Recent Updates

Apr21

Special meeting: Eastside Cafe for brunch @ 11 am!

This past Thursday, we traveled to the Eastside Café in Austin, Texas to visit their renowned restaurant and taste the successes of a well-kept urban garden. Elaine Martin and Dorsey Barger established the Eastside Café in 1988.  The restaurant began as a small venture in a house with a garden in the backyard.  Since then, it has expanded to include ‘Pitchforks and Tablespoons, a small shop where guests can wait and peruse cooking and gardening tools; the Garden Room, a once open-air patio converted to a enclosed dining area perfect for small parties; and a chicken coop. Today it is a popular destination for fresh, garden-grown food.

The garden, which is roughly one city block in size, is the quintessential urban garden.  Sitting amidst residential and commercial establishments, the gardens are a beautiful reprieve from the chaos of the city.  It incorporates a vast array of planters to showcase all the possible manners in which one can create a garden.

 

Cinder blocks

Metal tubs

Raised beds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you think the garden looks good, imagine the food!  Eastside Cafe offered a lovely array of delicious meals in a comfortable dining room that makes you feel right at home.  If you live anywhere near the Austin area, I recommend stopping in the East Austin neighborhood and grabbing a bite to eat.  I hope this inspires you as you prepare to harvest your fruits, vegetables and herbs!

 

Apr18

Anita – Week 4

Unfortunately, it’s not quite time to harvest my vegetables, but I’m still excited about the growth I’ve seen thus far. According to the packaging, most of my vegetables will be ready to harvest in 60 – 70 days. So, I am halfway there!

Gardening has been such an adventure. I rarely went into my back yard, now I’m back there daily. Gardening has helped make me appreciate being outside (except for when it’s REALLY hot.) Writing these reports has helped me to reflect on the process and identify my gardening strengths and weaknesses. I have a list of things to do differently next round. And I’ve improved my understanding of the Central Texas environment and the importance (and tastiness) of producing and using products grown and created locally.

As I stated in an earlier post, the seeds I purchased were part of a gardening kit. The kit was a salsa recipe kit. So it felt appropriate to share a salsa recipe with y’all.

Fresh Tomato and Black Bean Salsa

Recipe adapted from Everyday is a Party Cookbook, by Emeril Lagasse, with Marcelle Bienvenu and Felicia Willett, 2000

Prep Time:20 min
Level:Easy
Serves:6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

4 cups chopped vine-ripened tomatoes
2 cups dried black beans, cooked in salted water until tender, cooled (about
2 cups)
1 cup small diced red onions
1 large fresh jalapeno, seed and cut into small dice
1/2 cup loosely packed chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Crispy corn tortilla chips

Directions

Combine the first seven
ingredients in a mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Add the lime juice and olive
oil. Mix well. Spoon into a serving bowl and serve with the chips.

 

And for those of you who are planting or plan to plant strawberries, here is a recipe for a tasty treat :)

Strawberry Upside-Down Cakes
adapted from Organic and Chic
makes 24 mini cakes

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 ¾ cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups strawberries, sliced vertically

Preheat oven to 350. Grease cupcake tins. Sprinkle a teaspoon of brown sugar into the
bottom of each cup, then arrange 4-5 strawberry slices on top. Reserve extra berries and
sugar.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating
well after each. Mix together flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. In another, whisk
together milk and vanilla.

Alternate adding flour and milk mixtures to the large bowl, starting and ending with the flour.

Make sure everything is well combined, but don’t overmix.

Divide batter equally between cupcake wells. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until a toothpick
inserted in center is clean. Cool for 5-10 minutes, then invert onto a cookie sheet. Carefully
replace any strawberries that didn’t stick to the cakes.

While cakes are baking, cook the reserved berries and brown sugar over medium-low heat,
until thick and jam-like.

Cut the rounded tops off the cakes so each cake can sit flat. Add a spoonful of the cooked
berries to the top of each cake and serve.

Apr18

Kasey – Week 4

Huge garden!

Despite my reservations when I first embarked on this gardening adventure, I have done it! I have beautiful healthy plants that are actually starting to yield fruit. I am already starting to enjoy the benefits of my fresh herbs. My peppers are sprouting up all over the place. I’ve already harvested one and should many more by next week. My tomatoes are full of flowers and a few small fruits.

 

Tiny tomato.

Not that there haven’t been setbacks. My original pot of strawberries never took root and died suddenly. I have a new plant now, but it won’t be bearing fruit any time soon. There were also some additions. In anticipation of having too many peppers, I planted some tomatillo seeds. I hope to have strong plants by mid-summer.

