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John Doubles Down

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The New and the Old......side by side.

Christmas Eve santa wandered into John’s backyard and doubled his garden space…..Cold and rainy evening but Santa wandered off to his appointed rounds a little damper but also feeling pretty smug about the clandestine delivery. The seeds and bulbs would have to wait….too many stockings to fill, cookies to eat and glasses of milk to drink!

On Christmas Day Santa showed back up at John’s house in his everyday Bishop Decker, friend and neighbor, disguise to plant a few seeds and tuck away some left over onion and garlic bulbs….. not too sure about the timing for the bulbs but it is better than letting them wither away. I suspect that the mild “winter” we are in the midst of may work in our favor. I planted some lettuce and carrots in a surprise pattern. So what is a surprise pattern????? I mix about 4 – 5 varieties in my little seed spreader, shake them up and scatter across the designated area. I recently used the technique in my beds and I see lots of seedlings popping up…..too early to see which varieties. I plan to thin them after they are well established and should have a smorgasbord of lettuce and carrots to pick. I added some radish seeds, beets & turnips to his winter bed. It should be fun to see what he does with the harvest!

My last-minute gardening efforts before heading off to Orlando for my son Joe’s soccer tournament included adding a spring to my gate to aid in “self” closing and a support cable to the gate doesn’t sag so much. Looks good and closes so smooooothly! While out in the garden this morning I was able to snack on the so very sweet sugar snap peas…..yum! My asparagus ferns are nearly ready to cut back so they will be very high on my to-do list when I/we return from Orlando. I will need to spend an hour or so with garden gnome tasks over at John’s yard…pulling weeds and laying down a layer of leaf mulch to suppress or at least slow the growth of the weeds. I gave him a book titled, “The Organic Kitchen Garden” book to stimulate his creative side…he really is an excellent cook –   the grin on his face as he was flipping through the pages warmed” ole” Santa’s heart!

The newly planted strawberries are “leafing” out – yee-haw!!!!!

Now off to pack my bags….

TTFN

Bishop

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Santa’s Christmas Eve in the Garden – Or How I Procrastinate

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It was a cold and rainy evening…..yes it truly was. The early afternoon wasn’t too bad so I thought that Santa, that’s me, could do all of his appointed rounds in time. You see, santa needed to finish the strawberry towers because the plants had arrived on the 23rd and needed to be planted. I had purchased the PVC pipe on the 22nd intending to have them cut, formed and filled with planting media – just waiting to have the plants tucked away. I did not work out that way…I had coffee to drink, more leaves to gather, a few last-minute gifts to buy, some time down at the gym…..in general – anything to keep Santa away from his appointed rounds.

Yesterday afternoon……yes this is Christmas morning!, I began to finish in an afternoon what could have, should have, been spread out over a day or two. Oh, I forgot to mention – in an earlier post I told you that I had the materials to install my friend John’s new 4X4 bed. Well, on the afternoon of Christmas Eve I still had the materials and added that to Santa’s to do list. Are you seeing the big picture now? I do my best work under tight, tight time deadlines!

The weather cooperated for the initial phase of the tower construction. The PVC pipe is made in 10′ lengths, so each tower is 5 feet in length but when placed in the garden only about 4 feet are usable….. photo later ( actually taken Christmas morning so I had some light to see). eight foot lengths or 16 foot lengths would be awsome. I will whine more later.

I snapped a line down the center of each pipe. Then 18 inches from the bottom – bottom 12 inches will be buried – I make my first cut across the pipe – I then measure up 6″ and then off to the right approximately 135 degrees, based on my simple math skills that is about 2.3571 inches off to the right of center. (note for my brother Todd, I rounded off heavily and simplified the number crunching). I measured up 6 inches on the center line and then 135 degrees to the left for the next cut, up 6 inches and back to center. I chose the not make a Fibonacci sequence spiral as some of the cuts would wind up on the north side of the pipe…. again – simplified for me. Center line will face south upon installation and the left and right cuts would be west and east facing – approximately – …… Photos below show the cuts and then the planting pockets after they were formed by heating with a “blow dryer” – yes Lisa I wore my gloves….she is always reminding me.

