An Update on our Garden
In the Words of
The Cloister Walk

My garden, even more than most, is an exercise in faith.

And in failure.

An update on our container garden and thoughts from the cloister walk. Liturgy of life.

These aren’t my words, but they certainly could be, they come from Kathleen Norris and I read them this week in The Cloister Walk which we are working through as part of the Liturgy of Life Reading Group.

I shared early in the spring my plans for our container garden, and wanted to give you an update.

In typical fashion this year’s garden has produced a very modest yeild.

When we started my daughter said she wanted corn, beets and tomatoes and so that is what we did.

Corn it turns out can be grown in a container, but needs a lot of nutrients. At about 3 inches long these mini ears are really darling. Though we won’t get much yield from them (as in, we won’t get any yeild from them). But it has been a lot of fun to watch these grow especially for my daughter, even though they are only about 3 feet high in their containers they are well above her head which is fantastic to a preschooler.

An update on our container garden and thoughts from the cloister walk. Liturgy of life.

We added a cucumbers which initially did beautifully, but Texas is known for something called white powdery mildew which attacks  cucumbers and squashes. I battled it last year on our pumpkins and this year didn’t have the time to spray it every night. It looks like we will get three lovely cucumbers but the rest are all shriveled up.

An update on our container garden and thoughts from the cloister walk. Liturgy of life.

An update on our container garden and thoughts from the cloister walk. Liturgy of life.

The tomatoes have done better than in some years. We got one tomato so far, it was a bit mealy for over watering and I had to cut out the top quarter where it had gotten eaten by something but we ate the rest and enjoyed it. It looks like we will get a few more and then the Texas heat will probably keep us from getting any fruit until fall. But if I can manage to keep it alive through our move (not likely but not impossible)  once it cools down again we may get a few more, everyone says fall tomatoes are the best in Texas anyway.

An update on our container garden and thoughts from the cloister walk. Liturgy of life.

The strawberries have been the real gem of this garden, they are still flowering and producing some small berries. We have probably had about 8 so far and are due for a few more. Not much but it is always a bit encouraging to rummage around and find a ripe red berry hidden under the leaves.

An update on our container garden and thoughts from the cloister walk. Liturgy of life.

There are a few other things, it looks like one, maybe two of the beets will be large enough to actually eat, we have had one jalapeno and will get one more, the herbs for the most part are doing okay and we are getting some hummingbirds on the flowers which has been nice though all in all it hasn’t been much.

I started with Norris and I think I’ll end with her too.

In the medieval era gardens were designed to suffice for the loss of Eden. The garden I’ve grown into, in my middle age, seems more a kind of Purgatory, but I love it. It’s a ratty little garden, not much at all. But I can call it mine.

We would love to have you read and ponder along with us, let us know your thoughts or join the Liturgy of Life Reading Group, let’s do this together.

More on Eating In Season:
Tasty, Affordable, Local
& Nutritious

Peach Orchard

A few weeks ago I posted about our visit to the strawberry patch and shared some some ideas about eating in season (read that post here). Eating seasonal foods has let us shop locally and support farms in our area. It has also kept us in touch with nature’s rhythms and has helped us feel more connected to the world around us.

Eating in season, though once the norm (before refrigeration and highways came around), is a new idea for most of us. In America we are used to having foods shipped to us from around the world and having access to what we want at any time of year. I got started on this idea  only about a year and a half ago but have loved what it has done for our family and the way we eat.

Here are some of the highlights of what I have learned:

1. Pay attention to what is in season in your area.  On this site you can look at a chart for each state. I made a smaller one for myself of the foods that we usually buy (I’ll post it as soon as I figure out how). This takes some work but it is fun, you will love anticipating the first ripe strawberry, then blackberry, then peach, then watermelon, and finally apples.

Apple Orchard
Last year at the apple orchard

 

2. Buy locally if you can.  But if you can’t try to buy foods in season where they are grown,  they will have a higher nutrient content and be fresher. Consider traveling distances. If you can get something from your state or the neighboring state go for it over something that comes from another continent.

