Another Gardening Convert


I think I mentioned sometime in the not too distant past that my son Benjamin, (really just Ben – Benjamin is usually reserved for those occasions when we need to make a point), has started a vegetable garden in his front yard. His growing environment is very much like Houston but on average it can be a degree or two cooler and possibly a little more rain.

Talking rain…..this past weekend we had a ¼ inch on one day and 2.9 the next. For the metric folks the 2.9 is about 7.4 cm. It fell in just about an hour of intense downpour. I have raised beds for this reason, really one of many reasons, otherwise the plants would have soggy feet during the spring and summer rains.

Ok, let’s get back to Ben and his Baton Rouge, Louisiana growing efforts. He planted the first seeds in early June, some sugar snap peas….I smiled when he mentioned the peas. I suggested that they may not do well at this time of year. They sprouted shot up a bit and I never heard much more until he told me that they had expired, died, shriveled up, became compost material and just really browned up nicely in the BR heat.

Ben came home for a few weeks at the end of his summer session, puttered around, fished a little, watered for me when I was out of town and played with his dog, Sierra. We talked about his little plot in the front yard and what he thought he might plant for the fall. Most of my suggestions were dismissed – I proposed some items that would grow well and are good for him. Ben does not eat much that is green in color…..that pretty well limits his choices. He does love one green item – Jalapeno peppers. He adds them to his pepperoni pizza, sandwiches and other college kid snack fare.

Just before he headed back to school last week, I bought him a couple of Jalapeno pepper plants from the local nursery up at the front of Kingwood. They are local folks, they know the growing environment and what grows best. They tend to stock the plant varieties that the big box stores don’t. I scored a couple of Juliet tomato plants for my fall planting. I love this indeterminate variety of tomato and missed having them available for my spring and summer choices. I am hoping that I will have a good harvest before it gets too chilly and the days too short. The pepper plants – well they seem to be able to overwinter here with a little care.

The pepper plants in Ben’s bed show evidence of a little too much water but they are hardy plants. Ben is studying construction management at LSU and seems to like having everything plumb, square and laid out nicely. You may notice that he has laid a grid….square foot gardening style, in his beds….I am not so precise in my plantings!!!!!

Ben’s Jalapeno – one of two in his front yard plot




Hands in the Garden – And Fishing


My son Ben walked into the house with his fishing pole. “Going fishing?” I asked. “Yep!”, was his concise answer with no fluff! A man of fewest words!

Then the surprise, a multiple word sentence….”Wanna go with me”, he asks? There was no hesitation on my part so off to the garden we go to dig up some worms. The first shovel full was loaded with big fat wrigglers…..the soil is healthy because of the work these guys do behind the scenes as they churn the compost I add to  the beds…. they add their castings, aerate to soil and create drainage….sorry guys, I need some volunteers to give the up the life of toiling in the garden. I needed some volunteers to go out in a blaze of glory, sacrificing for that trophy catfish waiting in the pond!

On a side note – I probably have three, four or more types of earthworms helping me in the garden. I have added the big store-bought night crawlers left over from past fishing trip. They a larger and seem to thrive in my well composted beds. I have an abundance now of the red wriggler type that stay near the surface and do not burrow. These are also working away in my compost bins – that reminds me….I need to add harvesting the castings to list of chores for the week.

The worms sacrificed themselves but I was a little disappointed in the results – it was as if Ben and I were competing to see who would the smallest fish and the second category was for the fewest fish caught. Not our usual competitive measures of success. I caught the fewest(4) and Ben caught the smallest fish(small perch). All were returned in good health to be caught again. The pond near the house is a great place to take young ones – I love the smile on a child when they catch their first fish…and for that matter their second, third, fourth – and you get the idea….. always a smile.

