Writing Down the Rows

NYC Bridge BubblesThe magnificent Deborah Adams, author of the Jesus Creek mystery series and editor in chief of Oconee Press, asked me to guest blog for her. This made me realize just how long it had been since I posted a new blog article here.

 

Long time, no see. Now working on a blog schedule for myself. I am letting myself go. This Will Not Do.

 

Happy Writing!

Sprouting Dirt

Large Roma Tomato

I am going to do something I have not done for a long time. I am not ordering seeds from any of my favorite catalogues.

This is breaking my heart, but, it is preferable to breaking my neck. Which, it appears, is what I’ve been doing to myself.

I am not giving up gardening, only cutting back. I will sow the seeds I saved from my tomatoes: Italian Heirloom gotten from Brad Stufflebeam of Home Sweet Farm fame, Carbon seeds saved from a shipment from Home Sweet Farm’s CSA back when I was a working shareholder, large Romas, and small and large Slicers. I call them Slicers because I had planted five varieties of “slicers” in that bed and I’m pretty sure they’re as mixed up as I am when trying to decipher my husband’s handwriting.

Got a couple of varieties of pepper, some herbs and greens. Cucumbers. Melons. Butternut and spaghetti squash. Not a whole lot else going in.   What’s that you say? You think this is a lot? Maybe I saved a lot more seed than I thought I had. Maybe – you don’t have to spend money on seeds to have a garden.   But, and here’s where I steer myself back on track again, you have to grow the dirt to grow the garden.

Cousin Emme Sue always said to put a fifty-cent plant in a five-dollar hole. I have followed that advice religiously. So to build up my soil, the first thing I’m doing is sampling the soil that is already in place. Then I’ll add in the yummy goodness that only compost can bring (My horses’s manure, leaves and kitchen scraps were churned all summer by the chickens and have rested for the past three months, waiting for the time when I break out the front loader on the tractor and dig into the middle of the pile. I have about three yards of compost this year. Should be enough to amend the kitchen garden beds and perhaps have enough left over to fill in that pesky dip in the backyard.

Just waiting for results from the soil lab so I know what to add in addition to the compost. Why would I need to add anything else Micronutrients. Something to raise or lower the pH. Provide balance to the N-K-Ph mix. An excuse to dig in my lovely new dirt?

 

Sorry — gotta go watch my dirt grow.

Almost planting time!

 

Julie

Rolling in the Beets

 

I planted the oddest little seeds I’ve ever seen last fall. They looked like tiny little asteroids. When dropped from my hand into the dirt, they disappeared as if into thin air (or outer space.)

Lo and behold, bright green tips arose where the asteroids had collided with my planting beds and voila! instant root vegetables.

Well, not instant. It took another couple of months, during which time I enjoyed baby beet greens – but then I had them. Creamy sweetness coming out of my oven.

 

My favorite new start this year was Chioggia Beets.They come out of the ground looking quite normal and then, once you cut them open, you get a beet that has white and red rings like it ran away to the circus and came home as the tent. Of course once they are truly cooked the difference between the rings is not as noticeable, but boy are they tasty.

 

 

 

Beet Salad

I first had this salad at a trendy little place in New York. (Okay, so I define trendy as on the nearest corner, but still…)

Ingredients:

Beets, both root and greens
Garlic, 2 – 3 cloves
Olive oil
S&P to taste (I use sea salt because it’s just better.)
Blue Cheese
Lightly roasted Walnuts

Clean your beets, reserving the beet greens.

Put the beets in a 325 degree oven to roast

  • drizzle with olive oil, salt lightly
  • wrap in foil
  • bake 30 minutes for a beet fist size or smaller, longer for those larger.
  • Don’t eat them if they’re old. Tough. Tough. Tough. MUCH better when you get them from your farmer’s market.

T-Minus 15 minutes ’til the beets are done: Roast walnuts in your skillet by turning up the flame and pushing them around, or, if you prefer, use your toaster oven.

When the beets have about ten minutes left to cook, chop your garlic to the desired choppiness and put in a skillet with some olive oil. Turn up the heat and sauté.

