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Suburbanite

 
Casie Becker
pollinator
Posts: 986
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
64
forest garden urban
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Until recently I didn't even realize there was an introduction forum here. Hello everyone, my name is Casie. I live at the base of the central Texas hill country. I'm responsible for most of the yard work in the household. Expect to see my posts at very random times because I work a graveyard shift.

I'm about three years into developing my suburban yard into the kind of landscape I'd like to live with. When we purchased the property the front yard was so degraded that not even weeds would grow, and the back yard was nearly all thistle. At some point in the distant past the house clearly had owners who planned as all the existing landscaping (except small boxwood hedge) was either a nut tree or a flowering plant. Most of my efforts have been in improving the soils and laying out gardening beds. In the front yard I am trying to keep things conventionally attractive for my neighbors. I don't ever expect to grow anything close to all my own food, but I do think that at some point I will be eating something from my garden in every meal. Long term goals for this property is to have a home my nieces want to inherit.

I'm attaching a horrible roughed in paint picture of where I'm at as far as the yard goes. Not actually proportional as the backyard is 2/3rds the size of the front. Blue splotches are productive woody plants, orange is productive perenials, and yellow is where the annual rotation is right now. Plans for next year include finishing the swales and paths in the back yard, extending the long curving bed towards the shed, and planting a trio of Olive trees in the front yard.
Rough yard sketch.jpg
[Thumbnail for Rough yard sketch.jpg]
 
Tyler Ludens
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Posts: 9256
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Maybe this should be moved to the "project" thread so we can follow your progress!

I think you'll find you can grow a lot of your food on even this small amount of land. Certainly you can grow all of your vegetables and a lot of fruit.

This Youtube channel has a lot of videos by a guy who grows huge amounts of vegetables in small spaces: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUnFheTbVpASikm0YPb8pSw

This guy has tons of fruit trees in his yard: http://geofflawton.com/videos/urban-gardens-microspace/

Designing a permaculture urban yard: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEBANCui2WI

A method of growing a lot of food in a small space: http://www.growbiointensive.org/
 
Casie Becker
pollinator
Posts: 986
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
64
forest garden urban
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I wasn't really sure where I should post this.

I'm using a lot of techniques in those videos already. Each year I expand the gardens several feet and try to plan crop rotations that increase the organic matter in all the beds. Eventually I will be able to fall back on just maintaining existing beds and plants. Till then I just try to keep everything moving forward a little further every year.

Right now we have two Pecans (one mature, one young), four peach trees, two pineapple guava, one mandarin kind of orange, one escarpment black cherry, one apple, one grape vine,one pomegranate, two "ugly agnes" bushes and two beauty berries. In the future there will be a fig thicket and probably a mulberry in the wild area, as well as olives, persimmons, another apple, raspberries, blueberries, and grapes. I only plant a few trees or shrubs each year so that it's easier to give them the attention needed during their establishment year.

It feels like as much effort is going into learning how to prepare and preserve our harvest as actually goes into growing it. This month marks the first time we finished all the greens I brought in before I was ready to harvest the next batch.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Casie Becker wrote:

It feels like as much effort is going into learning how to prepare and preserve our harvest as actually goes into growing it.


This has been a challenge for me too, as it has meant a change in our diet to include some things that I can grow that we wouldn't buy, for instance turnips - they grow well for me but we never ate them before I grew them.
 
Casie Becker
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Posts: 986
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
64
forest garden urban
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Planted the first two olive trees today. I left space in the middle to plant a cross pollinator in the future. I also planted a domestic grape vine at the base of a nonfruiting wild grape. I'm gonna work on killing the wild grape and letting the fruiting variety replace it.

Earlier this week I planted the first fig for the fig thicket at the dripline of the existing red tip phontinas that it will replace.

 
Tyler Ludens
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I wonder if there's a domestic grape which can be grafted to the wild grape?

 
Casie Becker
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Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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I hadn't even thought of this. A quick search suggests that not only is it possible, this might actually be the right time of year to try it.
 
Casie Becker
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Posts: 986
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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forest garden urban
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I was planting more spring bulbs this morning. As I wandered around the front yard looking for a bare patch large enough for just one more variety I realized that I never update anyone on the progress of our gardens.

Things are steadily progressing through the plans I made. We've planted the first fig, a mulberry, an Fuyu persimmon, the other apple, and another grapevine in the back yard.

The fuji apple was allowed to keep one fruit to maturity. I don't know if a neighbor has an apple in their back yard or if it's self fertile, but I was thinning apples this spring. It was a delicious apple.