It was nice to sit with Ben and even though he is a man of few words, with the right questions we can converse. I was pleased a few months ago when he built a small raised bed at his house in Baton Rouge. I smiled when he told me what he had planted – not the best choices for mid summer but he wass working thee soil, watering and seeing his efforts produce some green foliage. A success in my eyes. We did discuss what to plant when he returns to Baton Rouge August 19th….should be his last year of school at LSU!!!! He doesn’t eat much green stuff  so growing food that he would consume is a challenge. Maybe one of his roommates will be able to enjoy the harvest.

Both off my sons have built raised beds this summer, Joe for his girlfriend and Ben for himself – converts in the making. I have also done somethingelse  right! They fish and fish and find time to fish again. Earlier this summer Ben was home for a week or so for the summer session at LSU he and my youngest joe went off to the lake in our canoe for some bonding and fishing. It looks like success on both fronts. Click on an imaage to display the slideshow.



Let Me Redeem Myself

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No more polls….or at least polls that seem to be a little too personal. It was all tongue in cheek but my sense of humor tends to be a bit “off” the garden path. By the way the sink looks great and the book is on display sitting on the mantle. So let’s rev-up the disjointed train of thought and let it hurtle down a track, any track because the destination changes quite often…..

Now for the weather;

partlycloudy Mostly sunny until late afternoon then becoming partly cloudy.Highs in the lower 50s. North winds 10 to 15 mph.
It must have been a dream …….. Could the Houston Chronicle have been wrong?


The Lament –

Breathe deep the gathering gloom,
Watch lights fade from every room.
Bedsitter people look back and lament,
Another day’s useless energy spent.
Impassioned lovers wrestle as one,
Lonely man cries for love and has none.
New mother picks up and suckles her son,
Senior citizens wish they were young.
Cold hearted orb that rules the night,
Removes the colours from our sight.
Red is grey and yellow white.
But we decide which is right.
And which is an illusion?

The Moody Blues –

Tonight – The the cold hearted orb is 3 days past full – The positive attributes of a waning moon include – A time to review endeavors and correct mistakes. Settle disputes and make amends. Yes dear are two words that come to mind! I will ask forgiveness and maybe the frigid night will spare my tomatoes!
nt_partlycloudy Partly cloudy. Lows in the lower 30s.Northeast winds 10 to 15 mph.

I have wrapped the lower portions of my tomato cages with clear plastic and if I am sincere in making amends the cold weather will not do any damage. John, your tomatoes are similarly protected but if you need to make any amends, do it tonight before the temperatures drop.

I used the turnips the other night as an add in for a Butternut Squash soup. I am expanding my horizons by adding previously avoided items into my cooking. Earlier this winter I tried baked Butternut squash and found it to be very nice. The soup was superb! If the early offerings of strawberries are an indication, I may be wonderfully overwhelmed with strawberries this year. I had a great crop last year and still have 7 or 8 jars of jam leftover…. looks like some friends and neighbors may get a jar before I start “jamming” again.I see asparagus poking up in several spots now….please be tolerant of this, hopefully last, blast of chill! The onions, garlic, lettuce, beets, radishes, snap peas, carrots and spinach should all be fine!

Note to Bev – you asked “what’s up with the soy beans?” well here is a link for “what’s up with the soy beans”… http://www.edamame.com/ I have already planted some in my yard and will plant some for you and John today. Between the two plots we ought to have enough to enjoy.

I will finish hooking water up to the sink today and plumb it up so I can use the rinse water for spot watering. The soil rinsed off will fall out in the bucket under the sink and I can also dump the dirt where I want…a win/win for the garden. Photo documentary for the project coming soon.

The Crepe Myrtle has been trimmed/pruned/butchered……. I drove around a bit over the past several days to see how some of the professionals are pruning the Myrtles and I see several styles – “….we decide which is right and which is an illusion?” I will get another chance next year to correct my mistakes…in the meantime I get to use the long upright trimmings to support my beans, peas and cucumbers. The unusable trimmings passed through the chipper and are now residing in the compost bin….nearly zero waste.

OK conductor…pull the stop cord for a brief respite.



