Archive for April, 2011

What Can You Harvest in a Houston Spring Garden


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As the days are growing hotter, some vegetables are beginning to fade. The drought has placed a strain on other plants. So I make my way through the garden looking for dinner ideas.

At the store this morning, I felt a bit of sticker shock. The can of coffee that was selling for $6.99 not too long ago was priced on sale at $8.99, and are those cans becoming smaller? Most of my surprises have been with staples other than vegetables, because I have not bought many. I am obtaining about 95% of my fruit and vegetable consumption from the garden. Yet, this has not been a great year so far. The drought seems to have played havoc with my loquat tree. This fruit is usually available to me by March, but I do not think that I will have any this year. The plums are coming, but the birds have gone after the unripe green plums. Still these setbacks have not been so detrimental.
    The cucumber vines that were planted when the weather warmed have produced. My favorite cucumber preparation is to peel the skin; slice them; and marinate them in a rice vinegar/sugar mixture. This makes for a light salad. I also like making a more German style cucumber salad. The cucumber slices are salted. Later the water is drained off and the slices rinsed. The cucumber is mixed with onions, parsley, and a vinegar and oil dressing.
    The lettuce is beginning to bolt. Once the shafts arise from the plant to produce the flowers, the taste becomes more bitter. Lettuce does not like the warm weather. The red lettuce is holding out longer. Salads are becoming common place for meals right now at my house. I made a salad with blackberries and chopped peanuts last night. The blackberries were macerated with sugar. The lettuce was dressed quite popular. I wonder how long before the red lettuce goes to seed.
    The last of the peas were harvested. Peas are water hogs which prefer the cooler weather, so I was surprised that they lasted this long. Katya really took to the peas. The beans are starting to produce. Fresh young beans from the vine did not seem to need any cooking. A squeeze from an orange with a dash of sesame seed oil was great. A lightly boiled one collection of beans which were tossed with butter.
    I had moved my kale to a section of garden which is mainly shade. This has left the plants vibrant with a good flavor to the leaves. This will probably end soon, as kale looses its flavor with the heat. Then it is attacked by the bugs.  A few of my onions are large enough for harvesting, so I have done quick stir fries with the kale and onions.
    The tomato plants have only green fruit, and the pepper plants have had smaller specimens, but the eggplants are producing. I think some gardeners avoid eggplant, because they feel that it is too much work. The plant has to be staked like a tomato plant, and then there is the concern over bitterness. Fresh eggplant is not bitter (at least, I have never experienced bitterness from this vegetable when I pick it out of my garden). I broil slices; fry cubes, or throw shreds of eggplant into a stew. No salting and draining required.
    The squash has abundant blooms now. Maybe in a week this plant will give me my first zucchini or yellow squash. I planted the seeds when the weather warmed, so I have a good sized bush for many of my squash plants.  Otherwise, I have been using a good many herbs in my meals. I mix handfuls of parsley into my rice, cous cous, or bulghur. I like had this herb is treated like a vegetable or salad item in the Mediterranean diet.
    The best aspect for me is eating seasonally. The meals are changing over the course of the months. Yes, I would have liked a red tomato with my lettuce, but in Houston, these two plants will overlap in the fall. As a new vegetable grows, the smaller children have something new to excite them. What I did expect was for the family to become tired of winter vegetables. The two young girls became more fond of winter greens as the season for these vegetables progressed. Now, Katya asks if she will still be able to have her favorite kale for a meal. I wonder if she will feel this way about onions (if she can see the onion in the meal, she will not eat it).  I hope to add more plants in for the summer, but if this drought persists, then I will have to reevaluate my plans.

Foraging and Nature Walks


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Have you thought about foraging for food? On a nature walk in Jesse H. Jones Park, my brother and I discussed the feasibility of foraging.

