Saturday, December 31, 2011

I Have an Asparagus Patch! And a Mess of New Year's Greens

And I'm so damn proud of it.

I've always wanted an asparagus patch.  It's one of my favorite vegetables, right up there with bok choy and broccoli.  I can eat it twice a week, or more if I prepare it differently each time.  Steamed with Hollandaise sauce, baked wrapped in prosciutto, asparagus quiche and just plain raw.  Nomnomnomnom.

The permanence of an asparagus patch always gave me pause.  It lives over twenty years or more and resents transplanting once it's a few years old, so where you put it is where it'll be.  If you plan wrong and it's in the way, you've got to lump it or replant and wait another two years before you can harvest.  Yep.  You can't pick it for a couple years.  Quite the investment of time there, and makes it even more important that you pick the right spot from the get go.

I'm the kind of girl who likes to rearrange her furniture a lot (Didn't I just mention that...?), and it seems that tendency follows me out to the garden and yard.  I plan out the beds, sitting out there with a beer just thinkin', taking lots of time to make sure they're just right.  But they never are, so I have to fix it.  Last year, I didn't like where one wide row was, so I turned it into two 4'x4' square foot beds.  I shoveled three too-skinny rows into two a couple months ago.  And the chicken coop is really getting on my nerves where it is, so it'll get torn down and herbs planted in it's place.  Don't get me started on the sitting spot(s).

But I wanted asparagus, dammit!  And it's the time of year to plant.  We just got 1500 crowns in at work.  I counted every one when they came in, then Joe and heeled them in in big stock tanks with sand.  That took all of a day, and the entire time I was dreaming of taking a hundred of them home with me (Yeah, I want a BIG patch).  I've walked by them every day for the past month, thinking I should buy some but talking myself out of it.  Where would I put them?  Along the fence on the east side of the garden?  Nope, not wide enough.  Over in that northwest corner where I planted corn last year?  Nah, it'd block the view of the garden.  Where the chicken coop is now?  Definitely not.  Not only would that be an even worse view-blocker, it'd take too much time to move that thing and break the new ground under it.  That's a project for this summer.

But ... uhmmm ... what about the row at the south end where the peppers were last year?  Hrm ... it's about wide enough, after I enlarged it a bit this winter.  If not, I can always bust out the fence there and make it so.   But won't it block the walkway in summer?  Well, I can plant it as far over as I can to minimize that, and build a little bamboo fence to hold it back if it really gets bad.  But it's not big enough!  It's only fifteen feet long, just big enough for fifteen crowns IF I plant them reeeeeeeally close together.  Well, Linda, fifteen crowns is better than none.  Okay.  That's it then.

I bought fifteen crowns and a bunch of compost just before the winter break at work.  "How exciting!  I'm really going to do this!"  I bagged the compost, got it home, unloaded it and the asparagus ... and there they sat.  One thing after another has happened since then to get in the way of my asparagus patch coming into being.  First there was Christmas Day, then the house needed cleaning, then we got a little carried away with the Holiday Revelry with Spirits and spent the next day on the couch, then I had to set up the Seed Starting Cabinet, then ... then ...

THEN, I said, "Enough!  I'm planting that asparagus THIS YEAR."

"Well, you'd better get on it.  It's the thirtieth."


So that's what I did today, starting with digging a fifteen foot ditch as deep as I could get it, which was about a foot.  It wasn't that hard, but I was sure glad asparagus planting time isn't in summer.  I added in a mix of stuff  ~ humate, 8-2-4, quite a bit of Minerals Plus since you can't really overdose that and I won't be able to dig deep in that bed for quite a while after this.  The I put in liberal amounts of turkey compost, stirred it up, and started planting.  It took me two or three hours overall.

And now, after years of dreaming and planning and hoping, and hours and hours of hard physical labor (oh, woe is me), da-da-DUM! I have an asparagus patch!!

Aaaaaaand, I have a mess of greens for New Year's Day.  All picked today.  Aren't they beautiful?

The regular cabbage still is only tiny little heads (they're so damn cute), so  I hope Chinese cabbage (bok choy) qualifies as close enough for the tradition of eat cabbage on New Year's Day = LOTS of folding money throughout the year.  I'll probably have a hangover-induced anxiety attack tomorrow about this and go pick some regular and eat it regardless of how tiny or how cute it is.  But I have some kissin' cousins of regular cabbage, kale and collards being the most prevalent, so hopefully that and a Holiday Xanax will restrain me.  And I just found out that another name for kale is boerenkool, Norwegian for "farmer's cabbage".  I like that.  A nod to my Norwegian ancestors.  Good enough.

