Sunday, March 12, 2017

March 2017 - Spring has (sort of) sprung

I decided to plant some of my tomatoes early. I've been looking for temperatures around 75-80 degrees during the day and temps above 55 at night. Nighttime temperatures are the really kicker... and our weather doesn't like to be nailed down. It's been lovely and cool... I would savor it even more if I didn't care about growing tomatoes.

Fifteen tomato plants went into the ground last Tuesday, and I promptly lost 4 or 5. Those that survived the first transition are now covered in buckets and pots while winter breaths its last and hail threatens. With hope that the weather continues to warm as predicted, I'll be putting out all kinds of spring plantings by the end of this week. Tomatoes, peppers, more herbs, flowers, corn, greens, and so on.

In the meantime, my family has enjoyed the early harvests of February. Peas, asparagus, swiss chard, arugula, green onions. Daily harvests are small but sweet.

I have observed my awakening garden with quiet wonder. The grapevines, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries. The potatoes. My "Little Miss Figgy" dwarf fig tree. The herbs.

The oregano in particular has held my attention. It's a little embarrassing - admitting fondness for a plant you can buy at the store for $3. But this one is mine and it's back from the dead. I have such little experience with pruning, and last fall I cut the spent plant down to bare little twigs with no clue if it could come back. In January, soft green leaves winked at me from the base of skeletal branches, and by February they fluffed out into an aromatic pillow. I can't help but give it a pat every time I walk by.

The asparagus. It's pretty fulfilling to see it coming back. I cried when I saw the first spear. 

We can cut as much as we want this year. It takes a few days to get a handful right now. 
But we're not complaining. The harvest is sweet.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Decisions, decisions

To plant. Or to read about planting. Coffee is calling. The book is likely to win out.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Looking back on January

The weather has continued to be up and down. 80 degrees on a Friday. 30 the very next Sunday. I have planted a few things. Onions, potatoes... lettuce, peas. But mostly I've just kept an eye on things. At one point I reached into my pantry for some sweet potatoes and realized I had a new generation on my hands. Because I've had absolutely no luck starting my own sweet potato slips for the past two seasons, I wasn't even going to try this year. In fact, I've already pre-ordered a purple variety from Seed Savers. Ah well! I plunked several of these into jars of water in my south-facing seedling window, and the slips have continued to grow beautifully. (Hoping for some effortless sweet potato vines, I also tucked a few of the smaller sprouting tubers into hanging baskets with fresh potting mix.)

My Beira Sea Kale seeds have grown true leaves since this picture was taken. I'll be putting them outdoors soon. I love the thought of perennial kale, so I hope it thrives.

I've transplanted all of these tomato seedlings to Solo cups since this picture was taken. The Nyagous seedlings are the most precocious... my mouth waters just thinking about them.

I harvested a pathetically small amount of cauliflower and broccoli from my late November plantings. It was disappointing, but part of the gamble. When we actually had a week of 20 degree winter weather, I was out of town and left everything unprotected. This purple bite was vibrant with defiance. It was miniscule. But it survived!

Monday, January 30, 2017

January 30, 2017

It was a good day.
The activities of the day came to an end.
I put on my mother duck hat and led the kids on a walk to our larger garden space.
How do trees, grass and sky exude such stillness and such aliveness at the same time.

I planted some peas. 
The kids scampered off and rummaged around their exploring grounds.
Made their own adventures.

I found my first pepper peeping out with seed leaves today. 
And I noticed that the rhubarb has finally germinated. I'd about given up again.

I have several representatives for each of the eleven tomato varieties I'm growing.
Now I'm waiting for true leaves.

Beautiful day.
Simple pleasures.

Making a dent

In the dead of winter (well...the North Texas' version), I walked around my yard and harvested a salad to go with dinner. These lingering fall plantings have survived all manner of yo-yoing weather. I managed to harvest 2.5 oz of fresh greens - a small head of "Devil's Ear" lettuce, clippings of El Dorado swiss chard, and handfuls of arugula. These greens filled out 2 generous adult-size salads and 1 child-size salad.

(I hadn't figured out the Tare function of my scale yet.)

This tasty head of lettuce was undeterred by 20deg weather.

