Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Spring Update

Sorry for the long delay in posting.

Well, most of what we planted broke dormancy and is leafing up now. I did lose one fig tree and I think both Mayhaws may have not made it, as I see no signs of life.  That is most likely due to the fact that the nursery botched the shipping date and I could not get them into the ground for about 10 days after they arrived. They were bare root and I tried to minimize the stress by heeling them into some potting soil, which probably saved most of the trees.

All apple trees, plum trees and almond trees are looking pretty good for their first year after their transplant. One apple tree (Winesap) actually had several blossoms on it.  The Mulberry tree I planted to attract birds also bloomed and is trying to put on several berries.  I probably should pinch them off and let the tree put it's energy into roots and leaves.

My asparagus bed is getting weedy and badly needs tending to, which I will do in a couple of weeks when I am back up there. I shouldn't have let it get this bad, and now I will pay the price.....

The pond is looking healthy and the fish are growing. I caught and released one this past weekend and they are definitely getting larger.

I had an old friend come up for the weekend and hang out with me. Always glad to see him. Really enjoy his stories about his family.  He has a good sense of his family's history...something I do not have because my parents never shared much when I was growing up.

My brother-in-law was also there for a couple of days to enjoy the fresh air and quiet times. He has gone through some tough times health-wise in the last several months and I was glad to see he is on the mend.

One of my neighbors dropped by to tell me that someone had come onto his property and had stolen some things.  Nothing irreplaceable or of great value, just some scrap metal.  But it isn't about the value, it's about the principle of it. We believe we know who the perpetrator is....there is a person in the area who is well known for his sticky fingers, but catching him is another matter.  My neighbor has taken some steps toward that end.......it will be interesting to see what transpires.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Texas Winter Weather

We've had mostly warm (above 45 degrees) weather and a fair amount of rain this fall and winter so far.  A few of the nights have been below freezing, but not by much.  I don't know if this will cause our new fruit trees to bud out early or not, but if they do, there is a chance a late freeze could do some damage.  I would hate to see the first year's growth stunted.

I have to admit, I am kinda impatient to see if all the new trees bud out and begin to grow.  Right now They are only thin little sticks with no leaves.  I will be checking on them every couple of weeks, usually, and will let you know when I see new growth happening.

The hot summer months will be more of a challenge for us. We live 2 1/2 hours from our little homestead right now and if there is not enough rain, it will require frequent trips to water the new trees.  Not that I mind the drive up there, it's scenic once we turn off the freeway near Huntsville.  Perhaps I can rig up a temporary irrigation system. A garden hose, some tubing and emitters, and a timer should do the trick.

I have another job ahead of meas well as regards to the fruit trees. I still need to put up some posts and fencing around the individual trees to prevent damage from deer, rabbits, and other critters.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Asparagus Beds The Easier Way

The only things I have planted are permanent things, like an asparagus bed and three types of thorn-less blackberries.  And some fruit trees, but that is for another post.  Before I can plant any annual vegetables, I will have to put up fencing and a few strands of electric fence as well because we have lots of critters in our area.

The asparagus is Martha Washington, an heirloom variety which produces both male and female plants. Commercial growers do not usually grow this variety because the female plants put energy into producing seeds and that lessens the availability of harvest-able shoots.  Those few growers that do, will cull the female plants from the bed and replace them.  For the home gardener, this ability to produce seed is actually a bonus.  You only need buy a dozen plants and get them into the garden.  From then on, you can continually harvest seeds in the fall and expand your asparagus bed to whatever size you wish.

Gardening books often suggest trenching and removing dirt for 18 inches deep or more and filling the beds with compost and manure, mixed with some of the soil that was removed from the trench.  While this certainly is the tried and true method, it is a great deal of work if you have a lot of plants to set.  I have a substantial amount of clay in my area and I chose a different method. It seems to be working out just fine. 

