Plant a Tree

After a week full of negative thoughts flooding my head, I wanted to do something positive. So I selected a location with plenty of sun, not too close to the house, not too far from the faucet, and with decent soil (almost no rocks found during exploratory digging). And soon my baby (2 year old) Meyer lemon tree had a new home, free from the plastic pot that had contained it for this past year. I made a ring of random bricks from around the yard, and then filled it slightly with a mulch of crumpled leaves and pine needles.

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Molly at 2 years 2 months

This plant is a survivor. After living the first year of its life cooped up inside, I had finally gotten the idea that it might like hanging out outside. Sure enough, being indoors must have been torture and this baby tree was finally able to stretch her wings and let her spirit soar after experiencing the warm sun directly and feeling the breeze rustling through her leaves. After a year outside, it was time to give her a permanent home in the garden where she is guaranteed plenty of room for future growth, both above and below ground.

And for her spiritual growth, I needed to find some companions. Today I had the day off work to go visit The Natural Gardener and do just that. I picked up a “Golden Bells” Esperanza shrub (after previous failed attempts to grow it from seed) and a Fuyu persimmon tree. A kumquat would have made a great companion but it’s apparently not kumquat planting time.

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Persimmon tree… or stick in the ground?

Yes, it doesn’t look like much right now (as a bus rider I chose the smallest one available), but it will grow. Fuyu persimmon trees grow up to 30 feet tall and 15 feet wide. It has a long taproot and is now situated in what looks like some fairly decent soil. All it needs is a few bricks or something around it to keep it cozy and maybe a bit of fertilizer once I’m sure there won’t be any more hard frosts. Lou here will grow up to be a behemoth and someday will provide us with lots of delicious fruits to boot.

It may seem like a small thing, but planting these two trees in the yard has made me feel a lot better. I’m looking forward to the future now, as these young plants continue to grow and as more trees and shrubs join them in the future. I know the future will be a beautiful place.

The Semi-Winter Garden

The garden’s been quiet recently but it’s definitely not snowed over here in Austin. I’ve harvested the dried cowpeas and chopped the tops off, and I’ve occasionally thrown a few more veggie seeds in the garden beds. A week ago there was a hard freeze and the marigold plant out front finally died, along with the zinnias and dianthus. The mexican mint marigold and lemon balm look pretty dead too, but those may just be hibernating for the winter. Fingers crossed.

The Beds

Some of the seeds were placed in a row and some were just scattered haphazardly. It’s a good things weeds have filled in most of the other beds because this first one has a lot of sad exposed soil. There’s a lot of henbit around, what I believe is wood sorrel, and the occasional dandelion, plus unknown varieties of weeds. I should really learn how to mulch properly…

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One of three garden beds

Spinach

The variety is Monstreux de Viroflay, so the leaves are supposed to be monsters. Not sure if this plant is still in its infancy or if it’s just unhappy. But I’m pretty sure at least that it actually it spinach because the leaves have that spinach-y taste to them. Not bad. Too bad the others haven’t come up. I’ll try to start some more later in the winter.

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Monstreux de Viroflay spinach plant

Broccoli

This one I’m not so sure about. It could be broccoli or another weed. I’m assuming it’s broccoli because a month ago it was just stems in all direction. The leaves had been totally eaten by something that knows this plant is delicious.

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Broccoli plant… maybe?

Carrots / Celery

I sowed three varieties of carrots, a different one in each bed. And I threw some celery seeds in as well. These look like carrots to me. Someday I’ll learn to tell the difference between carrot, celery, and Queen Anne’s Lace.

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Carrots, I hope

Fava Beans

These are supposedly cold season beans, but are totally new to me. I don’t know if they’ll fruit or even if I have that disease which can result in death if I eat fava beans. Either way, these plants look nice and they’re scattered in various places around the backyard.

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Fava plants

Chard / Beets

Before the frost, several seedlings were popping up. The yellow ones are definitely chard, so I’m assuming that’s what the red ones are also since they look very similar. Beets are in the same family and some of those seeds were in there too, so only time will tell.

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Chard seedlings before the frost

Unfortunately, after the frost the numbers seem to have dropped off. But at least a couple of them appear to have revived.

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Chard plant that survived the frost, woohoo!

Onions

I didn’t see any of these left after the frost and was scared that these died, but the stalks are just really slender and easy to miss unless you’re looking really closely.