Once they’re tender (=not totally brown) dump your cleaned beet greens in and sauté until tender. Don’t overcook them, a little crunch is good. Remove from stovetop.

Pull beets out of the oven. Pull the skins off. (I tend to just cut in as if quartering. The skin peels easily.) Cut into smallish pieces.

Arrange greens on the plate. 
Sprinkle with walnuts.
Arrange cut beets on top.
Add about a Tablespoon or two of blue cheese.

Enjoy!

 

 

Starting from Scratch (paper)

I had a marvelous post on New Year’s resolutions that went pfffft into the either. I think it was a gift, really, because in frustration I went looking for a way to work on the negative feelings. Found the following video which shows a lovely way to recycle your old newspapers into pots to use as starters for spring planting. A few hours with my Baker Seed catalogue — Et Voila — a need for pots emerges!

Just remember to plant your tomato seed with only about an inch to an inch and a half in the bottom of your paper pot, then, as the plant grows, cover the bottom on the stem with soil, leaving a pair of leaves in the air for growth. Makes for a stupendous root.

Happy New Year!

Julie

Holy Snow

red oak from scifun/chem/wisc/edu
red oak from http://scifun.chem.wisc.edu

I was recently back in Kentucky for a Pony Club Board meeting, and enjoyed something we don’t often see in Houston — frost.

Color is one of the beautiful effects that fall brings to the landscape. Kentucky trees have turned brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow, something we don’t get to enjoy along the Gulf Coast. All this is thanks to a substance called Carotenoids and Anthocyanins.

All tree have them, even those on the Gulf Coast. We just don’t get to enjoy them the way New Englanders and Kentuckians (and everyone in between) do. In Houston all I get to see is the fading of leaves from green to brown — and then all the leaves fall off. My childhood memories had me associating the brilliance of the fall color with the lowering temperatures. (Gulf Coast weather is still warm long into November.)

Turns out that the frost I was thinking necessary for fall color isn’t wholly responsible — it’s also the light.

 

According to http://scifun.chem.wisc.edu/chemweek/fallcolr/fallcolr.html

“The range and intensity of autumn colors is greatly influenced by the weather. Low temperatures destroy chlorophyll, and if they stay above freezing, promote the formation of anthocyanins. Bright sunshine also destroys chlorophyll and enhances anthocyanin production. Dry weather, by increasing sugar concentration in sap, also increases the amount of anthocyanin. So the brightest autumn colors are produced when dry, sunny days are followed by cool, dry nights.”

Who knew?

Does this mean if I take dry ice out and plunk it down in my woods I’ll get better fall color?

Yeah. I didn’t think so.

Happy gardening!

Better Water Wise than Ground Foolish

I wish I could call myself a wise woman, but the closest I can get is the effort I’m putting into being water wise this summer.

Being in the middle of one of the worst droughts in Texas history has brought out some odd behaviors. People water their front yards during their designated days of the week, and then set timers to water under cover of darkness — or, worse, brazenly water the back yard during the day, mistakenly thinking no one can see them. Others, like my neighbors, water 24/7 to try without trying to hide this, rationalizing that it’s okay to do this because it’s a personal well and thus is not covered by the water restrictions enacted just over the city limits.

I must seem very odd to them. I do not water my grass at all. (Which must be why there is none found in my yard right now, or much of my pasture.) Usually this works out all right, because Nature does her wonderful thing with the rain clouds and the grass (and my neighborhood) is happy. Right now though, with just under five inches of rain at our place since last October, it is becoming quite clear that we are not going to achieve balance between keeping our farm alive and being conservative with our water use.

Currently at our place, talk over the fence with the neighbors generally starts with a “Howdeedoo” and progresses rapidly to, “Did you hear they got rain over in Tomball?” Or, worse, “Did anyone get the forecasted rain?” Underlying these conversations is the quiet desperate feeling about the water table level in the aquifer under our feet and how that relates to the depth of our well pump.

Those neighbors who water 24/7? Not considered smart right now, because we’re all much more concerned with having running water than whether there’s grass in the field.

Conservation measures:

Don’t water landscaping just because it’s pretty.

Use soaker hoses rather than areal spraying. (Less water loss due to evaporation before the water hits the dirt.)

