Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Natural Potting Soil

There are a lot of potting soil recipes out there. Most of them require some sort of purchase since, at least, I don't have any perlite or moss on me. Ok so I do have moss but it's spanish moss which is really good to put on top of soil to keep moisture in. I recomend starting with dirt. I don't really care what kind of dirt since I'm going to be adding things to it to make it more useable anyway. Add to that an equal or slilghtly more compost. If you don't have any compost then you should start making some today. I'm sure you have some kind of something that can be composted. Start one on your apartment baclony if you have to. This is where your nutrients will come from. Seeds will sprout in almost anything but they need nutrients to keep growing. Finally add some coarse sand to the mix. About as much as you added dirt. Beach type sand is good. It your sand is too fine it will not drain properly and can become packed and hard. The reason we added sand in the first place is to help drainage and keep the soil pliable. Coarse sand gives water a path to travel down not only for drainage but also to get to the roots. Good drainage is important because the soil needs to have air in it as well. If it is full of water then the plant's roots can't breathe properly. Remember that no matter how good you soil is, if your pots are infected then your plants might die anyway. Always clean your pots.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

University of Texas at Arlington Community Gardens

Saturday was the dedication event for the community gardens here in Arlington, Texas. It had been tried before without success but with the State and City working together there is now a half acre of land with around 70 raised beds. Granted I didn't count them.
I have turned in my application to grow some food there. This would be in addition to the raised beds at the house and the beds in front of the house and on the side of the house and a little in the study. I think I would go by anyhow and see what's growing even if I can't grow anything there this year. It's always interesting to see how different people grow the exact same plant.
Half of the food is being donated to food banks while the other half goes to the growers.
There is also a master gardener who has decided that even food banks need seasoning and is growing herbs.
Pictures to come, eventually...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Popping Up Annually

I've always heard that planting annuals is a waste of time and money since you just have to buy them again next year. Where this might be true in some cases where the plant doesn't grow and propagate well in your area this doesn't have to be the case. One of the best things about annuals is that they spread so easily by seed. Otherwise we would soon have none left since they die every year.
Some annuals that I have in my garden are basil, cilantro, lettuce and onion which are all prolific seeders. Although I harvest most of the seeds, there are still many others that produce the next year's crop.
Some less self seeding plants are your peppers, tomato, melons, squash and cucumber. These have to have the fruit eaten and the seeds scattered in the process or saved by the gardener for the next year instead of the plant just dropping seed.
It's well worth the little bit of time it takes to successfully save seeds. Although we live in a fast paced world seeds need to be dry before storage. This can takes days if the air is too humid. Make sure you store the seeds in airtight containers. If you notice mold growing in one of the containers you might be able to save some of the seeds still if you catch it in time.
First, make sure the seeds you are trying to save had no mold on them. I like to use plastic bags which keep seeds spread apart and limits the ability of mold to spread. If they started to mold I wouldn't bother. if you do use plastic bags it's easy to cut out the area that doesn't have the mold and start over with drying. There was too much moisture.
After a few seasons you should be able to tell when the seeds are ready for storage. Note however that every type of seed is different even if the difference is only slight.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tomoato Sprouts

I planted a few roma tomato seeds and they've sprouted. All I have to do now is keep them alive and healthy for planting in the next few weeks. So far there are three sprouts but it looked like there could be two more popping up.
I gave them a nice drink of warm water to make them think it was warming up and time to grow. Again root temperature is very important to plants even more than air temperature.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Composting Growth

Composting used to be the way folks would get rid of scraps. Growing up, my grandmother had a bowl which sat on the counter and she would toss whatever needed to go into the compost pile into it throughout the day. When it started getting dark outside she would have one of us kids go out and throw it on the pile and the bowl would be washed for the next day. Of course dinner was already underway at this point and no more cutting of vegetables was needed.

By the time they moved out of that house and back up north there were two very big piles of compost. This is what was used to sustain the garden out back and help in the pottings that were done.

In our area there is a lot of effort by local clubs to encourage composting. The main problem being the lack of a place to compost at. Having compost is lovely but the pile of leftover vegetables, fruit peels, grass, leaves and whatnot doesn't smell very good. Pair this with the relatively small lots we have and how close our neighbors are and the incentive doesn't always convince people to do it.

My compost pile has gone through phases and apparently I didn't always throw stuff in there that was too far gone. Sometimes we have onions or potatoes or whatnot that start to look kind of old and spotty so out they go. Just yesterday I looked back there while watering the plants that really do think it's already spring and there were onion tops springing out of where the compost pile used to be (I moved it over 4 feet). Who knows what else might be trying to grow. Possibly pepper plants since I throw the seeds out there too.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Chinese Parsley (Cilantro)

It never ceases to amaze me how little research is done into a plant. I can understand television series writers not taking the time to verify facts, it's fiction anyway and if you decide to pick a show apart it's your own fault for not wanting to enjoy the show.

