Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Well aren't we just King and Queen Locavore of Hippie Hollow!

I just got back from a walk across the neighborhood where I met a very nice family with a flock of 6 chickens in their backyard.

My wife -- who likes to be called "Fayrene" when she's on the Internet -- had emailed Linda after seeing her mention on our neighborhood email list that she has chickens and gives away eggs on a regular rotation. Fayrene said "yes please, and can we give you some produce?" and since Fayrene is in class tonight, it was left to me to do the walking.

Long story short, I came home with these ...

... and left them a bundle of green onions. I think we definitely got the better end of the deal, but it's kind of an in-between time of the season. By next round, we'll have squash and maybe tomatoes to make it up to them.

(By the way, only language nerds should click here)

update, 5/5/2008

The eggs got eaten yesterday morning. We poached them and served them on English muffins with bacon and avocado, with cheddar cheese sauce on top. As is true of many of my attempts at writing about food, we forgot to take a picture as we were too busy stuffing our faces.


Monday, April 28, 2008

Death from above

We had a classic Central Texas Spring thunderstorm Sunday morning -- about 20 minutes of heavy rain and thunder and enough hail to paint bare ground white.

The damage wasn't too bad. The Sungold and one of the Principe Borghese  both got their main stalks broke, but they should be alright. So should the squash, but it looks like someone took a machine gun to them.


Sunday, April 27, 2008


Leeks and an artichoke. April 27.


Saturday, April 26, 2008


I really do have a hard time believing that my plants are actually growing, probably because I see them several times a day. Now I have photographic proof to ease my mind.

March 31

April 26

Friday, April 25, 2008

Head for the hills

My wife and I are making a much-needed retreat to the hill country this weekend. Of course the best part for me is having two days without obsessively checking on the garden 5 times a day. When we get back, everything will look friggin' huge!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Too many mother uckers uckin' with my squa!

I got home from work today and went to visit the garden, where the squash (3 Sunburst, 1 Peter Pan) are in heavy blossom mode ...

Only to find this ...

Actually, about 70 or 80 of those, which you may recognize as the eggs of one Melittia cucurbitae, a.k.a. the Squash Vine Borer moth, a.k.a "Those goddamn motherfuckers" (pardon the blue language).

I can't tell you I was surprised -- growing squash around these parts is largely an exercise in futility due to the Squash Vine Borer. But, as fast and prolific as squash are, it's worth it to keep trying for the few weeks of production we usually manage to get before they succumb.

And the end is not pretty. Once any one of those eggs hatch, the tiny larva burrows into the hollow squash stem and begins burrowing downward until it hits the solid, meaty base, where it starts eating, growing and pooping. Usually you'll see a little sawdusty poop (frass) pile at the base of the stem as the caterpillar eats its way through. More and more of the plant's leaves get wilty (a condition referred to as "tha itis" in our house) until they're all dead. Then the fat borer crawls out of the stem, belches loudly and drops into the soil where it digs in and cocoons up for the winter.

Actually, I found a few of them when I was preparing the beds in February. These were summarily executed.

Organic prescriptions for SVB include covering your plants with row cover and pollinating by hand, picking off eggs and spraying or injecting the stems with Bt, and shopping for squash at Whole Foods.

I opted to pick off as many as I could and hope for the best.


Look who I found skulking about in the pea seedlings ...

ps. The squash plants aren't actually that green. Something in the camera>iPhoto>PicasaWeb chain was messing with the levels, a problem I've since remedied.


Monday, April 21, 2008


What kind of garden blog would this be without a link to the latest Michael Pollan article in the Times?

Alongside a sporting run at the eternal question "What can one person do?" the article hits pretty close to the reason I think I'm into gardening, although I've never really articulated it. It's anti-consumerism. I have a purposely-overinflated paranoia about corporate marketing cabals scheming to get my money. I've worked hard to build up an immunity to most of the single-purpose kitchen appliances, wearable advertising and overly-convenient food products they generally throw at me (us all).

But it's a less (imaginary) nefarious process that Pollan talks about.

Specialists ourselves, we can no longer imagine anyone but an expert, or anything but a new technology or law, solving our problems. Al Gore asks us to change the light bulbs because he probably can’t imagine us doing anything much more challenging, like, say, growing some portion of our own food.

By having a garden, I break some portion of the lifeline to Dole, Kraft or ADM that we all still rely on for much of our food, and my family and friends get better-tasting, healthier produce to boot.

Plus, when the shit goes down, we won't have to eat cat food.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Ladybug lifecycle

In early March, our big artichoke was swarmed with aphids. Within a couple of weeks, it was swarming with these little black creepy-crawlies ...

Which one by one holed up in these little spotted cocoons ...

Which were soon vacated by little yellow ladybugs ...

No more aphids!


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Feeding tomatoes

Dang this site needs more pictures, y'all.

