What to do With Gumbo

Tales of Gumbo

by Celia Hayes

I may be defeated in my ambitions this year to have bounteous crops of tomatoes and zucchini squash … but by way of comfort, the peppers of various sorts and the okra plants are multiplying and producing like champs. The encouraging thing about the okra plants is that I have been able to grow a fair number of plants from seeds left in the pods that I let go last year … and that the darned things do grow like weeks. However, the okra pods of the variety that I have propagated do have to be harvested before they get to be about three inches long; otherwise they are tough and woody to the point of inedibility. (But still good for gleaning seeds for the next crop.) I would actually consider planting a good-sized patch of okra in the front garden, for the flowers are actually rather attractive; they look a bit like a variety of hibiscus which has pale yellow flowers with a red spot in the center. Alas, in the eyes of non-gardeners and farmers, the leaves of okra bear an unfortunate resemblance to marijuana plants, and while I would like to hope that the average neighborhood SAPD officer has enough savvy to tell the difference at a glance … I don’t want to borrow trouble.

So – okra in quantity; what to do with it? Aside from pickles, and breading and deep-frying it, my usual method for okra is to slice up the pods as I harvest them, and put them in a plastic bag in the freezer until I have enough to make a good batch of gumbo out of it. Gumbo is one of those all-purpose dishes like meatloaf or macaroni and cheese; infinite number of recipes in infinite variations, depending on what you have on hand. It all begins with a roux, of course – oil and flour stirred together, until the flour darkens to the color of a tarnished copper coin. This is what gives the gumbo broth it’s thickening substance.

This is a recipe that I like to use, raided from the internet, but with additions from one of my Cajun cookbooks and adjusted to incorporate the accumulated okra harvest.
Combine together ½ cup peanut oil and the same of flour, and simmer until darkened – but not burnt! Add in 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped green or red pepper, and 3 stalks of celery – all very finely chopped, and stir together with the roux until the vegetables are limp. Add in 3-4 minced cloves of garlic, and 1 Tbsp of Creole seasoning, like Tony Chachere’s. In another pot, heat almost to boiling, 5 cups of fish, chicken, or vegetable stock, and blend it gently into the roux-vegetable mixture, stirring constantly. Add 2 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce and 1 to 1 ½ cups fresh or frozen okra, sliced into rounds. Cover and simmer for half an hour, and add half to 3/4ths of a pound smoked Andouille sausage, sliced into ¼ inch rounds and 1-2 lbs fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined. If the shrimp is already cooked, then just simmer the gumbo long enough to warm the sausage and shrimp through. Serve with a scoop of hot rice in the middle, and a sprinkling of sliced green onion.

Quarry Farmers and Ranchers Market

The Quarry Farmers and Ranchers Market

by Celia Hayes

It’s one of my habits – established when we lived in Athens in the early 1980s – going to the local street or farmer’s market. It was the custom of the country that every neighborhood had a day of the week, when a three or four-block length of one of the main streets in the suburb would be blocked off, and the local vendors and farmers would set up two rows of booths and sell to the community, beginning just before dawn and continuing through midday. It was usually seasonal fruits and vegetables, and each little booth pretty much specialized in one item – lemons, or artichokes on long stalks, or potatoes with patches of the damp soil they had been grown in still clinging to them. There was an egg-vendor, who sold the eggs in cones made up of newspaper, and a storekeeper with a larger trailer who had a variety of dried beans and macaroni, and often a crate of live snails, rustling and clicking their shells together. All was absolutely fresh, straight from the farm and cheaper than cheap.

I’ve always hoped that our farmer’s markets here could duplicate that experience; and the goods are fresh and straight from the farm, but alas, not as inexpensive as they were in Greece. The farmer’s markets here do have their advantages though; the one held every Sunday morning save Easter in the parking lot of the Quarry Market is a perfect example; as half the venders seem to do the traditional fruits and vegetables, the other half a wide assortment of prepared gourmet foods. [Curious though, I didn’t find the Quarry Market on the GoTexan Farmers Market list. (They probably should be listed.)] Cheese and chocolates and pies, oh, my! Imagine a pie made with fruit or nuts from Nanette Watson’s Frio Farm, with their own eggs, butter churned by Nanette herself, and with her very own home-brewed flavoring extracts. That is a piece of pie that it is a delight to savor.