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A row of onion babies, still alive!

Garlic

Everyone in Austin should grow garlic. It’s the easiest thing in the world. Stick a few cloves in the ground in October, and then pull out full heads of garlic the next summer. It’s brilliant!

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Garlic stalks all sprawled out in the mess

Around the Yard

Some other edibles that showed promise outside of the three garden mess beds.

Potatoes

When we moved into this house in February, one of the first things I did was plant some seed potatoes in a random location amist grass. It was kind of late to be planting potatoes here but I ruined all chances of survival by promptly forgetting where they were and likely cut them down with the grass a few times.

But about a month ago, I saw four of these plants in a sort of row and, after some head-scratching, remembered the potatoes. Alas, since the frost I once again cannot find them. They must have been totally obliterated. We’ll see if they poke their heads out again in the spring.

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One of four potato plants, now gone

English Peas / Snap Peas

The English peas died a long time ago and the snap peas were never really happy. It may have something to do with the lousy unamended soil I planted them in, but it was really a test to see what would thrive here. One of the snap pea plants hung in there through and produced a couple of peas. I finally pulled it out today for a picture of what might have been.

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The only one of its kind

Southern Peas

The cowpeas had no complaints about the soil. They thrived even as I neglected to water them. I only ate a few handfuls fresh. The rest I let dry out before collecting, so as to have many to plant in the spring. We’ll see how they do in various areas around the yard to make sure it wasn’t just that one location. Besides, legumes are good for rotating with pretty much every other crop.

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Mississippi Silver cowpea plant

Red Chili Bean

The seed beans were the same ones I’ve used for chili recently, picked up from the bulk bin at the supermarket, so no clue what variety they really are. But considering that I threw the few seeds on the ground on some partly dug up soil, then quickly retreated inside after ants attacked, and forever after neglected them, I am super impressed with the result. Then again, I had to pull the plant before the bean pod had fully ripened because bugs were starting to eat up the plant. I may try this again in the spring with a dedicated area. If the ants don’t scare me away again, that is.

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A lone red chili bean plant

Lavender

This may be cheating since these plants joined the garden from the store only a couple of months ago and haven’t grown, but I’m happy to say that they survived the frost and look as healthy as ever. (Note: The weed in the bottom center of this picture is almost definitely Queen Anne’s lace. I’m pretty sure that’s a different leaf shape than the carrots posted above. Pretty sure.)

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Low-growing lavender

Salvia

I have no intention of using this as an edible, but adding a picture here anyway.

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Salvia Greggii

Dwarf Buford Holly

Same for this shrub.

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The Dwarf Buford Holly looks exactly the same after the frost as before

Unknown Shrub

And this one. Although I have no idea what it is, I think it’s lovely. And it’s definitely thrived on the spilled water in its prime location directly beneath the faucet.

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Mystery plant

Meyer Lemon Tree

Still no lemons. Then again, it’s only two years old. I was tempted to give it some liquid fertilizer, but it’ll survive another couple of months before feeding it and then finding it a new home in the ground.

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Two-year-old Meyer lemon tree

The Indoor Garden

Or at least, the scattered pots sitting on the table near our only south-facing window. I’ve planted persimmon, plum, and meyer lemon seeds which haven’t yet sprouted. Broccoli seeds are the more likely candidates to survive. The Mexican Bird of Paradise plants were lovely for a while and then passed on, as did the American Beautyberry.

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The indoor garden

Rosemary

I’ve never grown rosemary from seed to this size before. The secret is apparently to not water it too much. Also in that pot are a couple of lantana seedlings. No point in replanting  into separate containers until I’m fairly certain that they’ll survive.

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Lantana on the left and rosemary on the right

Texas Mountain Laurel

Not a food plant. Somehow this indoor plant is already a smidge taller than the one I transplanted near the front driveway. That one survived the frost just fine, so I may transplant this one also before long. I have no idea which plant is poking out behind it. To the right you can also see what I believe is a Ruellia sprout based on the shape of the seed, but it’s dying so it won’t interfere.

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Texas Mountain Laurel once again

Tangerine

This bit of green just peeked out for the first time yesterday. So excited because I got the seed from a locally-grown tangerine, so if this someday turns into a beautiful fruit tree it will have a history in central Texas.

