Early Spring

a1Texas weather has been holding out and has been beautiful. While other parts of the country are getting snow storms we are having 80 degree days. Perfect for working outside. The seed catalogs have been arriving and the plants are hitting the garden centers. With the early Spring weather I have been trying out some new things and adding to the gutter garden.

marbledpurplestripe_blanakInitially I planted my garlic in low tubs. And while they seem to be OK.. I think they could be doing better. My concern now is not enough room to properly develop. So, I decided to cut some of the 55 gallon barrels and use them for the garlic as well as the onions I had started from seed. We got the barrels and I got them cut and the net cups added last weekend.nSo this weekends project was getting them full of soil and planted with the remaining onions and the garlic. Since I have plants needing moved and planted now, I do not have the opportunity to grow the rye and turn under like I have in the barrels before. So I am going to have to try and create a good growing soil with what I can buy and also scrounge up for free.

alfalfa (1)For my soil I used a combination of peat, a landscapers mix that is mostly decomposed wood chips, bagged cow manure and some of my own compost. I also had scored 6 bags of leaves off Craigslist and crunched them up and mixed them in as well as some Alfalfa. The Alfalfa came in pellets and I got them from Tractor Supply. I did not want to plant them in the pellet form so I put them in a bucket and covered them with water. Then I spread the broken apart and wet pellets in a large foil roasting pan. Over the course of a few days I stir the Alfalfa and let it dry back out. When I run the dehydrator it will sit on the top to speed this process. The Alfalfa can be used damp or even wet.. it is just that I usually have some time before I need it so keep I keep stirring it to keep it from possibly molding.

I spent about $25 on the soil and it made up five of the half barrels. I got one bag of peat, one 40 pound bag of cow manure, a bag of cow manure and humus that was 20 pounds and two bags of the landscaper mix. I used a cat litter pail of my compost and about that amount of the leaves that I tried to break up with my hands. I have the Alfalfa on hand and at about $10 for 40 pounds.. it is a good buy. I add Alfalfa now to the chickens fermented grain and also add it to my garden. I wish I went through enough stuff to make compost faster as it would stretch my soil dollar a bit further.. but for now this will just have to do. Everything got mixed up together then smoothed out for planting.

IMG_4389After I got the soil ready I turned over the containers with the garlic and found masses of roots. What a mess.. and don’t think would get a decent harvest out of this. I like the low tubs as they are cheap at the grocery store at only $1/each. But I am finding they are pretty much only good for radishes and lettuce. I had to use a small tree saw to cut through the tangled roots to get them apart. I had no idea they would have this kind of root system. I was glad I decided to move the garlic. I hope it will finish out now and give some good sized heads of garlic.

IMG_4393 (1)This is what the garlic looks like now that is it transferred to its new home. I was able to get four plants down each side and three across. These three barrels took care of the order I placed for garlic. But.. I also started a bunch I had purchased from the supermarket. I now will need to quickly find a new place to grow them out as the tubs they are in just will not do. when I was done planting I used some of the leaves I have and put them on the top of the soil. Todays project is to get some of the remaining wood chips and add them to the top. Since I used some of my compost in the mix, I did get some nice earth worms in the containers as well. They should be able to feed on the broken leaves in the soil mix as well as this layer that will be under the chips. I hope as the plants grow and pull nutrients out of the soil, the decomposition and worm activity will put some back.  The goal it so to have living soil that can provide everything that is needed for the growing season.

IMG_4392The onions I also got transplanted. The first one on the left I did a few weeks ago. I used one of the barrels I had ear marked for the strawberries. Since I did not have the strawberries and I had onions needing a home.. I moved the barrel and added soil and transplanted some onions. You can see they are greening up and a bit more established looking. I also tucked in some kale to see how it would grow with the onions. This barrel has the wood chips on the top and you can feel moisture in the soil without it being soaking wet. The cat litter pail on the end is the water reservoir. I am finding I need to refill it about once a week. I imagine when our heat hits I will be filling them several times a week. Still.. a nice easy method to keep plenty of water available for the growing plants.

IMG_3808 (1)

And.. supervising the new growing containers is Sunny Boy.. the yellow and white feral cat. He is not so feral these days as he has decided he likes to be loved on .. a lot. He is young, I saw him as a kitten growing up last year. My dog befriended him and I started to feed the ferals as I felt so bad for them. They were out all night trying to catch beetles and moths to eat. There are five ferals here and I have gotten so I can pet three of them. A yellow one that looks like he has had it rough I call Rocky. The one black on that is very friendly is Buddy and I have not see much of him lately. He is a chatter box when he is around as he really likes a lot of attention. I think  he was a pet at one time and was left when people moved. There are two other black ones and one is now a bit more visible at feeding time, but still likes to stay out of reach.

