Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fall Garden

Deciding what to plant is always very difficult for me.  I have a limited number of beds and I always struggle with what to put in them.  In the end, I always go with what we (wonderful husband and I) love to eat most.

This fall I planted a mix of seeds and seedling transplants.

Tomatoes, a local variety, called Bin 444, an indeterminate hybrid that does very well in the Texas heat.
Broccoli, Green Magic; again this is a variety that does well in our climate
Cabbage, green - love this stuff
Brussels Sprouts - I planted these last fall and the beetles decimated them.  I'll try again this year and keep a much closer eye on them and will use Greenlight BT worm killer on a regular basis.

Baby green onions
Arugula (we'll see if this takes the Texas heat)
Beets (both red and gold)

And I still have one bed that is empty and one full of lovely, sweet peppers.  With the empty bed, I'll likely due some succession planting in a few weeks of more beets, carrots and spinach.

So, my fall garden is in and I am very happy :)  And as you know, I will keep you posted on my trials and tribulations.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Start of Fall Planting - Prepping Garden Beds

OK...the fence is built...now comes the real work, reconditioning the soil in all my beds so I can plant my fall garden.  Mind you, it's 103 degrees outside and I have to haul 15, 40 pound bags of compost around.  Hardly a task to get excited about.  But my husband and I have a couple of family events coming up that will take us out of town next week, and I *really* want to have the beds ready and seeds/seedlings planted before we leave.  So I have to suck it up and get to work...

I started very early this past Wednesday morning (the sun was barely up) and dumped three bags of compost in each of five beds.  The 6th bed is still producing beautiful peppers so I won't do anything with that bed just yet. 

Actually, the first thing I did was rake all the old mulch off the top of each bed and scatter it over the ground.  This mulch has served its purpose and it's time to replace it with fresh mulch. 

Then I dumped 3 bags of LadyBug Revitalizer Compost into each bed and tilled it in well.  That was an enormous amount of work and when I was done, I quit for the day.  I was out in the garden for about 4 1/2 hours and in this heat, that's enough.

And Friday morning, I finished the job.  I replaced all the soaker hoses in every one of my garden beds.  They (the soaker hoses) simply don't last very long.  The hot Texas sun just eats them up and if they last one season (summer or fall), I consider myself lucky.

After the soaker hoses were laid, I put 2 bags of mulch in each bed, spread it out and tada...done!

I tried a new mulch for my beds this fall.  It's made by LadyBug, a company in Austin that specializes in natural and organic products.  I love their stuff.  The mulch is called Sylvan Formula and it looks (and smells) amazing...like a forest!  It contains hardwood mulch, two kinds of composts, humate, molasses and cornmeal, among other things.  It sure was a lot easier dumping only 10 bags of mulch as opposed to hauling 90 wheelbarrels full from my cedar bark mulch pile!  Look at this beautiful stuff!

And tomorrow brings the fun stuff...I plant :)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

New Garden Fence

It's done! Yep...my new garden fence is built and I couldn't be happier :)  Check...it...out...

It's 6' high, built with 8' cedar posts (2' cemented in the ground), with no climb fence all around, a steel bar anchoring the fencing between the posts, a double tiered, barbed tension wire all along the bottom to keep little critters out, and a beautiful hand built cedar gate.  I love it!  Now I can plant my fall garden with peace of mind. 


The gate is beautiful and it smells wonderful...like a cedar chest!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Last of the Heirloom Tomatoes

Yea...I finally pulled them.  It was time.  We were in Colorado for 5 days and when we got back, it was clear to me that the heirlooms were done.  So I went to the garden with bucket in hand and collected all the ripe and half-ripe tomatoes off the vines.

OK...so...next question...what to do with them?  Well, my first thought was (obviously) tomato sauce.  So this afternoon, that's what I did...I made a killer tomato sauce. Since most of the tomatoes I picked, Kellogg Breakfast Beefsteak and Hillbilly Potato Leaf and some Rutgers Red, are yellow/orange, this sauce has a very unusual color.  But it's still delicious!

It's a pretty easy, basic recipe.

Easy Tomato Sauce
A bucket of garden tomatoes, seeded and cut into quarters or big chunks (I usually set the cut up tomatoes in a large colander in the sink for about 30 minutes.  This allows a lot of the liquid to drain off.)
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 small onion (from my garden), thinly sliced
Handful of fresh basil (again...from my patio plants :)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
S & P to taste

Pour oil in a large skillet, add the garlic and onion and slowly heat to medium.  Cook gently until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.  Add tomatoes and basil, stir gently and cook on medium to low heat for about 30 - 40 minutes.  Remove from heat. 

 (As an aside, I don't peel the tomatoes when I clean them up and seed them...too much work and I lose too much fruit.  But as the tomatoes cook, the peels slip right off the meat, making them very easy to remove once the mixture has cooled and before it goes in the food processor). 