3. Pick your own. Even if you can’t garden there are lot’s of opportunities to pick (this is a good source to help you get started). This let’s you get foods in season, connect with local farmers and pick foods when they are at peak ripeness. Plus most foods come to a point of overabundance when they are at peak season and prices drop. Which lets you buy more for less.

Picking Tomatoes
Picking Tomatoes last summer

4. Plant a Garden. A container garden is a great start.Planting some herbs or a few potted vegetables can help you get in touch with the growing seasons around you.

5. Shop at a farmer’s market.  The morning at a farmer’s market is fun and a great source of local produce. Plus more and more areas are offering something called a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) or or other types of co-ops that let you buy directly from local farms. Often this involves getting a box of in-season produce every week or two. Others are more flexible and let you order exactly the items you want. There are more and more websites dedicated to helping you connect to local food resources, here are just a few : USDA, Local harvest.

6. Let your grocery store know your preferences. Grocery stores are aware that consumers are becoming more interested in knowing where there foods come from. Some are already carrying local foods that you may not even know about so be sure to ask.

7. Learn to preserve foods.  Inevitably, when talking about eating in season, the question comes up. What do we eat in January when nothing is in season? While in Texas we may have a few greens and beets still growing, most of the country is covered in snow.  We will get into canning and drying foods later, but to start with just think about freezing. Anything you buy in the frozen foods section of the grocery store you can freeze yourself. So buy fruits and vegetables in season when they are ripe and from a local farmer, wash, dry, cut up and freeze. For a few, like tomatoes, it is better to roast with oil and then freeze in oil, these are great tossed in pastas in salads. Fresh herbs are great preserved in oil too. As the summer goes on we can go into the details, but for now just give freezing some thought. Freezing fresh summer produce can make for healthier and less expensive foods all year long.

9. Start cooking. Seasonal foods will inspire your menu, and because they are in season and fresh, will always be your tastiest ingredients.

A good cookbook to get started is this one by Alice Waters. Her focus is on fresh ingredients and she mentions the seasons of the produce as she gives her recipes.

Though the initial transition to a more seasonal diet can be a challenge (my family really missed  fresh tomatoes this winter) it can also make cooking and shopping easier. When I limit myself to what is in season I can ignore most of what is in the grocery store. And the in-season foods are often on sale making my shopping less expensive.  I am still new to this approach and definitely don’t stick to seasonal foods all of the time, but for the most part I have really enjoyed shopping and cooking this way. I’d love to hear your thoughts and tips.

Where’s Marissa?

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If you have been following along with us for a while you maybe wondering, what happened to Marissa. She wrote the very first post but we haven’t heard much from her since.

I’ll give you an update, but first let me give you a little background on this amazing lady. Michael and I met Tex and Marissa in Piedras Negras, Mexico almost 7 years ago. They were newly weds working on the border, and we had just been married the year prior.  We were both working in the same town with different organizations. We became fast friends and have stayed that way though both of our families have moved several times since.

Tex and Marissa share Michael’s home state of Georgia. When we get together Tex and Michael usually stay up late figuring out answers the worlds problems. Marissa and I look at magazines and share a love of cooking and homemaking. Though of the two of us Marissa is a far better and more experienced chef.

After several years in Mexico and then a few in New Mexico the Bagleys  have returned to their home state and settled, at least temporarily, on Tex’s family farm. They have a beautiful daughter Abigail who is a bit younger than Zenie and a new baby Malachi.  They are taking this time to connect with land and with family. Tex will be starting graduate school soon and they still run Hands and Feet Ministries  which continues to work in Piedras. But much of their focus over the next few years will be on spending time together as a family and learning to farm.

On our recent trip back East we had a chance to get the full tour including milking a Jersey cow, butter making and planting an herb garden.  Our visit was a great time with friends with the bonus of getting to sample the homegrown foods  which they are already producing.  Even without any fresh summer produce (the new crops are just starting to sprout) we had milk, butter, yogurt and eggs all produced on their property.   And getting into the deep freeze gave us blue berries, cream peas and fried okra frozen from last year. The whole experience was a sensory delight. I’ll be posting some recipes of the cooking we did later. For now I hope you enjoy some of the highlights of our visit.