To avoid drainage issues caused by my heavy soil, I only turned over about 6 to 8 inches of soil to loosen it. Then I mounded compost and soil over that to raise the bed.  I planted my crowns by forming small mounds spaced about 18 inches apart and spreading the roots over the mounds. Then I pulled more compost and dirt over the roots from both sides of the row.  This kept the crowns and roots above my heavy soil. As the summer warmed, I placed about 4 to 5 inches of leaves and hay over the entire bed.  This kept the soil cool and moist and the weeding to almost nothing.  Remember to thoroughly water in newly set plants right away, and weekly thereafter through the summer if you don't get enough rain to keep the soil moist.

Once established, asparagus is very tough and handles drought, heat and anything else mother nature throws at it. They can be attacked by asparagus beetles, but these can be controlled easily with organic methods. So for the first year, you nurse them along, and then the plants will usually take care of themselves. Your main jobs will be adding more compost and/or manure each Spring and keeping weeds at bay. You never harvest any spears the first two years, at least, and only for the first week in the Spring of the third year.  Leave the rest to produce frilly fronds and develop a strong root system.  Then you can harvest lots of tender shoots for the next 25 years or so.

You can begin harvesting seeds the first year, though. By mid summer, you will see small green berries on the female plants. Allow them to stay on the plants until they turn red, then remove them.
Squeeze the small black seeds from the berries and rinse them under running water in a fine meshed colander. Dry the seeds on paper towels, then put them them in a zip-lock baggy  and place the baggy in your refrigerator until February or March.  At that time, plant the seeds in jiffy pots and keep them moist. When the plants emerge, be sure to let them have light. If it is not freezing outside, move them out to filtered sunlight each day that you can.  Grow lights work great, too, but sunlight is free.

When danger of frost is past, set them out into your asparagus bed. New plants like this cannot be harvested for 4 or 5 years, but you can  continue to plant more each year, if you wish, as well as replace any plants that succumb to disease, insects, or clumsy gardeners.

How much asparagus should you have growing?  Most gardeners will want about 50 plants per person.  More if you want to freeze or can some for later use. That sounds like a lot, but you can't cut all the spears, just some of the ones early in the season. Some have to be left to grow into full fronds to provide energy to the plant. Remember that if you are working with limited space, you can tuck plants into your flower garden and other areas around the property where they won't be disturbed by other activities.

 I will end up with about 400 plants, but then I have lots of space, I want to preserve some of it, and I like to give to friends, family and food banks when I can. And when I have fresh asparagus, I want it at almost every meal.

That may be "information overload" on asparagus for some folks......but I have lots more information, just ask.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Courtesy Has Rewards

While researching for information  to use in writing a future post, I sometimes come across something on another web page I would like to use on my blog.  To comply with copy right laws, and also because it is just the right thing to do, I always write the author or web master and ask permission before copying or linking to the information.  Most responses are friendly and accommodating. As a bonus, they sometimes share other websites or blogs of theirs and when I find one I really enjoy, I like to pass it along to my readers even though it is on a different topic than my own blog. This is one of those times.

The author of the TylerTexasOnline.com blog has another blog called RoadsideVisions which is all about travel, history, and interesting bits of Americana.  It's a really fun read for anyone who likes travel or American history and geography.  It makes you want to pack up the family in the ole' wagon and head out on the open road......

So take a look. I'm sure he'll appreciate the visit.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

An East Texas Springtime Diversion

Love's Lookout, elevation 713 feet above sea level Love's Lookout was once part of Love's peach orchard. Some of the land was deeded to the City of Jacksonville, TX, which is about 12 miles North of Rusk, the county seat.

One of East Texas' most breathtaking views, Love's Lookout, north of Jacksonville in Cherokee County is part of a long, flat-topped hill that extends north and south about nine miles. The east side looks over a broad valley - a wide expanse of beautiful scenery, (30-35 miles).

 See more information about it here, and here.

Loves Lookout Park picnic areaPhotos courtesy of Ken at www.TylerTexasonline.com

Beginnings of an Orchard

We've planted a few fruit and nut trees around the old house.  We decided to plant several varieties to see what would adapt to our climate zone and soil.  Some may be problematic, but we are optimists and are willing to nurse some things along to see if they will establish. Below I've listed what we've planted so far. You can click on any of the links beneath the tree varieties to see more information about caring for that particular fruit.

