Starting Over, All Over Again

sb158 | March 2, 2011

starting-over-all-over-again

Got a new yard, just as tiny and uninspiring as the old yard. Concrete clay, no lawn…just dried out and ugly clay with lots of weeds. Here’s a stitched-together view of the yard right after we moved in. Ugly.

Ugly Yard

Since it pains me greatly to see my little piece of God’s wonderful Creation so sadly neglected and abused, I had to fix it. How could I not? I firmly believe it is every person’s responsibility to practice good stewardship of their own little piece of Planet Earth. I’m convinced that sustainable, organic, earth-friendly practices are the only way to heal the ecological disaster that “Better Living Through Chemistry” has caused since WWII. The possibility of Ecological Apocalypse seems all the more likely the longer we maintain the status quo. I’ll have mercy and hop down off my soapbox, but I do plan to create a page with links for your own research, if you’re interested.

Research and past failures gave me some idea of how to proceed. First I took a good look at the soil, sun, and climate, then set about finding a way to fix the bad and take advantage of the good. My goal is to combine the best features of wildlife gardens, edible landscaping, and conventional ornamental and vegetable gardens into a working sustainable ecosystem specifically designed for this place and our needs. I’m sure I’ll screw up more than once; we all know gardening is a long process of trial and error.

I started by trying to deal with the realities and limitations of the god-awful climate down here. Hot, humid, rainless, windy hell about sums it up perfectly.

Fortunately, the house runs north and south, so the afternoon sun casts a nice shady shadow over most of the yard later in the day. The garden-and gardener-will appreciate that as it gets hotter. The plants will get at least 6 – 8 hrs of full sun; that much Texas sun is more than enough! More sun-tolerant plants will be planted on the east side of the yard, while those that appreciate it can go on the shady side. I’m hoping windbreak plants, either vines on trellises or shrubs I’m growing from seeds/cuttings, will moderate the 20+ mph hot, dry, plant-murdering south winds that blow 95% of the time, and provide more shade. I’d plant some fruit trees for shade and to break the wind if this were my own yard; don’t think I want to spend all that money or effort on a yard we’ll be leaving soon as we find a house to buy. I hope I learned something from the past couple years’ fiascoes; can’t control Mother Nature, but you can try to reduce the effects of her temper tantrums if you learn from your mistakes!

I decided to go with building my beds by sheet mulching, aka “lasagna gardening“. After laying out the bed, scalp the grass/weeds/whatever as close to the ground as possible; just leave them lay. Since I’m dealing with concrete clay, I soak the area and let it sit overnight. To crack the concrete and allow for drainage, stick a digging fork in as far as it will go and just rock it back and forth every few inches across the whole bed. Then add a light layer of soil amendments, like organic fertilizer, lime, or sulfur. After that, lay sheets of cardboard (saved from moving boxes and household goods) over the area, making sure to overlap by at least 6″ to leave no slivers of light for the weeds to find. Thoroughly soak the cardboard, too. On top of that, make alternating 3″ layers with whatever “greens” and “browns” you happen to have handy. Cover this 6″ layer with a 2″ layer of your own or purchased soil. Sprinkle with a light dusting of organic fertilizer, then soak all the layers thoroughly. Repeat the alternating layers of greens, browns, soil, and fertilizer until the pile is a foot or so deep. To finish the bed, add at least 2″ of a “pretty” mulch, so the neighbors don’t complain.

Though it’s best to let the layers rest and cook for a while, I don’t have time for that. We just moved here, after all, and good growing time is slipping away! To plant seedlings, dig out a hole about 2 – 3 times as deep and wide as the root ball; fill it with compost or good potting soil. This helps the babies get established. For seeds, move the mulch aside and dig a little furrow about 3″ deep, which is filled with compost/seed starting mix. If you’d rather, you can add a deeper layer of topsoil or compost into which you can plant before adding the final mulch layer.

I used some of my compost, bagged composted manure, shredded newspaper/junk mail/ phone books, bagged soil conditioner/landscapers’ mix, sifted soil from a hole I dug, and bagged topsoil.

So far, it’s working. I’ve got one bed finished and almost completely planted. Nothing’s died yet, so I must be doing something right. I did another small bed today, which I hope to plant tomorrow.

I intended to take pics today, but by the time I was done, it was time to cook dinner. Those teen-aged boys do love to eat!!!

