Sunday, May 29, 2011


 A customer came in to the nursery the other day with a bagful of plants to ID.  I really enjoy doing that, especially when there are some that take me a while to figure out.  And REALLY especially when one stumps me and everyone else at the store. 

Here's one of those.  Anyone have any idea what it is?  The customers said it had purple blooms that looked kind of like tiny orchid blooms.  That made me think some kind of long-leaved cenizo (Leucophylluim species), so I looked it up.  They said the blooms looked a lot like those, but I couldn't find a long-leaved cenizo that matched it.

It smells heavenly ~ just like a curry plant.  The leaves are quite hairy with soft, white "fur" on them.  Reminds me of a wooly stemodia, only this "wool" is a lot softer and prettier.  Many of us thought white sage or sage brush, but the stems are in no way square.  I also thought some sort of artemesia, but I couldn't find any sort that wasn't yellow-flowered.

They said it gets about a foot and a half tall and comes up all over their plot of land, growing like a weed even with absolutely no care from them. 

Someone at the nursery did say they've seen it before somewhere else, best they could remember it was growing in a weedy-native-plant type setting.  I checked out the Wildflower Center's website, but no dice. 


Colorful harvest, aka a rainbow in my basket

 I had such a nice time in the garden yesterday.  I set out to plant just a few things and you know how it is ... you end up pulling a couple weeds, watering a few things, tightening a few strings on the tomatoes...  Before you know it, you've been outside for a few hours. 

It was getting hot, so I just grabbed the tomatoes I'd had my eye on ~ two more Oxhearts and a Mortgage Lifter that had blushed pink the other day.  Sure enough they were gorgeous and ripe.

Later in the day I went back out to move the sprinkler and noticed a little yellow patty pan squash.  Then I looked over at the peppers and noticed the Chocolate Beauty I'd been watching was ripe.  Then I noticed the Anaheims next to it...
Before I noticed it, I'd grabbed my basket and filled it with all sorts of things.  I hadn't realized that there was that much out there!  And the colors!  Just look at the colors!  Purple, chocolate, yellow, red, organge, two kinds of green and more kinds of red.  A rainbow in the basket! 

In case you were wondering what they all are, clockwise from the yellow patty pan squash are a pile of cherry tomatoes (orange are Sungolds, oblong red are Juliets, and tiny reds are Matt's Wild Cherrys), then Royal Burgundy bush beans, then Cherokee Purple tomatoes, the red tomatoes are Solar Fires, then another Cherokee Purple, a Chocolate Beauty bell pepper and some Anaheim peppers.  The green beans are more Black Valentines, which so far are winning the Year of the Bean race.  They're YUM-MEE!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

That's one big-assed tomato!

This morning, as I was setting the water on the new seeds before I went to work, I noticed some red in the Sea of Green that is the first tomato row.  Oxhearts!  That big-assed green one I've been watching was RED!  And so was it's buddy, hanging right there next to it.

*insert golden sparkles and heavenly music here*

They didn't quite look completely red.  They still had a bit of yellow shoulders and could have spent another day or two on the vine.  But I thought of Nancy, the friend and coworker who gave me the plant along with a couple others. "It's Friday," I thought. "Nancy works today, but won't be at work again until Monday.  But we're off Monday.  They'll be waaaay too ripe by Tuesday.  And I really want to share this with her."

About this time Kelly pulled up, so I had to make a decision.  What the hell.  I picked them both quick and hurried out of the garden.  I met George coming off the front of the porch, held them up and grinned the biggest grin I've had all month.  I was still so excited I don't even remember what he said, but he was amazed and agog, big smile across his face.

I got in the car and said, "Lookie what I have, Kelly!  Oxheart tomatoes.  Want one for lunch?"

First thing I did when we got to work was head straight for the weight scales.  I hollered at Nancy to come see what I had.  She got there about the time I found out it was ...

One and a quarter pounds.  Let me say that again ~ ONE AND A QUARTER POUNDS!  This thing was HUGE!

I told Nancy it was an Oxheart from the plant she gave me and that I was sharing it with her for lunch, but first I was going to carry it around the store all morning.
Lunchtime rolled around and I cut into it (had to do it quick before I thought about it, like pulling those damn wax strips off your legs ~ it's worse if you cringe and brace for it).  It was beautiful inside!  All meaty and juicy and RED.

Nancy took lunch before me and gave me a review: tasty, acidic, juicy and meaty.  Overall, delicious.  When my lunchtime rolled around, I found out how right she was.  Man, it was good!  I think it was still warm from the sun, too. 
 And in other news, I have a new calf!!  Born last Saturday night.

