2014 Garden Update

Maytime Revels in the Garden

by Celia Hayes

Having been pretty serious about watering the garden every day – and that it rained buckets for a couple of days – the back yard veggie garden is looking pretty darned good this week. The beans have pretty well covered the tipi of poles arranged for their climbing convenience, and the bush beans have so far been somewhat productive. I have several batches of them going, having started them at different times since March 1. The tomatoes go up – or hang down in fairly impenetrable thickets, and we have this very week harvested the first couple of handfuls of cherry and tiny yellow pear tomatoes. The resident rat has nibbled at one or two … but I think that putting out the trap for him will put and end to that nonsense within a couple of days … before the seriously large heirlooms ripen.

Even so, the tomatoes in the larger hanging planters are covered with grape-sized green fruit, and the tomato plants in the raised beds of hardware cloth or chicken wire are doubled that, so the rat will have to be the size of a cocker spaniel in order to make much of a dent in them … but it’s still the principle of the thing. I didn’t spend more than $50 at Rainbow Gardens and about the same at Lowe’s for a nasty furry rodent freeloader to come along and help himself. He’s already helping himself to some of the pepper plant and eggplant leaves, too – biting them clean through the stems – and last week the most nearly ripe yellow banana pepper was eaten, every scrap but the stem. I had plans for that banana pepper, too. Think of the rat as a walking dead rat.

This year I took a chance on a couple of tomatillo plants – which have grown to near-shrub size, and adorned with little green balloon-like tomatillo husks … but as of yet, no evidence of tomatillos. Likewise with the bed of squash; two sorts, the round green patty-pan sort, and some kind of Lebanese zucchini variant. The plants are huge and sprawling, with some flower buds on them, under the leaves. I did send away from some specialty seeds for French gherkins, so that I can make proper cornichon pickles. It worked out to about .17 cents per seed, for a teeny packet of about twenty seeds – but they have also burgeoned to the point of climbing energetically their own tipi-arrangement. Note to self – save one of the resulting gherkins and allow to go to seed … for next year, of course.

The frost-killed shrubs that were planted originally to attract humming-birds have come roaring back as well. The back garden looks so very pleasant now – after the barren wasteland that it was in January and February – that I was moved to bring home some cans of pastel spray paint and re-do the café table and chairs in colors that matched the house, or trim and some of the pavers. The café set was a bargain from Big Lots, bought these many moons ago because they were attractive, sturdy and relatively cheap, but the colonial red I had painted them then had gotten faded and began to chip. Really, I think my next project will be to reclaim the back porch as a pleasant place to sit and view my garden bounty.

And did I mention the apple tree? Yes, I found an apple tree – but now I have to plant another one, so they can pollinate each other.

Bulverde and Spring Branch Market Days

Beautiful Bulverde

by Celia Hayes

This last Saturday was spent at the Bulverde and Spring Branch Chamber of Commerce’s Spring Market Day – and my daughter and I spent all of Saturday among more than sixty vendors set up among the oak trees in the Beall’s parking lot, at Bulverde Crossing and Hwy 46W. Bulverde, Spring Branch, and Smithson Valley are … well, Bulverde is not so much a well-defined township as a place like Boerne, New Braunfels or Helotes. They were once entirely separate towns or hamlets, with a defined center – perhaps even an established square – overtaken in recent years by the sprawl of San Antonio to the north and extensive developments of new houses quilt-patched here and there among the old ranch properties, cedar thickets and rolling hills sprinkled with tiny seasonal creeks, grass-meadows and stands of oak trees.

Of course this is totally changed now – the sprawl of San Antonio Hill Country real estate is stretching out into the lower levels of the Hill Country. The nearer little towns are subsumed into the larger city and the farther ones are commuter-suburbs. Bulverde is a little harder to pin down, because it is not one of those with a central identity. It is like the place in California where my parents built their retirement home – one of those sprawling rural localities where there was a significant establishment here – a school or a significant church, perhaps, and another one there – the hardware store, maybe, and a third one –the general store or the tiny industrial enterprise which provided employment, still there … all scattered among several nexus cross-roads over several square miles. No, it doesn’t look like the classical definition of a town, but it is a community.

