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Category Archives: Makin’ it Snappy Outside

Don’t Look Directly At Them


Yes, those are REAL lemons on MY tree. Oh, and some jalapenos cropping up in front of them, too.

Food. From my garden.

I can hardly stand the stress of watching those lemons ripen. What if the cold weather kills them? What if the poor tree just gives out? After the great harvest of one last year, to see two dozen make it this far hardly seems possible. This poor tree has been through it, too: leafminers and some kind of mite and ants. Just a whole bunch of mess, not to mention the clueless gardener tending to them. Did I fertilize too late in the season? Perhaps, although perhaps not. It’s really hard to find definitive advice! Also, from what I read yesterday, I should have thinned out the fruit a little more. Oops.

In my defense, nature usually took care of this for me in past seasons. Who was I to start plucking off perfectly good lemons?

Speaking of which, I picked the first four yesterday. So juicy!!! Not as sweet as I’d hoped, which may be due to the whole “too many fruit” thing. Still — juicy! Juicy, beautiful fruit from MY YARD!

(Need I say that I now want to plant another one, plus a grapefruit to accompany it? Goodbye superfluous deck, hello orchard!)

31 Days: Taking It Outside

We don’t get out much. Between the mosquitoes and the pollen and the ragweed, it’s very hard for me to bring myself to spend time in the yard. Believe it or not, that actually kind of kills me, because I love being outside. Love it!

(Surprised? Well, who could blame you — you’ve never seen me outside.)

Unfortunately, our yard very quickly slips into complete shambles if we don’t stay on top of it.  So many weeds…. And we don’t stay on top of it, so it looks really great right now. The thing is, it’s a pretty big job to weed the yard. Also, most of the bedding plants are from the previous owner, and that is some hodge-podge bunch of ugly. They did pick very hardy, low-maintanence plants, which would sound like a good thing, but remember that they’re ugly. Ugly, not ever going to die plants.

Ah, but I have a plan:

Now that the weather (but not the darn bugs or air quality) is tolerable, I’m trying to air the kids out before dinner time a little more frequently. It seems like we never have enough time for that either, but it turns out that we usually do — at least a couple of times a week. Today, while they were distracted by fighting over the bubbles and whatever else they find to bicker over, I pulled a ton of weeds out of the front bed. I would’ve pulled them all, but there was a giant fire anthill hidden under one patch; left that one alone. Next time, I’m going to test the limits of my upper body strength by trying to dig out some of the un-lovelies. Since they are green and alive, I might even find another home for them in the back. We’ll see. The main thing is to clear out the bed so that it can be mulched and I can stop weeding long enough to figure out what to do with this space. I need time to just gaze at the beds as a nice clear space and cook up a planting scheme for winter.

After that, I’ll take on the back. There’s only about a 1% chance of that happening in what remains of 2012, but we have been on a tear lately. Who knows?



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Well, the garden yielded quite the bounty of Sun Chello tomatoes on Sunday:

Yep — three whole [tiny] tomatoes at once! It was quite the day.

Now I’m on to nervously watching the red grape variety to see if they make it all the way to ripe without being poached by a bird or otherwise destroyed. There’s just so many on there, and I just know they’ll be so delicious.

 High anxiety, you win.

This Time For Sure

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I all but swore that I wouldn’t do it again. “Only a few herbs!”, was my mantra.

But –

I received a lovely Plants For All Seasons  [my favorite neighborhood nursery] gift card…and the tomatoes looked so tempting…

…that the battle cry turned into, “Only cherry tomatoes this year!” (or grape, as the case may be.)

Then…I read a little more about raised bed planting, and how easy it was to construct one out of cement blocks [no building required!], so…

…a garden was born! We won’t call it a “plot” for fear it will turn into one; it’s still early in the season.

As you can see, I came to play this year; netting as far as the eye can see. Think you’re going to dig in my dirt this year, squirrels? Shoo!

OK, but that’s not the exciting part. Those pictures were actually taken back in March. Here’s how things are growing today:

 Are you believing your eyes?!?

Yes, those are dozens of tomatoes on that [alarmingly straggly] stem, and those are teeny tiny cucumbers trying to work their way up the plastic cage/trellis. AND we did, in fact, eat those two baby strawberries this morning, and they were de-licious. For real–I wish I had twenty-five more plants so that I’d have a shot at one little pot of jam, because it would be the best ever, but for now, I’m happy with the little half-snack we had today.

The lettuce was kind of a dismal failure. Next year, I’ll be planting that much earlier, but still — we grew something from seed! Amazing!

And, finally, the mint of my dreams. Please don’t die, little mint.

I mean, are you already bracing yourself for the sad follow-up post where I show all of the little withered tomato carcasses and black-stemmed mint stalks? Is it even possible that a season will pass without it?

Time will tell.

Hang In There, Little One!

She is the sole survivor; The Highlander, if you will. The only lemon budlet to survive the rigors of Spring 2010. As I carefully covered the tree with a sheet last week, before the first freeze, I couldn’t help but think I was winding my little yellow friend’s shroud. But! She made it! Now, she’s almost ripe, and I can hardly stand the wait. Is it wrong that I don’t want the kids out on the deck, lest they should fall and hurt…the lemon? Please — don’t judge me. Didn’t you read the part where I mentioned this is THE ONLY ONE? And please don’t forget that this is the THIRD TREE we’ve blown through. The others? Well, they were gone before they had a chance. Gardeners, we are not.