We cruised the two rows of booths – threatened rain didn’t seem to hamper turnout at all, though there were some vendors on the Quarry Market Farmer’s Market list who didn’t seem to be there because of it. Most everyone had samples on offer – and scrumptious they were. La Panadaria’s chocolate bread was absolutely scrumptious, and the chocolate samples from High Street Chocolate were out of this world. Peggy at High Street (she lives in Comfort, of course) is adventurous with flavoring, too – she has one flavor of chocolate, called Spicy Aztec which features … well, red pepper, among others. That is a chocolate with an interesting burn, which sneaks up on you. My favorite is a thin expresso-flavored chocolate, which I believe would be absolutely divine as the chocolate element in gourmet chocolate-chip ice cream … and if Peggy could work with Nanette at Frio Farm, and combine home-made ice-cream from Frio Farm’s eggs, cream and vanilla … I believe they would have something which would make Ben and Jerry’s finest taste like something from Tasty-Freeze.

The final booth that we visited was – I think – the Lemonade Company, purveyors of fresh-squeezed lemonade and orange juice. The scent of the oranges teased me from three booths away. There is nothing so evocative to someone who grew up in Southern California as the scent of fresh oranges and lemons – and the sublime flavor of the juice freshly squeezed. Nothing like it in the world, and it has spoiled me ever since for supermarket orange juice. And that was my Sunday morning – yours?

Beanz-Garden Update

Beanz! A Garden Update

for all your San Antonio Home Buying needs!

by Celia Hayes

I have to say that the occasional rain shower over the last week or so has been very, very, very welcome, and so have the cool fronts. Anything which delays the full frontal blast of wicked summer heat by a week or so is a good thing in my book. But it has been a good month in the garden; what a difference a mere four or five weeks have made.

This year, I bit the bullet – the only plant starts that I bought were tomatoes. They went into a pair of Earth Boxes, and six home-made hanging planters. So far, lots of big green tomatoes, but nothing edible yet. For just about all the other plants this year, I began with packets of seeds from Lowe’s; three or four kinds of beans, sugar peas, three kinds of squash, and five seed potatoes from Rainbow Gardens. The bell, jalapeno and cayenne pepper plants are left over from previous years, as are the eggplants. I had never really thought of them all as perennials, but they all came back very nicely from winter.

The pepper plants are thriving, and the eggplants all have fresh new foliage and are hung with star-shaped purple blossoms which herald fat little eggplants, or so I hope. The okra plants began from seeds from last years’ okra plants. I didn’t know that you have to pick the okra pods as soon as they are about four or five inches long; any bigger than that, and they are totally inedible. So, I had a boat-load of okra seeds. Until now I had never had much luck growing vegetables from seeds. Very likely, I was doing it all wrong in trying to cultivate the terrible, horrible, awful clay soil that my yard is made of. Even digging in sand and compost didn’t help much. Last year we used Scott’s Moisture Control Potting mix in the pots and Earth Boxes, and things generally did very well. This year we filled the two raised beds with it, planted squash and potatoes in one, and beans in the other, crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.

The squash have begun putting out blossoms; it looks like the little green patty-pan squash are going first, with the yellow squash and the zucchini lagging slightly behind. The beans – the Kentucky Wonder variety began going up the string net which I had run from the edge of the raised bed to the top of the fence as if there had been some green bean drill instructor screaming at them to climb. As of this week they are covered in little white and purple flowers. These things are supposed to bear copious quantities of beans – and harvesting them regularly encourages even more. I still have packets of other varieties of beans, and hope to start another couple of small raised beds. It seems that I have inadvertently hit on the right place in my garden to grow pole beans; partly shaded for much of the day, but growing up against a south-facing fence.