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!

Yes Virginia, Turnips and Cucumbers can Co-exist!

I Thought I Was Being Frugal


Lettuce not be Cheap

I have been a little disappointed in that most of my lettuce seeds have failed to germinate. I know that the weather has been a little too warm so I have reseeded several times and have seen very few show up in the rows. I am a frugal gardener so I spread the seeds so that I don’t have to do a lot of thinning. Because of that I rarely plant all of the seeds in the packets. Over the course of the past few years I have many packets of leftovers and try to use them ……

I just found this bit of advice while searching the internet today.  “Lettuce also fails to germinate if the seed is old, so use fresh seed each season.” Should I take this advice???? I think I should!

I looked at some of my leftovers and the dates on the packets go as far back as 2008! Looks like I am not frugal but the word cheap might be a better descriptor.
I broke down today and spent $ 6.00 or so for some new, current season lettuce seeds. Weather is still on the cusp of being too warm…we will see 80 degrees this week again. I planted lettuce today for the fourth time this “fall” – Hope I haven’t wasted my money….what if it is more likely the warm weather and not old seed? I guess I won’t ever know.
Peas are coming up

I seem to use up almost all of the pea seeds every year and bought 2011/12 season sugar snap peas for this fall. I love this sequential depiction of peas sprouting. Most of my peas are further along than the right hand image. I noticed today that I have some up into the 15 – 18″ tall range and some flowers are beginning to develop. I am looking forward to the sweetness of fresh picked sugar snaps. The pole beans have just about stopped flowering so it looks like I will have a gap in the harvest. I didn’t have many beans today so most found their way into my mouth before they made the kitchen. They are actually pretty sweet but not like the peas.

Still gathering cucumbers from my volunteer plants. These cukes are so good. Sometimes the Houston heat causes them to grow so fast they become huge and they can be a little bitter. The weather is perfect right now, the size of the cukes just perfect and they taste great.. I grilled some of the fresh red bell peppers from the garden tonight. I have a bunch of Serrano peppers to pick this week and will probably make some more Serrano Pepper jelly. So good over cream cheese as a dip. I also found some red onion sets at the store where I picked up the lettuce seeds and added them to the white onions I planted a few weeks ago. The white onions and the garlic are up and stretching toward the sky. Looking forward to late spring 2012 for the onions to be ready.
I will be in the garden getting my hands dirty again tomorrow…..

Returning Home From Midland

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The Right Side is the Sunnier Side
Left side gets winter shade.

I returned Friday morning from a week in Midland Texas. Kathy kept the thirsty guys and gals in the beds well watered. We finally got some rain Thursday – not nearly enough to put a dent into the drought but it was a good soaking rain. I used my iPhone to shoot the two pictures shown. Not bad for an early generation iPhone…. I havent upgraded yet.

At the entrance on the left side my “volunteer” cucumber plants have been rewarding me nicely. I picked two very nice cukes for my salads and another 6 or so are maturing nicely. The green beans are doing well and I gathered about 3 handfuls. As you can see on the front right… the sugar snap peas are just reaching up to grab the twine. The bush cucumbers, back right, are beginning to produce little cukes but the weather may not let them become full-sized. Also in the right side beds are some radishes – I picked a few yesterday to go with the salads.
The butter crunch lettuce doesn’t seem to want to germinate so I reseeded two rows Friday AM…. hopefully the cool temperatures will help out. The kale has really taken off and the white onion sets put out a week ago are reaching skyward. I need to share a few  sets with my buddy John this week along with some of the extra garlic.  I also transplanted some broccoli today. The plants looked really healthy and they should do well.
I should be getting my strawberry plants week after next. I have 150 coming. 48 of them will be used to fill my vertical PVC towers, 24 per tower.  I am anxious to see how well they do in the towers. I will feature the strawberry plantings in a future rambling.
I am still waiting to see if the tomatoes will break color before the temperatures put a halt to their ripening.  It will be sunny and slightly warmer for the next 7 days and beyond!!!! So, fingers crossed, I will get some home-grown fall tomatoes.

