gardening

Earth friendly gardening

We all have something we are passionate about. Me? I am passionate about earth friendly organic gardening methods that benefit wildlife. And promoting childhood literacy through classical literature. A bit ADHD I might be. (***)

My sister-in-law, Kerri, is passionate about eliminating single use plastics. A point at which our passions overlap, like on a good Venn diagram. Kerri and I are both very interested in the 3 Rs – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. We both put an emphasis on the first two Rs – Reduce our impact on the earth. Reuse whenever possible.

Kerri founded SeaGreenProducts, to encourage others to look for alternatives to single use plastics.

I founded the melodious garden, which is a melody (ie: collection, garden) of passions. Passion 1: To promote beauty through gardening, both outdoors and in. Passion 2: To sell vintage items, which is, after all, the classic way to reuse things that are still full of life. Whether it be a piece of Pyrex from the ’60s, a table from the ’40s or a children’s book from the ’70s, if it is beautiful and still has life, I want to see that it finds a new home.

Kerri’s business has encouraged me to reflect on my own gardening practices and see what I already do to eliminate single use plastics – and to see where I have room for improvement! (Because. Don’t we all have room for improvement?)

One thing I have long done was purchase compost and mulch in bulk from a local supplier. One cubic yard of compost or mulch fits in the bed of a regular pick-up, which saves about 14 plastic bags from going to the landfill. If I order four cubic yards for delivery (the minimum amount my supplier will deliver), the price by bag and by bulk is comparable, but I save about 56 bags from going to the landfill. My garden can easily handle six cubic yards of fresh compost and mulch every two to three years, at which point it saves not only money but also 84 empty plastic bags from the landfill. I also find it easier (lazier…) to shovel the compost or mulch into a wheelbarrow than to wrestle the heavy and often wet plastic bags and get them ripped open.

I will admit that I do buy potting soil and fertilizers in plastic bags, as I have never seen them available any other way. This is obviously one of my areas for improvement. I do try and save empty nursery pots, as my garden club has an annual plant sale and we pot up plants from our own gardens for the sale. This is another area, though, that I would like to improve on. I do wish the nursery pots were recyclable or – better yet – biodegradable.

Composting… Not only does it keep food wastes out of the landfill, but it is a great way to make your own fertilizer. When shopping, I look for items in their natural containers that can be composted instead of sent to the landfill. One example is lemons.

lemon on milk glass

I buy ‘real’ lemons (or limes) instead of lemon juice in a little fake plastic lemon. The remains of the real lemon can be composted, whereas the plastic lemon may or may not end up recycled.

I also grow my own herbs, instead of buying store-bought herbs in plastic containers in the produce department.

summer3

Most herbs are extremely easy to grow, esp in flower pots! And nothing is more satisfying that stepping out the back door to pick your own herbs for supper.

I use our leaves on your own property rather than bagging them to send off to the landfill. We own a chipper/shredder and rake and shred the leaves before returning them to the garden beds, though a mulching mower is another alternative. Shredded leaves make excellent mulch. They can also be added to the compost pile, where they will break down quickly. Earthworms love shredded leaves, which is an added bonus. If you must bag your leaves, consider using large paper bags, purchased at home improvement stores, instead of plastic bags.

 

(*** As proof of that I submit to you: The poem I stumbled across and memorized by myself, for myself, when I was in elementary school. It is, I think, the perfect insight into my brain…

I meant to do my work today –
But a brown bird sang in the apple tree,
And a butterfly flitted across the field,
And all the leaves were calling me.
And the wind went sighing over the land,
Tossing the grass to and fro,
And a rainbow held out its shining hand –
So what could I do but laugh and go?
By Richard Le Gallienne) 

gardening, herbal fare

Harvesting herbs ahead of freezing weather

Wow. Is that a scary headline or what?!
Freezing weather?!
Here in North Texas, we are staring our first official freeze straight in the face. The night that all gardeners fear – the end of fresh basil and fall tomatoes… (Unless one is blessed with a greenhouse.)
Mid-November is our first average freeze date so we are due for some cold weather.
Most of our herbs are cold hardy here in zone 8a. We are fortunate to harvest thyme, rosemary and the like all winter long. But – basil, lemon verbena, scented geraniums, lemongrass…all melt at the first whiff of winter air.
Thankfully, there are as many ways to extend the season as there are ways to enjoy fresh herbs.
Without further ado, here is a list of my favorite ways to use summer herbs all winter long…

1.) Basil pesto
Pesto can easily be frozen in small Ball canning jars or ice cube trays, then thawed slightly to pop out and use all winter long.
Basil can also be chopped up and frozen in a bit of olive oil to be used as a dressing for salad or pasta.