IMG_4403 (1)The we have Sunny. He let me pet him at the back door where I put the food but for the longest time would not allow me near him anywhere else. But he has come around and decided he likes all the ear scratching and rubbing and now I can pet him anywhere. I am having to watch him as he seems a little intent about trying to get in the house here lately. Not sure the three indoor cats will appreciate him in their space so for now.. Sunny Boy must stay my out door friend.

IMG_4396 (1)I ended up having extras of both the garlic and the onions so I stuck them in the barrels after I planted potatoes. The potatoes are pretty much down the center of the barrels and I am wondering if the barrels will be deep enough. We will see what we get and if needed change things up a bit for next year. I tried them last year in a plastic tote and all the time in the sun made the tote brittle. When I tried to move the container it came apart in a gazillion pieces. They totes were cheap.. but I would much rather spend a little more and get a better life from them. The 55 gallon barrels cost me $20.. so in half either length wise or in halve vertically gives me $10/container. I may try in half vertically next year or a slightly smaller barrel cut in half vertically if this dose not work as planned.

The barrels I planted the potatoes in are the ones I grew the rye and turned under to decompose in the soil. I also broke up some of the leaves I got and turned them into the soil as well as some of my compost before I planted the potatoes. I am hoping to have much better luck with these this year. Although the potatoes grew for me last year, the poor soil gave me a poor harvest.

IMG_4386 (1)Since I am trying to eat healthier and also have stuff for the chickens I got some Kale. I planted it in one of the half barrels a week or so ago and it is now starting to grow. I have no idea how big these plants will get so we will see how it goes. So far they look to be doing well in this container and again, soil is staying moist without being wet. The new leaves appear dark green and healthy so think the soil is providing them what they need to grow.

IMG_4398 (1)Last year the herbs did very well on the gutter garden. I lost the basils with the cold snaps we had and not getting them protected. But the Spearmint has come on through the winter like gangbusters. This plant was half dead and I cut it way back in the fall when I got it. It has come up thick from the crown with this mild winter and it looks like it will  be very happy on the gutter when we hit the growing season.

IMG_4399 (1)Another herb still doing well for me is the Oregano. I cut on this all last year and it has stayed busy and put out tremendous growth. Our mild winter did not slow it down at all. It did not flower last year and I hope to keep cutting it and dehydrating the leaves this year. I may have to try my hand at rooting some stems and getting a few more plants from this one since it is doing so well for me.

Next to it on the right is the Parsley. Multiple plants are in one of the tubs and that will not be enough room to really grow it out. I started the plants from seeds last year, but like the onions and garlic, they need to be moved. The Parsley is a biennial and should put on some good growth this year. I am going to re-pot singles plants into 1 gallon containers and grow them between my tomatoes and peppers. I will also need to start some so I have another crop next year. I love Tabbouleh .. a middle Easter salad with parsley, tomatoes and onions. I am looking forward to enjoying this dish with home grown veggies this year.

IMG_4414 (1)My catnip, on the other hand,  did not fare so well. Since I am feeding feral cats they tend to hang out around the place. They get up into the gutters for water and discovered the catnip. A few leaves chewed would be Ok.. but they have been eating and wallering around on it to the point of breaking it off back to the crown. I brought it inside and will need to re-pot it as the dishtowel wick has rotted off. Then I will put it back on the gutter garden in front of the chicken pen and put a wire cage around it for protection. Being a member of the mint family I expect it to come back with strong growth like the Spearmint even with this type of pruning. The gutter gives these plants a constant supply of moisture these plants love. So.. in no time I will have my plant back and have enough to cut and dry for both the inside and outside cats.

IMG_4397 (1)I have also started another round of radishes. I love radishes and these two containers will not be enough. I did remove the old soil from the last batch and mix in some compost and Alfalfa. I then put some back the soil and added radish seeds. I like the radishes in these tubs but need to get a good rich soil that will grow the radishes fast. I would like to start one of these tubs every week until it gets too hot to grow radishes so I have a new batch I can harvest all the time. I am also trying two different types of radishes. I am becoming aware that in zone 9 some things do not grow as well as other places. So, I am trying to grow a few varieties of things to determine what may work best for my garden. I plan on five different  types of tomatoes and several different types of lettuce.  With milder winters I may just need to grow some things at different times to see if that would make the difference that will allow me to grow them.

Spring is my favorite season. It is a time of new growth and trying new ideas. For me it is a season of hope. And I love in south Texas it comes early and hangs around a bit before getting into the heat of our summers. So while much of the rest of the country is still getting snow and those that live there can only dream of what is to come.. I can get busy and get a head start in turning some of my dreams into a reality.



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