Tex and Abigail are ready to give us the tour.
Tex and Abigail are ready to give us the tour.

 

Here comes Grandpa Bagley.
Here comes Grandpa Bagley.  He is the real deal. A real life farmer is hard to find these days and it was a delight to hear his thoughts and learn from his experience.

 

City girl turned country, churning butter.
Beautiful Marissa, was once a city girl, now full time farmer. She and Grandpa are having butter battles. Marissa did hers in a Kitchen Aide, Grandpa did his the old fashioned way with a butter churner. Both turned out great.

 

Dandy the new Jersey cow with the sweetest milk I've ever tasted and her new calf. Even with nursing the calf the Bagleys get about 3 gallons of milk per day which they share with Tex's grandparents who own the farm and who have worked it for decades.
Dandy the new Jersey cow with the sweetest milk I’ve ever tasted and her new calf. Even with nursing the calf the Bagleys get about 3 gallons of milk per day which they share with Tex’s grandparents.

 

Tex giving baby Malachi an early lesson on milking.
Tex giving baby Malachi an early lesson on milking.

 

Feeding the chickens
Feeding the chickens

 

And collecting eggs.
And collecting eggs.

 

Abigail showing us the baby calf.
Abigail showing us the new calf.

 

Tex, showing us how it is done.
Tex, showing us how it is done. Grandpa can milk her dry in about 10 minutes. It takes Tex 15-20.

 

Me and Zenie giving it a try. Slow, very slow.
Me and Zenie giving it a try. Slow, very slow.

 

Grandpa and Marissa checking out their sprouts.
Grandpa and Marissa checking out their sprouts.

 

Looking down at the hog pen.
Looking down at the hog pen.

 

Taking us on a walk over the old train bridge.
Taking us on a walk over the old train bridge.

 

Marissa planing her herb garden outside of the kitchen.
Marissa planting her herb garden outside of the kitchen. Love that red dirt.

 

Bringing in the evening milk.
Bringing in the evening milk.

 

The girls throwing rocks in the creek. Can you imagine a real life river flowing right through your own farm. As a Texan this is like an impossible dream coming true.
The girls throwing rocks in the creek. Can you imagine a real life river flowing right through your own farm? As a Texan this is like an impossible dream coming true.

The Bagley’s are busy getting adjusted to the rhythm of country life. With a new home, a new baby and spring planting, their plates are full. Marissa is hoping to start posting again in the future. But for now she is enjoying all that farming life has to offer.

 

These girls are sure to be life long friends.

Welcome Back Spring
Time to Plant
Five Steps to a Container Garden

 

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Spring is in the air and every year, despite my failures from the year before, as the thermometer creeps above 60 degrees, I get an itch  to plant a garden.

I have been a set up for gardening disaster just about every year. I’ve tried to garden working my 80 hour per week schedule (which looking back I could have done if I would have set up a watering system) which always resulted in everything drying up. Or this past season, first it was the rabbits, and once I got them under control we moved, leaving my budding garden behind.

But there is something about having my hands in the dirt and the hope of a homegrown tomato that keeps me coming back for more.

This year since we will likely be moving mid summer I decided to plant a container garden. Here are the tips and highlights.

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Step 1. Plant a Garden. Just do it. Plant something. Herbs are a great start. Basil, Parsley, Rosemary, Mint, Chives, Thyme, Sage, Oregano. They all grow beautifully and will live in pots very happily. Add a few Petunias or other potted flowers and you have a beautiful patio garden. If you have more space and time try some vegetables. If you have a yard try a little plot or a raised bed. But do try something. It is so satisfying to have your hands in the dirt and then the possibility of growing food or even flowers that you can arrange or give way.  So go for it, even if it is tiny and even if it dies it is worth the effort.

Step 2. Choose a container and a plant. You can use almost any container and grow almost any plant. Here are a few factors to keep in mind.

-Drainage: Pots should have some holes for drainage. You can drill a hole if you need to, or insert a plastic pot with drainage into a larger pot this way you can remove the inside pot for watering and let it drain. This is considered a must. With that said, I’ve had a pot of chives for 3 years in a pot without a drainage system so every now and then you can break the rules and get away with it but it isn’t ideal.

