Friday, January 6, 2017

January in the Garden

January a wonderful month in deep south Texas to spend time in your garden!  But when we get 80 degree days like earlier this week, we're tempted to jump the gun on some garden tasks.  Here's a guide for January Garden Tasks in our area.  

  • Gather and shred your fallen leaves.  They can easily be shredded with a mower or an inexpensive leaf shredder.   I have an electric leaf shredder, like the one pictured, that is indispensable this time of year.   The shredded leaves can then either be composted or used as mulch, where they will help suppress weed seed from sprouting and cool the soil during the summer. I have heard people say not to use live oak leaves because they contain too much tannin and tannin keeps the leaf from breaking down.   If you shred your leaves, they will decompose just fine.   Much to my husbands dismay, I am a proud leaf rustler.  I try to keep the back of my car empty so that I can pick up any bagged leaves that have been left at the curb.   You just can't have too many shredded leaves.
  • Water only as needed.   Much of the landscape will be dormant and will not be using much water.   But dry cold fronts, high winds, and low humidity can dry your plants quickly so check them regularly.   Water an established lawn only every 10 days or two weeks.    
  • Be prepared to protect your tender vegetation from any freezing temperatures that we may get. Go here to read more about this. 

  • Trees and Shrubs:   All trees, including fruit, with the exception of citrus.   This is also a good time to plant non-tropical shrubs.  
  • Vegetables:  broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, Swiss chard, collards, kale, leaf lettuce, leeks, onion (plants, not seeds), parsley, potato, radish, spinach, and turnips.  
  • Herbs:  basil, dill, fennel, mint (in a pot to contain the roots), rosemary, rue, thyme.   A frost will harm  your basil so it is best in a pot which can be brought in during inclement weather.  
  • Flowers from Seed or Bulbs:  alyssum, amaryllis bulbs, calendulas, calla lillies, petunia, larkspur, poppy, stock, calendulas.     Some say you can still plant bluebonnets and nasturtium seed but, in my experience, those are best planted in October.
  • Flowers from Transplants:   pansies, petunias, alyssum, dianthus, snapdragons, and violets
  • Rose bushes
Vegetable Planting Date Sources:  Texas Extension Service and the Old Farmers Almanac 

FERTILIZE:   Citrus trees that are at least 3 years old, your annuals and vegetables.  Do not fertilize tropicals right now; let them rest. 

  • Landscape trees.  Most established landscape trees will require a certified arborist to properly and safely prune. 
  • Peaches, figs, and other fruit trees.  I prune to remove dead wood, to shape the tree. and to keep it a size where I can reach the fruit.   We are going to plant a mango and an avocado tree and I am going to try to prune them shorter so their fruit is accessible.   I never wanted to grow them before because they get so tall, I felt like I'd be growing the fruit for the possoms, racoons, and other vermin.   
  • Do not prune your shrubs yet.   Some of our worst cold snaps (and ice storms) have arrived in February.     

Gardening adds years to your life and life to your years.         

Sunday, November 20, 2016

It's Bone Broth Season!

Nothing has improved my cooking more than using homemade bonebroth in my recipes.   I started making this a couple of winters ago because it was supposed to be good for me . . .  and because it was so warm and yummy to sip a cup of it on a cold winter evening!   I was a little slow to click in to what that rich flavor could add to my recipes.    I like to make mine in a crockpot and cook it for 24 hours or more.   The actual recipe varies from time to time, depending on what I happen to have in the refrigerator.   Here is my basic recipe:

Start with the bones from a roasted chicken - or if it's Thanksgiving week, the bones from your Thanksgiving turkey.   I try to buy chickens that are labeled hormone and antibiotic-free but I am not above buying a grilled or roasted chicken at the grocery store and then using those bones.   Add celery stalks (or the ends of celery stalks and use the celery in your dishes), 1/2 to 1 onion (quartered), two or three carrots, a bunch of parsley, and a couple of bay leaves.   Toss in some whole peppercorns and cover with water.   I use filtered water.   Now turn your crockpot on and set the timer for 24 hours.   I've read it takes this long for the marrow from the bones to leach into your broth.

