Saturday, September 27, 2008

Back to Basics

Ack! It has been 14 days since the lights went out in the middle of 100mph winds from Hurricane Ike. I got my power back last night. Praise God and thank you, Centerpoint Energy and Kansas City Power and Light. Why KCP&L? They sent big crews down here (so did many other power companies - about 8,000 workers in all) and they were the ones who repaired the lines to my little corner of Montgomery County. At the outage peak, 98% of the homes and businesses in southeast Texas had no electricity, about 2.2 million customers. Tens of thousands of trees fell over onto homes, streets, and power lines. Wow. I was very lucky. Three smallish (under 6" in diameter) trees fell over but I propped them back up and they seem to be fine. Ice, water, gasoline, and non-perishable foods became currency. It has been rough. Schools were closed for a week and a half. See stories in the Houston Chronicle - For a category 2 storm this was a whopper.

The day the storm hit I was picking giant pomegranates, afraid they would go shooting through windows. I found that you can cut them in half, juice them just like a lemon, and get pomegranate juice. I had about 2 lb. of strawberries in the fridge so I made what I now call Hurricane Jam. Here is the recipe.
2 lb. fresh strawberries, hulled and mashed
1 c. pomegranate juice
1 lemon, juiced and zested
1 T. candied ginger, chopped
2 c. sugar

Combine the ingredients, cook on low until fruit is soft, then raise heat to boil mixture. Bring to 220 degrees. Pour into sterilized jars and seal. Yum!! Kinda tart and sweet.

The garden came through OK overall. The tomato plants blew over. I staked them back up but they look pretty awful. The pumpkin and squash vines were smashed to bits by the wind and rain. Everything else looks OK despite 16" of rain over a period of 30 hours and about 6 hours of 100 mph wind. We even ate some of the lettuce and cherry tomatoes one night.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Yike! Take a hike, Ike!

Oh, no! We've been saying for years we're due, we're due! and here it comes. Big ol' Hurricane Ike is about 30 hours away from a predicted landfall in Freeport, which puts us on the "dirty" side. Ike is bigger and pushing more tidewater than Katrina. As I write this he's still a Cat 2, 100 mph hurricane but predicted to become Cat 3 before landfall. It's a good thing he is so big, actually the size of the state of Texas and nearly filling the Gulf of Mexico - not enough room to really wind the winds up to Cat 4 or 5, which the center low pressure indicates could easily happen.
I'm afraid my sweet little garden isn't going to be able to withstand the 40-60 mph winds and 7-10" of rain that are predicted for The Woodlands. I took a couple of before pictures to compare with the aftermath Saturday evening or Sunday.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

No vacancies in the garden

I've had to put some plants in overflow spots! We'll see how they do in regular, not-very-special flowerbeds.

Picked two pomegranets when I saw one had split and fallen on the ground. Will probably harvest the rest this week.

Notes from the plant tags and seed envelopes planted today:
  • Broccoli De Cicco - days to germination 5-17. Days to harvest 50-80. Plant n April and again in late June or early July for a fall crop. Thin for a final plant spacing of 15-18 inches apart in rows 2-3 feet apart. Broccoli likes cool weather and will head too early in warm temperatures.

  • Brussel sprouts Catskill - days to germination 5-17. Days to harvest 80-115. Like other Brassica they like well-prepared soil and thrive in cool weather. they require a lot of moisture in summer and can put up with some shade. Harvest from the bottom of the stock, up when the sprouts are 1 to 1/2 inches in diameter. Pinch back the growing tip in late summer to encourage the upper sprouts to develop.

  • Purple top white globe turnip - organic certified. Heirloom. 50 days cool season crop - plant in early spring or late summer. Can be eaten raw like an apple. Can be shredded or sliced fresh for salads or cooked like mashed potatoes. Greens are even more nutritious and considered one of the best flavors in the green category. days to emerge: 5-10. Don't thin for greens.

  • Superfantastic tomato - matures in 70 days. Fruit size 10 oz. Full sun.

  • California Wonder sweet bell pepper - matures in 75 days. Fruit size 4-6 oz. Full sun.

  • Swiss chard - matures in 55-65 days. Swiss chard is really a beet grown for its leaves. Cook leaves like spinach or prepare leaf stalks like asparagus. Harvest outer leaves when they reach 12" long. Well adapted to hot weather. Full sun.

  • Butter crunch lettuce - also called butter head. Matures in 70 days.

  • Rio Verde cabbage - matures in 79 days. Heads mature to best quality in cook weather. Harvest when firm.

  • Broccoli - matures in 40-70 days. Broccoli matures to its best qualidy during cook weather. Harvest buds before yellow flowers show.

  • Cauliflower - matures in 50-70 days. Tender and delicious pure white heads. Tie outer leaves over developing heads to prevent yellowing (blanching). Grows best in cool weather with dajmple water and fertilizer. Rotate all cabbage crops by 3 years.

  • Red Sails lettuce - matures in 40-45 days. Prefers fertile well-drained soil and cooker temperatures.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Birth and Death in the Garden

The tomatoes are getting tall - the cherry tomato plants are almost 5' tall and have about a dozen little green cherry tomatoes coming along with more flowers budding. The July4 tomatoes are also starting to fruit - teensy so far. The Black Krim tomatoes have some buds getting ready to open. They are oddly huge by tomato bud standards. The tomatoes I planted from seed have come to nothing. A few are still seedlings, no second leaves, but mostly they are gone. I think there are two tiny tomatillo seedlings left, with second leaves, but not much to them. I don't know whether the problem is the time of year I planted them, poor seeds, pests (didn't see any) or what. I suspect it may be the heat is to much for tomato seeds.

