Who’s To Blame for No Garden Photos? Whatever . . . . This Just May Be the Year of the Tomato

The little garden behind the garage, May 21, 2011.

It’s been awhile since I’ve added any garden photos, but this morning after spending a leisurely couple of hours dozing in bed, I got up, made some freshly ground coffee, and headed out to the little patch behind the garage.  Since I didn’t hear any rumblings of earthquakes to signal the end of the earth, I decided to do some picking and watering.  Watering has been absolutely necessary because there has been only one good rain in about the last four months here in northwest Harris County.  This year, I took an old hose, drilled some holes in it, and snaked it back and forth through the garden.  It works well either in shower mode or soaker mode.

The garden is far less organized this year.  Blame it on the lettuce, which when I planted it on January 1st, I got a bit lazy and went for the tossing method of planting, never expecting the abundance of these leafy, salad greens.  Thus, when I planted the beans, tomatoes, and peppers, I had to plant around the already thriving lettuce.  The onions that I planted at the same time as the lettuce are maintaining themselves, but they definitely are hidden under the foliage of the leafy beans and lettuce.

One of the many clusters of tomatoes that have set on.

Now I have a jungle in miniature.  Whether it’s the compost from last year, the added manure and other soil, or the fertilizers, including fish emulsion, that I’ve added, I now have tomato plants nearing the roofline of the garage.  I have just seven tomato plants, and one is a volunteer, but I’ve already picked about six tomatoes.  The tomatoes have certainly set on.  I call one of them “Mrs. Duggar”; it’s so loaded with fruit.  Last year, the garden’s big producer was okra, but it looks like this might be “The Year of the Tomato.”

In fact, I’m having difficulty getting okra planted.  I sprouted about 20 little plants in the bay window in my kitchen, but the process of getting them transferred and growing in the garden hasn’t been a very fortunate one.  Of the 12 that I actually got stuck in the ground, this morning I counted only five still alive.  After I pull out some more of the leggy lettuce, I’ll try just planting the seeds.

Breezy Sunday–Time for a Home-cooked Dinner Including Fresh Green Beans

The only thing that would make these home-cooked green beans better would be if they were also home-grown.

Blustery breezes and an uncertain sky haven’t put a damper on this penultimate day of February.  For the first time in a couple of weeks, I’m back in my groove.  (I’ll try to add another post about what’s been happening later.) 

The back door is open, with the screen on the storm door pulled down to let in some of the breeze.  What’s more, I’m making a real Sunday dinner.  (Isn’t it a bit confusing that we have Sunday dinners at lunchtime?)

So here’s what’s cooking:  a ham glazed with a mixture of jam, brown sugar, brown mustard, peanut sauce, and wasabi sauce, and simple scalloped potatoes with bits of onion and butter, layered with about 3 tablespoons of flour, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and a cup of half-and-half poured over the top before going into the oven.  Already cooked and resting on the cooktop is a kettle of fresh green beans.

Fresh green beans are one of my favorite vegetables.  In comparison, the frozen ones are almost inedible, and green beans from a can aren’t a lot better.

Making  fresh, home-cooked green beans isn’t very difficult.  Some people think getting them ready is too much work.  I just dump them into a colander and wash them several times, then take a kitchen scissors and nip off the stem, then rinse them off again a time or two.

Home-cooked Green Beans

  • 1 pound fresh green beans washed and stemmed
  • 3 slices of bacon cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 green onions including most of the tops loosely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 or 2 “splashes” of white wine
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic salad dressing
  • 3 to 4 cups of water
  • pepper and salt to taste

Put a heavy kettle on the stove and turn the burner to medium high.  When the kettle is hot, add the oil, then the bacon and onion.  Cook until the bacon begins to brown; then add the onions  and cook until they become translucent.  Keep the bacon and onion moving with a spoon or silicon spatula so they don’t burn.  If the bacon cooks off quite a bit of fat, remove the excess with a spoon.  (I find that most bacon these days contains a lot of water and not a lot of fat cooks out; that’s why it will stick to the pan and may burn.) 

Add a splash or two of white wine and a couple of tablespoons of water to de-glaze the bottom of the kettle.  Use a silicon spatula to help get all the “goodies” off the bottom of the pan.  Add the balsamic dressing (or balsamic vinegar) and about 1/2 cup of water and stir in.  Let the liquid cook until it bubbles. 

Put the fresh green beans into the kettle and add enough water so that there is an inch or two of liquid in the kettle.  About two-thirds of the beans will not be covered.  Put a lid on the kettle and leave on medium-high heat until the liquid boils, then turn down to medium-low and cook for 20-25 minutes or until the beans are cooked to your liking.  (Some like beans cooked less and other liked them cooked until they are limp.)

This recipe will make 6-8 servings.  You can make this recipe a day ahead of time, and just re-heat.  I think these beans are even better the second day because they absorb  more of the bacon flavor.

