Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

Winter Has Arrived; Is Now the Time to Buy Plants?


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My daughter’s have been encouraging me to continue expand my plant collection, and this may be the time to do it.



I spent part of the morning on the first day of winter sitting on a roof, watching the leaves fall down in the breeze. I was up on the roof to clear off a heavy coating of leaves. The pitch of my roof is not too great, so I do not want the damage that might ensue from having a pile of leaves sitting there. Looking down at the garden, I was reminded that I still had to complete an edging project. My two year old, Sakura, and I left for the local garden center in the home improvement center to find some hardscape elements. With the possibility of freezes, I was not looking for plants, and I know that many hardscape items are quite cheap now. I needed (well, wanted) a garden edging for my front bed to make a clean edge along the sidewalk. Sakura had other plans. She fell in love with the picture of the flower on a camellia bush. She immediately pulled two small bushes out for the cart.
   I love camellias, but I have had problems with them. Mainly, my misfortunes with the plant stem from my dog and his backyard adventures. I have shied away from the plant for many years now. Sakura was determined though. She wanted this plant. Looking at the price, I decided that this is not so bad. In fact, plant prices are lower this time of year. Walking around the plants, I found several that I would like to have, but I know that this is not the time to purchase, like ornamental grasses. The weather report indicates that we will have a few days with freezing temperatures, which will harm new plantings. One tactic that I have employed is to buy the plant, but keep them inside the house. The camellias were planted in a protected spot, since Sakura wanted to work in her garden space. She smiled and gave the plants hugs.
    I think that I will go to my local nursery to see what is on offer. If there are good deals, I can store these in the house. Katya, the older daughter, did buy Gerber daisies that added color to our porch, so why not to the home? My habit is to allow the plants to go through their cycle, so I do not cover them to protect them from the frost. I choose plants that hopefully do well in this climate. I do not mind if a plant goes dormant; I like the appearance. Even though we have experienced a few days of freezing temperature, my garden has faired well. A few coleus died, but many survived, and I am already propagating for next year ( just cut the coleus and stick the stem in water). The blackberry vine had signs of damage, but it is going strong, and I know that I will have more fruit next year. I have been concerned about the newly planted avocado tree, Katya’s favorite. So far, so good, so I am happy. This is the one plant that I might protect from the cold front coming through this week.
    I look forward to the cold, because this will change the flavors of my vegetables. Most have a cabbage like taste, but frost causes a change in flavor in plants like kale. I have harvested kohlrabi but I think that the cold may improve the flavor of this vegetable as well. The one planting that will take place today is the garlic. I started my garlic in pots, but with this freeze, I want them in the ground. My bay leaves are quite fragrant. Is this due to the exposure to cold? I am not sure, but my soup and stews are benefiting from these fresh leaves.

    If you are looking to save money, you may want to look for a few plants, as long as you have the space to store them. Shade plants are my goal, since I have a deeply shaded area that I want to complete. Who am I kidding; the garden will never be complete.

How to Create a Simple Compost Pile


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Composting does not have to be difficult. You could just leave everything alone, and you would have compost.