The first winter that I made bonebroth, I did it on the stovetop.  I had to constantly add water to the pot and was afraid to keep the burner on over night.   I cook with gas and running the burners for 24 hours to make broth ran through LOTS of propane - and turned out to be very expensive broth!   That's when I switched to the crockpot and I love this process.   It cooks slowly enough (even on the high setting) that I don't have to add extra water.  This gives me a nice, richly colored broth.

This is what the chicken and veggies look like after a day of simmering.    Remove them from the crockpot with a big straining spoon.    You won't be able to get ALL of the solids - at least I am not patient enough to get all of the solids out during this step.   At this point, I may add some more spices.   It really depends on what my plan for the broth is.  If I'm cooking with it, I don't bother with more spices.  But if the broth is for sipping, it probably needs some salt and pepper - and a little tumeric or cumin can be tasty too. 
Let the broth cool for 30 minutes or so and then it's time to strain it.   My system is above.    Look at that color!   I made this with a couple of turkey necks and a part of a chicken carcass.    I only had part of a chicken carcass because still haven't trained all my family (i.e. my husband) not to through away chicken bones that are in the refrigerator . . . . 

I know you saw the broth in the last picture, but it was so pretty I thought I'd show you another picture of it!
The final step is to put it into jars.   It usually makes about four quarts.   I just drink what doesn't fit into the jars.   It will stay fresh in the refrigerator for 1 week or in the freezer for 3-6 months.    You can freeze it flat in plastic ziplock bags or in a jar.   For the freezing, I like the bags but for the defrosting and using, I like the jars.    If you freeze in a jar, freeze it first without the lid, leaving room for expansion.   After being frozen for a day, you can cap the jars.   Otherwise, you are risking some broken jars.

Here's a printable version of my recipe.

If you haven't tried bone broth, I hope  you will.   It's super easy, super tasty, and super good for you!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Repotting the Unfriendliest of Plants

I don't do many container plants and when I do, I try to make sure that they are easy-care as possible. Translate to low water plants and BIG(ger) containers.   Last spring I gathered up some small pots and put them together in a mixed succlulent-ish container.   I thought I had the nice mixture of size,  texture, and color.   One plant was the cutest cactus with long, soft looking, yellow thorns in a 8 inch pot.   I had bought that little pot to decorate for a party and the cactus had just stayed exactly the same for 4 or 5 months.

I don't remember, but that little cactus must have been rootbound because once it got its roots into a larger pot of soil, it grew . . . and then
grew some more.   Within a few months, it looked like this.

The cactus was taking over. 

Time to re-pot and this cactus is COVERED with LONG spines.    First things first . . .   I am using a new terra cotta pot so it needs a good soaking.   If I omit this step, the clay will suck all the moisture from the potting mix.   Instead of watering continually post-planting, I'd rather just soak the pot pre-planting and then water normally. 

The first time that I transplanted the cactus, a piece of folded newpaper was the only tool I needed.   It could work again . . .   Well, the newspaper hack was helpful to hold the cactus while I added more potting mix.   To actually remove it from the pot, I ended up taking it to the lawn and very carefully removing it with a shovel.  (Hand tools didn't keep even a gloved hand far enough away from those spines!)  There were actually three cacti growing together so I split them up and shared with a friend.

And the finished product   It has room to grow BUT I will be happy to let it become rootbound.   I sure don't want it to get too big for me to handle!

I wish I knew what this little guy is.  But as it grows and blooms, maybe I'll be able to identify it.   Frankly, I'm not very good with cacti.   

Monday, November 14, 2016

Why Yardmap?

Lately, I've been binge-listening to Margaret Roach's gardening podcast and was interested to hear about Cornell's Yardmapping website!     Actually, the correct name is Habitat Network and it is a joint project of the Nature Conservancy and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.   The mapping program is called Yardmap.  It holds a group of tools to help you map your property and, then, to manage your property in a manner which attracts birds, butterflies, and bees (my words, not theirs).   Of course, all the information that you share with your map helps the scientists learn more about these little creatures.  

Here is my map and the basic breakdown of what is there.   The first few times I worked on it, the property was just listed as "home" - so very generic!  I had always wanted to give our home a name but anything I came up with either sounded stuffy or just didn't ring true.   So, I swiped a friend's community garden's name - because it fits here too!   The first thing we hear when we go outside are the mockingbirds!   And there's nothing stuffy about mockingbirds!

