Fall Gardening

Black pearl peppers

Black pearl pepper plant – the “black pearls” will turn red when ripe and spicy

Somehow the summer has rushed head on into fall. A couple days ago, we had a cold front move in – dropping the temperature from a balmy 105˚ to a frigid 91˚F. The break from the intense heat finally let me start entertaining the idea of working outside to prepare my fall garden. After tearing out Swiss chard and okra plants this morning from last fall (that deep-rooted 10′ okra put up quite a fight and I have a skinned knee to prove it!), I amended the soil with some compost.

I also have a lot of spring survivors that I kept: basil, parsley, chives, mustard greens, sage, 3 types of hot peppers, beautiful red lima beans, 4 kinds of mint, oregano, tarragon, 1 lemon grass plant. Yes, the majority ARE perennials, and hopefully they’ll survive through the winter!

Purple Basil

Purple basil

Mint

Mint

lima

Dixie speckled butter beans

Either way, tomorrow I will sow new seeds. Beets, Swiss chard, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, eggplant, and kale have all made the list so far.

I also just finished drying my test batch of Dixie speckled butter beans, a form of bush lima bean (I found these and the black pearl peppers at Landreth Seed Company, they have all sorts of unusual heirloom varieties). To dry them, I simply harvested them, left them alone on the counter for a week, and then shelled them once dry. I only have 2 plants growing, so it will probably take the next few batches just to make 1 cup of dried beans, which will only make about 2 cups, or 1 can’s worth! I appreciate the  beans farmers even more now…

lima

Dixie speckled butter beans, aka baby lima beans

Do you plan on having a fall garden? What will you grow?

Greens & Herbs

Spanish lavenderThe last two days were all mine to play in the dirt. I’m not sure why, but there’s just something about breaking up moist chunky soil with my fingers, yanking out dandelions and clovers by the roots, and booting grubs to the curb that I find therapeutic. (Hmmm, picking up on an outward-expression-of-aggression theme…) In the midst of all this psychological release, I finally got my raised bed ready for a new crop of veggies! This year I amended the soil with a blend of organic compost and manure to amend the soil, which was decimated last year by needy tomatoes and bell peppers. I managed to get my leafy greens planted, which will hopefully be ready to go in about 6 weeks: Swiss chard, arugula, mixed Asian stir fry greens, and 3 types of beets, 2 of which are heirloom. I also got some bush lima beans and sugar snap peas, okra, and stock flower seeds into the ground. Hopefully the 4 straight days of rain anticipated in Dallas will help water them in.

raised bedI managed to save some lettuce, Swiss chard, bok choi, and fennel from last year’s planting, and used the bricks to raise the drip irrigation lines while adding the new compost.

My started-indoors seedlings are also coming along, although I’m concerned with how leggy my broccoli is becoming. Nothing to do about it, though, it’s not ready for planting just yet, not enough leaves.

I should also mention that I’m slowing turning my front yard into a nicely landscaped edible garden. It’s so hot in Dallas that I can get away with lots of perennials, but I’m choosing ones that I can also cook with. Plus their flowers attract bees and butterflies, which helps pollinate the vegetables. Right now I’ve slipped Spanish lavender, oregano, bee balm, Mexican mint marigold, and several types of thyme in with the more traditional landscape plants.

Mexican mint marigold

Last year's Mexican mint marigold

Spanish lavender

Spanish lavender

The thyme and oregano spread to form a mat of tasty ground cover.

Thyme

Spreading thyme

Greek oregano

Greek oregano

I need to find suitable spots for artichokes, hyssop, and lemon grass, also perennials.

I also put up tepees for some gorgeous ornamental purple hyacinth beans that bloom large flowers that then sport large purple pods.

Pole setup

Last year's ornamental bean

Last year's ornamental bean

Last year's hyacinth beans

Easy-Peasy Newsprint Pots

Newsprint pots sporting seedlings

Seeds were ordered and are well on their way, so time to prepare to start them indoors! In the past, I’ve used store-bought “professional” greenhouses. You know what I’m referring to: Those flimsy plastic trays with the teeny tiny pockets that are about the width of your index finger, into which you painstakingly plunge your little seeds with a stick and hope they’ll figure out which end is up in their crowded Manhattan-style apartment. And then once they sprout and it’s time to transplant outdoors, you have to surgically remove them from those little pockets with a pointy grapefruit spoon because the roots are so entangled through the drainage hole that the plants are screaming bloody murder while you’re destroying all the work you’ve put into it in less time than you can sneeze. Times 72 pockets in the tray.

