The Other Garden “Ato” – the Potato


I seem to celebrate the tomato as if it the crown jewel of the backyard farmer as many gardeners do. Tomatoes do seem to be a central theme with many garden bloggers, “how to” sites, mail order companies and farmer’s markets. That said, I would like to share my growing fascination with potato growing. I have tried barrel or basket growing in the past. This year I have a mix of conventional trenched and hilled in ground method, a barrel and two tubs.

I planted some Yukon Gold taters in the ground and the barrel at the same time. They are doing very well. I had a few leftover and a couple of weeks later I planted them in the Rubbermaid tub I had been using to house my vermicomposting worms. I need to add lots of soil to it tomorrow!!!! I planted another tub a week ago and the shoots have yet to break the surface.

The barrel planted potato eyes were placed in the barrel with about six inches of soil. They took off. I think they benefitted from the warming effect of the barrel. The soil level is up to about 40 inches now and I won’t add any more. The in ground potatoes are also doing very well. The plants are 30+ inches above the hilled up mounds. I have high hopes for a good harvest.


An old garbage barrel with  holes in the bottom. Potato eyes at the bottom, 30 + inches below support the lush green growth.

An old garbage barrel with holes in the bottom. Potato eyes at the bottom, 30 + inches below support the lush green growth.

The newest tub was planted with supermarket spuds that sprouted in the pantry. Supermarket spids are not the best choice as they are sometimes treated to inhibit sprouting. The Yukon Gold are actual seed potatoes purchased at Kingwood Garden Center. Helpful folks, lots of knowledge and support organic gardeners!

The tub as it appears when the potatoes are planted. About 6 inches in the bottom,

The tub as it appears when the potatoes are planted. About 6 inches in the bottom,

Soil in this one is up about 10 inches and needs quite a bit more this weekend.

Soil in this one is up about 10 inches and needs quite a bit more this weekend.

I am looking forward to filching a few “new” potatoes down a foot or so a little later in early summer. I will be watching closely….once they flower and the tops die back I will harvest. The nice thing about using the tubs and barrels is the no digging to harvest. Just dump the container and sort through bounty!

PS – lunch was tomatoes picked today used in a wilted spinach and fresh Chard salad with grilled chicken breast. Dressing was simply EVOO and a blackberry flavored aged Balsamic vinegar. A little fresh ground pepper and sea salt! Just perfect!



The last of my Tomatoes


My last post was January 9th. Here it is the 23rd of January and I have only been home two and half days in that period of time. I am not sure who misses who more –  me missing the garden, the garden missing me or maybe me and the Mrs. missing each other? I better be careful how I order my responses! I really do miss my Mrs. – and Hun could you check on the garden for me and send me a couple of pictures? Thanks

The tomatoes, tomatoes I picked in early December, are now gone. I passed through Kingwood Texas, my home, this past weekend to repack my bags, took a quick peek at the garden and spent one night alone, my wife was in Austin watching our son play soccer. She returned Saturday evening, we spent a night together and then I was off to California early Sunday morning. While fending for myself Friday evening and for a big chunk of Saturday I snacked on the remaining Juliet tomatoes that had been sitting on the kitchen counter. I loved it….January in the Northern Hemisphere and I was able to snack on home-grown tomatoes, still full of real tomato flavor.

The green ones I talked about in an earlier post were just too green, too hard and too immature to ripen in the house…I just couldn’t toss them out without giving them a chance. They are headed off to the compost heap to add nutrients to my 2013 gardening efforts. Some of the mushy ones are being processed by my composting worms in their snug little home in the garage.

Part of my recent travels took me to a very different clime – it was minus 14 F up in Vernal Utah and nearly as cold over in Rangely Colorado. I taught a short class at the local college in Rangely. It was a beautiful shade of white on mostly white and very chilly. For a Houston boy, it is a bit of a treat to step into the snow, hear the crunch under my feet and marvel at how the winter snows transform the landscape. I captured a few photos of what I found to be lovely scenery……the locals seem to have a very different opinion of the snow-covered scenery!

