Monday, May 29, 2017

Cattle Tub Garden Update

It's been a while since I posted an update on my cattle tub garden.  I wrote about it last year in the following post.

I had a good deal of success with the things I grew in the cattle tubs, particularly the sweet potatoes.  One of them weighed 6 pounds!  

So, this year I obtained a few more tubs and we expanded it into another corner of the back yard.  I am trying carrots in some of them.

The strawberries I planted last year did well this spring.

I grew some bok choi in tub, but I think the black tubs collected too much heat and caused it to bolt early.  I believe cool season crops will work better in the tubs during the fall and winter.  Live and learn.

I am trying Swiss Chard, as well.  It is doing okay, but is not thriving.  It may be another one of those plants, like bok choi, that will need cooler weather to do well.

The tomatoes I planted are doing great.

I'm trying a couple of herb plants to see how they grow in the tubs.  Here you see sage and rosemary.

I have a few peppers planted.  This year I'm trying a new variety called Shishito.  They are medium hot peppers that are excellent simply stir fried in olive oil with salt and pepper and served as a side dish.  One of our farmers' market customers told us about these last summer.  He had eaten them in Santa Fe and asked if we could grow some this year.  So, here you go, sir! 

These pictures were all taken a couple of weeks ago.  Since then, the weather has warmed considerably and all the plants shown here are even bigger, especially the tomatoes.  

This idea of growing in cattle tubs has made life much easier for me.  Very little weeding to do and watering takes just a few minutes using a hose-end spray nozzle.  This spring I added a bucket of compost to each tub and worked it into the soil to add nutrients.  

Next year, I will probably need to rework the strawberry tubs because strawberry plants send out runners and make new plants.  Thus, the tubs will become crowded and I'll need to dig out the old plants to give the new ones room to grow. So, this is an ongoing experiment to see kind of plants do well at what time of year and how best to manage perennial plants, such as strawberries.  I will post updates periodically to keep you updated.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Seed Germination Test

Earlier this spring I went through a bunch of our old seed.  Even though we store our seed in the refrigerator, many types of seed will not germinate after several years.  Rather than waste a lot of time and energy planting something that would not come up, I did a germination test.  

A seed germination test is easy, only takes three to four days and might save you some time and garden space.  So, here's how to do it.

First wet a paper towel and fold it in half.  Then, lay 10 seed on it.

Beginning at one end, carefully roll the towel up.  If you germinate more than one type of seed at a time, be sure to label them.  I just used some plant ID stakes I had available.

You will have a roll, like this.

In this test, I was germinating a type of gourd that is edible when it is young, commonly referred to as "climbing okra", Blue Bonnet seeds, and Hyacinth Beans that are grown more for the flowers they produce than for their beans.

Place the seed rolls in a plastic bag.  Leave it on your kitchen counter for 3 to 4 days. 

After a few days, unroll them and see if any of the seeds are starting to sprout.  If not, then roll up for another day or two.  If after a week, there is no sign of life, then you can assume that the seeds are "dead" and discard them.

When I opened the climbing okra roll, this is what I found.

As you can see, seven of the seeds have small sprouts beginning to form.  Therefore, I could assume that for every 10 seed I planted, 7 of them would produce plants.  Hence, this batch of seeds has a 70% germination rate.

Rather than waste the sprouted seed, I went ahead and planted them.  Because they were already germinating when planted, they came up quickly.  I only had room for a few of these plants, so 7 was plenty.  But, if I were going to plant a whole row of them, then I would have known to plant 30% more seed in order to get the desired number of plants.

So, before you throw out old seed, take a few days to do a germination test.  You might be surprised at the results.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Repotting Aloe

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the aloe vera farm we visited on our trip to south Texas:  
Aloe Vera Farm Tour.  I came back from that trip and decided it was time to attack one of my pots of aloe that was terribly overgrown.  It needed repotting badly.

First, I dumped it out of the pot.

It looked pretty grim after I finished tearing the root ball apart and separating all the baby aloe plants.

There were eight little plants of various sizes.

I potted them up in small plastic pots.  

It will take a few weeks for them to get rooted in their new homes. 

As for the old mother plant, I may try planting it outside, like the ones at the aloe farm we visited.  Maybe it will even bloom, like the ones at the aloe farm.  It should be fine until this fall, then it will have to be dug up and brought in for the winter and the circle of life will start all over.  

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Spring Walk on the Homestead

Spring is here.  The birds are singing and plants are growing.  Every morning the dog and I go on a walk after breakfast.  This started last fall when the dog had a ruptured disk in her back and had to have surgery.  This happened once about 5 years ago.  I even wrote a blog about it,  Sally's Back Surgery.  This time, however, she was 5 years older and the recovery took much longer.  After her surgery, she had to stay in her crate for several weeks,except for leashed walks with the aid of a sling for her back end that helped support her legs.  Thus, began this routine of the "morning walk".  

After a few weeks, we were able to eliminate the sling and the leash, but by then we had both gotten in the habit of walking every morning.  Sally enjoys it and so do I.  We both look forward to it.  Granted some of the cold, windy mornings during the winter, we did not stay out long, but the fresh air was invigorating!  Ha!

But, I digress.  I felt like I had to give you some background for this article.  So, there it is.  The main thing I want to do is to share some pictures of what we recently encountered on one of these morning walks.  So, here goes.