The routine of watering and taking care of the plants has become a relaxing retreat from the stresses of the day. I like to come home after work, take off my shoes, and check the plants. It is relaxing to water and care for them. It is as much about having an excuse to be productive outside as anything else.

Of course, I will be even more excited when I get my first batch of salsa. I was thinking of pairing it with a strawberry mojito. I have so much mint now that I have to think of something to do with it all! Here is a recipe I can’t wait to try:

Strawberry Mojito Cocktail

  • 1.5 ounces of simple syrup
  • about 3 fresh strawberries
  • about 4-5 fresh spearmint sprigs (chopped if you prefer smaller mint pieces in your cocktail)
  • soda water
  • 1/2 lime
  • 2 ounces of light rum

1. In a chilled glass (about 10-12 ounces), muddle the simple syrup, strawberries and mint leaves together with the back of a spoon or muddler. Crush the strawberries and mint leaves well.

2. Squeeze the juice from the lime into the glass, add the rum and stir well. Fill glass with ice and top off with soda water.

3. Garnish with mint sprigs or strawberry slices. Makes 1 drink.

Source.

I’ll keep watering and fertilizing like crazy if I can drink a few of these on my porch this summer.

 

My first pepper!

Apr18

Erin- Week 4

While I am still in the process of maintaining and protecting my plants, I can’t help but think of all the fun things I am going to be able to do with my radishes and herbs.  According to my garden chart I still have at least a couple weeks until my radishes may be ready.  More likely, it will be about a month until they are ready to harvest.  My herbs have even longer to grow.

I am not known for my patience, so gardening is good practice for me.  I don’t really have any choice but to wait and daydream of recipes with fresh, home-grown ingredients.

My friend suggested I use my radishes to make kimchi.  I found this recipe at goodbites.com which looks like a easy, tasty variation of kimchi using red radishes.

Radishes by Desi, via Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License

Spring Kimchi With Red Radishes and Leeks
1 bunch red radishes, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
1 leek, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
4 green onions, sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2-inch piece peeled ginger, thinly sliced
1 Thai pepper or other hot pepper, finely diced
2 cups warm water
3 tablespoons sea salt

- Place all vegetables in large bowl.
- In small bowl, whisk water and salt together until dissolved. Pour over vegetables and mix with hands for 2 minutes.
- Place a plate on top of vegetables inside bowl. Place additional weight atop such as several plates or bowls.
- Cover with towel or plastic wrap and leave unrefrigerated for 4 hours.
- Transfer vegetables and brine to a clean mason jar and press down to release any air bubbles.
- Cover tightly and let sit at room temperature for one week, or until bubbles begin to form (this means it’s fermenting!), then place in refrigerator. Will keep for up to 3 weeks.

I was also considering sticking with clean and simple flavors, like a salad.  The key thing with any salad is the dressing.  I found a delicious sounding dressing on Epicurious.com

Basil Chive Dressing
1 tablespoon water
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1 1/2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Pulse oil, basil, chives, vinegar, sugar, pepper, remaining tablespoon water, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt in a blender until herbs are finely chopped.

Makes me hungry just thinking about it!  Whatever you decide to do with your edibles, have fun and enjoy!

Apr14

Highlights from our chat with a Master Gardener

This Thursday, we had a special guest join us in a live online video chat to answer your questions.  Master Gardener Liam McDonnell responded to your inquiries about plant upkeep and protection.

Liam has been a certified master gardener for 15 years with the Austin Horticultural Society.  He started gardening as a teenager with his neighbor to make some extra money and developed a strong appreciation for being able to literally eat the fruits of his labor.  More recently, he has a special interest in container gardens because of their versatility.

Check out some of your questions and Liam’s answers below

What’s the best way to transfer my plants?

There is not one right answer.  It really depends on what you are growing and how you are growing it. Even for full grown plants, most horticulturalists agree that commercial fertilizers should be used at half the recommended rate stated on the bottle. Commercial fertilizers are salt fertilizers which can burn plants when too much is used. It is best to dilute commercial fertilizers, especially with seedlings. If you start with a good quality growing soil that is designed for seed shouldn’t need to use any additional fertilizer at all for 8-10 weeks.   My best recommendation is to keep it simple and let nature do some of the work. If you feel you still need to use some, stick with natural fertilizers such as seaweed/kelp, fish emulsion, etc.  In the end, compost (comprised from at least five different sources) is the absolute best fertilizer you can use. You can’t use too much of it, it’s already at the proper pH, and it’s free if you make it!

