February Garden Prep

For those of us who live in Texas and some southern states it is time to start thinking about the spring garden. In Texas I grow two gardens – a spring garden and fall garden. I start planting the spring garden the last week of February thru the first week of April.

The first planting in the ground is of peas, brussels sprouts, radishes, green beans and plants that like cooler temperatures to grow and produce. Before I can plant seeds I need to get the planting area ready. I used a raised bed system of gardening due to the coastal grass that will take over a garden planted in the ground. Those who plant at ground level, now is the time to start tilling and raking to remove the coastal grass that invaded the garden last year.

As I begin to prep my garden area, I am deciding where I am going to plant each plant. I rotate the places where I planted squash and cucumbers to keep the squash beetles at a minimum. Planting squash and cucumbers in the same place every year increases these pesky insects that can kill the squash plant and shorten your harvest. The beds need additional nutrient rich material added, either compost or in my situation sheep manure. I usually add the sheep manure after I have pulled the plants from the fall garden. Adding the manure in the fall allows the natural elements to break down the manure releasing the nutrients for the plants.

The time has arrived to start the tomato plants inside. I use a two “solo” cup method of starting tomato plants inside. One cup has a rock in the bottom and is used for letting the water drain from the cup holding the soil and seed that will eventually be a tomato plant. The cup that I will put the soil in and plant the seeds has small holes in the bottom allowing for drainage. Seeds and plants will die if there is too much water. I fill the cup 1/2 full of soil for tomatoes, peppers and eggplant seeds. I use potting soil or seed starter as soil when I am starting seeds inside. I do not reuse the starting soil as the nutrients are mostly gone. Using fresh potting soil or seed starter helps my seedlings get a good start before placing them in the garden.

A picture showing the two cups I use for starting seeds.

After the seeds sprout, I will gently add more soil to the cup. Doing this creates a good root system for the seedling to grow into a plant once placed in the soil outside. When the time comes to plant outside, the cup has been filled to 1/2 inch below the rim with soil.

Cups with various stages of tomatoes starting to grow.

Punxsutawney Phil may have forecasted six more weeks of winter, but spring will arrive and I want to be ready for a summer and fall harvest of fresh vegetables for my table.

amtolle

Thankful for My Garden Spot

This year for the month of November, I am selecting one thing to be thankful for each day. Today, I am thankful for my small garden spot, my happy spot. This year there were some surprises.

One surprise was the “red cabbage” that was actually red brussel sprouts. The few tiny brussel sprouts I did harvest were put into a stew for us to enjoy. Although I did not get much of a harvest from the red brussel sprout plants, I did enjoy their beautiful grey green foliage with purple veins, and tall upright growth. I received joy from the beauty of the plant itself.

There was an abundance of sweet basil, planted from seeds produced from last year’s plant. The seeds, unknown to me they were there, sprouted and grew throughout my garden area, adding a sweet aroma when I worked in my garden.

For the first time I planted butternut squash. I only planted one hill of three seeds, of which one plant emerged from the soil. This wandering plant produced over two dozen squash. I explored various recipes for preparing and cooking butternut squash. My husband and I have enjoyed this new addition to our menu plans. I have plenty preserved in the freezer to last until next year.

This year I experimented with a different style of planting corn. The corn grew well, adding height to my garden vegetation. There were multiple cobs on the stalks during the time of pollination. Unfortunately a gate was left open allowing a horse to enter my yard and garden spot. The horse enjoyed the tops of the corn stalks, eating the sweet source of pollination. I harvested several corn cobs, without any corn kernels. Overall this experimental planting style would work in my garden spot, just have to keep the horse out during pollination time. I did cut the stalks to give my sheep a sweet treat.

The summer squash and yellow squash I plant every year did well. I received plenty of squash for our summer meals and to preserve for winter meals. Like the butternut squash, I only planted one hill of each type of squash due to not have more room for planting.

The radishes and bell pepper continued to produce all summer adding bits of flavor to the dishes I prepared. The tomatoes did not do very well. Since I raised the tomatoes in containers, I think the soil was tired. I will be emptying all my containers this winter, and refilling them with new soil next year.

This fall I have planted onions in the small garden and will be experimenting with my first planting of sweet potatoes. This will be my first year having a fall garden, not just a plant or two.