On the other hand, when you are writing an informative piece on the use and history of a plant and entirely leave out a huge portion of the available information, not even hinting on it then you have really gotten yourself into a pickle. I mean seriously, you can use it in pickeling, it's not just for dill.

The chinese have used cilantro for who knows how long. The problem with most people is that they hear cilantro and instantly think about salsa or guacamole or some other favorite dish that includes this green leafy plant. This makes perfect sense since the very word cilantro is spanish and most of us don't speak a lick of chinese much less be able to recognize the word if we saw it.

The chinese use cilantro in soups and fish dishes. You probably haven't had it at your local chinese fast food take out place, at least not down here but these are usually americanized versions of the food anyway.

Chinese parsley can also be readily found at asian markets. and a lot cheaper than your big chain supermarkets. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't grow any though. Chinese parsley is a great plant to grow and it survives in some terrible conditions. I have it along my driveway where the worst heat of the day is.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sharing Seeds

One of the best ways to grow your garden is by sharing seeds. Not only do you get a wider variety of seeds, you also get to talk with people who have successfully grown the seed you are getting in your area.
It's not always easy to get seeds though and not everyone is really that interested in getting the seeds you have sometimes. Today we had four people say they were going to come get seeds from us and only one showed up. Not only did she get seeds but she also got some plants she can transplant.

I got some squash seeds this way a month or so ago and really need to remember to plant them soon. I can't remember exactly when they said to plant them but I wrote it on the package they are in so it really doesn't matter, which goes back to the whole talking to those who have grown it already.

Sometimes people have things growing and they didn't even realize it was something that someone would really want. Just down the street an older lady had some passoin fruit vines on her fence. She didn't even know how they got there but liked the flowers.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Tomato Planting

It seems winter is about over. A good indication of this is found in the comics. Sally Forth is spring cleaning. Maybe not the best of indications but the trees agree it's time to put forth leaves and get growing.
This reminded me of the occasional attempt at tomato growing. Yesterday when at the store I noticed that the tomato harvest this past season was terrible and there aren't many on the shelves. I bought three tomatoes and have started pulling out the seeds of the one I used for cooking.
I'll have to amend the soil this week and build boxes to keep the cats out but I think it might be worth the trouble.
So, here goes another tomato attempt.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Juniper Berries

My wife is still trying to find ingredients for her sachets. Juniper berries were on the list and she really didn't want to pay ten dollars a pound for them, as one store was selling them as a gourmet snack.
I know I had seen a lot of them recently but as I got to some of the trees, which around here can get to a good twenty feet tall, they were void of any berries at all. This did not bode well for us.
Fortunately we went bike riding with some friends down a long trail and in the middle of nowhere we found lots of juniper berries. It seems that little furry forest animals love the things and probably ate most of them since most of the trees were bare and only a few had berries left. It was stilll enought though for what we needed at the time. We'll just have to remember to pick them when we see them. Otherwise we might miss the berry season.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Roses in the Winter?

It's winter still and the roses aren't blooming yet but that's just what my wife needed for her sachets. Trying to find a florist with some old flowers that they don't want AND are willing to give them to you is really hard. The big chains are too scared to let anything go out for free just in case someone decided to put them in a stew and eat them, gets sick, and then tries to sue them for the terrible flower petals that weren't meant for consumption in the first place. Fortunately we were able to find some but only because the person who had them wasn't going to have the time to make potpourri herself.

This next growing season I'll just have to make sure I collect all of the petals our rose bushes put out so this won't happen again, but it probably will.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Jimson Weed (Datura)

Although there are many names for it as well as spellings, the jimson weed is a beautiful flower. I had one in my yard for many years and it might not come back this year after mowing it over repeatedly for years.

"If it's such a beautiful flower then why would you mow it down?" you might ask. It's pretty invasive. Once the flowers are done, it makes a seed pod that looks what I imagine a spine ship from Lamplighter would look like. Inside there are, I would guess, hundreds of seeds. The seeds are poisonous. Ingesting just a few can kill you.

Also, it's spread to my nieghbors yard and I can still see it when I come home in the evenings. It really is a sight to see. Pictured here is only one flower but when even a small plant starts to bloom it can have as many as will fit. The one we had in the back which was only about two feet tall usually had fifteen to twenty flowers at at time.