Saturday, March 7, 2009


Let me just avoid any seed planting, bean sprouting or fruit ripening cleverness and cut to the chase.

The Crazy Billionaire household got a new gardener on February 3. She's been a pretty good baby so far, generally scheduling her fussy awake times to mostly daylight hours. And she's left me more time than I expected for seed-starting, bed-digging and watering, if not garden blogging.

Her arrival has accompanied another tempting early Austin spring that has everything in the garden perilously sticking out stems, leaves and blossoms, and me, as usual, itching to plant with no idea where to put everything.

But those are minor problems. It's been, metaphorically, a long cold snowy winter, but here comes the sun and it's alright.

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Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Compost Report

If I was prone to poetic overstatement, I'd tell you that the compost pile is the beating heart of the organic garden -- the living organ that pumps the very life force into the soil and thus the plants which, when finally spent, return to the pile to begin again the cycle of life.

Wait, maybe that would make it the lungs then. Regardless, I want to talk about compost.

Here's my pile, which got a long-awaited turning last weekend.

It's been an especially hot and dry summer, and I've been especially stingy with the water, so the pile has been very dry since the spring and therefore, not very active. Composting, as I'm sure you know, has 3 basic ingredients:

Browns -- dry leaves, straw, twigs, etc.
Greens -- grass clippings, garden cuttings, kitchen waste, etc.
Water -- enough that everything is damp, but not so much that there's no air in the pile.

Mix them together in some some magic proportion and a menagerie of bacteria, fungii and bugs go crazy eating it and each other until it's all broken down into a pretty fundamental mass of organic material. Put that in your garden and it improves the texture and water-holding ability of your soil. And all that bacteria keeps eating any organic material it can find, breaking it down to the basic molecules that feed your plants.

The magic proportion can take a lot of fussing to find, but fortunately, even if you never manage to come anywhere close, it's all going to end up as compost anyway. It may just take longer and get kind of stinky at times.

Or you might find that 6 months of stocking a 40 cubic-foot pile gets you about $6 worth of compost.

But then it's all about the journey, isn't it?

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Bink the Stink

As long as I'm not posting about gardening, I'd like to share a small sadness.

Bink Smith, the fuzzball you may recognize from the background of many a garden photo, passed on this week.

Despite her love for pulling broccoli plants up by the roots and eating only the ripest tomatoes off the vine, Bink was a serene presence in the garden, as everywhere else in our lives.

Before she went, we had time for one more round of "chase the water", a game she loved albeit one I wasn't always happy with, especially when the field of play was a brittle squash vine. And she got one last shot at catching that rat in the shed. No success, but the hunt was always the best part.

She was a good dog and we miss her lots.

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

The end of the line

Hey, what do you know, if you spend some time gardening, you get some ideas for your garden blog.

I took advantage of the sub-90 morning temperature to get out and check on the back 40.

Visiting the tomatoes, I was faced with the annual conundrum.

As you may know, once temperatures get consistently above 90 in the daytime and above 70 at night, tomatoes tend to stop blossoming or drop their blossoms before they set fruit. Here in Central Texas and other hot climates, that means that by mid-July, we're pretty much done seeing any tiny new green tomatoes. And this year, with a string of 100-degree days in early, we've been pretty done for a while.

What to do? You can keep watering the scraggly things in hopes that they'll still be healthy enough to start fruiting again when it cools off. You can chop them off at the kneecaps to make them put out new young sprouts and hope those produce fruit later. Or you can plant fresh seedlings, either grown from seed or rooted from suckers taken off the mature plants.

I've tried just about all of these and never had much success, yet I've still had trouble bringing myself to make the obvious choice. Not so this year.

Thanks for the memories and mouth ulcers, Brandywine, Persimmon and Black Krim. The compost pile thanks you for the greenery.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008


Cantaloupe, Ambrosia, June 22, 2008 (seedlings planted March 26th) 89 days, >5 lbs.

Actually the second cantaloupe, the first one having been picked by John and Becky while they were garden-sitting. I've been waiting for the official tell-tale signs -- cantaloupe smell, softness around the stem, easy separation from the vine -- but it still wasn't showing any. It was, however, cracked on the blossom end and ants were starting to explore, so it had to be done, but it's plenty ready. It's not the sweetest one I've ever had, but it's mighty good.

As I was bringing it inside, I was reminded of what was probably a seminal experience for my organic gardening hobby. It was our family vacation to the mid-Atlantic when I was in the 4th grade (generally I date all childhood memories to the 4th grade, but I think it really was in this case) and we were doing some touring of Pennsylvania Dutch country.

Driving past Amish farms, the air was heavy with the smell of cow manure. At a restaurant or farm stand, we had a cantaloupe that we generally agreed was the best any of us had tasted and we attributed it to the Amish farmers' use of manure fertilizer. In hindsight, I think it was a basic realization for me that cow shit could grow tastier fruit than the granulated stuff in our shed at home.

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Friday, June 6, 2008

I must confess

I've been struggling to put into words for some time my discovery that everything I do or think is just a natural response to my particular socio-economic situation and therefore thousands upon thousands of other people are doing and thinking the same things, no matter how unique I may think I am.

Generally, my guidebook in this existential journey is a publication called the New York Times. Day after day, they publish articles that neatly illustrate activities and thoughts that I have recently "discovered", usually quoting 3 or 4 people from different East coast communities to really illustrate the breadth of the trend.

What can I say? I'm white people.

So seeing this article, concerning the ethical struggles (or lack thereof) gardeners have with varmint-killing, was especially liberating from a garden-blogging perspective.

Concerned that garden-blog readers might not have a lot of crossover with killers of woodland creatures, I might have gone forever without ever writing about the recent time I borrowed a friend's high-powered pellet gun and took a rushed shot at a squirrel lurking around the cantaloupe bed.

I managed only to hit him in the left-front paw, which gave me the chance to fast-track all the ethical dilemmas I had glossed over during my rush to grab the gun. I did all that thinking while gathering up my gloves and a hammer on my way out to visit my new friend who was catching his breath by the back fence. However by the time I got out there, he was gone. I've since seen him scurrying on the fence and power lines with a tell-tale limp.

However, knowing what I know about demographic fatalism, now verified by the NYT, I can tell the story safely with the knowledge that gardeners everywhere are happily shooting, beating with shovels, drowning in rain barrels, snapping the necks of and otherwise killing all manner of squirrel, rabbit, mole, woodchuck and snake on a daily basis.

Hell, with only one gimped squirrel under my belt, I'm a regular Francis of Assisi.

I will say the squirrels have not touched a single tomato so far this year. Maybe they just need some more time to find them, maybe my experiments with cayenne pepper and pepper spray are having some effect.

Or just maybe Squirrelly Tremain is out there telling his friends which yard not to fuck with.

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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.