I think I'll make some Hoppin' John instead of plain old black-eyed peas.  And cornbread.  Definitely cornbread.  

Yes, those are tomatoes in the basket on the left.  Black Giants to be precise.  That one was the clear winner of the Thirty-Plus Variety Great Tomato Grow-Off this year (heh, as if I don't do that every year), so I thought about overwintering it.  I hemmed and hawed for a while since in my experience that always ends in tears.  But there were fruit still on it, and I'd borked my seed-saving attempt with that one, so what did I have to lose in at least keeping it around 'til those matured?  Two of those were almost orgasmically good with the ribeye I had tonight.  Looks like I made the right decision.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My Seed Starting Cabinet

I took a seed starting class given by Jeff Ferris at work a month or so ago.  I've worked with him at the info desk and he really knows his stuff, enough to teach gardening at ACC.  AND all the plants in his garden this year are ones he's started from seed.  So I knew that even though I've started seeds for years, I could likely learn a few things from him.

"Though an old man, I am yet a young gardener." ~ Thomas Jefferson, when he was 72 years old.

Lord, don't I know that.  My seed starting has been met with widely varying success.  Every year I have high hopes, and every year Ma Nature kicks my ass.  Well, I shouldn't blame it all on Her ~ there's a helping of my own ineptness thrown in there.  I forget to water them and they crisp up, forget to open the plastic-covered hoop house and fry them, don't close the garden gate and the dogs use them for chew toys.  You get the picture.  But I don't give up.  Gardeners are nothing if not optimistic.

I had been thinking of reskinning the greenhouse for my seed starting efforts this year, but as Jeff talked about doing it indoors, I got to thinking: the best success I've had was when I did it indoors.  We won't mention the thought that I could avoid spending over a C-note and two days on that project.  Uh-uh.  Give a lazy woman a job and fifteen minutes to think about it...

For days, I kept turning the idea of inside over and over in my head.  I knew trying to do it on the kitchen counters would end in disaster.  I keep the extra bedrooms quite cold to save on the heating bill, so they were out.  And the closet, where I started some tomatoes last year, is rather full now (clean it? nope).

After a week or so of mulling it over, I hit on the perfect idea.  I'd bought this big old cabinet from Goodwill way earlier this year thinking it would make a good kitchen for the cabin.  Just drop in a sink, install some lights and viola!  A portable kitchen.  (I have a thing for rearranging my furniture, so the thought of rearranging a kitchen just got me all-a-tingly.)  Anyway, since the cabin remodel has been put on the back burner...

George and I worked all of a day getting the dining room cleaned out.  An extra bedroom had to be decluttered to fit in the freezers.  The fridge is still in the hallway, but we'll worry about what to do with it later.  And actually getting the cabinet in here was a bit trying ~ I almost got squashed flat twice, there was much re-nailing since parts of it fell off on the way in, and once we put the bottom cabinet in place and lifted the hutch up to the top ... it was about three inches too tall.  DAMMIT! ... Yeah, it could be placed off-center. ... NO IT COULD NOT!

Then I noticed the three-inch "lift" board along the bottom that was cut-off-able.  Enter circular saws and curse words to go with the already-in-use hammers and other curse words.

"That looks nice. Really classes up the place," George said.  I agree.

In the class Jeff said most any light except incandescents would do, but the best bang for your buck would be T8s.  So off to the hardware store I went.  Jeff said he uses 4' fixtures and bulbs, but those wouldn't fit in my cabinet, so two foot it was. If you try this at home, four foot ones will be the better deal if you have the room ~ about the same price overall, but twice the lighted area.  And freaking easier to find!  Everywhere had all sorts of four foot fixtures, four foot bulbs, four foot everything.  And two foot nothing.  Almost.  I think the world is bigoted against the two-foot-length-ed.

But I prevailed.  And came home with two of these:

And four of these:

I'd learned a bit about lights when I had planted tanks and everyone in the hobby then recommended at least a 6500K (kelvin) rating.  Then there was the watt thing: how many? LOTS seemed to be the answer from what I'd heard.  I mentioned all that to Jeff and he said that in his experience, that didn't matter nearly as much as lumens.  The more the merrier with them.  Since they're a measure of the actual light output, that makes sense.  He looked up some online for me to give me a direction to go in, but when I went to look I couldn't find many in a two foot length (again sigh).  I searched Lowe's, Home Depot. Brite Ideas, and online and unless I wanted to buy a 25 count case (I didn't), the best I could find in a two foot length was at Lowe's: 1325 lumens, 4100K, 17 watts.  We'll see if they work.  (They. Will. Work. I will. Make. Them. I will Bend The Laws of Physics or WhateverTheApplicableThingHereIs with my Sheer Will and They Will Work.  Says She.  And that's all I got to say about That.)