Papa, the trees are going to sleep. My older daughter informs me while we are laying on the grass, watching another leaf fall down. The baby runs to retrieve the brooms, and my daily task of sweeping around the house begins. My two little girls help in their fashion, having a great deal of fun. As I am picking the leaves up, I look down the street to see that many of my neighbors have left sacks of leaves by their curbs. Should I remind them that they are not allowed to set these out until the night before pick-up? A mischievous thought I know, but maybe they would then consider doing something else with their leaves, like a compost pile.
    Have you ever studied composting? Composting can become quite involved, and I think that you may need three bins, or some special bin, can deter people from beginning their own compost pile. We want the easy route, so we leave the bags by the street. By the way, you are required to place these leaves in the appropriate type of recyclable bag. I noticed that a few neighbors have not done so today. If I were looking for the perfect compost, I might give up on the idea of making my own. Yet I do want the benefits of this wonderful material. Those leaves that I swept up could become a mulch or organic matter for my plants next year. That could save me money. Considering strategies for making composting simple, I do a couple of things with my leaves that does not take any special effort.
    Using the leaves as mulch is one idea. I do have a shredder, and I can tell you form experience that mulching all of my leaves for mulch was quite a task. Now I throw my leaves under a bush or in a garden bed as they are. For most beds, the appearance of this mulch is not important, but where visitors may see it, I sprinkle a little cedar mulch over the leaves. As a home inspector, I will warn you that you do not want to raise the level of garden beds near the home to high. Insects use the mulch as cover to enter into the home, and moisture from the mulch can help to damage the walls of the home, so keep the mulch away from the wall.
   Creating a simple compost pile takes little effort. Layered compost piles is on traditional composting method which you can modify for your own home. If you have a yard with a row of bushes along a fence, you have a perfect spot. Throw the leaves down behind the bushes. Keep doing this until most or all of your leaves have fallen off of the trees. Then you can add a layer of green trimmings. On top of it all, you sprinkle a layer of compost from your home improvement or garden center. Finally, you leave it alone. You could repeat the steps if you so wish to build another compost pile on top of this one. Next year in the fall, you will have compost for your garden beds and lawn. This method does not produce the rich compost that you may have seen, but I do not have to pay for it, and best of all, this really helps the plants.
    I see any garden material being left at the curb for pick-up as a waste of a precious resource. Walking through my neighborhood, I notice that many gardens have no mulch. We do have mild winters; however, there are days when the plants could use a little warmth from the mulch. I have been surprised by how little rain that we have had in Houston. The garden beds with their layer of mulch fare better than the others. Mulch keeps the moisture in the ground, so we water less. Most of us might think about that fact during the summer, but have you realized that you may need mulch for the same reason at this time of year? Remember compost happens.

Photos of a Winter Vegetable Garden in Houston


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Houston almost has a year around growing season, so there are vegetables that we can grow throughout the winter season.

Hey, what is that plant?” “Do you have collards?” For some reason this past week, I had a few visitors stop by asking me what plants did I have in my front garden. Most people recognized the plants as vegetables, but they thought that some chrysanthemums and asters were vegetables as well. When a man standing next to my collards asked if I grew any collards, I had the revelation that people simply do not know how these plants look. They probably do not buy them as vegetables in their local grocery store.  Although other vegetables were asked about, I picked on collards, because it is one of those vegetables that many people seem to avoid.  My mother focused on more German dishes when I was growing up, since that was her comfort zone. Having moved to the South, we were exposed to collards, but we were told that you had to cook this leaf for a long time, and with a ham hock. My mother did not have time for such a vegetable, so it did not appear on her dinner plate.In reality, collards like kale can be prepared quite quickly by pan frying. Here are some photographs from my garden to help you identify these winter vegetables that do quite well in Houston.

broccoli

Broccoli

cabbage

Young cabbage before the head forms

collards and lettuce

Collards with a red lettuce about to go to seed

fava beans

Fava Beans seem to do alright during our colder months

garlic

Garlic has a wider leaf than leeks

Horse raddish

Horse raddish leaves are edible as well as the root

kale

Curly leaf kale, edible variety (ornamentals can be eaten, but do not taste great)

kohlrabi and arugula

Kohlrabi has leaves similar to broccoli, while arugula is light green

leeks

Leeks, smaller than garlic leaves at first

mustard

Curly and flat leaf mustards

nappa cabbage

Nappa or Chinese Cabage, lighter in texture and color than cabbage

parsely

Curly parsely

Swiss Chard

Swiss Chard, red and yellow stems help add color to winter meals

The Pleasure of Sweeping


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Instead of thinking of the garden as work, do you see it as a time to relax?

The trees are going asleep, Papa,” says Katya, as we watch the descent of another leaf to the ground. Sakura stands and runs over to the gate, bringing back two brooms: “here, Papa, here.” Then Katya retrieves the bucket I use for collecting leaves to bring to the compost pile. Each day I have been sweeping the yard. Ten years ago I was bothered by my wife’s insistence that the yard had to be raked and swept each day, but that was also the time when I was working fourteen hour days. Now, I let my mind go, to feel the experience.

