Thursday, November 10, 2011

Howdy loyal readers,

First of all, my apologies for not writing the last 2 months. I've been busy with some stuff.

So, getting right along to the garden!!
We have had a lot of changes since my last post. For one, a very light FROST actually hit some parts of the garden a week ago. So, it has cooled off substantially since the summer, which is good since it's already mid November...

What's growing: Carrots, beets, chard, boc choi, cabbage, broccoli, kale, turnips, sugar snap peas, lettuce, garlic, arugula, spinach, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, okra, & tepary beans.

What's being harvested: Boc choi, okra, peppers, & turnip greens. I should be harvesting tomatoes right now, but since I am lousy at growing tomatoes, I'm not. I'm tempted to rip em all out, but there are a few little green fruits, so I'll keep them and see what happens. Sarah says my greatest challenge in gardening is my love of plants, which makes sense. I am so curious about what they will do, that I leave them in the ground even when they aren't really productive.

I've more or less abandoned the 'native prairie' in favor of a highly productive forage plot for the goats. This means I have overseeded the yard with annual ryegrass, including the area I had seeded with the native prairie mix. I decided to do this for a couple of reasons. First of all, the native area was totally infested with weeds, mostly henbit and mimosa, as well as some ryegrass that went to seed last year (so it was already there anyways...). Secondly, alfalfa is running at $15 per bale right now, and I am tired of paying so much for goat feed. My hope is to reduce costs a bit by supplementing with ryegrass this spring and maybe winter if it grows fast enough.

So, here are some pictures of the vegetables. You can see boc choi in the first one, tomatoes and kale in the second one, beets and carrots in the third.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

too dang hot

This summer is proving itself to be a real challenge in the garden. The unprecedented heat and lack of rain are an amazing contrast to last year, when we had relatively mild temperatures and ample precipitation. Even with a good deal of supplemental watering, the plants do not thrive. There just isn't any substitute for cloud juice!

I've recently added a drip irrigation system to the garden in hopes of conserving water and helping my plants out a bit. Drip irrigation allows water to be very slowly applied to the root zone, which means less waste from run off or over-watering. It also means I don't have to drag a hose from plant to plant, so it's a real time saver for me. In this picture you can see the black plastic drip lines running along the tomato bed. The burlap cloth is to provide some shade for the tender transplants while they get established. That's right folks, we have to shade our tomatoes here.

I've also installed an improved greywater system. Well, it's an improvement over what I had before, which was a flexible rubber hose, the kind used to flush out pool filters, running directly from the laundry into the yard. Now the laundry flows into a large plastic barrel, which has a garden hose on the bottom. This allows me to move the hose around as the water comes out, control the flow with a valve, and store water for a few hours before using it on the plants. I can also split it up between plants rather than all the water rushing out onto one plant, all at once. So far, so good. It holds an entire load without spilling or backing up and the hose can reach anywhere in the yard. I can even add additional hoses to reach the front yard if I want to water the shade trees. I've used another one of those old burlap coffee bags to make the barrel a little more attractive, or less unattractive anyways.

The other big change to the garden is that I significantly reduced the area taken up by the animal pen. My reason for doing this is that the animals were not using the whole area and the bedding was getting quite thin in the part closest to the house. For some reason the bedding tends to migrate and pile up towards the back of the pen. The back is also the shady area. By moving the fence towards the back, I reduced the pen to only the area that is pretty much always in the shade, which is where the animals spent all their time anyways. I redesigned the fence somewhat, using juniper posts instead of metal posts, and made it shorter but with an electrified ware along the top and bottom to keep the goats in. I want

There's hope on the horizon, though. I've recently planted a bunch of zinnias in the shade of the now dying naive sunflowers that came up along the fence. With some periodic watering, they have emerged and are beginning to grow. They're not much to look at yet, but I am hopeful for a beautiful fall blooming!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Melons and Changes

Hi again... It's been too long.

I guess I've been too busy with work and chores to get around to the blog, so my apologies.
It's summer. Boy is it ever summer! I don't know how many triple digit days we've had, but here's the monthly weather for Austin:


One of the casualties of the hot weather has been my water consumption, which was waaaaaay out of hand last month. It jumped to almost double our highest previous monthly consumption, due mostly to my heavy handed watering habits. We came in at about 7000 gallons. So, since receiving my bill, I have switched to a more draconian watering schedule- one deep watering per week. We'll see if it works. The plants certainly don't like it, the squash and melons were looking so poorly that I decided to just rip them all out and plant a drought tolerant cover crop of millet, sunflowers and amaranth this morning in preparation for the fall garden. I'm not sure if I believe it, but we are supposed to be planting the fall crops beginning in about 6-8 weeks. I considered planting some more melons, because I love melons, but ultimately, I think it's best to keep the front beds open so that I can grow my fall crops in the sandier soil, which they like.