I got them installed today.  It was great fun wiring them up and mounting them below the shelves.  The shelves are adjustable, so I can move the seedling trays and lights themselves up and down as needed.  I was a bit concerned about the "crystalized" plastic covers on the lights, but Jeff said they might not block any light, might actually throw it all around better, and they'll likely keep me from popping bulbs by accidentally spraying them when I mist the seedlings.  Bonus!

A month of planning and execution and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel (see what I did there?).  

Now comes the fun part: looking through the seeds to pick out which ones to plant.  I love looking through my seeds.  I know what will happen though ~ I'll want to plant ALL THE THINGS.  Which means MOAR LIGHTS and a BIGGER CABINET.  Somebody stop me.  

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Bunch of Pictures

Future asparagus patch.  16 feet long, so I can fit 15 plants in it.  Can't wait 'til I can have 100+!

Bok choy.  YUM.

Frost damage on broccoli. None on the bok choy!

The garden so far.  Big, tasty collards in the center.  I picked a BUNCH right after I took this picture and cooked them with a hog jowl.  Now THAT's southern.  

The white mountain on the right foreground is my Black Giant tomato.  It's still hanging in there with a couple dozen green tomatoes on it despite many freezing nights.  Three down to 24 degrees.  It's wrapped with one 25' string of incandescent C7 Christmas bulbs and an entire 12'x24' section of heavy duty floating row cover.  I'm hoping for a few ripe ones, enough to save seeds from (this was my absolute favorite tomato this year and seeds are hard to find).  And Christmas tomatoes would be nice...

Stonehead cabbage.  The best looking cabbage in the garden.  Others I have planted:
Late Flat Dutch, Early Jersey Wakefield, Mammoth Red Rock, Red Acre, Golden Acre.   The others are rather long-stemmed so far, too long to hold up a head of cabbage.  We'll see what they turn out to look like in a few months.  But so far, the Stonehead is winning the race.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pepper Harvest

For a month or so now, George and I have been covering the tomatoes and peppers when temps dipped near freezing.  I'd put big incandescent Christmas lights on them as well and I think that really helped a lot.

Twenty or so peppers and half a dozen tomatoes.  Not too many, but still a pain in the ass.  I was rather sick of it, so today we picked the peppers.  Now that they're sitting on the table all ripe and pretty, I'm thinking it was worth it.

Also, I got a couple pumpkins from work.  I am in LOVE with the white one, but since they were just bought from HEB for decoration, no one knows what kind they are.  I'm pretty sure the cream one is Long Island Cheese, but I sure wish I knew the other.  I'll be saving the seeds even though they may be a hybrid or crossed.  Maybe I'll get lucky and grow the same pumpkin next year.

And two more pumpkins/squashes I'd love to know the type.  

Friday, November 25, 2011

I love winter gardening

Winter gardening is lovely.  The weather is cooler, the weeds grow slower, there are fewer insect pests, and, best of all, the veggies are more beautiful.  The bright and sassy colors of Swiss Chard.  The sexy white curves of Bok Choy.  The fat, deep purple leaves of Red Cabbage.  Just beautiful.

And the flowers.  Pansies are my favorite.  Their little cheery faces looking up at you as you walk by.  It's as if they are gaily saying, "Hello! Hi!"  Corny maybe, but adorable.  

We had the first meal from the winter garden the other night.  I wanted comfort food.  I made stock from some leftover chicken and the smell walking into the house while it was cooking was heavenly.  There's just something so comforting about walking into a warm house with cold-bit cheeks from being outside and having the smell of chicken soup surrounding you.

George and I went to the garden to pick some bok choy.  It was dark already, so he held the flashlight.  I trimmed the bok choy of as many leaves as I thought prudent, then eyed the peppers.  A handful of jalapenos and a bell or two later, I passed the parsley.  Mmmmmm.  Then spied the tarragon.  It had grown so much that it was draping over the sides of the pot.  A couple snips later and we headed back into the house.  

An hour or so later, George and I ladled up bowls of the wonderful stuff.  Some grated parmesan on top, a dollop of sour cream in mine.  Yum!  We found out George likes bok choy!  Broccoli he already loves, and now bok choy.  Hanging around me is apparently a good thing for him. ;)

The artichokes are doing well.  The transplanted one is doing best of all, both parts of it.  It looks like it's forgiven us for the ill treatment (that was the one I ignored the past couple years and George accidentally tilled last spring).  I decided moving it would be a good idea, so divided it while I was at it.  I put each part in the middle of each of the two rows I've dedicated to artichokes, putting two seedlings alongside each one, six in all.  I can't wait to eat those next year.

