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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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.

Summertime and the Feelin’ Is . . .

Tomatoes from my garden–I had quite a variety of shapes and sizes. The dark red one on the right is a Cherokee Purple, and they are some of the most delicious tomatoes I’ve tasted in a long time. There are not that many tomatoes left on the vines, though this recent bout of rain and cooler weather may help for more to set on. If the hot temperatures come back, the tomatoe season may be over.

It’s summer, and I definitely haven’t been blogging much.  I can find many excuses:

  • Working outside more
  • Canning veggies and barbequeing
  • Using the netbook while watching TV (and difficult to blog on netbook)
  • Just being lazy with all this rain
  • Reading on the Nook I recently got (no one can say I get in on new technology too early)

I’m definitely missing writing, but I guess other things have just gotten more emphasis as of late.  These photos show a bit of what’s been going on.

 

Tomatoes and pickled beans–These are just some of the jars of vegetables that I’ve canned this some from what’s come from my garden. Pickled beans are a family tradition. From the fresh tomatoes, I’ve canned also canned hot salsa and tomato sauce.

My backyard one Saturday morning–The hose is evidence that this is before all the rain started. It’s a peaceful place to enjoy coffee and try to read something on the new Nook. I say “try” because there are too many plants to tend or better yet just sit and enjoy the morning.

Yesterday’s rain–The rain guage showed 2.40 inches yesterday. With what has come down today, I estimate between 8 and 10 inches has fallen at my place in northwest Harris County since noontime this past Sunday.

 

The First Ripe Tomatoes Do Make for a Good Monday

There's no better find than the first tomatoes of the spring!

As Mondays go, this one wasn’t all that bad.  Work was nothing other than ordinary, even for the first day of the work week.  Getting home was probably the worst part of the whole day, with a number of slow spots on my route.  I take most longer-than-usual commutes pretty much in stride.  I do like my SiriusXM radio, and though I normally stick with OutQ’s Derek & Romaine Show, I don’t mind hittin’ Channel 51 for some electronic dance music, when the talk radio goes astray.  Why the last three miles of my tree-lined suburban drive got into bumper-to-bumper mode tonight, I have no idea, but the satellite radio and knowing that I was inching nearer to my home got me through it.

With the car in the garage and the dog properly picked up and hugged, I headed out to check on the garden, just to see what effect last evening’s soaking from the sprinkler might have had.  First glimpse showed peeking sprouts of the yellow beans that I had planted about eight days ago.  Other plants seemed to have stretched a few more inches.  When I headed around the corner to check on the four tomato plants in containers, I spied a bit of red among the velvety green leaves.  Though I knew that there were already cherry tomatoes on that plant, I had no idea that some would be ripe before the end of March!  Yet, there they were: one nearly ripe and another already turning yellow.    There are other small ones on that same plant, and other plants have blooms, but I know that it will be awhile before I can stop hitting the produce section at the supermarket for tomatoes for salads.

Another Weekend of Rainy Weather, But Really, Who Can Complain?

Because this pot retains so much rain water, the flowers on this kalanchoe have turned a more piercing red than usual and the leaves and stems are also turning red.

Am I the only one who thinks that time change days frequently have some kind of inclement weather that helps add to the confusion?  I woke up to light pings of rain drops hitting the window.  When I could no longer ignore Annie’s staring at me from only a few inches away from my face, I got up to take her out. 

By this time, the shower had just about ended.  Slogging through the wet grass, I found .40 of rain in the gauge to add to the 2.60, which had accumulated from Friday afternoon through Saturday.  After the long drought of last summer and fall, a rainy weekend is still something to enjoy.

All the plants–trees, grass, garden vegetables, and, for sure, the weeds–are making up for lost time.  The pine trees in my neighborhood are thick with baby cones.  The verbena in my south bed are lush with purple and pale blue blossoms. 

When it comes to my little garden, I’m sure I’ve over-planted this year, because with all this good moisture, every little sprout wants to grow.  The peas are climbing the menagerie of trellises and string I’ve put up.  The lettuce, though a bit trampled by the rain will soon be ready for a first cutting.  Pole beans are popping out of the ground and stretching up.  Then there are the tomatoes.  I’ve set in more than any other year.  If all of them produce, I may have to start my own salsa company!

With all this gray weather, yesterday was a good day to cook and warm up the house.  I found a good buy on a pork roast, which I braised in the skillet and then set into a baking dish loaded with cabbage, potatoes, celery, onions, carrots, and a few spicy peppers (these last from my garden–planted last year).  In the skillet with the meat bits left from the braising, I reduced a pint of orange juice, which I then poured over the meat and veggies, before putting them into the oven to roast.  I have to say, the end result was enough to raise my eyebrows–great food for a gray weekend.

Sunday in Suburbia: Strings for Peas and a Hot Plate of Grub To Get the Morning Goin’

String lines to give the tender pea plants something to grab onto to keep them up out of the wet soil.

As gray and cold as it is outside, one can almost believe the prediction Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction that spring won’t come for another six weeks.  Despite the mid-40s temperature, I put the coffee on and went outside to tend to a much-needed task in the garden–putting up some string lines for the peas to climb on.  This year is my first to try peas, and I’ve found that the stems of pea plants don’t have the strength that beans have.  Consequently, after the rains of the last several days, most of the plants were flattened onto–thankfully, not into–the ground.  Still in my red plaid flannel pants and a hooded sweatshirt (yeah, I don’t say “hoodie”), I rounded up some heavy string, my garden chickens, and a few mini-trellises and rigged up some support for the plants, which already have tendrils ready to grab on.

Back inside the coffee was ready.  To help warm up, I decided to make something substantial.  My weekend breakfasts come in one of two types; the quicker is usually coffee with frozen waffles with a slathering of peanut butter or jelly.  On a cool, lazy morning–like this one–I get out the 6-inch cast iron skillet.  Sometimes, I might make an omelet, but usually, I saute some chunks of veggies–onion, a small pepper from the garden, celery, or whatever I have.  Sometimes that might be it.  However, this morning I had real good stuff in the fridge:  about a third of a box of french fries from a fast food run and tasty Kansas smoked sausage that had come back with me at Christmas.  When all these were browned and hot, over the top came a couple of beaten eggs that got cooked slowly, but ended up crisp on the bottom and easily flipped over to cook just a bit more.   Once on the plate, I added a hefty spoonful of homemade chili sauce, given to me for Christmas.  (If I haven’t made your mouth water just a little, you ain’t alive.  This is my version of migas, a Mexican dish that uses crispy pieces of tortillas in the eggs.  I think mine with the leftoever french fries are pretty good too!)

Standing water from recent rains has caused some of Bear Creek Park's roads and picnic areas to be closed.

There’s still no sun out.  Since Christmas, it feels like we’re back in the groove of having more typical Houston weather.  I’ve started checking a site that shows the severity of the drought across Texas and the U.S.  Over the past week, my rain gauge has collected about 2.5 inches of rain, a lot of which came down early yesterday.  If the ditches, empty lot, and open fields are any indication, maybe the drought here in southeast Texas has been broken.  I hope that all the trees are getting a good, healthy drink.  Too many others didn’t make it through last year’s long hot summer and fall.

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.