Ain't she ca-yewt?!  Sorry about the far-off, fuzzy picture, but see that red cow off in the distance?  That's her big sister.  Mama's bigger.  MUCH bigger.  With even bigger horns.  And just off the frame to the left.  Across the fence that's directly in front of me. 

Mama didn't raise no fool.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

For Stefanie

 Stefanie, the Assistant Head Groundskeeper at work, was kind enough to share some of the seedlings she started this year, so this update is for her. 

The Riesentraube she shared with me is producing like crazy already.  The name translates to "giant bunches of grapes".  I guess so!  There's another bunch of them starting to set as well.  And the plant isn't even two feet tall.  Amazing.

Then there's the Silvery Fir Tree plant.  It's collapsing under the weight of the fruit. 

The Green Zebra's holding up well.  Three tomatoes, but the plant waited 'til it was big to put them on. 

Riesentraube again
Green Zebra

Silvery Fir Tree
Silvery Fir Tree on left, Green Zebra on right.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Garden Addition

We got the garden addition shoveled up today.  George did the majority of the earth moving.  I did help, but mostly mulched the paths with pine straw and jumped up and down with excitement.

Corn!  I can grow corn now!  And sweet potatoes!  And okra!  And cotton!  And more beans!!  And maybe even some luffas!

Aaaaannnd done!  Eight new 3'x10' (or so) beds, a big corn bed (I'm standing in it to take the above pic) and 70' of 1' row along the fences.  *Happy veggie dance!!*

We also got some tomato supports up.  I really need to just make new tomato cages, taller ones, about 7 or 8 feet tall, and quit dicking around with these pepper cages.  Every year I think I can stack two of them to make a tall enough tomato cage, and every year they grow faster than I can stack.  Oh, well ~ tall t-posts and wire make a good enough support to tie the plants to.  It only has to last another couple months anyway.  Then I'll chop them down to a foot or two tall and let them regrow for fall.

  And the obligatory tomato shots.  This Roma plant has at least 40 tomatoes on it! 

And got the first Juliets today, too.  Here are Sungolds, the orange ones; Juliets, the oblong red ones; and Matt's Wild Cherrys, the teeny little red ones (you can only really see one at the top, but there were a few in there).

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Earl's Beans

I have a treasure.

A true Central Texas heirloom
George and I carpool to work most days, but on Sundays we drive in and park near the veggie garden gate.  Since he has to be there a bit before I do, this gives me the chance to linger on my way in.  I noticed the other day that the grounds crew are growing "Earl Hall's 30-Year Beans" in a plot by themselves, marked with a sign giving the story.  An heirloom I've never heard of!  One from this area!  Excitement.

Next time I saw Roger, I asked about them.  He said he had some seed out in the truck and would be glad to give me some, coming back in a little later with an envelope for me.  Serendipity struck ~ Mr. Hall himself came in to the nursery that day and I got to talk to him.  Mr. Hall was only too happy to talk about his beans, so I got the full story.  I strongly feel that an heirloom's history must be preserved as well as possible, so that's what this post is ~ the story of Mr. Hall's beans, Hall's Improved as he calls them. 

Notes I took while talking to Mr. Hall.
Mr. Hall is from North Carlina and has a wife who's not fond of beans.  No matter what kind he tried, she didn't care for them.  Blue Lake.  Kentucky Wonder.  Nope.  And nope.

So his sister sent him some seeds from back home.  He doesn't remember what kind she said they were, if she said, but he grew them anyway.  He noticed that they appeared to be a mish-mash, crossed seed perhaps.  He said some pods were four inches long and flat, some six inches long and round, and some more six inches long and blocky.  But all were half-runners, good for string beans.  And his wife liked them!

So every year since Mr. Hall has grown these beans in his Oak Hill garden, out near Appaloosa run he said, by the Salt Lick.  And he described to me in great detail exactly how he saves seed from them.

First, he grows a separate row for seed saving only.  See, he knows that if you grow beans, pick what you want, then let them go to seed for saving, you're unwittingly culling for late beans and will eventually put yourself out of the bean business.  Smart man, that Mr. Hall.

Then, he culls out small vines and beans.  Once mature, he pulls up the bushes/vines and hangs them in the garage.  He said he does this right before a rain is expected.  He didn't say why, but maybe it's because the humidity in the air helps the vines and beans dry slower so more of the goodness of the vines and pods is absorbed into the beans?  Maybe it's like transplanting on a cloudy day being better for the plants ~ makes it so it's not such a shock to the seeds?  Dunno.  But that's how I'm going to do it, too.