Me and my shadow on the snow.

Me and my shadow on the snow.

A lokk form the school up on th ehill overlooking the town.

A look from the school up on the hill overlooking the town.

An ice climbing tower. A class offered during the winter. Looks like a cool challenge.

An ice climbing tower. A class offered during the winter. Looks like a cool challenge.


A light dusting of snow overnight.

Looking forward to two full weeks at home with my wife and my garden. I have lots of work planned for the garden, a new batch of beer to brew and maybe crank out a few miles on my bicycle!






Tomatoes – Goodbye, Farewell, Adieu – At Least Until Spring

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I finally called it quits with my tomatoes yesterday, December 25th. You’d think I lived in Australia with how the tomato plants have done this year. I actually have some volunteer seedlings that are about 4-5 inches tall that have not succumbed to the little dab of cooler Houston temperatures.

My Juliett variety was loaded with green tomatoes, a few beginning to show signs of changing color as well as some that had ripened naturally. I brought them all in to the house and will attempt to ripen the green ones. I used to work at a produce warehouse in my student days. The trucks would come in and deliver boxes of tomatoes called breakers – the tint of pink color was just beginning to break. We would stack the boxes 5 or 6 high with room for air to circulate around them and them shut the room up tight and introduce ethylene gas to speed the ripening! A few days later the tomatoes are red but I wouldn’t call them ripe! That is why the store-bought tomatoes are so firm…..they haven’t been allowed to really ripen!

The tomatoes rescued and brought in on Christmas Day. Hope to ripen the green ones

The tomatoes rescued and brought in on Christmas Day. Hope to ripen the green ones

I decided to try to ripen the green ones here at home. I don’t have an ethylene gas ripening room so it is off to plan B! Two good natural sources of ethylene gas are ripe bananas and apples. No bananas on hand but I had some apples. An internet search shows using a container, a banana and a few green tomatoes to ripen. I used brown paper sacks, apples and the green tomatoes…..I will publish an update on the process in a week or so.

The plants are all pulled up and disposed of….I try to keep the tomato plants out of the compost heap but may try running them through my shredder and just live with any of the volunteer plants….My best cherry tomato plant this past year was one of those volunteers that did very well.

Let’s see, today is the 26th of December and I hope to have my 2013 tomato transplants in the ground before March 1st!

My daughter wanted my famous fried potatoes this morning so I included Poblano peppers that I stepped out and picked while the potatoes were cooking…..Yum!



Ahhhhhhhh – Back Home!


I have been on the road for much of the past 6 weeks with brief trips home for laundry and repacking. The travels were not without a bit of fun and a few new learnings, but I am tired off the road. I received a nice goodnight text message from my wife last night – oh, by the way I am home but she is still visiting family in California – The message, ” ‘Night – sleep well in our bed Hun.” and I certainly did. I have been waking up multiple times every night in the hotel beds, tripping off to shed some water….last night – I closed my eyes at 10:30 and opened them at 6:30 – Yee haw!

I did a quick walk through the garden yesterday evening and Lisa did a wonderful job keeping things green. I will be picking tomatoes and cucumbers today. I will take a lesson learned from a restaurant in Carlsbad New Mexico, The Stock Exchange, and make some cucumber gazpacho. I may not add quite as much of the hot peppers but it was both refreshing as well as having a good “bite” in the mouth. I will post an update to my culinary efforts soon.

Today – weeding is high on the list – They seem to enjoy my garden beds and grow like – well weeds – with the water, warmth and sun. Rain has helped keep the water meter from spinning too much. Son Joe will need to crank up the mower and fill up the compost bin today – The grass  is ankle-deep – at least!

I may do something I haven’t tried in twenty plus years….I will try to direct seed a few tomatoes for fall replacements – The Oxheart, Mortgage Lifter and Early girl tomato plants are succumbing tot he Houston heat and humidity. In their place I will plant some Juliette seeds(couldn’t find plants this past spring…they do so well here) Arkansas Traveler and ????? not sure for the third yet until I review my seed inventory. The volunteer cherry tomato is still “kicking butt” – the term is not as violent as it sounds….it means “out producing everything in the garden”!