Just as I was beginning to finish forming the pockets on the third tower,….I made 5 and installed 4, the rain began. i installed them adjacent to my original experiment. I took my post hole digger and carved out a 12 inch deep pocket for each new tower. I filled the base of each up to just above ground level to ensure dry “feet” for the towers and berries. The 4″ towers are much easier to fill planting medium as compared to the 3″ towers and a lot easier when it comes to planting the new bare root plants. The pockets will not shred the skin of my fingers while planting but I still chose to wear my gloves – thanks again to my daughter Lisa and her gentle reminder. The rain was beginning to come down and it was beginning to get a little darker. I waited until this morning to photograph the results. See the slideshow below.

Santa wasn’t yet done for the evening – He loaded up his sleigh an – F-150, not red but basic polar white and drove over to John’s house. Now the rain was heavier and colder. I cleaned up the dead tomato plants, pulled the cages, reorganized – just a little his wood storage stack and installed the new bed. Looks good but he will have to wait a bit for the winter plantings…..and of course I will  weed the old bed…the Rosemary and strawberry plants in the old bed are looking good though… maybe some photos later today when we swing by for the annual dinner and dessert orgy…. I was soaked, chilled and ready for my hot shower. Oh it felt so good.

Santa could now ready himself for Christmas Eve and family time….. Santa can plant John’s bed another day.

Organic and Decadent

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Interesting title….. I want to run a little test to better understand what words cause a reader to read on. Lets take a vote. All of you who read the post primarily because of the word “Organic” please raise your hand….keep them up so I can get a count. Good, thank you. Now those of you that tuned into the word “Decadent” please raise your hands for a count, not both of them – just one hand will do…… good thank you.

Hmmmmmm. I am not sure if I have a statistically significant sample to accurately determine the results….. Some of you may have voted twice or got the word “Organic” mixed up with another word after you saw the word “Decadent” influencing your voting! All this tells me is that my original plan for the title, ” A Natural Lemon Curd” may not have attracted many readers. Really, Lemon Curd? In Texas you might hear the refrain, ” What the Hell is Laaaman Crud or whatever you called that stuff?”

Honestly, I have to admit that I had no clue what lemon curd was until two years ago….yes I know I am not much of a sophisticated foodie, but I am learning! A neighbor friend and fellow gardener gave me a jar of her homemade lemon curd two years ago this Christmas. She has Meyer Lemon trees in her yard and enjoys sharing the bounty. I loved the lemon curd so much that I planted a dwarf Meyer Lemon tree in a wine barrel in my back yard. For a little guy he was prolific. I harvested about 25 lemons this year. So I decided to try my hand at making the fabulous lemon curd. I am sure my friend over at Promenade Plantings could give me some lessons and advice on how to best use my Decadently Rich lemon curd.

Here is where the “Organic” and “Decadent” came about….. I grow everything without chemicals so the lemons are “organic” by my definition. I used certified organic unsalted butter in the recipe, a lot of it! The sugar, well it was not labeled organic but it is essentially pure glucose and nothing else. I used a lot of sugar too! When I looked at how much butter and sugar went into this recipe – it made only 6 half pint jars, I realized how decadently rich this stuff is…. oh my! When you think of a food as being organic you first thought is something healthy. But, here we have an organic product that is so decadently rich and….”unhealthy”? –

Here is how I can justify the dilemma in my little “ole” pea brain….. “organic” = good, “decadent” in moderation = pretty darned good. That being said, I will eat my lemon curd, probably share some with others and feel good about my choices…… unless I can’t moderate my decadent desires and it flames out on the pleasure side of the equation…..its not like I have never gone overboard with “pleasures”….how many times?????? I could probably sit down with a spoon and eat the entire jar! Please don’t dredge up any stories to share with my wife…… she has probably heard most of them but my kids may not have…. after all those years playing Rugby there are a few stories floating around – most have been embellished over time! I didn’t know I was that entertaining!!!! How did a hard partying rugger find his way into gardening? That is a great question. May wind up being a future topic.