That means this picture of a melon is the last melon of the season!

It was a good melon though.... (i already ate it). FYI the vareity is 'Charentais', which is a French heirloom, which supposedly tastes better than all other varieties. Well, it was better than the ones I grew last year, but inferior to the melons at the grocery store, so I really wasn't that impressed. If anyone has any tips for growing especially flavorful melons, let me know.

In other news, I have been expanding my cheese repertoire to include mozzarella and queso fresco. The mozzarella has been a little bland, I think owing to the 'quick' recipe I've been using, which does not include a starter culture. Next time I make it, I'll do the other recipe. So far the queso fresco seems to be going OK, today is my first attempt and it's still draining whey, so I've not tried it yet. Sorry, no pics. The batteries are dead...

Annnnd here's a picture of Miles in a T-shirt and boxer shorts.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

I've got lots of pictures for you today! It's been a busy time in life and the garden both lately, and I have been lax on posting pictures, so here is a big fat pic bomb for you to enjoy.
This first picture is of Sonoran Tepary Beans. As might be expected, it is very tolerant of drought and heat. Some sources indicate that this species can produce a harvestable crop with a single watering! Nevertheless, I will water it.... I've been growing this bean out from my original seed stock, (purchased from seeds of change, no glamorous story of origin here) for about 5 years, and finally had enough to plant a good sized bed. Last year I harvested about a pound of beans from roughly 1/3 the area I planted this year, so hopefully I will have enough to EAT some this fall.

I learned my lesson about counting chickens before they hatch from my spring potato crop. Some of the books I read and planted by said I could expect a 10:1 yield on my potatoes. Experience working on farms and my disbelief in the relevance of books on gardening to Austin's climate led me to believe I might get more like 6:1 yield. That means 6 lbs of spuds for each pound of potatoes planted as 'seed'. Well, I was expecting something like 100+lbs of potatoes... I did NOT harvest that much. My yield was more like 2:1, I think mostly owing to insufficient water and excessive heat. In any case, here are most of the potatoes (minus the ones we have already eaten). They are really good, and it's still about 30 lbs of spuds, but I was disappointed.
They onions and tomatoes are quite tasty as well. This is sort of what I've been harvesting lately, thought amaranth greens, green beans and cucumbers are also coming out of the garden right now, but aren't pictured.

Here's a window that Sarah's brother gave us, in its new home.

I *finally* planted my okra. No worries though, as okra is a lot like amaranth greens in its heat tolerance. It loves heat. And, since we've been getting a lot of heat lately, I think it will do well.

Yum. Tasty melons coming to a plate near me. Maybe a month from now????? This is a 'charentais' melon, which, if you believe the seed packet, supposedly tastes better than all other melons combined. Go here: if you don't believe me.

The newest addition to the urban homestead: our outdoor shower! This is great on a hot day after working outside or riding my bike around. I also shower here in the mornings and at night sometimes, I love hearing the birds and seeing the trees in the breeze while showering, and the cool water is great. I have it set up so that it drains to our banana tree, which looks really awful right now.

Artichoke in bloom, in case you were curious.

Poblano peppers developing nicely...

Bee on a sunflower. The bees LOVE these sunflowers. I have seen at least four different kinds: honey bees, solid black bees, grayish white bees, and tiny black/iridescent bees (not flies!).

Well, that's all for now.
OH! We've been getting about half a gallon a day of milk, which we drink and make into cheese. Yum.

Friday, June 10, 2011

I made several of these felted slippers for family members last Christmas - my first adventure in felting. This pattern is from French Press Knits. These, modeled and photographed by Greg's sister Laura, were the only ones that made it to a camera.

A present for our little niece.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Meanwhile, indoors... I have several months worth of craftwork to share here. Maybe I'll just put some pictures up over the next few days, starting with this, a little gift for our nephew. It's cuter on, of course. The baby makes the hat. I found the pattern on this lovely, lovely blog: Homegrown Happy.

This cowl - a gift for Karen, who inspires often, enjoys a Christmastime post-breakfast linger with the rest of us at the table. It was a fun knit, made with a fine mohair lace and fatter needles; the pattern came from Knitty.