 I had to do some special things when planting to compensate for our rather heavy soil such as adding lots of humus and compost, and elevating the trees a bit higher than the surrounding grade.  The almonds are a long shot because of our summer humidity, but nothing ventured, nothing learned.

Here are the varieties we planted of each fruit. We are in growing zone 8b. You can check here to see what your own growing zone is.

Texas Everbearing 
Brown Turkey
More information
Santa Rosa
More information

Granny Smith (2)
More information

Native Fruit
Mayhaw (2)
Paw Paw (2)
More information on Mayhaw
More information on Paw Paw

Wonderful (2)

Texas Mission.
More information 

Chill hours are also important to consider when choosing which varieties to plant in your location.

Chill hours are roughly the numbers of hours between the temperatures of 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit for a winter in your area. Winter hours above 45 degrees are subtracted from that total.
The idea is that a deciduous plant goes dormant in the winter to protect itself from the cold.  The plant needs to stay dormant while the weather is freezing and then know how soon after it gets above freezing it can safely begin growing. It must do this late enough that it doesn't get frozen back by a late frost but early enough so it can get a full season of growth and fruiting in before it must go dormant for winter again.

 You can get some general idea of  the estimated chill hours on the net, but there are no good chill hour maps because there are too many variables such as altitude, latitude, and a myriad of micro-climates produced by lakes and rivers and even cities.

The best advice is to choose varieties which are on the lower side of the average chill hours in your area. This will produce the most reliable fruiting.  If you are adventurous like I am, try some that are near or even a bit above your maximum chill hours.  You will have a few years when these do not fruit, and others when you will get a surprise crop of great fruit.

One of the more frustrating things you will come across is different growers listing different chill hours for the same variety.  That is probably due to the fact that there are currently at least three different methods used to calculate chill hours.

Note that many of the "big box" stores offer varieties that have no chance of setting fruit in your climate. The same is true for some of the large online nurseries. So let the buyer beware.

We also planted three types of thornless blackberries, and although they are certainly fruit, that's for another post.

Friday, February 15, 2013

 A little About Me

I've made several posts, but let's back up a little for a moment, if you don't mind........

I just realized there will be a lot of folks reading this blog now and then who don't know me.  It isn't that I'm not famous, it's just that nobody knows that I am.

I grew up in Southwest Louisiana about an hour from the coast in a town of about 60,000 (at the time).  You know the cliches.  You didn't have to lock your doors, you could leave the keys in the car and it would still be here when you got back. Communities were not walled in, houses were not fenced in. Yards were somewhat expansive with lots of trees.  I could ride my bicycle across town and my parents were okay with that.  Heck, grade school was about 4 blocks from home and I walked to and from school by myself.

My grandfather had been a contractor and built his home and the one I lived in. They were back to back, facing opposing sides of the block.  We had chickens, rabbits, and a duck now and then. We even raised quail for awhile. Although I was prone to hanging out with the animals a lot when I was a kid, these were not pets.  They provided eggs and meat. So I fed the chickens, gathered eggs, and yes, slaughtered a fat hen here and there for supper.  We had White Leghorns, Rhode Island Reds, and Barred Rocks.  There was always a rooster or two in the crowd, which meant the eggs were fertile so we would sometimes gather up a quantity of eggs and place them in an incubator to be hatched.

When I was in my early teens, I somehow got interested in vegetable gardening.  I can't remember what the trigger was, but one day, there I was, digging up the back yard in ever increasing chunks. When I announced that I was going to grow all kinds of vegetables, my mom's eyebrows raised a little, but she kept her silence. Well, the first season it was just tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers.
Everything done conventionally, with lots of tilling (by hand...I had no tiller), chemical fertilizers, and pesticides.  I had a decent harvest and this spurred me on to rip up even more sod.  Of course my father was okay with this....he didn't like mowing grass anyway, and we had way too much of it by his way of thinking.

