Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Winter Garden

The winter garden is growning quite well.  We spent the better part of October tearing up the old garden beds and putting in the six - new square foot garden 4 x 4 beds.  The first bed on the left, I discovered does not get enough sun currently, so I've rolled some extra chicken wire over it to keep the cats and squirrels out and will plant in it when the curvature of the sun changes.

The bed in front on the right, is full of broccoli and brussel sprouts.  The broccoli is just now forming tiny baby heads.  It will be interesting to see how fast they form.  I have three box covers made out of chicken wire and 2"x 2"x 4' squares.  These are currently covering 2 boxes on the left and 1 box on the right as these do not have all of the squares in use and I wanted to keep 4 legged critters out.

The middle box on the right is boasting healthy squares of radishes, romaine lettuce, parsley, swiss chard and kale which I am harvesting regularly.  Behind the kale and swiss chard is an ailing chive plant which I plan to move to some empty space between the kale and radishes.  Everything has gotten too tall and the chive plant is not happy.

I can happily say that the garlic, kolirabi, and onion sets are all doing quite well.  The kolirabi is beginning to form the bulb which gives the plant the nickname of cabbage turnip.

In a few weeks I will be sewing together some Tater Totes: Potato Grow Bags.  Here in southeast Texas the chart I'm following says I can plant potatoes between the middle of January and the middle of February.    I remember my great Uncle Arthur growing potatoes in straw and this seems to work on a similar principle.  I got my idea for making grow bags from the following website:  This will be a grand experiement, as I have read that potatoes in the grocery store are coated in a lot of pesticide residue.                                                  

Monday, November 21, 2011

How to remove a stump in 2 - 3 days instead of 2 - 3 years

(Let me begin by saying this blog post has taken on a life of it's own.  It has been sited more times than I have even attempted to count.  I've gotten weekly reports for the past 3 1/2 years that it has been up, of all the times it has been viewedFirst, know that I was desperate to get this stump down to ground level, below the level of my grow boxes.  It was right where the box was intended to go.  I was already growing some of the most expensive produce in the world and was not anxious to spend an additional $75 to hire a man with a stump grinder.  AND LET ME BE PERFECTLY CLEARat NO time was the stump allowed to burn all the way down below the soil surface where the roots could catch fire and continue to burn for days, or months and endanger property, and other surrounding trees. Once it was no longer in the way of what I wanted to do, I put out the fire and broke up what remained of the stump at ground level with a hammer.  I was confident the fire was totally and completely out as I was able to place my hand fully on all chard areas and around the surrounding soil and was confident there was no heat any whereOver the years, Mother Nature has taken care of what was left of the stump at ground level and below and it is no longer a problem.  It is imperative that should you chose to "try this at home" that you use common sense, pay attention, don't leave it unattended or where children can play with it.  I even had a friend come over and keep an eye on it when I had to run an errand AND I did NOT do it for more than a 24 hour period.) And let me repeat it again, YES, it is safer to hire a guy with a stump grinder, if you are willing to wait and willing to invest the money. 

This stump was in the corner of my garden bed. The picture shows what I did to kill the stump by placing a pile of lighted charcoal briquet's on top of it. It scorched it but it wasn't a big enough effort to actually make it disappear.

I have been waiting for my tree man to come and grind this stump out but business has been slow, so they haven't needed to rent a stump grinder and they were not sure how long it would be before they would be using one. I waited three weeks and then decided if I wanted to finish the garden beds, I would need to take matters into my own hands. What you see in the picture is only part of the stump. When we cleared the dirt away we discovered it had a broad base. A friend had come out to see if he could cut it closer to the ground but the wood proved harder than his chain saw could handle, So there was still more stump above ground then would be good for a garden bed.