Next, he said he waits for a cold, dry day in winter, takes those dried vines down and shells the seeds.  This makes sense, since it would help ensure the seeds are dry enough for storage.  You're supposed to dry beans 'til they shatter when hit with a hammer, which means the moisture content is low enough so they don't rot in storage.  Bet a couple months in the garage, then shelling on a cold, dry day would do just that.

Lastly, he said he puts them in a jar and in the freezer.  He's careful to label them with the date so he can rotate through them, ensuring he has fresh seed stored so not to lose them.  Another mark of his smartness.

I can't wait to grow these.  I plan to sow a few in the garden addition (if we ever get the paths shoveled out ~ didn't get to Thursday because of the rain, but I'm not complaining!).  I don't care if it seems late.  I'll just plant them in an area that gets evening shade.  Might help them produce even once it gets hot.

And, Mr. Hall, I promise to save them just like you have, and to be generous with giving the seeds to others who want to grow them, along with the full story.  Best way to preserve treasures like this.

Friday, May 13, 2011

I wrote a song.

♪♫ I've got a shittload of Brandywines! ♪♫
♫♪ I've got a shitload of Brandywines! ♪
♫ Oh, I've got a shitload of Brandywiiiiiiiines! ♫
♪ And I'm one dang happy girl! ♪♫

Yesterday, after the rain, I went outside to take pictures and noticed this:

Can you see them?  All those gorgeous Brandywines?  Here, let me help you.

 One, two, three, four, five, six, ..., eight, nine, ...

...ten, eleven, ...

... twelve, ...

... thirteen, fourteen, ...

... fifteen, ...

... sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, ...

... nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, ...

 ... twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four, ...

... twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight and a half.  Looks like something else likes Brandywines, too.


Update:  Well, I figured out the mystery of why they're producing so much.  Stick me in a corner with a dunce cap on.

I'd meant to start both pink and Red Brandywines, but apparently only started the Red.  It's really funny because I KNOW pink Brandywines are potato-leaved, yet this whole time I was walking right by the regular-leaved reds and didn't even click.  Doh! *slaps forehead*

But all is not lost.  I did mean to try the Red Brandywine since it's said to be as good as the pink, but more productive (I guess so!).  So far it's turning out just like I read, so if it tastes anywhere close, I've found a new tomato to grow every year.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

It's coming...


It's here!

And it's gone.

Can't you just see the plants' sigh of relief...

A Giant Butterbean in the Garden

One would think a Butterbean in the garden would be a welcome thing.  Not when she weighs 800 pounds.

See the evil in her eyes?  They even glow green when I take a picture of her.  


Luckily, she didn't have a taste for beans.  Other than the ones she tromped, they were all left undamaged.  The tomatoes and potatoes fared fairly well also.  Just a few tomato cages knocked off-kilter as she sauntered past to get to the above squash.  I set them upright and it appears all is well.  

This happened Saturday, and the pictures were taken today, so you can see the eaten plants are already starting to grow back.  I was worried about the corn, but I think it'll be okay, too.  Might look funny, but I think it'll come back.  The above squash came back in a few days after having been eaten last time she got in.  I've really got to learn to close the garden gate. *sigh*

Saturday, May 7, 2011

First beans

Aren't they beautiful?!  Clockwise from the green ones (Black Valentine), then the purple ones (Royal Burgundy) and lastly the red ones (Red Swan).

We ate the Black Valentines tonight, steamed with bacon, and man are they wonderful.  Sweet and tender.  They really were stringless, too ~ even the more mature ones.  I think they're the top ones so far in the Year of the Bean race.

Update: I boiled up the Red Swan the next night, but got suddenly tired before we ate them, and George forgot to put them up.  So no review of them yet.

My Chicken Tractor

Chickens!  What a wonderful thing to have in the garden.  But only if they're cooped so they don't eat your tomatoes.  Because they will.  The easy solution?  A chicken tractor.

A chicken tractor is a portable, bottomless chicken coop.  They're handy for multiple reasons: if you don't have the room for a full-fledged (get it? *giggle*) coop, if you don't want to let your chickens free range but don't want to take up a ton of space or expense for a fenced run, or if you want to clear an area of noxious weeds.

The latter is why I have one.  I have places in the garden where I'm fighting bermuda.  If you've ever tried to get rid of that stuff, you'll understand perfectly why I say that after a nuclear apocalypse the only thing left will be roaches driving Dodge Darts down roads choked with bermuda.  That stuff is pure evil and it's roots go all the way down to hell.  But it does have an Achilles' heel: shade or chickens!