Somewhere between the end of that summer and the next spring I came across the concept of organic gardening and began to read everything I could find about it.  For some reason, I just got all fired up about it.  I went on to plant all sorts of stuff, even some things that I was told "You can't grow that here". Well, that was the wrong thing to say.  Like dropping a steak in front of a wildcat. Sometimes, they were right, of course, but usually "You can't grow that here" really only means "I don't know how to grow that". In gardening, like most things, it's always better to try and fail than not to try.

Gardening probably should be taught in school somewhere along the way. It contains many lessons about hard work, patience, forward thinking, paying attention to the details, planning, and responsibility.

The long and the short of it is that I spent many a summer tending a rather expansive garden, using only shovels, hoes and a garden rake.

After high school, I moved to Houston with a friend and became a Texan.  Trouble was, I was living in apartments and there was no way to garden. Well, after that, life sorta happened and many years passed.  Way too many years.  Well, I finally got a little patch of dirt in the country now and will have time to play in the dirt again.  Maybe I will even make a mud pie or two.

And so begins this blog.

Chupacabra Humor

Took this picture last Spring about 10 miles up the main highway.

The creature in reference is a part of Latino culture and supposedly sucks the blood of goats.

You can learn more about the chupacabra here.

Where in The World is Reklaw???

Our place is on a county road in the southern tip of Cherokee County, Texas.  The county seat is Rusk, which is about 10 miles to the West. To the East is a very small place called Reklaw, which is simply Walker spelled backwards.  There is a story behind that name. I'll leave you to Google for it, though.

The road is paved (sorta) and is a dead-end.  There are only about 10 parcels on the road, so you get to know who is coming and going pretty well.  I will introduce you to some of them on the blog over the coming days/weeks/months. I will use first names only to retain their privacy.  After all, they choose to live where they do because they value solitude and privacy.  I intend on enjoying some of that solitude myself.

For instance.......

We have the guys at the end of the road who seem interested mostly in partying (as evidenced by the beer cans seen now and again along the road). But I just pick them up and add them to my collection of scrap. Thanks for the aluminum, guys.....party on!!!

We have the couple with the horse farm who raise pleasure horses. I enjoy hanging out on their deck in the spring and watching dozens of hummingbirds flit about from feeder to feeder.  I have a couple of feeders on my place, but he has a great deal more on his deck. He keeps an eye out for my place and I always get a call from him if he sees a car on the place he doesn't recognize, or freezing or stormy weather is going to happen when I'm away. 

Just past them and down a short dirt road is another couple who built their own house about 35 years ago,  I kinda like it, because the great room has a cathedral ceiling that runs from end to end and it is glassed from floor to ceiling at each end, so the trees and fields and cows seem like part of the house.
They are retired now, and they travel a lot. They have always been on the liberal side of things, and I'm sure that has tweaked many a nose over the years. I like that about them.

Then there is the elderly woman who lives in the log cabin in the woods across the road from me. You can't see anything but her driveway from the road. She and her first husband (she outlived two of them), built it from the ground up using timber they cut on the property. For many years she just had a dirt floor, now she has a wooden one.  All the door and cabinet hardware were hand made by her first husband (he was a blacksmith by trade). She still cooks on a wood stove and has no qualms about running pesky raccoons out of her garden, shotgun in hand.

There are a few more characters I will introduce later.  I need to get to bed before the sun decides to come back up.

Pictures of The Farm

 A view of part of the meadow in spring of 2012. You can barely see the house through  the trees. Right now, a guy down the road cuts it for the hay. He gets free hay and I get free mowing.  Works for me.

A view of part of the pond. It is a little over an acre, I believe.  It got very low during the drought, but never dried up.  It has Large Mouth Bass, and Red Eared Brim in it. In some parts of the U.S. the Brim are called Shell Crackers (they like to eat snails)

                  A reminder that Fall is near

We don't get the colors the Northeast does, but we get the occasional color mingled with the still green pines.

The moon shines through the trees on a clear fall East Texas night.