Sunday, January 30, 2011

A winter vegetable garden


We Central Texas gardeners have very little room to complain about our winters. While much of the East Coast and Midwest has been blanketed in snow, suffering through frigid temperatures for weeks on end, we're planting a winter vegetable garden on a sunny, 79°F degree day. (Yes, we'll have several days of hard nighttime freezes next week, but it won't last long, and we won't have blankets of snow to deal with.)

According to the Travis County Vegetable Garden Planting Guide, it's the perfect time to plant a second crop of cool-weather veggies and herbs. Planting now gives the crops time to mature to harvest before the heat starts to hit in late spring. And when a hard freeze hits, cold-hardy vegetables remain safe under hoop houses covered with floating row cover.

With this in mind, here's what I planted today:
*Detroit Dark Red beets
*Danvers 126 carrot seeds
*Green Magic broccoli transplants from It's About Thyme
*Oregon Sugar Pod II snow pea seeds
*Sugar Snap Peas seeds
*Bloomsfield spinach seeds
*Palla Rossa Ashalim radicchio seeds
*Valentine' mesclun seeds: a mix of red lettuces including Ruben's Red, Rouge d'Hiver, Redina, Red Oakleaf, Lollo Rossa, Merveilles des Quatre Saisons and Red Salad Bowl lettuces

I also side-dressed the crops I planted in fall with Ladybug All American Turkey Compost. As I worked, I noticed the Packman broccoli planted in the fall is ready to harvest. It's so good, so sweet...I can't wait!
Packman broccoli

I was pleased to see the Spanish bluebells and 'giant summer' snowflakes poking through the soil.
Spanish bluebell

Spring's not far off!
Summer snowflakes

It's also about time to plant potatoes. I purchased Red Lasoda and White Kennebec seed potatoes from Buck Moore Feed & Supply this weekend.
Seed potatoes
Now I need to cut them into pieces, dust them with sulfur and let the cuts cure before planting. I had good luck in potato planting bags last year, but I bought too many this year for my one bag. I may try planting some directly in a bag of compost, or a burlap bag, as pictured on this website.

Next week: filling in two new garden beds with compost, so they can sit a spell before spring planting time. What are your garden plans?

Words and photos © 2009-2011 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Foliage Follow-Up - January 2011

On the 16th of each month, Pam Penick at Digging hosts Foliage Follow-Up, where she invites us to share photos of our leafy, spiky and green things. January is one of those months in Central Texas where the foliage is infinitely more exciting than the blooms!

In the front yard, 'Bright Lights' yucca turns all shades of spectacular when temperatures cool. [EDIT: Pam nailed it: it's not 'Bright Lights', but rather 'Bright Edge' yucca -- purchased from Shoal Creek Nursery.]
'Bright Edge' yucca

The tiny yellow blossoms of damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana) are long gone, but its textured foliage adds interest to the winter garden.

Cold temperatures turn the leaves of the 'Carefree Delight' rose from green to coppery red, a nice contrast to its grey-white thorns.
'Carefree Delight' rose

Bulbs are starting to pop up around the garden. Freesia is always the first to appear. These are a coral-pink variety from Easy to Grow Bulbs, which I planted last year. I also planted "blue' freesia, which turned out to be an obnoxious shade of purple that clashed with the delicate shade of these beauties, so I pulled them all up and tossed them at the end of last season. Hey, that's just how I roll.
Freesia foliage

I'm very excited to see this Sternbergia lutea foliage, also known as fall daffodil. I just planted these bulbs from Old House Gardens a few months ago.
Fall daffodil

First ranunculus sighting, from Easy To Grow Bulbs' 'Island Sunset' mix. Will it be red, yellow or orange?
First ranunculus

In the vegetable garden out back, a row of lettuces, including Simpson Elite and baby oakleaf, front a bed of Packman broccoli.
Broccoli & lettuces

Softneck garlic and Q's Mesclun Mix flourish happily in a cozy microclimate between the lime trees.
Mesclun mix, romaine, garlic

We've had several days of constant, gentle, soil-drenching rains, as this baby romaine happily testifies.
Baby romaine

What's a gardener to do when last year's dill reseeds itself in the midst of its worst garden companion, carrots? I'm treating it as an experiment and leaving it be.

