November is here and with it comes the first frost for my garden. I live in north central Texas in USDA zone 7b with an average first frost around November 10.
But I always flirt with danger, hoping to extend my garden season for a few warm season plants. With the impending doom lurking with the first freeze, I will be spending my weekend preserving what I can for the winter.
What’s thriving in my garden at the moment:
Fall okra. No kidding. I planted okra at least a year ago, but it’s just now coming up. [soon to be killed by frost]
Cucumbers … another one waiting to be bitten by the frost… Maybe I can make a makeshift vertical row cover… I had bad luck with my summer cucumbers because the aphids and mites sucked them dry.
Of course my favorite volunteer Porter tomatoes, god love them, they are tenacious, if anything.
Tomatillos. My first endeavor with this plant. I had no idea it would go all over the place. It’s growing habit is more like pumpkins with how it spreads and takes over.
And the ever-resilient Swiss chard. This stuff is hardy and fairest of all. It grows in the winter, spring, summer and fall. It tastes the best in early spring and late fall. It’s frost tolerant to about 25 degrees, which makes it a perfect choice for my winter garden! It’s also delicious, bright and beautiful.
In November of 2011 I started blogging daily. I kept it up for months, then I started a new job and you see the downward slope. Less and less, until it’s been nearly a year since I’ve paid much attention to my blog. It’s not like I wasn’t doing important stuff. I’ve renewed my blog domain for another year.
Well, it’s time to get back on the horse … Today is November 1st, and I’m going to set a goal of blogging daily, once again accepting the challenge of NaBloPoMo or National Blog Posting Month from the BlogHer network.
Just like getting back into a routine at the gym after 40, I’m going to work up to it. More photos and fewer words…
I’m not exactly sure what kind of flower this is, but it was sticking out between the fence slats. We only have a few more days before the killing frost happens.
“Get outside and go play,” she said most Saturdays, after two hours of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Schoolhouse Rock. Those were the words my mother said to my brother and me on so many occasions.
I remember whining about being pried from our three precious TV channels. These were the days before cable, where satellite receivers were adjusted daily based on orbital patterns. We would gripe then go outside and dig holes in the yard, jump out of the hay loft and explore the dry creek behind our house. Being outside was holistically good for us.
Other days we would work outside with our dad. We complained about having to feed the horses, open gates or round up cows. I enjoyed riding horses while my brother preferred riding on two wheels. I remember feeling better after playing outside, but as a kid, never understanding why.
There was that one summer we had to chop cotton. Our dad gave us kid-sized hoes and taught us how to use the file to create an edge for better chopping efficiency. My brother and I still bemoan that summer full of naturally-acquired vitamin D. While our city friends were in the air conditioning playing PacMan, we were relegated to child farm laborers.
What I didn’t understand until recently is that those physical activities in my youth helped my brain develop the capacity to learn academically. The force my muscles had to exert and the tug of gravity helped my brain create neural pathways that set me up to learn in school.
These neural pathways of physical exertions were the first routes hacked out of the brain’s forest of neurons. While the advanced academic neural connections were being made, these routes were the ones that first carried the basics of mathematics and reading.
Work and play required eye-hand and whole-body coordination. Many of our activities required a sequence of movements that culminated into one fluid motion. This is known as motor planning and is essential for learning how to speak, get dressed or write your name.
I didn’t know that the upward swing of the hoe and force of chopping down on an intended target was such a complex movement holding so much potential brain power within it.
The limited access to “screen time” was a benefit that forced my brother and me to seek other means of entertainment. It forced us to interact with each other and resolve differences. We also learned how to interpret our own emotions, how to read the other’s face, how to express ourselves—sometimes with fists and shoves.
Looking back, it seems obvious how playing and moving in a tangible world contributes to our ability to process and think in the abstract, as well as, overall wellbeing.
I didn’t give full credence to my mother’s asseveration that babies need to crawl in order to read. The two seemed unconnected at one time, much like the neural connections that would come later as the result of moving physically.
But now I understand, don’t argue with your mother and go outside to play.
[Editor’s note: it’s been far too long since I posted to the blog. No time like the present.]