I also had a packet of lettuce seeds, and another of mixed salad greens, which just this week had enough leaves to harvest and use in salads. Oh, the taste of fresh greens is indescribably good. When the squash plants are exhausted, and I dig up the potatoes in the fall, I am planning to put up a plastic tent over the large raised bed and sow more salad greens and lettuce inside. I’d like to be able to eat out of my own garden for the rest of this year, and even have enough excess to freeze.

And that’s my week in the garden – what about yours?

Ongoing Garden Plans

Ongoing Garden Plans – and a Lament

by Celia Hayes

Well, we’ll need a bag or two more of potting soil to properly fill up the big raised bed that I wrote about a couple of week ago, so there’ll be a delay in planting it. There’ll also be a delay in constructing the two narrower raised beds, which will be placed against the fence, with a bit of latticing attached, so that that plants which wish to climb – like beans, peas and cucumbers – can go to town. The big bed will be planted with zucchini and summer squash, which are supposed to produce by the ton, but which last year got attacked by some nasty kind of crud/parasite which attacked their stems and killed the plants themselves almost overnight.

The patent topsy-turvy tomato planters, which saw stout service these last two years by actually producing a nice little selection of tomatoes, were not up to another year. The heavy plasticized fabric that made up the body of the planter disintegrated to the point where I could tear it merely by poking it with a finger, and not very hard at that. The two planters which had been intended as a kind of hanging butterfly and humming bird garden fell apart even faster; one of them shredded spontaneously as we were taking it down from the tree. But the good news is – the rest of the unit, especially the metal ring and the wire loops and hooks which the whole thing hung from are still perfectly sound. And that gave me an idea to just create my own topsy tomato planters with those useful bits. I have a number of inexpensive plastic pots; just cut the drain hole a little larger, trim an ordinary cellulose sponge to fit inside the pot, insert a tomato seedling in the pot drain hole and secure it with the sponge, fill up with potting soil, and suspend the plastic pot from the hanging frame that we built last year, using the metal ring and wire loops that I saved from the old topsys! Here we go – a whole new forest of suspended tomato plants, and with luck, and the judicious application of the right kind of fertilizer and insecticides … more tomatoes!

The one remaining topsy that I don’t think we will use this year is the one for peppers. I’ve removed all the plants which survived from last year, and replanted them in large pots – just like I did with the ones from the year before. All the peppers – cayenne, Bell and jalapeno alike – are thriving. The one seedling vegetable variety that we do not need to re-stock the garden with this year is pepper. Seriously, I think there must be about fifteen individual pepper plants.

Which brings me to a lament a local casualty of the drought over the last couple of years; the Antique Rose Emporium outlet on Evans Road has closed. It actually closed six months ago, and when I first heard of this, I thought it must be a rumor. Surely we had been there – just before Christmas, sometime in September, I thought. But no – and there went a place which not only supplied me with darned near everything the least little bit exotic in my garden, but with gave me an example of what a beautiful, blooming, native Texas garden could be, stocked with roses and herbs and adapted perennials! So passes the glory of one of my favorite retail outlets, although there is some comfort to be had in knowing that their main establishment and website is still in business. I have no idea where we will go now for vegetable starts and herbs; split our devotion between HEB, Lowe’s and Rainbow Gardens, I guess..

South Texas Garden Plans

Plans for the Garden – Spring 2013

by Celia Hayes

When just about everything in the garden was done producing for the year and the weather began to cool off, my daughter and I put up the folding gazebo-greenhouse which one of our San Antonio neighbors decided was surplus to needs. Into it went all the surviving plants, and the delicate things, like the patchouli plant, the pepper vine, an earth-box full of salad greens and lettuce, and another with three tomato plants which had self-seeded from last year’s crop. In advance of the first cold snap, we zipped up the window openings and doorway, and aside from unzipping the door long enough to water everything once a week, we pretty much ignored it. All the plants inside thrived on this regimen, and one of the tomato plants has already put forth baby green tomatoes the size of grapes … in late January. We do not know, of course, what kind of tomatoes they are – could be the black cherry sort, the yellow pear-shaped sort, the heirloom beefsteak variety or even the egg-shaped roma tomatoes … all of which we had in the hanging planters last year, or in one of the earth boxes. Any of them could have self-seeded – and the resulting plants are thriving. So – yes, we will keep the gazebo-greenhouse up. As a matter of fact, it was such a pain to assemble that we are extremely reluctant to take it down.