   My wife used to be upset that I did not set out a sprinkler to water the garden. Somehow, she decided that this method of watering was better. One day, she hand watered the yard. Coming back inside, she smiled, “that was the most relaxing time. I understand why you like doing it.” I began hand watering, because I wanted the water to go onto the ground for the roots, instead of on the sidewalk or drive. The time spent watering is relaxing though.
    This morning was so perfect for sweeping. The clouds covered the sky, filtering the light. The breeze rustled the trees, and felt good against the skin. I was happy. My thoughts turned to a conversation that I had the day before, where a person stated that he did not like the work of maintaining the garden. Consequently, he left things undone, since he did not have time for that task. The television was calling, I guess. I see the time that I have in the garden as a time to become centered. We need time to let go.
    A neighbor with a leaf blower disturbs my peace. Get the job done quick. Another person noted that they see me sweeping each day, and that they would not be so concerned. I do like the yard to look nice, but I do have one other motive for my gardening: exercise. I remember the findings of a study from a few years back. People were encouraged to exercise, and gardening was suggested, but it was found that you have to think of the activity as exercise to see any benefit. In fact, housework is exercise, but you will not stay fit unless you think of it as such.
   Maybe it will rain today. No watering needed. However, I could let the water hit the skin; play with the girls in the puddles. We will see if I can convince my much older son to partake in this adventure. I am thankful for my family. My wife will come home from work, and we will spend time with family on this day for giving thanks.

The Garden in November


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Houston does not have the temperature drops of other areas, so the vegetable garden continues.

Leaves are falling on a regular basis. Each day I sweep the patio and sidewalks. I do not mind, since this is a relaxing exercise in the cool breeze. I am taking the leaves for compost piles. I used to shred the leaves, but I create layered piles of compost under/behind bushes. What is different this year from previous years is that I am still expanding my network of garden beds. I usually spend my time working with existing beds and garden structures. I am still doing working on trellises and frames. I am still clearing out beds in preparation for the spring. However, I think that I would be planting even more if the vegetables were available.
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Preparing the Garden for a Houston Winter


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My daughter is telling me that the trees are ready to take a nap. The leaves are falling. She is also ready for the snow, but our winters are relatively mild in Houston, so I am not sure that we will see any snow this year. I do wish to have the garden ready for the winter months though.

I sweep each morning, or so it seems. Sweeping is a restful exercise, and the one year old loves to help. She has her own broom, and she pulls out a tub into which I place my leaves. What to do with the leaves becomes a question. I am beginning new compost piles, and I began to prepare my garden for winter by using the leaves as mulch. With the leaves falling, I began to think about other ways to have my garden ready for winter.
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Creating a Tea House for the Children


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Why have a simple house for the children to play in? Let your imagination roam to create something special, like a tea house.



I found myself in a situation where I had to cut down large limbs from a few trees. I did not want to throw them away, but I was not sure what to do with them. We had inherited this plastic house for the children, which was placed in one garden corner. I did not care for it much, but my wife was attached to it for a reason unknown to me. One day, I spotted my older daughter in this house. She had become too big for it. I hatched my plan to create a new structure for her, and the lumber from the tree would be my frame. I did not have enough for a log cabin. I thought of creating something more in the realm of fantasy, so I hit upon the idea of a tea house.
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The Habenero Thief


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The problem with children being involved in your garden is that they can become a little too preoccupied with harvesting.

I did not realize that my wife had caught this moment. I had been working on my project; the girls were outside playing; my wife was on the phone; and my son was inside studying. I then heard my wife call out to me: “do you know what your youngest has been doing?” I had been too focused on my job, which is never a good thing (I have come to realize). I ask, and I am told that my youngest has been harvesting peppers. The little girl knew that I would not be happy, so she was making her escape inside.
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How to Create Your Own Japanese Garden in the Backyard


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Do you consider gardening styles when planning your garden? Most of us probably do not, but I think that adapting a style, like a Japanese garden, could add flair to your backyard.

