Boy, Is This A Happy Girl!

When you begin a homestead or organic garden, you develop a new perspective.  What was once refuse  has become gold.  I now drive around neighborhoods looking for bags of leaves left out by the curb, if I find some we pull over and it is kind of like a Chinese fire drill- we all hop out toss the bags in the back of the truck and hop back in.  Well, yesterday on the way out to visit my grandmother I passed by a house with HUGE bags of leaves and lots of them, the only problem was that they were still in the yard of the house.  Stuff on the curb for the garbage man is free game, but I won’t go into a person’s yard without permission- What to do?  It just so happens we knew the couple that own the house from Tony’s days on the ambulance and I was able to find them on Facebook.

mother load of leaves

She was very nice and said I most certainly could get the leaves.  This truck load is only half!!!  Really, I am delighted.

earth worm in the pine needles

Before visiting with my grandmother, I stopped by my parents house and gathered a load of organic mulch- pine needles.  Using a pitch fork that I ran just under the needles but not into the soil, I scooped up a wonderful pick up load full. I also found this cute little guy working the soil under the needles.

 

great pile of pine needles

Of course, this  meant that this morning before I dropped Sierra off a the library to volunteer  I had to empty the bed of the truck.  Once #3 was delivered to the library I swung over and grabbed the bags.  Those double size bags are HEAVY, so #4 the strapping young man who likes to sleep late will be going on the second trip.  Who needs a gym when you have all this exercise?  We will also hit the furniture stores on this trip and gather cardboard.

perfect toad stole in the pine needles

Another bright spot in my evening was finding this perfect little toad stool under the needles & getting several bags of newspapers from my Auntie.  Auntie is my grandmother’s sister and they live around the corner from each other.  Both enjoy our visits and I always wonder why I don’t do more visiting.

So, what in the world am I going to do with all this stuff, you may ask?  I am going to sheet compost as far as I can.  Last year I battled the Bermuda and in several areas the Bermuda won.  This time around, I am going to spread the cardboard all around my fruit trees and berry vines.  Once the cardboard is down, I will pile rabbit manure (from under our hutches), wood shavings, pine needles and leaves.  The goal of the layer of mulch is to be 6 inches thick.  This will suppress weeds and grass along with mulching my trees and feeding them as the layers breakdown in to compost.  This may not eradicate the Bermuda, but it will give my the upper hand and I can spray what does come along with 20% vinegar which will kill it in a day.

The point I would like to make is that organic gardening does not have to be expensive- you just have to look at what you have in a different way.

Sunflowers & Sunshine

As I look back over notes from the gardens of 2013, I am pleased.  We were productive and met many goals.  One of my goals was to finally, successfully grow sunflowers.

sunflower herb

I know this may seem like a simple goal, one so simple why put it on paper, but I have had a terrible time with sunflowers.  I would plant many seeds and only get a few flowers.  Then, I had an epiphany- perhaps it wasn’t me that was a terrible sunflower grower but, perhaps, it was those pesky squirrels.  As I am sure you know, squirrels love sunflower seeds.  It seems that they would sit up on their branches and watch me plant then steal into the garden to help themselves.  So, I got smart.  I started my sunflowers in the greenhouse with all the other vegetable seedlings.

sunflower seedlings

And success!  I had very many sunflowers to transplant out and they did wonderfully.  There is something that is just so happy about sunflowers in a garden, you can’t help but smile when you look at their sunny faces.

It is not too late to order and start your sunflowers.  I order my seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and have had excellent germination rate that resulted in very healthy plants.  The top of your refrigerator makes an excellent place to start seeds, once they poke their cute little cotyledons out of the soil, you need to move them to a sunny window unless you hang a light over the fridge.  Florescent shop lights work great for this purpose and can be taken down once seed starting time is over.

short stuff sunflower seedlings

Sunflowers like the sunshine so they won’t go to the garden until after the danger of the freeze has passed.  In my area its looking like Easter will be the time to move warm season transplants out to the garden.  There are many, many kinds to choose from, I choose varieties that were high in oil content as these are the ones the birds favor.  Also, I did not want a hybrid because I wanted to save seeds so that I could spend that money on another variety!  One can NEVER have too many flowers.

In this past season, I planted sunflowers at both ends of each row in my tomato patch and around the other veggie plots as well.  This resulted in an unexpected benefit- the birds ate on the sunflowers all summer and didn’t touch a tomato until all the seeds had been eaten from the dried sunflower.  Needless to say, this will be repeated.  Only I will plant in succession so that that I can have sunflowers blooming until fall.

sunflower herb 2

I did clip one sunflower just as the seeds ripened but before the birds ate them so keep for this year’s seeds.

dried sunflower for seeds

Well now, Ain't that a kick in the pants…

Things have been bustling around the farm as we work like crazy starting, bumping, and feeding seeds and seedlings for all the wonderful people who will buy herbs from us this coming season.   The past two weeks or so have brought us very nice and warm weather, but then this…

herb farm under ice

We had a lovely time selling herbs at our first market of the season, the Athens, TX farmer’s market.  It was warm and pretty, I worked outside in shorts bumping seedlings after I returned home and even went to bed with the windows open in my bedroom.  Then it happened, the blue norther blew in, the winds shifted so hard the noise woke me up.  I shut the window.

The rain came and then the ice and all the way the temperature went down, down, down.

garden trellis in the ice

Now, I have lived here all my life and I never get used to the sudden changes- it just boggles my mind! At 6 pm on Saturday my thermometer registered 72’F by 6 pm on Sunday it was 21’F.  That is hard on every thing- plants, animals and humans. I also knew that while the weather was so warm and wonderful that it would be foolish to plant any thing that could be killed by a freeze, it is Texas after all and I knew we weren’t out of winters grasp just yet.  My head did understand this concept, but I just kept hoping the weathermen would be wrong,  you know considering that they are only right 30% of the time.   Well, no they got it right. We are in a very deep freeze with all the roads coated in a thick layer of ice.

garden box with cover

Did I mention that our well is not working?  We had water at 6:30 this morning and then it just stopped.  We have and have had a heater in the pump house to keep the pipes from freezing so at this time we are just waiting.  As it is still 18′ F outside, it may be a bit until we know exactly what is going on.

I am quite happy to report that the greenhouse never dropped below 45’F and it is quite pleasant in there right now.  All the thousands of seedlings are happy and bright, growing right along.  I am also happy to report that by weeks end, our highs will be in the 60’s again.  

green house march 2014

The average last frost date for my area is March 15th, but given the past spring, this winter and the Farmer’s Almanac- I don’t think it will be safe to put out tomatoes, basil, and such until Easter.  The old timers had “Good Friday Gardens” for a reason.  But there are plenty of gardening options from March to April- Kale, Spinach, Cilantro, Thyme, Rosemary, Sage, Cilantro, beets, radishes, carrots,  and such will do just fine, even with a light freeze.  If you can cover the plants, you can put out broccoli, green beans, and squash.

So stay warm and dream of large gardens!