Sunday Sunshine Makes for a Good Day To Spend Time Puttering in the Garden

These are some of the vegetables planted in November; in comparison to the lush growth of the turnip leaves, the carrots are coming up sparsely.

These are some of the vegetables planted in November; in comparison to the lush growth of the turnip leaves, the carrots are coming up sparsely.

Yesterday was the perfect day to be outside; even with the breeze, the sunshine warmed up my face from the cooler air inside the house.  I set about trying to clean and organize  my veggie garden out back of the garage.

The three short rows of turnips are spreading out their thick leaves, and I think I might have glimpsed a bit of white root that is starting to be a turnip.

After last year’s poor showing, I was against planting English peas again, but somehow I did it, and the spindly plants are trying to pull themselves up the trellises by their tendrils, despite their lack of a real affinity for climbing (unlike the pole beans, who really get it).   The peas’ real talent comes in the sweet white blooms they produce.  Even so, when the time arrives, I can never pick enough pods of the little green balls to get more than a handful or two to throw into some soup.   I couldn’t imagine trying to grow enough of these fragile plants to collect enough to fill a bowl for a family meal.

Back in November when I put in the turnips and peas, I also planted a mix of lettuce, Texas onions (which are supposed to make bulbs, and not just get to the scallion stage before the heat burns them up). and carrots.  These are all doing their best although they have an ongoing contest with the ever-eager chickweed, which wants to grow anywheere it can in early spring.  I tried to help out the young vegetable by getting on the gloves and pulling out the chickweed and occasional nasty nettle, but it wasn’t an easy task because in the midst of all the vegetable plants and weeds are at least 30 volunteer tomato plants, which have sprung from the compost I had tilled into the soil.  Because a number of the tomatoes I had last year were heirlooms and so tasty, I’m leaving some of the bigger ones in the ground where they are and digging up and temporarily potting others to pass along to friends.  The remaining ones will have to be either pulled up with the chickweed or hoed under.

These volunteer tomato plants are trying to get acclimated to pots after being plucked  from their crowded space in the garden.

These volunteer tomato plants are trying to get acclimated to pots after being plucked from their crowded space in the garden.

My potting table at the back door is not so convenient to the garden itself but is just the right place to be the landing place for sprinklers, empty pots, and any other outside necessity.  Right now, the table is also crowded with a couple of pots as an experiment of container lettuce, a number of the tomato orphans from the garden, and the starting homes flowers that I hope will grow from the seeds given to me for Christmas that came from my niece and nephew’s Kansas garden.  We’ll see which can take this southeast Texas humidity.

When I arrived home from work this evening, the plants and flowers all over the entire yard and garden stood perky and were still glistening from the .30 inches of rain that had fallen in the late afternoon.  Like other rains  over the past few weeks , the amount of rainfall was small but is enough to keep the ground moist.

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Early Days of Spring–When You Can Say, “This is what it’s all about.”

Homemade meatloaf, scalloped potatoes, and a salad with lettuce, arugula, and green onion straight from the garden. Can you beat this for Sunday lunch?

Today is one of those nearly perfect days that we get here in southeast Texas, usually in early spring.  The blue sky is filled with puffy clouds that keep the temperature mild as they intersperse shade onto the St. Augustine grass of the back yard.  With all the good rains we’ve had, the vegetable garden, the flowers in the pots and beds, and lawn are all trying their hardest to grow, even though the chickweed is fighting to outdo them.

After attempting to thwart some of the chickweed’s successes, I came back into the house and put together one of those old Sunday favorite meals:  meatloaf and scalloped potatoes.  I should have invited someone to share it all with, but I hadn’t thought far enough in advance to do that.  When it was time to eat,  I went back to the garden and cut some lettuce, arugula, and a green onion to go into a salad.  I’ll make lunches to take to work with all the leftover meatloaf and potatoes;  Marie Callender would be jealous.

Now that I’ve found all the various documents, this might be the day to set myself to doing my taxes.  Notice that I did say “might.”  (I hope you enjoy the tour that follows.)

Peas, lettuce, arugula, green onion, pole beans fill this end of my little garden behind the garage. At the other end are about 10 tomato plants and a holdover from last year, a hot Italian pepper. On the sunny side of the garage I have four more tomatoes in containers. The dog is not planted, but does like to be in photos.

The peas that I planted in mid-January are just starting to produce.

This ruellia and wandering jew require little care but add a lot of color to a corner of the patio.

My lack of patience is to blame for there not being a buzzing honey bee looking for nectar in this blossom of a large salvia that I planted last year and which withstood the drought.

This burst of color comes from a cleome that seeded itself right at the edge of the patio.

Getting In Some Early Gardening with the Help of a New Electric Cultivator

Planted 2 weeks ago, these pea sprouts are about 4 inches tall.

Again it’s garden time!  I know it’s still January, but last year I planted on the 1st, but this year I didn’t get seeds for some leafy greens into the ground until the 15th.  In addition, to various kinds of lettuce,  I also planted spinach and peas for the first time.  The rows of the little sprouts have aleady appeared; in fact, the peas are now about 3-4 inches high.  The 2.75 inches of rain that fell may have washed some of the lettuce and spinach seeds around, but according to national figures, we’re still not out of the drought yet, so whatever rain comes down is needed.

This year I used one of my gift cards to help purchase a roto-tiller.  For quite some time, I had been eyeing a Troy-Bilt Electric Cultivator at Lowe’s  (Model TB154).  After I got it home, the minimal assembly was a no-brainer.  Very similar to my electric lawn mower, there were just two, hand-grip bolts, which attach the upper part of the handle to the rest of the tiller. 

Once I got the cord connected and the tiller into the garden, it didn’t take long to get my small garden plot well-tilled.  Even though I had done quite a bit of soil amending last year, there is still so much clay, that turning over the dirt with a shovel and then working it

Attach the handle with these hand-grip bolts, and the tiller is fully assembled.

with a rake still didn’t break up the soil satisfactorily.  Using this cultivator really got the soil worked up to a very good depth.  For a smaller machine, and an electric to boot, the Troy-Bilt154 is surprisingly powerful.  For a first-time tiller user, there was about a 5-minute learning curve, because the machine really wants to get into the dirt and do its job.  Just because this cultivator is lightweight doesn’t mean garden-tilling with it is something that your 11-year-old kid should be doing!

I paid $199; it had been on sale for about $20 less before Christmas.  Like the rest of my outside power tools, this tiller is electric.  Check out more extensive reviews at Lowe’s.

OK, so this is just the side of the box, but I didn't take any photos out of the cultivator out in the garden, and I'm not pulling it out from it's corner in the garage just to get a pic.

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.