Another drought & I’m out.

I told Jason after 2011 that if we ever go through that again, I am leaving Texas.

Well, here we are eleven years on and it’s looking pretty 2011-ish. While we did have a few heavy rain events this spring, it wasn’t enough overall. We are only considered “abnormally dry” according to the U.S. drought monitor, but everyone in Texas knows when June hits, the tap turns off unless you get a hurricane or tropical storm. And to add insult to injury, our temps have already hit 100 and remain in the high 90s, so I am calling this month Jaugust. And I’m sure next month will be Juaugust, then August, then Saugust.

So that’s why I am going to go back in time to our winter/early spring garden, in far less crispy times. I think we had a nice fall/winter garden and I hope you will enjoy the mini-tour.

I find that fall and winter gardens are easy to do for our area, with the occasional annoyance of having to cover your plants during freezing temps.

January/February tend to be our coldest months. It would be best to plant in mid to late September, but as I said before that’s the month I call Saugust and my least favorite because it’s still hot and soooooo dry. Honestly, who wants to plant in hot dust? Not I. So I usually end up waiting until mid-October when we get some rain.

So below is a pic from December, when I had my beds wrapped and Team Cilantro was in full force. It reseeds itself yearly, so I let it do its thing. The cabbages are Bonnie’s Best hybrid that were transplants. You can see that some cabbage worms made small holes, but these are quickly taken care of with a Bt spray. I use the Monterey brand and I had the RTU (ready-to-use) kind. I won’t be without this spray! It kept my kale happy and worm-free from spring through the next spring.

The next pic is of some more cabbages, carrots, and one of our very favorites: kohlrabi. If you like broccoli and cabbage, you will love kohlrabi. Even if you don’t like broccoli or cabbage, give it a try. It is milder that either of those two and is SO GOOD just steamed until tender. I don’t even add salt. But definitely peel it unless you enjoy chewing on twigs/shoe leather.

Cabbages, carrots, kohlrabi

Now I love this kale! It is called Black Magic. It just produced seed this month (June; and it’s in its second year now) and it tastes great! I use it in soups, casseroles, stir-fries, salads, smoothies…anywhere you can stick it. Just cut out the rib and slice it thin to use. Trust me, it hides easily in everything and has a great taste. We also roast it sometimes, and yes, it makes great kale chips, too, if you enjoy those.

Broccoli! We love it. This broccoli is looking a little sad and wilted because it had been covered and when I took off the cover, the humidity it was used to dropped rapidly. I ended up re-covering it slightly to help it. I got these as transplants and I think it’s Lieutenant. I used to use Packman and they did away with that. Then Green Magic and they switched again. I also had Artwork, but I haven’t found that in a couple of years. This is why it’s so important to know how to grow your own! Growers aren’t always going to have what you want.

Admittedly, I am proud of the following cabbage. It’s some of the first I have grown from seed. This is an heirloom called Red Acre. The heads ended up being nice and dense and very tasty.

Snow peas….I babied these peas. I planted them too late in October, and they grew and grew and grew and I covered, uncovered, and re-covered about 10 times. You can see I even added some Christmas lights/party lights to keep them warmer while under cover. They survived all of the frosts and cold, but ultimately died due to a fungal infection in mid-spring. I did get some pea pods, but it wasn’t worth the hassle. So this fall, I’ll plant earlier and hope for a late fall harvest.

Peas n’ Strawberries. My strawberries got very confused with the very mild winter and produced like crazy. The bad part is that they were mealy and weren’t good over the winter months. If they did this again, I will definitely pinch off all blooms and let the roots/plant grow instead. By this spring, they were tasty. Here in East Texas, you really are supposed to plant your June-bearing strawbs in fall. But good luck finding plants! I had these overwinter and reproduce like mad, so I planted the babies EVERYWHERE. And this year I found a variety that tastes way better: Seascape. Now we are only supposed to plant June bearing strawbs, but these are considered “everbearing”. Whatever. I am going with this to see how it turns out. The berries are bigger and far tastier than these other ones, which I THINK are Allstar.

A December harvest: It’s scant, but it’s food. We enjoy eating the leaves of broccoli as well as the stalks; just peel ’em! No reason to let either go to waste. Throw the thinly cut leaves into a stir-fry or a soup. Also, you do know that broccoli as we know it is the unopened flowers of the plant, right?