What should I fertilize with and how much should I use?

First, make sure your plants are hardened off.  Also make sure they are well watered before you transplant so they’re completely hydrated before the move. This will reduce shock. Literally submerge the pots in a bucket of water, wait until there are no longer air bubbles coming up, and then sit them in another bowl for at least 20 minutes. Your plants will thank you.

If your plants are outdoors, transplant in the evening, on a cloudy day, in the shade, or before a rain. Avoid transplanting in full sun or windy days which creates optimum stress on plants. Also, know your soil. If they’re going into the ground, get your soil tested so you know exactly what your soil needs.

When transplanting, be gentle with the root system. Try to maintain the integrity of the soil structure to prevent shock, better safe than sorry. If you’ve got a multiple plants you are transplanting, don’t take them all out and leave the roots sitting out in the sun or wind. Transplant one at a time. If you’re planting into pots, keep the pots in the shade for a couple of days so your plants can adjust to their new environment.

Lastly, water immediately after transplanting. This will help the roots settle into their new home.

What’s the best way to harden off a plant?

For seedlings whose lives began on a sunny windowsill, the vegetable patch is no bed of roses. Before they can handle the wind, rain and strong sun of the great outdoors, tender young plants need a period of gradual adjustment. The simple but crucial process of acclimating seedlings to life in the garden is called hardening off.

Begin hardening off your seedlings about a week before their transplant date. (It varies depending on the variety of plant.) Keep the seedlings well watered throughout the process. Set the containers (whether flats or individual pots) in a sheltered, shady spot outdoors. A covered porch is an ideal starter spot, so is a table or bench under a leafy tree. Bring the plants back inside at night, and bring them in at any time of day if the weather turns cold, windy or rainy. Expose the plants gradually to more sun. After two or three days, you can safely keep them in the sun for half a day, then return them to the shade. By the end of the week they’ll be tough enough to soak up the rays all day. Transplant the seedlings to the garden on an overcast day to ease the shock of transition from pot to ground. If a light mist is falling, so much the better.

In regards to water, allowing seedlings to wilt has the same effect as gradually exposing them to the elements. Starting about 2 weeks before your transplant date, don’t water your seedlings until they start to wilt. At this point, water normally, then wait for them to wilt again. After 2 weeks of this process, seedlings should be ready to transplant.

I’m growing an indoor container garden and I don’t have to worry about pesticide run-off, so why should I worry about organic pesticides?

First of all, commercial pesticides contain toxic materials and if you have them in your home, you are exposing your family and pets to these toxins. Some commercial pesticides have been linked to cancer.  Obviously, this does not mean you avoid pesticides, but if you choose to use a commericial pesticide you need to pick them with care and read the labels carefully paying special attention to Active Ingredients.  Second, the pesticides do make their way into what you are growing and so you are ingesting remnants of the pesticides in your food regardless of the type of garden you are growing.  Lastly, at some point you will dump the soil in your containers and while the pesticides do break down over time, there is still some chance of the pesticides or their broken down products maintaining some toxicity which will then be released during its disposal, leeching into the water.  Pesticides indoors actually breakdown slower than they do outdoors because they do not encounter the environmental factors that contribute to their breakdown.

After my seeds germinate and start growing, the little seedling just turns brown and collapses at the soil level. What is the problem and how can I treat it?

It is caused by a soil borne fungus called pythium. There is no treatment for this disease once the seeds are planted. Soil sterilization is the only prevention and treatment against this disease. Soil sterilization can be accomplished by solarization.

I read somewhere that it is better to water your plants during certain times of the day.  Is that true? And if so, why?

Yes! There is a preferred time to water your plants if they are outdoors.  The best time of day to water is early morning before the temperatures begin to rise. This gives the plants a good supply of water to face the heat of the day. Early morning also tends to be a time of lower winds and lower temperatures reducing evaporation.  Lower evaporation means you can keep your water usage reasonable, which is great in regions that don’t get a lot of rain, such as Texas.  It also keeps your water bill down.

If you cannot water in the early morning, very late afternoon also works. It is important to water early enough so that the leaves have time to dry before nightfall to avoid development of fungal diseases.

While we are talking about watering your plants, I want to mention something else. Be careful, for those of you who have outdoor plants, to watch the amount and pressure of the water.  Gushing water can wash your soil away and it doesn’t really get to your plants’ roots, but is wasted by running into other areas.

Thank you Liam for offering your time and expertise!  You were a big help to all of our gardeners!