In the front we planted two olives and two asian pears for another espalier.

The peach espalier produced peaches that I thinned to one per each branch. I think I'll thin more next year as I wasn't happy with the fruit size. It did seem like a lot of fruit for the tree size.

I have changed my plans for the pomegranate, which I was planning to keep pruned very small. Instead I think I will allow it to grow big enough to replace the red tipped photinia that blocks the view of a neighbor's driveway. Hopefully that means we'll get some flowers next year.

Our hugelkultur (12- 18 inch pit piled four feet deep in logs) has sunk to about two feet above ground level. We've been planting asparagus and seeing it survives without water and it did, so this year the bed has been filled with more asparagus, strawberries and one stray artichoke. The artichoke was nearly an accident. We had a plant with no spot to put it and so stuck it on the side of the hugelkulture and then forgot about it. My mother discovered it while preparing the bed for the new plants.

That artichoke was actually part of a trend this year. Other plants we planted and then forgot about and had thrive include the Christmas Limas, my first planting of favas, and the volunteer sweet potatoes. We had a couple of plants which weren't forgotten but were treated with premeditate neglect and seemed to appreciate it. Other plants suffered and/or died, or weren't forgotten about but still suffered and died.

I had planned on this being 'the year of the bean' and planted lots of different varieties all over the yard. The one that did well the year before just limped along this year. The limas were a surprise success. We were literally going to weed out all the grass where I'd planted them and then build a raised bed in that spot when we realized they were finally setting seed. I'm saving seed to grow them again next year.

After three years of trying, I've finally tasted the bean of a scarlet runner vine. Absolutely loved it. Huge, meaty with a proper green bean flavor. I planted them in three separate locations and two of them are still surviving. The real test is going to be next spring when I see if they come up from the roots.

I've got kale in a couple of locations in the yard, some of which is on it's third year. They're cool looking miniature palms by this point. Now that the weather is getting cold enough to kill the bugs, we're pulling a harvest off them again. It's generated some interest from other gardeners in the area. Planted with them are lettuces, swiss chard, and collard greens.

I grew minature eggplants this year. They survived, but I wasn't overwhelmed by them. I think next time I try eggplant it will be a full sized version. There just wasn't enough harvest to justify the effort.

I had a similar lack of success with my pepper plants. Though I will say, the two minature bell peppers which we overwintered last year did remain healthy this year. They tiny peppers just weren't worth the processing effort. 

Right now I'm growing my first turnips and favas. I'm still on the hunt for those crops that take next to no effort to grow in my climate. I wish I'd started the turnips later, but there are a few who germinated and then survived the unusually long hot fall. I'm watching them. The favas seem to be thriving.

I've tossed bread seed poppies where I had a full hedge of dill last year, so I'm watching that to see what sprouts. I'm also watching the back yard to see if we get cilantro throughout the grass again.

When the weather warms we'll see if we get volunteer amaranth from this year's plants. Two of them were very vigorous, so I scattered the dried flowers at the end of the season.

It's the same bed as the volunteer purple sweet potatoes. They did give me a good harvest when I waited till they froze before digging. See, hunting for a plant that takes next to no effort isn't futile. It might be foolish, but it pays off sometimes.

While I would have wished for a more abundant year, I learned a lot of lessons, saved a lot of seed, and watched a lot of plants multiply. Next year I'm going to try to make 'The Year of the Squash.' We were very happy with our first harvest of winter squash but didn't plant enough this year.

Sorry, I don't gather all this together very often so it seems a little long. I actually needed to see it myself to mollify my guilt in planting ornamental flower bulbs instead of anything edible. I have such a big weakness for flowers, and bulbs have the added bonus of a nearly do nothing plant. Within the next month the first iris will bloom. If this next set of freezing weather finally sends the milkweed and lantana dormant, then I'll have missed full year blooms for pollinators by only a few weeks.
 
Anne Miller
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Posts: 460
Location: USDA Zone 8a
32
bee dog food preservation greening the desert hunting toxin-ectomy
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Thanks for the update.  I am looking forward to what you are doing.

"I have such a big weakness for flowers, and bulbs have the added bonus of a nearly do nothing plant."

Me too!  I did plant some broccoli though I think it was planted too late.
 
Casie Becker
pollinator
Posts: 986
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
64
forest garden urban
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My mom's got some broccoli planted, with little hoops to support covering them in frosts. While I'm tossing random plants in different spots in the garden she's researching techniques to protect common garden plants from common garden disasters. Right now I plant a lot more than her, but our production is about the same.

