Gardening With My Fingers Crossed

I have naturally tendencies towards thrift, and that’s what first gave me the idea a couple of years ago to try growing some of my food myself. Since then I’ve discovered many other reasons for growing my own food:

  • experiencing the joy of creating something
  • getting a bit of exercise
  • conserving the soil and getting my hands dirty occasionally
  • knowing exactly where my food came from and how it was grown
  • really appreciating the work farmers put in to grow the food I buy at the market
  • not having to deal with the waste from bagged carrots or stickered cucumbers

Earlier attempts

I started small, with just watermelons that first summer. It was a total failure because I was using seeds from a supermarket watermelon, but I wasn’t deterred.

That winter I grew some carrots and radishes. That first carrot was so tender and sweet that I swore to grow carrots every year from then on. Sadly, when I invited my young cousin to the backyard to harvest a couple of the still-small carrots, she got over-enthused and pulled almost all of them. Only a couple survived to grow to adulthood.

Last summer my watermelon attempt was sad again, even with seeds from a packet. Maintaining a summer garden in Texas is tough. My sunflowers grew tall and beautiful, but attracted too many bugs and ended up not even having any kernels in the seeds. At least I got a few good cucumbers that go round and my purchased oregano plant happily took root and provided for many meals of spaghetti. As it started cooling off a bit, I took a shot at growing some peas but only ate a few before an early frost killed off my plants.

This winter is already off to a decent start, though, with the standard radishes and a couple of carrots eaten early. (They take forever to grow… or maybe I just need to water them more often). Even though my few spinach plants haven’t produced much I’ve picked some of the leaves to eat and am also considering just eating the broccoli leaves as well since I don’t see any indication that a head will ever form on those two broccoli plants. The onion seeds and garlic I planted in the fall are promising long-term success.

Purchases for this year

Last week I took a morning off to visit The Natural Gardener. It’s not at all convenient on public transit but has a great selection of seeds and other goodies. Unlike last year’s visit, this time I was disciplined enough to not buy a fancy new pot. Only things that would go in the ground in my garden (plus paper wrapping and a rubber band for the onions).

Kennebec seed potatoes

So I’m not sure I even have the room to grow potatoes, but there’s a little patch of dirt where I’m going to try it. At least I think there’s enough finished compost to pile on top as the plants start to grow. It was just over a buck for all these seed potatoes so no harm done if I fail this attempt.

Watermelon Radishes

These are for the fall garden but like I said, that garden store is not convenient so I stashed them away now. One bunch of watermelon radishes at the farmers market is $2.75, so $2.99 for the seed packet is a good deal if I grow even just five radishes.

Italian Roma Tomatoes

Some people say tomatoes are easy to grow, but they intimidate me a bit. I hear they can attract the leaf-footed stink bugs that my sunflowers attracted last summer, and those things really freaked me out. But I love so many things with tomato sauce so am already mentally preparing myself for what it will take to have my own source for spaghetti, pizza, chili, red rice, and many other delicious foods. ($2.39)

California Wonder Bell Peppers

A bit of bell pepper goes into almost any entree, and frozen bell pepper would work easily well most of the time. So fingers crossed that we get a decent yield from these. ($1.99)

Tam Jalapeño

I’m not a fan of spicy foods, so this is a mild jalapeño. If this produces a lot and my husband doesn’t gobble them all up, I can prep and freeze some to add a slight kick to winter stews and such. ($2.50)

Italian Large Leaf Parsely

At $3.79 these were the most expensive seeds I picked up this trip, and I kind of have the buyers remorse on this one. But if I can figure out more ways to eat parsley or grow a few parsley plants in pots to give as gifts, maybe it’ll be worthwhile.

Save the Bees Flower Mix

I wanted to get marigolds because I read they’re good companion plants for tomatoes. When they didn’t have any marigold seeds, though, I looked around for any other kind of beneficial flowers. This mix lists basil, cilantro, dill, and other useful herbs as ingredients, so I may get crazy at some point and try to identify and separate the seeds to use to my own design. ($2.69)

1015Y Onion transplants

I planted some onions from seed in October and have probably eight that are growing happily, but they’re scrawny in comparison to these transplants. Just $2.50 for a couple of dozen onion transplants? I couldn’t resist.