Don’t forget, next week we will be meeting at a special time to head to the Eastside Cafe for a tour of the garden followed by brunch!  Meet in the Eastside Cafe parking lot at 11 am.

Apr14

Join the live video chat with a Master Gardener!

Looking for advice from a Master Gardener?  Click here to join the live Skype chat now to talk to our gardening expert Liam McDonnell!

Apr11

Kasey – Week 3

I’ve become one of them. Yes, it’s true: I’ve become a gardener.

Here are the symptoms:

  • Constantly calculating the amount of rain you’ve gotten in the last week.
  • Researching bugs after seeing them in your yard.

    Which did I need to water?

  • Lingering in the outdoor section of the home improvement store.
  • Buying a knee pad.
  • Talking to everyone you know that shows passing interest about your garden.

 

Yes, it’s true. I’ve been watching and watering and fertilizing and researching. Have I made missteps? Definitely. My mint pots do not have

drainage, so it is hard to know how much water them sometimes. (I have heard that too much moisture can often lead to rot and diseases in the roots.) One of them was suffering from my inexperience. However, there is one thing I have learned about

plants: they are resilient! It perked up almost immediately after I gave it some H2O.

In general, I try to stick to the following guidelines:

 

Watering

This is a task that I try to squeeze in even when I am at my busiest. Afterall, it is essential to the process. We have had a hot April, so I have been watering every other day and checking my potted plants often for any dryness. The soil in containers and pots tends to lose moisture much faster than if it was in the ground because it has much less insulation.

I watered in the late evening (around 7pm) because as any gardener  will tell you, plants should not be given water in the heat of the day. It will evaporate, but more importantly, the water can form a lens that will scorch the foliage in the sun.

 

Herbs growing.

Fertilizer

I was unsure on what was the best for my large variety of plants, so I picked up the first organic food fertilizer I saw. It was a nice (and very smelly) granular mix that was to be spread in the soil surrounding the plants about once a week. My plants are healthy and strong, so it must have been good enough to do the trick.

I have heard often that liquid fertilizer is a good idea for tomatoes since it provides immediate nutrients straight to the fruit. This is something I am eager to try later when I run out of my current mix.

 

 

Insects

Bug damage.

I had some bugs having a buffet on my mint and pepper leaves. I found some aphids that seemed to be the culprit, but I could tell for sure that beetles weren’t praying on the peppers at night. After losing a few leaves, I decided to do something about the free food I was providing to hungry bugs.

My plan was to avoid using chemicals if at all possible, so I did some research and found instructions for a simple repellent that I could make without taking a special trip to the store. Using a few drops of natural dish soap, a sprayer, and some water, I coated my leaves with a heavily diluted solution of soap. This seems to keep them at bay. It must be reapplied if the plants get wet, so I usually use a soaker in the planter to water. Then, I reply the solution after rain. I try whenever possible to avoid spraying the fruit. I researched to make sure the soap wold be harmless, but I don’t want anything extra in my salad.

I hear that Dr. Bronner’s mint soaps are especially good for this task and might be picking some up next time I am in Whole Foods.

 

Pruning

I don’t! I worked so hard on getting these things to grow, I hate to remove anything. I am aware that proper pruning makes for stronger fruit, but I’m not sure where to start.

Looking good.

That’s it. Things are going very well! The plants are much bigger now than I imagined they would be.

Apr11

Anita – Week 3

This has been an amazing process! All of my seeds have sprouted into seedlings. I’ve been watering the plants several times a week. Before I water, I verify that the soil is all most dry. I don’t want to over water the plants. Even though I inspected the location of my garden prior to placing it,  I still like to check the sun exposure. Everything appears to be working out okay.

 

Grow baby plants, Grow!

However, I hope y’all didn’t make the mistake that I made. In one of the you tube videos, the gardener suggested making a map of your garden, methodically planning where everything goes. In order to continue my motivation for the project, I jumped straight into creating the garden. I did not do much planning on the layout. I even wrote the names of the plants on the pots. Smart, right? Nope, not when the ink becomes distorted on the pots because of the water and not when you plant the pots in the ground. Something I will definitely do different next year is label the vegetables some how. As exciting as it will be discover which vegetables are cucumbers and which are jalapenos, I think I will approach that aspect differently in the fall.

I haven’t had any pest issues yet, luckily. Except for caterpillars and butterflies, but I don’t consider those pests. I wonder if the best approach is to be proactive and spray pesticides on the plants or reactive and wait until I see a problem. I’d like to keep the plants as “natural” as possible, so I will be reactive.

