The Garden at the End of the Year

A garden is always moving forward in unexpected ways, but looking back helps us to understand the way forward.

Do you look back at what worked and what failed for you? I review my year, maybe because I am going paperwork and creating end of year reports. I have not really done this with my garden though. I remember what worked, what did not, and I have ideas for the future. I am considering the drought and its effects on my garden this last summer, so I want to think about how I should proceed in a better way. I am viewing my failures, since we can learn so much more from them than a success.
    My biggest failure was the design for the spinnable compost bin. My design worked well with a small amount of kitchen waste, but when I loaded the bin with yard waste, the bin collapsed. I came up with a plan to repair the bin, but I went in a different direction. The problem is space. I had a good deal of wood, so I made this compost/recycling/work center behind my shed. The spinnable bin worked well for kitchen waste, but I wanted a larger compost production method, which for me meant the standing bin. The space where the spinnable bin was located could be used for planting.
    Giving more of my yard over to garden beds was a good decision for me. I have mentioned the trend away from lawns, and we each have to discover what is best for our lifestyles. I know that some people lament the loss of the American lawn, but I did not want to be a grass farmer. I am going to slightly extend the current layouts of garden bed to lawn, yet I feel that I have achieved a good balance. The children have play areas, and many of the plants did better than the grass.
    Another failure of sorts was planning out plantings. For the most part this did work out; however, I should consider plants that do well in droughts, or when I plant. I began focusing more on sowing seeds, which is more economical. Established plants going into the garden have done better, so next year I want to do better with starting seeds in flats, then moving them into the garden.

    I also had mixed results with my vertical garden. Again, the problem is starting plants from seeds. During the hot summer months, the seeds sprouted, but the plants had a hard time. Even though our autumn was warm with little rain and water restrictions still in place, the nasturtium started from seed enjoyed my vertical garden. I want to try more vertical gardens next year.
    Did I actually save money by growing my own vegetables? I think that I broke even. The drought caused me to water more, which was an expense, and as I said, I wasted money on plantings that failed due to a lack of watering. I did obtain most of my vegetables from my own garden. My method of gardening has allowed plants to return from seeds. Each winter I find cilantro popping up. Each spring brings spinach. My winter vegetables are producing food again. To be more successful, I have to plan out ways to save on water while producing vegetables.
    Reviewing my problem areas gives me ideas for the coming year. I really should sit down in January to create a plan. Part of this plan has to include preserving produce. I prefer to eat seasonally, but traditionally in Texas, the later months of summer are not good for vegetable production, and preserving vegetables was how families fed themselves.

Simple Seed Starting Kit

The children and I are planting seeds, a lot of seeds. I would love to have one of those mini-greenhouses, considering how many flats of seeds we have been starting, but sometimes you can make do with what you have.

My wife is not always happy when she sees me setting items aside to save. I have been saving the containers from plants that I purchased. They are not recyclable. My daughters have played with them, but I had another goal in mind. She really began to wonder why I was saving the bags for the mulch. I kept telling her that they would be useful. She thinks that I hoard items just for the sake of keeping them. Maybe I am trying to reuse to much; however, this time I had a plan that worked out well.
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In Pursuit of Celery


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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.

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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Of Flowers, Seeds, and Native Plants


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Is the garden always in transition? Sometimes it feels that way. My children have been exploring seeds in the garden. From those that they can eat to those that they just want to plant.


My Katya runs to pick another flower for a passer-by. I wonder how I manage to keep any flowers in the garden. The children have always been friendly to others in my neighborhood, even when they have not been to friendly. Katya decided that the wealth of flowers should be shared. My wife is convinced that this constant picking has led to the plants producing more flowers. I think that there is more to it than that, but deadheading (removing the dead flowers) does help. My only problem with the little girls picking flowers has been their tendency to yank the entire plant out of the ground. The other issue was that I was trying to harvest seeds.
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For Joy, It is Raining


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Are you planting seeds? Then you need to keep the ground moist, but this weather has not co-operated. I guess that we are gong back into drought conditions again. Fortunately, the rain has come, so I did not need to water.

I had a problem with squirrels around my home. They disrupted my seed trays, so I decided to plant directly into the ground with most plants. I like to mix up how I get my plants. Some I start in pots; some seeds go into the beds; and some plants I buy from the nursery. Unfortunately, the squirrels have been a bit more active this year, so I see signs of their digging in the garden beds, and I am not sure why they went after my seed trays. Still, the seedlings are growing, but it has meant more watering than I was expecting. Having the seed beds in trays under cover or in a green house means less watering, because the soil does not dry out. When the seeds are in the garden bed, you have the sun and wind drying out the soil, so more watering to keep the seeds viable. I am spreading hair from my dog around the garden, but this has not worked as well as I had hoped.
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The Excitement of Spring


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Tomato plants are in at the stores, and you will find basil too. Are you ready to start planting Houston?

Last week turned out to be much busier than I thought it would be. Besides work, I ended going to a few gatherings/ meetings. One was to set up a plant exchange event in my neighborhood; we will be calling it “Plant Yourself in the Community”. I have been asked to speak at this event about how landscapes can effect the home.At the Houston Green Scene Mixer, I found myself talking about gardening quite a bit. Particularly we ended discussing fruit trees and vegetables. Even on my inspections, the landscape became a topic. In my own garden, I thought that I would have a quiet week. I was doing some final pruning to clear tree branches growing near my electrical lines and others that came down to hit me when walking by (these being from the neighbor’s trees growing over the fences. I found myself placing quite a few plants in the ground.
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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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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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