Overall, my small garden provided well for us. I enjoy the birds and butterflies I who come to visit. The multiple colors of blooms and foliage that pleases my eyes. I am thankful for my small happy spot of a garden.

amtolle

Butternut Squash

This spring I planted one butternut squash. The plant grew, had long vines and produced fruit. The vines took in an area of approximately 15 feet by 15 feet. Along the vines, about two feet apart were squashes. From this one plant we harvested 22 butternut squashes.

This is the first year I have planted butternut squash. The plant was easy to grow, although it grew to more space than the seed packets stated was needed for the plant. The plant required moderate watering, the same as other squashes I have grown.

Butternut squash is ripe and ready to pick when it turns a buff orange color. The fruit is hard and does not fully ripen until late August into October. I have plenty Butternut squash. One Butternut squash is two meals for my husband and I.

In order to make the most of my harvest I have been cooking and baking with the squash. I also have been freezing it. Some I cut into 1 inch cubes and place 2 cups per freezing bag. There are some freezing bags I have placed 2 cups of shredded butternut squash to use for baking recipes and making butternut fritters.

Since my family did not grow Butternut squash, and this my first year, I had to do searches for recipes on how to prepare and cook the squash. One place I go to look for recipes is allrecipes.com . I have found recipes for preparing any type of meal or side dish and desserts. I found a really good butternut recipe for butternut squash fritters . These fritters are delicious and very easy to prepare for my family.

While doing my search for recipes I discovered another website for recipes – https://www.skinnytaste.com . This site has abundance of recipes. I will be going back to this website in the future. I used one of the recipes for making squash fries and another for making a dish for breakfast. I was delighted with both.

Learning to grow something new, and then cooking something new. The butternut squash was a great experience. The accidently planted brussel sprouts, I enjoyed the plant and its foliage. But I am going to have to study on how to grow this awesome looking plant to receive a harvest.

amtolle

Red Cabbage of 2022

This year I purchased seedling plants from a nursery for my little garden spot. One type of plant I wanted to purchase was cabbage plants, and I am fond of red cabbage. Red cabbage does not taste any different, but the plant has purple leaves. Adding a little bit of different color to the garden. I purchased four “red cabbage” plants.

At home I started transplanting the seedlings and noticed a stake stating what type of plant was in the little planter. While I had picked up the plants in the area marked cabbage plants, the identify stake said red brussel sprouts. I had purchased four red brussel sprout seedlings. Now my husband has a joke on me, my “red cabbage”.

We love to eat brussel sprouts, but I have never grown brussel sprouts. Other than photographs on the internet and in a book, I have not seen a brussel sprout plant. This year would be a learning year for my “red cabbage” aka red brussel sprouts.

Well, the foliage and the plant are beautiful. A definite plant for adding to the garden in 2023. I learned brussel sprouts need full sun. I planted them where they get a lot of shade, since I thought I was planting cabbage. Brussel sprouts are large, tall plants – the area I planted them in I did not give them enough room to grow. The two placed in pots, they are struggling to survive. I had successfully grown cabbage in those pots, but brussel sprouts needed more room for roots. The brussel sprouts I harvested were very small. They taste good. But without the proper growing environment, the fruit was stunted.

Next year, I will use my knowledge gained, purchase more red brussel sprouts and work at a better crop.

When we try new things or are placed in a new situation, things do not always turn out like we think they should. It does not mean we are not where we are supposed to be. There are lessons we need to learn. Success is from gaining knowledge and overcoming. Knowledge is acquired through learning. I learned about brussel sprouts. I enjoyed the plants in my garden, they gave me joy.

amtolle

Weekend Garden Pondering

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This weekend, my husband and I have been thinking and talking about what I should plant this winter. We are beginning to see empty spots in the grocery store, and news outlets say that the problem is going to get worse. This summer and fall, we have been eating from my small garden, mostly squash, as a vegetable for meals. Summer is coming to an end, and soon the squash will also.

I plant a tomato plant, and a few peppers for to grow in the house during the winter months, providing us with a fresh grown treat from time to time. He and I both feel I should plant more, but what and where. I have two windows that provide enough sunlight to grow plants in the winter. The answer to what to plant deals with space. I do not have enough space to grow many plants inside.