Once cooled, remove the peels and puree in batches in the food processor.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  I often add more fresh basil at this time.  Use sauce any way you like.  It also freezes well.  I used half of this batch to make eggplant rolatini...more on that later!

Buon appetito!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Hooded Oriole

Look at these beauties!  We were at our ranch house this past weekend and I was fortunate to be able to photograph these gorgeous Hooded Orioles (not that I stalked them or anything :)  This is the male:

And this is the female:


These beautiful birds flit from treetop to treetop and grace us with their presence every time we are at the ranch house...probably because we feed them!  I've come to recognize their call which sounds like a high-pitched chirp...kind of like a cardinal only more distinct and more crisp.

We have an oriole feeder that resembles a hummingbird feeder except the feeding holes are wider and there are little trays around the sides of the feeder that we fill with grape jelly...they love it!  Look closely in the above photo and you can see it...the best use for Welch's grape jelly that I know of!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fall Vegetable Planting

Ya, I know...it's 100 degrees outside and I'm talking about fall gardening!  But seriously, it is time to start planting your fall garden because what you want it to produce in the fall, must be planted now (or very soon).  You will likely need to start your fall vegetable seeds indoors as it is still way too hot outside for the seeds to germinate and grow properly.  So dust off your favorite seed starter kit, set it up somewhere indoors under a grow lamp (not in the greenhouse) and plant :)  I use small trays with a seed starting soil mix (Ferry ~Morse Organic Seed Starter mix), moisten the soil well, plant the seeds and plug in the lamp.  My grow lamp is adjustable so I can raise and lower it as the seedlings begin to grow.  Some people use peat pellets, some use manure pots...whatever works best for you.

The number of days between the last spring freeze and the first fall freeze determines the "growing season" for your area.  The objective is to get frost sensitive plants into the garden early enough to be productive before the first fall freeze.  For example, green beans take 60 days from planting seeds to harvesting beans.  To plant a fall crop of beans, you must count back 60 days from the first fall freeze date.  I've included a link to a chart which lists the average freeze dates for Texas.  Also, I've created a Planting Guideline chart for certain vegetables (typical fall vegetables) relative to first freeze dates.

The following vegetables should be planted 8-10 weeks before the first freeze date:
Beans, green bush
Beets (direct sow)
Radishes (direct sow)

These vegetables, 10-16 weeks before the first freeze date:
Brussels sprouts
Carrots (direct sow)
Chard, Swiss
Squash, winter

These are just general guidelines for this area of South Texas.

Since fall is my favorite time of year, I am partial to fall gardening.  Besides tomatoes, my favorite vegetables grow in my fall garden:  beets, spinach, winter squash, radishes and broccoli to name a few.

We are going on a short vacation to Colorado this week and when we get back, my new garden fence should be complete (Yaaaayyyy!!)  Only then will I begin planting my fall seeds.  Planting seeds and watching them germinate and grow is one of the greatest joys I get from gardening.  To me, it is one of the many wonderful miracles of Life.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Fall Tomatoes and Peppers

Just a quick reminder that it's time (actually a little past time) to plant fall tomatoes and peppers.  Tomatoes take about 90 days to grow and set and ripen fruit.  Ninety days from August 1st is November 1st.  The chances of a frost are likely by then for much of the state, particularly the northern part.  We here in the South have a little more time, but not much. 

I will be late planting my fall tomatoes this season.  Construction on my new garden fence begins today, August 9th.  It'll take them about 10 days to finish.  As soon as the fence is up, my tomatoes go in the ground.  I know I'm taking a chance by planting the tomatoes so late, but I really have no choice.  I'm not putting anything in the ground until the fence is up.  The deer continue to get into my garden.  They are even eating my peppers through the netting!  Look at this!  GRRRRR...

I won't be planting fall peppers either.  Mine have sufficiently come back from the deer raid and are thriving.  They have set lots of fruit and continue to bloom.  I see no need to plant little seedlings when these plants are so big and strong.  Check it out.

It's also time to start seedlings for your fall garden.  I'll write more about that in a few days. 

Ciao :)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Lemon Tree Fungus

I'm pretty sure my Myer lemon tree has a fungus called "black sooty mold".  I had this same problem a few years ago but was able to successfully treat it.  It's pretty nasty and if left untreated, would likely kill my lemon tree.

This black mold usually forms due to an insect waste product (called honeydew) left on plants.  Insects that cause this problem include aphids and mealy bugs, two common garden pests.  Treating sooty mold is not a matter of simply removing the mold.  For a long-term solution to this problem, you must get rid of the insects.

What I did employ one of my favorite products, Neem Concentrate from GreenLight, an organic insecticide, fungicide and miticide. 

I put two tablespoons of NEEM into a one gallon container, filled it with water and mixed well.  I transferred some of this mixture into a quart spray bottle and went to work.

