Hardy Volunteers: Letting the Seeds Fall


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My goal is to have a garden that has the plants return year after year without having to buy new ones. In other words, I am looking to make the garden sustainable through hardy volunteers.

The drought may be taking its toll; the heat and humidity has made some outdoor work unbearable; yet I have been delving into my garden. The biggest project, which is still ongoing, has been the treehouse. This is a platform above the shed, which is below the canopy of a tree.  This space has been great for lunches. Most other work has revolved in preparing the garden for different events around the home (my older daughter’s birthday being the prime event).  I still want to fuss with the plants, and somehow work more towards my vision of a sustainable garden. I saw that a few peanut plants were popping up, which made me think of hardy volunteers. I had never concentrated on peanut plants, but I think this one may have come from a squirrel dropping the seed. I did have a few lettuce plants grow from seeds that had fallen, so why not try again.
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BASIC VEGETABLE GROWING (IN A STUDENT HOUSE WITH NO GARDEN)


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I’d like to follow the theme set by Frank’s recent posts on sustainable gardening (like this, this, and this), but with the slight handicap of not having a garden.

Not having a garden probably seems like a large setback for a gardener. And truth be told, it is. But, testament to humans’ desire to innovate and adapt, ways of getting around this obstacle exist. A wealth of blogs are dedicated to gardening without a conventional garden; The 6×8 garden and Green Roof Growers are two examples of many, but all are maintained by more professional gardeners than I; this post aims to share with you the basic lessons learned in growing chillies in a gardenless student house this year.

Credit goes to my former housemate and internet-wary friend Paranoia Boy (PB) for these chilli growing tips. PB was in charge of ‘Harvey’ the chilli plant, who was grown from seeds, originally in a window box and later in a planter when ‘he’ outgrew the box. On choosing the healthiest seedlings, PB says after planting many seeds in very moist soil, select the biggest, strongest looking (and especially green) ones as they are more likely to grow into healthy plants. The plant was kept nourished through a mix of store-bought tomato feed, and working coffee grinds into the soil every now and then (though the latter technique should not be used too often).

Harvey fruited nicely around April after being planted in late autumn last year. Chilli plants thrive when kept consistently above 20°c, and frequently in the sun. Watering the plant every morning (around half a pint / 250ml) seemed to be the best time, and watering slightly less than the suggested amount seemed to make it flower better. Chilli plants flowering is a good sign, but in order to make them fruit, they need to be pollinated. PB’s policy was to leave the window open in the hope that a bee would fly in and pollinate, and it seemed to work. Manual pollination can be achieved though, through collecting pollen on a small brush and applying it to the center of the flowers you wish to fruit.

Where to go from here? I’m living in student housing again next year, and have every intention of continuing to grow what I can. I may branch out to something more adventurous if time allows; herbs and spices are a possible avenue of exploration as I’ve heard good things about growing basil, oregano and such. Tomatoes are another possibility, although it depends how easy they are to grow because I’m not a huge fan, and as a result the amount of effort I’m willing to spend in growing them is reduced.

Thanks for reading this guest post which Frank kindly allowed me to write. My name is Chris, and I keep a blog myself at http://p-latitudes.blogspot.com although it’s a bit disorganised at the moment. My layman’s interest in gardening / growing was inspired by some work I did on behalf of Tiger Sheds.

The Vegetable Garden at the End of June


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This is a sun kill warning. Houston’s summer is hard on many vegetables, but this is a great time to find plants cheap.


I think that the people at the garden center were happy to see us. The girls wanted to find more flowering plants. I was looking for a few plants for my wife’s new container. There were a few other customers. However, this is not the time to plant in Houston. The lack of rain does play its part. The unrelenting heat of the sun is probably the greater danger. You hear that plants want full sun, so why would too much sun be the problem? Annuals which have less established roots have a hard time since they need more watering. Many vegetables fall into this category.
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Building a Home for Earthworms


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Compost helps the garden, but earthworm castings is the black gold for our vegetable beds. Creating a container is not that hard.

I have not been able to sit out in the yard with the children. The heat has been too much to take. The garden has not suffered too badly though. I do have some bare spots that I would love to fill, but the plants would need a good amount of water. The big project outside has been building a deck over the shed for a tree house with my son. The tree house is no longer in a living tree, yet this deck is beneath a wonderful canopy of branches, so you feel like you are in the tree. Katya wants this space to be her new bedroom. I thought that I should do something that is directed towards improving the garden. Working in the heat is not good for your health, so I am putting a hold on some garden plans. I was peeling vegetables for dinner, when the idea of a new compost bin came to mind. An earthworm composting system was what I needed for my garden.
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Pruning Back Tomato Vines


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In June, tomato plants in Houston wither, while beans and pepper plants continue to produce.