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Seed from a locally-grown tangerine, just sprouted

Rosemary

I went to Home Depot this morning so I checked to see if they had any of the rosemary Christmas trees that I’ve heard about recently. Sure enough, I rescued one at half off and am excited to have more rosemary out in the yard soon. I was tempted to get more, but no, I need an excuse to learn how to propagate these without killing them. Besides, this variety says it only grows to two feet tall and I love them large for yard decoration.

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Rosemary Christmas tree

Henbit

While writing up this blogpost, it finally struck me that perhaps henbit was edible and after a quick check online, it turns out that yes henbit is edible! Tomorrow when I get out into the garden again, you know what I’ll be sampling. Can’t believe I never thought of this before. 🙂

Happy Texas Arbor Day!

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The national Arbor Day may be celebrated in the Spring, but here in Texas it’s celebrated the first Friday in November. This is because rather than worries about continuous freezing weather, here most trees need as much time as possible to grow strong before the intense summer heat.

I’m not sure if I even need to say this, but trees are awesome!

  • Trees sequester carbon and produce oxygen for cleaner air.
  • Shade from trees can keep your home cooler.
  • Shade from trees can make spending time outside in the summer bearable.
  • Tree windbreaks can reduce heating expenses during the winter.
  • Trees provide habitat for birds and other creatures.
  • Tree roots bind soil to prevent erosion.
  • The roots also filter water that is absorbed through the ground to replenish aquifers.
  • The tree canopy holds a lot of rain that never gets to the ground and helps with the flash flooding we regularly see here in Austin.
  • Deciduous trees drop their leaves, which make great mulch or compost.
  • Trees are beautiful. I’ve read that extra greenery can even reduce crime rates.

Sadly I’m not planting any trees soon. I do have some empty space on my lawn that could use it, but I want a kumquat for my next tree and citrus is best planted in Spring. Have you been thinking of planting trees soon? If you’re in Austin, TreeFolks even gives away some saplings and small trees throughout the season. Check their site for giveaway events.

However, I’m not doing nothing. I would love to watch a tree grow to mature size from seed and have been patiently waiting to see if my peach, plum, or persimmon seeds will sprout. They seeds were taken from delicious local fruits, so there’s hope that they may thrive here. The pomegranate sprouted earlier but is getting droopy and probably won’t make it. 😦

On the bright side, I grabbed some seed from Texas Mountain Laurels (TML) in the area and my first attempt (planted September 30) is looking promising.

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my Texas Mountain Laurel at one month

TML is a slow-grower so it’ll be many years before it gets to full tree size. But I’ve seen them shrub-sized and that looks lovely also. I hear they are covered with beautiful purple blossoms earlier in the year, will have to look out for that next year! How did I never pay attention to this before?

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Medium-sized Texas Mountain Laurel near my office

This week to make sure that I at least have multiple chickens in my basket, I planted two more little pots with TML and am anxiously waiting for them to sprout. On the next Texas Arbor Day maybe they’ll find their home outside. 🙂

Buy Nothing New Month 2016 completed!

October is over, and with that Buy Nothing New Month has come to a close. I’ve been working towards not buying anything for a couple of years now, so there’s not much difference between this month and any other but it did turn out to be a slow month in goods needed for the house (other than the plants, of course). So without further ado, here are the non-food items that I purchased in October.

Plants

They’re new, but I had an explicit exception at the start of the month because October is the perfect time to plant perennials in central Texas. I have a huge, mostly empty yard now but if I keep getting a handful of perennials each year and learn how to propogate them so they multiply, well, eventually it’ll be full of life and beautiful. My plant finds from the nearby nursery include:

  • two lavender plants
  • a foxtail fern just because they’re so cute
  • a Mexican mint marigold (smells delicious to me, horrible to mosquitoes)
  • a variety of salvia greggi
  • a lemon verbena plant which smells divine but was getting a bit straggly in the clearance section
  • a chile pequin, also straggly-looking, also from the clearance section, probably would have been tossed without my intervention
  • pack of carrot seeds for my mom’s garden

A Mirror

One weekend while browsing Goodwill, my husband and I found a nice mirror with keyhooks to put by our front entryway. I also found what looked like a great light jacket but it turned out to be slightly too large when I tried it on. I don’t really need another light jacket right now, so I returned that one to the racks and will wait to find one I truly love.

