Sunday, May 22, 2016

A bloom-filled and productive spring

Months of moderate temperatures and El Niño's rains have brought forth an explosion of spring color in the garden. Bulbs, reseeding annuals and perennials burst into bloom in late February and early March, several weeks ahead of schedule.
front garden

daisies, poppies and lantana





ranunculus

broccoli and Texas mountain laurel

A Yellow Rose in Texas - 'Julia Child'

'Buff Beauty' rose

blue-eyed grass

Despite all the rain, we got a couple of long-needed projects finished. We installed a 550-gallon rainwater harvesting tank ourselves, and received a $225 rebate from the city (50 cents per gallon capacity). I plan to paint the PVC pipe green.
550 gallon rainwater harvesting tank

We alao hired a company to install a cedar fence along one side of our property. Here’s the before:
before the fence went up

And here’s the after. A little less morning sun, but lots more privacy, which was greatly needed on both sides of the fence.
after the fence

I had to break down all the garden beds along the property line, so garden space for the second round of cool-weather veggies I planted in January was very limited.
cedar fence

I only planted our favorites: snap peas, garlic, broccoli, spinach and strawberries in the remaining raised beds, and lettuce and carrots in containers. These veggies all do fine in our warm Central Texas winters without pampering. I got the potatoes planted on President's Day weekend, after the fence was installed. And once the fall-planted broccoli went to seed in March, I pulled it up and planted tomatoes.
veggie garden

It was a great year for broccoli! With all the rain, I hardly had to irrigate at all.
fresh broccoli from the garden

We enjoyed broccoli at least once a week for over four months -
Asian-inspired beef stir fry with garden broccoli

- until the snails moved in and wiped out the last few heads, boo.
snail eating broccoli

Snap peas did great too - enough to give away - and the snails don’t care for those.
bags o peas

Greens went gangbusters and we got a few asparagus spears, too.
spring veggies

Plenty of good eating around here - fresh garden produce never gets old.
homegrown strawberries

steamed veggie medley

And we've already picked our first limes from the lime tree, thanks to the DIY greenhouse and a warm winter.
Margaritas with homegrown limes

All in all, it's been a productive spring, but summer will be here soon enough. The forecasters say El Niño is coming to an end and La Niña will bring above-average temperatures to most of the US - except for Central Texas, South Texas and the Gulf Coast. What do y'all think about that forecast? I'm thinking I better pack my skimpiest summer wear for the Garden Bloggers Fling in Minnesota!
Words and photos © 2009-2016 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

What happened to winter?

Surprise - the first iris of the year.
cemetery iris

A bedraggled coneflower.
coneflower

Mealy blue sage.
mealy blue sage

Mexican bush sage.
Mexican sage

'La Marne' rose.
La Marne rose

'Old Blush' rose.
Old Blush

Freshly mulched rosemary.
rosemary

As for foliage, we have - a sprout of Russian sage and a heartleaf skullcap seedling.
seedlings

Hiding under the santolina - tulip clusiana foliage.
tulip foliage

I expect the grape hyacinth, freesia, anemone and ranunculus flowers will bust out any day now.
bulb foliage

What spring flowers are popping up in your winter garden? Leave a comment and let me know.

Words and photos © 2009-2016 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Time to order seed potatoes!

spring harvest
New potatoes and spinach
I love fresh potatoes dug out of my backyard, with their silky smooth, slightly sweet flesh and baby-soft skins. Baked, pan-fried, mashed, au gratin, deep-fried -- it's all good! Mid-February is potato-planting time in Central Texas, which means mid-January is seed-potato-ordering time -- like, right now. If I wait too long, my favorite varieties from my favorite vendor will be sold out, or they won't arrive in time to prep them for planting, or I'll get stuck with the wrinkly bruised dregs. (Y'all know I ordered my potatoes before I published this post, don't you?)

I always order from Potato Garden in Colorado. I like Potato Garden the best, because they sell certified disease-free seed potatoes to reduce the risk of pathogens that could wipe out the whole crop, and they will ship in January to Texas. Most certified potato growers are located up North and can't ship until March due to freezing conditions, but sadly, March is too late for planting potatoes here. Potato Garden also has a very informative catalog and growing guide in free downloadable PDF format.