2.) Herbal vinegars
lemon vinegar

I love to make herbal vinegars to use as a base for salad dressings. Use white vinegar, red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar – whatever suits your tastes. (And vinegar is inexpensive – try out some new varieties!) Add any combination of herbs, citrus rind, hot peppers, etc. Let set in a cool dark place for six weeks or so, to allow flavors to meld. Strain out herb mixture and pour vinegar back into a clean jar for use.

herbal vinegars

3.) Hang to dry, then store in Ball canning jars for winter stews, sauces and teas

4.) Herbal butters

herbal butter

Add herbs of choice (such as a mixture of parsley, thyme and basil) in a food processor with softened butter. Pulse until herbs are chopped and incorporated throughout the butter. Roll into a cylinder on wax paper and store in freezer until ready to use. (They can be stored about 3 months in the freezer. Butter can be stored 7-10 days in the fridge.) Use on vegetables or meats.

5.) Make and freeze bone broth or stock

6.)  Bake and freeze for later

rosemary zucchini bread

Baking and freezing is a great way to enjoy the fresh taste of herbs all winter long, plus gives you a head start on holiday festivities! (Orange rosemary cake with rum glaze pictured above. This recipe freezes incredibly well!)

What are your favorite ways to extend your herbal harvests?

 

bibliophile, gardening

Bulbs: Buy now. Plant later.

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
bulbbulb
If you find yourself wandering around the nursery and see – A host of golden daffodils! All bagged and begging to be bought! And visions of daffodils, beside the lake, beneath the trees, dance in your head…

Yes! Do buy them!

Just, please. Do wait to plant them!
Spring blooming bulbs are now in garden centers, but our soils are still too warm. The correct time to plant daffodils, tulips and such in zone 8a/North Texas is between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when our days are reliably cooler. For best selection, though, buy now. Just store them in a cool place for another six to eight weeks.
bulbdaffodil
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
daf
Daffodils are easy to plant. Dig a hole two to three times the height of the bulb and place the bulb pointy-side up. Cover with soil. Repeat. And then you, too, will have a crowd, a host of golden daffodils.
Or snow white daffodils.
daffodils 3
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
~ William Wordsworth
bulbtulip
Tulips are also easily planted. They have a definite “right side up” and “wrong side down.” But they do need to be chilled before planting in North Texas. (For as much as we like to complain about the weather, it doesn’t get cold enough to give tulips the right amount of chill hours…) Buy your tulips now, but store them in the veggie section of your refrigerator until closer to year’s end. (You can also mail order pre-chilled tulip bulbs. A few select garden centers, such as North Haven Gardens in Dallas, offer to store and chill your bulbs for you. You buy now. They store until ideal planting time. Then you have room for veggies in your fridge. Because you know you were worried about where to store your broccoli.)
Tulips are an annual in North Texas and are prone to wind damage, though they are beautiful in the garden. If garden space is a premium or money is a consideration, plant reliable bulbs, such as daffodils, and just plan to buy tulips from the florist. (See photo below.) (I do occasionally succumb to tulip-mania and plant tulips… Like this year.)
red tulips3
Anemones are another beautiful spring blooming flower that is planted in the fall. It is is a bit trickier to plant. Which way is up? Which way is down? Is this really a bulb or is it a dried mushroom?
bulbanemone
If you look closely at the bulb, you will see that one side has a circle with what looks like the source of now chopped off roots. That is down. Anemones are not reliably perennial in this area, but offer a bold splash of color come spring.
anemone
Plan now for your spring garden. Spring blooming bulbs are so rewarding!
herbal fare

Sweet Potato Cornbread Muffins

If you love sweet potatoes and you love cornbread (especially made with fresh milled cornmeal from a local farmer’s market), you have to try out this recipe.

sweet potato cornbread muffin

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup sweet potato, cooked
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup flour (I used gluten-free)
1 1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Lightly brush 12-cup muffin tin with oil.

