Posted by: ssorrrell | October 27, 2007

First Freeze

The first freeze happened this week.  Monday, was kind of iffy.  There was some damage around the edges of certain beds.  Tuesday, I pulled all the tomatoes and watermelon left on the vines.  The tomatoes really blew me a way.  There’s 15-20 lbs of green fruit.  This is 2-4 times what I pulled off in the summer.  The freeze was a bit worse on Tuesday night, but not enough to kill the tomatoes.  It was enough to destroy almost every single leaf on the pumpkin.  It hasn’t gotten near freezing since then.  All the plants, except the pumpkin are doing pretty good.  Some, like nasturtiums, seem to have a little antifreeze in them.

It’s kind of sad to see the vegetables slowing down.  There’s a lot less work to do on them.  Just kind of waiting till they finally kick it.

Today, I dug up a ring around the oak tree in the front yard.  The tulips finally came in this week.  I broke sod and hoed in hay and bulb food.  It’s been really dry.  So, I watered and will plant tomorrow.  I have 85 mixed to put down.  The other yards look spectacular in the spring and it would be nice to join in.
There’s some to do inside.  All those hyacinth bulbs I started forcing in August are doing great.  They will make a highly odoriferous display for months.  Something like 25 bulbs in pots.

Posted by: ssorrrell | October 27, 2007

Mulch Found

There was no post last week, because I was spreading mulch in the backyard. A friend who’s brother is a farmer dropped off a small round bale of 2 yr old hay. It took most of a day to spread most of the bale over the entire backyard, except for the beds. It’s kind of thin over the grass, 2-3″. And it’s very thick over the bare and weedy spots, ~6″. The entire yard is a golden yellow. And there’s still quite a bit of hay left. As soon as I could more the core I hid it behind the fence. There’s 2-3 square bales worth in it. This was quite a job I would rather not repeat. Hopefully, there’s enough organic matter to grass next year. In the spring, I’ll though seed.

In this area, straw mulch is probably the best thing. It’s way cheaper than repeatedly loading the El Camino with 2 cu ft at a time. This biome is a nearly treeless grassland. It’s a local product. So, there’s less fuel spent getting it to the store and it benefits local businesses.

Posted by: ssorrrell | October 6, 2007

In Search of Mulch

This year I’m trying lots of mulches looking for the right price point and effectiveness.  There are many variables.  Particularly, the duration of the mulch, its effect on the soil, side effects (weed seeds), surface area covered per $, shipping cost, storage before it’s laid, and the work required to put it down.  And some variables have their own fluctuations like the multiple brands of the same type of mulch with different price points and different sources of mulch.

Carrying anything myself severely limits the reasonable quantity.  The El Camino can carry about 40 40 lb bags.  This is not a lot and it almost drags the ground.  So, you don’t want to go far.  A 2 cu ft bag is 20-50 lbs.  The loading and unloading take a while.  You’re not going to show up at the checkout stand with 40 bags of anything.

What I got so far leads me to think old, moldy, 1-2 yr straw from a local farmer is best.  It wins on both sides.  It’s not good to feed to cows and it makes horses sick.  All the weed seeds are germinated and it’s much better than fresh straw.  Deteriorates much quicker.  There are two types of straw; wheat, regular straw, and alfalfa, green and smelly.  Straw goes for $4-5 per bale at local feed stores for ~50 lbs.  9-10 bales will fit in the El camino.  The bales are tightly compressed.  This can’t be said of any bag mulch.  So, when you cut the strings there’s quite a bit to spread around.  At least I hope so.  Haven’t cut one yet.  Friday, I got 9 bales of alfala.  Hopefully, I’ll get 10 mouldy straw bales tomorrow.

The major plantings have been mulched with pine bark, pecan shells, and cypress.  There are some huge spots in the backyard where it’s not economical to pay $3 for 2 sq ft.  Pretty much half the back yard.  Say, 30′ X 40′ will be dirt before spring returns.  In half of it cool season grass came in early and then died from lack of water and excess heat.  Every time the lawn more runs over it the thin dried grass stems blow away.

The other half has been covered by low growing weeds that spread some feet from a central stem.  I think these weeds seek to improve the soil using taproot to obtain nutrients and water and cover the ground with dead plant material adding humus.  Hopefully a large quantity of plant material will negate the need for them next summer and I can have grass.  Without some action, half the backyard will be a dry, dusty, cracked landscape.  I even considered having a several tons of feedlot manure dumped on the backyard, but I don’t think they can get the truck back there and I don’t want the job of hauling 10 tons myself in a wheel barrow.