Thanks for taking a little detour with me today! Now it’s back to reality and back to dreaming of a well or a cistern for the garden…

A Fall Garden

After my summer of B.L.A.H. (see last post), and feeling the pressure of the current supply chain crunch, I’m all into my fall gardening. We are in gardening Zone 8a; a very nice zone for fall and winter gardening. It always has surprised me that more people around here don’t do much fall gardening. And no, mums don’t count. Most people plant for the summer garden, and that’s great and all, but fall/winter are very productive, too.

This year, I’m trying out a few new varieties of veggies, mostly from Seed Treasures and Baker Creek. Some of the new things in the starter “greenhouse” are: Red Acre cabbage, Goliath broccoli, Chijimisai greens, Purple Lady bok choi, Chinese Pink celery, He Shi Ko bunching onion, and Sweet Spanish onion (from seed). Brassicas and greens do especially well for us during fall/winter, and they are so good for you! I use all the parts from my cabbages and broccoli; even the leaves. They are great in soups and stir fries, and very easy to dehydrate for later use.

I start most of my seeds inside in a cheap little “greenhouse” that I got from Tractor Supply. It has 4 shelves, and on the top three, I have a seed heating pad and two grow lights per shelf. The heating pads are from Amazon, and I have used Wal-Mart’s linkable grow lights. Right now, the temps inside are such that I don’t turn on the heating pads, but I will in December, especially, as I start my seeds for February plantings.

I use plastic containers from leftovers and salad mixes, mostly, with a soil-less seed mix. I am bad about planting stuff too deep, so this year I was extra careful, and only had to replant a couple of things. I found that spinach is especially picky and so I barely even covered it, misted it daily, and it all finally came up the second time around. I leave containers covered with a clear lid (or even Saran wrap) until the first true leaves come in, then I remove that.

I should have planted two weeks earlier to get everything to the right size for transplanting (I really want everything in by this week), so I’d recommend starting your seeds for most fall things no later than the last week of August if you are in my zone.

Some things you don’t want to transplant, like carrots. In the outside beds, I planted these seeds: Kohlrabi, turnips, two kinds of beets, radishes, chard, carrots (4 types), potatoes (an experiment), and garlic. Kinda miffed at the garlic.

I ordered garlic for the very first time and it was PRICEY stuff. With shipping, it was $25 for TWO HEADS. Yikes. Anyway, I planted it several weeks ago and….nothing. I got impatient and dug some up on Monday. Several had rotted, five pieces had rooted, and the rest were just sitting there and had done NOTHING. I replanted the rooted ones, chunked the rotted ones, and took in the ones that had done nothing. Earlier this year, I had rooted some garlic indoors and transplanted it later on and it did well. So that’s what I’ll do again. I have the ends of the pieces barely in some soil and I’m making sure the soil doesn’t dry out. Since the container is clear, I will be able to watch the roots develop and I’ll transplant them when I see good roots. Angry at the garlic priced like gold, I went to Wal-Mart and grabbed a sack of garlic like I usually do, and planted it all over our gardens. It doesn’t need covering when the cold comes, at least not here, so you can plant it wherever it will get full sun. UPDATE: A week later, about seven more cloves of garlic had rooted. YAY. I planted it yesterday.

What’s in your fall garden?

Take five, they’re small…

“We can see a thousand miracles around us every day. What is more supernatural than an egg yolk turning into a chicken?” – S. Parkes Cadman

The other night we came home just after dark, and drove up to the chicken coop to lock up the chickens.  I noticed that there were only 3 chickens in the coop, which was really unusual, since chickens always return to their roost at night. So, I went into the pen and they were all crammed into the corner closest to their little doorway into their coop.  The little door was closed, so they couldn’t get int0 their coop.  Chickens, not being the absolute brightest sometimes, will all huddle together in a big ball when they are scared or, as in our situation, they wanted to roost and had nowhere to go.  Unfortuately, in both situations, it is not uncommon for them to crush one another (think: people crushing one another in those soccer matches overseas.  I guess people aren’t too bright, either)  Well, after I dispersed the pile, I found Dot, my daughter’s absolute favorite Bantam hen lifeless on the ground.  I attempted a feeble try at chicken resuscitation, no mouth to mouth, mind you, but she was already gone.  I did not tell our daughter that the turkeys likely crushed little Dot for fear that she would hate the turkeys, so the next day she assumed (as she does with all the animals that are not seen again) that ‘the coyotes’ had nabbed Dot.  So, of course, Dot had to be replaced by another ‘banty’.

