Archive for September, 2011

In Pursuit of Celery

Have you ever wanted certain plants in your garden? Have you found that growing them from seed does not work for you? Maybe you need to expand your network for finding plants.

We still have the summer heat, yet the nights have been cooler. Morning dew seems to be helping the plants; I do not see them suffering from a lack of water. This may also be due to the fact that we are not having the triple digit heat every day.I have been looking forward to the Fall planting season, and I have several plants already in the ground. Mainly, I have focused on seeds. This is a practical way to obtain more plants at a better cost; however, water restrictions may have cost me a few plants. What has bothered me is that certain plants simply do not take when I attempt to grow them from seed, so I have to look to other sources.
   Seed packets make sense to me if you want enough vegetables to add to your family’s diet at a reasonable cost. Of course, saving your own seeds, or letting plants be self seeding, is the most cost effective means of obtaining plants. Sometimes plants do not transfer well from those seed starter kits. I also admit that I like the ease of skipping those starter flats, but I think if you really want vegetables for your family, you have to to work with that method. I have been fortunate that many seedlings have taken hold in the garden. There are a few plants that I want, but do not seem to grow when I am trying to use seeds. Celery is one vegetable that I have tried and failed growing.
   I have been to my regular haunts to see if they are stocking up on the next season’s crops. I did find parsley, cilantro, arugula, and a few other herbs. I ended up buying some of these delights for my cooking. There was also the tomato and pepper plants available. I guess these are the standard go-to vegetables, and I was not looking for them. I headed over to Buchanan’s Nursery in the Heights, since I was in the area, and I did find some items that I wanted. I had to buy the Ricola mint, considering that lozenge seems to always be in the house in the winter months. I also found epazote. This herb used to be in my garden, but then it disappeared. This is not to everyone’s taste, but I do like using a bit of the leaves when cooking beans or stews. I was surprised to see the great variety of herbs and vegetables already available, since I had not seen too much in other places. I spotted the celery, so I bought five plants.
   Do you use celery? Someone told me that celery is not used much in the United States. I am not sure if that is true, but the person was a chef. I also often hear that celery offers no nutritional value. Again, I do not know if I can believe that fact. The vegetable does provide fiber. I like to make snacks with celery, and I like to cook with it. Maybe buying celery to grow would not be seen as cost effective. You may spend three dollars for a plant, so purchasing a stalk from the store could be cheaper. Growing celery in your own garden does ensure better quality, and you can turn the plant into a value investment. Instead of harvesting the entire plant all at once, harvest a few stalks from each plant each time that you need celery for a recipe. The plant will last longer, and you will  not be spending three dollars per bunch of celery.
    I still prefer seeds over plant purchases. I can find an unusual variety of a vegetable when looking at the plants (is that a red okra that I see in the corner?), but I do not think that this is the best means of being wise with my money. I think this thought comes into play when we do look for other plants for our gardens. I found a dwarf bamboo for $5 in a two gallon pot at one nursery. This is not the time of year that people usually purchase this plant. The bamboo was also small. When it matures, it will fill in the space quite well. I think some people buy plants at their full size to have that instant effect. I think others do not look for the bargain. Two years ago I purchased ornamental grasses at the end of Fall for a good price. They will never last, I was told. I still have them in the yard. I might not drive out to Buchanan’s often, but the trip can be worth the drive when I come home with objects of my desire. Maybe I should check out a few more nurseries around town.

Is Getting Rid of Your Lawn the Hot New Trend?

I have the tendency to meander through a neighborhood, looking at houses, when I complete a home inspection. Maybe I am seeing the beginning of a trend.

My wife stares down the street, stating that many people are letting their grass die. I point out that it is not only grass. A garden shows how people feel about their homes, and the water restrictions have made some of those feelings more clear. She wonders how people can simply let what they have go to dust. My wife enjoys gardens, but she is not a gardener. She believes that homes should be maintained, so that is the origin of her concern. For me, a garden should reflect something of the character of the homeowners, and the yard around your home should make you enjoy being in that space. When I see a yard of grass with a few shrubs against the home, I think boring and standard. However, I have noticed a few changes happening to homes in neighborhoods where I often drive: grass is being taken out to be replaced by landscaping.
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Purslane in My Sauce

Where you may have seen a weed, I saw an opportunity in my garden bed. A wild purslane had taken root, so I thought about dinner.

purslaneDo you realize that vegetables go in and out of favor? You may realize that they do, but most of us do not think about what those vegetables may be. I think that the local food movement is bringing back older vegetables.  In the spring, I was in the garden center buying more moss rose for my containers on the back porch. The assistant noticed my daughters munching on the leaves, when she asked if I knew that it was alright for them to eat those leaves. I told her yes. In fact the reason for the purchase was due to my daughters eating the plants that I had. She smiled saying that the plant was high in vitamin C. Moss rose, purslane, comes in many varieties, and I have seen them showing up in more gardens as a decorative plant, yet this plant used to be grown more as a vegetable or medicine. The wild varieties have a peppery taste.
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What is the Best Mulch in Drought Conditions?

Are all mulches created equal? I use cedar mulch for insect control, and I have rock mulch for decoration. I have a compost mulch made from prunings around the house. With the water restrictions in place, I noticed something about my mulches.

rock mulchI interacted with a group of real estate agents who were criticizing a green building technique as horrible. They thought it was new, and they did not understand it, so they dismissed it. The fact was that the technique is millennia old. I know fellow home inspectors who also do not give credence to what they see as fringe building techniques. I came to realize that there are old solutions to current problems, yet we go along blind to them. With the water restrictions in place, I hear people discussing ways to keep their gardens alive. I have used the condensate water from my air conditioning system for quite some time to water my garden beds, yet others are discussing this as a new concept. We are paying attention more to which plants can handle the heat and lack of water (my poor azaleas do not fare well), yet focusing on native plants or appropriate plants for a certain area has also long been part of the gardener’s repertoire. The one thing we do not seem to be including in our discussions is how have we farmed deserts in the past. Humans have farmed dry conditions previously, so there must be some solutions. Could these fixes revolve around mulch?
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Making a Vegetarian Meal from the Garden

Mixtures of vegetables do not need to be boring. How about marinating vegetables and encasing them in a flavorful dough?  Seasoning is a key to create an interest.

I have the tendency to call vegetables encased in dough a Beggar’s Purse. I am not sure if there is a proper name for these dishes, but you do find this idea for a dish around the world. My original conception was to make this dish as a steamed dumpling that had a sauce inside the dumpling with vegetables. One time I made this same dish fried. Last night I changed my procedure to baking, since I had another meal to bake. The dough is different, but the concept is the same: dough encasing vegetables with a sauce.
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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 For home inspections, call 713.781.6090.
Happy gardening, Frank


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