Growing Tomato Plants and Monarch Cocoon Evidence of Advent of Spring

The tomato plants had to be covered a couple of times since being planted in February to protect from possible frosts, but they've shot up and have blooms and at least one small tomato.  They share the small space with turnips, radishes, lettuce, beets, onions and carrots.

The tomato plants had to be covered a couple of times since being planted in February to protect from possible frosts, but they’ve shot up and have blooms and at least one small tomato. They share the small space with turnips, radishes, lettuce, beets, onions and carrots.

First Tomato 2015Yesterday the calendar marked spring’s first official day.  Despite longer periods of cold weather throughout the winter months than is usually experienced here in northwest Harris County, evidence of spring is busting out everywhere in the yard.   The big oak tree that shades the house in the summer is dirtying up the patio with its series of nasty droppings of “really-I-don’t-know-what” along with last year’s leaves that were still trying to hand on after a couple of late frosts.  Recent rains with a few days of sunshine have perked up the grass and all of the plants already growing and others are piping up throughout the ground.

Sun-kissed day lilies add a spot of early color to the yard.

Sun-kissed day lilies add a spot of early color to the yard.

The milkweed plants in the sunny south flour bed made it through the cold days, but now their leaves are being devoured by a hoard of monarch caterpillars.

The milkweed plants in the sunny south flour bed made it through the cold days, but now their leaves are being devoured by a hoard of monarch caterpillars.

One of the caterpillars has already made its cocoon on the side of the garage.

One of the caterpillars has already made its cocoon on the side of the garage.


Early in the Year But Plants and Seeds Are in the Ground

Planted on February 9th, these small tomato plants have a long way to go before they begin producing, but they seem happy to be in the ground and out of their small containers.

Planted on February 9th, these small tomato plants have a long way to go before they begin producing, but they seem happy to be in the ground and out of their small containers.

This is my sixth year of living in my house, and one of the reasons that I wanted a home with a yard was to have a vegetable garden.  The overall yard space isn’t so large here, but I’ve made a space behind the garage for a small plot, and every year I’ve planted tomatoes and some other veggies.

I had thought about not putting in a garden this year and had delayed tilling up the plot.  However, one day this past week, I had some extra time and decided to get out the tiller, spread the compost that had been brewing, and dug up the garden space.  I hadn’t really planned to  plant anything that day, but with the sun so warm I dredged a few rows and dropped in carrot and beet seeds.  Later, I went to Lowe’s in search of some other items, but wouldn’t you know it, out in front wwe racks of vegetable plants, and I couldn’t resist looking at the tomato plants.  I ended up getting seven: a grape tomato that wouldn’t stop producing last year, three hybrids, and three Purple Cherokees, which are one of the tastiest tomatoes.  I don’t always get good results from the heirloom tomatoes, but if they produce, they are worth the effort.

Here's hoping this small Purple Cherokee tomato plant will produce some tasty fruit in a few months.

Here’s hoping this small Purple Cherokee tomato plant will produce some tasty fruit in a few months.

I also got turnip and radish seeds, and even though, the sun was starting to set, I got the tomato plants set into the ground, putting bone meal and manure down into the holes first.  There was still enough room in the little garden, so I added several rows of turnips and one of radishes.

February is a good time here to put in the root vegetables, but many think it’s too early for tomatoes.  I’ll take my chances by putting them in early.  Once it gets hot here, the tomatoes may bloom, but they stop bearing.  If, by chance, the weatherman predicts a late frost, I’ll cover up the tomato plants.  We’ve had a few nights below 32, but those temps haven’t done much to the flower beds or potted plants.

Anyway, having the photos here makes a way to keep a record and we’ll see how the garden grows!

Now That April Fool’s Day Has Passed, It’s Time To See How the Garden Is Growing

Annie is always ready to assistant in checking out how the garden is growing. (4-2-11)

When it becomes garden time, this blog could be one of the most boring in all of the blogosphere; however, my little patch helps keep me on an even keel, so I like to add a pic here and there just as a record for myself of what I planted when and how things are growing.

It’s just been about 2 weeks since I put in the last photo, but the entire plot looks so much greener.  The lettuce is still going gangbusters, and most of the beans have started on their second set of leaves.  I didn’t over-plant this year, so I’ve had to go back and drop in a seed or two in places where the originals didn’t sprout.  I have a total of 7 tomato plants and 4 sweet peppers, not counting the 1 volunteer tomato that I discovered a couple days ago; it probably came from the compost that I added last winter.

I need to get in and hoe out the chickweed and elm tree sprouts that would cover the ground if it weren’t for the vegetable plants; however, unfortunately–or fortunately–we have had enough odd showers to keep the garden soil a bit too moist for that task.