And here is the piece in action, with Karen and our January garden.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Goodbye babies, hello milk

Yesterday we sold the first batch of kids (Mabel's three) to some family friends. Seeing them go was a mixed bag for me. I knew they were going to a good home and that their departure meant we would finally begin getting milk from our mama goats, in which we have invested a lot of time, money and effort. On the other hand, the kids' plaintive cries when we separated them from Mabel was hard to handle. I immediately began second guessing myself, wondering if we had given them enough time, wondering if we should actually be keeping goats at could we be such heartless monsters as to separate them??

Of course this is the reality of dairy: anytime you drink milk it is only because some little calf or kid or lamb is not drinking it. When the animals are in your backyard, it just feels more immediate and visceral than when you buy a gallon of milk at the store. We waited the recommended length of time before separating the kids from their moms, we gave them vaccinations, affectionate attention, and plenty of hay while they were here. I have full faith in the folks who are now in charge of their welfare. Really, this is the best it can be, I think!

This morning, I woke up full of anticipation. Mabel seemed to be in good enough spirits; she hadn't tried to escape in the night and wasn't hollering for her kids all night either. Sarah and I had been watching her udder for the last few weeks, wondering if we would get any milk. She was always empty!! This morning, however, her udder was full. Between the morning and afternoon milkings, we got ~1100 grams of milk from Mabel today. That's a little over a quart.

A quart of milk per day is actually a lot of milk. Also, that is only from one goat. When PJ's kids leave, will we be getting half a gallon? What on earth will we do with 3.5 gallons of milk per week?? Cheese! Yogurt! Milk! Ice cream! Party favors!


In non goat garden news, the heat has been hard on the tomatoes. Some of the fruits are getting pretty sun burned, turning a pale yellow and getting mushy. Yuck. Nevertheless, we have a good number of tomatoes coming in, enough for salads & sandwiches, but not enough for the big pots of salsa I was dreaming of. Next time, I'm going to use tomato cages and grow only determinate, fast maturing hybrid varieties. The heirlooms are well and good if you don't mind harvesting just 3 or 4 edible fruits from each plant. I want to be inundated with tomatoes.

My peppers are coming along very nicely. They love the heat! Today I harvested some poblanos, time to make goat cheese stuffed chile rellenos! Maybe I can use some of the smokey salsa verde i made last fall as a sauce. Oh yeah....

Melons, tepary beans, black eyed peas, amaranth, malabar spinach, eggplants, peppers.... They are all coming along well. I'll harvest the last of the potatoes, beets and carrots soon. That will be the last root crops till next fall.... Imagine not eating a carrot from now till November! Yikes! I'll probably buy some at the store. (Heresy, I know...)

well that's a lot to mull over.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

More pictures of goats and garden.
See the babies, a typical harvest and what's growing.
Artichoke, sweet pea blooms, tomatoes, grape vine on the trellis, baby melon plants in the lettuce bed.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

baby goats!

PJ Had twins!

The first picture is of PJ and her babies, a boy and a girl. We have decided to name the girl Ariel and the boy Cosmo.

These pictures show Ariel in the flower bed. Too cute. Miles is a good uncle dog.The happy family...
Cosmo begins drinking milk.

Spaced out baby v1.0...
Spaced out baby v2.0...
As you can see it has been a great day at Outside In.
We're looking forward to Mabel kidding in the next few days!
More pics when that happens.

and for your viewing pleasure, a video of the goats:

Saturday, March 19, 2011

yay spring!

Spring equinox in Austin means if you haven't planted your tomatoes, you better get on it! Being ahead of the curve, I also already planted sweet potatoes and beans. The planting calendar from A&M says that's early. However, my proverbial achy joints are telling me this is gonna be a hot year. So, maybe it's for the best.
What else is going on??? I finally put the papaya are in, and the grapes are leafing out. I just got done mulching everything with some oak leaves that a neighbor dropped off in my yard. Consequently the garden may look a bit messy in the pictures. Thanks be to neighbors though! You can also see the potatoes, which are looking GREAT! Sarah's Valentines Day garden is also looking good. The onions and garlic survived our crazy freezes back in February, as did the kale and rape plants. The rape is actually blooming now, and the garlic and onions are growing quickly in the warm sunny weather we've been having. Actually, we went from extreme cold to unseasonably warm weather pretty fast, which means the lettuce and carrots that I planted after the freezes are struggling in the heat. As an experiment, I planted some iceberg lettuce back in Feb (head lettuce doesn't do so well here so they say). I'm crossing my fingers that it will survive long enough to mature and harvest without getting too bitter. I did plant some melon seeds in the gaps though in case it doesn't pan out. Here are pictures in order:

1)chayote squash on the trellis
2) pregnant PJ
3)garden overview one (lettuce, garlic, collards...)
4) garden overview two (onions, tomatoes...)
6)valentine's day garden
7)grape leafing out
8) tulip!