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.

The Pleasures of Soup


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Cold days are perfect for a bowl of hot soup, and winter vegetables are great for simple soups.


I think that I have mentioned this before; I am a big fan of soups. My wife is of a different opinion. I think that she may be more willing to partake of my soups, since she has been attending classes on health. My wife works in a hospital, and she attends various lectures to improve her knowledge for patient care. Many of these lectures deal with becoming and staying healthy. She has taken particular interest in topics that touch upon our diets. What should one eat? Her concern has been snack foods. I am known for not buying sodas and snacks. I prefer cakes without frosting. My wife has traditionally indulged in these items. Seeing the effects of poor diets among her patients, she has become motivated to eat better. One of her discoveries was that eating more vegetables in a meal leads to a healthier life. I had been scaling back on the meat in a dish in favor of vegetables for some time with this thought in mind. During the winter, too many meals originating in the winter garden look similar, consequently becoming boring. Soup is a nice change for these vegetables.
    The other night at dinner, while I had my beloved soup and the rest of the family enjoyed a chicken dish, my wife took an interest in my meal. Upon trying it, she was impressed, so she wanted a bowl. I had stock for a hen that I had boiled. I have made stock from simply using vegetables taken from the garden. I always throw in a bay leaf from my tree, and maybe a few leaves from my kefir lime tree. For this soup, I melted a little pat of butter with a little dash of olive oil. A tablespoon of flour was added to make a rue. When the flour browned, I added the stock, whisking to prevent lumps. This causes the soup to be thicker, which is nice in the colder months. For warmer seasons, I use the stock alone. The next step is to make soup noodles. In a bowl, I mix about a cup of flour, a little milk, and one egg. I use my spaetzel press to create the noodles into the soup, but you do not need this piece of equipment. The mixture in the bowl should be like a batter that can drop off of a spoon. Take a little bit of the mixture, and drop it into the gently boiling soup. these glops will drop to the bottom, so gently stir the soup to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pan. My favorite ingredient to add to this soup is mustard greens. I chop the large leaves into smaller pieces. They go into the soup. Once the noodles are floating on the top they are done. I then taste the soup for seasoning.
    When I am feeling creative, I toast the spices when making the rue. My standard combination is cumin, red chili powder, sweet paprika, and ground mustard. The spices change, depending upon my mood. When adding spices at the end of the soup preparation, I go for salt and pepper. My next addition to the soup would be either a little milk or a beaten egg. Milk is the more common choice. In the end, I might add another small pat of butter. I really do mean small. The final product is a hearty soup that is quick to prepare. he nice thing is using a lot of vegetables. Right now, I have more leafy greens coming form the garden. Fairly soon, I will have kohlrabi, and then root vegetables, so the soup will change. You can add pasta or other noodles, but this soup noodle is so easy to make. It is also more like a dumpling, and a dumpling could be a great addition. Maybe I can make small changes to entice my wife some more. 

The Garlic is Coming


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The Garlic is Coming

Winter is a great time for garlic in Houston gardens



My daughter is connecting the idea that vegetables are plants, and my experiment from a few weeks back has proven to her that you can buy something at the grocery store to grow. One item that is doing well in my garden is the garlic. I planted the garlic heads just as they were to show her that all of them will grow shoots similar to the green onions that she knows. Being busy with work, and with uncooperative weather, has not allowed me to spend as much time in the garden as I would like, but I am glad that the plants are growing without me.
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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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