Sunday, October 30, 2011

Preparing for Winter

I know it’s not winter yet, but as the weather is finally cooling off, it might be time to think about it.  We all know that in a few weeks it will be time to get out the sheers and do our annual pruning.  It will also be time to transplant new trees, dig up any bulbs we want to separate and get the flower beds in order - but what about the vegetable garden.  Do you need to do anything special to prepare it for winter?  The answer is yes.  As many of you know, here in NE Texas you can have some things growing just about year round in the garden.  Some vegetables that we just can’t grow all summer thrive in the cool weather.  Our winters are generally mild enough to allow for spinach, cabbage, onions, beets and a few others to thrive right through the New Year.  I am looking forward to seeing how long I can keep these plants going this year.  Even my pickiest eater will eat raw spinach!  That being said, it must be noted that these crops often don’t take up the whole garden.  There is a lot of space left untended.  Should you just leave it over the winter, or is there some better way to take care of it the unused garden?  These are the questions I asked myself last week.  A little bit of research yielded a predictable answer.  Prepare for winter!

If for no other reason than to make your life a little easier in the busy spring months, you should consider getting ready now.  Aside from saving time in the spring, proper preparation now can enrich the soil come spring, help prevent winter weeds, and keep the topsoil from blowing away with the winter winds.  Sounds great, so what to do…

The best thing to do is to plant a cover crop.  Yikes, more planting?  Yes  more planting, and you don’t even get to harvest it!  Planting a crop like winter wheat, crimson clover, or rye will keep the soil from blowing away in the winter, shade the soil to keep the seeds from germinating into nasty weeds, and add organic matter back into the soil when springtime finally rolls around and you turn it under.  That’s right, you just plow or till it right back into the soil in the spring.

Ok, that’s the best thing to do, but if you have raised beds, or just don’t feel up to the extra effort, at least you can till and mulch.  Turning the soil now will leave it soft for the spring and ready to plow.  Make sure to mulch it so that the loose soil doesn’t blow away!  Weed the raised beds to get any old plants and weeds out and then mulch, mulch, mulch.  Your spring garden will thank you by yielding a bigger harvest!

Don’t forget to put a layer of mulch over your perennial vegetables and flowers too.  This will help protect them from the temperature changes we experience here and keep them from freezing if the temperatures do dip too low.

A little extra work now can save a lot of time next spring.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Greenhouse Seminar

Hi everyone.  I just wanted to let you know of a free seminar that's coming up.  Sweetwater Farm Greenhouse is putting on a Greenhouse Building seminar.  Here are the details:

"Greenhouses Made Simple"
presented by Master Gardener Gerald Frimann
Where: Sweetwater Farm Greenhouse, 4400 W Crawford St., Denison, Texas
When: Wednesday Oct 26th
Time: 2pm - 3pm

If you have any interest in building your own greenhouse, this might be just the talk for you.  Here is a link to their web page for more information:

 Hope to see you there!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tim Gamble: How To Make a Forest Garden, part two

Tim Gamble: How To Make a Forest Garden, part two: This is the second part of a three part essay on how to get started in forest gardening (read part one by clicking here ). For those unfami...

Tim Gamble: How To Make a Forest Garden, part one

Tim Gamble: How To Make a Forest Garden, part one: Forest gardening is a type of permaculture in which trees and other plants are grown for food, fuel, fiber, medicine and other resources in...

Tim Gamble: Introduction To Forest Gardening

I just stumbled onto Tim's blog, which covers many topics, including gardening, homesteading, and prepping. He wrote a three part series on forest gardening that I just love. It does a fantastic job of describing how to build a food forest. Rather than retread ground that he has already covered, I'll post his series here, and blog myself about building a food forest specifically in Texoma at a future date. Dig around Tim's blog if you have time. There's lots more to read!

Tim Gamble: Introduction To Forest Gardening: Since the beginning of mankind, various groups of people have purposely maintained forests and woodland areas, benefiting from the food, fue...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Video - Seed Saving Tips

Marjory Wildcraft of Backyard Food Productions brings us a short video of tips on saving and storing seeds.

