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  • Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

    63

    Tomatoes have started slowing down in production, which frankly—and I can’t believe I’m saying this—I’m glad about. The hustle of getting food processed over a few short weeks when everything is in abundance can be tiring. Especially tomatoes. That said, we are still rolling in blackberries and green beans are still giving us a good amount to stash and freeze once a week. We should have more beans over the coming month or two as I recently planted Dragon Tongue, Painted Lady, and Royal Burgundy. In addition, I should have Big Red Ripper cowpeas coming eventually, too.

    greenbeans

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    A crazy canning and food preservation day a few weeks back.

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    Earlier in the month I managed to get a few squash, pumpkins, and melons planted in beds that were empty after pulling out spent plants. It took awhile for some to germinate but now everything is up and, so far, thriving.

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    Newly germinated Dragon Tongue beans.

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    I was really upset to have to pull all of the dill but they had all acquired powdery mildew. I had planned on letting them all set seed so I could just save it but I noticed some mildew on the gooseneck gourd and decided to just pull the dill, bag it, and throw it in the trash instead of risking it spreading more. I know that the humidity and water combination down here helps that mildew to occur but I didn’t want to make things worse. There are still a few springs of dill around the garden but not to the extent that I had. I’ll resow in September/October and hope to get some more saved before winter.

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    One of the more exciting developments in the edible garden is that my asparagus is finally putting on shoots that are large enough to eat if we wanted! I’m only getting one or two at a time so I haven’t been cutting them as the come up, but this is great to finally see!

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    I’ve made about 24 jars of blackberry jam this season. There’s probably enough blackberries in my fridge at the moment for nearly another 24 if I wanted but I think I should probably make some cobbler instead! Maybe a blackberry pie?

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    In front of the blackberries I had planted various greens in late winter. The chards are still going strong, aided by a good deal of shade in the back of the edible garden. I’m kind of hoping I can get them to over summer, but we will see. I have more planted underneath some of the tomatoes that are still thriving and a stray Chinese cabbage going strong, too.

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    Currently, I need to get a hold on the weeds out in the paths of the edible garden but haven’t really found the time. I already transplanted a few tomatoes that will be fall tomatoes that I had germinated in mid-spring and grew out in pots. I attempted fall tomatoes last year but I sowed seeds in July and was about to get fruits in early December when we had a freeze. So, I am trying a different route this year and will see how it goes. I’ll probably cut down a couple of tomato plants here in a week or two and replace them with the three remaining plants I have. Some of the tomatoes are still doing well but some are starting to wane and look ragged thanks to the heat. We shall see!

    What’s growing in your neck of the woods?

    milkweed

    The patches of tropical milkweed have been blooming profusely the last few months and have now made it all the way into seed setting stage, with their fluff floating seeds about the garden, ready to start more milkweed wherever it pleases. Last year I moved a couple of plants that had sprouted next to our driveway about 30 feet away from the garden.

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    I went ahead and sowed some seeds on the potting bench in an effort to get more milkweed germinated ahead of the August/September return monarch migration in hopes of having some plants in containers by then. I have three I also dug up from the compost that are thriving in pots and will go into rotation should we decide raise some monarch babies.

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    This is the first year I’ve noticed milkweed bug nymphs, Oncopeltus fasciatus. I’m sure they have been there before but this is the first time I’ve paid attention.

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    The milkweed patches have turned into little ecosystems of their own these days, between the milkweed bugs, oleander aphids, ladybugs, and some grasshoppers and spiders I’ve noticed on the plants. I haven’t seen a lot of monarchs recently but there was one flitting about a week ago. I have not seen caterpillars since April.

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    You can see some of the patch in the fenceline bed here, including the yellow version of the tropical milkweed over on the right. I’ve been working hard on this bed weeding it and it is looking really good right now. Still a few patches I need to get before I move on to other beds. This was taken before I did a lot of the weeding.

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    The evening light that pours onto the leaves of the Amorpha fruticosa always makes me pause and attempt to soak in it for a few seconds before I’m on my way to the garden.

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    All of the beds are starting to fill in nicely, though there are some gaps that need to be filled and some plants that really need to be moved.

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    Earlier in the spring I threw some chia seeds out into the garden, a little too many—I had thin a lot and Chris didn’t like how thick some of it is—but I am pleased with how it has grown for the most part. Chia is a salvia and this produces a pretty blueish-purple bloom. I attempted to sow some two years ago on the side-yard bed but it was too shady and the plants never stood up well. They are thriving where they are now and look like they should start blooming soon.

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    Most of the variegated milk thistle are gone to seed now. I have a huge plant I need to cut down in the edible garden and put into the compost.

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    Forest is obsessed with Easter eggs right now so he’s been bringing them into the garden too! As you see in this photo, the paths need help. That focus is on the back burner currently until I can get a handle on some other weeds in the beds first.

