Archive for February, 2012

Harvesting Beets

Houston’s winter has allowed me to grow many vegetables, but I do love fresh beets.

I came home Sunday afternoon to two excited little girls and a son who was happy that he was not babysitting anymore. The girls and I went out into the garden to harvest vegetables for lunch. We made a tuna salad that included cilantro, celery, kohlrabi, broccoli, carrot, and onion from the beds. This inspired the girls that our lunch should be a picnic. We made a quick soda bread, and then prepared our vegetables. All the children and I went to have our meal in the front yard. Katya decided upon a summer dress (it is a picnic Papa), although it was a bit cool. With so many flowers in bloom, they began to collect them for an arrangement, and to spill petals over my head. This is when we happened upon the glorious beets.
    Do you eat beets? I know people who will not cook with them, but I grew up eating this root. Sometimes I wonder if my children will not want certain vegetables. I think the method of causing real interest in trying a vegetable is allowing them to harvest it from their own garden. We are having fun at our picnic, and I began to consider what we may harvest for dinner.  I spotted the beets, and decided upon roasted root vegetables. How do you know they are ready? I was asked this question by a neighbor. Actually, with many root vegetables this can be a confusion. Some of my beets had lush leaves on top, but the roots were thin. If you look carefully, you will see the bulge at the base of the leaves. I was harvesting beets with at least an inch in diameter, or that was my intention- the girls became a little to excited. When you look at the top, you can begin to see how thick the roots are starting to become.
    This is where the fun really began. The girls wanted to begin cleaning the beets outside by pulling off the thin taper root. They discovered what can be a bother to some cooks: the red juice which can stain. I joked that they could use this as make-up, particularly lipstick. This became quite the game. The younger daughter realized that this could also look like blood. Quickly the girls had my hands covered with beet juice, and I acted out my overly dramatic death from bleeding too much. By the time dinner was served, they were looking forward to their beets.
    Another item to harvest at this time in Houston is a good compliment to the roasted root vegetables: dill seed. The girls were not too excited after tasting the seed directly from the head. However, collecting the seed to spread over the roasting pan worked. I took an onion, potato, and yam for my roasting as well. A drizzle of olive oil and rice vinegar helped things along. I placed these in a hot oven (425F) for a half hour. This was a hit.
    I recently heard a gardener say that growing plants from seed is a waste of time. That may be true in general, but not for many vegetables. I broadcaster my beets over a new bed to obtain my plants. I did not have much problems getting them to grow. The leaves could be attacked by snails and other pests, but I did not have a bad year. I do like to harvest the leaves by themselves, before harvesting the plant. The stems have the same red juice, so you can still have staining. I sauteed the leaves like I would spinach. The roots can have a sweetness to them (sugar is produced from a beet variety), but the leaves do have a stronger taste, which does not appeal to all. I would suggest that you try growing your own beets for a little harvesting fun.

Meditation Garden

We are spending more time in our homes. Maybe we should create garden spaces that enrich us. A meditation garden was my wife’s wish.

Most homes that I inspect do not have a great deal in the garden areas. Plain yards fill my day with possibly a garden table in the grass. The garden space in my yard has quickly filled up, yet my wife had a request for a meditation garden based upon a church garden she and my girls had seen. After I began working on this garden, I noticed a neighbor doing something similar in a front courtyard. I considered their garden along with a few other recent examples in my own area, and I felt that these relaxation or meditation spaces are being created by homeowners who are turning towards their own home, since they may not be spending as much time away from the house. Entertainment spaces in the yard have been common to one degree or another, but we may be seeing other garden spaces evolve, reflecting our needs.
Meditation garden
    My meditation garden is based upon a space around a Catholic Church. My roots are Protestant, while the wife and children are Catholic. They wanted an alcove for the Virgin Mary, where they could pray. I wanted a quiet place to sit and reflect. When creating our garden, I thought that there are lessons for others planning their own special place. What you see in the photograph above is the beginning of the garden. As you can see, this is a small space that was fitted into the only free spot in my yard. This area was the path to the side garden. On one side, I already had a bed of lilies. The path was moved closer to this bed. An existing bamboo became part of the screen of this green. A large stone was moved to be a bench. To complete the screen, I purchased two trellises. These seem to always come in basic black. If you notice, I took a silver paint for the finials. This makes the trellises different. Adding a little personal touch to an off the shelf item makes the garden special.
stone crossVirgin home
    The basic form of the garden is the shape of a cross. To achieve this cross, my girls and I used flat stones collected from my parents’ home in the Hill Country. We are not quite done with this project, but we have the shape. To create the alcove/house for the Virgin of Guadalupe, I went through my storage shed. I found wood for the frame as well as decorative trim pieces. I also discovered left over paint. My point here is that you may have the material to make an artistic piece, so you do not have to go out to buy something. The alcove frame is a vegetable crate. The roof and sides were made from old fence boards.  The vase for holy water was a gift.
    I enjoy sitting on the large stone, and my girls go to say hello to the Virgin. To complete the space I needed plants. Since I began this project in late autumn, I found many plants on sale. I purchased two Knockout roses to go in front of the trellis. This bush has consistent flowers for me. In between the flat stones of the cross, I moved a thyme plant from another part of the garden. This makes for a nice fragrance. I did add some other plants, but I forgot about my dog. Curious about the new space, and wanting to put his own stamp on this garden, the dog rolled over the plants and stones. Instead of visually interesting smaller annuals, I should look into a bush that has some lasting blooms.
    You do not need to spend huge amounts to create a relaxing space. One of my favorite spaces is a chair, a table with a pot. This is near my children’s play area. I can relax to read a book, and they can play. A meditation garden is a good place to have when spending more time at home.