His idea is to build a greenhouse of sorts. One thought is to put a small structure up on our cement patio. The sun is strong on the patio and it is protected from the cold north wind. The patio is also fenced so the sheep will not be trying to get into the greenhouse during the winter. If a heater was needed on real cold nights, electricity is available. Or we could set up a “solar heating system” that my cousin designed and see if that would work on keeping the greenhouse warm enough for our Texas winters.

Some vegetables that do well in the Texas climate for winter gardens are cabbage, radishes, beets, turnips, carrots, and potatoes. There are more, I have not grown them. With a greenhouse these plants would thrive. I would also be able to plant peas, as long as I kept the frost away.

I already have a few herbs growing in the window sill of the kitchen window. Herbs are good to grow inside on a window sill as they do not take up much space. Fresh herbs have a stronger seasoning, and I use half the amount called in recipes when I use fresh herbs. Herbs I have growing are rosemary, basil, and oregano. I grow the herbs in disposable plastic cups. Although I never seem to dispose of the cups I use for planting unless they get broken. I use two cups, one for the plant to grow in, a small rock in the second cup used for drainage. The herbs grow well, and I always have them handy for cooking.

I have also grown bell peppers using the same planting system of two plastic disposable cups. The two bell pepper plants produce peppers, although they were a little small, the peppers had strong flavor for seasoning.

Another plant I have done well in growing indoors is leaf lettuce. Last year I grew two types of leaf lettuce in pots. I would cut the leaves to add to our salads. I would trim the larger leaves off the plants, and the plants would regrow in a weeks time. If I put the lettuce in a size larger planting pot, I would be able to grow enough for our eating needs, as we do not eat salads every meal.

And if we did build the small greenhouse, I would be able to grow enough vegetables to keep us going through the winter, then transplant them in the spring into the garden area. Which the garden area is going to be bigger next year.

Just some thoughts and ponderings concerning ways to have a variety of vegetables with the talks of shortages. Also a way to lower our grocery expense with the current inflation, that is said to go higher.

Will keep you posted on our decisions and adventure in growing food for the table.

amtolle

Tomatoes in Winter

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There are news stories that tomatoes and products made from tomatoes are going to be in short supply in the United States this year, until the next tomato harvest. Depending on if the drought continues for another year, it may be expensive to purchase tomatoes and tomato products.

Can a person grow tomatoes inside during the winter? Yes. Tomato plants like sunshine. If you have a window that can provide sunshine at least 6 hours a day, you can place a tomato plant by the window to grow. If you do not have a window or place to put a tomato plant, there are grow lights that do not cost very much.

Tomatoes need room for their roots. I plant my tomato plants in a five gallon bucket or equivalent pot. They also like the soil to drain well, meaning the pot or bucket has to have holes in the bottom for excess water to drain out. I have a tendency to over water my tomato plants, even outside I will over water and the plant will wilt and die. To be safe from overwater, do a simple test of pushing a finger an inch below the surface, if the soil is moist – do not water.

Tomatoes are self pollinators, meaning they do not need bees or butterflies to pollinate the flower in order to produce fruit. When you see blooms open, usually in the mornings, gently shake the plant, and let the pollen fall on the flowers to pollinate.

I start my tomato plants by planting a few seeds in a solo cup half full of potting mix. I only fill the solo or plastic cup half full, as tomato plants will form roots along the stem, if the stem touches soil. I wait until the new seedlings are a few inches tall, then very carefully add more soil. By doing this the young tomato plant develops a stronger root system.

Likewise, when I transplant the young, approximately six inches tall plant into the pot or bucket I am going to have it live in, I only have the pot half full of potting mix or soil. As the plant grows taller, I gently add more mix or soil until the soil is two inches from the top of the pot or bucket. When I put the plant in the pot, I add a hand full of crushed egg shells, to help prevent blossom rot on the fruit caused by not enough calcium.

I water and wait for the bloom, gently shake the plant, and wait for fruit.

Bell Pepper plant waiting to be planted outside after growing all winter in the house.

This planting method works for bell peppers, any type of hot peppers. I use an eight inch pot for the peppers.