Extremes are the normal with North Texas weather. There is constant clashing of warm moist air with cool dry air. The dry air sweeps across the western U.S., over the Caprock then down the draw known as the Llano Estacado and collides with warm moist air coming up from the Gulf.
There is a diagonal 250 mile-wide strip where these prevailing winds smash into each other.
I live is in the center of this strip, so it’s common to have a 40 degree temperature change in a few hours. Friday, November 22, 2013 was one of those days. (it was also the 50-year anniversary of the Kennedy assassination.)
It was still, warm and humid with a high in the 70s. Then what is called a Blue Norther showed up. The wind picked up suddenly and the temps dropped 20 degrees in 30 minutes.
These days, any form of moisture is welcome, even if it comes in frozen pellets of rain or snow. In a day or two the weather will warm up and the frozen moisture will thaw into ground-soaking water—something we need desperately in North Texas.
It is ridiculous when you think about the hullabaloo made over winter weather in North Texas. Every year winter shows up, freezes and ices everything, then is gone as quickly as it came. Yet we are bombarded with severe weather reports and warnings to bundle up, be safe on the roadways, and bring outdoor pets inside.
Everyone is hopefully anticipating a day to blow off school and work. However it is the opposite for nurses, doctors, insurance claims processors, wreckers, firemen, police and ranchers and farmers. Don’t forget the U.S. Postal Service always delivers – rain, snow, sleet or shine.
There is ever-increasing hyperbole and drama surrounding the extreme weather. Handy Husband always jokes with the next door neighbors that we will resort to cannibalism since “snowpocalypse” is forcing everyone inside for three days. Now after two days inside … I think I’ll emulate the Canadians and go outside even with a 100% chance of snow. Because I, like the Canadians, have cabin fever, and must go outside weather be damned (seriously, it’s only 30 degrees –I have wool socks and thermal underwear, it’ll be ok.)
My compulsion to garden began with my quest to grow an abundance of tomatoes. I didn’t even like tomatoes until I was about 22 years old. The first time I remember loving the flavor of a freshly-picked, salted tomato was when I lived in Chicago working my first post-college job. I visited friends in Champagne one weekend and bought tomatoes at the farmers’ market. That first bite of beautifully ripe tomato was like heaven on a plate and since then I’ve been hooked. Two years after that tasty bite, I moved to Michigan—where the climate is just right for tomato growing.
My first garden was a success in Michigan, which has a much milder climate than North Central Texas. The harsh Texas summers and drought conditions make gardening a challenge. I decided to approach the objective from a different angle by looking for the best-performing vegetable varieties for my area.
I consulted the Texas Agri-Life Extension Service’s list of recommendations but only found a few tomato varieties for sale at local vendors– Celebrity, Beefsteak and Big Boy are the most commonly available. So I started looking to seed sources and catalogs, hoping to find varieties that would grow well where I lived. Over the last few years, I’ve amassed quite an assortment of seed stock and catalogs. The more I learned about the plentiful tomato varieties, the more intrigued I became with open-pollinated and heirloom varieties of all plants, not just tomatoes.
Even though Texas “technically” has a long growing season, the hottest part of the summer is about keeping things alive, not producing. So really we have two short growing seasons with fall being best of all. In the spring I try to grow bush-type tomatoes that ripens (55-70 days) all at once. In July I pull the spent vines and start seeds in the same beds. What sprouts and makes it will produce the best fall fruit. If a volunteer tomato comes up, I let it grow. Every time I’ve done that, it’s produced the most awesome fruit.
After three trial-and-error growing seasons of starting tomatoes from seed, I’ve found that Porter and Porter Improved are the top performing tomato cultivars in my backyard; Willhite Seed has the highest germination rate of all the sources I’ve used; and when a volunteer tomato plant starts growing, let it grow because you will be rewarded for it.
My favorite resources:
Texas Agri-Life Extension http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/ — a great resource for all Texas gardeners. If you live in a different state, look for your local extension service. It will be affiliated with the land grant university in your state (Auburn, Michigan State, University of Illinois, Purdue, Texas A&M, etc.)