Last year I discovered newsprint pots. They are humane. They are bigger and therefore easier to work with, and you can just bury them into the soil with the plant because…they will biodegrade! Kids can make them. Pets can eat them (although I don’t know why they would want to). And my bet is that you already own all the supplies you will need. Special thanks to the National Gardening Association for their article on Eco-Containers, from which these instructions are adapted.

Finished pots

Materials:
1. Scissors
2. Soy-Ink Newspaper, cut into strips (3″ wide for very small pots ~1.5″ tall, 4″ for medium pots ~2″ tall, 5″ for larger pots ~ 2.5″ tall, etc.). Length of strip should be about 1″ longer than then length of your cans or jars, see below.
3. Food Cans or Jars (the diameter of the vessel is the diameter of your pot)
4. Flour Paste (start by mixing 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, NOT self-rising, and 1 tablespoon water, then continue to add about 1/4 teaspoon more flour or water until you get it to be the consistency of thin pancake batter)

Bowl of Flour Paste

Bowl of Flour Paste

5. Teaspoon, Stirrer, Popsicle Stick, Finger, etc. to mix and spread paste

Instructions:
1. Roll strip of newspaper around can or jar, using your paste spreading tool to spread a thick line of paste to secure the seam. Don’t skimp on the paste! Be sure to let about half the length of the paper hang off the end of the can so that you have material to create the bottom.

2. On the end where the paper is overhanging, snip 6-7 vertical slits in the paper to create flaps. Make sure not to cut into where you just pasted the seam together.

3. Fold these flaps down one by one in a circle while putting paste under each flap to secure as the bottom. I like to start by folding in the seam piece first and layering the rest around it. Slide the completed pot off the can. Note: You can also try to fold down the flaps as you would a gift, but I found that this did not work as well due to the round shape.

 

You can reinforce the bottom or cover any gaps by applying paste to small strips of paper and layering them inside and across the bottom. You can also spread paste across the bottom if you really want to go nuts with it.

Plugging a Hole

Plugging a Hole

Set pots aside to dry, at least several hours.
Once the paste dries and hardens, you can fill the pots with dirt or seed starter mix and place them in trays, then plant the seeds as you normally would. This year I’m going to place a layer of pea gravel down underneath the pots to encourage better drainage. I find the old trays from the abandoned “professional” greenhouses work well for this, as do old plastic shoe storage bins.

Finished pots

My crop of pots

Your seedlings will thank you.

Garden-Bound

I’ve just begun planning my spring garden. And by “just begun,” I really mean I am still getting around to tearing out the old stuff from last year. Well, that’s mostly done, and I just found a small crop of perfect, still moist-from-today’s-rain Swiss chard and Chinese mustard greens to boot! (Talk about a reward for procrastination…)

Swiss ChardThose beauties will be sautéed tonight with some dill and butter, and served alongside herbed brown rice, smoky black beans (recipe forthcoming), and maybe some tomato side. It may sound weird, but the dill and chard blend together in an unfamiliar symphony, the soprano and tenor voices combining into savory and tangy yet sweet flavors.

Much as it pains me, this year I am giving up on tomatoes (waste of space until it cools off enough for them to grow fruit buds in September, and then all I get are green tomatoes by November) and squash (squash vine borers spoiled it for themselves. Guess they’ll just have to wait and hopefully die out by next year). Admittedly two of my favorite summer produce items, but this will give me an excuse to frequent the farmers markets and collect seeds!

My list of desired plants is long. I need to figure out how to maximize growing space on the property without taking it over. My neighbors will probably hate me for it, but raspberries and beans are probably going to be trellised up the fence in the front yard. I can’t stand to think of the wasted space otherwise!

Also on the seed list…Brussels sprouts; leafy greens like chard, beets, mustard, bok choi, and kale; peas (the hubby’s favorite); purple potatoes (there is NOTHING like a fresh picked organic new potato, trust me, super sweet and actual potato flavor!); fennel; cauliflower; eggplants; okra; hot peppers; cucumbers; and artichokes. Probably many other things as well; I am only at “L” in the seed catalog. (Secretly, I would love to own a farm. With chickens. But I suspect that will not be in the cards…)