It is so nice to be home!

Potatoes Are Harvested

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Just finished up the potato harvest…..mixed results. The Rubbermaid bin seemed to be a little more prolific…. I had high hopes for my wire baskets. I was anticipating small new potatoes up the length of the plants that were systematically covered  with soil, mulch and compost. I found many more clinging to the plant stems in the bin. I may have had better success all the way around had not the leaves come under attack by a little critter….a little orange bug destroying the leaves….apparently the nymph stage of a leaf hopper. I did get some potatoes and we will enjoy them!

I did reap a bounty of composted material from the baskets and the bin. Two wheel barrow loads of the good stuff. I will try again next spring and probably use some 40 + gallon garbage cans or recycled 55 gallon food grade plastic drums. As a bonus the material from the baskets and bins were loaded with worms… the red wriggler composting types near the surface and some big fat earthworms churning away in the middle…. One wheel barrow load has been spread and I will work on the other soon….

Had garlic mashed potatoes last night….I really think I can tell a difference between the store bought spuds….who knows how long they have been stored and what they have been sprayed with….vs. mine, fresh from the garden! I also grilled some carrots that I recently harvested… That was a first for me and they were not bad at all….need to try that again. Tomatoes are really looking good – a real surprise is the volunteer plant that I let grow….loaded up with clusters of cherry tomatoes!

Click on the photos for a larger image.



Making Ready to Transfer the Worms

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The worm bin is getting to be well filled with that wonderful stuff euphemistically referred to as worm castings – worm poop – I use Rubbermaid containers…36 quart size to house them. They reside in the garage year round and the Houston heat does not seem to bother them. I actually made two bins when I ventured off into worm world. I have found that 4 months or so is an ideal time to let the little guys toil away in darkness before preparing their new abode and harvest more of the good stuff.

As part of my ongoing research into growing methods…..not really research, its just that I get bored easily and I am always want to try something new and different. The back-up bin was put to use growing potatoes. In addition to the 4 foot tall wire baskets housing potatoes I tossed a handful of extras into the bin filled with about 8 inches of soil. Over the next few months I kept adding shredded leaves and compost as the plants grew. Yesterday I decided it was time to make ready the bin for the worms and dumped the contents – potatoes, leaves, compost and all.
I was pleasantly surprised…with minimal efforts I have 8 or so pounds of naturally grown potatoes. My wife is wanting to cook the new potatoes today….I agree hun!



The Tomato Challenge – Close But No Cigar


I have mentioned several times in my recent blogging that I “may” have a ripe tomato before May 1st. I am sorry to report that I was two days short of the goal. The first ripe tomato, a cherry tomato, was consumed by my wife on May 2nd. I am going to claim partial success though……in the garden I planted over at John’s house….the cherry tomatoes have been ripe for over a week now. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to consume that first ripe, red tomato of the season either. That honor goes to his golden retriever, Pismo. She LOVES tomatoes and it is a real challenge to keep her away from the goodies. The photos for this rambling were taken on April 30th. You will see that my efforts to grow tomatoes are going well but the target was missed by just a smidgeon!

My asparagus is really doing well this year. It is so tender and sweet that much of it munched on while tending to the other garden chores. I have pulled almost all of the carrots and have really enjoyed eating them fresh, steamed, sauteed in butter – with a dash of nutmeg and cinnamon – and tonight I will grill a few. The Royal Chantenay Carrot has been a stellar producer for the heavy Houston soils….becoming less dense every year as I add compost, the Cosmic Purple were pretty…..pretty small too. Lovely color but they were stunted – the descriptor in the catalog says -” The smooth purple skin contrasts beautifully with the bright orange coreless flesh. They have a very sweet flavor and are a hit with kids and adults alike. The tops grow to 15 “. Roots are tapered and best harvested around 7″.” Partially true – color and taste and the tops are tall and beautiful. They would make a a nice border planting. Size, hmmmmmm, not anywhere near 7″. The Danvers Half Long were also a great carrot to grow here in Houston.