Peat Pellets

I saw these little pellets of dirt and thought they must be awesome because they’re zero waste. No price tag or anything. At only 18 cents each, I picked up six of them to give them a try. Sad to say, after some investigation into how to use them it turns out that harvesting from peat bogs is horrible for the environment. Plus, there’s some netting around the peat which is supposed to be biodegradable but is made up of unknown composition. This’ll definitely be a one-time thing.

A Saturday in the Garden

When the weekend came around, it was time to get to work.

Compost

Yesterday was cold but after the sun came out and warmed things up a little I did a bit of weeding, a little raking, and checked out the status of my compost pile. I follow the lazy composting method of throwing it on the ground but have been exceptionally lazy in that I rarely bother to turn it. Much to my delight there was some rich dark crumbly stuff underneath, which you can see just a bit of in this picture. If my shovel wasn’t broken I would’ve turned it more. That’s one thing on my “things to buy” list.

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Backyard compost pile

1015Y Onion Transplants

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Onion success!

This was my primary goal of getting outside this weekend. These babies needed to get in the ground and get some water. Now there are a couple dozen onion transplants scattered about my garden bed, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce

Next up was to use up some of my old seeds that might not make it to next season.

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I’ve tried growing a little bit of this lettuce indoors but wasn’t too impressed. Maybe it’ll work better outdoors. Or maybe it’ll freeze and die. The only reason I bought this last year was because I made the mistake of going into a Walmart where I saw seed packets for 20 cents each. I really need to stay out of those places.

English Peas

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I was a bit surprised to find planting peas on the gardening calendar for this season, but there they were. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of planting the peas without first soaking them in water overnight as the instructions state. There may not be much hope for this year. But fingers crossed anyway and heavy watering for the next couple of days.

By the way, use #238 for t-shirt yarn: substitute for twine in garden trellises.

Danvers Half Long Carrots

There were just a few of these seeds left, so I found room for an extra row in the garden bed. Historically for me these have taken several months to mature so once again I have my fingers crossed that these will turn out okay.

A Sunday Indoors

Okay, so I didn’t spend all of today indoors, but my gardening focus was all indoors as I prepped for the Spring garden.

Four tomato seeds and three pepper seeds are now each nestled into their own pellet container or yogurt pot and all together in a small baking dish in a plastic bag. This should make a nice mini-greenhouse for them. I’m planing to start a few more in a couple of weeks so I have plants ready to transplant at different times.

I also started two mini-pots of thyme from seed. The seed packet they were in had time to harvest listed as 180 days so no holding my breath until those are ready.

Last of all was another packet of lettuce to finish up. This one is a microgreens variety which, although it tastes alright, produces such a small amount of greens and is so annoying to harvest that I probably won’t bother to get any more such seeds again.

It’s two dark to take decent photos now, so in conclusion here are photos taken earlier of my two Meyer lemon plants grown from seed, over a year old but not obvious by looking at them. Poor little guys.

Wish me luck!

2015 Lookback: A Year of Tshirt Reuse

I went into 2015 excited about attempting to go zero waste and making use of existing resources. January 2015 was my first visit to the Really, Really Free Market to find treasures among piles and piles of unwanted tshirts.

Austin Really Really Free Market

I got home that day with a beach bag stuffed full of tshirts in my favorite colors. As I had started earlier with my own worn out shirts, these also gradually were transformed into tshirt yarn. It was a slow process for me because I wasn’t content to cut off and discard hem, seams, or collar, instead painstakingly removing all the stitches to make full use of the fabric. Once I had an assortment of yarn colors that looked like they might be okay together, I braided them and stitched them round following this braided rag rug tutorial. That first one was fairly small, but I was amazed and proud to have made my very own rug.