As it turned out for us last year, although the hanging turvy planters, the earth boxes and the pots of various sizes produced a splendid-looking assortment of vegetables, and the garden looked nearly the best that it ever has been, the actual crop wasn’t that impressive. It wasn’t enough to entirely supply our salad green and vegetable needs throughout the summer and fall, and certainly not enough that we were going around to the neighbors leaving sacks of zucchini and peppers on the doorstep, ringing the doorbell and running away.

So, this year, we’re moving on to Plan …well, by this time it is Plan C. Plan A, back in the beginning was in just digging in lots of sand compost to what is essentially hard clay – which worked for some things, but but vegetables. Plan B, which was to plant the vegetables in containers, was what we did last year – and there just isn’t enough container space. Plan C is – a series of raised beds, made from wide pine planks, and filled with compost and good potting soil. This is what we have started; last weekend I built the largest one, from a pair of 12-foot planks, which the nice people at Lowe’s were kind enough to saw into 4 and 8 foot lengths. Four pairs of corner joist fasteners and a handful of wood screws – and there we go. Fill with soil, and put square concrete pavers around the edge so that we’re not waiting through the mud every time we water … and there’s the first raised bed. We should be able to build and fill two or three more, and fit into various unused spaces in the back yard, which will offer lots more space for vegetable-growing.

We’ve carried over enough cayenne, jalapeno and bell pepper plants from last year that we need not buy any more for this year. Alas, one of the tomato turvys has split and disintegrated under the stress of two years hard use, and I suspect the remaining two are very close to following suit – so, here we go, looking for more. With the greater space available in the raised beds, we might better be able to grow more squash, zucchini and bush beans – and just today when we were at Lowe’s for some shelf brackets, I noticed that they had bags of onion starts and seed potatoes … and those are definitely things that I’d like to have. And that’s the plan for my garden this year – what’s yours?

My Dream Texas Garden

Now My Dream Texas Garden

by Celia Hayes

In my last post I outlined what I would like to have as my dream Texas dream retirement home; a lot about the houses and some generalities about the landscape. I’d like a slightly rolling property, oriented towards the west, and studded with a handful of oak trees and a bit of a wildflower meadow at a slight distance. I didn’t put in much about the garden around it … just that there would be one. Being that I would like this dream home in the Hill Country someplace, I’d have to take care of the tender plants during those cold winter snaps when it gets down to or below freezing. Plants that scrape through a cold snap in San Antonio would not do as well during the winter in the Hills … so I would have to have some kind of accommodation for them. A permanent small greenhouse would be a graceful addition to my notion of a compound of small cottages – especially one of those ornate Victorian style ones.

I’d actually look to having a good-sized vegetable and herb garden; what I have now but expanded at least four times. I have read good things about straw-bale gardening – that is, raised beds constructed of straw-bales. In any case, raised beds, and filled with good soil and the proper nutrients. A good-sized kitchen garden would have to be surrounded with a stout wire fence, though. It is exasperating to have a good crop of tomatoes or squash coming in, only to discover that hungry rodents have helped themselves. I’d have a good variety of kitchen herbs, too – hanging from baskets, of course. Herbs seem to do incredibly well in coconut-fiber lined baskets; this year I have one with a thyme plant spilling over the side and hanging halfway to the ground – and I’ve never before gotten thyme to thrive in a terra cotta pot. Perhaps I’d connect two of the cottages with an arbor of unpeeled cedar poles, to hang the baskets of herbs from.

I’d add a scattering of trees to the oaks on my dream property; at least a couple of almond verbenas, which start as shrubs and with any encouragement at all turn into medium sized ornamental trees. They are not much to look at, but the clusters of tiny flowers have the most amazing sweet almond smell. I’d have some redbud trees for the look of them, and finally a couple of bearing fruit trees; peaches, or plums most likely, and a good pecan tree, too. The trees would bridge the gap between the practical vegetable garden, and the ornamental garden – which would be heavily tilted towards native and native-adapted plants which look after themselves, pretty much.