Working in small sections of the tree at a time, I saturated the affected areas with this solution and let it soak in for a few minutes, but did not let it dry on the leaves.  Luckily I did this early in the morning while there was still good cloud cover.  I gently washed each leaf (I really did...took me all morning!) with the NEEM and then rinsed the leaves off with clean water from a garden hose.  I basically gave the tree a complete NEEM bath! 

It was a lot of work but I got rid of most of the mold and the tree looks *so* much better.  I'll likely have to spot treat it again soon but that's OK, I don't mind.  My lemon tree is one of my favorite plants on my back patio and I don't want to lose it.  

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Roasted Tomatoes

Before I retired three years ago, I owned my own cafe and catering business.  This recipe for Diane's Roasted Tomatoes was by far the most requested appetizer on our menu, bar none.  Using only a few key ingredients, it transforms the humble tomato into a deeply flavored, caramelized burst of flavor. 

Since retiring, my husband and I do a lot of entertaining and these tomatoes are a huge hit every time I serve them.  Even those who hate tomatoes (I still can't figure that one out) love these.  As a matter of fact, in the winter when grocery store tomatoes taste like cardboard, this is the only way I'll eat them (not cardboard...grocery store tomatoes!)  This recipe is easy and there are so many things you can do with the tomatoes once they are roasted.  It's also a great way to cook up a bumper crop of tomatoes from your garden.  They keep covered in the refrigerator for about 7-10 days.  I really hope you try this one.

The quantity of the ingredients listed depends on the number of tomatoes used:

Roma tomatoes
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Fresh or dried thyme (if using fresh, use more; if using dried, use less)
Good quality balsamic vinegar
Garlic, either thinly sliced or press through garlic press
Pinch of sugar

(These are some of my heirlooms, Specked Romas and Rutger's Red...beautiful eh? :)

Preheat oven to 325.

Prepare one or two large baking sheets by lining each with heavy duty foil.  It makes clean up *so* much easier.  Generously coat the bottom of each baking sheet with the olive oil.

Mix all ingredients (except the sugar) in large mixing bowl.  Slice tomatoes lengthwise (you can seed them if you like) and add to ingredients in bowl.  Toss well to coat tomatoes. 

Place tomatoes, cut side up, on baking sheet making sure not to crowd tomatoes.  It's sometimes best to use two baking sheets.  Using a spoon, drizzle all juices that are in the bottom of the bowl on top of each of the tomatoes, making sure to coat each tomato well.  Drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil over the top of each tomatoes and put a pinch of sugar on each tomato half.

Bake in 325 degree oven for 2 - 3 hours.  Begin checking after two hours and rotate pans once to ensure even cooking.  You want the tomatoes deeply colored and caramelized.  After 2 1/2 hours or so, shut the oven off and leave them in for another 30 minutes or so.  Remove from the oven and cool completely.  Place in large container and refrigerate.  Be sure to add all that good flavored oil that's on the bottom of the baking sheet to the storage container.  The tomatoes will last in the fridge for at least a week. 

Suggested uses:
~ place several cut up roasted tomatoes in large bowl; add hot pasta, fresh basil and freshly grated Parmigiano Regianno cheese; toss to coat and serve
~ layer any soft cheese (Brie, boursin, herbed cream cheese) on toasted baguette, top with roasted tomato slice and serve
~ add to soups for a great layer of flavor
~ add to any summer salad for a different twist
~add several cut up tomatoes to canned (rinsed) black beans, roasted corn that's been taken off the cob, lots of cilantro, chopped red or yellow peppers, cooked quinoa, fresh lime juice and zest and a little extra virgin olive oil for a light, delicious salad

As you can see, the possibilities are endless so try a batch and use your imagination :)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Texas Star Hibiscus

Just look at this beauty!  It's a Texas Star Hibiscus (or Scarlet Hibiscus), Hibiscus coccineus, that I bought at a plant sale last summer.  It bloomed all summer long and when winter came along, I cut it back, put it in the greenhouse and watered it regularly.  I brought it out this spring, watered it just about every day, and look at my reward:

A few days ago, the plant began to show signs of imminent blossom so I grabbed my camera and began to document the process.  

This hibiscus is a slender, shrubby perennial that dies back in winter and re-sprouts in the spring and it must be protected from freezing.  As with most hibiscus, the flowers last only one day but new ones continue to open all summer and into the fall.  They do best in full sun but also need plenty of water to bloom.  The scarlet hibiscus occurs naturally in swamps, marshes and ditches, from southern Georgia and Alabama to central Florida and Texas.  Established plants can have one to several stems up to 7 feet tall. (Mine is about 3 1/2 feet tall.)  The five petaled flowers are brilliant crimson red and anywhere from 6-8 inches across.

It's an absolutely stunning plant (as you can see :) and I'm thrilled it makes its home on my back patio!