I’m a little concerned about my tomato plants. There are little baby tomatoes growing, however the plant leaves are turning yellow. This does not look healthy.

 

Poor little tomato plant

The Texas A&M Aggie Horticulture website has some information on various problems with tomato plants.

http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/lawn_garden/veg.html

I plan to look through the document to see if I can diagnose the problem.

I did not add fertilizer to my soil, so that is next on my list of gardening things to do. When Mark Gaddy spoke to us during our field trip, he provide some insightful thoughts about deciding soil, compost, fertilizer, etc. He explained to pros and cons about selecting cheap fertilizer versus not as cheap fertilizer. It sounded like there is an inverse correlation between price and smell. The lower the price, the worse the smell. I wonder if my lack of fertilizer is the reason my tomato plant leaves are turning yellow?

 

 

Apr11

Erin- Week 3

“I have made radishes!”  If you have ever seen the movie Castaway? You may recognize the reference to the scene were Tom Hanks makes his first fire on the island.  That is how I felt when I saw those first little green sprouts. I got so excited I think I actually squealed when I saw them.

Of course, like ants to a picnic, once the plants sprouted the garden pests followed shortly after.  I desperately hoped against hope that my plants and my apartment would somehow be different and be impervious to the normal infestation of plant eaters.  Alas, no such luck.  Shortly after my plants germinated, so did the bugs.  Teeny-tiny white bugs started attacking my plants, especially the basil.  They are so tiny my camera can’t even capture them, but that does not seem to stop them from walking all over my herbs.

I hadn’t purchased any pesticide when I spotted the first invader, so I looked up homemade pesticide recipes.  The internet is loaded with tips on how to make an effective pesticide.  I chose a standard soap pesticide because it was quick and easy and I wanted to fight back immediately.

See how the leaf is eaten away and there is a little brown edge? That is a sign that your pesticide is too strong or you are using too much of it

Recipe
Mix:

1 tsp soap
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 gallon of water- I used an old milk jug for this

Unfortunately, I think I may have been a little heavy-handed on my basil plants because within 24 hours one of my basil leaves was showing signs of pesticide burn.  It was a little brown around the edges and it even looked like the pesticide had eaten a bit of the leaf away.  The positive is that the bugs seemed to drop in numbers with the first round of pesticide, but I am being more cautious about how much to spray on my poor plants.

In addition to the issue of bugs is the issue of watering.  Plastic pots may not have been the way to go.  While clay pots are said to leech water out of the soil, my plastic pots are keeping the moisture firmly in the soil…longer than it should.  I have watered my plants once since I first planted the seeds.  Right now, there is not much I can do.  The plants are too fragile to transfer (which is a point for the starter pot/seedling camp) and the roots are not well established.  My plan is to wait a few more days and if the moisture has not decreased I will attempt to move my plants.  Worst case scenario, I may have to restart my plants.

Apr07

Gaddy’s Nursery in Pflugerville, Texas

This week, we visited a local nursery, Gaddy’s in Pflugerville. What a treat! Mark Gaddy, the owner took us on a tour of his nursery and provided a wealth of information.

 

I recorded some advice he shared with the group. In the video below, Mark shares his advice to the group on the benefits of creating a small manageable garden.

Advice from Mark Gaddy part 2

Overall, this was an enlightening experience. Mark touched on the importance of purchasing quality, local products and not taking on more than you can handle. He suggests starting small and building your garden throughout time.

Apr04

Kasey – Week 2

My dog watches me plant the first tomato plant.

With the planters prepared, it is time to plant. It is daunting and exciting all at once to decide on what I want to grow. Since I have limited space available and I am a beginner, I decided to go with the basics. I know that tomatoes are the “go to” crop of the backyard gardener, so I bought some heirloom tomato seedlings from my local nursery. My plan was to pick other crops to complement all of the tomatoes. Caprese is by far my favorite use of a tomato, so I decided to plant a small pot of basil. Fortunately, I found an herb kit that offered parsley and cilantro. The addition of cilantro and the protests of my husband led me to another use—salsa! I went on a pepper-buying spree and bought habanero, jalepeño, serrano, and cayenne. I heard that they do well in hot weather, so I hoped that the climate here in Austin would yield a bushel of spicy deliciousness. Of course, these choices w ere la rgely based on what was in season in late March. Finding this information was as simple as using the Internet and talking to the people at my nursery.

Getting dirty.

(A note here about  getting involved with gardening, it’s addictive. Not even a week after I decided on what I would be growing, I found myself with mint, strawberries, and tons of flowers.)