Mix together sweet potato, eggs, oil and milk. Add in remaining ingredients and stir until combined. (Do not overmix.)

Pour batter into prepared muffin tin and bake 20 minutes, or until the cornbread is golden. Let cook five minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool.

boggy creek

gardening, nature

The creation of a thousand forests…

The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Yes. I know I often quote Emerson, but I was reminded of those thousand forests this afternoon when my puppy drug in the largest acorn I think I have ever seen.

burr oak cap

Sorry. No adorable puppy photo. But I was able to save the acorn cap to measure and photograph. It got me thinking about the bur oak tree… And how a long-time friend, Tamara, says that the bur oak tree is the “oakiest” of all the oak trees.

Indeed. It has the largest acorns.

Quercus macrocarpa – The bur oak’s latin name. Macrocarpa means “large fruit” in Ancient Greek. (Photo below is a slight exaggeration.)

oak ornament

It has the largest leaves.

burr oak leaf

The roughest corky bark.

burr oak bark

And. Truly. If the creation of a thousand forests is contained in a single acorn, then a million forests must be contained within a bur oak acorn.

burr oak with house

Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago. ~ Warren Buffett

I have read mixed reports of the bur oak’s rate of growth, but from personal experience, I would rate it as a fast grower.

We have two bur oak trees on our suburban lot. One planted by the developer 25 years ago and the other planted by a squirrel 15 years ago. Both trees now tower over our house. (Photo above and below.)

oak tree2

Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.  ~ Kahlil Gebran

The bur oak, which in the white oak family, is native to much of the United States, including North Texas. It is sometimes appropriately called “mossycup oak.” (See photo below.)

burr oak acorn

Bur oak trees can reach 100 feet tall and live to around 200-300 years old.

The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all, our most pleasing responsibility.  ~ Wendell Berry

November 1st is Arbor Day in Texas, so plan now to plant a shade tree so future generations can sit in its shade and wax poetically about forests and acorns.

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree oak tree. ~ Martin Luther

gardening

Fall Planting

Being able to garden and plant in the fall is our reward for surviving yet another hot and dry Texas summer. Planting in the fall may be a new idea to some gardeners, but there are many benefits to it.

The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago.
The second best time is now.
So the proverb goes…

harold

(My late father-in-law in his family’s garden seventy or so years ago. Check out those iris! A topic for another post…)

In Texas, Arbor Day is celebrated on November 1st, while the rest of the country celebrates the planting of trees in April. Why the difference? Because trees (and shrubs) planted in the fall get off to a much better start than those planted in April.

Our soil never freezes in zone 8a, even in our coldest winters, which means that plant roots continue to grow year round. Plants that are put into the ground now have time for their roots to get established, with at least six months of cooler temperatures and heavier rainfall before summer sets in yet again. The soil is still warm from summer, while the air is cooling down, thus creating better growing conditions. All of those factors give plants an advantage come August to plants that weren’t planted until spring.

If you are in the market for trees or shrubs and fall leaf color is a consideration, fall is a great time to visit nurseries and see plants while their leaves are turning color. Leaf color varies from tree to tree, even within one variety, so look for individual plants that have the most vibrant fall colors.

If you are in the market for trees, visiting a botanical garden or arboretum is a great way to look at many types of trees in one location. The Grapevine Botanical Garden, for example, is free and open to the public and features several dozen different trees, all native or well adapted to North Texas.

Need another reason to plant now? Fewer insects are out and about in the fall, which means less pest management and a more enjoyable gardening environment.

Trees, shrubs, hardy perennials and winter hardy annuals (such as pansies and ornamental kale) can all be planted now. Availability of plants will vary by garden center, with independent garden centers carrying the best selection in the fall.

Don’t forget that we can also grow vegetables, such as lettuce and beets, through the winter. Check with your county extension office for a chart of what vegetables can be planted now.

gardening, herbal fare

Rosemary + Lemon =

I am always looking for new ways to use fresh herbs in my baking, but often think I have tried every flavor combination possible. And then along came…

Rosemary lemon bars.