We went to Atwood’s and, lo and behold, all of the baby chicks are now on clearance.  My daughter immediately picked out the chick that I had my eye on, which was a tan and black spotted little number, with fully feathered legs.  But, the most eye-catching thing about his appearance was that his bottom beak was at a 45 degree angle to his top beak.  The chicks were already a couple of weeks old, so it was apparent to me after checking out “Stanley’s” body condition, that even though he was a disabled chicken, he was doing just fine.  Yes, a disabled chicken.  So, as we were looking at the other chicks, another family (and I use that term loosely here) came by with about 3 kids and another on the way, and the smallest girl, who looked about two, wanted to touch the tiniest Bantam, whereupon her mother’s boyfriend/new husband/whatever told her, “No, you don’t want the runt.”  First of all, it isn’t as though they were buying chicks, they were just looking.  Second of all, it isn’t like being a runt is contagious, and thirdly, they were Bantam chicks, anyway! (that means miniature chicken, essentially) 

Naturally, I picked up the “runt” and I bought it, too, to save it from being the target of some other redneck’s comments.   Then, I picked up a baby chick for the little girl, who I was pitying at that moment, having to deal with a mother that was running around with an angry-looking redneck boyfriend who took every chance he got to make snappy comments at her, and she pet the chick ever so gently. (That woman really needs to listen to Dr. Laura)  So, then I picked out 3 more chicks that I am almost certain are Frizzles, and we left. 

My husband came home singing a song (we are always singing dumb, made-up songs) with some lyrics about, “Well, we went to get two, and we came home with five…”.  Oh, well. 

In farm life, we worked on the brick path yesterday, despite being 90 degrees with 400% humidity.  The weather has been so wacky lately, I’m surprised we haven’t yet been slammed with a tornado yet.  Today is hot, tonight will be cooler, tomorrow will be hotter, but then the next day we’re having a major cold front.  Go figure.  Anyway, we have completed enough of the path that it is now coming around the front of the house and we have gotten rid of two pallets of bricks that have been sitting in my front yard for about a year.  Yippee!  When Jason moved the last pallet, he found a snake for me, so of course I had to go outside and pick it up!  It looked like a Rough Earth snake to me, but I am not 100% sure on that.  But what I am positive about is that it wasn’t poisonous.  I don’t ‘do’ poisonous snakes.

Busy month, spring is so close!

Well, I apologize for taking sooooooooo long to touch up on this thing!  My computer has been in detox/repair a couple of times and so I have really gotten behind!  Plus, it’s planting season and baby chick season and I have been so terribly busy.  We got in 10 Ameraucana pullets (that’s females in chicken speak) and 10 Buff Orpington pullets.  The Buff Orps aren’t mine, but I’m holding them for my friend, Suzie.  One of them is a real B, if you know what I mean. If you put your hand in the enclosure, which I have to do at least 2 times a day, she will try and take a beak-sized plug out of your hand!  I usually call her a little buff B, and threaten her with the stewpot.  Lol.

I bought 2 Broad breasted Bronze turkeys day before yesterday.  I wasn’t sure what breed they were, but from process of elimination on the dealer’s website, i figured it out.  That is disappointing to me because they have been bred to have so much breast meat that they are incapable of reproducing naturally.  Yes, that means artifical insemination. Yes, that means they’ll probably be destined for the dinner table cause there’s no way I’m going to be a middleman in any kind of turkey sex! 

You all should research about Broad Breasted White turkeys (that is what you will get @ the grocery).  These are totally freaks of nature.  Not the real Nature, but human nature.  What I’m saying is that these birds were bred, inbred, etc, ad infininum, to make these turkeys that have freakishly large breast muscle, to keep us, the American public, happy.  They can’t even breed because they are so heavy in the breast, that the males can’t perform their, uh, duties.  Now, Broad Breasted Bronzes are the same thing, just in their natural coloration.  I am really, truly interesting in ‘heritage’ turkeys; read: natural, heirloom breeds.  These turkeys can breed normally and some raise their own young.  Other turkeys must be hatched in incubators because the broodiness has been bred right out of them.  So, in other words, my little baby turkeys may literally be our Thanksgiving dinner.  Kindof weird to say, but I don’t really need BB’s as pets.  Anyway, so I’m getting off of the soap box now, but what I was going to get into was how different turkey chicks (poults) are, as compared to chickens.