Sally leads the way and off we go.

The cat usually tags along.

Sometimes they find some interesting smell they have to investigate.

The strawberries are blooming.

The elderberry bushes we set out last year are growing and doing fantastic.

The redbud trees are blooming.

As are the lilac bushes.

The chickens were happy with some spinach leaves I pulled out of the hoophouse for them.  They are spoiled chickens!

The horseradish is coming out of hibernation.

The garlic we planted last fall is looking good.  We have 10 different varieties this year.

This field is freshly tilled and ready to plant.

It is an exciting time of the year.  The garden is a blank slate for us to "write" on.  Life is good!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Olive Farm Tour

My last blog entry was about our Aloe Vera Farm tour in south Texas. We took a few days off earlier in the month to take a short vacation.  And, as is the case with many of our travels, we end up going to places related to gardening and farming.  On the way back north from south Texas, we spent a few days in the Hill Country and stumbled across an olive farm.

A few months ago we watched a 60 Minutes show titled Agromafia.  It reported on how the Italian mafia has infiltrated the Italian food industry and reaps huge profits by making and exporting "fake" olive oil to other countries.  They take a tasteless, odorless oil, such as sunflower oil, add a few drops of chlorophyll to give it a greenish color and sell it as extra virgin olive oil.  It is estimated that 75-80% of the extra virgin olive oil imported and sold in the US as is fake or does not meet the legal standard for extra virgin.  To learn more about it, check out the link above to the 60 Minutes show.  It is very interesting and, for me, quite disturbing.

After watching that show, I refused to buy imported olive oil and started buying olive oil made in the United States.  It is easy to find olive oil from California in the supermarket.  So, when we came across this Texas olive farm, I had to stop.

The farm is near Dripping Springs, TX.  They had a nice store and small restaurant.

They produce three kinds of olive oil and have won several prestigious awards.

There were a couple of tasting stations in the store and we enjoyed tasting the olive oils. 

In addition to these plain olive oils, they have several varieties of infused oils they produce.

After browsing through the store, we took one of the tours they offer.  We got to see some of the olive trees.

They occasionally have hard freezes in this part of Texas.  When that happens, most of the trees will freeze back to the ground.  They normally resprout from the base of the trunk and grow back, but the trees don't produce olives in these years.  So, this company has a farm farther south in Texas where they have more olive trees.  

The last half of the tour was of their production facility.  

The tour guide explained what each piece of equipment did and showed us a picture of what the olive oil looks like right after it is extracted.  After this it goes through several processes during which large particles and debris settle out and it is filtered several times.

This machines puts labels on bottles.

And this one, fills bottles.  These are some balsamic vinegars they also produce.

We bought a bottle of their extra virgin olive oil while we were there and I plan to order more of their products in the future.  They have a great website where you can view their products and order online.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Aloe Vera Farm

On a recent trip to south Texas, we visited an aloe vera farm.  When I say "south Texas", I mean SOUTH Texas, like 5 miles from the Rio Grande boarder with Mexico.  We were there visiting a couple of friends who go there to spend the winter.  We've been to visit them a couple of times and this time they took us to a farm where they raise aloe vera.  

Here's a picture of a field where workers were harvesting the aloe leaves.

The aloe was in bloom while we were there.  It has a beautiful bloom.

So pretty, in fact, that folks plant them in their flower beds.  Here's a picture of one that our friends have in a bed beside their RV.  

After the field tour, we got to see where they grow the plants that they set out on the farm.  

Every few years, they have freezes in that part of the country that damages and/or kills aloe plants.  So, they have to maintain a supply they can use to replant from. 

These plants will live for many years (provided there are no killing frosts) and can grow to very large plants with huge leaves, like this one that was on display inside the on-farm store.

As you probably know, the leaves contain a soothing gel that is used in many different products.  They had a variety of these for sale in the store.

I have several potted aloe plants that I keep on hand and propagate.  I've used their leaves  many times to soothe burns and stop poison ivy from itching.

It was a long trip back to Oklahoma from south Texas.  We made a 2-day drive of it and stopped often to stretch our legs and take a break.  At one convenience store we stopped at I found that they sold several flavors of an aloe vera juice drink.

I've heard the juice was healthy and good for you, but I'm not sure I'm ready for that yet.  I think I'd have to add a lot of sugar to make it suit my taste and that would surely negate any healthy properties it possessed.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Driveway Nightlife

We've had some interesting nighttime visitors in recent weeks.  For a while we have noticed coyotes making their way across our driveway at night.  This seems to happen once or twice a week.  Note that this is within 20 feet of the house.

Obviously, I have the date set wrong on this camera.  It is not 2018 and this did not occur in the future!  Ha!

Then, a couple of nights ago, we had these pictures.

This guy seems to have decided to just hang out on the driveway for a few minutes before moving on.  We've never had any trouble from coyotes and rarely see them except occasionally on the wildlife camera.  But, they have been visiting more frequently lately.  Maybe it is the time of year.

There are other nighttime visitors.  For example, this critter.

I am really baffled by this thing.  It is not the right shape or size for a coyote.  It is more cat-like in appearance, but it seems much too large for a regular house cat.  Could it be a bobcat?  

Finally, there are the neighborhood deer.  We frequently see them in late afternoon or early evening.  We see them coming.

And going.

Looks as if they are getting their exercise on this particular evening.