Archive for January, 2010

Biointensive gardening

Last summer, after our plants finally gave in to the Austin heat, I was perusing the garden blogs (probably homegrownevolution.com) looking for inspirations to improve our garden. I happened upon a post about a book called How to Grow More Vegetables: And Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains and Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine by John Jeavons, and decided that the title alone was enough for me to bite. So, I went to the library and checked it out, and sure enough, I was quite intrigued. How to Grow More Vegetables is the primer on biointensive gardening, a method of gardening that focuses on maximizing your food production and improving your soil. The book claimed that I could grow tons of vegetables (and fruits, nuts, berries…) using only 100 sq. ft. of land, and to top it off, it wouldn’t be that hard or take that much time. Actually, I guess the most important thing about biointensive gardening is that the long-term goal is to create a sustainable garden, one that doesn’t require any external ingredients like soil, fertilizer, or even seeds. Quite lofty, but it made me want to give it a go.

Turns out that Andria and I were fairly busy last fall, so I had to set the biointensive gardening ideas aside for a few months. But now we’re ready. We’ve got some seeds planted, a crappy mini-greenhouse built, and a new pile of brown and green material starting to compost. Here’s to hoping that we can keep this blog useful, current, and interesting, and that we can keep our cats out of the seed flats!

Iz in ur flats squishin ur seedz

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Central Texas Gardening 101

Today we woke up and headed to the Zilker Botanical Garden for a “Central Texas Gardening 101” presentation, given by the Travis County Master Gardeners Association. Master gardeners are people who know a lot about horticulture, have a good deal of training, AND are willing to impart their knowledge with the local community. The two-hour seminar was free and one of many coming up this year. I would absolutely recommend them. We took home tons of great information and eagerness for warm weather. You can check out other upcoming seminars on the Central Texas Horticulture blog. You might see us wandering around at these:

  • Growing Your Own Potatoes — February 13
  • Spring Vegetable Gardening — March 13
  • Become a Garden Detective — May 29

After today, we know a lot more about Austin’s wacky soil, when and when not to ammend it, and how to improve our compost. We also got a sense of urgency to prune, prune, prune plants asap. If it’s not 30 degrees tomorrow, I’ll be spending some quality time with the lantana. We can leave the compost up to Blair.

The biggest highlight of today though was meeting Shilah, a beautiful, healthy newborn baby girl. Congrats to our wonderful friends, Morgan and Jon!

An evolution in backyard gardening

Now approaching our fourth year of backyard gardening, one would hope we could bring some sophistication to our crops this year. We started gardening when we moved into our house in the spring of 2007, with no experience whatsoever. We didn’t know anything about good soil, planting techniques, watering, or climate. After a few years of experimenting, we’re trying to get serious. We’ve started this blog to record our memories each year and to share what we learn along the way. This first post gives a quick rundown of our backyard garden history and evolution.

When we moved into our house in April 2007, we started with a few potted heirloom tomato plants (Black Krim and Cherokee Purple). Blair’s mom is a master gardener in Oklahoma City, so she helped us out with that selection. We don’t have a lot of direct sunlight in our backyard, and our soil is pretty rocky, so we used pots. We got decent results, but the plants didn’t live into the hot Austin summer. We learned that you need to plant tomatoes early, right after the last spring frost, to give them plenty of time to grow outside before August hits. When the soil doesn’t get down to ~65-70 degrees at night, tomato plants don’t fruit. They will grow, but they won’t fruit. Quite deceptive.

Potted tomato plants

Moving into 2008, we cleared out some sunny bed space for another spring garden. We had more luck this year, starting the plants early. This is also when we discovered The Natural Gardener. This place is a paradise for any gardener! This is the year we also learned how important organic gardening is for our bodies and for the local ecosystem. We planted heirloom tomatoes again (because we were hooked on that homegrown taste) and added a few new crops — bell peppers, jalapenos, basil, and Chinese cucumbers. We also provided homes for some critters — lizards and toads.

Lizard in the jalepeno plant

All these crops did well and gave us plenty to eat throughout the spring and summer. Out of pure curiosity, we kept watering the plants through August, September, and October to find that once that soil cooled back down, our tomato plants started fruiting again! We got another few months of tomatoes before winter rolled in. We also planted some cantaloupe and honeydew in the fall, but they were ridden with pests. We tried some natural insecticidal soap spray, but it didn’t give us great results. We only got a few melons off our vines. 

Cantaloupe pests

This moves us into 2009, the year of the above-ground bed. We continued to use last year’s bed for herbs (cilantro and basil), edamame, and leeks. We (Blair) built an above-ground bed with some scrap wood and chicken wire. This housed our tomatoes, carrots, spinach, onions, eggplant, and okra. Needless to say, we went a little wild. We were only successful with the tomatoes, carrots, and spinach. We never got a single onion or eggplant. Maybe we packed too much into a small space? Maybe these weren’t the correct companion plants? In the other bed, the edamame produced a few results but were finished fruiting by June. The herbs and leeks did well. 2009 was really the year of great tomatoes for us, finally! The difference…good soil. We began composting in 2008 and were able to use that soil in the above-ground bed. We didn’t opt for a fall garden in 2009. We had plenty to keep us busy that fall (our wedding).

Above-ground bed with compost soil

This moves us into 2010, with spring right around the corner. Instead of buying only plants this year, we’re trying our luck with some seeds and a mini greenhouse that Blair is building. I personally would have bought the Seedhouse Jr. from Amazon.com for $25, but what fun is that? Blair didn’t give in. He’s dedicated to building this thing with some PVC pipe, plastic sheeting, and rebar. Pics to come!