A Hint of Fall in the Air

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It is so nice to be back in the garden again. My daughters and wife do a very nice job in maintaining the garden in my absence. I like to get some dirt under the nails, pull some weeds – a never-ending task here , stagger plant a few more so everything doesn’t ripen all at once and thin out some of the new seedlings. I always tell myself that I will thin the rows so they are spaced appropriately but I seem to fall down on that task with great regularity.

As I worked through the  beds today I did my thinning, pulled my weeds, pinched off the terminal ends of a few blackberry vines and snacked on some very fresh veggies. The asparagus ferns are huge, heavy and falling forward. The lean exposed some new shoots that begged to be picked and sampled. Asparagus snapped off and enjoyed in its ultimate fresh state is incredible. It is sweet and very tender. I found some blossoms ready to pick on my squash….not my favorite to snack on but not enough to add to a salad. I picked a few handfuls of the pole beans and enjoyed a few alfresco as well. I will steam some to go with the BBQ chicken tonight. (Kathy already had asparagus planned – not as fresh as mine but still good)

The Carmelo tomato plant looks like it will ripen up a dozen or so tomatoes before it gets too cold. In the past week the grape tomato has sent forth many dozen blossoms but I am afraid time is running short for them to mature. They may behave like me, flirt with maturity and stay in the vicinity for appearance sake. I may have to age but I can choose whether to behave or misbehave – it is my choice. PS – The right answer is always – “Yes Dear!”

The Meyer Lemons are turning yellow… I will have to quiz my urban farming friends, Jane and John, on how to determine the time to pick them. I saw them down at Starbucks this morning. We chatted about all things growing except for the lemon talk….

The Kale has really taken off and so many articles I’ve read say that it is so good to eat and a healthy choice. I sampled some way back in the days when I worked the docks for Anglen Produce in Bakersfield. My memory says that the flavor was quite unremarkable. But then again that was commercially grown kale and not the homegrown, naturally raised plants – mine must be better……. we’ll see. Did I ever tell you the story about packing up bags of Serrano and Jalepeno peppersat  the produce warehouse and absent mindedly going off to the men’s room – Kathy says I can’t tell that story….sorry.

Pulled some radishes for tonight’s salad and added another two dozen seeds to the row. Staggered in two more rows of beets for spring harvest. The volunteer cucumbers look to be doing well and I should have some to pick soon. I am also feeling like a neglectful farmer…. I have not checked in on my worms nor fed them for nearly two weeks…. Not good! They have consumed everything in the bin and needed some attention. I prepped the new bin and placed it over the well worked mass of worm poop. They should now start the upward migration into the new clean home…..Sorry little guys!

Less gardening on my list for this Tuesday – On my list to do is boiling the wort for a new batch of beer. I am trying a clone recipe for a Northwest US brew called Dick’s Danger Ale. http://www.dicksbeer.com/brews/brew_1.php?key=1 Dark but not nearly a heavy as a Porter of a Stout. Should be yummy – is yummy a robust enough word for a beer? Hmmmm. Maybe- “hearty and satisfying!” – yes that sounds better.



Fall Harvest is Getting Closer


The start of a homegrown tomato!

I wasn’t sure if the tomatoes I planted in late summer would give me any “maters” before the so-called winter chill hit. I was out this morning watering, looking and planning for what I want to put out next when I spotted this tomato. I had been brutally hot for September, too hot for blossoms to set so I had almost given up. Well, we may have homegrown tomatoes at Thanksgiving and probably earlier this fall. I looked a little closer and saw that I have a dozen or so that have appear to have set and lots of blossoms that are healthy.