I usually order 3 to 5 pounds of white Kennebec seed potatoes and 3 to 5 pounds of Red Pontiac seed potatoes. Kennebec is a mid-season potato that matures in 80-100 days; Red Pontiac is an early-season potato that matures in 60-80 days. Both are reliable varieties for Central Texas soils and climate, and have a good flavor and texture any way they're cooked. Late-season potatoes like Russet don't do well at all in Central Texas; they take 100-130 days to mature, and it gets too hot here too quickly for those to do well.

If Potato Garden runs out of Red Pontiac, Red LaSoda is a good second choice; if they run out of Kennebec, I get Yukon Gold. If I wait too long and Potato Garden sells out of these four varieties, I can usually find a few seed potatoes at Callahan's, Natural Gardener or Buck Moore Feed Store in late January. I've tried other potato varieties, including Austrian Crescent and All Blue, but Kennebec and Red Pontiac produce the best in my garden. I'm having trouble finding red potatoes this year, so I might be forced to try a different variety if the local nurseries don't come through.

I ask the grower to ship the potatoes to arrive the last week of January or first week of February. I do my best to time my shipment so the box won't sit on the porch too long in January; if the potatoes freeze, they'll be ruined. As soon as UPS or FedEx delivers the potatoes to my house, I open the box up right away, to check for damage and get them in fresh air; they can rot if kept in the shipping box too long. I put the potatoes, single-layer, in flat cardboard boxes (the lids from office paper boxes work great), and put them under the bed in the dark.

About 10 to 14 days before I'm going to plant the potatoes, I pull them out of the dark to green them up and get the eyes sprouting; this helps promote higher yields. Anything bigger than a jumbo chicken egg gets cut in half, making sure there is at least one eye on each piece. I dip the cut ends in dusting sulfur to prevent them from rotting, if I have some. Then the cardboard flats of potatoes go next to my sunniest south-facing window to sprout. If they don't sprout, I plant them anyway. The Aggies say February is the ideal time to plant Irish potatoes in Central Texas; I aim for anytime between Valentine's Day and President's Day.

Six to ten pounds of seed potatoes is enough to plant a raised bed 4 feet wide by 8 feet long by 8 inches deep, which is all I have room for in my small backyard garden. If you have known problems with nematodes or wireworms in your soil, or just want to plant more potatoes than you have room for in your raised beds, you can plant potatoes in grow bags or bushel baskets in purchased garden soil. In my experience,  I get lower yields from potatoes planted in containers versus in the ground, but some potatoes is better than no potatoes at all.

On planting day, I dig almost all of the soil out of the bed into wheelbarrows. As I dig, I work some homemade compost into the soil, if I have any, or a 5-gallon bucket or two of coffee grounds from Austin Ground to Ground, or a nitrogen source like cottonseed meal. I plant the potatoes right on top of my clay soil in the empty bed, spaced about six to ten inches apart. I add just enough amended soil from the wheelbarrows to cover the tops of the potatoes completely, but I don't fill the bed to the top - not yet! I water everything well, and unless we get rain, I water the potato bed every 7 to 10 days to keep the soil evenly moist, but not soggy. Soggy soil will rot the tubers.

Then I wait for the potatoes to sprout leaves, which takes about two weeks, but feels like an eternity.
fall potatoes
Potato leaves emerging in potato grow bag

Like tomatoes, potatoes are nightshade-family plants and the leaves are frost-tender. If we get a frost or freeze anytime after the leaves emerge, I have to run out and lay down more soil and pine mulch over the potato plants and cover them up with frost cloth. As soon as things warm up, I take the covers off so the plants can get sunlight.
raised beds covered with frost cloth
Raised beds covered with frost cloth over PVC hoops

In 2014, a early March freeze zapped some newly emerged potato leaves and they started to turn black, even though I'd covered them. I thought they had a fungus before I remembered the cold snap. But within 10 days, the plants had sprouted so many new leaves that no one could tell they ever suffered freeze damage. Still, I might be inclined to put a heat lamp under the frost cloth if this happens again.
frost damaged potato leaves
Frost-damaged potato plants on March 5, 2014
potato foliage
Frost-damaged potato plants on March 15, 2014