I was intrigued. And rightly so. The rosemary gave an earthy depth to the citrus punch of lemon bars. I won’t bore you with a recipe, aside from this: Add one to two tablespoons of fresh minced rosemary to the dough portion of your favorite lemon bar recipe. Be sure to incorporate well so the oils from the rosemary infuse the dough.

lemon rosemary bar2

A few culinary tips for the day…

Adding fresh lemon zest is one of the quickest ways to up the citrus flavor in any recipe. Be sure to zest just the yellow portion of the lemon. Do not zest the bitter white portion.

lemon zesting2

What is the easiest way to mince fresh rosemary?

rosemary1

Take the rosemary section and lay it down on a cutting board. Hold in place.

rosemary2

Run your knife down the leaves, just offset from the branch.

rosemary3

Once the leaves are off the branch, you can mince as fine as you like.

All rosemary varieties are edible, though they do vary in flavor and in growth habits.

Some rosemary plants grow as stiff upright shrubs. (See photo below.) Their branches can be cut and used as kebob skewers to impart more rosemary flavor into meat or mushrooms.

upright rosemary in pot

Trailing rosemary (shown below) is lovely growing over the edge of a raised bed, retaining wall or container.

trailing rosemary in pot

Rosemary is winter hardy in North Texas. If you are “blessed” with heavy clay soil, as many of us are, it is best to amend your soil with compost and earthworm castings, as rosemary likes well drained soil. Rosemary can be planted year-round in zone 8a, though garden centers will have the best selection in spring and fall.

lemon rosemary bar1

 

 

bibliophile, gardening

Scattering abroad

Fall may still be a week away, but the many seeds about my garden have me thinking of autumn, harvest and the promises held within each seed.

“For man, autumn is a time of harvest, of gathering together. For nature, it is a time of sowing, of scattering abroad.” ~ Edwin Way Teale

red yucca seed pod

Red yucca (shown above as a dried seed pod and below as a green seed pod) has put on quite the show this year and, as always, was a hummingbird magnet.

red yucca seed pod2

“The milkweed pods are breaking, and the bits of silken down float off upon the autumn breeze across the meadows of brown.” ~ Cecil Cavedish, The Milkweed

 butterfly weed

Milkweed, shown above and below, is still flowering and just now starting to set seed. It will be another month or so before we see the mature pods split open and the silky down float upon the autumn breeze.

milkweed

“Flowers and fruit are only the beginning. In a seed lies the life and the future.” ~ Marion Zimmer Bradley

pom in fall

Pomegranate (above) has quickly become one of my favorite shrubs. In flower and in fruit at once, it offers many colors and shapes at one time!

“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I don’t have much to say about Emerson’s quote… Please excuse me while I grumble under my breath about picking up buckets and buckets of acorns to stop those thousand forests from sprouting within my garden. (I do love my oak trees. I just don’t love the potential forests contained within each acorn the squirrels bury and leave behind for me to deal with.)

acorns

“This very act of planting a seed in the earth has in it to me something beautiful. I always do it with a joy that is largely mixed with awe.” ~ Celia Thaxter

coneflower seed1

Looking at the seed heads of the native coneflower, one is able to see where its common name originates.

coneflower seed2

“If seeds in the black earth can turn into such beautiful roses, what might not the heart of man become in its long journey toward the stars?” ~ G.K. Chesterton

rose hip1.png

“Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.” ~ Jim Bishop

Golden rose hips (above and below) from Thomas Affleck contain the rose’s many seeds.

rose hip2

“The seed cannot sprout upwards without simultaneously sending roots into the ground.” ~ Ancient Egyptian Proverb

(Bee balm seed head below)

bee balm seed

 

gardening

Organic lawn care 101

The PSA came across my garden newsfeed this week. Urgent! If you want a life without dandelions and henbit, NOW is the time to apply a pre-emergent!

As we walk through the neighborhood, we observe the lawns. Which ones often have the most weeds? The ones that are scalped in the spring, and regularly sprayed and fed with chemicals of all sorts. Pre-emergent. Weed killer. Chemical fertilizers.

