Decorating the Garden with Slabs of Color


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Have you ever wanted more color in your garden? Something bold that will draw the eye? Flowers or colorful bushes will do, but what about a canvas of solid color?

I know that loquats will be the first fruit in my garden, and the blooms on the plum tree were exciting, but the raspberry flowers cause me to be really excited. For me, they are the sign that a new season is coming. The end of winter has its blooms. The pansies, violas, and cyclamen are hanging onto their bursting flames of color, but spring is when we can sit back to see the real show.
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Organizing Your Kitchen


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A well stocked pantry makes cooking easier, but you need to find what you are seeking. A well organized pantry may save you money.

My wife and teenage son have been in my kitchen. Yes, my kitchen. Alright, we do share the space, but since I am the one preparing the meals, I feel that I deserve first priority in pantry and cupboard space. Life does not work that way though. I had tried to impose some kitchen organization on my family, but I had not taken dramatic action. With my wife buying more of her snacks, which she feels takes precedent over my spices, and with my son buying his powdered drinks, which take precedent over my my bowls, I felt a concerted effort at reorganizing my kitchen was needed.
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Recycling Bags for Garden Waste for Houston


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The date has been pushed back to April, but you will find them in stores now.

I wanted to drop a quick note to Houston residents about the new bag requirement for garden waste. I feel that Houston has been trying to implement this policy for some time, but this April seems to be the real deadline. When I was out walking (I seem to be always walking through the neighborhood), I discovered that my neighbors were vaguely aware; however, they were not ready. When I had been going to various stores, I had not seen the bags, but I did find them in the local hardware store recently.
    A few questions that I was asked: 1) Are they more expensive than the other bags? Yes, but not outrageously so. 2) Are they sturdy to hold a lot of waste? I could only find 33 gallon bags. This is the type of bag for a tall kitchen trash can, so they do not hold as much as the old leaf bags, and their thickness seemed to be about the same as the kitchen bags, which means no over stuffing. Can you find them everywhere? I have not been so diligent in looking for them, but they are not everywhere.
    Hopefully the city will have larger bags on their agenda. As one neighbor said he was going to start composting. Well, I already compost most of my garden waste. There are a few times when I need to set some things out. Maybe this new policy would force people to compost. That might not be too bad.

Energy Efficiency and Cooking


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Planning how you cook, can save energy. The savings in the utility bill may be slight for each meal, but that does add up.



Last night, I decided to try something new when preparing my meal to see if I could cook in a healthier style, but this may have been an energy efficient style. I was boiling ingredients to warm them up to imitate a stir fry served over cous cous. The result looked like a stir fry, even though texturally you could feel that the meal was not a stir fry. What I have wanted to do was save on the number of pots and utensils that I was using to save on clean-up. One pot meal are becoming popular with me. I do take conscious steps to reduce the amount of energy used in the kitchen on a normal basis, and I thought these tips may help others when planning out their meals.
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Houston’s Spring is Arriving; Time to Plant Seeds


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You can plant seeds year around in Houston, but this is the time of year when gardeners begin to prepare for late spring and summer crops.

As my wife opened the front door, she and my daughters began to shout with glee. They beckoned my son and me to come quick. They had discovered that the plum tree had set flowers, and these were glowing in the morning light. The tree had already began to display these flowers, but they had not noticed till this scene unfolded before their eyes. Most of my winter vegetables have been going into bloom to prepare us for a new generation with seeds. I notice vegetable gardeners who rip the plants out of the ground when this happens; however, I like to have the seeds spread to see what will arrive in my garden again.
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The Quick Dinner: Pasta and Soup


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Sometimes you have to turn to canned goods to make a quick meal, but a few garden vegetables can bring the meal to life

My day begins at three in the morning, and last week I was getting home around 5:30 in the afternoon. My family was waiting for me to serve a meal, so I needed a quick dinner idea. I hit upon making a one pot dish to minimize clean-up: a pasta cooked in soup.
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Lava Sand


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Chemicals can be good for your plants.