There would be roses, though – I couldn’t get along without roses, although they would also be the hardy sorts, and picked out more for their scent than their appearance. There would be shrubs to attract birds, butterflies and bees, much as I have now, only spread out a little more generously. I’d have a large area close to the entertainment kitchen and the grill paved in brick or stone … and that is where the main garden ornament would be; a fountain; a good-sized tall stone one, rather like the ones that adorn the private courtyards in the old houses I used to see in Spain, with a wide enough ledge to sit on surrounding the lower pool. And when I had a party, the guests could enjoy the sound of trickling water, the scent of almond verbena, and look at the late afternoon sun setting in the distance …

and that is my dream Texas Hill Country garden – what is yours?

Midsummer in the South Texas Garden

Our Midsummer San Antonio Garden Reveal

by Celia Hayes

At this point, we have about filled the back yard of my San Antonio home and the narrow strip running along the side of the house with just about everything it can hold; plants in the ground and plants in pots, or hanging from baskets from the edge of the back porch. Now my daughter has begun looking speculatively at the front of the house … which admittedly has begun to look a little neglected. Well, those parts not covered with enthusiastic plants are looking neglected. Five or six years ago, I planted one side of the driveway with mostly xeriscape plants, and things which I recall from Greece. There’s a small olive tree in the middle of it, with a fig tree, and two grapevines growing on metal obelisks, a pair of rose bushes, a lot of sage and rosemary, and one tall bay tree. It’s become pretty much a jumble, now, but a not unattractive jumble. It all thrives on whatever rain falls from the sky.

It’s the other side of the driveway, and the walk up towards the front door … that is the area which my daughter warns me is looking a bit slummy. “We don’t want to be ‘those people’ in that house,” she warns me, balefully. The Matterhorn of mulch supplied in the spring by the neighbor doing serious tree-trimming helped a little bit, but the bald fact remained – the length of walkway to the front porch borders a long skinny stretch of mulch with nothing much to break it up save a pair of wildly enthusiastic rose bushes and a small almond verbena tree. I had started a planting at the end – where the gate to the back garden opens, but the stretch in between it and the rose bushes looked … well, bare. And my daughter was struck by an idea when we saw some garden adornments on sale at Tuesday Morning. Among those items were some tall metal shepherd hooks, to hang plants from – very sturdy items and at a very good price.

Why not line the walk with four or five of these, and hang baskets of plants, and some bird-houses which she got at a yard sale a couple of weeks ago, and swap around the two birdbaths? Move the small concrete one out to the front, for the amusement of the birds, and the tall metal birth bath from where it had been to the middle of the garden in the back yard. So, ’twas done this morning, and with a humongous bag of potting soil, all the new hanging baskets were planted. We even added a new rain-gage to the eccentric collection of garden ornaments … one which I had been agonizing over at the Antique Rose Emporium. On Saturday they only had four left, so obviously I had to make a decision … and by this afternoon there was even some rain in it. At last I have been rewarded in planting the flame acanthus and agastache bushes, which between them have sprawled out a long way along the back fence. This week we have seen a pair of hummingbirds busily working their way along the red, and red-orange flowers, almost every morning and afternoon. They might even eventually discover the humming bird feeder, too…

How many useful and attractive plants can one cram into a small suburban garden? I don’t know yet, but we’re having fun finding out.

Summer Vegetarian Supper

Sizzling Summer Vegetarian Supper with Tomatoes from Our San Antonio Garden

by Celia Hayes

The first of the tomatoes from the garden are coming along slowly – but this week we had a good double-handful of small cherry tomatoes, in all colors; the usual red, but some lemon-yellow ones, and some of them so-called ‘black’ which were actually a kind of pale purple. Having a couple of ears of fresh corn in the refrigerator, I decided to make a summer corn and tomato relish out of them. This recipe was pulled from Cuisine at Home, issue #52, August 2005.