The neighbors across the street are having a garage sale, which they started preparing for before 6 AM.  Of course, Annie couldn’t stay settled with the commotion, so we’ve been up since that time; quite early to get up on a Saturday, but I’ve gotten the back patio swept of most of the remaining oak leaves and the nasty pollen crap that they put out in the spring.  I love my shady oak tree, but keeping the patio clean is an almost never-ending story.  Oh well, just like my garden, the patio with its shade-covered pergola is one of my favorite parts of my house.

OK, yes, it’s Saturday, and now 10 AM; it’s time for a shower and out to take care of any number of errands.  Tomatoe cages, for one.  Definitely need more tomato cages.

Panettone, Plants, and Politics: Enough Alliteration for a Drizzly Day

It’s one of those luxurious Sunday mornings, luxurious but lazy.  Outside it’s a grey, drizzly day, but because tomorrow is a holiday, I’m not feeling the pressure to get things done for the work week ahead.

Two airy loaves of panettone, ready to go into the oven.

Even so, I’ve gotten a lot accomplished already.  I’ve put together panettone dough and have the oven getting heated up so that by the time I get this written, I can go down to the kitchen and put the dough in the pans.  I haven’t made panettone since about this time last year, but I know no one else who makes it, and I’ve made enough adjustments to the recipe (check out my recipe) I originally got from the Joy of Cooking to make this one mine.  I think there will be enough for two loaves:  a big one that I can take to work to share in the break room and a smaller one that I can grab a slice for breakfast on the road or make super-delish French toast next weekend.

Unharmed by the low temperatures earlier in the week, this tomato plant seems to be enjoying the Sunday drizzle.

I’ve also brought in all the sheets that I used to cover potted plants and my tomatoes in the garden.  Though the thermometer read 25° F. one morning when I got up with Annie, most of my plants came out unscathed.  Apparently, the low temperatures didn’t stay long enough to do much damage.  The tomatoes that I set in in

Tiny, new lettuce sprouts peeking through the cool January soil.

January (Can you deal with two prepositions in a row?) seem none the worse for wear, and by the looks, there may be a tomato or two for the plate in a few weeks.  I didn’t cover the pepper plants, so they look somewhat peaked from the cold, but I want to replace them with different varieties in the spring anyway.

It was also a good morning to grind the beans for fresh coffee.  I don’t drink coffee on an every-day basis, but I like a cup from Starbuck’s or freshly brewed at home for a treat.  I’m on my second cup now, and I definitely feel the caffeine.  I doubt whether I’ll take a Sunday afternoon nap today.  In addition to the coffee, I made a nice two-egg omelette filled with fresh pico de gallo–store-bought, but still full of fresh veggie taste.  (I noticed that when I was back home for the holidays that I am not the only one in my family that says “store-boughten” as opposed to the grammatically-correct “store-bought”.  I love the sound of colloquial English and think that “computer-ese” with all its LOLs and other abbreviation is making language much less expressive and more robotic.)

On a different note this pre-MLK Day Sunday, I can’t help but mention (I have to say “mention” or someone may think I’m being vitriolic) how these supposedly fiscally conservative Republicans who got elected in November are really having problems and don’t really seem all that fiscally conservative, let alone, fiscally adept. 

Here in Texas, Rick Perry, who has been governor for 10 years and campaigned on his financial expertise at balancing the budget before last November’s elections, now finds himself facing a $27 billion shortfall for the state.  In my old home state of Kansas, another supposedly fiscal conservative, newly-elected Governor Sam Brownback’s budget is bigger than that of the current one, which was created while Democrats were in the governor’s seat.  According to the Wichita newspaper,  Brownback “proposal increased spending from the state general fund to $6.1 billion in fiscal year 2012, which begins July 1, from $5.7 billion in the current budget.”   In Perry’s case, he has been in the governor’s office since 2000, coming into the position after George W. Bush was elected President.  The problems in the state budget can’t be blamed on Democrats because the legislature is also heavily Republican.  In Kansas, while the previous governor was a Democrat, the legislature has been controlled by Republicans for decades, perhaps since the founding of the state in 1861 (I’ll have to check my history books.)  In both states, the legislatures must approve the states’ budgets. 

Whether Republican or Democrat, these days we really need some people in office in our state that have some business sense, and are fiscally adept.  Just saying you are fiscally conservative doesn’t really make a state more fiscally sound.

Mmmm.  Now the smell of baking panettone is wafting up my stairway.  I’d better go check on those goodies!

And here they are! Don't they look tempting right out of the oven?

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: “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.

Some People Have Kitchen Gardens, Mine Is a “Kitschy” One

Kitschy Garden, May 8, 2010

The saying is, “A watched pot never boils.”  For me, that “watched pot” is my little garden plot, which has become one of the joys of owning my first home.  (It’s hard to believe it, but next Saturday makes six months that I have actually been living here.)