Herbs just waiting to sprout.

After purchasing my plants, I was ready to plant! The soil had been prepared and fertilized, so I simply followed the directions on the tags on how to plant. Since I was working with containers, there was not as much space between plants as might have been recommended, but I elected

in the favor of quantity. I wasn’t sure I could keep my plants alive, so I thought it might be nice to raise the stakes that they would survive.

Two boxes were devoted to plants, and one to peppers of all types. Additionally, I had a pot with seeds for herbs, a pot with straw

berry roots, and two pots with mint plants. I learned (from nearly everyone I talked to) that tomato plants should be mostly buried when they are transplanted into their final plot. I dug a deep hole and stuffed my little plants down into it. The top few branches were just peaking out from the soil.

The peppers just needed their roots to be under the surface, so they were very easy to plant. By the time I was done, it looked like I had a real garden on my hands.

Finished garden with peppers on the right.

 

 

Apr04

Erin- Week 2

“Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed.  Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

-  Henry David Thoreau

It has always amazed me that one seed is able to produce an entire plant, and I’m hoping (with some luck) that I will be able to generate similar results.

Since this is the fi rst time I have ever tried to grow anything, I decided to keep things simple.  I chose to start my gardening adventure with chives, basil, and parsley.  My logic was a) they supposedly grow well indoors and b) I think these would b e well used.  Thyme and rosemary were briefly considered, but quickly vetoed because how often does a recipe call for thyme or rosemary?

In terms of vegetables, I chose radishes because they have a short turnaround time, all my online sources say they grow well indoors, and I have a personal fondness for radishes. As a small child my grandmother would feed me radishes whenever I stayed at her house. It is only now that I realize that it probably was a bit unusual for a 5-year old to request radishes. As a side note, radishes are supposedly great for growing in a classroom environment-for any K-12 teachers out there- because they do show results so quickly.*

Next, I had to choose an appropriate medium for my seeds.  I decided to start my plants in the pot from the beginning, so as not to transfer them.  There are a lot of proponents of growing herbs in starter pots and transferring them once they have sprouted, but I decided to cut out the middleman because I was concerned about being able to transfer the herbs without damaging them. If I’m being perfectly honest, there was also a bit of laziness involved in that decision.  Time will tell if this was a wise decision.  I opted for a potting soil with sphagnum peat, compost, perlite, and plant food because it had some plant food, was lightweight and porous.**
Once I had all the necessary items, all that was left to do was plant the seeds.

I read somewhere that I should water and drain the soil before planting, so I gave that a try and then followed the directions on the seed packets for the spacing and depth at which each of my herbs/vegetables should be planted.***  My research kept leading me to information on the need for plants to have appropriate room to grow, so I was pretty cautious about spacing the seeds out.  Again, time will tell if this has a positive effect on my plants or if I was being paranoid.  I also put plastic wrap over my pots while they were seeds to help retain moisture.

Wrapped the pots up in plastic wrap to retain moisture until the seeds germinate

Planting the seeds after the water has drained through

Pre-watering the soil in the sink

And now we wait…

 

*If you want to grow something other than the plants I have chosen see-
for herbs: http://www.divinecaroline.com/22164/85422-nine-easiest-herbs-grow-indoors or http://www.savvygardener.com/Features/herbs.html
for vegetables: http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/426/426-336/426-336.html

**Read the Potting Soil section of http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/426/426-336/426-336.html for more information on factors to consider.

****Tip- your parsley may germinate faster if you soak them in warm water for an hour or so before planting.

Apr04

Anita – Week 2

While deciding on how to create the perimeter around my garden, I’ve been doing some preparation work in the garden area.  I have determined a good location to place my vegetable garden. On the side of my house there is a perfect location to place a garden. It is facing west (maybe more southwest) so it receives a good amount of sun. I’ve verified several times that the area has good exposure to sun.

I’ve also worked hard to keep the seeds and seedlings watered daily. Unfortunately one of my tomato plants died. I placed two tomato plant seedlings in the same pot. I’m not sure why one didn’t survive. I’ll have to ask one of the experts.

Because I am working on my short timeline, I chose to take a shortcut to prepare the land. I decided to RoundUp to kill the grass and weeds in the area. There are other, “greener”methods to kill weeds and grass.  One method I am aware of involves covering the area with newspaper or plastic. This method takes longer (weeks vs days). Please search the internet or go to your local nursery for more information on greener methods and share the methods in the comments or on a discussion thread.