Have not been traveling much lately so I have been tending the gardens on a regular basis. I have not written much lately as I have been busy finishing up a video for the High School soccer team….my wife nicknamed me the great American volunteer as I seem to find myself on the everyone’s list. I haven’t had a child on the local swim club team for more than two years but volunteered to do their year end video……maybe it is because I also enjoy working with the kids!





A recent call from my Mother got me thinking about the topic. She is 82, a child of the depression, frugal not cheap and has an interesting creative streak that she displays often. She called me to brag a little on her latest recycle/reuse/re-purpose discovery. A couple of years ago I made her a calendar featuring family photos for the various months. Fully opened it measured 11X17 inches, so each sheet is 8.5X11 inches – a standard US paper size. She needed more file folders to aid in organizing her papers and statements and hit upon the idea of using the out of date calendar. She was able to create 6 folders with the photo(s) of family on the outside of the folder ( so she could gaze on our lovely faces) and the meaningless dates on the inside. How clever…….I believe she noticed that when she finished the photos were upside down……I am sure that is fixed by now….

Greeting cards sent to Mom will find their way back in a re-purposed condition with the added bits of this and that she has lying about. Many of the bits and pieces she has lying about become awards that she hands out as outstanding achievement recognition for her 16 or so Tai Chi students…. complete with Chinese characters that she makes up – including some bogus definition & they all seem to believe her! She is a recycled Tai-Chi instructor from one of her previous lives….  She will re-gift and as far as I know it has not boomeranged on her  – yet! Yard sales provide a treasure chest full of goodies for which her creative side will find a use for each and every item – eventually. So, Mom, I must come by some of it naturally and I do think Dad’s genes must be an influence….although he was not nearly as creative as you are…. he had lunch boxes, jars, cigar boxes and file cabinets filled with things that may be needed somewhere down the road…and yes I have a bit of his collection – brought back to Texas after he passed. Note to Kathy – my wife – I needed a hook latch for the new gate I just hung and I knew I had one in my collection….thanks to daughter Ashleigh, I found it in one of the bins that she had organized – result – no trip to the hardware store to buy something that I already had but couldn’t find!

Let’s see if I can tie this back to my little backyard farm…..hmmmmmmm. Second try – just lost 400 words and a photo – the words should still be fresh in my head – operative word is “should” – I do have the photo – the computer is a little more reliable, most of the time.

I know that I have mentioned my recycled fence screening my wife’s portion of the yard from my garden/backyard-farm in previous posts. The fence materials as well as most of the lumber used for the compost bins were from the recycling and remixing done by the Hurricane Ike winds. The eye of the hurricane took well over an hour to pass over our house and neighborhood. The fences that were leaning hard one way were violently whipped to the other direction as the back side hit and the 110 mph winds did a 180 degree turn. In hindsight I could have and should have made a concerted effort to salvage many more down fences…..I could probably still be building for my friend John – he needs a fence as his Golden retriever loves ripe and vine picked tomatoes, as well as many others. I even saved the pulled nails and carefully and patiently was able to straighten and reuse the nails! I have been the recipient of some wine display props no longer needed and heading toward the trash heap…..shelves, wheel barrow, signs, barrels and other do-dads. My garden potting bench was rescued from a garage clean out and until recently my garden hoses were also rescue hand me downs……some work needed like end pieces and duct tape for the minor leaks. My wife helps the community recycling effort through” Kingwood Yardsale”, an online posting site. She buys and sometimes sells through the site…..remember Hun, I am still looking for a small sink to add to my potting bench.

Recycled fence, pots, barrow, bricks - gate is a mix of old & new - arbor - not!.

