Where have I been? Why the quiet?
Well, not much happened this fall in the garden. I got some tomatoes and the Burpee Big Boy turned out to be a prolific fall producer of very sweet slicers. The Black Krim cranked out a few small fruits for fall, and the Sweet 100’s were their usual reliable selves. If they live past the snow expected tomorrow, I should have some carrots and kohlrabi … although I may not get to harvest them, because I just bought a house across town that’s frankly a bit of a wreck.
In August, I decided I wanted to start looking. By September, I had a real estate agent. I put my first offer in on October 9th, we submitted several contracts, but because it was a real-estate owned property (had been foreclosed, didn’t sell at auction…), we didn’t end up closing until the 30th. I moved in over the past week.
Here’s the house from the street:
… and more importantly for the garden blog, here’s the backyard, which will get several 4×4 raised beds sometime next year…
There are some gorgeous crepe myrtles, but they need to be pruned badly … and a few of them need to come out. (One was growing into the gutters and pulling them down.) There’s two wonderful live oaks in the front yard, and a huge white oak in the backyard.
The house itself has water leaks in several places that need to be resolved, all of the fence posts need to be replaced, the landscaping is a disaster of missteps and misdeeds, and every last bit of plumbing in the entire house leaks like a sieve and needs to be replaced. It’s also filthy inside and out and generally needs TLC.
Around the foundation, because of the risk of termites in the microclimate where the house is located, I’m planning to put at least a foot and a half of river rock and then plant native Texas grasses, succulents (cacti, agave) and arid shrubs with extra wildflower color spots. This should also help the foundation, which is extremely drainage-challenged at the moment and at serious risk of settling and cracking badly if something isn’t done.
I have a *lot* of work ahead of me before I’ll be planting vegetables!
The garden’s mostly dry — even with frequent watering, I can’t seem to keep it alive right now. Half of it caught spider mites, the other half caught some sort of fungal blight, and even the Marigolds ended up attracting a host of bugs and wilting to death. Well, except for the Luffa. They seem to absolutely love the dryness, and are growing like there’s no tomorrow. I have probably a dozen GIANT luffa.
In other news, based on Pam Penick’s visit to Inner Space Caverns outside of Austin, I visited West Cave Preserve today. It’s a gorgeous spring-fed grotto with a small cave. Unfortunately, it was abused for many years before the land was acquired for the preserve in 1976. It’s been well taken care of ever since, and the amazing number of natural species that can be found in the grotto was wonderful to learn about. The guided tour was well worth the money, and the guide was an expert in the natural flora and fauna in the area and could probably have talked for hours about the different types of trees, their ages, and the way they fit into the micro-climate ecosystem. It was a great (and relatively cool — only 85 degrees or so down in the caves — I did say RELATIVELY!) way to spend two hours on a hot Saturday afternoon.
Unfortunately, I didn’t remember to bring my camera, which was left in the spare bedroom with it’s charger. *sigh* I guess that means I’ll have to go back.
The heat of summer has already hit here in south Texas, and it’s been over 100 for several days in a row with highs hitting 103-106. If it’s this hot this early, I’m in abject fear of what August is going to be like. We might get a ‘break’ on Tuesday along with a cold front and some storms, but everything else that was predicted to come our way has missed, so…
I’m getting cucumbers, a few young Luffa (although they’re inadequately shaded — I didn’t realize that these plants don’t seem to grow as densely as needed to survive the intense Texas sun), most of my Romas are ripening on the vine, and the Sweet 100’s are still setting fruit despite the heat.
Sweet 100's - Every Color of Tomato
The garden’s slowly but surely producing dribs and drabs of produce. I’ve got dozens of Roma tomatoes ripening on the vine, a four or five Black Krims (no Mr. Stripeys), several handfuls of Sweet 100’s, and Emily and I ate a wonderful cucumber that the Bush Champion produced. Can’t wait for it to grow more…
First cucumber! It was delicious!
I sliced it and mixed it with about a half-cup of sour cream, a few dribs of white balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper. It was delicious. I was going to throw a handful of super-sweet 100’s in with it, but … I ate them.
On the other hand, the Cayenne plant that produced those wonderful peppers a few months ago is no more. I came out the front door a few mornings ago to find out that two caterpillars had completely denuded it overnight.
That's a cayenne he's munching on.
Whoever told me that putting Cayenne pepper on a plant’s leaves would keep the caterpillars off of it? Doesn’t look like that’s true…
With the cage garden’s shape and growing space being limited the way it is, I need to train as many of the tomato plants as possible into vertical columns. That’s way more complicated than it sounds, especially with a giant plant like the Black Krim.