I went to a local landscaping supply company (Whittlesey in Round Rock) to purchase soil for my garden. This place sells soil (and other products) in bulk and already bagged. The company creates a special blend of soil products that are appropriate for the soil and climate in Central Texas. There are quite a few nurseries and other places in Austin and the surrounding area to purchase bulk soil and compost. Local nurseries are another great source to purchase special blends of soil for your garden. And the employees have a wealth of knowledge! Make sure you calculate the amount of soil, compost, and fertilizer you will need.  I’m not sure what the return policies are at the smaller, local stores. The volume for my small area is about 8 cubic feet (4 x 4 x 0.5). I purchased 4 bags. Each bag is 1 cubic feet. I have some soil and compost at home to mix with these from other small yard projects.

I’ve decided to use a raised garden kit made from wood instead of concrete blocks for the perimeter of my garden. I could have gone to some place like Austin ReStore to purchase unused wood but I’m not confident in my handyman skills.  Luckily, I came across a 4×4 kit for the price of $35. SCORE!!!! My boyfriend put the kit together pretty quickly. So, I have the garden kit, the soil, and the plants. I believe I have everything I need to begin my garden.

Here is a picture of my garden area in the beginning stages. The green plastic is a barrier to prevent weed from entering my garden. One advantage to not planting in the ground is the purchased soil won’t be contaminated with weeds and you don’t have to work as hard to get the soil to a workable condition. Unfortunately the soil in my area is very hard and clayish. The soils is difficult to work with. I would have had to mix additional soil, compost, etc into the ground anyway. I did scrape off the grass in the area. Instead of using a hoe, I used a shovel. Notice the exposure to the noon sun.

Raised Garden Kit

Garden Area

And here is a picture of the finished area.

Finished Garden Area

At the Garden Fair, one of the gardeners said I should plant Marigolds to deter cats. I should have asked if they deter rabbits. Ever summer I see rabbits in the back yard. Hmmm, I should probably put up some sort of fencing. As soon as I finished planting, I thoroughly watered the area. I used a sprinkler hose (a hose with holes in the holes). The water stays lower to the ground. However, I felt like I still wasted water, so I am going to purchase some soaker hoses. The biodegradable pots made planting easy. I place the pots in the dirt, easy peasy :) .

Notice the tomato plants are missing. I’ve decided to leave the tomato plants in the pots. They seem to be growing well (except for the one seedling that did. RIP).

Mar31

Trip to a community garden!


It was a lot of fun touring the employee garden at National Instruments this Thursday. This is a row garden that the company’s “green team” started on the company campus with their own free time and funds. We spoke with Brittany, one of the gardeners and organizers. She said that since many of the employees there have apartments, they wanted to provide a place for people to start growing their own food.

They got permission to clear some land on the large campus and got to work clearing the land to bring in soil. The elected to create a raised cinder block bed with semi-defined sections. There are even spaces to plant smaller herbs along the edge in the blocks. Each person who signs up gets a spot to do with as they please. The land surrounding the office buildings is sustainably-landscaped with native bushes and plants (despite being in a densely-developed section of Austin) they have netting and fencing for animals and deer.

This is the second year that the garden has been in use, and the participants would like to see it keep expanding. They even post questions for each other on the company’s internal message boards and help keep an eye on each other’s crops. This is one of the green team’s many projects; others include encouraging the company to reduce the amount of packaging it uses and organizing office recycling.

Brittany talks about the NI community garden:

Mar28

Kasey – Week 1


Fresh compost!

I decided to plant a garden in the yard of my small house in Brentwood in Austin, Texas. I wanted to have a relaxing hobby that afforded me time outside with the sweet reward of fresh organic vegetables. Which is great, but I don’t actually own a yard. I rent one, so I can’t dig up a big square foot garden. This is a problem that, while seemingly insurmountable to a novice like me, actually turned out to have little effect of my quest to start an urban crop.

Let me just say, before we start this journey, that I have never in my life kept a flower alive for more than a week, let alone grown anything from a seed. I have  no expertise, no guidance (at the time of writing), and no common sense. I’ve embarked on this adventure as a learner and will undoubtedly face trial and error.

Not pictured: Floppy hat

That being said, I started researching and found that I could grow a number of things in Austin this time of year in containers and plants that would be relatively low impact on my landlord’s yard. I want to grow some larger vegetable crops, so I started with 3 large plastic containers. I paid special attention to the material to make sure they were safe to grow food in. I also have various pots for my patio for smaller things. In addition to containers, I stocked up on all of the tools of the trade. Sadly, there was no budget for a floppy gardening hat. Maybe next season.