I'm going to estimate the monetary worth of my yields based on my Farmer's Market purchases, not my Costco ones. I love Costco. But this is fresh-picked, front-yard-local, organic produce. Anyone who actually reads this blog, please feel free to give me a reality check based on your own Farmer's Markets purchases. What is a realistic price range for fresh, organic, local greens / oz?

For now, I'm going to say $1/oz. 

Total expenditures: $221.12
Total yields: $2.50
Running balance: $218.62

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Keeping Track

I've decided (with some trepidation) that I want to track my inputs and my harvest in 2017. Gardening has been a somewhat expensive hobby up to this point, and I'd like some more objective proof of its value. I'd like to see for myself that gardening can pay for itself in tangible yields.

HOWEVER, before I delve into the cold-blooded world of black and red numbers, I must insist that the truest benefits of this sacred hands-in-the-earth work are immeasurable. Gardening keeps me in the air and light of nature's sanctuary, which has been for me a place to mourn, a place to test my strength, a place to be poured out and to be renewed. A place to meet with God. In Him is a well of creativity, ingenuity, resourcefulness and strength that never runs dry.

Growing food also makes vital contributions in the life of my family -- teaching my children how to feed themselves well, how to understand the seasons of produce, how to value fresh produce and the work of farmers, and on and on. It is a worthy pursuit in and of itself.

The end.

And now we can go back to the numbers.

It's very tempting to cushion my outcomes by starting with a friendly zero balance. No place to go but up and into the black. However, the truth is that I am beginning the season with a generous supply of seeds. I bought a lot on clearance last year and some I saved myself... and then I got a bit trigger happy with my seed catalogs in November. Thus, like so many farmers I've read about and listened to on podcasts, I'm starting out in the hole.
Seed Savers (peppers, tomatoes, beans, greens, herbs & flower seeds) - $50.87
Gurney's (sea kale, sweet potato slips & raspberry vines) - $40.98
Baker Creek Rare Seeds (fig tree, cucumbers, herbs, peas, okra, broccoli & flower seeds) - $41.75 
Archie's Gardenland (potatoes, onions, potting soil, compost) $87.52                            
That is a big red number, folks. Time to start making a dent.

Starting seeds seems like a good place to begin.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Update on Leeks! Success!

I have an update from my post three weeks ago! Of the ten cuttings that I replanted, three have rooted and grown green tops! Maybe not the best growth ratio by some standards, but I'll take it. After all, they've already provided one meal - any further growth is a bonus.

I'm experimenting wildly with the wood chip gardening method practiced and promoted by Paul Gautschi in his "Back to Eden" film. (You can watch this documentary for free online. Or if you prefer to read about it, Growing Food God's Way is a free book through Amazon's KindleUnlimited that further expounds on Gautschi's approach and inspiration.)

Jose's Tree Service in Fort Worth brought me load after load of wood chips. It's been a fair amount of work to distribute and spread them, but I'm pleased with the results up to this point. (I've also been absconding with lawn bags full of leaves from my neighbors, using these as more compost and mulch material.)

I've layered wood chips all over my raised garden beds (and even several containers) to a minimum depth of 4-inches. On a larger space I'm developing, I've covered swaths of land in sheets of wood chips up to 12 inches deep. The wood chips maintain an even moisture and temperature level that is quite impressive, regardless of consistent precipitation. As much as I dread the high heat of summer, I'm looking forward to evaluating how the wood chips measure up to lore. I have rain barrels and soaker hoses, but my hope is that I won't have to rely on them this season as in seasons past.

As best as I understand it, here's the wood chip method in short. The wood chips are not for planting IN, as you would plant in soil. You part the chips to place seeds/plants in the soil beneath. The woodchips stay in place around the plants you want to grow, but not covering them. The idea is that the chips provide a cover for the soil that eliminates (or drastically reduces) weeds, maintains moisture and temperature in spite of drought or deluge, and protects/encourages microbial activity. I'm still a bit unclear about the need for fertilizer inputs... plenty of sources insist that fertilizers aren't necessary. I've spread additional chicken bedding on some areas. I plan to spread coffee grounds on others. But most areas I will leave alone and compare results.