Has it really been since last July?

sb158 | March 1, 2011

has-it-really-been-since-last-july

So much has changed in my life since then, it’s no wonder I haven’t blogged. I see that the last I wrote, Alex was threatening. Fortunately, He went south, but did dump a bunch of rain west of us. Mexico and parts of the Valley got badly flooded. We got some rain, and then more rain from assorted other storm systems, but it really hasn’t rained much at all since then. We need some, but I’m afraid if I did the rain dance, we’d end up with a hurricane (or a blizzard), as crazy as the weather has been. I did plant a fall garden, though not much of one. We’d been house-hunting, and I didn’t know if we’d be moving, so took it easy.

As it turns out, that was a good thing. My daughter in Colorado had been having serious car issues, and in October, her 12 year old Passport just totally died. We started looking for a used vehicle down here, as Hubby wanted to be sure she got something safe. My son, who worked briefly at a car dealership a few years ago, came with us to prevent rip-offs. He saved us at least 10 grand; we ended up buying a new Chevy Silverado and giving the Dodge to my daughter. This meant, of course, that someone (yea, that’d be me) had to drive it all the way from south TX to Colorado, so off I went to stay until just after Thanksgiving.

Things didn’t quite work out that way. My other daughter decided she’d had enough after her son and husband nearly came to blows. I flew home to rearrange my house to fit 3 extra people – no easy task in a mobile home, let me tell you! Hubby and son went to FL the weekend before Thanksgiving, loaded the truck, and turned right around and drove all the way back to TX that same weekend. Then we had to cram a bunch more stuff in an already jam-packed house.

We immediately started looking for a bigger place, but ended up just moving to a bigger mobile home in the same park in mid-December. We’re still house-hunting; this place is better, but still way too small. The kitchen drives me to distraction, and occasionally to drink…

In between moving and rediscovering the “joys” of teenagers – 2 grandsons – all over again, I did a bunch of garden reading. Paul James, the used-to-be Gardener Guy on HGTV (before they went all “landscaping” and “curb appeal”) mentioned a book called “The One Straw Revolution” written more than 50 years ago by a Japanese farmer named Masanobu Fukuoka. Paul said it changed his perspective completely; he might even go so far as to call the book life-changing. Of course I had to read the book after a recommendation like that! And he was right; it did change my perspective completely, and set me off on a research binge that has been most enlightening, and maybe even life-changing.

I read a gazillion web articles, watched Youtube videos, and Googled any number of gardening things. The most useful book I found is called “Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture (Second Edition)“, written by Toby Hemenway. Found it as a pdf on the web, and was so impressed I spent the money to buy it from Amazon. IMHO, every gardener should read this book. In fact, it ought to be required reading in every high school biology class. Also found Rosalind Creasy’s “Edible Landscaping (Second Edition)” to be very helpful. I’m going to be adding pages about these books, and the garden ideas that result, as I have time.

After we were more-or-less settled and Christmas was gone, it was time to translate all the new garden ideas from abstract to stuff we can eat! Though my plans keep changing (a gardener’s prerogative, of course), I started a ton of seeds and started making garden beds. Had a bit of a setback when we had a 3-day freeze, and even some (very little, actually) snow, but Hubby’s brilliant idea saved all my container plants. He told me to move them all to the picnic table, then he hung two big high-intensity work lights in the roof. Wrapped it all up in a big ole tarp and turned on the lights. Even when the power went out, it was warm enough in there (though NOT so much in the house) to keep the plants all above freezing. After it finally warmed back up, we unwrapped it all, only to have to wrap them all back up again a week later when we had yet another deep freeze. Never in the almost 40 yrs. since I first heard of the Valley have I ever heard of weather like that down here.

So, to make a very long story much shorter, I’ve got some garden beds started, more in the planning stages, and a gazillion baby plants growing bigger every day while they wait for me to get my tush in gear and make them a home…

I’m about out of steam for tonight, so I’ll quit for now and continue this novel another day.

Not Much New…

sb158 | August 14, 2009

not-much-new

It’s still too hot; Hubby’s weather gizmo says 111 today. Much as I hated to, I had to go out there and spray the aphids off my peppers again; gotta keep up with it, as the little buggers multiple faster than tribbles(Trekkie reference, y’all). I got myself soaked in the process, which was a good thing. Cooled me off in that awful heat; probably kept me from dying of heatstroke.

Got all my SWC’s cleaned out and mixed some new dirt, getting ready for Round 2, which should commence shortly. Got tomatoes, peppers, and some broccoli, among other things, big enough to harden off. I put them on Hubby’s picnic table, in the shade, but am slowly exposing them to a bit more sun every day. Really gotta watch ‘em, though; this wind and heat will fry the poor little babies faster than I can blink.