Bulverde is one of those; dispersed hither and yon around 281 and a couple of older parallel and cross-roads, rather like the rural township where my parents set up their retirement house. A couple of crossroads the length of a long valley in the foothills, with a number of small truck farms, chicken ranches, nut groves scattered along them, and essential retail outlets clustered around various cross-road nodes. Bulverde is all that, and patched with a good few recent housing developments rejoicing in being located in the Hill Country, and yet a short drive from the outskirts of San Antonio. One of the most prominent nodes is at 281 and 46W – it’s where the Super HEB and the Home Depot is, along with an elementary school and a couple of other essential retail outlets. It still has a rural feel to it, as those houses around are scattered throughout like raisons in a loaf of raisin bread. And the parking lot itself was partly shaded by oak trees left standing when the shopping center was built – which made it especially pleasant. Even so, we did get slightly sun-burned, though.

The Spring market is one of those which doesn’t charge a huge table fee – we rather think that this leads to a more interesting variety of vendors. Only the semi-pros can afford a high table fee, which leads pretty much to a certain sameness at larger and more regularly-held markets, as smaller or beginning vendors can’t be assured of making back the table fee and then a spot of profit. I think the most interesting and unusual items were from Natural Metals – all kinds of ornamental sculptures of animals, fish, and plants made from various metals and then painted. Next best – handcrafted wooden rolling horse toys from Soyawannabe A Cowboy, which were beautifully made and as sturdy as all get out. We lunched, by the way, on the best tamales evah! Tamale Addiction does a lot of local events, and the tamales were so good we wished we could have gone back and bought them out for future meals at the end of the day!

Sisterdale

Hill Country Venture

by Celia Hayes

So, knowing that on Saturday, May 10, that we will be tied up all day in the hot-pink-and-zebra-striped booth in the Beall’s parking lot at 281 and Bulverde Crossing for the Bulverde Spring market – and that we had some projects to finish before then – my daughter and I declared Friday, May 2 to be our personal holiday, and embarked on a short road trip into the Hill Country. Yes, we love the Hill Country, especially when it appears to have been blessed with slightly more rain than we have had in San Antonio. I wanted to get some snaps that I could use for the cover of my next book, but alas – the bluebonnets were at their best last month.

We went up through the back-road between Boerne and Luckenbach, which leads through Sisterdale; home of the Sister Creek Winery, and the Sisterdale Market just across the street from it – a tiny market, eatery and weekend event venue, where Chico the Tiny Chihuahua returned miraculously on last New Years Day, after an absence of about three weeks. We had a nice chat with the owner and admiring Chico, who apparently survived by hiding out in armadillo holes and drinking from a tiny spring, where his even tinier footprints were later noted. The Sisterdale Market is a charming place, in an old house by the side of the road. During Prohibition days, there was an illicit still in operation in the cellar – whoa – a cellar, for real? The still itself was, according to the current owner, taken out and buried someplace out in back. You’d have thought that the metal parts would have been easily found … but between Sister Creeks, the soil is rich and deep, and easily-dug.

The Sister Creek Winery is another indicator of how steadily the Hill Country is progressing to a state where it might yet be mistaken for the south of France; not only have entrepreneurs experimented with producing goat cheese, olive oil and lavender over the last twenty years or so – there are also vineyards galore. Sister Creek is one of the longer-established; even on a non-holiday Friday there were cars outside – including a massive white stretch limo.

The show-room is an old cotton-gin, built of heavy oak beams, low-ceilinged and smelling of ancient wood. The newer part, where the heavy-lifting of making wine is done, has been added at the back; rooms where the grapes are processed and aged, first in huge stainless-steel tanks, and then in wooden barrels – rank after rank, each labeled with what they are and how long they have been sitting. Some of them are rather heavily stained around the massive wooden bung on top; and that lends another wonderful odor. When I was a very small child, I remember visiting a winery with my parents and grandparents; a wonderful place, set in a garden, and one huge wooden wine-vat, which must have measured at least thirty feet across, and two or three stories tall. It had been retired from active wine-ageing duty and converted into a kind of pavilion in the garden, but the smell of it inside was positively intoxicating in itself. I don’t know if any of the wineries here now age wine in huge wooden barrels like that any more – but it would be a landmark if they did. After all, everything in Texas is supposed to be bigger.