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    The mountain mint is clumping and blooming nicely under the Amorpha and has produced a layering effect that is pleasant to look at. I’m enjoying it a little more than previous years because it is a little more contained than it typically wants to be.

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    The marigolds that reseeded themselves from last year have done well taking over a section of the driveway flower bed and I’m fine with that. They bloom continuously and provide some cover to a decent sized area and always look great!

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    The winter knocked back the ‘Wendy’s Wish’ salvia but it has recovered and I’m hoping it will obtain the clumping size it has in previous years by the end of summer.

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    Creeping thyme doing its thing—creeping along and blooming!

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    Over on the left the Formosa lilies are standing tall and ready to bloom in a few weeks. Love their blooms!

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    We missed our opportunity to move the ‘Black and Blue’ salvia earlier this season before it got big. It really needs to be moved away from the path and over to the back of the beds as it takes up a lot of space and always leans over into the path late in the season. This bloom is above my head, hence the sky in the background.

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    And it seems rather early for the pink banana trees to be blooming already but there they are.

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    One last look towards the back of the side-yard garden. The figs are also starting to ripen, earlier than usual as well.

    As you see, there quite a bit going on in the garden. Can you believe in about a week and a half we will have been living here for 5 years?? I’ll have to do a post about that, too.

    A few tomato portraits from this season. It’s been a few years since I’ve taken fruit and vegetable portraits—err, looks like I filed a kombucha post in the wrong category as you will see if you click through that—and I got around to doing a few one day before canning a few weekends ago. Hopefully I can get out and do some more this summer!

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    Togo Trifle/Togo Trefle: These tomatoes have been fairly prolific this season but they have also been targeted heavily by the leaf footed bugs and as such I’ve had a ton of them rotting on the vine because of those pesky insects.

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    Rutgers: This tomato isn’t super special looks-wise but it does taste good and does make an easy tomato for blanching, peeling, and canning

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    Paul Robeson: Another tomato suited for canning, this one tastes good and has been the more prolific dark or chocolate type varieties in the garden this spring.

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    Cherokee Purple: I have not been getting many of these as I would have hoped for this season. In fact, most of the beefsteaks have under-performed this season.

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    Arkansas Traveler: This is looking a little more red than pink and I’ve not been getting many of them, either.

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    Pattison squash: Before the squash vine borers got to town on the squash vines I was able to get two squash off the vines. They are storing well on our cabinet and we’ll eat them soon.

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    Being a photo heavy blogger has lent itself to being more difficult these last few months. The interest in processing large quantities of photos waned and I found myself wanting to spend a lot less time on the computer during the evenings and weekends. When I did process photos, I then could never find the time, rather, prioritize the time, to sit down and write a blog. What would I write about? This is blooming, that is blooming, we’re harvesting this and this and that. Sometimes it all seems rather monotonous to keep sharing but I know that I definitely regret when I look back at particular points in this blog writing phase and realize I didn’t write about something. Sometimes I have photos in Flickr or my computer but no entry.

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    It seems like so long ago that spring was new, that the air was crisp in the morning and just right in the afternoon. The skies with their crisp blue with the promise of new growth—ah, I do love those moments of spring. After we finally got everything mulched in the vegetable garden everything looked so clean and weeded, full of hope. It was a nice pat-yourself-on-the-back moment of success but I knew better than to get too comfortable. New mulch would be needed again and more weeds would come in as well as various crops fading while others began.

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    In a month we will have been living in this house for five years. The gardens are about 3-4 years old, depending on which phase we’re in. All of them are starting to show their age in some respect. The vegetable beds are starting rot at the posts—not the main perimeter of each bed—and thus we will need to begin considering what to replace the posts with—-more wood or something else? I’m a little frustrated with the decomposed granite in the flower bed paths because not only do they need to be touched up with new granite but I’m tired of fighting the weeds. Occasionally Chris will spray vinegar there but I don’t think it is all that effective and the more I read I’m not so sure it actually is all that great to use anyway as a ‘safe’ alternative. Part of me wishes the path was just grass and we would weedeat it a few times a month—seems easier than constantly weeding it. I kind of feel the same in the vegetable garden, too. Don’t listen to me, I’m just tired of weeding at the moment.

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    My favorite section of the flower beds are definitely the side yard. No surprise, it typically has less weeds because it is also shadier and plant seems to thicken up and spread out quickly, preventing open space for weeds, but it is also due to the tropical vibe the side yard gives. There are plenty of other areas in the flower garden that I love but there are several spots that need work, plants added or moved, and gaps that need filled. The fence still needs to be repaired from last year’s tree limb storm incident but the fence is old and replacement parts aren’t typical so that hasn’t been done. Along with that, the vegetation from the neighbor’s yard is increasingly encroaching and creating more shade and other issues so that has been frustrating. It is pretty incredible to see how much the vegetation has changed on that side from when we moved in and how it is now. Which reminds me, I didn’t do a follow up post to the other beds like I did back in January for the side yard. Will try to do that soon!