Back to YardMap.   Here is how it works, more or less:

  • The site finds your property on GoogleEarth and then you outline the property.  That's the quick part.   Note: I didn't say that's the easy part because the entire process is pretty easy . . .  but it can be a bit time consuming, especially as you are learning.      
  • After you have outlined your garden, or yard, or yarden, you mark what areas are grass, buildings, pavement, dirt, native forest, water, wetlands, etc. 
  • The final step is that you place your individual trees, shrubs, compost bins, bird feeders, bird houses, bird baths, etc.   Here you can use an INFO tab to add all sorts of details.   
At this point, you start getting feedback -  Habitat Network will feed pertinant articles about how you can make your property more nature-friendly.    Remember the site is hosted by the Cornell Lab or Ornithology (which is a fancy-schmancy word for "birds")  

This is a citizen-scientist project, where non-scientists help collect observations or data from more locations than a scientist could alone.    Besides feeling good about helping out, I expect to learn a lot along the way.  In fact, I have already learned quite a bit.   The mapping has been a fun process and I know that it will help me make Mockingbird Farm more bird friendly.    Won't you join this project?  

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Divide and Repot

Last week, I got a tour of some friends new home - and their very large new backyard.  We talked about some of south Texas plants they aren't familiar with and helped identify the fruit trees, herbs and vegetables left behind by the previous owner.   They have a number of big glazed pots with lush plantings - some that were not looking too hot after the move.   After a discussion of where they were growing before - shade or sun, Matt pointed to one pot containing a plant that he felt just needed to be pulled out and tossed.   When he grabbed it and yanked, the entire rootball came out.  It looked like there was very little soil left in the pot. 

Can you say root bound?   

This has such an easy fix.   Divide and repot.    

I like to spread a tarp, plastic tablecloth or old sheet where I'm going to work preferably on a waist high table.   With a serrated knife, either divide into smaller plants or cut away the old and/or dead parts.  Also, cut away the bottom 1/3 (or more) of the rootball.  Now, you're ready to repot your plant with fresh potting soil and possibly plant a few more pots with the extra material.    Empty everything left on your tarp into your compost bin and enjoy your not-so-new planting.  

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Blog Reading

I find it hard to keep up with all my favorite blogs - some are in my Blogger reading list; some are in my WordPress reading list; and some are just linked to Cultivating Paradise.   I have found that I don't like email notifications of new posts.   Too many emails in my inbox makes me hyperventilate.  All of this means that I pretty much have to be on a computer to read blogs posts.   Recently, I came across a phone ap called Bloglovin and I have hope that I can easily access all my favorite blogs on my phone or iPad!   Keep your fingers crossed.   If you have Bloglovin, you can follow me here.   And here's a little eye candy for all my gardening and nature loving friends!
 Queen Caterpillars feeding on dill plants.   In a few weeks, they will (hopefully) become beautiful butterflies!
 Zinnias, bachelors buttons, basil, and sage cut from my daughters garden.   Here's a great reason to garden!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Benefits of Being a Lazy Gardener

I've be feeling a bit guilty about letting our edible garden go to seed and weed.   About 10 days ago, I noticed that anywhere from 25 - 50 Great Southern White butterflies have taken up residence in the garden.   The only flowers out there are artichoke (yep, I never bothered to harvest the chokes) and rosemary, so I don't have any idea what they are feeding (nectaring) on . . . .      Every night, most of them, including the one pictured on the right,  bed down in a large planting of canna lilies.  

I did  read that cruciferous vegetables are host plants for this butterfly.   But most cruciferous vegetables are a winter crop in my Southern garden.   The pretty little butterflies seem pretty indiscriminate about which plants they hang out near and light on -  the artichoke, asparagus, bolting kale, fennel, along with grass weeds that have gone to seed  . . .   My fear of removing what has attracted them led me to not pull or trim one single horrible looking plant.   This afternoon, when I went out to cut a kale leaf for a smoothie, the kale was covered in caterpillars!  

A quick google search verified that these are indeed Southern Great White butterfly larvae!    If you want to see the entire life cycle, visit this post by the Dauphins, a couple of butterfly experts in south Texas.   They captured every detail in some fabulous photos!   The chrysalis isn't as pretty as some, but I will be on the search for them in a day or two.  

If your schedule - or the Texas heat - keeps you from keeping your garden as tidy as you'd like, don't despair.   You may get to play host to some lovely little creatures, too!