Then we end our walk… looking at our own lawn, which has been organically maintained for 23 years now and is nearly weed-free. If I didn’t want to sound like an environmental zealot (which I don’t mind sounding like!), I would call our lawn “maintained the lazy way.” We have a long list of things we don’t do to our lawn.

We don’t scalp our lawn in the spring. (Cutting the grass too short allows more sun to hit the soil, drying it out faster, while also allowing weed seeds to germinate.)

We don’t bag our grass clippings. In fact, well, we don’t even have a typical lawn mower let alone a bag for it.

We don’t apply pre-emergents or weedkillers of any sort. The “weeds” we do fight are mostly self-inflicted weeds. Trumpet vine. Mexican petunia. I am not saying that we don’t get weeds. Yes, we do get weeds. But we chose to allow some  to grow (such as dandelions and henbit), as they are beneficial to the pollinators we depend upon. The few “weeds” we do get, we pull by hand.

A weed is a flower in the wrong place,
a flower is a weed in the right place… ~ Ian Emberson

Henbit, in particular, blooms in late winter and early spring when few other flowers are blooming. Dandelions – no matter how many wishes have been blown to the wind in our garden – have never reproduced to any point of being a nuisance.

Weeds can actually tell you a lot about your lawn. For example, clover in the lawn indicates low nitrogen levels. Sedge and bindweed generally grow in soils that are poorly drained, while dandelions grow in poor soil. Studying up on weeds can tell you a lot about your lawn and its needs.

A few lawn pointers:

Never mow lower than 2 1/2″ inches, while 3-4″ high is best. Mowing at least once a week during the spring disrupts weeds’ growing cycle, as the weeds never have time to set seed.

Leaving grass clippings on the lawn is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to add essential organic matter to your yard.

If you must apply a pre-emergent, consider using corn gluten meal, an organic method of controlling weed germination. (In full disclosure, I have never used corn gluten meal as weeds have never been an issue for us.)

sunflower3

Leave some leaf litter around the garden for lizards and bugs to hide out in through the winter. If you are lucky, you will also see birds, such as the brown thrasher, come in to thrash about, looking for food. (Above mentioned lizards and bugs. Such is the cycle of life)

“Darting about in the thickets,
His red-brown coat to veil,
Foraging there amongst dead leaves,
Thrashing his long brown tail.”
~ Alice E Ball

lawnmower1

We shocked the neighborhood when we moved in and proceeded to pull a brand new reel mower out of the garage. We had several neighbors come rushing over, offering us their gas powered lawn mowers “until we could afford a real lawn mower.” Cost wasn’t the reason we went with a reel mower. In fact, our reel mower, new, cost more than a basic (ie: cheap) lawn mower. We knew from experience that a reel mower did just as good of a job of maintaining a lawn, while also being environmentally friendly, quiet and low maintenance.

lawnmower2

There are two small downsides to the reel mower: Twigs will stop the blades immediately, so all lawn debris does need to be picked up first. (Which is advisable with all lawn mowers.) Deeper patches of grass (like after a rainy period) may need a few quick passes, in alternating directions, to be cut evenly.

Every few years, we take it into the shop and get the blades sharpened. (We could do that on our own, but prefer to hire it done.) That is the extent of its upkeep.

Flower beds prevail over lawn today, but our house – situated in a cul-de-sac – has a large yard, by suburban living standards.  When we first moved in, we had quite a bit of yard to mow, but it was never an issue to mow it with the reel mower.

We have now had said reel lawn mower for 23 years now and still love it as much today as we did when we first bought it.

vintage

A “ruff” photo shoot

It all started well enough…

A dried sunflower or three in an old enamel coffee pot…

But then… My Master wanted more green…

So she put the coffee pot and the sunflower or three on the lawn…

dried sunflower 1

Hm… My little curious nose said. Dried sunflowers?

dried sunflower 2

Dried? Sunflowers?

dried sunflower7

I mean. Who can resist dried sunflowers, right?

I know this little puppy can’t!

dried sunflower4

And. What is more important? A photo shoot of some old dried sunflowers in an old enamel coffee pot?

Or… My happiness?

dried sunflower6

Yup. My happiness won out.

dried sunflower 3

The End.