Here’s what I seen so far.

Pine bark has done relatively well.  From past experience, it will be gone in 2-3 months and you wont even remember putting it out.  It was $5 per bag with delivery.

Pecan Shells seem great.  The snails don’t like them.  There are a lot in a 2 cu ft bag.  The color is good and they are a regional product.  At $8 per bag with delivery they are an accent piece only.  Really just the front yard.

Cypress mulch was not a good idea after I looking it up on the Internet.  It comes from wetlands, very far from here, and those may be endangered.  It looks good, rather light colored.  Very light and fluffy.  This was $2.50 at Home Depot.

Posted by: ssorrrell | September 30, 2007

Fall Bulbs

Time to order fall bulbs.  I picked ones that should survive limited water and clay soil.

Black Eyed Susan
Perennial Hibiscus
Golden Sedum
Red Sedum

Posted by: ssorrrell | September 27, 2007

Results of the Green Manure Plantings

Over the past three months I’ve put various green manure seed out; crimson and white clover, banner bean, oats, and common vetch. The only reliable seed is the banner bean. Oats are growing in one of the ground beds where the seed was able to hide among the decomposing sunflower stalks. In other areas, I haven’t noticed the seed sprout or if it does it fails within days.

The banner beans are great. They usually sprout where you put them. There are several plants about 6-8 inches high. None were planted thickly like the oats or clover. I don’t know if this will be a problem.

When I noticed this green manure succeed I started looking for the reason. It seems banner beens have a taproot, do well in compact clay soil, and survive cold temperatures. The large seed size and taproot are probably the source of success. Bugs and snails haven’t been too much of a problem either. Definitely, will be planting again.

I planted seed in several more places around the yard to see what kind of conditions they will sprout in and how the winter affects them. Some are at the base of the baby oak, the magnolia, and one of the large flower beds. It has beautiful tulips and daffodils in the spring.

The books say banner beans get to 4 ft and produce a lot of green matter. It will be interesting to see this. Large, winter, nitrogenating annuals would be very helpful. I wish I could find a few winter hardy company green manures to go along with the beans. It may be too late this year.

Posted by: ssorrrell | September 27, 2007

Fall Mulch

It’s fall and I started putting down mulch. Pete’s Greenhouse did not have the same selection of mulch as in the spring. I got 21 bags of pine bark and 6 bags of pecan, just to be different. The pecan was pricier, but worth it for certain areas. It’s got a natural red color and looks to be very discouraging to snails and cats. The pine bark is much finer and will easily dissolve by spring. Most of it was spread around today, but the light ran out.

It’s important to water very well before applying as the mulch will seal the ground. The trickle hoses ran till the ground seemed saturated.

A few spots are left. The Magnolia tree’s mulch is completely gone. It was the thickest in the spring. There wasn’t enough time to let the hose soak that area. The roses need something. They sit next to the house and catch runoff. That ground absorbs organic matter at an incredible rate. I’m not comfortable putting decomposing wood products that close to the house. Several bales of straw might be helpful. And hopefully cheaper. When the raised beds die down after the first hard freeze, several ft3 can be added to raise the level of the soil.

Update 9/30/2007: I put down 10 bags of cheap pine bark and 4 bags of cyprus mulch around the yard. It can probably use another 20-30 bags. Thats ~60 2 ft3 bags twice a year.

To see if the snails would walk on the pecan shell mulch, I dropped three in a sleeping planter that was mulched.  After two days they hadn’t moved.  It would be great if this is a snail deterant.  I could border all the planting beds.

Posted by: ssorrrell | September 16, 2007


Every day brings us one more closer to the first frost.  The one that will likely kill most of the vegetables and fruits.  It’s sad to see.  Some of the plants like the cucumbers won’t make it much longer anyway.  They are soaking up all their remaining energy and nutrients to make fruit and a mad pace.  Even as the leaves wither and fade they are replace more blooms.  The cantaloupes are making the switch from growth to fruit production and are just at the point when the plant dims a little.  When leaf damage is repaired, destroyed leaves aren’t replaced, and growth is slowed to a crawl.

The tomatoes have made a nearly complete turnaround.  Conquering the wilt that threatened to turn the bed into a wasteland and growing far more than before.  Some branches having sprawled out 4′ or more from the roots.  But without the 75+ F temperatures needed to set fruit all of it is in vain.  Other plants like the cosmos and basil are being allowed to finally set seed.  Stalks of dead sunflowers remain scattered here and there in beds for support to vines.  Rather like the monuments of Rome’s greatness scattered about Europe.