I'm trying to select seed to have better adapted plants and keep experimenting with new varieties. I prefer that kind of work to dragging row covers in and out every cold snap or going out to hand pick stink bugs every morning.
 
Anne Miller
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Location: USDA Zone 8a
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When I thought it was time to buy fall veggies none of the big box stores had any.  We only get to the big city every now and then usually for Dr. appt.

When we were there a couple of weeks ago we discovered they had a few piled up behind some other plants.  Most were sad looking but the broccoli looked good so that is what I bought.  We the weather said temps would be freezing I read Bonnie Plants.  They said cabbage would be ok but broccoli would set the fruit too early.  I covered with a sheet and so far its been ok.  Anyway everything is a learning experience if they don't work out.

My sweet alyssum took the freeze well.  It was still looking good until I caught dear hubby pulling it up.  Luckily he hadn't pulled up my perennials. I told him my idea of a garden and his were two different things.  He thinks sweet alyssum is invasive and I think it is beautiful.
 
Casie Becker
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Posts: 986
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
64
forest garden urban
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I just realized I forgot to mention the black cherry tree when listing my trees. It was a short little thing (below waist high) when I planted it in fall of 2015. It's over eight feet tall, and very healthy. It's not as big as the apple tree I planted later that year, but it is as tall, though the apple tree was already taller than me when it went in the ground. The main purpose of the cherry tree is to provide later afternoon shade in the summer and so I've been really excited to see how fast it takes off. If it grows anywhere close to this rate next year, we'll probably already be getting some usable shade by the end of summer. I have a tiny hope that as a native variety (the escarpment black cherry) there may be a pollinator somewhere around here to get us usable cherries as a bonus in the future.

I think a huge part of how well it has taken off is that it's planted right next to our half sunken hugelbed. I have no doubts it has roots sunk deep into the decaying tree trunks, ensuring that it never runs short of water.

We built a swale around the apple tree with a secondary berm below. It was planted next to where we had to remove a very large dead tree trunk when we moved in, so I'm sure the decaying roots are serving as a natural hugelculture for the apples. The apple has put most of it's growth into spreading it's limbs wider rather than taller, but there's been a lot of spreading going on. Just remember if you try to emulate this, plant the tree in solid ground to give the tree stable roots. The hugelculture goes off to the side. The trees just dip their toes in.
 
Casie Becker
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Posts: 986
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
64
forest garden urban
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If you can't tell, I'm doing evaluating and planning for the future direction in my planting activities. 

So, other things I've noticed. I don't have any bluebonnets this year. They're a winter annual which fixes nitrogen. After two winters of a vigorous stand in the most barren corner of the front lawn, the grass is too thick for the bluebonnets to self seed. I wish they hadn't been such an effective cover crop. On the other hand, I may obtain more seed and start using it as a winter cover crop in garden beds that I want to leave fallow. Gathering the seed for future planting isn't actually difficult.

Common plantain has been another victim of the improving health of our lawn. It's usually sprouting across a wide section of the grass by this point of time. So far I've found one plant. Between mowing high and strategically placed swales there wasn't much bare ground left for it this year. I'm still keeping my eyes peeled as I was planning to freeze a large amount this year to have on hand for big bites later on.  This is important enough that I'll probably go foraging for it if some doesn't sprout soon. It could be a good activity to take my youngest niece on.

I'm also considering hiring my youngest niece to pull dandelions. There are hardly any thistles left in the yard, but there are more dandelions than ever. When we finally get chickens (no one hold their breaths yet) that will be a valuable resource. Right now they're too bitter for my family's tastes and uncomfortable to walk on. Just knowing that I should like them makes me feel guilty when I contemplate pulling them, though.

The cilantro, that has successfully self seeded through the back yard again, looks even more vigorous than last year. I really do wish I could find more palatable edibles that can compete with grass like this.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I wish you could translocate your extra dandelions to my place, I have not been able to get them to grow!

 
Casie Becker
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Posts: 986
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
64
forest garden urban
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They used to not grow here. I think that means they need better soil than thistles. I think because my property is so much smaller the lawn gets more attention than you can provide to your property. So my few swales, deep mulches in areas, and semi regular mowing of long grass is adding up to relatively quickly improving the condition of my soils. If you don't have any in your area I can gather seed. Before this year they pretty much only showed up in the shady areas, if that helps you any.
 