Once the plants get about six to eight inches tall, I "hill" the potatoes - I fill the bed with amended soil from the wheelbarrows, taking care not to break the stems, covering the plants up except for the top leaves just above the raised bed frame. And that's all the hilling I do. Kennebec and Red Pontiac are early to mid-season determinate potatoes, so they aren't going to form stems two yards long, and they won't produce potatoes the full length of the stalk like an indeterminate, late-season Russet; it's not their habit.  The potatoes are going to form in the lowermost eight to ten inches of the stalk just above the seed potato.  In fact, shorter season varieties actually produce fewer potatoes if they're hilled up too high. So I don't waste my time building potato towers or high raised beds.
potato bed one month old
Potato bed one month after planting

Once temperatures really warm up in mid-March and April, the plants should really take off and create a dense thicket of leaves that keep the soil shady, cool and weed-free. If we don't get rain, I drip-irrigate deeply once every week to keep the soil evenly moist - not too wet, not too dry - so the potatoes will be nice and round and big and plump. Around this time, the bugs will show up: leaf-footed bugs, whiteflies, maybe some ladybugs if we're lucky. I haven't ever needed to use insecticides. I pick the leaf-footed bugs off by hand and drop them in a pail of soapy water to kill them. Usually the grackles will stop by and eat some of the bugs.
two month old potato bed
Potato bed two months after planting

With any luck, the plants will bloom between 60 and 80 days. The white potatoes will have a white flower and the red potatoes will have a purple flower. Some years the plants don't flower at all - no matter, the plants will produce potatoes either way. If we get a lot of wind, the stalks will fall over. I just leave them alone; they'll be fine. It doesn't hurt them to be lying down or flopping over. Sure, it looks messy, but who cares? It's not like Garden Design magazine is coming to photograph my potato bed. Plus, if I try to stake them up, I risk breaking off the stalk.
white Kennebec potato flower
Kennebec potato flower
Red Pontiac potato flower
Red Pontiac potato flower

By the end of April or first few days in May, I start rummaging around the edge of the bed looking for new potatoes. Red Pontiac matures before Kennebec, so I start digging on the edges of the red potato side of the bed with my fingers. I try to leave the Kennebecs alone for another 2 or 3 weeks, or as long as I can stand it. If we're lucky, the snap peas will still be producing and we can have spring peas and new potatoes.
Potatoes
Kennebec potatoes in a grow bag

As the plants reach the end of their lifecycle, they will gradually turn yellow and start to die back. I stop watering at this point, because digging potatoes out of mud is a sloppy mess. The potatoes will keep in the ground for a couple more weeks, unless it's super hot, super wet, or the wireworms are running roughshod over the bed. By mid-May, I'm ready to dig all the potatoes up in one big sweaty fit, so I can plant something else. I use a garden fork to dig instead of a shovel to keep from damaging the potatoes too much, but I always manage to nick a few; those get eaten first.
Potato harvest
Freshly harvested potatoes.
 The potatoes are all near the bottom of the stems.

So far, my best harvest (2014) yielded about 5 pounds for each 1 pound I planted; in more hospitable climates, or in bigger plots with more widely spaced plants, you might get two or three times that. I don't wash the potatoes until I'm ready to eat them. I just brush off the dirt with a towel and store them in single layers in brown paper or cloth bags in the closet of the coolest room of the house; they keep just fine for several weeks. If we're slow to eat them and it's really warming up, I will move them to the fridge. Potato Garden says 40 degrees is just fine for storing potatoes; below 40 and some of the starches will turn to sugar, making them sweeter, but once they warm up, the sugars turn back to starch in a week or two. Potatoes can dry out and shrivel over time, though they never last that long at our house. I've tried saving a few spring potatoes to replant in August for a fall crop, with no luck at all; I can't get them to break dormancy in two months' time, and they just rot in the ground, so we eat them all. I haven't found any suppliers that can ship seed potatoes in August, so I've given up on trying to plant a fall crop.

Fresh potatoes are one of those fleeting delicacies that we look forward to all year. I think they're well worth the effort!
potatoes
This was about a third of the potatoes I harvested in 2014.