I will pick probably a serving or so of green beans this weekend and I’m getting some good help from one of my green buddies wearing blue eye shadow. It is a don’t ask don’t tell issue…. as long as he does his job protecting my green beans I am a happy camper. Just an FYI…. sometimes they change colors and blend very well with the bricks. It seems that the blue eye shadow disappears when patrolling the bricks. They are called green anole lizards, Anolis Carolinensis. read more here; http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/galveston/beneficials/beneficial-19_lizard_green_anole.htm

One of the volunteer cucumbers.

My experiments continue…. I had spread some compost from my bins in early August and have found a pleasant surprise… I have some volunteer cucumber plants. Just for grins and giggles I let them grow and now I have some cucumbers beginning to mature. Time will tell which variety made it through the composting process, obviously my heap did not generate much heat.

Temperatures are still touching the low 90’s and lows in the high 60’s for the next week or so. We did have a few sub 60 degree mornings but they were fleeting.

On a last note, I am chastising myself for being so naive and trusting. I went down to Lowes and purchased some Miracle Grow brand “organic” soil for one of the beds that I reworked at the end of summer. I spread the “organic soil” and it looked a lot like sawdust. As I sorted through it I saw what looked to be saw dust and wood chips, and little else of the possible ingredients listed on the bag. A closer examination of the bag has a disclaimer for bags purchased in Texas and California…. it says the contents are “regionally formulated forest products – that is the first ingredient listed. I could not tell if any of the remaining ingredients were present – but to the naked eye I saw nothing but sawdust and wood chips…. The label says organic and I guess it is true but it won’t add any benefit to the soil until it breaks down in a year or more. Caveat emptor….. read the labels before you buy!!!!



A Little Rain – Finally

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A week or so away from a fresh green bean

Today we had a nice line of storms come through and bless us with about a half of an inch of rain. Now we are only about 21.5 inches behind. Even better is the fact that a front hits tomorrow and our temperatures will drop significantly! The stress from the heat has been a real pain in the butt! Some of my attempts to direct seed have worked and others are not doing so well. Most of the lettuces are not showing up. I will reseed them over the weekend. The old reliable, the radishes are flourishing as are the beets, turnips, carrots and peas – well most of the peas….

The previously planted pole beans are climbing and now blossoming. I have zucchini beginning to develop and the bush cucumbers may actually produce before it gets too cold. I munched on some late sprouting asparagus shoots this week. Wow, so sweet straight from the garden.

Rain, rain come and stay!

Seeing the water gushing down and out the drain is a good thing. Haven’t seen much of that since early spring. Forecast is for another chance tomorrow. Fingers are crossed, prayers made and maybe, just maybe we will put a small dent into this lingering drought. I will do my part and gather the neighbor’s leaves and shred them for leaf mulch/mold. They must think I am nuts when I go up and down the street gathering leaves……Am I nuts? – Don’t answer that!

Nice Time of Year to be Out in the Garden – Quick Update

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The yard is zooming with these little guys

Yard work and gardening chores are a bit more enjoyable now …. several reasons;
The break from the brutally hot summer we have been having. It is the worst we’ve experienced since our arrival in 2004 and apparently one of the worst on record.
The plus side – the hummingbirds are heading south and passing through. They seem to be lingering a little longer than last year. It has been so dry that they are reluctant to leave the feeders in the yard.
It is a joy to see these guys zooming all over the yard. The bigger bullies are always chasing away the less aggressive hummers and while chasing others sneak in for a drink. I have to duck on a occasion as they zoom past my head.

Now for the garden update. I was off in Covington,Louisiana this past week working for Chevron….I sometimes miss the old company and friends. Good bunch of rain early in the week so the plants were happy. Kathy kept the plants well-tended in my absence. My experiment with home-made seed strips appears to be working. I will keep up the staggered plantings to see if I can extend the harvest.
The pole beans are acting like Jack’s magic beans and don’t seem to know when to stop going vertical. I added extensions to my tepees and they have gone beyond the 10 foot height. I hope they start flowering soon. My sugar snap peas have popped up this past week and will be climbing soon.
Looking good. A longer post soon.

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