Shirts

Not sure if I should even mention this because they’re not only not new, I didn’t even buy them. Anyhow, I stopped by the Really, Really Free Market this month and found a few shirts that I wanted to try out. Two immediately got placed back in the bag to return next time after I got home and tried them on, but I have a couple which are likely winners. If I don’t love them after wearing them once, they’ll also go straight back. I also picked up a couple of random pillowcases to use as wraps for Christmas gifts.

Books

Speaking of Christmas gifts, I arrived at Recycled Reads early for book club this month to search for some second-hand finds to give to family. For most of them, I have no idea what they would really enjoy getting for Christmas, but there’s a common expectation to get something. This trip found me presents for four people for the hefty sum of $4. Some of them may appreciate also getting the cash that I could have spent on something that would wind up in the trash quicker; so for them I’ll be sure to slip in a special bookmark. They might use it to buy new crap, but at least in those cases it’ll be new crap with a higher likelihood of making them happy.

Toilet Paper

I’ve given up on most disposable products but, nope, not this. Does it count as not-new if it’s made from recycled paper? 😛

That’s everything. I’ll have to declare this Buy Nothing New Month a resounding success!

Buy Nothing Day is November 25th

If you missed BNNM and want to participate, don’t feel like it’s a requirement to do so only in October. My first time I missed it and did my own BNN month in November. And even if you’re not interested enough for a whole month, I strongly encourage you to participate in Buy Nothing Day this November 25th (a.k.a. Black Friday).

I have a colleague whose post-Thanksgiving tradition is to stay home, watch the news reports and laugh at the people who get trampled in the Black Friday stampedes when the stores open. Now, I’m not encouraging anyone to laugh at folks who are getting hurt, but I do advocate staying home, staying safe, and avoiding the stress, the crowds, the long lines of Black Friday. What do you say? Do you thrive on shopping or are you ready to give your wallet a break?

Celebrate Buy Nothing Day - November 25, 2016
This year it’s November 25, 2016

 

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween folks! I didn’t do any decorating, but apparently a spider around my house celebrates the holiday and spun up this beauty by the back door for me to marvel at yesterday. They’ve never built a web there before, so I know it’s the Halloween spirit.

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large web but no spider in sight…

I haven’t gotten any candy to give out this year. I just couldn’t stand the thought of handing out individually-wrapped, tooth-decaying sugar bombs to little children, so I’m likely going to keep the lights off and pretend I’m not home. Does this make me a horrible person? Maybe. I’ve got to figure out something for next year.

On the bright side, I made a tiny harvest from my garden for the first time in weeks. The jalapeño first appeared a few weeks ago as I was doing some weeding and was shocked to realize the jalapeño plant that I had taken for dead was actually alive and produced this bite-sized offering. Most of my Mississippi Silver cowpea plants now have pods on them, so I picked a few to sample. I never had southern peas before and was pleased that after boiling them they didn’t taste excessively bean-y. They were probably a bit immature still as they’re a crowder variety and didn’t look all that crowded in the pod yet. I’m hoping that when they mature a bit more they’re also easier to shell, yeesh!

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Young cowpeas (Mississippi Silver) and a tiny jalapeño

Well, that’s all. Have a spooktacular day!

The Literal Windfall

Thursday morning was windy here in Austin. For a few hours, the winds averaged 20 miles per hour, and as I worked at the office I’d often stare out the window for a moment to watch trees swaying in the wind. I was mostly excited about the cooler weather that was on its way in, but when I got home Thursday evening something even more exciting happened. My back porch was sprinkled liberally with pecans! I greedily gathered as many as I could from the porch and surrounding yard and ended up with this large bowl of pecans before having to leave for other obligations.

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Pecans! Beautiful pecans!

There may be some undesirable pecans in that batch as I learned soon after by reading some pecan-gathering instructions from another windfall recipient. I’ll sort them out at some point, but in the meantime I gathered two more bowls full of pecans and have them all hanging out in an extra produce bag. Waiting a couple of weeks for them to cure will be difficult but so worth it.