I'd love to hear about your potato-planting experiences and any tips or tricks you have to share. Leave a comment below, and let's talk taters!
Homegrown Kennebec potatoes
Kennebec potatoes

Words and photos © 2009-2016 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Updated! Public Service Announcement: keep a close eye on your blog gadgets & icons! (Hijack attacks, security)


Today I Learned about browser hijackers. Boo! Hiss!

After writing my lengthy 2016 New Year's intention post, I posted a link to it on Facebook, in keeping with Intention bullet point 4. :) A few minutes later, my friend Robin (Getting Grounded) commented that when she clicked on my link, she was redirected to a completely different website, and wondered if my garden blog had been hacked. Aaugh!, I replied, and went to work trying to figure out the problem.

First, I went to my MacBook Pro (Apple laptop), and tried accessing my blog from the Facebook link I posted, using three different browsers: Safari, Chrome, and Firefox. I found no problems - the link took me straight to my blog post on each browser. Meanwhile, my friend Rachel commented on my Facebook post that she wasn't having any problems at all, like me. The plot thickens. Is the problem with my post, the Facebook link, or something on Robin's end?

Then Robin said she was on her iPad. A ha! I asked Jack if I could borrow his iPad to troubleshoot the issue. Sure enough, when I clicked on my Facebook link from Jack's iPad, I was redirected to a video game for sale in Apple's App Store. Robin said she'd been redirected there too; on another attempt, she was redirected to a known browser hijacker's website. Oh, for the love of Pete. I had just listed a number of factors in my Intention post that made blogging a real drag: glitchy blogging platforms, comment spam, blog scrapers... so now we can add browser hijackers to the list, too, Big Noisy Sigh.

Where was the hijack happening and how could I stop it? I continued to search the Internet for answers and came across a couple of informative webpages. I found the first on a link posted on the Blogger Help Forum: Don't Make Your Blog Vulnerable to Strategic Malware. Malware? Yes, malware. According to this article, adding third-party gadgets, even those listed on Blogger, make your blog more vulnerable to redirect or hijack attacks. The page recommended deleting any and all third-party gadgets to reduce the risk.

I only had two non-Blogger gadgets on my page. One was a Real-Time Earth and Moon Phase widget by a third-party developer (Albino Blacksheep) that uses experimental CSS3 code to work; this gadget is listed on Blogger's Add a Gadget feature under More Gadgets in the Layout or Design section of the Dashboard. The other gadget was a weather sticker from WeatherUnderground.com that lists temperature, wind speed and precipitation information for my specific neighborhood; I added this gadget myself using Blogger's HTML/JavaScript function. I've had both of these gadgets on my home page for years. No matter, says the author: these third-party gadgets are all vulnerable to redirect attacks at any time. Simply delete the gadgets from your blog to fix the problem. But... but... I really like those two gadgets... sniff...

The second helpful webpage I found, titled Removing a Malware Warning Blogspot (Blogger) site, gave detailed information for troubleshooting both my Blogger template and all the gadgets on my Blogger home page to look for problems. Happily, these issues are almost never caused by someone hacking into the template itself and rewriting it to add malicious code (whew!). In the author's experience, the hijack/redirect access point is always a third-party gadget or icon on the blog's home page. Good to know!

So I deleted the moon-phase gadget and the weather sticker from my blog home page, and voila, the redirect problem was fixed. I don't know which one was the problem - Robin was redirected to two different sites, so maybe they both were - but since the gadgets can be hacked at any time, I decided to delete them both, asap. Sadly, I really liked those two gadgets, and Blogger has no Google-designed moon-phase or weather gadgets to replace them, and with the marketed decline in blogging in recent years, I don't expect Blogger to add new gadgets - but I can't have my visitors being redirected to spammy sites. Not acceptable!

While I was battening down the hatches, so to speak, I decided to turn on HTTPS Availability on my blog. This allows visitors to view my blog over an encrypted connection by adding https:// before my URL. I then had to go into my blog template to make sure all the content was HTTPS compatible. A Blogger Help article titled Fix mixed content on your blog helped me work through three fairly simple steps.