The nice thing about the cage garden is that I have places overhead to tie things to. It’s easy for me to make a trellis out of some spare string or wire and an eye bolt or two. As a result, I’m training the Krim up the side of wires / string strung from the top of it’s cage up to the ‘roof’ of the garden, sort of like the giant tomato plant at EPCOT.
The strings and wire are tied to the top of the tomato cage.
The Krim’s now about five feet tall. It’s growing almost visibly. And it’s set it’s first fruit! I was having lots of problems with it, but then I realized that it liked a lot more water than everything else seemed to want. After changing the way I watered (multiple short waterings with the soaker hose), I managed to get it, the cucumbers, and the Kentucky Wonder pole beans to grow profusely, even if the peppers and Sweet 100’s are complaining a bit about being overwatered. Next year, I’ll know what to plant where.
First fruit on the Krim
In the spring, I planted some carrots. They didn’t seem to be doing well — I pulled up one a few months ago, and it didn’t really have a root. I let them be, and today was admiring the tops — so I decided to pull one and see what it looked like. And I had the laugh of my life.
There are many famous carrots in this word. There’s classic carrots, there’s hybrid carrots, there’s colored carrots, there’s weird carrots that look more like white radishes. They come in every flavor, size, and shape. One that a fellow farmer goes on and on about is the Flakee. Well, since I seem to have developed my own variety, I’m going to name it, damnit.
Everyone, meet the … *drumroll* … STUBEE!
FEAR THE STUBEE
Yeah, it’s only about an inch long. But it’s the right size around, and it’s ripe, and it’s actually started to go to wood in the very center. Oops.
Guess I need to dig these up and replant them. According to my calendar, I’m supposed to plant now for fall harvest. But god only knows if that’s accurate in my area. Harumph.
I hate to admit it, but I’m really lazy about turning the compost pile. Considering the weeds that are in there (curled dock and others), that’s really not a good thing.
A wise man once advised me not to teach others to fish, but to sell them a method for fishing and charge royalties. In a similar spirit of laziness, I have found a new low. I buried some old dog food and a few other things that had gone bad in the bottom of the compost pile tonight, and when I went out to let Eo and Henry in after their evening potty break, I found that Eowyn had jumped into the compost bin and had turned it completely in search of the good, smelly stuff she KNEW was in there.
Every two weeks now, I guess I just need to arrange for something to go bad!
The first blush of red on my Roma plant.
Out of all the things I thought I might someday put in a garden, a toad was definitely not on that list. In fact, I’d probably in the past have gone out of my way to get a toad OUT of the garden if I’d ever noticed it in the first place.
Until the Cucumber Beetle struck. It struck and it ate my bush zucchini and was all over every other plant in the garden before I knew it. I was squishing them by hand at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I’d cover every plant, including the entire forest of pole beans and the fiercely indeterminate Roma plant that seems to be obsessed with forming the densest tomato plant ever grown inside it’s cage, but refuses to grow upwards.
Perusing the forums I frequent, I saw an article about making your garden an inviting place for a toad to live. Toad? Why toads? Well, toads eat three times their weight in bugs, grubs, ants and worms a day. I have a giant population of bugs, grubs, ants, and worms. There’s also a giant population of toads in my neighborhood, which has a wonderful wooded creek running through it. It seems that I practically squish a dozen any time Henry and I go jogging.
Yesterday, I grabbed the broken pot that I was about to pitch and put it in the garden. I also sunk a tupperware container into the mulch/compost so that some of the water would stay in there on days that I didn’t water.
a Toad Home -- complete with water feature and damp compost to burrow in!
Then I went toad hunting! It wasn’t hard. All I had to do was coax the toad into a tupperware with a cracked screw-on lid. He tried his best to escape, but I quickly ran him through the house (the dogs, of course, were fascinated) and let him loose in the back of the garden.
I noticed an immediate reduction (if not outright elimination) of the Cucumber Beetle in particular. I haven’t had to squish one of the nasty buggers ever since I let the little guy out of the toad catcher.
And frankly, I haven’t seen the toad since, but as long as the bug population stays low, I know he’s doing his job!
I’d like to introduce you to one of my new favorite bloggers. If you haven’t found her already, her current blog is at Farmgirl Fare and her old stories are at Writings from Windrige Farm, including “how I got into this mess.” I’m slowly churning my way through the archives, but I’ve already startled the dogs several times by laughing out loud at nuggets like,
“I quickly began filling notebooks with the tales of our often ludicrous attempts to embrace farm life, and yet still maintain some semblance of a refined lifestyle in a place where squirrel is considered food and newly acquainted dinner hosts once remarked that they were “thrilled to be able to serve you pork ribs, since no one else we know has enough teeth to eat them.”