The free broccoli from work is doing pretty good, too.  The free cauliflower is okay.  But no matter what we get, hey, it was free.  

I've been keeping three wide rows at the far northeast corner of the garden open for onions.  I was going to plant peas in there, but it got late.  I did plant spinach and cilantro in one next to them, with five elephant garlic cloves down the middle.  Hopefully, if all sprouts, it'll look nice.  

I also planted dill in the far four by four square foot garden.  I was going to make it a real square foot garden, but lost my gumption.  

Need to plant carrots.

I also planted some Gladiolus byzantinus bulbs.  I can't wait to see them next spring.

 We still have peppers and tomatoes from summer.  The peppers are just LOADED, especially the Dragon Thai pepper Lauren at work gave me.  I was concerned about the one at first.  While it was still a tiny little thing, the chickens got ahold of it and ate it to almost a nub.  Doesn't seem to have set it back much.

And the tomatoes.  I still have a Juliet, two Romas, the Black Giant and an unidentified one that's probably a Solar Fire.  All of them are just full of fruit, so I hate to just let them freeze.  We strung Christmas lights along them and George has been encouraging me to keep them covered when temps get chilly.  I'm hoping for Christmas tomatoes.  So far, one Roma and three or so Juliets are ripening.

I LOVE that Black Giant.  It was the clear winner this summer for best tasting imho.  Like the Cherokee Purple, my former fave, but more full-bodied in flavor.  And it's prettier, lacking the circular cracks around the top.  It's just a beautiful, smooth, brownish-purple beefsteak-shaped tomato.

And lastly, our Thanksgiving table.  Happy belated Thanksgiving, everyone!

Friday, October 28, 2011

I have a beaver!

And man, has he been busy.  Just two pictures I took of what he's working on, before my camera died.  I'll get more posted soon.  No sign of a dam, dammit.  I was hoping for one.

Biggish mullberry he's taken a bite out of:

The bite:

A water willow he's taken down already.  The ends look like you put them in a pencil sharpener.  Amazing!

Closeup of the branches on the lower left, where he's taken the smallish limbs to make his dam:

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Knitting and Spinning

I just realized that, despite blogging off and on for a couple years now, I don't have any posts about knitting or spinning.  It's probably because I haven't really been doing a lot of either.  I tend to do these things in cycles.

I have many crafty interests.  Besides gardening and fiber arts (the knitting and spinning), I do beadwork, leatherwork, sewing, crochet (which is another kind of fiber art, but not one I enjoy as much as the knitting and spinning) and others I'm probably not thinking of at the moment.

I don't do any of them with any regularity except gardening, though knitting and spinning do get paid more attention than the others.

With all the websites getting hacked recently, I decided it prudent to close those website accounts I don't really use much.  This included my Flikr account (I much prefer Picasa now).  There were a lot of pretty pictures there of my spinning and knitting that I hadn't seen in a while.  I'm rather proud of them, so I thought I'd share some here.

Rather than making one massive post, I think I'll break it up into a few.  This one is about KoolAid dyeing.

Yes, you really can dye things with KoolAid.  You just boil the water, turn off the heat, mix in the KoolAid, then add whatever it is you want to dye and wait for the water to turn clear signaling that all the dye has been taken up.  Be sure to soak the item well in water beforehand, and stir it around to ensure even absorption of the color.  If you don't, you'll get a marbled effect, but that really can be quite nice in itself.  So if you want that, just put the item in the water gently when it's dry and don't stir. 

The pictures here are all of yarn and things dyed with KoolAid.  I wish I would have made better notes on which kind I used.  Best I remember, I used Tropical Punch, Black Cherry and Blue Raspberry for these items.

I think the Tropical Punch is what I used on the first two pictures (same yarn in both), Blue Raspberry on the second set (again, same yarn in both) and Black Cherry on the last three (yep, same yarn in those two, too).  I know I used Watermelon as well and a couple others ~ Lemonade I think.  But these are my favorites.

 I dyed the fiber before spinning.  That's where the old saying "dyed in the wool" came from, meaning from the beginning, before the beginning actually, an intrinsic part of the thing. 

I remember having fun watching the color of the fiber change as it ran through my hands, getting a bit lighter as small amounts of the fiber was pulled off the main hunk and twisted.  I also remember the pleasant smell coming off it as I worked.

We didn't really get much KoolAid when I was a kid, instead drinking water, milk or juice made from fruit we grew or wild-harvested.  So no childhood reminiscences here.  But it was still nice.