The first step is to back up the existing template (yes, I had to reinstall my template once during this process! Don't skip this step! It's important! Do it!).

The second step is to edit the template to change every http:// to https://. Preview the new template to make sure everything works/looks right, then save the changes. (I had five http:// in my template to which I added five s's: not hard!) If you change something by accident and something doesn't look right, upload your old template (the one you backed up), and try again, carefully. (I accidentally deleted the Search box at the top of my blog. Uploading my old template restored it. Yay for backups!)

The next step is to view the blog home page itself through JavaScript Console and look for mixed content errors. (See the Mixed Content article above for detailed instructions) I found a boatload of errors related to the tiny little icons located next to each blog listed on the blog rolls on my right sidebar. Most of these icons merely indicate what platform each blogger uses, e.g., Blogger blogs have a little orange-and-white Blogger icon, WordPress blogs have a little blue-and-white WP icon, and so on; some bloggers design a custom icon (called a favicon) as part of their personal online branding. Since apparently these icons can be used by ne'er-do-wells to launch redirect or hijack attacks (seriously? yes, seriously) at worst, and make viewing a blog problematic over an encrypted connection at best, I edited all my blog rolls (Austin, Texas, National, and Other) to turn off all the icons - and voila, all my mixed content errors went away.

Uncheck the Icon box (shaded) next to Show
and click the orange Save button.

Because I activated HTTPS, when I add hyperlinks to future blog posts, I now have to make sure the hyperlink includes https://, not http://. Now a little message pops up whenever I start a blog post, to remind me.
Edit - um, no, that's not how it works. Today I Learned that https:// hyperlinks only work if the linked web page or blog has turned on HTTPS availability, otherwise the link goes nowhere, i.e., it becomes a broken link. And hardly anyone has turned on HTTPS availability, because HTTPS support is new for Blogger blogs, and isn't yet supported for blogs with custom domain names (like the author of the malware article above). So strike adding https hyperlinks as a general rule. But turning on HTTPS availability is helpful, as explained on this Google Product forum post.

In fact, probably the easiest way to deal with the mixed content error issue is to upgrade my blog template to something more modern. My clean and classic template is seven years old, which means its code is seven years old, too. This article on forced SSL, canonical URLs and protocol relative URLs is a little over my head, but suffice to say, encryption is a choice, forcing HTTPS on folks causes broken links, pages and websites, and using a modern template should ensure that anyone can read my blog whether the reader is accessing it through an HTTP or an HTTPS connection. But that's a tidy-up task for another day, and one that will require me to download my entire blog - shudder!

HTTPS activated and hijackable gadgets deleted: that's two blog tidy-up tasks completed! Like weeding a garden, we bloggers have to be diligent at keeping malicious content out of our blogs, or they'll run roughshod over our blogging communities like Bermuda grass over a raised bed. Dormant blogs, blogs with old outdated templates, the Internet Explorer browser and Android devices seem to be hot hacker targets at the moment, but all of us are vulnerable. As Elvis used to say, we gotta TCB - Take Care of Business! If you aren't at all tech-savvy, increasing the security on your blog may seem like a burden, but if I can do it, you can, too - or find a tech-savvy person to help you with it. Don't forget to install software updates on your devices, too - they often contain patches to solve specific known security problems.

I really appreciate Robin for letting me know she was getting redirected to a spammy website. If you ever have problems accessing my blog, please let me know and I will try to work with you to sort it out!

Words and photos © 2009-2016 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Intention

At the brand-spanking-new League of Unsponsored Blogs (LUB), my friend Lainie asks, What is your intention for your blog in the coming year, and how will you achieve that intention? (Hopefully, she’ll post a link to her UnrulyMom.com blog post about her intention.)

When I first started this garden blog in 2009, I had no intentions. I started blogging on a bit of a whim. I started gardening in Austin in earnest three years earlier. I'd built a raised bed or two or ten and planted things in them that actually did what I’d hoped they’d do, and I was very excited about my successes. I wanted a space to write about my garden as it continued to grow and evolve, to keep records and notes on gardening stuff that I could refer back to, and to connect to other gardening enthusiasts, particularly those in Austin.

