes!


Which One Does Not Belong?

Do you remember the Sesame Street skit “One of these things is not like the others…” I sure do–in fact–I have a pretty vivid memory of SS–I just LOVED that show. I remember coming come from pre-school, and flopping on the couch, munching on carrot sticks or raw green beans (my favorite!) and asking that my mom put the rainbow blanket on me (rainbow side towards me) as I watched my favorite characters dance, sing, laugh, count.

Well, this follows the same concept and I am going to use my stellar skills bestowed upon me by Sesame Street– Which one of these doesn’t belong?

(A) A the calendar

(B) Leaves

(C) Red circle on calendar

If you guessed “B”, you are correct–those are fallen leaves from my beautiful cedar elms that shade my backyard. ON JULY 12!!!!!!!!!! I have NEVER seen so many leaves fall in the summer–it’s like Autumn outside. Reason why? The horrible drought that we are  in. The trees all over Central TX are stressed to the max. They are dying left and right too. Luckily mine are not dead, but they are dropping leaves as a coping mechanism. As I write this, I actually have a hose dripping in my backyard on the roots–I don’t want to lose any of my towering beauties.

Here’s a graphic that shows just how bad off we are:

According to the Lower Colorado River Authority:

The eight months from October 2010 through May 2011 have been the driest eight-month period on record for Texas since 1895. Rainfall in Austin was 38 percent of normal. Temperatures also have hit triple digits earlier than usual this year, with three 100+-degree days in Austin in May. The period from March through May in Austin was the hottest such period on record, punctuated by the hottest April Austin has experienced.

If you want to help your trees see the end of this drought alive, I highly recommend these tips from the Houston Chronicle:

________

WATERING TIPS FOR YOUR TREES

A rule of thumb during a drought is to give a small, 1-year-old tree 28 gallons of water a week, a 2-year-old tree 56 gallons a week, and a 3-year-old 112 gallons a week. But large, mature trees also need help. About 10 gallons per inch of trunk diameter is recommended each week. The key is a long, slow soaking, so water can penetrate deeply into the root zone. Options include:

Turning the hose on at a little more than a trickle, and letting water soak into the ground under the drip line or canopy until that area is saturated. Move the hose to another area and repeat.

Using soaker hoses

Poking holes in the bottom of 5-gallon buckets and placing them beneath trees, then filling the buckets so the water slowly seeps into the soil.

Purchasing slow-release systems: such as Ooze Tube and Treegator, which are beneficial in watering young trees.

Costly options

It may take several hours: to water a large tree. But a slow soak reduces runoff and evaporation. Though water bills may still run high, the cost of removing a large dead tree can exceed hundreds of dollars.

Trees also can be helped: by removing weeds and grass that compete for water beneath tree canopies.

Replacing the grass with 2 to 3 inches of mulch will help conserve soil moisture.

(Experts warn against piling mulch against tree trunks, which encourages disease and pest problems.)

For homes with irrigation systems: run a second cycle so water can percolate deeper into the soil.

__________

Good luck out there!

 


Harvesting Shallots

This morning as I was re-arranging the soaker hoses in my garden beds, I decided it was finally time to pull up those shallots I planted (I think) in the fall. Shallots have a similar taste to onions, but are a bit milder and sweeter. According to Wikepedia, shallots contain more flavonoids and phenols (two types of antioxidents) than any other plant in the onion family. Shallots can cost more in the grocery store, but if you grow them yourself–all you need is some time, water and sweat. But not much! They grow like garlic–with a head formed from a cluster of them.  This is the first time I grew shallots, so I am excited that they were a success. I hope they taste as good as they look!

 


Yes, it is tomato season…

What do with all the harvest? Ideas to come this week!