Both Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Ike  downed literally thousands of trees in our area. From the downed oak trees I have turned out a handful of items on my wood lathe – bowls, boxes, pen & pencil sets, travel mugs and a duck call. This area of Texas is in the midst of a major drought and thousands of dead trees are being removed, most of which become mulch after grinding them up. I have noticed many of the dead trees are being sectioned and sent to some of the small lumber mills that dot the country side. The landfills can’t absorb the massive volumes being generated right now. The photo below was taken a couple of days ago along one of our many “Greenbelt” paths…becoming more and more bare! I have plenty of pieces to work with but I still have my eye out for something special…a burl or a  nice crotch – like from a tree!!!!! or anything that may lend itself to another purpose.

The disappearing green of the green belt.

Those 400 lost words – those words above are parts of what I could remember plus a few more…..I had written some words concerning allotments – a British passion – that were lost  –   those words will find their way into a future post….if I remember!



New Year’s Garden – Much Better Than a Hangover

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My New Year’s Eve celebration was limited to a couple of Samuel Adams Winter Lagers, I just love the shape of the glass – the beer is pretty good too- while waiting in the airport in sunny Florida. I was lucky enough to be with my best friend, my wife Kathy and our “favorite” youngest child Joe.  I dozed off on the flight back to Houston dreaming of getting my hands back into the dirt in my little backyard garden. I was planning the work needed to prepare for spring……and the crazy thing is, our spring weather may start at any time during January! This morning though, it was a bit brisk  35 F, about 2 C for you folks on the other scale….so I wore a sweater with my short pants and to the horror of my children – socks with my sandals!

Yesterday was the 2nd day of the new year and a warmer than this morning. I knocked a few things off of my to-do-list. I have been anxiously waiting for the asparagus ferns to die…..they didn’t cooperate so I wacked them off – to my Australian friends, Geoff, Charles and Alan…do not manipulate the word wack….I know what is running through your brains, so, stop it right now! – back to the asparagus…I then top dressed with some good aged compost from my bins….2011 vintage, and then added a 3-4 inch layer of leaves to help smother the weeds- those nasty little buggers that can take over the bed if not managed.

I finally got around to removing the green bean vines and poles. It took just a few minutes and I don’t know why I waited so long….maybe it has to do with my usual tendency for procrastination ….as I wrote those few previous words I felt a little guilty because – here  I am, sitting on a half-finished project for a “paying” client and I am filling my free time with random & rambling thoughts. The paycheck for the real work is 60 days or more out into the future and the “fun” I have writing is my  immediate gratifcation…….I think I am contradicting some of the advice I have given my children…I have told them to work hard and not focus on the “instant gratification” sought out by so many!!!!! Sorry kids, you need to get a little instant gratification every now and then…it helps you smile! Dad also says…….don’t over do it!

Oh yes, the beans….. That bed, a 4X25 foott bed, is now sitting mostly idle as it is shaded most of the day. I had overseeded it with buckwheat in the early fall as a green manure. This bed is loaded with earthworms……to the delight of my 16 year son, who is a fishing fool! Fortunately he doesn’t fish day and night which could wreak havoc on the worm population! The winter solstice has come and gone allowing the shade to begin  creeping southward to start warming up the entire garden area. I also managed a quick courtesy call to John’s garden beds, I  watered, weeded and added some compost to the original bed. John, FYI – turnips and radishes are already up!

The photo below right  shows a good portion of my main garden beds. Unseen in this photo are two , 4X8 foot beds behind me, one of which has the asparagus and just beyond the fence along the back fence is a bed with 75+ strawberry plants….all ground level so the slugs and rollie-pollies can have a tasty snack in the spring. It really is a competition between me and the bugs to save the berries….chemicals would kill the critters but they would also find their way into my strawberry jam…I can’t have that, so, I am willing to share a little. You can just make out the edge of my compost bins to the left, also on the left are the strawberry towers, some blackberry vines, a potting table at the far end, a bit of storage to the right and lots of bare spots waiting for more seeds and warmth. The left photo shows a bit of what lies outside the gate to my dirt paradise. On the right side is one end of the ground level strawberries against my back fence. For some reason Sam Adams wanted a little more exposure so it is at the bottom of the post…..(I couldn’t figure out how to remove it without buggering up the post)  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???????




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