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    There is certainly always something to do around here.

    Weeds or not, it does look pretty dang good right now!

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    Taking photos of the harvest on a consistent basis started when I stopped one day to put some of our pickings on the slab of rock on the pathway to the house. I took a few photos and Forest and I went inside. The next time we were out I wasn’t planning on taking photos but as we approached the path Forest began getting excited and talking about taking photos and wanting to arrange the harvest himself. Well, I couldn’t say no, so I started trying to make an effort to take photos each time. Then I remembered the leaf and vegetable portraits I did a few years back on the white board so I grabbed some foam board from my studio and I’ve been trying to do that ever since! Now, I have definitely not photographed every harvest but I think it has been beneficial to get most of them. The blackberries and smaller tomatoes are starting to get out of hand and I’ll probably have to put those in bowls to photograph instead.

    Taking the photos has been helpful in that it helps to reflect back at what we were harvesting at any given moment during a particular season. The carrots were pulled back at the end of April and I didn’t get any photos of that happening. I believe Chris harvested a lot of those with Forest when he was home from field work early one day. But I did catch some of the post blanching process and how many were packed up for the freezer. There are still some forgotten carrots left out there that we will probably pull over the next few weeks. Forest still likes getting them straight from the garden and eating them after we rinse them off with the hose.

    So far we have two quarts of tomatoes water bathed and in the cabinets. I need to probably do another jar or two soon—probably this weekend. I made 10 jars of my grandmother’s pickles recently and Chris has made maybe 25 jars of a Claussen type pickle. I need to make more pickles, too because not only are we harvesting our own cucumbers but our neighbor has been giving us a bags full from his vines, too! We haven’t had to do much with beans yet but may need to as I plan on getting more beans planted soon. We’ve been harvesting Kentucky Wonder beans and I’ve cooked up some and we are now getting the Oriental Wonder long beans coming in, too.

    Summer harvests are just getting started!

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    Forest and I pulled onions about two weeks ago. I’m trying to remember the last time we had a really great harvest, maybe this one 5 years ago? I think we’ve had one or two since then but I know for sure last year did not give us much of anything due to you know, floods.

    Forest had been itching to pull them for weeks because they were already starting to become ready to pull, easily liftable from the dirt. So when I told him one evening we were going to pull onions he was ecstatic. I barely had to pull them because he was lifting them out by the handful and I had to slow him down so he wouldn’t break the stems before we could dry the onions for storage. He’s been a great garden helper for the most part, loving to plant seeds and pull fruit and vegetables when they are ready. Of course he gets in moods where his toddlerness comes out and I just have to stop everything and get him out of the garden before he goes on a rampage and pulls things he isn’t supposed to.

    The onions, once cured, will be stored in the pantry, some will be chopped and frozen, and I’ll pickle some with cucumbers, too. I think there is definitely a sweet spot with onions, weather-wise, and they definitely like it a lot drier than it has been in the last two years here. Some rain but not too much, and decent well-drained soil. Which considering where our garden was placed, in a raised-up low spot in the yard, can sometimes be hard to come by during those wet years. So, hooray for a great onion season! I dream of the day we can magically become garlic growers—not our successful crop to plant.

    What are you harvesting now?

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    Nine years ago my mom and I were in a hotel breakfast room in Longview, Texas when we smelled something glorious. It wasn’t the waffles on the iron or the coffee brewing but something wafting from another guest nearby. After mom and I were done falling over ourselves at the smell, we asked the woman what she was wearing and she replied that it was Estée Lauder’s Tuberose Gardenia. Mom bought a bottle not long after that and a few years later I was gifted a bottle for Christmas. Every time I walk by our gardenia in May I’m reminded of that perfume and that time. Ah, 9 years ago—we were in town to visit my friend Michelle’s daughter who had recently been born….and oh, that she’s 9 years old now! With my niece following in that manner in August! What???

    The gardenias bloom their heads off for the month of May and a smidgen into June and then they are done. Sometimes the scent is so strong I can smell it around to the front of the house—the bush is on the back corner of our back porch. Summer will then have to be scented with fresh cut grass, tomato leaves, and honeysuckle until next May. Maybe one day I will figure out how to use the blooms for my benefit and bring the scent inside!