I have slowly been working on a project that I am calling a tea house. I took down these too small plastic playhouses that had been set up for my daughters to create this new space. Why a tea house? I still remember the tea house in the gardens of Sans Soucci when I visited there as a child. The building was a fantasy set in the garden. I wanted to recapture that feeling. I am building this house with materials from the garden; I have only purchased pine fence planks for the walls. As I am near completion, I have been considering the plantings which will be near this house. Visiting the Japanese Garden in Hermann Park gave me the idea of creating a space that reflected that style.  In my case, I am not thinking of creating such a garden in the entire backyard, but I thought that such a space could be quite nice.
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Autumn Vegetable Plantings And An October Harvest


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Houston’s winter is not so harsh, so we do have time for new vegetable plantings, while harvesting from our summer crop.

The cold front has moved in, and everyone is expressing relief from the heat. The weather has inspired the casual gardeners to work in their yards. For me the best part has been to sit out on the porch with the family each evening. I read my books, while others play. The insects do not seem to be too bad. I have much of the tea house done. The girls should enjoy that space, but currently the tree house is seeing activity. Dinners have been filled with the harvest from the garden. I used a bit too much curry plant leaves in one dish, and I will not make that mistake again. (Curry plant has a curry like aroma, but the flavor is not the subtle blend of spices that you find in curry). The eggplant, peppers, and tomato plants have come alive again. I am waiting for the cucumbers that were planted in late summer. Then there are the beans. October is a fruitful month.
    I heard a report where a scientist predicted that our summers will commonly see temperatures in the triple digits in the coming years. The prediction goes on to indicate that our winters will be quite mild. The harsh heat and humidity at the end of summer causes many of my plants to go into a stand-by mode. They are growing, but not producing. However, our winters are not so bad for quite a few vegetables. I planted lettuce and collards in a new bed in the front yard. I have my cabbage in place, as well as my broccoli and brussel sprouts. I am hoping for a swiss chard planting soon. I am not sure what my older daughter planted, but I seem to be either finding cilantro or parsley growing in one bed. I have been thinking of growing mustard greens again, but I am not sure if the children will eat them.
    As I have been watering my garden, my neighbor’s tree has spread its limbs over my vegetables. What used to be a sunny space is now shade. I have been spurred on to create more garden beds in the front yard, which my wife is starting to have reservations over. Along the one side was great. Along the front sidewalk was fine. Yet connecting the front beds to the beds near the home along the other side may not fly. I have started to create such a bed by moving the gifted grape pant to this area. The grape was being overtaken by some beans, and I wanted it to have full sun.  There were not many options in existing beds, so I made my move. I am hoping to have the swiss chard go in a bed below  the support frame for the grape. It will take the grape vine time to fill in that space.
    I may have started a bit early, but I moved a crepe myrtle to a new bed. When we moved into our home, the left front bed was framed by several crepe myrtles. They looked nice, but they did not let my Italian cypress fill out. I decided that since I was already rearranging plants and crating new beds that I would move one tree that was in a position that I wanted clear. I dug out this twenty-five foot tree, and dragged it to a new spot along the easement on the other side of my yard. I am watering it every other day. My experience in the past with moving these myrtles has been that the leaves fall off sooner. The tree appears to go dormant or die, but then it comes back in the spring. It takes a year for it to be as active as it once was. I probably should have waited for the tree to go dormant, but if I do loose the tree, I do not mind. I have enough crepe myrtles, and I can always make a cutting to propagate a new specimen.
    I have not worked with many flowering plants for the autumn. I have only planted a few asters. The blue flowers are being picked by the girls to give as gifts to the neighbors. Note to self: I need a lot of flowering plants to keep up with their habit. I should be planting pansies soon. Those flowers make a nice addition to salads. Color more so than flavor.Well, I am going to spend more time in the yard. Just relaxing.

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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