I am re-evaluating choices that I made. The okra was not placed in a great location, so the plants have not thrived. The eggplant has done well. I have found that they do alright with afternoon shade, or maybe I should say with partial shade, since I have a plant that is producing with afternoon sun. The squash has needed the full sun, as do the pepper plants. The bush beans have been consistent producers, but I am waiting for the yard long beans which I planted later in pipes. These beans have lush and dark green leaves, so they seem to be a good fit for that experiment.The cucumbers are chugging along, while the green onions look like they are quite happy. The one plant that cannot handle this season is the tomato.
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Plucking Onions: Time for an Onion Sauce


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When the leaves of the onion plant begin to fall over, you know that they are ready to harvest, but what do you do with your harvest?

I was reminded again of the disconnect children have when it comes to knowing where their meal and their foods origins. My children see this fact on a daily basis, but I had a few odd looks when harvesting onions. The bulbs dangled from my left hand, dropping down in a waterfall style for more than two feet, as I pulled the onions from the ground with my right hand. My daughters, who do not like onions in their meals, were happily helping. One of my sisters-in-law pulled up, and my niece and nephew toppled out of the car to spend the evening with us. They rushed over to see what we were doing. They were baffled by this activity. Is it important that they know where their food originates? I am not sure, but I have found that my onion averse daughters will eat the bulb when they harvested the vegetable themselves. There is a greater appreciation for our food when we see it go from the garden to the table. Although the cooking portion might be their favorite activity.
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How Can I Remodel My Kitchen for Less Money


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Starting a kitchen remodel can be daunting, but the rewards could be great.

As a home inspector, I see many great and poor kitchens. As a person who loves to cook, I know that fantastic meals can come out of small kitchens. There are wonderful large kitchens, but I do not need the grand island, or the tons of storage space. My current space is a smaller square of a 1960′s design. I did purchase storage racks to place beside the refrigerator to keep certain items close at hand, yet the basic layout is fine for me. I have longed for a kitchen remodel, but my wife and I end up on other projects. My wife recently decided that new wood flooring was required in the bedrooms, which led to redecorating. I felt that if we are working on those rooms, then I wanted to update the electrical outlets and fixtures to current standards. We also have a new French door onto the patio. These projects pretty much zapped my budget for home improvements for right now. I tried to argue with my wife that a kitchen remodel adds value to the home, but we are not selling, so why focus on adding value there. However, I did feel that the look of the kitchen needed to be improved, so I created my plan for a remodel that would achieve my goals while being on a tight budget.
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Dealing with a Drought in Your Garden


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When is the last time you had rain? Parts of the country are experiencing flooding, and in Houston, we are dealing with higher than normal temperatures coupled with no rain.

My last water bill was quite high. My goal is to reduce my water consumption, so I was not too happy with my behavior that led to this unwanted expense. In my mind, I was justifying my actions with the fact that food prices are rising, and I am growing vegetables to counter those prices (a note in the grocery store today pointed out that many crops have been damaged by the weather, so prices will fluctuate). I was also thinking of my foundation. Keeping the ground at a consistent moisture level will help the house. However, this bill brought my focus back to my goal. Yes, I could justify my actions, but I could not really. I, like all of my neighbors, will have to make choices to deal with the drought.
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Experiencing the Green Planet Sanctuary in Houston


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Do you need to experience a peaceful garden? Maybe you should attend an event at the Green Planet Sanctuary.

Last weekend my wife and I attended a Green Mixer at the Green Planet Sanctuary. My wife may not be fully interested in a sustainable lifestyle, but she has been willing to allow my explorations, and I think that she has enjoyed the ride. I mentioned this gathering to her, because I thought that it was a good fit for her own interests: massage therapy/ healthy body combined with landscaping. (My wife works in physical therapy which has caused her to have the interest in massage therapy, and she wants to make over our home to meet some of her clippings from magazines detailing landscape ideas).  We both really enjoyed the space.
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How to Grow Leeks, Onions, and Green Onions


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Houston nearly has a year long growing season, and late spring is when we can begin to harvest some alliums

Do your home grown vegetables look like their grocery store counterparts? This idea came up in conversation again. Part of the reason is the we grow different varieties; we may not be growing vegetables under optimal conditions; and we may just be harvesting early. I have a great selection of vegetables to choose for meals, but the group that turns my daughter away from the plate is the alliums: onions and leeks in this case.  Even though Katya expresses her distaste for onions, she will eat them when she knows that they are from our garden. I have been harvesting a few young alliums this week, which has made me happy.
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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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