Whisk together ¼ cup cider vinegar and 1 TBsp sugar, until sugar is dissolved. Combine with 2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes, 1 cup of fresh corn kernels, (From two ears of corn), ½ cup thinly sliced red onion, 2 TBsp. chopped fresh flat-leafed parsley, and 1 TBsp. each chopped fresh chives and thinly-sliced fresh basil, with a sprinkle of freshly ground pepper and salt to taste. Cover and chill until serve. This recipe can be reduced by half, for a smaller number of people.

With the corn and tomato salad, we duplicated the cheese and spinach stuffed Portabella mushrooms that our local HEB has on hand, only using sorrel leaves instead of spinach. My daughter says that the sorrel, cooked, has more substance and flavor than spinach.

Take two (or as many as you need, allowing one per person) Portabella mushrooms, at least five inches across. Slice off the stem, level with the underside of the mushroom, and gently wipe the mushroom cap clean. Lightly brush the cap with olive oil, and place in a baking dish, stem side up. Sprinkle the mushroom underside with a light dusting of adobo seasoning, and layer each mushroom with fresh spinach leaves, or sorrel leaves, torn in half to fit and making two or three layers of leaves. Pile each with about 1/3 to ½ cup grated mozzarella cheese, and a little crumbled dry thyme. Bake at 350° for twenty minutes or so, until the cheese is deliciously melted and runny, and the mushrooms are done.

We topped off this supper with a focaccia bread loaf, made from dough left over from a recipe in a book called Rustic European Breads From Your Bread Machine. The recipe is a speedy one, French Baguettes For a Crowd – we use about two-thirds of the dough to make a thin-crust pizza, and the rest for a small pan of focaccia.

Combine in the bread machine pan: 2 ½ teasp bread machine yeast, 1 ½ cups water (we use whey left from cheese-making, which we store in a jug in the refrigerator) 3 ½ cups bread flour (or the same of regular flour and 1 TBsp vital wheat gluten) and 2 teasp salt. Run through the dough cycle, and allowed to rise at least once or twice. This dough can also be stashed in the refrigerator for a couple of days, until required. Just let it rise again, once removed from the refrigerator. Take that third, and press it out in an 8 x 8 pan greased with olive oil – although I did this loaf in a Japanese enamel pan which measures about 8 x 6. Once risen, then make deep indentations in it with your finger, about every two inches. Slather with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, sprinkle with salt, 1 teasp of thyme and about 2 TBsp of grated Parmesan. (We used dour own home-made Parmesan.) Bake in a 350° oven – if you are doing the mushrooms, you can bake them together. Dinner delight – guaranteed.

Time in our San Antonio Vegetable Garden

Time in the Vegetable Garden

by Celia Hayes

I look at the pictures that I took in the early spring, and I can hardly recognize my yard. A bitter winter freeze and various large and small animal depredations had pretty much laid waste to it for the last year or so … but what a difference five months have made! And a half-truckload of free mulch. And $65 dollars worth of timber and hardware from Lowe’s, and approximately $200 spent here and there, at the Antique Rose Emporium, HEB, and Sam’s Club for vegetable starts and premium potting soil and one or two other essential items. Considering that these expenses were spread over four months and between two of us, it’s not very much at all. The back yard garden looks good enough that I can invite people to see it, without suffering acute embarrassment.

The squash plants are spreading near and far, blooming luxuriantly – but so far, only a handful of tiny, inch-long squash. Note to self: Self, plant the squashes against the fence and give them plenty of space, as they seem to want to sprawl all over. The eggplants have fat purple and white blooms on them, but as yet, no embryonic eggplants, but the okra … a couple of incipient okras. Or is the singular of okra ‘oke’? Curiously, the pepper plants from last year are doing rather well, especially the one jalapeno planted in a separate pot