The garlic never came up. Neither did the peppers nor most of the onions. I've got about 6 or 7 red onions coming along and two teeny sprigs in the white onion bed but they haven't done much so I'm not sure they will ever bulb. Most of the lettuce died - bad timing on my part. The summer is definitely too hot for lettuce. A few heads of buttercrunch are doing OK in a shady part of the garden so I might get a salad out of it. The rouge d'hiver and rocket are about dead. The cantelope came up, flowered, and died.

The radishes are OK. No idea how I will know when they are ready to harvest. I pulled up one that had loads of leaves and since I thought I had read radishes grow fast I thought it would be ready. Not. Just a root, no bulb. I stuck it back in and watered it. The leaves wilted but lo and behold it put out new leaves so maybe it will be OK.

The cucumbers are doing OK. Still short but at least not sick looking or dead. No flowers yet. Same with the red okra and the lima beans.

The potatoes are coming up nicely. I need to read up on when to hill them and get some alfalfa hay to do that.

The squash is starting to veg but I had a big disappointment with the first ones. I had two yellow squash - a fat one and a little one. The little one started to implode - just shrank up on itself. I thought maybe it didn't get fertilized. the big one was doing fine but then it started to shrivel up too. I pulled it off the vine and broke it open and there was a fat, green caterpiller munching away! I stepped on the squash, caterpiller and all. I have two more yellow squash and one zucchini. I got out the Dipel dust and gave the vines a sprinkle. I didn't really want to use pesticides but I also didn't really want to lose anymore squash!

No pumpkins yet. The vines were looking ugly, with several torn and browning leaves so I decided to clean it up and cut off the bad leaves. That may not have been a good idea. Now the vine looks so barren. It has lots of male flowers but all of the little female buds have disappeared without opening. Patience, patience. But I really wanted some pumpkins for Halloween. Oh, well. Maybe for Thanksgiving.

I fed the garden with fish and seaweed emulsion this morning. Gag! What a stink! I can't get it out of my nose and everytime I walk out there it really smells awful. My poor neighbors. However, it's supposed to do wonders. In fact, I should repeat it every two weeks. I hope it works.

I went to Wabash Feed store to get some transplants. Onion sets won't be there until November but I got some other things (see spreadsheet). I tried Home Depot garden center and Houston Garden Center but neither has any vegetables at all. Weird since it's time to put in the fall gardens.

On the cheese front...
I tried to smoke a gouda cheese but wound up almost melting the poor thing. I had this idea of putting mesquite chips in a crock pot, setting the pot in the BBQ pit and putting the cheese on a rack above the chips. Too warm. I need to build a cold smoker and probably wait until winter weather to try again. Last week I cut into the farmhouse cheddar. It's 2 months old and I just wanted to know if it was OK. It was delicious - quite sharp, in fact. However, its kind of crumbly. But at least it tastes good! I'm waxing over the cut edge and putting it back in the cheese cave to age somemore.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Squash on the way!

Finally saw male and female squash flowers open on the same day! So, two crookneck squash are on the way to maturity and the cookpot.

Planted some jalapeno peppers today - got the seeds from a grocery store pepper so we'll see whether anything happens. Interesting experiment. Also planted carrots. If I get a good crop I'll can them.

We dodged Hurricane Gustav this weekend. It hit theLouisiana coast and terrified New Orleans residents so that 90% of them evacuated ahead of the storm. Don't know yet if we'll get some nice rain, too much rain, or none at all from it. Paper says it will park over northeast Texas and be a rain event up there.

Molly and her family were here and Catherine and her family came over. The twins were adorable - learning to talk. Their favorite word, of course, is "no". We went for a hike in the new spring creek watershed and it turned out to be a little longer than we anticipated. Everyone was sweaty and tired by the time we got back to the trailhead. Daniel is getting tall and is learning to read! He recognizes letters and knows some sounds so he is on the verge of reading. We went swimming and I encouraged Catherine to let some of the air out of his floaties - he's ready to swim. He moved vigorously to the side of the pool, got out and went to the baby pool where he took off his floaties and stayed. Not quite ready to swim this summer. He is my only grandson and a treasure. His Grandpa Dan would have adored him. Daniel will become a big brother in early April. Mary Grace is getting so mature at only 6. She can swim very well and swam the length of the pool several times. At one point she told her Aunt Catherine she had swum the length of the pool and when Catherine said that was great Mary Grace replied, "Well, you don't sound very impressed!" We almost fell underwater laughing, but she was serious. So, everyone made a bigger todo of it. Mary Grace loves school. After her first day at school Friday she was able to draw the solar system and asteroid belt, and named the "gas" planets and explained their properties. She knows how to build with Legos and play Monopoly. She has her own room in my house - the study with its sofa bed. She loves to do crafts and read before bed. Mary Grace will be playing soccer this fall and I'll go watch her play in October. Avery and her family weren't able to come this weekend. Avery is another really smart one. At four she can already read. The children are hoping for pumpkins out of my garden for Halloween.