Casie Becker
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Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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forest garden urban
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We've had some crazy weather for our area during the last week. We've had warm weather, followed by freezing weather, and tomorrow we'll have highs in the eighties. Joseph Lofthouse was kind enough to let me have some seeds for a beautiful red flowering fava bean this last fall and they were growing wonderfully. I covered them during the freezes with an insulated blanket, but it still looks like these wild temperature swings were too much for them to take. I'm really disappointed by this, even the beans themselves were beautiful on this variety, all cool mint green and medium size . I've got one surviving plant that I'm watching to see if I can at least get some seed to grow out next fall. I've got a tiny amount of seed left so I may also make an early spring planting of those.

 
Tyler Ludens
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Sorry about the plants.    Many things in my garden appear to be dead, but I think some of the favas and kale might grow back from the crowns.  I'm going to leave them there and see what happens.  The daikon radishes all froze to the ground, but the bottoms of the longest roots are salvageable for eating.

 
Casie Becker
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Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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forest garden urban
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Here it is mid January with no extreme cold in the coming forecast. It's time to really dig into gardening plans in my area.

I planted small portions of all of the more cold tolerant plants. Just a little because most of these are either fall planted or spring planted. So that's turnips, carrots, poppies, spinach and favas.  It is still the middle of winter, even though we're in the 80's today. It's so hard waiting for the last frost for everything else.

I've gone out and reseeded where I lost favas to these last two cold snaps. Turns out I had twice as many survivors as I thought in the crimson fava variety. I planted the last few seeds I'd held back, so that's it. I'm still holding out hope of a decent amount of seeds for replanting.

My kale, collards, and swiss chard all survived without any covers so I'm not replanting now. I may replant later in the year just to have a succession when these plants finally play out. I'm up to year three on kale.

I'm still waiting for the pistachio seeds. I typically don't have good results with growing things in pots, but it's looking more and more like I'm going to have three kinds to take care of this year. There's the sunroots, the pistachios, and the dahlia. For one reason or another each of these will better suit my needs in a pot.

I'm not planting new onions this year. I'm going to try to be better about using the perennial onions in our cooking. Just a little better because they really need to multiply more to meet our needs, but we've got to start somewhere.

I did have a garlic that I thought had died last year come back up and it's looking very healthy. Depending on how it grows this year, I may eat it or save it for replanting.

I don't want to disturb them too much, but since I was digging in the ground anyways... There is what feels like a thick woody, healthy root at the base of where my runner beans were growing last year. I mean connected to the old vine not just in that location. I expect to see new vines sprouting in a few more weeks. Fingers crossed.

If the runner beans succeed then I have a paltry total of four perennial/naturalized vegetables so far. That would be beans, sweet potatoes, greens (kale, chard, collards), and various onions. I'll keep experimenting and maybe I'll start getting the kinds of yields that make a real dent in the grocery bill.

Somewhere around here I have seed that I saved, also, but I can't seem to find it. I literally held the basil seed in my hands, for one. I don't know where I set it down.

I'm hoping the amaranth will join the Siam basil and the cilantro in reliably self seeding. Right now one corner of the back lawn is half covered in self seeded cilantro.This year I'm watching for amaranth to pop up on it's own in the front garden. I scattered the flower heads at the end of the season.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Casie Becker wrote:
If the runner beans succeed then I have a paltry total of four perennial/naturalized vegetables so far. That would be beans, sweet potatoes, greens (kale, chard, collards), and various onions.


If need be that is nearly a complete diet!  You'd just need larger quantities and supplement with small quantities of a few other things.  I think you can pat yourself on the back.  I'm nowhere near that close to the basis of a homegrown diet; I only have the onion component really nailed down at this point.  I'm hoping some sweet potatoes will return when it warms up but I can't count on it.


 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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Even if the tops of the favas got frozen, they might send up shoots from the roots.
 
Casie Becker
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Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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forest garden urban
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The sweet potatoes that actually came back and provided a large quantity (few potatoes but huge) were the dark purple ones sold as organic in the store. Keeping the greens going has been a matter of planting them where they are nearly completely shaded in the summer. Don't know if that will help.

edit: I won't completely give up hope then.  I didn't dig them up, just planted seeds between them.  Most of them don't look very promising, though. From culling the white ones, I know the worst case scenario is that they functioned as a good nitrogen fixing cover crop. The roots of the culls were covered in nodules.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thanks for the shade tip.  I think I need to plant a lot more things in the shade, even things we're told need full sun and heat.
 