How to Create Simple Vertical Gardens

Using space wisely helps us to make the most of our homes and gardens. Small spaces require you to think about planting vertically. As my yard becomes ever crowded, I focused on simple concepts for vertical gardens.

I heard someone say that gardeners will fill up every available space, and that they will create vertical gardens when the horizontal space has been used. I guess that I am at that point. Although I have not been writing, I have been working in the garden. I wanted to experiment with the idea of verticality in the garden space. Vertical gardens fall into different categories: climbing plants; beds in long containers raised above the ground; and the garden wall. I have been playing with all of these concepts, so I wished to share my experiments with you.

Raised container beds

bottle flat planting containerPVC pipe plantingraised containers
I have seen some beautifully constructed wood structures that can be best described as a cross between shelving and raised beds. Along those same lines, I have seen elaborate PVC pipe systems which are angled to allow water flow down gentle slopes to the bottom. Holes in the pipe contain plants. Simpler still are plant stands and trees of hanging baskets. Since I had many goods which could be recycled, my focus was to find ways of using these materials. Leftover pipe from my drainage project became beds by cutting long openings in the top. I did not imitate that structures that I had seen, since I did not have that much pipe. Two poles were drilled through the pipe. A metal tube became the main supports. Smaller PVC tubes spaced the longer tubes to the right heights. Then two wood braces tie this structure to the fence. This was all recycled material. With cuttings from my crepe myrtle and old plastic bottled drink flats, I made a few starter flats. The flats are so high that the obtain sun longer than the bed did below. In this case, the four crepe myrtle trunks were used to create a shelf frame. The drink flats were attached to the cross members of the frame. A piece of plastic that came from a sliding door blind helped cover the holes of the flats. A foot board from a bed became the basis for another raised container bed.  This was a metal tube four poster bed. The spaces between tubes had plastic garden pots place in them. I am now growing strawberries, cucumbers (which I hope will spill over), and brussel sprouts. I also used old lamp shades as containers that were placed on a pole.

Climbing plants

Trellises, poles, and fences all serve for climbing plants. I am growing my grape vines on poles which go up around fifteen feet. The grapes will be pruned to cascade from the top of the pole, creating a grape vine fountain. When many gardeners discuss vertical gardens, climbing plants is their focus. Cucumbers, squashes on vines, beans, and grapes are a few standards for this type of vertical gardening. Some of these plants have wonderful flowers, so a trellis on a porch can make a great screen while providing a harvest.

The plant wall

vertical wall garden
Have you seen the work of Patrick Blanc? His work in vertically landscaping might be the best known, and many gardeners are finding ways to imitate what he has done for their own vertical projects. These are walls of plants that have a fascinating artistic feel. These gardens rely upon running water which supplies the nutrients. My version is a bit different from other projects you will find around the internet. First, I am not using running water with a trough. I had the spring section of a mattress. Mattresses are the hardest item to recycle, and I wanted to find something to do with it. The spring frame is held vertical with poles driven through the center. I filled the springs with leaves and compost. Here comes the only item that I purchased for these projects: window screen material. After the spring frame had been filled, I covered the frame with the window screen material. This holds in the leaves and compost, but it does allow water to flow into the structure. I cut slits into the screen. I then had to use a wire cutter to remove a bit of the frame. Finally a plant was placed into the hole. Currently I am growing lettuce, mustard, oregano, and mint in this vertical method. The Black Seeded Simpson lettuce is doing well. Oregano likes dry places, so it is fine.  The mint is also good. I water by spraying the structure with the hose. Oh, I also have broccoli growing on the side.  I am hoping that this wall will block the heat from the sun, while giving me a larger growing surfaces.

I am happy with the results. I want to focus on the garden wall concept. Maybe I can use a solar powered pump to create a vertical garden wall like the others have done. My dry vertical wall has not needed anymore watering than the other containers.  What can you recycle for a vertical garden? Whatever your imagination allows.


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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