Last Wednesday, I decided to really apply the charcoal burn out method. This time I piled charcoal all over the stump and kept adding more and more briquet's as the old ones burned down. To prevent my yard from catching fire due to the breezes blowing around sparks, I covered it with a flipped over galvanized oil pan. By Thursday, about 1/2 the stump was gone. I poked the loose stuff, scooped off the excess charcoal dust so as not to get the growth inhibitor coating of the charcoal into my good growing soil; and began the process of adding more burning briquets to what remained. By Friday, I had accomplished my goal;instead of a stump, a hole appeared in it's place. Now it looks like this:
February 6, 2014 - There has been a remarkable amount of interest in this post.  If you have the time there are lots of other ways to get rid of stumps, all take more time then I wanted to invest. There are many suggestions in the comments section of alternative methods.  AND, yes, you can always hire someone to grind it out - I was tired of waiting for my tree man and wanted to get the garden started.  My whole point in burning the stump was to reduce it down to ground level.  All of my grow boxes are raised beds and the stump was located in the area I wanted to build a raised bed.  I never at anytime tried to burn the stump down to the point where I could possibly have a long burning root fire underground.  This was a quick, easy solution.  If you try this at home, do be careful.  Don't go for "I want to get every last root burned out."  As other's have mentioned in the comments, this could be a dangerous decision and could cause an under ground smoldering fire.  I figured after I got the stump down to ground level, mother nature could do the rest with the roots underground.  I will mention that after I cleared all of the charcoal dust away and doused what was left of the stump

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Milk Jug Seed Starters

I found an idea in the November 2011 issue of The Herb Companion. I'm not wild about the idea of setting up grow lights in the dining room, but starting seeds in a milk jug (which I have plenty of on a regular basis) and putting it outside in our mild climate is very appealing.

I'm going to start my Mortgage lifters (big, sweet, pink tomatoes) and the free (from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds) Riesentraube Tomatoes (German for "Giant Bunch of Grapes) in this method so that I can have them to go in the ground as early as January. I've put tomatoes in that early before with success.

To see the article Go To:

22 November 2011 - I just learned that this technique is called "Winter Sowing". More information can be found at It appears that it can be done anywhere, not just here in the deep south.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Fall Garden 2011

It's a little late to get started but the weather is so mild I thought I would just proceed.  I've planted the following this week:

12 - Broccoli plants
4 - Brussel Sprout plants
3 - Kale plants
2 Kohlrabi plants - I'm waiting for the seeds to arrive
2 parsley plants
4 romain lettuce plants
1 - bunch chives
leeks,  18 white onions, 4 - garlic cloves
1 - winter squash (sugar bear) plant - it was something I found at the independent nursery a few weeks ago - It sounded like a bush variety of acorn squash - it may be WAYYY TOO LATE to put it in the ground but who knows. If I could grow any squash without the southern squash vine borer destroying it, it would be a good thing.There are male blossoms developing on it now.

The day after I brought the Kale home I discovered a whole lot of little holes in the leaves but I couldn't see anything to cause it.  I bought some BT concentrate and sprayed the leaves top and bottom and as I did so I finally discovered who was making all the holes.  My Kale was infested with cabbage worms.  One of the beautys of Square Foot Gardening is that it is an easy thing (if you do it early enough) to find and destroy crop pests.  I squashed a LOT of worms, yesterday.

I still have mixed lettuce, radishes, kolhrabi seeds and two different kinds of carrots to plant.  I had never heard of Kohlrabi before this year but it is on a chart from the county extension service that recommends what can be planted and grown this time of year.  I am told it is a mild tasting tuber, similar in taste to cabbage.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Out with the old, In with the new

After reviewing the successes and failures of this past spring and summer and considering the over-all success of my whole growing system in Texas, I decided it was time for a change.  For years I have used a modified version of the square foot gardening system, but I decided to go all the way and really do it the way Mel Bartholomew suggests.  On several weekends this fall, my DH and I have worked to pull up and break down the old, pre-2003 pressure treated wood grow boxes and replace them with  4' x 4' grow boxes constructed of 2"x 8"boards.  Where each 4' x 16' grow box used to set 3 - 4' x 4' boxes will go in its place.  Currently, three of the 4 completed boxes are sporting chicken wire covers that will provide protection from birds, squirrels and cats.  I'm excited.