The watermelons that were started too late hurry to grow melons in decreasing light and lower temperatures.  Still growing out 15′ from their centers.  Morning glories having long taken over a trellis to form a wall now joy in catching the last rays the sun casts on the backyard.  While hidden in their legs are Hops planning to outrun them next year.  For the first time in their tough transplanted lives suffering no disease or pest problems from too small containers.  Dead stalks of 2′ tall corn stand in little spots around the yard.  Lack of sun, water, or nutrients having kept them from reaching their 7′ tall magnificence.

And weeds like Lamb’s Quarter are finally setting seed after growing and getting pulled a thousand times.  There are no Dandelions, Larkspur, or other hot season volunteers.  No more June bugs, moths, caterpillars, tomato bugs, mosquitoes, or flea beetles.  But the spiders still build huge 2′ X 3′ nets to catch something.  What the caterpillars ate the snails now eat.  And the pill bugs are everywhere eating the remnants of the summer’s energy.

Some seed is thrown that can take advantages of winter’s low competition and glacial growth to improve next years spring.  Final trimming to bushes and trees are made and put into the full compost bin.  Trees prepare their seeds to drop and plan that one weekend when they will all change colors and then drop everything.  Fall.

Posted by: ssorrrell | September 16, 2007

Hyacinths Planted

Last weekend I picked up some hyacinth bulbs. In March the fragrance from a couple of pots made the new house smell wonderful for weeks. It’s easy to force them to bloom all winter. Just grow the bulbs in a refrigerator for 12 weeks. Yeah, sounds funny, but I’m serious. You only need a temperature of 50 F or so. Today, I picked up a mini fridge and a wine cooler. The wine cooler has a glass door and light. It looks perfect.

There are 23 pots. I potted up all of them, but most are sitting outside. Every 2 weeks I’ll put in 5 more. On 12/9 I should have the first 5 blooming. Then for 2 months afterwards; till about the end of February – beginning of March.

Posted by: ssorrrell | September 8, 2007

Bread and Butter Pickles

When I pulled down the Sunflowers two of the barely alive cucumbers came back to life and started fruiting. In addition, the lemon cucumbers have been fruiting like crazy. This week I got 9 small Lemon cukes and 4 regular size Straight 8s. I made a mistake with the okra by not picking it for canning. Last week I got the stuff for Bread and Butter pickles; 5% white vinegar, B & B mix, jars, and sugar.

Tonight, I mixed the ingredients according to the B & B mix, sliced the cucumbers, and prepared a dozen pints and 3 quarts. The syrup tasted fantastic before I pouring it in the jars of cukes. They should be done in a month to 6 weeks. It was very easy. Took about an hour and a half.

Update 9/16/2007:
The lemon cukes are in full production.  About a dozen fruit this week.  The lemon cukes produced enough for half a batch.  So, I got some supermarket green and finished off the batch.  The wax on them bugs me to no end, but I don’t see how to get it off and the mix doesn’t make half batches well.  I had given up on the Straight 8 plant after the first batch, but there are three that will be done this week.  So, next weekend maybe it will be pickle relish instead of pickles.

Posted by: ssorrrell | August 26, 2007

Mr Stripey Tomato

This year I got three tomato varieties in ~6 plants.  One of them was a clearance Mr Stripey plant.  The others started from seed.  I had no idea what to expect.  It was competing against multiple, older seeds of a hybrid and Cherokee Purple.

It started slow.  Buried, like all the tomatoes at up to half of the main stem.  The neighboring Cherokee Purple took off quickly dwarfing the smaller Mr Stripey and surrounding herbs; basil, marjoram, and wormwood.  In June, the CPs were struck with a bacterial disease.  The Mr Stripey was affected to.  As the lower leaves disappeared more light was received by the herbs.  Mr Stripey and the basil have filled the spot once held by the slowly dying and very large CP.

The Mr Stripey took about the same amount of time to bear as the CPs.  They started as seed and began in June and continue.  The fruit is larger and less frequent.  It yields an orange, low acid fruit with a mild taste.  The pictures show stripped orange and lighter orange tomatoes.  I’ve only seen this on a few tomatoes and seldom on the fruit that is still on the vine.  If you bring it in and let it sit on the counter a day or so it will look more like the picture.

It has been a good vine; very vigorous with larger fruit and more bacterial or wilt disease resistance than Cherokee Purple.  I would definitely grow again.  And have already ordered the seeds.

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