Got some seeds sprouting to fill a couple off my new containers, and just got an idea for another one last nite while I should have been sleeping. I’ll start the seeds in a bit.

A couple weird things, though. I was about to pull my cukes, as they just aren’t fruiting, and are infested with whiteflies, among other things. All of a sudden they have just started growing like gangbusters, so now I’m debating. The watermelons in the SWC’s are doing the same thing. For a while it’s looked like they were barely hanging on, so I was babying them along hoping the melons would ripen before they expired. Now they’ve started growing new vines and blossoms, too. We’ll see what happens.

Later…

Been A While, so…

sb158 | July 24, 2009

been-a-while-so

Not really much going on in my garden, other than the fact that it’s being slowly baked to death by 111 degree temperatures. Not every day, but it has hit at least 109 for the past several days. Yesterday it was 110. I had a few minor things to do out there, and by the time I came in, I had sweat pouring off me. Didn’t stop for the next hour. Felt all woozy, too. Had to come in and sit in front of the AC for a while just to keep from dying. Would have taken a shower, but had a load of laundry going. Can’t do both at the same time around here…LOL.

By the time Garden Blog Death Day rolls around, I’ll have plenty to share. All the Roma tomatoes have ripened, not that there were all that many. The plants are just hanging around until I pull them out. Got some replacement stuff growing now, but it’ll be a few weeks until it’s ready to plant. I let the sickly zucchini expire, too, so that’ll be in the Death Day post.

The Heatwave tomato plants look awful, too, but they at least have a bunch of tomatoes ripening, if I can get them before the mockingbirds decide they’re ready to eat. The only thing that doesn’t seem bothered at all by the heat is the Lablab bean I planted. It just keeps growing taller, and has finally reached the top of the arbor thingy. Getting some side shoots now too, so maybe the arbor will finally start serving it’s intended purpose by the time I plant Round Two in early September.

The biggest thing I’ve accomplished is finishing the Excel seed-starting chart I got at I Wet My Plants.com. It was fine for Canada, but, boy, did it need a lot of work for South TX. Took me quite some time, and lots of tedium, to enter all my seeds, correlate the planting dates to the Texas Gardener magazine Planning Calender, and get it all set up for my area. Now, however, it is tailored to my garden, and it is really cool. Just print and plant…eliminates alot of the mind-breaking co-ordination two (well, really, 3) garden seasons requires.

That’s about it for now. Got dinner cooking and gotta get back to it…

Hallelujah and Thank You

sb158 | June 23, 2009

hallelujah-and-thank-you

We’re finally getting some rain and (slightly) cooler temperatures! Not nearly as much as we need, but, at this point, I’m thankful for whatever we get. I expect my plants will grow a foot overnight!

Here are some pics I took about a week ago that show how much the garden had grown while I was in Colorado. Compare them to these pics.

Pics within (more…)

Monster Mud, Rosemary, and Jasmine

sb158 | May 4, 2009

monster-mud-rosemary-and-jasmine

Much better day today, since the guy fixed the AC first thing this morning. Good thing, too, cuz hubby bought this gadget that collects weather information. The gadget said the high today was 101. Felt that hot, for sure.

So I finished my two Monster Pots, as I mentioned. Here’s a pic of the jasmine pot: (more…)

Almost Ready

admin | March 8, 2009

Whew! Busy weekend. My bed is finally almost ready for the “dirt.” DH finished it yesterday, so I started putting down cardboard, prior to landscape fabric. Today I put down what landscape fabric I had, but ran out before I finished.

Off to Big Orange for some more. Bad, very bad! Walked in there and saw all those plants. I tried to resist, really, I did, but… (more…)

I guess I gotta buy stuff

sb158 | March 4, 2009

Got the plan, now I need the stuff. These veggies better be good, cuz they’re costing me a fortune! The only thing I had left from prior gardens was a bunch of 10-year-old seeds. They’re not all that old, but some are. I bought a shelf, lights, “dirt”, and even had to buy a trowel. Not to mention the lumber to build the beds and the Mel’s Mix to fill them… (more…)

So now the plan

sb158 | March 4, 2009

Once I decided to use Square Foot Gardening, I had to plan and design the garden. (more…)

In The Beginning

sb158 | March 4, 2009

in-the-beginning

I grew up following my Grandma and my Dad around their gardens. Grandma and Grandpa had 11 acres of sandy soil in central Monmouth County, NJ. Grandpa did the veggies; Grandma did the flowers. (more…)