Making a compost bin

[caption id="attachment_201" align="alignnone" width="563"]Garden mascot, garden gnome. Garden mascot, garden gnome.[/caption]

My better half made a composter today. Squee!

We have three trees in the tiny little patch of earth on this planet we call home: a native bald cypress and two live oaks - one in the front, and one at back. These trees provide an amazing quantity of leaves throughout the year, which we are hoping to help find their way back into the ground. Composting will help this along.

[caption id="attachment_202" align="alignnone" width="563"]A magnificent resource to be blessed with: leaves! A magnificent resource to be blessed with: leaves![/caption]

What Nature takes a long while to do, we could possibly speed up just a little bit, seeing as we're not going to be here as long as She.

[caption id="attachment_203" align="alignnone" width="563"]Food, glorious food! Food, glorious food![/caption]

There are a thousand and one ways to make compost bins, and this is what we came up with. First, we picked a spot - a large, shady, corner of the garden, bordered by fences and by one side of the garage. Although it's rather tucked away, I love the let-it-be and wait-and-see quality of this space. With just a little nudge here and there, this could become a rather magical spot in the future. This is also only one of two places in the garden that I've seen earthworms. Having dappled shade and privacy also makes this a great spot for a compost pile.


Better half hammered down four metal garden stakes, three feet tall, into the earth.


We also placed three additional stakes for stability on three sides. Using a roll of sturdy wire fencing, also three feet high, we attached the fencing to the stakes very simply with small bits of wire, thusly:



And, in next to no time, the thing was done!

[caption id="attachment_209" align="alignnone" width="563"]Awaiting compost scraps and leaves! Awaiting compost scraps and leaves![/caption]

We filled her up straight away.



By all accounts, we'll need to find a way to chop the leaves up in order to speed up the process. For now, this bin and a pitchfork will give us a great start.

I'd like to leave you with a song by Tom Paxton, the great American folksinger. Not quite a complete cycle as composting, but with the same Spirit of creativity and harmony with the world. Enjoy, and see you in Arcadia!

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Rosemary in retrospect

We gather plants as we've gathered others in our lives, animate and inanimate - cats, second hand dishes, repurposed glass jars, clothes, kitchen rags. Sometimes we seek out our plants, and sometimes the plants end up on our doorstep, plants that have been forsaken or orphaned, or are awaiting a fate that does not have space for their care. This post is about the former; orphaned plants in our home can form a post all on its own!

After the lemongrass, the second plant to go into the ground, from being a migrant just as we were, in pots, migrating with us, pots and roots and all, is one of two Rosemary plants. Her origins: I snipped cuttings out of her mother plant, a healthy bush I saw in a hotel garden parking lot in Atlanta, GA, in the summer of 2007. I placed several of the cuttings in a paper cup filled with water, snapped on the plastic lid, stuck the lot of it in my handbag, and drove back with it and my other half, to New York City. And there, at home in our tiny little apartment, we did our best to root the cuttings. Several died, but one or two took.

[caption id="attachment_188" align="alignnone" width="500"]The tiny Rosemary, with a much larger Meenbo. The tiny Rosemary, with a much larger Meenbo.[/caption]

Something out of nothing - a brand new, independent plant from its mother. It wasn't at all easy, loving plants as much as we do (and did), trying to keep them alive through all seasons, in front of just four windows that received only so much sunlight throughout the year. But we tracked that sunlight for our plants' sakes, as surely as our beloved felines tracked it for their enjoyment.

We moved the plants and their roots in their pots around, following the path of the sun. And, despite the harsh winters and the dry interiors and the ever-present threat of spider mites, most of our plants held on, survived, and some even thrived. So, placing Rosemary into the ground a few days ago was a momentous occasion. In 2011, she looked like this:

[caption id="attachment_190" align="alignnone" width="500"]Rosemary, Summer of 2011, on the window sill with lemon pickle curing, in NYC. Rosemary, Summer of 2011, on the window sill with lemon pickle curing, in NYC.[/caption]

And, before she went into the earth here at the Coahuila garden in Houston, she looked very stately, indeed:

[caption id="attachment_191" align="alignnone" width="500"]Rosemary, 2013 November. Rosemary, 2013 November.[/caption]

Ah, a cat is never far away from our garden.

