Texas Winter Gardening

IMG_3845 (1)Weather here in Texas has been a bit warm.. even for us. We had a few cold days a couple weeks ago, but are now back up in the 70’s. We had quite a front come through with some high winds last night that knocked a lot of stuff around here at the house. My patio chairs were blown over and my trash cans were in the neighbors yard. I only had the tall Thai Basil get knocked over off the gutter garden so that is good. I will move it so there is the support of the chicken pen fence wire behind it to support it going forward. Though it is mid December, we still warm temps and have a pretty good breeze today. It has been so breezy I have enjoyed listening to my wind chime made out of scrap fence pipe as I have worked in the garden. Got to love December weather where you can be gardening outside in a sweatshirt.

IMG_3770Since we have had this great weather the garden is still going pretty strong. All the herbs have done exceptionally well. I still have the perennials out on the gutters, and the recent cold snap we had did not phase them and they have just kept growing. In this photo I have some parsley in tubs and Oregano and Catnip in the buckets. I plan on putting the Parsley in buckets between the tomatoes next spring, but for now they seem happy. They are biennials so will come on much stronger next year. The Catnip was long and leggy when I got it and I have been cutting it back to encourage branching. It is looking much better and they cats have enjoyed the dried leaves on more than one occasion. The Oregano has stayed thick and bushy and we have done a lot of harvesting to keep it bushy.

IMG_3769The various Basils I have also did really great until I brought them in to protect them from a cold snap. Not sure what happened here, but they all pretty much died back. There may have been something in the container I used to water them that adversely affected them all, or something something else entirely. I don’t like losing the plants, but my local grocery store has the herbs all the time and I may pick up replacements the next trip in. I will dump out the soil and put in fresh and we should be good to go in a short time again.

IMG_3774I planted onion seeds to sprout and get some growth during the winter before they are planted for final finishing growth in the spring. They are coming along nicely and I may have to  make sure to sow more seeds next year as not thinking these will be as many as I want to finish out. I do have some other tubs so may just see if I can get some more seeds growing. If we continue with the nice weather for a few more weeks they should get enough growth to winter over when the temps drop.

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The carrots are also growing well in this weather. I have been thinning the seedlings and treating the chickens to the ones I pull out. Not sure when these will mature as they still seem a ways off from producing edible food. I think I will have the same issues with the carrots I had with the radishes.. I might need a richer soil. So this is kinda my test for time of year and the depth of the container. If I get anything decent for a harvest we will get more containers and do it again next fall in composted soil.

IMG_3772 (1)I had such dismal failure with the lettuce early in the year I only sowed seeds in one tub this fall. And this fall planting is exceeding what I expected to have for a harvest. I have taken several cuttings from this tub and still I have some great growth in the lettuce. I have too many plants in this tub so will not sow as many per tub.. and will do a better job of thinning as well in the spring. I will also be planting another couple tubs of lettuce as I really enjoy salads, especially fresh ones. Anything I can’t eat the chickens gladly consume. They like lettuce too.

IMG_3775Next year I have plans to get some strawberries as well as grow peanuts. Since I also need a better container to grow my potatoes in, I bought some 55 gallon food grade barrels. The ones I got previously had Mountain Dew in them so I had a number of bees keeping me company when I was cutting them in half length wise. They got a good rinse and set up on the gutters. I will put four net cups in the bottom to sit down into the gutters to wick water up into the soil. I debated three of four net cups and decided it was best to have that extra one to make sure during our crazy summer heat enough water is wicked up for the plants.

IMG_3778On a ten foot gutter you can get three half barrels and I also have room for a cat litter bucket that I can add water to and attach to a float valve. It has taken me a bit to figure out how to make the plumbing work on these as threads are different and one type will not work with another. I ended up using a flexible hose from Lowe’s I got in the plumbing department. It is half inch and I think it connects a water supply to sinks in the real world. The hose is the correct size to connect the valve to the water supply sitting there on top of the gutter. Going forward all gutters will have their own water supply bucket attached to the gutters float valve.

IMG_3789I am choosing to have each gutter with it’s own water supply for several reasons. The first is I have access to a lot of free cat litter buckets from a co-worker that has cats and is involved with several cat rescue programs. She has connections to keep me in litter buckets for a long time. I like the thought the hose will connect directly to the gutters float valve and I will not have to step over hoses as I move about the garden like I would if I chose to use a rain barrel and feed multiple gutters. I can also look at the plants on each gutter and add to the water in their bucket any lacking nutrients. With heavy feeders like tomatoes and peppers I will be able to feed them and not over feed the herbs that prefer a less rich environment. Been researching compost Tea and feel adding it to the individual buckets will be the best way to add that as well.

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Last weekend I got one of the half barrels set up with the net cups in place and added soil. I added a mixture of peat and humus I bought from Lowe’s. I layered that with some of what I have in the compost pile [shredded paper, leaves and chicken manure] then scattered some oats, wheat and rye grass seed on the top and added some leaf litter as a mulch. It has been a few days and now it is coming up. I will allow it to grow up some then I will cut the tops back and allow it to fall back onto the soil. Eventually I will turn the plants into the soil, add another layer of dirt then seed again. Come spring I will again cut and turn the greens into the soil then plant my strawberry plants in the soil and mulch well. The greens and dead leaves should be breaking down nicely and enriching the soil for the strawberries. I plan on doing this with all the half barrels to have better soil for the potatoes and the peanuts. I’d like to add some earth worms to improve the soil and assist in breaking down the leaves and greens, but need some research time to see if the garden variety earthworm will adapt to living in a large container or I need to order some special compost worms.

IMG_3787The Comfrey I ordered I finally got planted a few weekends ago. The larger pieces were put in buckets and set on the gutter garden. I put them about 2 inches under the top of the soil. It took a few weeks but I am seeing leaf growth coming up now as they get growing.  They will not be able to stay in the buckets on the gutter because of the extensive deep root system these plant have.  Part of the reason I have them is that deep root system goes down and pulls up nutrients from the soil. They will not get that sitting on a gutter. I am still toying around with where I want to put these plants. They are not invasive, but if I don’t like their location and dig them up to move them, any piece of root left will sprout and I will have a mess. So I am trying to think a few years down the road and where I will want these. I will want them out of the way yet still accessible as I will be feeding it to the chickens and also adding to the compost pile.

IMG_3788Once I decide on their location I will be adding a layer of cardboard with some shredded leaves, chicken manure and mulch over the top to get the soil a bit richer for them. The cardboard will be a weed barrier and also encourage earthworms. With the leaves and mulch above the cardboard breaking down, it will be ready to be turned into the soil when I am ready to plant the Comfrey in the spring. The plants will be mulched heavy so nothing competes with it as it gets established. I am hoping to get a modest harvest of leaves next year even as it is becoming established.

IMG_3834 (1)Little by little we are getting the garden together. As long as this good weather holds we will continue to get a lot done. I don’t like the cold and will be in the house cooking or baking something to stay warm when the temps finally plunge. Until I am driven indoors by real winter weather, we are tweaking the garden height, improving the soil and adding and setting up several more gutters. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do like cold and snow.. as long as it is on a postcard or my northern friends Facebook page. And every time I see those winter storm photos it reminds me of why I love Texas my winters.

 

 

 

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