I’m full of gratitude at the moment:

  • That the house we got earlier this year already had a couple of mature pecan trees. It had been a dream of mine but I was uneasy about the ten years or so that it would take for a newly planted pecan tree to start producing.
  • That some other folks for whom a yard littered with pecans would have just been a nuisance didn’t get this home. 😛
  • For being healthy enough to go outside and pick the pecans from the ground one by one without pain or too much effort.
  • For the extra exercise opportunity. My thighs may have been a tiny bit sore today, but it felt good.
  • That there are now more pecans at the farmers market. While I already had my bags full of good stuff today, next time some of those are sure to go home with me. Have to stock up while they’re in season!
  • And finally, for the cool weather that the wind helped bring in. It was in the 40’s this morning, which for Austin is true Texas weather. It won’t get that chilly again for a while, so the brisk air was savored while it lasted.

And that, my friends, is what a windfall is. 🙂

Slowing Down

A few weeks ago I was feeling a bit burned out. Constantly tired. A bit irritable. Disappointed with things in general. Work had been hectic and I was fortunate enough to be able to take some time off, but afterwards I still felt completely worn out.

Something else was draining me, and I did foolish things. I went to our monthly neighborhood meeting at the wrong time. I was careless in dinner prep, spilled the food all over the floor, and then just ragequit and let my husband know that there would be no dinner that evening. At another event the next day, I went to a location on the other side of town before realizing that that location didn’t even make any sense.

I didn’t know what to do other than to curl up in bed and cry for a good while. At first I just felt more miserable because I should have been using that time to go water the garden, finish painting the bedroom, or write up a blog post I had thought of. And then it finally hit me. It was that long ToDo list that had been dragging me down. I needed to take some time to just relax, and what better way to do that than to stay curled up in bed for the rest of the day and enjoy a few scoops of my favorite ice cream.

My resolution to plant a few seeds in the garden every day? It changed to a resolution to plant nothing else for the rest of the month. I made an exception or two, but time spent in the garden was much more relaxing afterwards.

Those plans to finish painting the bedroom? On hold.

And the blog post? It takes at least an hour for me to write one. That’s in addition to the hour or several that I had been spending every day to read other blogs. I needed to cut back, but how much? And how? The only way for me really was cold turkey, and like gardening I resolved to stay off of WordPress for the rest of the month. At first it made me a bit anxious, but as I realized all the time it freed up it’s a decision I came to love.

It’s a new month now, and I feel refreshed. Sometimes you have to learn things the hard way, but those are the lessons that really stick. My ToDo list is filling out again after the hiatus, but I realize that those things can be prioritized and some of them can be postponed indefinitely. In fact most of them can be postponed indefinitely, and it feels so good to have escaped from that urgency. I’ll do things on my own time.

Zero Waste Week – Day 3 – Gratitude Journal

Going zero waste isn’t about denying yourself the good things. In fact, the things that are trying to frustrate me this week don’t have anything to do with zero waste at all…. Well, the soda has been beckoning me and it’s hard to resist and it’s quite wasteful, but I have much better reasons to not drink it than Zero Waste Week.

And I definitely have the things that really matter, so without further ado, here are just a few of the things that I’m grateful for this week….

I’ve said it before, but first and foremost, I’m grateful that we have healthy and inexpensive tap water available so there’s no need to resort to a bottle.

I am grateful that we have a refrigerator and stove, which together make eating leftovers a breeze. (We ate yesterday’s leftover soup for dinner tonight, this time remembering to add the chickpeas and mushrooms.)

I am grateful that one of our local farmers at the market had tons of delicious cucumbers last weekend, and our local grocery sells package-free carrots, cabbage, and salad mix.

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Breakfast salad

I am grateful for working somewhere with a foosball table and plenty of coworkers willing to play a game or two. When your job involves staring at a computer screen all day, getting up, moving around, and maybe letting out a bit of aggression is a very welcome option. And other than the occasional drop of rod grease used, it’s zero waste entertainment.

I am grateful that my husband and I were able to afford this house and that it has a great yard that was (and still is) rich with weeds. There was plenty of clover adding nitrogen to the soil and dandelions loosening up the soil by sending down their long tap roots. Without them, we wouldn’t have these happy cowpea sprouts and squash baby.

I am grateful that even though I didn’t realize until after I picked it that this canary melon wasn’t fully ripe, it turned out to still be sweet, crisp, and satisfying.

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If this melon was ripe, the flesh would be white

I am grateful that although some insects are in the biting mood lately, most of them are totally harmless to me.

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On a melon leaf

What are you grateful for?