'Bright Lights' chard mix is not as hardy as my favorite, Fordhook Giant, but it is beautiful; I particularly like the orange.
'Bright Lights' chard

This colorful strawberry leaf is from either a Chandler or Sequoia variety from Dromgoole's Natural Gardener.
Strawberry leaf

The cabbages are finally starting to form heads.

Visit Pam's Foliage Follow-Up page to see what's happening in other gardens.

Words and photos © 2009-2011 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - January 2010

Move along, folks -- nothing to see here.

Words and photos © 2009-2011 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Baby, it's cold outside!

The Arctic blast has reached Central Texas, with temperatures in the 30's all day. It's currently 36°F outside and misting: four more degrees, and we'll have flurries. Brrrr!

Luckily, last Saturday was gorgeously warm and sunny: a perfect day to get ready for the freeze with a boatload of floating row cover. We covered the hoop houses over the veggie beds, and tweaked the makeshift greenhouses around our baby lime trees.
Putting up makeshift greenhouses

Lime trees hate freezing temperatures; they start sulking at 32°F. And by sulking, I mean the tips of their branches freeze off, they drop all their leaves, and they produce no fruit the following year. So last year, we used tomato cages, rope lights and floating row cover to keep the ambient temperatures around the trees above freezing.
Key lime tree

Every time the weatherman threatened a freeze, we'd run out and throw floating row cover over the cages, and turn on the rope lights. In the morning, when things warmed up, we'd take off the row cover and turn off the lights. All winter long, those lime trees kept us running; throwing the row cover on, taking the row cover off -- on, off, on, off -- hey, it sure beats lugging two huge potted lime trees in and out of the garage. Moreover, it worked. Our Bearss lime rewarded us handsomely for our efforts with two dozen fresh limes, and believe you me, there are few things better than a Margarita made with fresh, homegrown limes. Although the key lime produced only a couple of limes, it did put on tons of new growth.

This winter, the tomato cages were much too small for our growing trees, so Jack came up with a bigger, better idea. Instead of tomato cages, he purchased eight superlong pieces of 3/8" rebar, and drove them into the ground around the periphery of each tree, foursquare or thereabouts, roughly 6 feet apart.

We then took a 25 foot long length of 12' floating row cover from the Natural Gardener, and anchored it at the 6' point to the rebar with cheap binder clips from the office supply store, allowing about a foot to puddle on the ground and the remaining 4-5' to overlap on top of the tree.
Binder clip

Floating row cover provides about four to six degrees of frost protection, so on nights when temperatures below 28°F are expected, an additional heat source is helpful. We use inexpensive clip lights with 60W incandescent bulbs underneath the row cover. I'm not sure what we'll use when these bulbs go the way of the Walkman, as compact fluorescent lights give off no heat.
Clip light as heat source

One big difference this year: no more on-off-on-off with the row cover. This year, we've decided to keep the lime trees ensconced in their snug little rugs all winter until the risk of frost has passed; typically, that's around March 15 in these parts. Unlike other coverings like bedsheets and plastic, floating row cover is penetrable by water and light, and won't suffocate the plant when temperatures rise.
Makeshift greenhouse

These contraptions have been up since the first frost in November, so this past Saturday, we took down the row cover around the Bearss lime to check how things were going inside. Happily, most of the tree looked nice and green.
Bearss lime

Unfortunately, there was a bit of freeze damage on the branches that were touching the row cover; nothing major, but definitely a sign we needed to move the rebar further out away from the tree before re-wrapping it in row cover.
Slight frost damage on Bearss lime

We didn't take down the makeshift greenhouse around the key lime; we didn't have to. I peeked inside, and even the branches touching the row cover looked great. The tree was so happy, it was blossoming.
Key lime blossoms

I even spied a few baby limes. They'll likely fall off before spring, but it's an encouraging sign of bountiful harvests to come this year. I'm already dreaming of Key Lime Pie.
Baby key limes

At night, with the lights on, the makeshift greenhouses look like some sort of funky light sculptures.
Makeshift greenhouse with clip light

Which plants in your garden get extry-special treatment in winter?

Words and photos © 2009-2011 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.