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    I can’t remember when I last mentioned the monarchs in the garden, maybe back in late March or early April? I think I said that I’d just seen a few monarchs flitting about the yard but hadn’t seen any caterpillars yet—of course a few days later I found several caterpillars crawling all over the tropical milkweed. Keeping up with where they are has been a challenge, mostly because I think the birds might be eating a lot of them. Which is fine, that is nature’s duty, but I do feel like we really should consider the butterfly tents to raise them. Chris was concerned about having enough milkweed in pots to feed them, which he’s right about, but I dug three seedlings up out of the compost and potted those and we have quite a bit that he seeded in a large patch that we could dig another five or more plants up to pot and rotate out for feeding them. And the larger plants in the garden are already flowering which means we will have seed pods soon, which means we can easily start more seeds this summer to get more milkweed growing. Purchasing milkweed can be expensive if you can’t find it in 4-inch pots; often they are in gallon pots which are sometimes priced around $8 at the good, non-pesticide using nurseries.

    My if-you-plant-it-they-will-come theory for the black swallowtails worked. Most of the dill that I planted in late fall/early winter was knocked back by the freezes but apparently whatever we grew in the garden last year reseeded itself heavily all over the place and we’ve got dill coming up everywhere. Which is totally fine by me because I’m working to dry it and save the seed for pickling, but it became a buffet for the black swallowtail caterpillars, too. I even saw one of the fennel that I had bought for them! But, when one day I had found upwards of 20+ caterpillars in various instars around the garden a few days later I was having trouble finding them. I think, again, the birds got to them while they were foraging strawberries and tomatoes, too.

    The last one is a caterpillar I found while I was pulling weeds out of the cactus bed. I’d finally decided I’d had enough with the weeds in that bed—-we’ve been avoiding really weeding it for over a year now, though we’ve pulled some here and there, we’ve never tackled the whole thing because spines! So I got in there and started pulling and found this chompy friend hanging out in the gravel. I think it is an army worm of some kind, maybe either Spodoptera latifascia or Spodoptera ornithogalli and they turn into moths.

    I have a couple of other interesting caterpillars we found recently while at Brazos Bend State Park but I still need to process those photos.

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    Tomato season has arrived, finally. It seems like overnight the tomatoes went from one to two foot tall to reaching over the tops of their cages and onward for the sky. It’s been a dry spring compared to last year, though we’re getting about one good day of rain a week. Well, at least we were until the last two weeks. We seemed to have missed the storms that were supposed to come to frution with the last front that blew through. I have in my gut that we’re headed for drought again—don’t know why I feel like that, just do. I am enjoying the non-swamp aspect to our yard currently. What can I say, last year’s weather left me nervous about any major storm event that seems ready to blow through.

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    And so yes, tomato season has finally arrived. The Matt’s Wild Cherry tomatoes were the first to begin ripening. The plant produces very small tomatoes, supposedly cherry sized as per their name, but let’s go with a slightly larger than pea sized tomato. They are more like those small wine grapes you would find specially at the store. I would not call them cherry tomatoes at all. They are tasty, however, and remind me a lot of the Everglades tomatoes we grew in Florida. I tried germinating some Everglades seed we had but have not had any luck so far in getting them to sprout. A lot of my older seeds just did not germinate this year and I will probably try doing some larger seed sowing next December to see if I can get any to germinate. If not it will be time to order new seed. I enjoyed keeping the seeds we had from our time in Florida but if none are viable, I guess it is time to move on.

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    Second to ripen were the Sungolds. These are definitely a cherry sized tomato and one of the tastiest tomatoes, I think, and maybe one of the most grown tomatoes. The Romas were next and they are finally starting to ripen in batches. Soon I will have a San Marzano and a Bella Rosa tomato ready to eat. It has been a challenge getting Forest to understand that the green tomatoes aren’t ripe, and if you aren’t watching him closely he’ll come running up to you with a tomato saying “Got one!” or something similar. The kid just likes to pick fruit, which I understand, but I’m not going to have any tomatoes if he is unsupervised anywhere near the tomatoes! I can even be a few feet from him, turn my back to get a weed, and find him grabbing a tomato to pull off the plant!

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    Getting him to like tomatoes is probably going to take all summer, which is fine. I think he will come around, though. We were amazed how much he enjoyed pulling a carrot or two and eating them while we were in the garden most evenings, and after a few false starts with snap peas he came around to eating a few of those. Strawberries, of course, were easy to entice him with, and just tonight we pulled the very first blackberry of the season. After what I thought was going to be a no-go for him, he licked it and bit it slightly, he then asked for it to be washed (though we didn’t really need to). Once I washed it he chowed it down in a few bites, blackberry juice dribbling down his lip. We might not make it to the house with the bowls of blackberries this season! So yes, as for the tomatoes, I’ve been offering him the smaller ones which he will bit into, make a face, and then hand me back the tomato and say “Mom, eat it!” So, I do. But he keeps trying them when I offer, that’s the important part.

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    So much is going on with the garden and I have more to share from what we’re harvesting and what is blooming in the flower garden. More soon.

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