The tomatoes are getting visibly bigger every day and most of them have tiny blossoms. I'm taking that as a sign to stop the weekly dousings with fish emulsion to let them burn through all that nitrogen so it doesn't distract them from blossoming and fruit setting.

Today I paid some mind to the neglected East-side bed. That's the one that's in-ground, and along the fence, so it doesn't get morning sun. That hasn't kept it from producing a healthy crop of tomatoes the past 2 years though. However, I didn't do anything at all to the soil this year, just stuck 6 plants in among the onions and leeks. So, after work today I scratched in two handfuls of cottonseed/kelp/bone meal around each plant, laid down the soaker hose, which takes 3 loops to fit in the bed, and covered it all with a wheelbarrow full of grass clippings and leaf mold from the pile in the West-side bed.

Everything but the well-mulched raised beds was looking a bit dry, so I put a little water down on the cantaloupe, squash, artichokes and the corner-bed tomatoes. I also soaked the cream peas I planted on Saturday. Then I plugged in the soaker hose and let it run for 20 minutes on the East bed.

Basil's smelling good -- I can just taste the tomatoes ...

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Tuesday, April 8, 2008


I haven't had great luck with peppers. The first year they got devoured by pill bugs. Last year, they grew lovely leaves, but not a lot of peppers. Jalapenos have done OK, but that's about it. This year, I have 4 great looking seedlings from seed and just transplanted them into more-or-less-native soil near the compost bin. They can't do much worse than they have.

April 8
Peppers: (from left to right, facing compost) Cayenne, Serrano, Yellow Wonder, California Wonder Orange. Holes dug past pecan roots in plain soil, each hole amended with a tiny bit of compost, and a handful of cottonseed, bone, and kelp meal.


Saturday, April 5, 2008


I think just about everything is in the ground. I'm waiting for my pepper seedlings to get a little bigger before planting, and there's a stretch of dirt on the North fence where I grew tromboncino squash last year that could take something. But that's about it. Now I just need to remember what I did for next year ...

March 15
Tomatoes: Various home-grown seedlings. 8 in the raised beds mulched with dead grass, 6 in the in-ground bed on the East fence, and 3 around the compost bin in Japanese tomato ring style.

March 26
Cantaloupe: 2, bought from Natural Gardener, planted in the new, unfilled raised bed in two hills of native soil and compost, mulched with dead grass

March 29
Tomatoes: Mail-order seedlings from mom for my birthday. 2 in new spots on the North and East fences in the compost corner, 1 in my homemade "earthtainer".

March 30
Eggplant: 3 small varieties bought from The Great Outdoors, planted in one of the raised beds.
Basil: 1 sweet basil from Great Outdoors, planted with existing herbs in a raised bed.

April 1
Squash, 3 Sunburst, 1 Peter Pan: We had removed 2 Althea bushes along our East fence, leaving a couple of holes, which I filled out with compost and peat humus. I planted two squash in each hill and covered the surrounding area with cardboard and leaf mold.


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Home Despot

I feel a twinge of guilt every time I buy garden supplies at Home Depot, but until I stop being so lazy or someone opens a nursery at all convenient to East Austin, I'll keep going there, especially once they open the new "green" location within biking distance.

I've noticed this year they're carrying an organic fertilizer that, the more I think about it, I might have to buy. $19 for a 40 pound mix of Corn Gluten Meal, Soybean Meal, Sunflower Meal, Yeast Culture, Dried Molasses, Dried Kelp, Alfalfa Meal, Fish Meal, Langbeinite, Limestone, Phosphate Rock and Sulfur is a lot better than I could do on my own. I actually don't think I've seen Corn Gluten Meal by itself that cheap.

They're really upselling the stuff too. Check out the prominent display in the far back corner of the garden section.

(That's it on the other side of the forklift.)


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Mmmm ... Bokashi ...

After logging my fertilizer approach yesterday, I saw this post at Path to Freedom talking about how they've gone a full year without adding any organic NPK fertilizer. I take that to mean they're all homemade compost (which for them would include chicken and goat droppings) and I gather they also add rock dust.

One of my general goals is to spend as little as possible on gardening. I'm not there yet, but maybe at some point I'll set a $0 year budget for the garden and see how it goes. I don't yet have a good sense of how fertile my soil is and how much it relies on the purchased amendments. Better record keeping and the journaling I'm doing here will help me with that, I hope.

But I am rather skeptical of this EM business Path to Freedom is talking about. It sounds like compost tea to me, and you can make that yourself. Bokashi, I guess, is bran and sugar soaked in EM. How's that different from cottonseed meal getting soaked in your garden with compost tea (or rainwater seeping through compost)? It is Japanese though, so I guess that makes it pretty cool.

There are also a couple of good links there on rock dust -- I'm thinking I may need to get another bag of the Minerals Plus.

And if you're not familiar with Path to Freedom, they're some true believers -- a family with 1/10 acre yard in Pasadena who are shooting to harvest 10,000 pounds of food this year.