February 24, 2010
Snow today, sunny and warm tomorrow! Yes, it is time to start your spring gardens. Don’t let this snow fool you! It’s a good time to build your garden beds, prepare your soil, and sketch out your spring planting plans. You can still plant some cool weather crops in your garden like lettuce, carrots, and beets, but you can also work your soil in anticipation of planting your tomatoes in early to mid-March and your peppers in late March. Yum!
I am experimenting with some interested borders for raised beds this spring. My kids call the snow-covered coil next to our snow gardener (snow gardener because he has a flowering rosemary feather, a bamboo nose and a yarrow smile) a coconut snake. It is actually coir or tightly wound fiber from ground up coconut shells. (Coir is also used in some potting soil mixes since it is considered more sustainable than peat moss.) My husband uses the coconut snakes for erosion control in his trail building projects so I thought they might make lovely, soft and round borders for raised vegetable gardens. You can lay them out in any shape and stake them down with wooden stakes or metal pins. There are no sharp edges on the snakes that might be dangerous. Like most materials that are used to outline raised garden beds, they do weather and change colors. But these coconut snakes last many years out in the woods, along trails, so I think they’re worth a try!
After figuring out the shape of my beds, I’ll stake the logs, prepare the soil (by forking the existing soil, spreading some newspaper, and then adding some “rose magic” soil), and plant some vegetables. I’ll let you know how things work out.
Joe Henry helps me lay out the coconut snakes.
February 15, 2010
One of the best parts of my job is meeting many fabulous, interesting and inspiring people doing really cool things. I feel lucky to live in such a creative city. Of course, I also love that there are so many folks digging in to where they live, literally. Almost everyone I know has a garden or backyard chickens. And so many of my conversations, whether they are short and sweet while dropping off my son at school or long and serious at an evening get-together with friends, involve talk about soils, vegetables, fruit trees, bee hives or our wacky Central Texas weather! People are really in touch with this place and their passions and I am grateful to be a part of their lives! Dawn Johnson of Rabbit in the Rain Studio and MamaBubbleFish is one of those creative and inspiring Austinites that I taught in a backyard workshop a year ago. (She participated in the workshop with her baby strapped to her chest the entire time.) She recently posted her story about her edible yard and her experience working it. It made me realize how valuable her story is and how I’d love to hear from more of my (past) students about their experiences! If you have a story to tell (or a question or concern), please send them my way!
February 9, 2010
Valentine’s Day marks potato planting season in Austin. I think these red lasoda potatoes would make a sweet valentine for your beloved gardener! Seed potatoes can be purchased at many garden centers around town such as the Natural Gardener or The Great Outdoors. You can also buy seed potatoes online or at the grocery store – just make sure you purchase organic potatoes. Non-organic potatoes may have been irradiated so they won’t re-sprout. (Seed potatoes are basically just potatoes that can be cut up and re-planted.)
Once you have some seed potatoes, you should cut them up into pieces for curing. Make sure that each piece has at least two eyes. The new potato plants will sprout out of these eyes. To cure the pieces, simply set them out in a cool place with good air circulation for at least a few days. You can also dust the potatoes with dusting sulphur to prevent them from rotting. If some of the eyes sprout, that’s good – it will give your potato plants a head start when you plant them in the ground.
Potatoes do best in loose soil (double-dug soil is ideal) with plenty of added compost. You can even grow potatoes in a bucket full of straw! Plant each potato piece about 6-8 inches deep and 12-18 inches apart. Once the potato plants are about 8-12 inches tall, hill the potatoes by raking or push soil or mulch up around the stems. Hilling potatoes allows more potatoes to form off of the stem so don’t be afraid to pile that soil up until there’s only a few inches of plant remaining above ground!
When your potato plants begin to bloom, you can harvest new potatoes. They will probably be small but very tender and tasty. The longer you leave your spuds in the ground, the bigger they will get. You can harvest or dig your potatoes using a digging fork in late spring or early summer. Wash and dry them, then store them in a cool, dark place for many months.