When I got my containers, I had to think about the best placement—both for sunlight and avoiding blocking the spaces where my dog likes to chase balls and roll in the grass. I picked a relatively sunny spot on the right side of the house close to the fence. It gets full sun almost all day. From what I could tell, this would be suitable for just about anything I planted.

 

The next task was to fill everything with compost. I read that there are many options for soil while planting in containers like these, but I took the advice of the staff of my local nursery and chose a nice local, organic compost. Once my containers were prepped, my thoughts turned to food…

 

Mar28

Resource Links

Gardening basics: http://www.ehow.com/ehow_home-growing-vegetables/ and  http://www.ehow.com/ehow_home-gardening-basics/

 

Indoor lighting for plants: http://www.guide-to-houseplants.com/light.html

 

Indoor gardening guide: http://www.ehow.com/topic_8243_indoor-gardening-guide.html

 

Vegetable Growing and Harvesting Info: http://www.veggieharvest.com/Table/Vegetable-Growing-Information/

 

Herb Growing and Harvesting Infohttp://www.veggieharvest.com/Table/Herb-Growing-Information/

Mar28

Erin- Week 1

After years of consideration, declarations of intention, and general procrastination, I have decided it is finally time to test out my green thumb. I’ve spent years watching my mother and my grandfather grow vegetables, and I’m hoping some of their knowledge has rubbed off on me or there is an undiscovered gene that makes someone a successful gardener.The only catch to my master plan is that I live in a 750 Sq. ft. one bedroom apartment with no patio and no consistent access to a yard. But I figure, people grow flowers and herbs indoors all the time, so why can’t I?

My only option for a garden “plot” that offers both sufficient space and lighting is a small corner by the window that gets west-facing sunlight.  It’s not quite as well-lit as I would like, but I don’t think my apartment management company would appreciate me knocking holes in the wall to get a southern exposure.

Figuring out where to put my plants was easy because of my limited options, but I had to do some research online to figure out if there was an ideal vessel for my plants.  Given the space I am working in, a container garden is my only real option unless I want to be more high-tech and try hydroponics- which I don’t.  That leaves me with barrels, flower pots, cut-off milk and bleach jugs, recycled Styrofoam coolers, window boxes and baskets.  It turns out that it doesn’t really matter what container you use.  Any container will do as long as it follows these 3 rules:
*See http://www.ehow.com/how_7865079_choose-containers-garden.html or http://www.kiddiegardens.com/gardening_containers.html for more information.

  1. Be big enough to support plants when they are fully grown
  2. Have adequate drainage
  3. Never have held products that would be toxic to plants or people.*

I decided, for simplicities sake, to purchase a few plastic gardening pots from the hardware store to ensure that they had holes in the bottom for drainage and that I knew their capacity.  I would have preferred clay pots, but the plastic ones seemed to meet the criteria, and they were less expensive at $2- $6 each (depending on the size) versus .

Now that I have chosen my “plot”, I am ready to plant my herbs and vegetables next week!

 

Mar28

Anita – Week 1 – Getting My Gardening On!

Every year about this time, I go to gardening events, see pictures of my friends’ gardens and decide that I will start a garden. And every year, I make excuses and don’t start a garden. This year a change is coming! In March, I attended the East Austin Garden Fair.

picture from East Austin Garden Fair

East Austin Garden Fair

 

At the garden fair, I once again became inspired by the simple things one can do to begin a garden. I learned about rain harvesting, a unique twist on container gardening, and raised bed/square foot gardening. In fact, it was the man at the raised bed garden that provided the spark for me to get started. Many beginning and seasoned gardeners are methodical about their gardens, but that style just won’t work for me. My take-away from my conversation with this man was it was okay to mix it up a bit. He was an advocate for mixing flowers and vegetables. He suggested I use concrete blocks instead of wood for the perimeter of the garden. And he did something magical. He gave me a tomato plant to get started. Apparently, that’s all someone needed to do all of these years. I scurried to Garden Ridge and Big Lots to purchase a pot and tomato cage for my new plant.

 

Tomato Plant - Day 1

Tomato Plant - Day 1

While at Sam’s Club, I purchased a salsa and vegetable garden kit. Next I went to Lowe’s to purchase some biodegradable containers to start my plants while I decide where and how to build a garden area. I placed the seeds and tomato plants (I receive 2 additional smaller tomato plants at the Garden Fair) on my back porch in a location where they would receive plenty of sun exposure.

Seeds in containers

Seeds in containers

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