The tree stump that sat for so long in the corner of one grow box is waiting for our tree man to come with a stump grinder to grind out the stump for us or the grow box will be too shallow for most vegetables.  I hope he comes soon as this box and the one behind it(which is only a mound of dirt right now)get the most light through out the day.  One box is so shaded by the trees on the other side of the fence that it will have to wait until spring before I can plant in it.  I have rolled the chicken wire over that box to keep the cats out of it.

Since I don't have quite enough dirt/compost to fill the boxes, my DH purchased a load of super compost to mix into each box.  It's a combination of mushroom compost, composed horse manure, and ground up trees.  (I'm not sure why the soil places around here are so intent on adding ground up trees to every compost mix they make, but they are).

They say it's not a "SFG" unless it has square foot designations.  I looked at numerous options and decided that the cheapest 48"wide window blind at Walmart was the best option.  I carefully screwed each strip down to the wooden frame so it wouldn't blow away.  Hopefully, I won't be leaching PBA into my soil.

Things are looking GOOD!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Beware "Matt or Mike's Wild Cherry" tomato and what I learned about leeks


I grew 5 different types of heirloom tomatoes this year - Cherokee Purple - which I really loved - it was the largest type of tomato I have ever grown and was everything it was promised to be.  Large, sweet and meaty.  I wish it had produced more than I got.
Costoluto Gero - in terms of flavor this was my least favorite variety - it was acidic in flavor, prolific during the spring and always seemed to be the one I found when I was looking for tomatoes to pick.  I've discovered I do not care for acidic tomatoes and I was glad when it stopped producing and didn't come back in the fall.   It was a little larger than best pack size.
Eva Purple Ball - this was a nice tomato, I enjoyed it when I could find it but I think it was overwhelmed by its neighbors.
Black Plum - this was a prolific producer, with a smaller fruit that the standard Italian Plum tomato plant you buy in the Lowes or Home Depot garden centers.  I don't know that I will get it again.
Mike's or Matt's Wild Cherry - the optimal word for this plant is "WILD".  OMGosh!  This plant was CRAZY!! It was a pretty tame looking 6" plant for a month and then all of a sudden, it took off!  It became a monster in my garden bed, sending out branches in all directions. I found it growning everywhere.  All of the other tomato plants had to compete with it for space.  I was picking "Wild" Cherry tomatoes in and through every other plant in the garden.  What was worse is that unlike, a plump, sweet, 1-inch "Sweet 100" the tomatoes on this plant were about the size of the end of your little pinky finger.  When you popped it in your mouth you had the sensation of eating mostly tomato skin and  little else.  I will NEVER grow this one, again and I will warn everyone to do the same.


I decided if I were going to protect my tomatoes from the birds, I would need to build some protection.  I took PVC pipe to create a frame work than I  attach deer netting.  Unlike bird netting which is 14' by 14', deer netting is 7' wide and 100' long.  I was not content with just wrapping it around the sides of the frame work, I decided to run netting across the top as well.  This worked well until the Mike's Wild Cherry grew through the roof.  I couldn't reach most of those tomatoes so I let the birds have them.  This picture doesn't show the tomatoes through the roof but try to imagine tomato vines growing 3 or so feet into the air above the roof line all the way across the top of the tomato house and every single vine came from Mike's Wild Cherry.


I learned that leeks are a cool season crop and when the tomatoes took over and the weather became unbearable the leeks simply disappeared.  I had placed the cucumbers - a bush variety - about 3 feet in front of the tomatoes but found that this was not a wise decision.  Although I was training them up, they were inside the tomato house and therefore often obscured by the netting and Mike's Wild Cherry.  I can't begin to count the number of cucumbers I didn't find until they became large yellow balloons with large seeds and a bitter flavor.