Eggplants are another night shade classified plant that can be raised inside. I have not grown eggplants inside, but I would start with a 12 inch pot and see how the plant does.

If a plant needs more root room, you can always transplant into a larger pot.

amtolle

Fall Garden Planning

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Where I live, a person can plant two gardens, a spring garden and a fall or winter garden.

The spring garden is tomatoes, peppers, squash, corn, beans and other vegetables that require warm temperatures to grow and produce fruit. In July these plants in these spring gardens stop producing fruit due to the high temperatures, but will return to production at the end of August when temperatures start dropping. Squash and okra will continue to produce during the hot months of July and August provided the plants are watered regularly.

Fall or winter gardens are for plants who like cool temperatures. We do not get a frost until November and the cold temperatures do not really hit until January. Four to five months of growing cool season plants.

I plant onions in my winter garden, as I cook a lot with onions. Easy to plant and grow. They also are planted in the spring garden, after the cold weather in February. I also start planting radishes and beets. For me, beets grow better in a fall/winter garden than they do in a spring garden, although they can be planted in both seasons.

Radishes grow well year around, except in the strong heat of summer. The strong heat is hard on the seedlings, so during July and first part of August I do not plant radishes. I love radishes, you plant the seed and in 21 to 30 days you have radishes to enjoy. I plant my radishes in two rectangular planters, varying the plant times for a continual harvest. In the spring, I dump out the planters, adding new soil and compost for another year of radishes.

This year I am wanting to add more to my fall/winter garden than the usual radishes, beets and onions. Area gardners do well with cabbage. We like eating cabbage. I am planning on a few cabbage plants.

I am going to experiment with peas. For the spring garden, peas have to be planted the end of February in order to produce fruit before the heat. I am thinking of planting peas at the end of August, and see if I get more fruit before the cold arrives in November that would kill the pea plant. I am also going to mulch or cover with straw to help prevent the cold from reaching the plants.

Gardening is an adventure. The one thing I have enjoyed about moving to Texas is the gardening. Being able to grow a garden year around providing fresh vegetables is a pleasure and blessing. We enjoy eating fresh home grown vegetables.

Anyone can learn to garden. Most people struggle with growing plants due to the watering. I do the simple “finger test” when it comes to if a plant needs water or not. I place my finger an inch or up to the first joint into the soil. If the soil is moist, I do not water. If the soil is dry, I water.

The second reason for a struggling plant is the amount of sunshine. Plants that love the shade struggle growing in full sun. Plants that love the sun, struggle growing in the shade. Learning the sun/shade requirements of plants helps the gardener.

This year, my corner garden was planted near an oak tree, getting late morning and midday shade. Having shade during these times helped the sun loving plants to be cool during the strong heat of June and July. It saved on water use and the plants seemed happier.

The third element to growing a really good garden or plants, is to talk to your plants. This is not an old wives tale, it is a fact of science that talking to your plants helps your plants. Going out at least once a day to talk to your plants helps them to grow. The reason, observation. If you are looking at your plants once a day, you can observe how they are growing, see if they need water. Additional benefit, you relax while talking to your plants.

Do not be afraid to step out on an adventure of gardening or growing plants.

amtolle

Happy Watermelon Day

August 3, 2022 is Watermelon Day. Watermelon is a summer staple in my family. Most varieties in stores today are seedless watermelons. But as a child I remember having to spit the black seeds as we would eat the watermelon outside. Or removing the black seeds from the melon as I cut it into pieces and placed in a large bowl.

Picking out a sweet juicy watermelon is considered an art. I seem to be good at it. I have grown watermelon in my garden, and determining if the watermelon is ripe on the vine is the same technique as determining if the watermelon is juicy – a tap on the “bottom” as my dad would say. The hollow sound and mild vibration through the fruit lets you know how juicy the watermelon will be. Soft spots are not good, over ripe or bruised.

There are various ways of preparing a watermelon for eating. How I prepare the melon is determined on who is going to be eating the melon. For my grandchildren, I cut the melon into small bite size pieces. For adults, I will slice and cut pie shape pieces allowing the person to eat the melon with getting the sticky “watermelon smile” associated with eating a half slice. Regardless of how you serve the watermelon, salt always allows the sweet juices to be sweeter.