Monday, October 17, 2011


“One gardener’s lifelong enemy is another’s lifesaving herb, and another’s treasured border plant”.    This quote came from Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs and was told in association with Goldenrod.  Goldenrod grows wild on our property and I think it’s great!  It is lovely to look at and attracts bees and wasps to the garden.  This is one of the reasons that it makes a good companion plant.  Another reason is that it repels some pests.  Whether you like it or not, you likely will have to decide what to do about it because it is native to Texas and according to some, does best in poor soil.  No wonder it thrives here!  

It is a beautiful flower and dries well, so it is a nice addition to dried flower arrangements.  It can be used to make varying shades of yellow dye and makes a tasty tea.  As a matter of fact, some people claim that after the Boston Tea Party, tea for drinking became scarce.  Liberty Tea, made from the ever abundant goldenrod was a common replacement and became so popular that is was exported to China. 

To the medicinal herbalist, the goldenrod has a long history or uses in North America, Europe and China.  It has been used as astringents, diuretics and diaphoretics, as well as for sore throats, bladder and kidney infections, headaches, flu and even flatulence.   Whether or not any of these things truly works or not, I don’t know but it does seem that no serious illnesses have been associated with the plant. 

If you want another piece of fun trivia about goldenrod, according to the Wikipedia article on the subject, Henry Ford gave Thomas Edison a Model T whose tires were made of rubber from the goldenrod plant.  How about that!

Enough of the history lesson - whether you think it’s a weed or a welcome addition to your flower bed, goldenrod is here to stay in NE Texas.   It has a long history associated with it, and maybe I’ve given you something to think about the next time you see a field of goldenrod waving in the breeze.   If you don’t have any growing wild around your place and would like to add some, you can either hit up one of your friends with an ample supply or find it at a local nursery.  

Until next time, happy gardening!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

No Dig Sandwich Garden Beds

Janet from New Zealand has a great video on creating what she calls a sandwich garden in a raised bed (reminds me of lasagna gardening).  It includes suggestions on what you can use to build a garden bed into.  It's easier than you think, and you can even do this on a balcony or fire escape.  Janet has a great collection of videos at her You Tube channel, greenurbanliving.  Please check her out!

If you're wondering why on earth I'd post something like this in the fall, when many people are done gardening for the year, then I'll tell you.  If you're living in Texoma, or in any part of the country that boasts a long growing season, then you've still got time to grow a few things.  Cool weather crops like lettuces, cabbages, and peas usually grow beautifully and quickly for us at this time of year.  Also these grow direct from seed, so they're easy.  You can put together a quick bed, and sow it with a variety of these quickies for a harvest now, while all the lovely layers you laid in process down for a nice, fertile garden bed come spring.
If you're not able to put a bed like this together now, then note that Janet has a few bags of dried leaves making up a few layers.  You can gather up bagsful of fall leaves now if you like, and store them for use later.  My only advice on that would be to have a care where you store the bags, so the wind and rain don't stomp the leaves to bits.  If the leaves do get stomped to bits, well heck, use them anyway.  Oh, and keep them in a dry spot, or they'll turn into something unspeakable!    

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What's for Dinner?

Jenny here. Dinner tonight will be omelets made with eggs from our hens, and the season's first chard from our garden. Being able to feed my children food that we've grown ourselves gives me such satisfaction. Homesteading is very, very cool.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Morning Glories

Now that the temperatures are cooling off, the morning glories are taking off!

I have them growing in two large rectangular boxes, trellised happily up two wooden frames that my husband mounted to the brick facing of the house.

Morning glories, and their night-loving counterpart moonflowers, are an annual vining plant. They are PROLIFIC growers, and will actually grow through and up other plants if you let them. Don't be shy about redirecting or pruning away any vines that you find misbehaving. This is a hardy plant.

Flowers tend to be large, and vary in color. The classic blue is my personal favorite, but there is an array of color variations available. It's a bit hard to spot in the photo, but I have four all growing together (blue, pink, white/purple picotee, white moonflower).

They grow quite tall. Mine are at about the six foot mark. I have an idea that if I had more trellis, they would be taller. Morning glory doesn't stick or cling to surfaces as ivy does. They twist their vines around structures to support themselves, so you'll need to give them something to twirl around. In my experience the vines are nowhere near as heavy as some other vines like trumpet vine or climbing roses, but don't give them too flimsy a trellis either. Mine are a mid-weight wood. Forget those cheap, stapled trellises. They won't do.