[caption id="attachment_196" align="alignnone" width="500"]Kiki and the Rosemary Kiki and the Rosemary[/caption]

From what we read, Rosemary likes a well-draining, sandy-ish soil, and flowers throughout the winter and into spring here. We'd like to place as many useful plants in the front garden as we can get away with, so the hope is that she shall be the first of many.

In the ground, she suddenly looked so small, and somewhat vulnerable:


But she's been doing well, despite the freezing temperatures we've had recently. Rosemary, the second of our migrating plants to find her permanent home.


See you in Arcadia!

First harvest and November blooms

Mel Bartholomew, in his Square-Foot Gardening book, advises his readers to thin out seedlings before they grow too big. It makes perfect sense. However, I felt more than a twinge of guilt at the prospect. True, nothing in the plant world goes to waste: Mother Nature is incredibly efficient, amongst all her other superb qualities. Still, it seemed an illogical waste to me.

So, I hadn't been looking forward to thinning out the seedlings, until I discovered (rather brilliantly, I might add) that rather than letting the seedlings just return to the earth, I could eat them! share them with my better half! So, I set about snipping. It took a while. But it was worth it. Who knew that one, single, tiny sprout could provide such flavour and texture?

[caption id="attachment_155" align="alignnone" width="625"]Microgreens of cauliflower,  swiss chard, beets, cilantro, dill, lettuce, and more. Microgreens of cauliflower, swiss chard, beets, cilantro, dill, lettuce, and more.[/caption]

Nearly the size of microgreens. I ended up placing them in fresh salad rolls - the best way to have a salad: wrapped up in a little water-soaked skin and doused in some peanut sauce. And with all of that came an enormous sense of gratitude - that something so small could sustain beings so much larger, and clumsier, and non-photosynthesising as we are. Well, the garden is tended, the seedlings are small, but growing, and so we wait. And while we wait, here's what's blooming - or is about to bloom - in the back garden, in early November. Do click on the little pictures to yield larger ones:[gallery link="file" ids="171,169,168,167,165,164,160,159,157,110,112,161"]

We've been slow at getting the front sheltered garden going. There's a lot of hauling involved. But, it's coming along - this weekend will see to some work there.

Seedling roundup

The rain let up, both of us fixed to garden today, the sun was shining, and we had ourselves a few precious hours outside, working and pottering (he would say that he worked, while I pottered. Which wouldn't be exactly untrue...)

On Sunday it will be 2 weeks into our Winter Garden. Most of all the seeds sowed have sprung up, with the exception of some older seed stock I used with parsley and marigolds. Never mind - the extra space can be used to transfer some seedlings. Here's how things look, two weeks on:

[gallery link="file" ids="96,95,94,92,91,90,89,93,88"]


We also started to attend to some small gardening jobs we've been meaning to do for some time. For instance, we gave our lemongrass plant a permanent home in the ground, like so:

[caption id="attachment_83" align="alignnone" width="625"]Lemongrass, by the corner of the breezeway and garage. Lemongrass, by the corner of the breezeway and garage.[/caption]

And, we were finally able to return to working on the very first garden project we wanted to tackle after moving here - the front entryway garden.

We removed all of the Asparagus meyeri from the courtyard, and placed all plants in the front - for now. I'm a bit disheartened to know that this plant is considered invasive in some places. But they are rather beautiful plants, and for now, grace the shadier front garden bed. Before - and after:[gallery columns="2" ids="84,85"]

And I placed a Man From The East here, on some humble bricks, but He's an easy going fellow, so I know He'll be happy there. Thanks to my sister for leaving Ganesha behind.

[caption id="attachment_86" align="alignnone" width="625"]The Man from the East, bestowing all that's good. The Man from the East, bestowing all that's good.[/caption]

We'll be working on the entryway garden tomorrow and Sunday; more pictures to follow. I'd like to leave you with this lovely sight. Our parijata plant, Nyctanthes arbor-tristis, always flowers around this time of year, and has flourished mightily after moving down to Texas with us. This second bud emerged today:

[caption id="attachment_82" align="alignnone" width="625"]Nyctanthes arbor-tristis, with its coral-stemmed flower whose scent is so mysteriously spicy and honey-sweet. Nyctanthes arbor-tristis, with its coral-stemmed flower whose scent is so mysteriously spicy and honey-sweet.[/caption]

Sweet dreams to our beautiful, plant-filled world.