– Material:  Terracotta pots are heavy but they allow for drainage and they will have a more even moisture balance than, let’s say a metal or plastic container. Black pots will be hotter than lighter colors. Small pots will dry up faster so will require more frequent watering than larger ones. I have a variety of pots I’ve collected over the years. This year I also added some Smart Pots, to use for my vegetables. They are large and lightweight, made of a fabric that feels almost like felt. They  allow your plants to get more air and drain well.

– What do you want to grow?: The herbs I mentioned above will grow in almost anything. Each year I sprinkle Basil seeds either in a pot or in a flower bed and have more Basil than I could ever use. Tomatoes however are another story. In Ohio Tomatoes would grow wild but here in Texas they are a challenge. You will have to be more selective with your pot depending on the plants you want to grow and you will need to make sure you have enough space.

My space for vegetables was limited this year so I went with the method described in the Square Foot Gardener. This method  is great for small spaces.  If you flip over a seed packet you will see row spacing and plant spacing. The row spacing is usually a lot further away than the plant spacing. With this method you throw out the row spacing and just use the plant spacing. You plant in small plots measured out by the square foot and use good quality soil mixed with compost.  This method allows you to grow more in a small space.

The containers I got are about 2 feet in diameter. Remembering my high school geometry, this gives me about 3 feet of surface area. So In one container I planted two tomatoes and one pepper. In the other I planted. 9 beets, 2 cucumbers and 2 strawberries. Then on a whim in my third container I planted 9 seeds of corn (this was my daughter’s request). I also have a few old pots where I planted four green beans, and two containers each with a spinach and a strawberry.

Making Plans.
Making Plans.
Containers Ready.
Containers Ready.

 

Dividing up per square foot.
Dividing up per square foot.

 

Strawberries planted, the others are seeds. You can see the tubing for my drip irrigation system here.
Strawberries planted, the others are seeds.

 

One lone Jalapeno.
One lone Jalapeno.

You also  need to decide if you want to grow from seed or buy a plant already started. There is nothing like seeing a plant grow from a tiny seed into something you can actually eat. In general I’ve had good luck with planting from seed though some plants (lettuce and spinach for example) are a bit more finicky.  A best practice for Texas would be to start seeds indoors in February, and then move  starter plants outside in March.   I didn’t get started in time so I am risking it by starting my seeds outside. If you are just getting started and are overwhelmed with seeds then just head over to a nursery and get a few starter plants.  I’ve had better luck at my smaller local nurseries than from large corporate garden centers. I’m not sure why, that has just been my experience.

Step 3. Fill your container with dirt. This can actually be pretty overwhelming once you start reading about all the different components of dirt. If you are starting out just buy some organic potting soil, a next step would be to add some organic compost, I always use Cotton Bur unless I’ve made my own. Ideally you use a mix of soil, compost and vermiculite or something that helps keep the dirt loose and draining well.

Step 4. Water your garden. This is can be a fun reason to get outside and kids have a blast watering plants and each other. You want your soil to stay moist but not soaking wet and you don’t want it to completely dry out. Smaller pots will need watered more often. This year I  set up a drip irrigation system. I’ve lost a lot of gardens because I couldn’t keep up with my watering schedule and I had all of this tubing from my last traditional garden. A drip system is great, it uses less water and puts the water in the soil rather than on the leaves. It is reasonably affordable and not complicated to assemble. So if you are planting more than a few pots it may be something to look into.

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Step 5. Watch your garden grow: It never ceases to amaze me that out of dirt and tiny seeds I can grow these beautiful plants, and even eat some of them. Of course there is a lot more to gardening, we didn’t talk about we will save the details for future posts. But each year I learn something new and get a little more comfortable and you will too. I have yet to have a yeild from a garden that feels abundant (except for Basil). But the process is abundant. Growing a garden is a satisfying experience, it is beautiful and fun.  So if you haven’t yet, go out there and get started (unless it is still snowing where you live, then I guess wait a few more weeks). If you are already gardening I’d love to hear your experience.

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