I found that the tomato house was great for tomatoes but lousy for plants that needed pollenators in order to produce fruit.  Next year, I will make the structure smaller so that it only encloses the tomatoes and not everything else.  Eggplant and peppers did poorly.  Basil got lost in the tomato vines but managed to reseed itself.  I put in bush beans in another section of the middle garden but once again the squirrels and birds plucked out the seeds as they broke through the ground.  Instead of 36 plants I got 5.  I was able to pick a few summer squash before the southern squash vine borer found it and destroyed the plant.

We worked all summer long, watering the tomatoes during the long drought we are experiencing in this part of the country, in hopes of having a great fall crop.  In September, I noticed the leaves on the tomato plants looked misshapened, which seemed odd.  As I looked closer, I discovered that every tomato plant was infested with mealy bugs.  The simple solution was to spray everything with Safer Insecticidal soap or make a homemade solution, except with the vines up through the roof it was inpossible to reach and clear the problem, so I decided to tear the whole thing down.  Better luck next year.

This year's grand experiement was successful in some ways but not so much in others.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Preparing for Green Beans

Well, the broccoli has now all gone to seed and the temperatures are moving upward.  I pulled out all the broccoli plants, yesterday.  I'll be putting bush green beans into their place.  I'll need to get some chicken wire in order to create a protective barrier that will keep the squirrels out of the bean bed as the beans begin to break ground.  The little critters find the freshly sprouted bean seeds quite tasty.  I'm not interested in sharing.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Heirloom Tomatoes

I'm excited about my tomatoes this year.  Instead of buying the standard hybrids available at the local garden center attached to Lowes or Home Depot, I decided to go to my local neighborhood grower, Enchanted Forest. They debuted their heirlooms this past Saturday.  Here is what I got

Cherokee Purple - medium large dusky rose fruits with full flavor
Black Plum - oval 2" fruits, from deep mahogany to black-brown, nice rich color makes great sauce
Eva Purple Ball - smooth round 4 - 5 oz fruit, blemish free, very good flavor, does well in humid areas

I like the names of these as much as the descriptions - I am especially interested in the Eva Purple ball because it does well in humid areas.

Several weeks earlier I found a second heirloom tomato, that I was told would do well in the heat and humidity of SE Texas.  The farmer lives north of me by 2 hours and he grew the Costoluto Gero last year up until August, then he cut it back and it grew back when temperatures got cooler in the fall.   I have no clue what it will taste like or what it will look like but I'm excited to try it and find out.  I'll keep you posted as the season progresses.

Broccoli is AMAZING!!!

Back in the fall of 2010 I planted broccoli for the first time.  I was curious to see how it would grow.  One of the first things I noticed was that because the weather was too cool for insects to thrive, I had no problem with cabbage moths or cabbage worms.  That was a plus.  We began harvesting 7 - 8 inch wide heads through the month of January.  I didn't pull my plants up after this initial harvest, as I had read that if left alone broccoli would put out shoots which would grow into additional smaller heads.

Here is what my broccoli looks like now!  I have lots of new heads forming.   This picture was taken AFTER I picked quite a number heads for supper tonight.

My cabbage looks to be ready to pick.  It too has been left alone by the cabbage moth and cabbage worm.

I must report that the broccoli and cabbage plants were placed in the garden bed that I experimented with last spring.  Instead of trying to plant in the gumbo that was in this grow box I decided to follow the principles outlined in the book Lasagna Gardening  by Patricia Lanza.  I placed a 3 - 5 sheet layer of newspapers down first (I didn't even bother weeding or double digging the bed), then a layer of cut grass, then a layer of peat moss, then a layer of leaves, layer of peat moss.  I repeated the layering twice  cause by then the squash vines from the other bed were spreading over this bed. The contents of this grow box is friable, loose, nutrient rich (as you can see by the color of the plants), crumbly and holds moisture well.  I'm impressed.  Lazy gardener that I am this method is quite successful.