The most important item is – the tomatoes. We have three topsy-turvy planters, each with two plants in them, hanging from the top tier of a home-designed and built frame, suspended from two branches of the mulberry tree in the back yard. The plants have grown down, and the eight tomato plants in earth-boxes and self-watering pots below have grown up, supported on tomato cages … into one productive tangle. There are clusters of jade-green tomatoes everywhere, but it turned out that the tomatoes were irresistible to something with sharp and indiscriminant teeth. I suspected that the same critters were the same who raided throughout last year. They nibbled half of my hanging airplane/spider plants to death, digging up and digging up and eating the lush, juicy tubers that made the root network of the plants. The same hungry critters also ravaged the hanging turvey-planter full of peppers. We finally had to hang the pepper turvey from a hook in the center of the back porch roof, where the rats would have needed rappelling ropes and one of those hook-shooting thingys beloved of espionage thrillers to climb vertically from the edge of the roof to the pepper-plants.

And they did it in the last week or so, but this year we were out of patience with seeing our potential crop from this garden reduced by freeloading anything … birds, caterpillars, rodents, freeloaders of any phyla. We hates them, so we do my precious, we hates them! This year we set out baited rat-traps, and the first couple of rats caught in them were so big that they were … just maimed, which we did feel a little guilty about, but not much. The rats caught since then have been increasingly smaller and stone-cold instantly dead … and the tomatoes, peppers and hanging plants have since been unmolested. Still – the traps go out, every evening for another week or so. And that was my week in the garden; what was yours?

Water in the Creek

Water in the Creek, Progress in the Garden

by Celia Hayes

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Well, it’s been another quiet week in Spring Creek Forest, the little suburb that time forgot… I am improving my little patch of it as fast as I can and as the growing season allows. We were assisted last week by rain… lots and lots of rain. There actually was running water in Salado Creek. And since it was running over the path, we needed to wade through it – up to our shins, and with a perceptible current, too. Yes, we like to walk on the wild side, what with the mad risk-taking and all. The Weevil thoroughly enjoyed a romp through the water, and when she flushed a couple of ducks from the wetlands by the Morningstar boardwalk, her doggy heart overflowed with pure contentment. She didn’t come anywhere near actually catching a duck, though – that would have been a miracle of practically biblical dimensions.

The garden is doing very well, what with the rain, and the unseasonable warmth. The citrus in pots are blooming, and so is the wisteria – which only blooms for one week out of the year, and then sulks for the other fifty-one. The pot that my daughter thought to plant with an assortment of specially flavored mint plants has – as expected – thrived so thoroughly that there is very little of the pot itself actually visible. The artichoke, burdock and cardoons that I planted in pots some weeks ago are also thriving … There is a bare patch in the yard, where I’d love to have a patch of artichokes. I love artichokes, and to be able to pop out to the garden and pick them fresh would be fantastic. All they are is big, edible thistles, after all. We started this last weekend with some small artichoke plants, along with a blue-flowered salvia for variety, and some lambs’ ears for luck and hopefully to spread along the edge of the bed. Should they all grow and thrive, the bigger ones in pots will join them.

This week, we ventured out to the Antique Rose Emporium to see what they had for vegetable starts. It’s almost too late now for the lettuces and such, too early for beans and eggplant … but the right time for the exotic heirloom tomatoes, of which they had plenty and an amazing variety. I knew that tomatoes came in yellow, but brown, and purple? Oh my. Now to get some more topsy-turvys … we have space on the hanging frame for at least another three or four. The dozen tomato plants that we started some weeks ago are just now shyly putting out blooms. They are the ordinary sort of early tomatoes, and this time we got them in better condition than last year’s … which were priced half-off and nearly dead when we put them in the topys-turvys, but still did well.

Last week, HEB had cucumber and zucchini starts for $1.00 each – so here we go with starting six of them in the last earth-box. Zucchini plants are supposed to produce in overwhelming quantities, which has never been my personal experience, but I’m an optimist. I live in hope of bulging bags of zucchini that I will be able to leave on neighbors’ doorsteps, after ringing the doorbell and running away. And this morning … we had an idea to build a raised bed from treated timbers, and expand the vegetable-growing area. There is a place around the back of the house where the soil is so full of little chunks of rock and concrete rubble from when the house was built that a raised bed full of good soil is the only hope. Next year, maybe…