Photos are my lemons Au natural and photo-shopped a little. Kind of fun to see what the computer can do.

The winter garden is doing well. My son’s dog Sierra is back but I now have a garden gate to protect my little lettuces! The sugar snap peas, although not plentiful, are outstanding. My shredded leaf efforts are up to about 64 cubic feet and growing. If the weather cooperates this weekend I should be able to more than satisfy my expected needs.

More work coming up, more strawberry tower experimenting, install the new 4X4 bed for John…parts are in and assembled – just need to place it and fill it. Spinach and chard transplants are almost ready and the turnips are kicking butt. Looks like no winter for Houston this year! Oh, I also need to harvest the worm castings….. I keep putting it off. Lets see, what else, work part-time, make beer, turn a few pieces on the lathe, ride the bike, spend some time at the coffee shop and most importantly spend some quality time with my wife…..I need more hours in the day.

I am also planning a series of 3 backyard farming features….. John with his 32 sq. feet, me with my 350+/- sq. feet  and hopefully a piece on my friends, Jane and her John – they are utilizing the entire back yard and have converted most of the front yard to edible landscaping. Maybe a couple thousand sq. feet of plantings. Should be a fun project

TTFN

Bishop

 

“Strawberry Towers Forever”

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Did I get the Beatles song wrong….. Strawberry Fields Forever? It just sounded like a good title and “towers” has such a nice ring to it.

I have been wanting to provide “all y’all” with an update on my strawberry towers experiment. It seems to be working pretty well…… even though I still think the 3 inch pipe is too small. The plants weathered the first freeze with no apparent injury. They are looking very healthy and I can’t wait until early spring when they begin to blossom.  The strawberry shown above was picked on February 14th, Valentines Day in 2010. It wasn’t until later, in fact someone sent me a note about the nearly perfect heart shape of the berry, that I noticed the shape. Too bad that I didn’t notice it when I took the picture because I could have said that I had planned it all along. I think it does pay to tell the truth…… that way you don’t have to remember what the lie was!!!!! Click photos fo a bigger image.

The towers seem to be supporting the growth of the transplants pretty well.  The receptacles at the top seem to work well for watering. Gravity takes over and down it flows. I had my good friend John swing by this past weekend and I showed him the experiment. I think he agrees with the idea of testing the 6″ set-up. I will use 6″ PVC drain pipe for phase two of the experiment. Over the Christmas break I will gather up the materials and put it into action. Photos to come.

John has a 4X4 bed that I put in his backyard 2 years ago that needs some attention. I told him that I would be over this next week and clean up the 2011 season remnants and install another 4×4 adjacent to the original. I know he wants one because he installed the irrigation piping to accommodate the expansion…..isn’t that right John? Seems like a good “how to” posting for a future blog. We have one significant challenge. John has his Golden Retriever “Pismo” hooked on vegetables, so much that she harvests ripe tomatoes for him. The next step in her training is to bring them up to the patio and leave them for the family. Unfortunately she loves homegrown tomatoes a bit too much!

My wife is out in California helping to manage some family issues. She saw the post on the turnips and wanted to know if I really ate them….Absolutely! I placed a nice pork loin in the crock pot with turnips, onion, garlic, potatoes and cabbage….wish my carrots were ready….that would have topped it off nicely……. So, yes hun, I ate them and they were excellent!

Plans for this week –

The fall leaves are falling….go figure! – I have to thank my mother for her help with my leaves and the leaves around the neighborhood. She “surprised” me with a nice machine to suck up and shred the leaves as well as chip branches up to about 1.5 inches in diameter.  Wow, mom I have to tell you, it works great. I have been able to deeply mulch one bed with shredded leaves and I have designs on several more. Any excess will find their way into my compost bins.

I fed the worms yesterday and I see  it is time to harvest their rich castings….now some people might refer to it as worm poop – castings sounds so much cleaner and more proper. I am continually amazed how well they do their work even when I don’t give them to attention that I should. Diligent critters they are!!!!