What a busy week for family oriented events. Along with the celebrations surrounding Easter Week, we had Earth Day and my father’s seventieth birthday. On Saturday, a German club of which he is a member had a party for its members and a birthday celebration for him. This was held at Jesse H. Jones Park. I had never been to this park, but I had heard of it. The park is located behind a neighborhood near Deerbrook Mall. We had a great time at the party, but the nature hike was the best part for me. The children were engrossed in their explorations of any animal that they could find and the plants that engulfed us.
above ground rootskatya on tree
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The Shut-Off Valve for Your Lawn Sprinkler System


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Lawn sprinkler systems can be such a benefit to the homeowner, yet these systems are not maintained. One feature that is common in commercial applications will benefit residential sprinklers. That is the shut off valve.

I was participating in an Earth Day event yesterday. A group of us who are providing services with a green flare set up our tables in the lobbies of two buildings in the Energy Corridor. I had a great deal of fun explaining to homeowners what different products were, and how they can better the energy and water efficiency of their home. I was also interested in the other vendors, so before the event really began, I went to the other tables to take a look. Te natural care cleaning services looked like something that should be furthered explored, and of course, there were the recycling companies present; however, I was interested in the vendor dealing with lawn sprinklers. He worked for a firm that specialized in commercial applications, but he did residential work as well. He brought a mock up of the lawn sprinkler system with various heads and the back flow preventer. Looking at his display, I spotted that he had installed a shut off valve before the back flow device, so we began to talk.
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The Drought and My Houston Garden


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Waiting for rain that never seems to come, I am looking for ways to reduce my watering. What strategies may we use.

There have been days with a mist of water on the ground on a few mornings. Is that why, they say that Houston is not in the extreme drought that the surrounding areas are already in? My latest project is creating spots to hold  water from the rain. Swales to catch water that is running off the property, but which are far from creating pools by the foundation. I had a large plastic pot from a tree that I overturned and placed into a hole to deal with one spot that has a water pool when it rains. I am thinking of adding more of these water basins. Finally I have more trenches to catch the water flow before it leaves my property. (I wonder if I can convince the city that this should reduce my drainage fee- wild hopes continue).
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Of Flowers, Seeds, and Native Plants


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Is the garden always in transition? Sometimes it feels that way. My children have been exploring seeds in the garden. From those that they can eat to those that they just want to plant.


My Katya runs to pick another flower for a passer-by. I wonder how I manage to keep any flowers in the garden. The children have always been friendly to others in my neighborhood, even when they have not been to friendly. Katya decided that the wealth of flowers should be shared. My wife is convinced that this constant picking has led to the plants producing more flowers. I think that there is more to it than that, but deadheading (removing the dead flowers) does help. My only problem with the little girls picking flowers has been their tendency to yank the entire plant out of the ground. The other issue was that I was trying to harvest seeds.
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Trench Gardening in Houston


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Do you try to save water in your garden? One method called trench gardening may help you lower your water bill by going down into the ground.

My ears perk up when I hear about gardening or farming methods which can reduce the amount of water that I use. Currently, I have created beds to catch the rain water that is leaving my property by the use of swales to stop water and trenches to catch the water. My trenches have a perforated drain pipe which is covered by lava rocks. In one raise bed, I have placed a tarp to catch the water below, so the bed becomes like a closed pot. This is a deep bed, so the roots at the surface do not become water logged. I have used a method of placing organic matter in a layer in my beds to hold water. This method is almost like composting. The same material for a compost bin goes in a layer about a foot to two feet down in my garden bed. This is covered by the soil for planting. I have adopted planting methods to reduce water too. Plants that need the same amount of watering are clustered together. Light watering is done for seeds, but I do not deeply wet the ground until needed. That is a brief overview of my attempts, but I had not tried trench gardening, which honestly I had never encountered.
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Greetings

This site came out of my desire to write about my love of gardening, but also to connect it to my knowledge derived from home inspections. That is why I tied it to the home inspection site.If you have questions, you can email them to me (frank at yourhoustonhomeinspector.com). For home inspections, call 713.781.6090.
Happy gardening, Frank

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