March 20th, 2011 by Marc Opperman
Sometimes it’s not all showy new plants or fabulous creations in the garden on a Spring weekend… and that’s okay. This was a good, productive weekend devoted to garden maintenance tasks. No building, no new paths or beds, no trellis structures… just solid, satisfying upkeep.
The potato crop has been growing like weeds, so it was time to do their second mounding. I did the first mounding about three weeks ago, and my furrows were mostly filled. So I had to come up with a source of soil to do this work. I had a good half-wheelbarrow of compost from my pile to dig out, some bags of Houston soil, and a half-wheelbarrow of Hill Country blend. So I loaded up my wheelbarrows and did some mixing. What I produced probably turned out to be some of the best soil I’ve ever worked with. (I’m beginning to dislike straight Hill Country blend for planting. It dries out far too quickly and crusts over.) The potato rows are now mounded, about halfway up their stems… left plenty of the leaves showing to allow the plant to remain vigorous but protect the tubers from sunlight… Eek! Solanine!
Over the past couple nights, I’ve lost stems of potato plants to a cutworm… or at least that was my theory. Today, I did a little probing around with my soil knife at the base of the cut plant, and I found the vile bastard! Dispatched. Hopefully there aren’t more. But now I know how to find them.
Native Grass Bed:
This is the last major ornamental bed I created since beginning a focus on food crops. I made it in Spring, 2009 to contain grasses native to Central Texas. I have bushy bluestem, little bluestem, sideoats grama and seep muhly. A few other acceptable things have crept in: columbine and prairie verbena. But one other plant, a baccharis, which piggybacked with one of the little bluestems from the Wildflower Center plant sale, had gotten very large and unruly. And unwanted. (Though, to be fair, if I had open ground in the sun, I’d have moved it or kept it. They can be rather pretty, even if they do have properties that give some people intense allergic reactions). So, I dug it out. In the process I had to move some bluestems to other parts of the yard. While I was at it, I trimmed back the thickest old growth, leaving just enough to retain interest. I moved a few rhizomes of the sideoats to other parts, too, and shored up the bed’s karst limestone edges. I gave the bed a side-dressing of my compost mix, too. But I didn’t want to add too much. Most of these grasses do well in dry, alkaline soils devoid of too much organic matter.
Native Sprout Rescue:
Every year a few plants I really like decide life is better outside the established borders and die back within the beds after establishing sprouts in my brick or gravel paths. And since I’m a real sucker for a few of them, I will pry up bricks and dig up gravel to move them to more suitable places. I did some of that to clear a brick walkway and re-establish some borders that had come apart. After siting some karst limestone chunks at the edge of my large semi-circular bed, I moved a prairie verbena into one of the holes in the limestone. I also moved a Texas primrose to the edge of another bed.
All of the prairie verbena I have came from a single one-inch sprig I imported with some reclaimed karst limestone. I broke that sprig out of its rock with a chisel and replanted it. So I know this stuff is tough, can be moved easily, and will grow under strange conditions.
Since I had dug out the remnants of one compost pile and had emptied the bin, I decided to swap and invert the contents of another pile into it. And this is the work I’m feeling now, mainly in my lower back and arms. But to my delight, I found that most of the material in pile I was moving is half- to three-quarters finished. As a bonus, there is a solid two wheelbarrows of finished compost from the bottom. I didn’t have a lot of “green” material to layer in with the stuff I was moving, so I added a couple layers of dry Natural Gardener fertilizer to add nitrogen to jumpstart the compost microbes. I watered both layers to give the pile some moisture. I’m curious to see if I actually get heat out of this pile. I usually don’t get too much heat unless I mix in a lot of cut grass. Overall, I’m hoping to master some of the nuances of composting this year.
Hmm… what comes to mind?
- picked more radishes and carrots. And a few bolted onions, too. I sure hope they don’t all bolt. However, the weather was right for onions to think they should flower, so we’ll see.
- pulled 986,760 weeds
- found and dispatched a lot of green caterpillars that were eating my lettuce. Jenna found the first one, and got after them with a vengeance. It’s a good sign that she’s getting protective of our veggies!
- freaked out about all the pillbugs eating everything from the tops of my radishes to the bottoms of my potato plants, as well as my strawberry plants and onion leaves. Spread lots of diatomaceous earth and vowed to water only in the mornings.
- added glauconite to several beds hoping to improve the quality of those soils and the taste of vegetables grown in them
- improved my former-tallow-tree bed with more pine straw and some of the grasses I moved. I’m starting to consider this my “native woodlands” bed… partly shady near the center but dry.
- noted, in general, pests are back. caterpillars/worms, mainly. But so, too, are their main predators… wasps!
- had an inspiring visit to the Wildflower Center… but that’s another post.