Day 8

Yesterday brought a mighty rain in the early morning, which eventually gave way to sunshine in the afternoon. Good for the plants. Not so good for mucking about during football season (when the only time to garden on a Sunday is before the first game begins). But, we did take pictures to document this journey, and here they are today:

[caption id="attachment_73" align="alignnone" width="625"]Red swiss chard, bending and standing. A blurry bit of red swiss chard, bending and standing.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_71" align="alignnone" width="625"]The beginnings of carrots The beginnings of carrots, in the pose of tadaasanaa - mountain pose![/caption]

[caption id="attachment_70" align="alignnone" width="625"]Such a humble little dill Such a humble little dill, holding a drop of water.[/caption]

And no garden is quite complete without a feline, such as this fine little creature:

[caption id="attachment_72" align="alignnone" width="625"]Kiki, one of the felines we share our garden with. Kiki, one of the felines we share our garden with.[/caption]

There she sits, poised so gracefully, in front of the lantana. The other cats, I am very sorry to say, are like lettuces: they bolt. Oh, except this one, who is our proverbial "fence sitter," if I ever saw one. Ah, so much like her human.

[caption id="attachment_74" align="alignnone" width="625"]Do I go out? Do I stay in? How much can I lose? How much can I win? Do I go out? Do I stay in? How much can I lose? How much can I win?[/caption]

The only ones we haven't seen in this short week are: onions (or "funions," as my other half calls them), scallions, and coriander. I wonder what they're waiting for? Ah, well, it's certainly we who are waiting.



Day 6

There's such a heightened sense of expectation - and yet also a great need for patience - in gardening. Oh, hello again, Ancestor.

[caption id="attachment_54" align="alignnone" width="625"]Hello again, dear Ancestor. You're green today. Hello again, dear Ancestor. You're green today.[/caption]

Today s/he was hanging out by the neem tree, a tree given as a precious gift to us by a friend, whose Tamizh name, புஷ்ப மலர் (pushpa malar), is a combination of the Sanskrit word for flower and the Tamizh word for flower, or wildflower. Flower-flower. What a fantastic and appropriate name for one who loves gardens and plants and flowers so much. The neem deserves its own post. So do you, Ancestor. More on you both, later.

Today marks Day 6 of the winter garden. What's new? Let's see - magically, in a matter of hours, we are lucky today to see:

[caption id="attachment_57" align="alignnone" width="625"]The tops of beets! The tops of beets![/caption]

[caption id="attachment_56" align="alignnone" width="625"]Tri-colour cauliflower seedlings. Tri-colour cauliflower seedlings.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_55" align="alignnone" width="625"]Little lettuce seedlings Little lettuce seedlings[/caption]

Amazing! Beets, cauliflower, and lettuce. Also, though not pictured today, we see arugula making its appearance. What shall tomorrow bring? Work of a different nature - one gardening job for the weekend for both of us is to tackle our little front courtyard garden. We have all the tools, and most of the plants we need, to plant a tropical, shady paradise.

Sweet dreams!


Day One was Sunday. We spent the latter part of the weekend gathering all we would need for the raised winter garden beds. We predrilled and put in wood screws and applied linseed oil and worked together, and our finished boxes looked like this:

[caption id="attachment_17" align="alignnone" width="625"]4x4 Boxes, 8" deep, ready to be laid down in the garden. 4x4 Boxes, 8" deep, ready to be laid down in the garden.[/caption]

Outside, the components of the soil mixture awaited in the back garden.

[caption id="attachment_18" align="alignnone" width="625"]Two truckloads of compost, with a few cubic feet of peat moss. Two truckloads of compost, with a few cubic feet of peat moss.[/caption]

Thanks very much to our Pallie With Truck, we were able to secure two truckloads of compost, one from The Ground Up by Memorial & I-10, and another from Living Earth in Missouri City. Thanks also to a little hidden gem in Gulfton, Southwest Fertilizer, we found both enough of the coarse vermiculite and peat moss that we needed to make up the soil mixture for the beds.

Noticed that the vegan compost from The Ground Up was denser and warmer than the stuff from Living Earth, when the loads were initially placed here at home from the compost lot. However, the next day, both loads were still quite steamy, fragrant, and in essence, just the sort of stuff you might almost wish you could dive into.