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Braided Rag Rug #1

I quickly moved on to another, slightly larger and with different color scheme. Trying for something even more ambitious, I handstitched it so the thread was (mostly) not visible from the front side. It does look a bit better but was a ton of work. The only reason I might try this again in the future would be to use up all my tiny spools of cheap thread in various colors since they aren’t useful for machine-stitching.

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Braided Rag Rug #2

Next up was a twined potholder on a cardboard frame, following the instructions from Bobbie Irwin’s book Twist & Twine from the library. The cardboard frame was a hassle and wasn’t holding up while working on it, so for the second potholder the frame was chopsticks tied to a metal grated tray. Still not perfect, and the pale blue/pink color scheme didn’t provide enough contrast to show off the work I had put into the pattern, but two potholders was plenty.

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Twined Potholders #1 and #2

But by this time I was excited enough to have made a purchase of a set of (not new) crochet hooks online. My enthusiasm waned a little when I opened the grossly excessive packaging they were mailed in, but it was already done. After starting off with some practice crochet on a normal length of thread that I had around, a tshirt yarn crochet bowl was the next item on the agenda. It was so cute that I wanted to make more, but most of my tshirt yarn was already cut too thickly to work well for bowls this small.

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Small Crochet Bowl

Fortunately, I had a larger crochet hook (Size N) as part of the set and was ready to make the big version. My primary goal was to use up many of the smaller pieces of yarn from the arm and chest sections of the shirts and even collars, sewn together into one continuous yarn and then crocheted so that the seams wouldn’t be visible. This basket might not be the prettiest thing in the world, but it works great for storing my fabric yoyos, both completed and in progress.

With these easier crochet experiments complete, it was time to get on with my next rug experiment–the crocheted rag rug. Every tutorial I’ve read says that crocheting in the round is easier for beginners attempting to make rag rugs, but I didn’t believe them. Starting a round and then increasing at the right time is complicated. And I was right! For me at least, making regular turns for a rectangular piece is so much easier than round. This blue beauty is now sitting next to my bed ready to give my feet just a little more cushion in the morning.

Trying to use up some of my plentiful tshirt yarn, I made one final braided rag rug of the year. This is my favorite so far and as you can see from that last picture it’s also the largest. To get an interesting color combination, I used both a couple of standard yarn balls from tshirt bodies and one ball made from various shorter pieces sewn together. This will definitely be my modus operandi for future attempts.

For those of you interested in hopping on the tshirt yarn bandwagon, here are a few tips:

  • Choose 100% cotton tshirts when possible so any random scraps left over can be composted (although almost all shirts have non-compostable polyester stitching).
  • Choose tshirts with a small or no logo. The printed area doesn’t form into yarn like the rest of the shirt, and you’ll have to force it while braiding, crocheting, or twining.
  • Skip the shirts that have a side seam if you have a choice. You want the main body of the shirt to give you as long a continuous smooth yarn as possible.
  • If making a braided rag rug, be very very careful to start stitching in the right direction so the rug will grow away from the sewing machine. I think I got that one wrong every time, ugh!
  • If using a sewing machine, take time to look through the manual and understand as much as possible how it works to prevent any issues. And clean your machine more regularly than I do to keep it in good condition.
  • Don’t be afraid to try again. I learned a lot of things about working with colors from these experiments, and my most recent rag rug is by far my favorite.
  • Crocheting with thick tshirt yarn can be strenuous. Take breaks and don’t expect to do a large project all in one go.
  • If making a round rug, set it down regularly and check for lumps or curling to determine if the next rings need to be tighter or looser respectively. (I’ve so far been too lazy to actually remove any existing stitching to fix it, but that’s probably not a bad idea either.)

All in all, I’ll declare my tshirt reuse plans for 2015 a smashing success! In the future I’d like to try something like Prarie Peasant’s knitted rag rug (I’ve been gifted a knitting set that previously belonged to a relative of my sister’s boyfriend so nothing to buy!) or one of the more complex braided rag rugs that also requires absolutely no sewing. I have a different big project for next year, though, so time to put away all my leftover yarn for when the urge hits again.

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Leftover tshirt yarn balls