Zero Waste Week – Day 1

Today was the easiest day of zero waste week because it was a holiday and I wasn’t tempted by the junk food at work. Instead around lunch time I made a huge pot of vegan chili full of various diced veggies. FYI, this is also a great way to use up random veggies that would otherwise go bad. To start out the week, I’ll share the foods I stocked up on this weekend in preparation for this no-fast-food week. Not perfectly zero waste, but fairly close.

I knew I would need plenty of sweet fruits to avoid the week without regressing to soda so I picked up some peaches, pears, and holiday honeydew (maybe?). Plus there are a few canary melons in the backyard which are almost ripe.

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Fresh grub from the farmers market

Likewise, plenty of bread for satiety.

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Package-free bread and bagels

More carbs and plenty of nuts, plus peppercorns for good measure. (I’m already fully stocked on beans).

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No mason jars required!

Extra veggies, with a few stickers just to taunt me. I got these pears before getting the farmers market pears shown above and probably should have skipped these. And I know avocados aren’t the most eco-friendly item to buy these days, but my husband is so happy to eat the occasional avodado.

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Non-local produce
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Mixed greens and garlic that somehow avoided being in the previous photo

Then of course, there are the weekly wasteful things. Milk is a necessity for my husband and he’d be rather upset if I didn’t get him any… and then go out and get it himself. As for the toilet paper, well, at least the wrapper and cardboard core will be composted, and I imagine some of the tissue particles will wind up in Dillo Dirt.

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The wasteful things

To make up for that waste, though, I did something adventurous to make sure the pumkin blooms in my backyard weren’t going to waste. This morning there was both a male and female flower open, so I pulled off the male flower, stripped it down to the stamen, and showed that female flower a good time. I’m usually less concerned about wasting future food, so this is my first lesson learned for Zero Waste Week.

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Well, that’s it! Time to get to sleep early so I’ll be less tempted by the caffeine tomorrow.

Zero Waste Week 2016

The Fall Garden Begins!

It may feel pretty hot again here in Austin, but there’s some hope that we’ll see a little relief not too long from now, like those couple of beautiful weeks that we saw last month where it was a pleasure to be outside. A few weeks ago I described the couple of garden beds I planted during that brief pleasurable time. But now I know that it’s time for fall gardening. And it’s all because of this.

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A carrot!

Normally carrots take forever to germinate. Sometimes it feels like they never will. But one of my Paris Market carrots has already poked its head out of the ground and is telling me that it’s time to go.

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The canary melon vines have come back to life
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The pumpkin vines are also in bloom

I’ve decided to use go without any soil amendments for the fall garden and see what happens. No compost (because none of mine is ready) and no purchased mulch (crumbled leaves and grass clippings will have to do). But some new seeds were a must. As far as my Buy Nothing New project, I count seeds as food and therefore allow myself to buy anything I reasonably believe I can use. Last weekend I visited Shoal Creek Nursery to stock up. Reading about soil health recently, I ended up getting a few different legumes to experiment with, as well as some buckwheat. (Ignore that the buckwheat package says it’s for sprouting. I’m gonna plant it!)

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I intended to buy carrot and onion seeds, but things happened.

I’ve resolved to plant one row or square of something every day. So far it’s been just cowpeas and snap peas, but I have a lot of back lawn left to plant.

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The area chosen for cowpeas turned out to be really rocky. I cleaned out some, but it’s a good thing I wasn’t planning to plant carrots there. It’ll need more work in the future.

This morning I discovered something else wonderous.

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Some of the cowpeas sprouted already!

So today my husband and I went back to the garden center to get some onion seeds and maybe a few more beans to get into the ground while there’s still time. Somehow, with earlier season seeds on sale at 75% off, I ended up with this…

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So many seeds!

At least I’ll have plenty of time to learn about some of these varieties before starting them out in the spring. Other than carrot seeds (because I love carrots) and perennials, that’ll be it for me this year. Including the carrot seeds I bought a couple of weeks ago, I’ve spent altogether just over $20 on seeds and don’t at all doubt that I can grow $20 worth of food with minimal additional input. Well, that’s it, time to get gardening!

And my apologies for all of the exclamation points in this post. I’ve been messing around in the garden regularly for a couple of years now, and this is the most variety of veggie life I’ve ever had thriving at once so it’s pretty awesome. 🙂