Every morning when I let Annie out, I take a few minutes just savor all of the green plants; some mornings there’s a surprise or two, like the two butter-golden blossoms on one the squash plants.  In the evenings, there’s more time to water and hoe a bit.  The garden is a small one, so almost every plant gets scrutinized quite often; hence, it seems as if nothing is growing very much.  I know it is, and even more proof is in the photos I’ve taken, like the one from my post from April 21st, which I realize wasn’t that long ago.  I had just planted the beans a couple days before that, and now I can see that soon they will have blossoms.  The first tomato plant that I set in now has five little tomatoes!

When there was no more space to plant in the garden, I couldn’t stop with the attention.  First came a painted tin chicken and some found drapery rods, which I’ve stuck in to help prop up the growing tomato plants.  Then I added a rooster hanger for a plant.  Take a close look at the picture, and you’ll find a birdhouse, another chicken, a trellis for the cucumber vine, and, definitely, the over-the-top kitsch de résistance, a whirligig with a cat catching a fish on a line from its tail.  Being protected on three sides by the fence and the garage,  I’m not sure how much whirling is going to happen with that metal gadget.

For sheer beauty, the Christmas cactus can hold its own against any other flower.

Besides all the action in the garden, the plants on the patio are slowly beginning to recover from move from the apartment and the numerous smaller moves into and out of the garage during the colder than normal winter.  The Christmas cactuses had been in house, though, until the cold was for sure over.   Unlike last year, when a few blooms kept coming one at a time long after Christmas was over, this year by mid-January, they all seemed finished with their winter pageantry.  Then after they had been out on the patio for about a month and a half, I noticed three small buds on the plant that gets bright red blooms.  After a run-in with the garden hose, which resulted in a number of broken limbs (Happily, this is a great way to increase the number of Christmas cactus plants.  Someone will be the lucky recipient of the already growing cactus.), there were just two buds.  One opened during one of the 90+ days of this past week.  However, the last one waited until today, a much milder, overcast Saturday, when I could enjoy, what I expect is this plant’s last gasp at blossoming until next winter.

Even if you don’t have a green thumb, you can grow Christmas cactuses.  They don’t expect a lot from you, but when their time comes in the winter, they will more than reward you for the care you’ve given them.

View from the Suburbs: More Plants and a Tricky Fountain

The now-working fountain with the pot of amarylis that I've had for more than 15 years. I used to call them "Easter Lilies" because invariably they were in bloom on Easter. This year because of the colder winter, or perhaps the move, they are two weeks late.

My timing was good this weekend.  I found more plants, or perhaps, they found me.  I went looking for a barbeque grill, but ended up with both vegetable and bedding plants.  I added 3 more tomato plants and 4 pepper plants to my sandy plot.  I need to learn more names of flowering plants, but, anyway, three more of various types and colors came home with me yesterday.

This morning a bit after 7, Annie and I headed out for her morning abolutions.  Upon checking on vegetable plot, rather than head back in for more of a snooze, I grabbed the shovel out from the garage and started digging the sand and clay.  Along with plants, I had bough a huge back of good soil and added most of that to holes before setting in the new tomato and pepper plants.  Green peppers aren’t my favorite, so I had decided on a Santa Fe, a mild jalapeño, and another one.  My garden plot is going to be a work in progress for some time.  The previous owners had covered up half of the area with pavers; they must have had a reason, but if I had put my garden there, I’d have got the grass to growing.

So relocating part of the pavers became part of the task, I’d decided to take on, still in my blue fleece pull-on pants and flip-flops.  It’s still cool enough most mornings that I haven’t given up my fleece pants for jogging shorts.

It didn’t take much longer to set in the three flowering plants into the bed at the side of the house.

I’d made an appointment to get my haircut, so I was out on the rode by 10:30 when the first drops of rain started.  The spits continued all down the road.  The heavy downpour started on my way back home.  There was a weird surprise for me when I came out of my garage:  the fountain, which I had thought wasn’t working after the cold winter, was working.  It has an electric pump and somehow I had left the switch on, when I was doing everything and anything a couple of weeks ago to see if it would work.

I mean I don’t even like this fountain, but it’s there, right?  In the end, what I guess had happened was the pump had primed itself because of the rain water going down into it.  Really, I don’t know what is the difference because I had filled it after cleaning it two weeks ago, and nothing had happened.  Anyway, now it is going.

All just a part of the adventure of owning my first house.

As an added note, out here near 529 and Highway 6, we had about 1.5 inches of rain; my soaked backyard looks like we had even more right here.  This will help my newly set plants get a better start, and give the trees and grass a well-needed drink.