I noticed that the colors went so well with the natural color of the wool I was using, so I decided to ply them with a strand of white.  This had a nice side effect of stretching the dyed wool so I was able to make much more of it yardage-wise. 

I've also dyed already-knitted things with KoolAid.  The last three pictures are of some socks I knitted, then dyed.  I don't remember which color this was ~ maybe Tropical Punch again?    
They turned out really well.  Bright red, and how!

Maybe now you want to try your hand at KoolAid dyeing.  Go ahead.  You know you want to...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Blue potatoes!!

We dug the potatoes last night.  It was fun.  I'd thought we would have to literally dig them, but the All Blues apparently don't produce very deeply.  George was able to get the vast majority of them out just using his hands, digging around the base of each plant.

I went ahead with the shovel and found a few he missed, though not many at all.  I almost quit, but the soil was turning over so nicely that I kept going more to get the bed ready for replanting than anything else.

I planted four pounds and it looks like four times as many, but weighing them on the floor scales says we only got ten pounds total.  I've long thought those scales lie.

Tomato Taste-Off, Part One

Picked an entire basketful of tomatoes today.  It was glorious!  Something's eating into quite a few of them (20 or so so far, guesstimate), so I need to figure out what that is and hopefully I can stop it.  In the meantime, I'll be picking a few when they are about half ripe and let them ripen on the counter.  German Johnson and Red Brandywine are two I picked early, but they're not ripe enough to eat yet. 

I picked out the ones that weren't ripe yet and set them on the counter.  Next, I picked out some of the prettiest ones and set them aside for eating fresh.  Last were the ones to go in the freezer.  I got two big gallon ziplocs out of the first round and half a ziploc of Romas later. 
The freezer will be full soon at this rate.  They should have company soon ~ two calves we're going to have butchered.  A story for another post...

When George gets time, he'll cook them down for pasta sauce.  It's going to be heavenly!  Tomatoes, onions, peppers, parsley, oregano, marjoram and thyme, all from the garden.  I can't wait to eat some.  It's so satisfying to sit down to a meal that the majority of was raised by me.

As I was sorting the tomatoes, I was also saving seeds.  You may have noticed some black writing on some of the tomatoes in the picture above.  I take a sharpie out to the garden with me and write the name of the tomato right on it to make sure I don't get them mixed up. 

Once inside, I simply cut the tomato horizontally, squeeze the seeds into a labeled cup, fill with water and set off to the side to ferment.  I've got them sitting on a table in the corner of the dining room and they're already drawing fruit flies.  Nine varieties so far (two cups are Cherokee Purple).

Along the way of all this freezing and seed saving I did some tasting.  Here's how the contestants are faring so far.

Black Giant (in photo at right) ~ Flavor: wonderfully acidic and rich, all around really good. Huge slicing size.  Skins very tender. Heavy producer, possibly because it was planted early, in the second wave of planting.

Cherokee Purple ~ Flavor: strong, bold and rich.  One of my favorite tomatoes.  My two plants have produced like crazy, probably because I got them in so early, though I had heard CP produces well in the heat.

Oxheart ~ Flavor: Usual tomato taste, acidic, pretty darn good.  MASSIVE tomatoes at first.  Produces quite a bit, probably because I got them in early (second wave of planting). 

Riesentraube ~ Flavor: full bodied, sweet but acidity shines through just enough.  Large cherry size.  Produces in a large bunch with a dozen or more on each truss.  Has set two trusses so far.

Silvery Fir Tree ~ Flavor: Strong and acidic, VERY good.  Small slicing size.  Average amount of seeds, average to low amount of meat, and tough skins.  Pretty inside regardless.  Weak plant, not drought tolerant at all ~ never got very big (1/6 the size of others planted at same time) and died after a few days without water when others next to it just wilted (might do better in a cooler climate or some other year than this record-breaking HOT drought). 

Juliet ~ Flavor: nothing special, but pretty good when you haven't had home grown tomatoes for a year.  Tough skin.  HEAVY producer, early, too.

Matt's Wild Cherry ~ Flavor: tart and acidic.  Lots of flavor for such a tiny little thing.  Tough skins.  Produces absolutely like MAD.  

Sungold ~ Flavor: nothing special again.  HEAVY and early producer.

Roma ~ Flavor: rich and yummy as ever.  Meaty with few seeds.  Heavy producer at first since it's a determinate.  Will cut it back and fertilize heavily after this flush to see if I can get another.

Principe Borghese ~ Flavor: nothing special and kind of bland.  Supposed to be delicious when dried, so I'll try that with the next few.  Didn't produce too many, but this plant was one of the last I put in.

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. 

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