[caption id="attachment_19" align="alignnone" width="625"]Rest assured, the bucket was not on fire! Rest assured, the bucket was not on fire! Just steam from the glorious pile o'compost.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_20" align="alignnone" width="625"]Just a bit of steamy goodness coming out from the compost. Just a bit of steamy goodness coming out from the compost. Thank you, bacteria and other microbes![/caption]

Then we set about mixing: a third each of peat, coarse vermiculite, and compost. We're taking inspiration here from Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening, though we settled for a 2-blend compost, not the 5-blend he recommends.

[caption id="attachment_21" align="alignnone" width="625"]Mixing it up: peat, coarse vermiculite, compost. Mixing it up: peat, coarse vermiculite, compost.[/caption]

We laid out weedcloth (unfortunately, I believe this stuff is not biodegradable - next go-around, it would be great to get the stuff that will decompose sooner rather than later) and set the boxes down, one by one.

[caption id="attachment_22" align="alignnone" width="625"]Ta-da! The first raised bed. Yes, you're gorgeous. And empty. Ta-da! The first raised bed. Yes, you're gorgeous. And empty.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_24" align="alignnone" width="625"]Fill 'er up! With the help of  a trusty wheelbarrow. Fill 'er up! With the help of a trusty wheelbarrow.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_25" align="alignnone" width="625"]Smoothening out the soil. Such fun work. So, not really work. Just fun fun. Smoothening out the soil. Such fun work. So, not really work. Just fun fun.[/caption]

And so on. In the end, we had four beds, skirting the back side of the house:

[caption id="attachment_26" align="alignnone" width="625"]Watering the beds just a little bit. Watering the beds just a little bit. For perspective, the fence faces East.[/caption]

And, to give perspective, here is where the beds lie in relation to the house, from different angles:

[caption id="attachment_27" align="alignnone" width="625"]Facing East, from the breezeway and driveway side of the land. Facing East, from the breezeway and driveway side of the land.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_28" align="alignnone" width="625"]From the South East corner of the land. From the South East corner of the land, right by the Bald Cypress tree (left) and the rather poor Lagerstroemia (right).[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_29" align="alignnone" width="625"]From the South West corner of the land, very well shaded in the autumn mornings. From the South West corner of the land, very well shaded in the autumn mornings.[/caption]

Though my better half thought that laying down the square foot lathe was silly, I rather liked the idea of straight lines in a garden bed. So, I pre-drilled and installed wood screws into bits of plywood, and the resulting beds looked like this:

[caption id="attachment_30" align="alignnone" width="625"]The four finished, gridded beds. The four finished, gridded beds.[/caption]

And this is what I planted on Sunday evening, as the sun was setting:

[caption id="attachment_40" align="alignnone" width="256"]Grid 1 Grid 1, Eastern-most[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_39" align="alignnone" width="256"]Grid 2 Grid 2, which gets more sun.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_38" align="alignnone" width="256"]Grid 3 Grid 3, with lots of interesting little bits.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_37" align="alignnone" width="256"]Grid 4 And Grid 4, the Western-most grid, with one square of parsley sown 2 years ago in New York City! [/caption]

All was planted en-masse, with nary a thought to how to stagger harvest times. We shall, more than likely, have a great abundance of parsley. Tabbouleh, anyone?

Happy Gardening!

Day 5

Our allergies are raging, but oh, is it a gorgeous October day in Houston. Today marks the 5th day of the winter garden's existence, and we have noticed both tiny bits of lettuce seedlings, as well as confident little broccoli rabe peeping out of the soil, like so:

[caption id="attachment_11" align="alignnone" width="625"]Seedlings which appeared on the 4th day after sowing. Broccoli rabe seedlings which appeared on the 4th day after sowing.[/caption]

We're ecstatic. The sky is blue, there's a cool breeze from the South East, and the garden grows. As we take more time to be outside, we have the opportunity to see lovely friends like this one:

[caption id="attachment_13" align="alignnone" width="625"]An Ancestor, hanging in the Rosemary An Ancestor, hanging in the Rosemary[/caption]

Between being a shy model for photographs and turning away, s/he closes the eyes and opens them, and looks right into mine. In this, we see a dinosaur, an ancestor, a family member. You have two eyes, and so do I.