Casie Becker
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Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
64
forest garden urban
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After a very valid point another contributor made (I believe it was Travis Johnson) I am trying to make a point to post about the things that didn't work. I have a hard time doing this because gardening is my creative outlet (art) and I had many years with a very good art teacher. When something doesn't work out, it tends to be salvaged and worked into another project.

That's what happened with my plans to build a raised bed for blueberries. After a year of building compost inside a cinder block keyhole bed we decided that wasn't actually where we wanted to have a garden bed.  The blueberries are going to be permanently kept in large pots which we shall mulch with our used coffee grounds to help control the PH of the soil.

We repurposed the cinder blocks to border an existing in ground bed and moved the rich soil blend (decomposing logs, ramail wood chips, horse manure, compost) to fill it. Our Fuyu persimmon was planted in the middle of where the key hole had been.

I think it counts as a failed plan but it wasn't without it's benefits. Instead of one large bed with blue berries and maybe tea bushes in the future, we have a smaller raised bed, two blueberry bushes in pots, and a fruit tree planted in improved soil. We also got to see how quickly most of the wood we'd buried had already broken down to compost. There were hardly any logs left to dig up.
 
Casie Becker
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Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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I bought new clematis starts to try for the third year in a row to grow them. This time I planted them in pots like many site recommend doing before planting in the ground.

I was studying my rose bushes in preparation for pruning when I noticed a strange looking mass of roots attached to a small plant. Apparently I actually succeeded with the clematis last year, after all. I'm going to watch this year to see if it grows big enough to start flowering.

And checking on my pots, my dahlia has started to sprout.
 
Casie Becker
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Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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Spring comes on so quickly around here. There's a long list of things that I'm going to be putting in the gardens later, but I'm well into planting for the early part of the spring growing season.

I planted and weeded another section of the garden. With the way my mind works I actually planted the middle of the garden with onions yesterday and then weeded either end of that stretch of garden today (perennial grass runners) before planting seeds. Yes I know, I wasn't going to plant any more onions this year, but there were these bags of bulbs sitting in the store entrance and looked like they really wanted to go home with me. I didn't tell them I was planning to eat them. We'll let that be a surprise. 

I'm trying something new this year. To separate sections of different plants, and maybe serve as a barrier to grass at the ends of the garden beds, I've planted short rows of swiss chard perpendicular to the rest of the vegetables rows. It's a long shot, but with their thick, deep roots and broad wide leaves I think they stand as much of a chance of fighting off the grass as anything.

I desperately need to thin down my seed stock so I'm planting out all the old seed that I can. I've done a small patch of mustard greens, another row of turnips, a small patch of orach, a row of curly kale, red flax flowers, and scattered the last of my onion seeds over the top of my onion bulbs.

Tomorrow I will either finish weeding in the back or weed in the front and the plant all the remaining flower seed I have on hand, all the lettuce seed I have on hand, a patch of dinosaur kale, and my Italian parsley seedlings.

Inside, using the paper towel method, I am trying to start pistachios (think you Joseph), five kinds of peas, and turnip rooted parsnips (also thanks to Joseph).

We're gonna plant all the peas together in the bed where Jazmyn will be planting her popcorn this year. The peas will just be starting to suffer from the heat at about the time we're supposed to plant corn so I think they'll be the perfect cover crop. Last year was the first year I've had reasonable returns on peas. I started a tiny amount using paper towels before planting. After two dismal years I was only planting tiny test amounts so that I wasn't wasting garden space on them. Presprouting made such a huge difference last year that this year I have high hopes of harvesting enough peas to freeze some.

It's going to be hard finding all the space I'll need for vining plants this year. I think I've figured it out, but if you hear about me digging out a new garden bed you'll know I needed more space. Most of the other areas destined for squash are growing fava right now. I'll start the squash between fava plants and cut back the fava as the squash need space.  I'm seriously considering planting squash at the end of every garden bed and then training all the vines out into the grassy areas.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Very interested to follow your experiments this year!
 
Casie Becker
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Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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There is nothing like pruning the rose bushes to make you feel like a butcher and not care, at the same time. I've conquered the knock out rose, but am making a temporary retreat from the Joseph's coat. This might be the year that I finally give in and get specialized gloves for training the roses. Anyone have any good ideas of what to do with the thorny rose prunnings? I learned my lesson last year about chop and dropping them when I kept finding random thorns. I'm leaning towards burning them next time we roast marshmallows.

My youngest niece sat down with me this morning and we went through all the seeds to plan out her garden. We're going to overhaul the whole bed to clear out the encroaching grass, hopefully this weekend. Once the grass is gone planting will be a breeze.
 
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