You Wanted It–You Got It: More Garden, and How About a Chainsaw?

Garden back of the garage (6-12-10)

A couple of pics I want to get in before it gets too late.  I realize I haven’t put in a picture of my garden for a bit.  These are really more for me just to see how everything is growing because I know I’ve been too impatient.  Now, though, I see I’ve really overplanted my little patch.  The rows really no longer exist because everything has grown together.  I’ve been picking about a tomato a day from my several plants, and a few beans here and there–enough for a couple of delicious meals.

My "Butch" Chainsaw and the Remaining Pieces of the Tree

A week ago Sunday, the dead tree that had been in the back yard decided to come down on it’s own, before I could use my tax refund to get someone to come do it.  Luckily the tree was so dry and rotted that it sort of telescoped down without doing any damage, except for two fence pickets, which g0t the tops broken off when the tree fell.  Part of the upper branches went into the neighbor’s yard, but they had them cleaned up before I could even offer to do anything about it.  Monday, I went out and made my “butch” purchase–a chainsaw.  I don’t suppose the Poulan 14-incher is all that butch, but it worked very well at cutting up the old tree, which took me two evenings after work to finally get all cut up into pieces I could take out for the trash truck to pick up.  The electric chainsaw was $49 at Sears and the pickets were less than $2 each, so for about 55 bucks and a lot of sweat I got rid of the eyesore in the back yard.  Not bad I’d say.

I really don’t know much about chainsaws, so realizing that after cutting up this dead tree,  all I’d probably ever use one for would be to cut smaller branches from my other trees, I decided upon this small electric Poulan.  I like it a lot.  Except for adding oil, it came basically ready to use, is easy to handle, and cut that old tree up with ease.

View from the Suburbs: Bits ‘n Pieces

This little dab of beans came from tonight's first picking. A couple of sad radishes came along for the ride.

The rain these last couple of days has helped all the plants in my little kitchen garden, those in the pots and beds, and, more than any others, the grass.

So the meager, little first picking of beans this evening seems just as interesting as most of the news items on TV, though there are a few things that have happened for which I have two cents:

British Petroleum:  They’ve promoted the brand BP rather than British Petroleum for a long time here in Houston.  On billboards and in other advertising, they’ve seemed to want to hide their real identity and appear to the consumer to be an American company.   After the explosion at their Texas City plant, British Petroleum came across as a denier, just like now with the gulf well, not wanting to own up to all the safety problems.  That British Petroleum is directly involved in another major catastrophe is not a big surprise.

Ted Haggard:  He’s started a new church in Colorado Springs.  Why?  He’s the type of person that wants to have the stage lights on him, which is really what many of these televangelists want . . . and, of course, the big money.  This guy is really just kind of creepy.  I’ve said it before:  nobody starts experimenting with gay sex–if they’re straight (or vice versa) in their 50s.  I’m betting that even after all the hoopla about his “change”, Haggard is starting a church back in Colorado Springs because it’s a place he’s comfortable in and he’ll be in a situation that he’s comfortable in.  It’s not that much different than getting a job as a mechanic for a Ford dealership after you’ve worked in a similar position for a Chevy dealer for 20 years.  I don’t doubt that in the not too distant future (if it’s still not occurring), there’ll be some “prayer time” with some guys, like Mike Jones, the male prostitute that he was seeing for three years.  (Three years?  That’s a relationship, isn’t it?)

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell:  A lot of promises were made by candidate Obama, and he and the Democrats got a lot of both verbal and monetary support because of those promises.  DADT has almost  80% support from the American public, yet this administration is hemming and hawing about getting this dinosaur repealed.  I know that gay people are not the only ones that are disappointed after electing a president and a congress that supported him.  Health care reform is another example.  The sad thing is this administration with the majority in Congress has the opportunity to make some much needed changes, but for quite awhile now they’ve all just looked like woosies.

Memorial Day: Enjoy It But Don’t Forget What It Means

Memorial Day falls at a time when I can never get more than just the three days off from work, so although I’d like to go back to Kansas and my little hometown of Dorrance every year, the short time and the chunk of change I have to cough up for the airfare just doesn’t make that feasible.  (I’ve written about why Memorial Day is important to me before.)  This year I’m going to enjoy the still-newness of living in my house, putter in my yard and garden, and take advantage of some discount coupons to do some shopping.  I hope whatever you’re doing this weekend that you’ll take a few moments to remember those who have passed on, whether Veterans or not.

It’s still early on this Saturday morning, but though I was sure I would want to climb back into bed after taking Annie out even before six, I I was lured by the garden and other things I can do, having the luxury of three days before me.