Or are we? Because there’s one honkin’ big lemon in my backyard which would suggest otherwise. Just a few more days….

Next: The anxiety over how to use said lemon, and the hope that I’ll make a decision before the little beauty starts to mold.

We’d Surely Starve

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It’s not that I don’t want to grow my own produce and live off the fat of the land, as it were. Really, there’s nothing I’d love more than to pop out into the yard and pick some veggies for the evening meal. Or maybe even have to make little herb bouquets to place throughout the house because the herb garden is just growing out of control.

Or, for that matter, be able to enjoy one single blasted lemon from my beautiful Valley Lemon tree.

Now look closely at this photo: Do you see the little lime-looking thing on the fence? That was one of the two remaining ripening fruits on my little baby tree, and no, I did not put it there. There were originally five; three disappeared without a trace. Then I look out the window to see this madness.

Clearly, at this point, the squirrels are toying with me; I can think of no other explanation.

Curiosity got the best of me, so I brought this poor little lemon in for further examination. It was only one of the best smelling lemons ever. Of course. It might not be that healthy, mentally speaking, to be so sad over citrus, but there you go. That last one is still hanging on, but it almost pains me to check up on him now. Who knew the ripening process took so long?!

In other garden news, one basil plant does appear to be going gangbusters. Could it have been bolstered by the tomato plant buried beneath it? I wonder. The other basil to the failed tomato on the other side of the yard isn’t faring nearly as well. The mint is looking puny, but still productive.

Let’s just hope I never have to sustain this family with a “victory” garden. I’m not sure I could ever develop a fondness for squirrel stew, despite my hillbilly heritage. [D’ya think Uncle Robert has any recipes “squirreled away”, Mom?]

Bloom and Grow

OK, I think I’ve stumbled upon a winning combo for the flowerpot on my mostly shady porch: coleus and Impatiens.

Fellow Houstonians, this made it through the entire summer last year, and the Impatiens only gave up the ghost entirely during that nasty freeze a couple of months ago. Please note that this was despite the fact that I forgot to water them quite often, only remembering when they started to wilt. Oops.

Here’s this year’s new batch, two short weeks ago… 

… and here’s what they look like now:

See? Not dead!! Dare I say that they appear to be thriving? I know that it’s not even hot yet, but still – this is promising!

On a less promising note, I did plant one grape tomato and two basil plants in the backyard. There were originally two tomato plants, but the squirrels got to one before I had a chance to get it into the pot.

Yes: before I even planted it. The roots were all exposed when I went to take it out of the nursery pot, which tipped me off to the fact that it had been tampered with [bushy-tailed rats], and then the stem broke in my hand when I went to transplant it. Now, I know that you can sometimes save the seedling by taping up the stem, but come on – what are the odds that I could successfully nurture a broken tomato to fruition? Yeah. I just buried it under the basil.

Oh, and the new lemon tree was attacked by aphids almost immediately, and ended up dropping most of its blossoms. The leaves, however, are still looking good, so there’s hope yet!

Do My Eyes Deceive?

Check out what I spied out the back window the other morning:

Yep, it’s last summer’s mint — resurrected! After it died a spectacular death around, oh, July (as it does every year, despite its unkillable reputation), I figured we’d seen the last of it (as we do every year, until I go and buy a new plant in the spring and try again). But no! This year it came back!

Does this mean that it’s going to be hardier and more magnificent than ever before?

Will it last the summer?

Should I give tomatoes another shot?? [Kevin’s not here right now, but I bet somewhere in Houston, he just felt the sudden urge to shout, “NO!!”]

Or maybe just stick with herbs?

Because this here would be Mint’s buddy, Rosemary, who managed to survive the shocking freeze which killed all living green things last month. Did I cover her? Or even, say, drag her over to the covered portion of the patio? The answer, of course, is no. In my defense, though, it could be noted that I’m not used to having anything to bother covering. Also, I figured it has secretly died already, and I’ll not be made a fool of by my own plants.

Not after what happened with the lemon tree. [We hardly knew ye, Meyer.]

Summer Snippets: Not Dead Yet

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The mint, basil, and rosemary (and some lime basil, not pictured) still appear to be thriving. Mind you, this is despite the tiny snails and possibly some kind of leaf miner. Oh, and the fact that I planted them, which is the biggest curse of all.

Don’t believe me? I’ve been informed that the men of the house pray for my plants every night. They can’t stand to see me standing heartbroken amongst the twigs that were once “unkillable” edibles one more time. Thanks, guys.

We’ve already dined on the basil and mint a couple of times, so at least they’ve about paid for themselves. I hesitate to hope for much more than that. Maybe I need to borrow a little faith from my prayer warriors.

Tomato, We Hardly Knew Ye

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(Or: Gardening May Not Be For Me)

What you see there is the remnant of the lone ripening tomato that was on the vine when I left the house on Monday afternoon. This is what was left of it by the time we got back two hours later. Oh, there was a little green one, too; I later spotted half of it over by the barbecue.

Never have I felt such murderous rage toward the nasty, stinking squirrels that consider our backyard their home. A logical person would realize that they probably would’ve carried on their dirty pillaging right under our noses, but I’m not so sure. I think it was a plot.

This makes my fourth failure in the pursuit of successful tomato farming. I’m pretty sure I’m done now.

On the plus side, though, at least we don’t actually have to rely on my feeble efforts for food. I think that’s something for which this whole house should be deeply and profoundly thankful. There are only so many ways you can cook up parsley, and I dare say none of ’em are going to fill you up!