You may hear that a turkey is stupid, it will drown in the rain, blah blah.  I really hate to use the word “stupid” when referring to animals because I think, “Well, ‘stupid’ when compared to what?”  I mean, I’m sorry, but I know a great many people who could be outsmarted by a carrot.  Anyway, after doing research, I learned that poults are a little……..slow.  They move slow, their wings sort of  droop, and they are slow to learn what and where the food and water is.  However, I love them.  When I stick my hand in, they come running to peck at my ring.  Slowly, of course.  I did read to put something shiny in the water and food so that they learn to peck at it.  I grabbed a couple of beer caps for the water and a Mardi Gras bead necklace and ran it into the food dish.  It just so happens that my shiny objects are alcohol-related…don’t let it fool you; I very rarely drink and I got the necklaces for a song at a garage sale.  I didn’t have to flash anyone for them!

Anyway, these little poults are so endearing to me.  Sorry to say they may end up in the freezer, but if it isn’t them, it would be some random, saline-injected turkey that lived a miserable life in some God-forsaken turkey ranch.

I also got my 4 Cayuga ducks in, and we have 2 Snowy Mallards.  Now, ducks are a whole different ballpark.  The negative is that they are SO MESSY.  Just un-Godly messy.  Now, that is when they’re in their enclosure indoors, I mean.  I have never seen a creature consume that much water and splash it that much.  It is like trying to raise a baby whale on land or something.  They manage, within a few short hours to totally drench all of the bedding and their brooding box. I mean flooded, and totally stinky.  If you don’t like to clean, don’t get a baby duck.  On the other hand, when they are in their outdoor enclosure, that is no problem.  Plus, they run after you at super-duck speed (at least 65 MPH) and manage to try and trip you with every step.  They love to eat bugs here and there and mine also eat a great deal of sand for some reason.  Anyway, I love my ducks!

Garden-wise, I have gone ahead and planted all of my herbs.  I hope that we don’t get a frost, but if so, I’ll have to cover some of them.  Tomorrow I am going to go ahead and plant my tomatoes, peppers and the like.  This is a very exciting time of year for a gardener in Zone 8.  March 15 is our typical last frost date.  However, you all know that Texas weather is anything but typical.  I’m going to take my chances, though. Back to the herb garden…I made a little mini-fence out of American beautyberry limbs, honeysuckle vines, rattan vines, and grapevines that I harvested out of our woods.  Let me confide in you here for a moment.  I do say curse words.  Fairly frequently, actually, but never in the presence of children or company, or people that I don’t want to think badly of me (of course, my BFs don’t care, but anyway).  Well, my dears, let me tell you that ‘gathering vines’ is work.  Saying, “I gathered vines today.” sounds like something that comes out of Martha Stewart’s mouth, and certainly not mine.  Saying, “I gathered vines” is like being stranded in a boat on the Pacific for 3 months with no water, no food, while being sun-bleached and having to eat seagull poop, and telling everyone upon your rescue that, “I took a little seafaring excursion for the last several weeks.”  Ok, maybe it’s not that bad, but let me tell you, I figured out what kind of vines Tarzan swung around on.  That would be called the rattan vine.  I don’t know if that’s the proper name, but it’s a green, smooth vine that has the tendency to twist around a tree, cutting into it, and eventually weakening it to the point of death.  How befitting!  This same vine is the one that I scraped my arms, bruised my calves, and worked up a gallon of sweat trying to rip it out of trees.  I decided that if I ever made a grapevine wreath, it would go for about $435,000.  My God, I don’t know if there are anything tougher than vines.  Naturally, as I was pulling with all of my weight, one of them came loose, and I flew backwards and bruised both of my calves on a log.  And then that vine broke in half, so that added insult to injury.  Anyway, I was down in the bottom for about an hour and a half, swinging, quite literally, from these titanium vines.  But, I did manage to get a pretty good amount of them to use in my fence.  It’s pretty cool, and I’ll have to post pics soon. Oh, and back to my cursing….throughout my vine ordeal, let me tell you that the woodland creatures really must have gotten an earfull that day.  It’s a good thing that Bambi doesn’t know English.  His father would wash out his mouth and send him to bed with no supper.  It’s also a good thing that my woods are not close, at all, to anyone’s home.  Also, may I add that no children were at home that day to hear my tawdry use of language. 

Well, my fingers are tired, but I hope to get some pics and post more tomorrow.