I have even carved a watermelon to use for serving the bite size pieces. Simple to do and makes an attractive decor for the table. One problem I had while carving the cavity is doing it so the bowl sits correctly on the table. I always seem to get a little off and the bowl does not sit perfectly upright. Once I had to cut the rind on the bottom to get the bowl to sit upright and not dump the contents onto the table.

I compost the rinds. But I would like to try making pickled watermelon rind or a pickle relish from the rinds. Recipes and others say the rinds are like cucumbers and you can use the same recipes on the rinds as you do for pickles. An old family friend said it was common during the Depression Era to make pickles from the rinds as they did not waste anything during that time.

I have even seen recipes for a soup made from watermelon rinds.

In the area of Texas where I live, watermelon was grown as a major crop until the late 1980’s. The town I live in was the train stop for the farmers to put their watermelons on the train to be shipped to the cities. The train depot is a feed store now, and the watermelon fields are used for cattle and growing hay. After harvest, the train cars loaded and on their way, a big festival would take place called the Watermelon Festival.

This weekend is the Watermelon Festivals when the communities gather for softball games, a farmer’s market, eating contests and cooking contests as well a many other activities. One community near us has a rodeo during the festival. Although the watermelons are not grown in the community as a major crop, the festivals are still celebrated reminding us of the past, but mostly to have fun and enjoy the activities.

amtolle

The Busy Corner

In my yard is a spot I call my “happy place”. I am free to experiment and do what I want. It is not associated with raising the sheep or any other activity on the farm. It is my space free from sheep, business and other thoughts. Every morning I drink my first cup of coffee and gaze at my corner, watching the activity before the day gets too hot.

My happy place is a spot on the farm that my husband and I laugh at my mistakes, as I made some mistakes while creating this happy spot. One is the “red cabbage”. I like the cabbage plant, as well as the cabbage. This year I thought I had purchased four red cabbage plants on a visit to the nursery. Upon placing the last red cabbage plant in its pot, I saw a label. The label did not identify the plant as red cabbage, the plant is red brussel sprouts.

Red Brussel Sprout plants

We laughed, we did not know there was red brussel sprouts. We both eat brussel sprouts, so the fruit these plants produce will not go to waste. I have never grown brussel sprouts, this year will be the first. I enjoy the different color of the plant, purple stems and sage green leaves. The plant gives the spot a variation in color and structure with the strong upright growth. The plant does not bloom colorful flowers, but the fruit or brussel sprout, grows along the stalk of the plant. My husband keeps looking for the fruit, and we laugh as he does not see where it is producing. He has learned to look in the correct place on the plant, and there are lots of fruits forming. The red brussel sprout has been a welcomed surprise to my happy spot, and a plant I will continue to grow.

This year I added some pink roses that are solar lights. In the evening I enjoy looking at my happy spot, and wanted some light and diversity for evening viewing. They add bright color during the day and have attracted hummingbirds. In the early mornings I spotted hummingbirds trying to gather nectar from these artificial blooms. So I added a hummingbird feeder to my happy spot.

The early morning is busy with bees gathering nectar from the squash and pumpkin blooms. The hummingbirds coming in for food. The small birds eating bugs from the trees and plants. And the lone woodpecker, red headed flicker, picking bugs off the trees. These are pleasant to observe as I start my day of busy work.

Currently some of my containers are empty. I plant radishes and onions in them. We have harvested the radishes and onions. I will plant some more seed once the temperatures begin to drop. Our current heat of over 100 degrees fahrenheit makes starting seedlings difficult as the young plants perish in the heat. The tomato plants are not setting fruit for the same reason, too hot.

We harvest summer squash from the one plant in this spot about every three days, adding some fresh vegetables to our meals. The butternut squash plant is several dozen fruits growing along its long trentale stems, but they are green and will not be ready to harvest until fall. Another lesson my husband had to learn after he brought three green butternut squash into the kitchen one evening.