With the sun a bit more up, I checked out the garden more closely and see that I will be able to pick my first beans in just a couple of days.  Altough all the plants in the garden look lush and full, I’m afraid that the poor soil keeps them from producing as many and as big of vegetables as they might if the soil were better.  This first year is a learning experience, and with the compost and more good soil, I’m sure next year’s crop will be better, but I don’t know if it can be any more fun!

This little garden seems to grow and change week by week. (5-29-10)

There are lots of blossoms. How many will become beans is a question.

This ruellia (ruellia elegans) was given to me by a friend and just keeps blooming and blooming. (And, yes, the grass will get mowed this weekend.)

View from the Suburbs: “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, How Does Your Garden Grow” After the Rains Came Through? Check Out the Rainfall Amounts and Other Houston Weather

 

The beans were complaining after the rain, but the kitschy chickens didn't even squawk. (5-15-10)

During my drive home last evening, the dark clouds only got more ominous on my Friday evening drive to the northwest.  I was hoping to at least pick up my mail and get Annie outside before the rain started, but the first drops started coming down with a couple of miles still to go.  There were just sprinkles coming down when I finally got into the house, but the thunder was already going and Annie had to be coaxed to go out evening after waiting so many hours.

A garden and a rain guage go together like apple pie and ice cream!

The heavy rain started falling around six o’clock, and half of the 2.60 inches of rain (now almost 3 inches including the slower rain that fell from about 10 AM to 2 PM today) that my rain guage shows (near S.H. 529 and Huffmeister) fell within the first hour.  (I headed out to check between showers.)  The amounts seemed to vary quite a bit across the county from about a half inch to almost 5 inches.  (Take a look at the Harris County HS & EM Rainfall Map via the link on this blog’s right sidebar.  It’s a cool reference map, and updates quickly even as the rain is falling.)

The garden was in somewhat of a disarray after so much rain pouring down heavily in a short period; however, nothing was really damaged that much.  Most of the beans, which had been growing tall and gangly, had been pushed over and some of the leaves were matted into the muddy soil.  A couple of the tomato plants also had to be righted again and restaked, but for the most part, everything looked happy to have real rainwater after nearly a month with nothing but the stuff from the hose.

Though the garden is small and the soil not the best, I’ve already picked a few radishes, some green onions, and yesterday morning, the first tomato, which is from a plant that I had stuck into a container, before I had even thought about actually having a garden plot.

It looks as if the heavy rains might not be over with a 70% chance for rain today (Saturday, May 15th) along with a flood watch and some rain predicted every day for awhile.  Here’s the forecast for our neck of the woods (You just gotta love weather lingo!):

Friday, May 21st: Partly sunny, with a high near 90. South wind between 5 and 10 mph.

Friday Night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 74. South wind between 5 and 15 mph.

Saturday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 90. South southeast wind between 5 and 15 mph.

Saturday Night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 75.

Sunday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 90.

Sunday Night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 73.

Monday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 90.

Monday Night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 70.

Gardening: Food for the Soul–and Hopefully for the Body

This rough patch that was probably a dog run before is starting to look like a garden! I don't know if old smells still linger, but Annie likes the garden as much as I do.

This morning I spent the good part of another vacation day gardening.  Actually, about four hours straight after getting up with Annie.  I finished moving pavers, then dug up the rest of my garden plot, raked in some bags of soil, and finally planted the space to every inch of its life.

Yesterday I bought one more tomato plant–some kind of heirloom–two containers of okra sprouts, and several packets of beans and flower seeds.  This morning I set in the plants and planted both green and yellow beans.  I added some of the flower seeds in with the veggies, but most I put in the remaining space in my side flower bed.  If everything grows well, then I’ve over-planted, but I’m not sure of anything because the space crowded in behind my garage and the back fence doesn’t have the best of soil.

Gardening itself has to be food for the soul.  There’s plenty of time to think while the hands are busy.  Although it’s been many years since I’ve had a vegetable garden, there’s no question about how to do it.  How deep to plant the different seeds, how to make the little trenches in which to plant the beans, it’s all second nature to me.  What’s amazing is how much pleasure I get out of it.  I had to laugh at myself, enjoying my time in the garden today, compared with the drudgery I had felt as a kid hoeing a row of potatoes.  In some ways, I feel like this little garden has almost taken me full circle, back to the days of growing up on the farm, when I learned all the tasks involved with taking care of a garden, but not liking them all that much, and here I am now, getting so much enjoyment doing what I learned as a kid.

Part of my garden looks good already; onions are growing despite being so close to the fence.  Some of the radishes look like it won’t be long before I can pull a couple, and the two sunflowers are stretching and straightening, trying to get more acquainted with their namesake.  Everything else is moving at a bit slower pace, but I hardly give them much chance, checking at least twice a day, and more now that I’m on vacation.  I realized, though, that everything has grown quite a bit when I compare how my garden looks today with just three weeks ago (see the photo further down the page).