Water during the cooler hours of the day. (Ditto above.)

Use water from dish washing to water beloved landscape plants. (Check what kind of dish soap you’re using and try a mild form that is biodegradable.)

Flush less often. Seriously, low flow toilets only save so much water. If you flush ever other time rather than every time you’ve doubled your water savings.

Turn off the water while you brush your teeth.

Ditto while you shampoo your hair or soap up in the shower.

Don’t install a backyard pool — use the neighborhood one instead. This provides a social outlet as well as a place to exercise and cool off.

Help keep my well flowing — be water-wise. My family and my critters thank you.

Payoff!

There is no better reason to garden than my supper this evening.

Spaghetti squash, just off the vine.
24 small yellow pear tomatoes, halved. (A fraction of what I picked today.)
three cloves of garlic (dug out of hydrator from spring harvest)
bell pepper (Picked this afternoon.)
salt and pepper to taste (Grocery store)

 

Cook squash in 375 degree oven for an hour.

While the squash is cooking is a good time to clean out your fridge, or sort the garlic to pull out your starts for the garden…or sit down with a glass of wine and finally read the paper…

 

When you have ten minutes left on the squash:

Saute garlic in oils of your choice. (I use Texas-grown olive oil from the farmer’s market.)

Add bell pepper and chopped tomatoes. (I used the yellow pear tomatoes because I have a bazillion of them — yes, I am bragging!)

Saute until tomatoes begin to collapse.

Top with chopped fresh basil, salt and pepper to taste.

Enjoy!

Oh, and for dessert?

 

Why Garden?

Photo of Wind Chimes
Gaga Kate's Wind Chimes

Gardening appeals to every sense. It invigorates you mentally and physically. Gardens provide soothing vistas to look at, yummy food to eat, and habitat for animals, birds and insects. Why on earth wouldn’t you garden?

Just the sensory stimulations is worth spending time outside — or at the very least, inside with a potted plant. Touch any plant and it provides you with an instant and visceral response. I love to run my fingers over the velvety petals of the Belinda’s Dream rose in my back yard, even though I have to squeeze past the Red Yucca to do it. (Warning, Red Yucca is sharp and pointy when it pokes you in the calf!)

Visual texture is akin to touch. The adorable fuzziness of the Lamb’s Ear invites you to stoop and rub a leaf between your fingers. My neighbor’s cat finds it a comfortable bed on which to curl up for a mid-afternoon nap.

Color abounds in the garden, even when it’s limited to shades of green. Celendon…Chartreuse… Forest… Fern… Emerald… Grass… Pea… Pine…Sea Green… Shamrock… Kelly…Mint…Teal…Grey-Green…Olive. Notice how many shades of green are named for plants? Yep, many of them are — with good reason. Plants, landscaping, vegetables all touch us in more than one way — and thus stick with us.

I love to watch the ripple of tall grass under the wind’s caress. It’s almost as if you can see the old man with his lips pursed as he blows the waves along the ground. Tulips bob their heads, trees whisper, and the birds and insects swoop and dive in the currents. The wind chimes Paul’s grandmother used to ring to call her grandsons to dinner tinkle happily on the edge of the porch. Plants may not have voices to sing with, but there is plenty of sound to inspire.

Nothing smells quite like Night Blooming Cerius, which I may have just misspelled in the worst possible way, but that’s what happens after an evening on the porch next to this plant. It gets you drunker than champagne in nothing flat. Intensely sweet, I’ve had guests actually close the windows in the Casita Sin Gatos because it was keeping them awake at night. Paul and I were clearing out the onion bed this morning and I brushed up against the fennel in the next row. Heaven on earth, so I picked some to have with my lunch. The sharp licorice taste of Fennel brings out the sweet flavor of the tomato in salad.

I did something that may have been brilliant or it may have been the silliest thought I’ve had all year. I planted asparagus in the side garden, along the path from the garage to the back gate. It is taking over, so I feel justified when I bend down, brush aside some of the mature fronds and find a spear just ripe for the picking. Crunchy nutty-tasting snack!

Sorry, have to go now. I’ve inspired myself into a walk in the woods, where I am planning a shade garden.

Happy Gardening!