The pumpkin plant is becoming large, covering the beets that finally decided to sprout. I had planted beets in the early spring, only they did not seem to sprout. So I place a pumpkin seed in the center of the small area, as the pumpkin plant could expand onto the grass lawn area. The pumpkin came up, and while adjusting the running stems to go onto the grass area, I discovered beets underneath. How well these beets will grow and develop I will watch as they are heavily shaded by the pumpkin plant. Beside the beets is sweet basil, having been seeded the previous year from the sweet basil I had in a pot. When disturbed the small plants release a sweet pleasant smell. I am also able to use this herb for cooking, and goes well with summer squash.

I have to have one pumpkin plant to produce pumpkins for carving with my granddaughter in October. The size the pumpkin plant obtains, makes for a very invading plant partner as it crowds the plants near it with its every reaching stems, blooms and fruit. I was able to place the few rocks I had gathered around this planting area before the squash plant starting getting too big.

My little happy spot sparks joy at the beginning and during the day. I learned to help with the depression I face daily, it is good to surround my area with things that spark joy, make me feel good about myself and my life.

Do you have a “happy spot”, a place to get away from the daily grind, and just relax? or a place the you feel joy in when you enter? Have you thought about creating your own little “happy spot”?

amtolle

A Gift of Love

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Last week I took my grandson home bring an end to his summer visit with Granny. He lives close to my oldest daughter and her family. We usually stop over there for a night before continuing to his mother’s home. After I drop him home, I spend a day or two with my oldest daughter and her family.

We moved away from the Colorado, yet the majority of our family lives there. Anytime we have the opportunity to stay a day or two longer we take advantage. The grandchildren grow up so fast, and I get to see them twice a year.

This year while taking some time with my daughter and her three children, her husband started work on a pond in the garden area of the yard. They had a pond that was a hole in the ground with a liner. The liner does not last long due to one of the family dogs is very large and loves to lay in the pond to cool off in the summer. The past few months he has built a fence around the garden area. Next on his list was to line the pond with cement instead of a plastic liner.

He has not done cement. He has worked construction, framing houses, but only viewed cement work being done. After watching some youtube videos, he decided to try and build a cement lined pond. He is an awesome husband and father, he is a very good man. He is not prideful. If he does not know how to do something, and knows someone who does, he is happy to turn the work over to a more knowledgeable person.

He started the cement project, I offered help if he needed it. It was not long, before he mentioned he was not sure what to do, the cement was not working the way he thought it should. I stepped in.

I have not done a lot of cement work, but I have watched and learned from some really good cement workers. I have made lawn ornaments and laid blocks to form walls, so I do know some information on how to work with this fickle medium.

It was not long before my daughter joined me in working the cement mix up along the sides of the pond. After three hours of patiently working the cement mix, she had a rough looking cement pond that was not complete. We had ran out of cement and the store was closed.

The next day was busy with us taking my grandson home, and visiting a new baby girl in the family.

Sometimes to do a project correctly, takes longer than planned. We worked Monday to finish forming a cement pond. Some of the cement was smooth, but there was some areas that were really rough. I said I could cover the entire pond with mortar, a mixture of cement and sand, and it would look smooth. We bought supplies that afternoon.

The next day, my daughter had to work. I watched the kids and put mortar on the cement pond. My oldest granddaughter assisted with the pond work, the younger granddaughter watched their little brother and brought us cold water to drink.

With patience and consistent work, we finished the pond. My oldest granddaughter asked why I was doing this work.

“Granny your back and hands hurt alot, why not stop? “she asked.

My hands hurt as the gloves I had did not provide proper protection while molding mortar to the sides of the cement mix pond. I had some scrapes and the lime irritated the skin. My back hurt from the constant bending over working. Yet, this pond was a labor of love for my daughter.

We had a good time working together the one day building the cement mix walls of the pond. The last time we worked together on a project she was twelve, before I divorced her dad. We had such a good time, me teaching, her learning and working side by side. I wanted so much to finish this project she desired in her yard.

Finally the pond was complete, with initials and date. Which I wrote upside down.

Now she will seal the pond and add water, rocks to form her fountain and last koi fish.

It is not often I get the opportunity to make or do something of love for my oldest daughter. The distant we live apart does not allow for a lot of visit times. I stayed a day longer than planned to finish this project of love.

Now, when she looks at her pond, she sees a physical sign that her mother loves her and remembers the fun weekend we had sharing and learning from each other.

amtolle