Despite my numerous garden failures over four decades in Houston, Susie and Chuk’s garden inspired me to give gardening a go in Austin. Susie and Chuk have a huge back yard in South Austin, full of native plants that attract chirping hummingbirds and flitting butterflies, plus a vegetable garden where Chuk grows hot peppers and tomatoes and herbs for making all manner of salsas and hot sauces, plus shade trees and a peach tree, plus open space for fire pits and smokers and setting off fireworks and other hot and festive goings-on.

When I posted on Facebook in April 2009 that I was thinking about starting a garden blog (yes, Facebook came first), Susie said she’d been thinking about starting a garden blog, too. I told Susie her garden had inspired me, and Susie said my garden had inspired her, particularly the things I’d planted in preparation for our 2007 backyard wedding. (The garden did look ridiculously good that spring.)







Then Susie said, “It's settled, we should both start gardening blogs and continue to inspire each other. :o)”

So we did.

And on my very first post, Laura Wills of Some Like It Hot (then; now, Wills Family Acres) told me about the Austin garden blogging community and suggested I contact Pam Penick (Digging, Lawn Gone!, The Water-Saving Garden) to get connected. Eight years later, I’m still blogging, I'm still gardening, and in 2012, I became a Travis County Master Gardener to boot - so thank you, Laura! (Laura just finished Master Gardener training this fall and is starting her internship this month.)

When I first started this blog, everything about my gardening exploits seemed interesting. Every blossom, every new planting, every garden tool, every pest was a topic to be researched, photographed, and expounded upon at length. The words willingly tumbled out of my brain and onto the page. I wrote 73 posts in 2009. Most were several paragraphs long and all had several accompanying high-resolution photos.

Eight years later, I’m still very interested in gardening, yet I struggle to write a post. I wrote five blog posts in 2015 - five! - which happens to be, coincidentally, the total number of posts Susie wrote on her garden blog in 2009 before she threw in the towel. Blogging isn’t for everyone. Some people would rather just do a thing than write about the doing of a thing.

Early on, my blogging was solely focused on ideas and projects and things I was learning about gardening in Central Texas. I had thoughts and plans and I couldn’t wait to get them out of my head and onto the page. Now that I'm a more experienced gardener, blogging seems like an utterly daunting task at times - sort of like gardening, ha ha ha. The prospect of writing paragraphs upon paragraphs of text with A Theme and Reflections and A Takeaway in TextEdit, hauling the Nikon out to the garden for photos, reviewing and processing dozens (occasionally, hundreds) of photos in Photoshop and uploading them to Flickr, then transferring it all, text and photos, to my ancient, glitchy, quirky Blogger template, then deleting the annoying Flickr text overlays off each and every photo, then adding text hyperlinks, then reading and proofreading and spell-checking and re-writing ad nauseam - it's all too much at times, Big Noisy Sigh; just another chore. It's not a private journal, after all; it's a public blog, open to comments, and writing is hard, y'all.

In contrast, it’s easy to write a Facebook post’s worth of words and snap an iPhone photo or two, and quick, too, with almost immediate feedback from friends and family. Facebook might be partially responsible for the obvious decline in independent, personal interest blogging. Facebook has even tried to revamp Notes as a blogging platform of sorts. Alas, the kids just aren't that into blogging; apparently, blogs are for old people. Others point to the death of Google Reader in 2013, or the rise in Pinterest, Snapchat and Instagram, or the move from desktop computing and keyboards to mobile computing and touchscreens, coupled with the relentless onslaught of comment spam that caused many bloggers to turn off blog comments, not to mention the noxious blog scrapers, or the malware that redirects your visitors to other sites through seemingly innocuous gadgets... or maybe a little of all of the above. In any event, less blogging + fewer comments = poof! - there goes the community. Sponsored blogs, monetized blogs and blogs largely dedicated to “review and giveaway” posts seem more prominent today. Building an online personal brand, search engine optimization (SEO), web traffic, hits, clicks, page views, social media "strategy" and other PR trappings became Things that indie bloggers were supposed to start caring about and largely didn't, particularly Millennials.

