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.

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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!

Even Without Much Rain, Delicious Veggies Coming from the Garden

Another evening's garden pickings: lettuce, peas, turnips, and a few green onions.

Another evening’s garden pickings: lettuce, peas, turnips, and a few green onions.

On this last day of the month, another front came through this afternoon bringing in a cool spring wind from the north, but March is hardly “going out like a lion.”  Though we’ve had other storms come through, not much precipitation has come with the wind.

Despite the lack of much rain, the little garden behind the garage has been producing fresh vegetables for supper.  The turnips, especially, have been delicious, whether raw or cooked.

The beans I’ve planted haven’t come in very well, and i don’t know whether I will fill in with more.  In reality, fresh, store-bought beans taste pretty good, and there’s no bending over to pick them.

Green peas and turnips sautéed with some bits of green onion, all fresh from the garden, make for a delicious veggie dish for supper.

Green peas and turnips sautéed with some bits of green onion, all fresh from the garden, make for a delicious veggie dish for supper.

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.