Before the chicken tractor, one of the only ways I'd ever successfully gotten rid of it was to cover the area with black plastic and leave it on for months (or longer).  I'm not talking about solarizing the soil.  This isn't using heat to kill it since I don't think even 140 degree temps would do it.  It's shading it, taking away the sunlight for an extended period of time.  That does it.  But it takes a long time and black plastic isn't only rather expensive, but it breaks down in the sun after a while, leaving pieces all over the place.  I did try covering it with bark mulch once, but that just added more expense and time.  So this method is very successful and doable, but not quickly or easily so.

Then I found out I could do repeated tillings and rakings.  This would remove as many of the pieces as possible.  I'd need to be vigilant in looking for sprouts and digging them, but that wasn't too bad, and fairly effective.  Since the soil was soft and loose from the tilling, I could fairly easily dig all the pieces out, removing all of it and not leaving any to sprout again.  But this, again, wasn't optimum: it still entailed hooking up the tiller and tilling, and sometimes the bermuda was in places I couldn't get to easily with the tractor.  I still do this, but only on big new easy-to-get-to garden plots.

This year, I'm trying a new way to get rid of some bermuda: sheet mulching.  You put down a thin layer of compost, then cover that with mutiple layers of newspaper and then a layer of cardboard, then top it with either mulch or a raised bed and water it often.  The idea is that the layers shade the bermuda, weakening it, then the beneficial bacteria and fungi in the compost finishes it off.  I did only one layer of cardboard, so I see sprouts in places where the bermuda could get up through the holes in it, but otherwise so far so good.  This might be a good way to start new beds, but I kind of don't like that the soil underneath the new bed won't be tilled. I'm sure it will eventually soften up over the years, but that still seems like a long time.  Plus, what if you want a new bed there, but don't want to build a raised one?  I'd still maybe use this method to kill bermuda in places I don't intend to put a bed.

But enough about bermuda.

When George and I were enlarging and fencing the garden earlier this year, we had to move the chicken coop.  The coop is actually a giant chicken tractor of sorts itself.  It was my first greenhouse made of cattle panels and built to be portable so I could move it when I needed to.  I built a bigger greenhouse, so I decided to cover the old one with chicken wire and use it as a chicken coop.  It worked great not only for keeping the chickens in, but for clearing more area for more gardening space, as you can see in this picture (which is a baby picture of my current garden ~ the chicken coop is sitting in the area where the potatoes currently are).  You can see how I'd moved it over a few times over the course of a few months (I had more chickens then) and tilled.  But after a few years of being out in the weather and moving it around, it'd gotten weak.  So when we moved it this last time, it kind of fell apart.

We couldn't leave the chickens in there, so we moved them to a cage that's been around since I was a kid.  Don't know where Daddy got it originally, or even if Grandma Wall had it first.  But it's so handy!  It's made of metal, so is heavy enough that even a pack of marauding neighbor dogs wouldn't be able to turn it over.  I've used it to hold various animals over the years, and it's where I put out new chicks when they're old enough to be outside, but not quite old enough to be put in with the bigger birds.  It's really cool when I get to do that.  I usually put it just outside my bedroom window so I can keep an eye on them, and on the owls that come to investigate what they hope is an easy snack.  Too cool.

Grass is GONE in the chicken tractor.
Anyway, I decided to put the chicken tractor over a few spots of bermuda I couldn't get the big tractor to.  I didn't feel like dealing with more compost-cardboard-mulch, and quite frankly couldn't afford to spend more on mulch and such that I couldn't use in the garden.  So I thought to put the chickens on those spots and leave them there.

It worked great!  As you can see in the picture at right.  (Notice the hen's caught a grasshopper.  Good girl.)  Since that picture was taken, we've moved the tractor to the right to kill out more of the bermuda that's there, and we'll keep moving it on down 'til they've gotten it all.  I also used it on the sitting spot, clearing out the bermuda and weeds so I could mulch that spot and move in the table and chairs.  Sweet!  And oh-so-easy. 

The way it works is the chickens graze down the grass and other greenery inside the coop, then they constantly eat any sprouts that ... well, sprout from the bermuda rhizomes, weakening them until there isn't any energy left in them.  It doesn't take long.  As a matter of fact, I'd inadvertently put the waterer stand over some bermuda once, shading it completely.  Yet when we moved the chicken tractor later, the bermuda under there was still very much alive.  That showed me that even shading with plastic isn't as quick as a chicken tractor.

A nice side benefit of doing this is that the chickens also get most of the weed seeds so you don't have to deal with them later.  The only weed that popped up again after moving was horse nettle, but hell, even Longhorns can't kill that stuff out.  And still another nice thing about this: chickens poop, so the area you are making into a new garden bed is pre-fertilized.

And I just have to show y'all this.  In a post about birds in the garden.  Found just inside the garden shed door.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...