While blogging's hey-day seems to have passed, that isn't necessarily a bad thing; it is what it is. But Lainie's question makes me think - does posting gardening stuff on Facebook achieve my original goals for my garden blog, i.e., a digital garden journal and a way to connect with other gardening enthusiasts? No, it doesn’t. If it did, I would have never started a garden blog. If no one read my blog - would there still be benefits to blogging? Yes. I do want to keep a garden journal, and this blog works well for that. I do look back at old posts from time to time; most recently, to figure out when my garden broccoli started forming heads in past years. For such purposes, I appreciate the chronology and linear time perspective of a traditional blog. (It's much more difficult to find old posts on Facebook.) Also, if I stopped blogging, I wouldn't be a part of the Austin garden bloggers community anymore, and that would be a tremendous loss. But I'm not a natural journal-keeper. I didn't journal a lot when I was younger. It doesn't come naturally to me. And since I've slacked off on blogging, now there are gaps in my garden journal.

In addition to my blogging struggles, my garden is in a wee bit of upheaval as well. After a decade of gardening in Austin (wow, a whole decade now!), some garden areas aren’t really working as well as in years past (read: too high maintenance) and could use an overhaul, tons of plants have flat-out died, and the projects are piling up faster than I can shovel.

We got approval in October 2015 to install a 550-gallon barrel for collecting rainwater off our patio roof and obtain a rebate from the city, but other more pressing concerns this fall and winter pushed that shovel-ready project to the back burner, and I’m not confident we’ll make our late January installation deadline.

This past summer, we came to a verbal agreement with a noisy neighbor to split the cost of a cedar fence, so I took down the raised veggie plots near our shared property line at summer’s end and began removing the bird-planted brush along the chain-link fence. Unfortunately, the neighbor backed out of the deal when he saw the price estimates we’d gotten, so now we’ll have to fund the full cost ourselves. In the interim, I’m struggling with half the veggie garden space I’m used to, and I’m not sure what I’ll do with that space once the fence is up - more raised beds? Stock tank planters? A huge berm? Lots of decisions for someone that's not great at garden design.

Meanwhile, the noise from the neighbor’s gas-powered commercial lawn equipment, 5-ton refrigerated cargo truck and barking, whining Husky pup continues to invade our residence, day and night, through our leaky Sixties-era aluminum windows. Replacing our windows might reduce the noise, but at a significant cost, and our houses are very, very close, so how much noise abatement is actually possible is questionable. Nonetheless, I intend to start saving up to fund that home improvement project, once my car is paid off in a couple of months.

In November 2014, we erected a DIY greenhouse - a short "high tunnel" of sorts - over the lime tree that outgrew the pop-up greenhouse. It works splendidly to keep the grackles off in summer and the frost away in winter. But it needs weeding, too, and the moisture-resistant stick-on zipper doors are not holding up well, so at some point, we’ll need to build proper doors for the thing.







In February 2014, we put in a retaining wall (a project I never blogged about); the builder recommended topping the eroded soil with compost then rock. Two years later, that space has become overgrown with weeds; the front garden is weedy as well. I’ve decided that cardboard under hardwood mulch is likely the most sustainable, low-maintenance and walkable solution for the weedy paths, but weed-whacking and rock removal comes first.



Did I mention the word daunting?

But I digress. Back to the point of the post! I intend to keep this blog going, of course, because the Austin garden blogging community is full of warm and inspiring and knowledgable and generous people, and I want to remain a part of it, in addition to the national garden blogging community, and the Garden Bloggers Fling that the Austin garden bloggers inspired. Toward that goal:
  • I intend to write no fewer than one post a season, and ideally a post a month.
  • I intend to devote a minimum of four hours a month (an average of an hour a week) toward blogging.
  • I intend to schedule blogging time like I would any other appointment.
  • Rather than posting on Facebook, I intend to post gardening stuff here, on this blog, then link the post to Facebook.
  • Last but most certainly not least, I intend to dedicate an hour a week to commenting on garden blogs I follow.

To reduce the “dauntingness” of blogging, the length of my posts will likely decrease, and perhaps the number of photos. This post took well over 4 hours to write and put together, which pretty much guarantees my future posts won't be nearly this long. There's something to be said for simplicity: more posts, less rambling! Happy new year to all!

Words and photos © 2009-2016 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.