Alright, that statement was meant to shock the organic crowd. I stopped by Southwest Fertilizer the other day, when I saw that they had a shipment of lava sand. I bought some to use in my own garden. You may have heard that soils are rich in nutrients in volcanic areas, like in Italy around Vesuvius, and you can obtain that by incorporating lava sand into your garden beds.
    The synthetic fertilizer industry is based upon ideas of Justus von Liebig, who focused on potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus. Organic gardeners will use the organic chemical forms of these same chemicals. Julius Hensel had a more broad approach, realizing that he suggested the concept of mineral nutrition. He ground mountain rocks to add to vegetable beds, and found that the plants were healthier. This was adding inorganic matter ( the dreaded chemicals). I feel that if you concentrate too much on the labels organic and inorganic, you may miss an important factor in the health of your plants. Hensel showed that inorganics can be quite useful. Lava sand is a result of his work.
    This sand is made from pulverized lava/basalt rock. Decomposed granite has more silica than basalt, and basalt has higher amounts of calcium and magnesium, which makes basalt favored. The best application method is to dig the sand into the soil of a fallow garden bed (churning the soil). Since some beds do have plants, I spread the sand over the soil, and then either by hand or by hoe, mix the sand into the surface. Watering afterwards to ensure that no sand is on the leaves, and to help the sand mix in further. Lava sand then becomes the ultimate slow release fertilizer. The sand is not a complete fertilizer, so you do still need your other organic fertilizers.
    When considering your fertilizers, add lava sand to the mix. I do not know the availability of this product. I have to check if the home improvement centers carry lava sand. I am fairly certain that I have seen the sand at nurseries. I go to Southwest Fertilizer, because they have such a great selection of seeds, tools, and other products for the garden. They do sell plants, but that is a more limited aspect of their business. They are at the corner of Bissonet and Fountain View (or does the street change its name to Renwick at that point).

Tomato Plants in January


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Being hopeful, I purchased toamto plants for the coming growing season.

I had time to really work in the garden yesterday. Using my hoe, I loosened the soil, weeded, and cleaned the beds. I plunged my hands into this rich mixture to harvest ginger. I began to pull the dead leaves away from my lemongrass. I was happy to find that new life was to be seen in shoots popping up. Lemongrass will grow well in Houston, but my plants have come under attack from the dog and family in the past. I wanted this on to survive. I began to work on other projects around the home, so I headed to the home improvement center for some supplies.
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The Carrots are Enjoying This Weather


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The winter season in Houston is great for carrots.

I am glad that my carrots are happy with this weather, because many other plants are not. I do like that the nardinia has those bright red berries to add a splash of color in the bushes. The violas and the violets, along with the cyclamen, have brightened my days as well. My two little girls are happy with these flowers. Both still have the habit of strewing flower petals all over the floors of the home.
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Because of the Rain, I am Weeding


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Who wants to work in the garden when it is cold and wet? When the ground is moist, weeding does go easier.

This has not been the time for heading out into the garden in Houston. I admit that I have not done much, but I did take the time for weeding. My daughters, Katya and Sakura, have been quite happy playing outside, so I have been encouraged to be beside my garden beds. Sakura, the baby, is absolutley furious if she cannot go outside to play.
    One task that I have put off lately has been weeding. Really, who wants to weed? I do have a couple of these weed trees sprouting up in my garden beds, and with the ground being so moist, I have been able to pull them out quite easily. In fact, during the summer, I do my weeding right after I do my wartering. My garden hoe make a fairly decent job of  hacking out most weeds. These baby trees that hide under my bushes can be stubborn though, so I go in with both hands to yank them out. So far, my task has been easy in this weather, and the days have not been too cold.
    I have been harvesting some vegetables. The mustard greens went down well in the pasta dish that I made last night. I appear to be the only arrugula lover in my family. My wife and the children politely ate a few bites, but I saw that those leaves were being pushed to the side. I have to say that the arugula seems to be happy in this weather.
    I stopped by the Farmer’s Market at Rice University this last Saturday. Fewer vendors are showing up in this cold, yet you can still find wonderful items. I felt like that I should support them by going. A nice young lady was there selling seeds to promote the Rice Environmental Club. I have to check them out more. I bought a packet. They should have been planted last fall, but these seeds can still be broadcast in a bed with good results. Katya is fascinated with the portabella mushrooms. She insists that we buy some each week. I marinated the mushrooms for an hour in a soy sauce/miso/rice vingar/sugar/garlic mixture. I added them to a stir fry with  green beans, carrots, yams, and onions. I threw the marinade into the pan at the end for a sauce. I served this with rice that had a little butter and a lot of paprika folded into it at the end. This meal went down well. One preparation step with the mushrooms is cleaning out the gills under the cap. They muddy the flavor. I find that the children enjoy the mushrooms more when these have been removed. I use the gills for a soup for myself. Why waste something so flavorful? How do you prepare mushrooms?

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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