As far as growing them goes, you start from seed.  Any store that sells seeds is likely to have them in many colors.  Direct sow them into the soil in the spring, preferably after danger of frost is over.  Well draining soil is always best, but I have found that morning glory is not terribly fussy.  Water them well, and that's usually all it takes. I actually grow these on a west-facing wall, where the afternoon sun is brutal. The vines struggled through those 100 degree summer months that kicked all our butts, but erupted as soon as the nights dipped below 90 degrees. Vines grow and leaf out so thickly that they actually shade themselves from the sun and usually do just fine on what I like to call my Front Walk of Burning Death.  I have never heard of or experienced morning glory roots destroying walkways or foundations.  I plant mine in planters anyway just in case.

The plant is an annual, and will die back with a hard frost.  You'll notice a ton of seeds drop off the vines as you pull them off their trellises for the year.  Gather as many up as you like.  If you store them in a cool, dry, and preferably dark place, they should be fine for planting again in the spring.  Resowing may not even be necessary, as morning glory will often reseed itself from the seeds that you missed when you cleared the dead vines away. That's good and bad. You'll save a bit of money when they re-sprout. The bad? They never just sprout in the area where you originally planted them. Never. You will be pulling little morning glory shoots out from undesirable spots on a regular basis. Clipping the flowers off before they seed helps, but will not eliminate the problem. I love the heart-shaped leaves and bright flowers so much, that I don't consider this to be a big issue. I pull out the shoots along with any other weed that I find. It's a small price to pay for such a beautiful plant.

Happy Gardening!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Common Sense Homesteading: Autumn Jewels and Musical Fruit

Follow the link to a previous blog post from Laurie over at Common Sense Homesteading on harvesting beans. It's the easiest thing in the world to do, and she also gives you information on why and how to soak before cooking, and a few recipes just for fun. Please stay and have a look around her site. She has built a successful homestead on her property in Wisconsin, and is a selfless sharer of information on how you can do the same!

Common Sense Homesteading: Autumn Jewels and Musical Fruit: The boys and I continue working on cleaning up the garden and prepping food for winter storage. One of my recent additions to the mix is ...

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Pears, pears, pears

Pears are great fruit that will thrive in our lovely NE Texas climate and soil.  It seems that no matter where I drive out in the country, I see a pear tree loaded with fruit.  They may be beside an abandoned barn, in a front yard, or standing in a field next to a park.  One of the things that this tells me is that once a pear tree is established, it is resiliant!  I read one post in my search for information about this hardy produce that jokingly suggested that the only thing you could do to kill a pear tree is pamper it.  Hmmm, this is sounding like my kind of tree!  In truth, I have killed a pear tree or two.  I have a couple struggling in the back yard right now that wish I had planted them somewhere else.  It seems that, once again, picking the right variety and proper location are the key to success. 

The picture at the start of this post is a small portion of the haul the kids and I gathered from a lonely tree next to the park my kids play at.   After some research, I have come to the conclusion that these are Kieffer pears.   This tree is described on Texas A&M horticulture website as the "old standard of pears".  They are heavy fruit bearers that will ripen in late September to October.  It also says they are "higly reistant to fire blight".    Sounding good...

Just on a state level, we seem to be on the border of Texas tree growing zones one and two.  That leaves a wide variety of pears available to us to grow.  I love the idea of the old, hardy, do-nothing-to-it and have it produce year after year kind, but the fruit of the Kieffer is not the high dessert quality that some people prefer.  Never fear, there are still more than ten variety of pear trees that will survive in our area if you find the right location!  One that is good in Zone one (which seems to encompass most of west Texas all the way over to Grayson County) is the Moonglow.  I have seen this particular variety in many nurseries around here, and have some in my yard.  They struggled over this hot summer, but did survive with only one watering from us.  The yield was very small, but the trees have only been in for two years.  The other pear tree we have planted out there is an Asian variety.  I have not given up on these trees and feel that they will thrive in years to come, but my next one will be a Kieffer and it is getting planted on either the north or east side of the house.

So, what do you do with all of those pears?  Give them to friends of course!  And eat them and make preserves, pies, and pear butter. 

I have a pan of pears boiling on the stove right now.  Trying out new recipies is a thing of joy!   The recipe for today can be found here:

The pear butter in the picture is from here:

I don't know how today's will turn out, but the cinammon/vanilla recipe is wonderful!

Have fun and happy gardening!