Seeds need to be planted……..More lettuce to replace what my son’s dog zeroed in on…..just doing what dogs do but she could have dug her holes somewhere else. More beets, more carrots, some spinach & chard, sugar snap peas, maybe some bok choy, turnips and a another row of radishes.

Six inch strawberry towers and find a source of winter strawberry plants to finish up the project.

Non-gardening……with my wife gone I have laundry, dishes to do, floors to mop, Christmas decorations to organize …… I am not sure how she finds time to do all that stuff. It kind of gets in the way of my gardening, wood-turning, fishing, bicycling, beer brewing/drinking and  coffee with my buddies down at Starbucks…….. in fact she contacted me at Starbucks this morning and cut my visit short……but hun, I am not complaining, wink,wink!

A note to Jane…..I loved the lemon curd you gave me a year ago and I have a bunch of Meyer Lemons ready to provide their juice for my curd making this week. I will see if I can work that in between some of my lingering tasks. Maybe I will wait until after the curd is done before mopping! John….I still think I can handle the expansion …….. what else can I defer???????

TTFN

Bishop

 

A Bit of Fall – Finally

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Fall Colors – Too Bad it is not Kingwood

 Ahhhhhh, the beautiful colors of Fall! Unfortunately, in my adopted hometown of Kingwood it seems to never arrive. Today is December 9th and we are beginning to have a hint of fall here in the Houston area. Now, I have not been totally shut out of the fall color changes. The problem is that Kathy and I had to wander off to Knoxville, Tennessee to find it. November 18th, while walking through downtown Knoxville we were treated to a taste of Fall. This was a beautiful park in downtown Knoxville.

Back home in Kingwood we live in the middle a dense forest. We have a great mix of both evergreens and deciduous trees. We should have a very nice fall color change but Mother Nature has been displaying her nasty side. She allowed a strong La Nina to become a fixture in the eastern Pacific ocean…. water temperatures have become cooler than normal. The cool waters in that part of the ocean translate into hot and dry conditions across the southwest and south-central portions of the US. In the case of Texas…. we are now in the midst of the worst drought in over 100 years and the warm loooooong summer has stalled the coming of Fall – well not really, the calendar says it is Fall but Mother Nature didn’t cooperate. Fall should have heralded the coming of cool weather. Our friend, Jack Frost should have shown his silver locks by the second week of November….nope! Not this year!
I have to admit that many trees in Kingwood actually began a color change toward the end of August – literally thousands of trees in our woods have turned BROWN………….Pines, Elms, Oaks, Sycamores and many more. Wherever you look, our once lush and green woods are mottled with the brown specter of dying or in many cases,  dead trees. On December 3rd, while driving to the airport I began to notice a hint of Fall color creeping into the Kingwood forest palette. The hint of color is helping to ease the blight of the dead and dying brown trees that have been so horribly dominant during this never-ending summer of 2011.
From the perspective of the backyard vegetable patch this drought has been a mixed blessing. The warm weather vegetables have produced deep into the Fall calendar months. This week Jack Frost finally brought his icy caress to my backyard. His cold fingers finally put down my cucumbers,  pole beans, peppers, the sole remaining tomato plant….thank you! Now I can clear those beds and prep them for the next guests. Hallelujah …. it looks like the touch of frost is beginning to turn the asparagus ferns brown – it is about time! The root crowns have surely stored enough energy to overwhelm me with tender and tasty spears next spring.
The root crops are beginning to bless my table. The picture below was taken with my iPhone…. it seems to be an odd pairing, turnips and cucumbers…. Come on Mother Nature….this is just a little too far out of whack! Sometimes I do worry that this may become the new norm. The new challenge for all of us backyard growers may be to learn some new tricks and to change our practices….. change is or can be a good thing – be patient and receptive Bishop, it will be good!
TTFN
Bishop

Yes Virginia, Turnips and Cucumbers can Co-exist!

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