Willhite Seed www.willhiteseed.com – everything I’ve ever grown from this supplier has been top notch. They breed their own watermelon seeds! The first year I grew their Porter tomatoes, I had a 98 percent germination rate – that is quality seed!
Botanical Interests www.botanicalinterests.com – this company is part of the coalition of non-GMO growers and suppliers of seed. They have the best information on their seed packets – tons of information about each variety and cultivar.
Totally Tomatoes www.totallytomato.com – the 2013 growing season is the first year I’ve used seeds from this supplier. So far so good. They have the most comprehensive selection of tomatoes I’ve ever seen. They also have a wonderful selection of other seeds, especially night shade plants (tomatoes are part of the night shade family).
RH Shumway www.rhshumway.com – this company has the coolest retro-style catalogue and is one of the best sources for beans. 2013 is the first growing season I’ve used this seed provider. The germination rate has been excellent. It will be awhile before I can report on production.
Victory Seeds www.victoryseeds.com – one of the best sources for open-pollinated and heirloom seeds that grow in most parts of the United States. They produce their own seeds and are a non-GMO seed source.
Baker Creek (rare seeds) www.rareseeds.com – another comprehensive source for heirloom, open-pollinated and non-GMO seeds. I have not grown any seed from this supplier but they have great reviews.
Today was Mother’s Day. I spent the day with my family, as many moms do. My son was part of a tribute program to the mothers in our church congregation. Afterward, we went to lunch with my mom and dad, then my mother and I left with my son to visit my 83 year old grandmother and 94 year old grandfather.
It’s not how I planned spend the second half of my day, but it was worth every second. While I was with my sweet grandmother and grandfather we talked about nothing in particular—my grandfather was watching The Players Championship on TV . I had an opportunity to tell my sweet yet pious grandmother that Tiger Woods needed forgiveness too, just as King David did.
Even though my grandmother, mother and I all boast about our prowess in the kitchen, today we let Sara Lee do the cooking so that we could have quality time together. It was a beautiful day in May in North Central Texas, regardless of the long-standing drought.
After I got home at 5:45 p.m. I immediately began picking up the house, doing wash and other mom-like chores. My home needs cleaning, but I tried to remind myself that the house isn’t that dirty and that years from now I will cherish the time spent with my grandparents. The bathroom will still need to be cleaned but it can wait, for the moments that my grandmother and son are here on this Earth simultaneously are few.
Almost every night I go out into my greenhouse and garden and look at all the wondrous things that are growing. I’m always surprised when I see little sprouts emerging, even when I’m expecting it. It’s the awesome miracle of life in one tiny little seed and the journey of nothing to something from start to finish. I love witnessing the plant’s lifecycle, growing from seed to blossom then returning to its genesis.
Seeds are a beautiful promise of the future. They represent both the result of nurturing and just plain science. There are some seeds that need coaxing to sprout and coddling to produce fruit.
Then there are those seeds that need nothing more than a drop of water and something for roots to cling to. Some seeds need to be in the cold for extended time while others need fire to crack the hard seed coat. Some seeds lay dormant for years waiting for the perfect conditions before they will sprout.
I’m thankful that I have this hobby and get to see the true value of time. A garden helps you understand the difference a day, week or month can make. It also teaches delayed gratification and the payoff of hard work.
I’m fortunate to have a handy husband who has been willing to work beside me while I guide (more like boss) him on what goes where and when to do this or that. We don’t eat exclusively out of our garden and I’m thankful that there are many, many farmers around the globe who produce food abundantly so that we have plenty with a variety on our plates nightly.
Most days I go to look at the plants, monitor their progress and contemplate whatever comes next – what’s for dinner, what’s the weather going to be like tomorrow, did the washer’s spin cycle work … Sometimes I get to harvest the crops and enjoy a special dish or meal – maybe it’s the one rewarding, sweet bite of strawberry that makes me offer thanksgiving. Some days I look out on our garden plot and feel like shouting—prideful Tarzan style—”I have grown this!”
Then there are times when I go to my garden at the end of a hard day to find peace.
On those days I go looking for something to be hopeful about, something positive, something to remind me of why I have made certain choices. It helps me right myself and to remember that all I really need is all that I already have.