Sunday, July 21, 2019

Cool Harvests in the Heat of Summer 2019

Beck and Ava with first cucumber harvest from their giant plant grown from seed!
     It has been a typical hot summer in Austin, but it is still "cool" to be at the Rollingwood Garden. Although the heat prevents us from planting new crops, the gardeners are still diligent to water and tend the spring garden plants through summer harvest. Although the summer heat wiped out a few of our plants, there were still some spectacular harvests.

The Super Cucumber Vine
    The most amazing plant at RWCEG this spring and summer is a cucumber vine that was planted from a very small seed. It rapidly grew, and soon it towered over the girls that planted and took care of it week after week. The leaves grew larger than their heads, and it became covered with small yellow flowers. The flowers started to bulge outward until, after a few weeks, they were fully ripe cucumbers. Time got a way from us and a few over ripened into what appeared to be large, yellow squash. Although past their prime, they were still edible. The cucumber vine continued to produce cucumbers for several weeks.

Ava proud of her tasty carrots
Little but Big
     Another successful crop were the carrots. Although they were rather little in size, they were still big on flavor. Carrots are tricky to grow since the seeds are like grains of sand. It is difficult to space them properly when planting, so many come up too close to each other. The crowding can reduce the vegetable size, so we practice "thinning" in which we purposely pull out some of the smaller, weaker plants early on to allow more room for the stronger plants to thrive. From our results, we obviously have room to improve, but we are still grateful with we got.

Potato Pals

 The Subterranean Easter Egg Hunt
     A long time favorite event at RWCEG has been the Potato Harvest in mid to late May. The kids have a great time digging through the dirt with no idea what treasures they will find.  Since we grow a variety of multi-colored potatoes, the event is akin to a subterranean Easter egg hunt! We harvested a few potatoes at a time for about a month. Some families made delicious dishes with the potatoes by adding chives and rosemary also harvested from the garden.

Can you spot the fake vs real grapes
When The Fake Becomes Real
     The fenced perimeter of RWCEG becomes covered in Mustang grape vines by Summer time. Despite the fact the vines produce a lot of grapes, we usually only get a few ripe ones because our "forest friends" eat them before they are prime. This year, however, with a cleaver idea from my visiting parents, we decided to outsmart the forest foragers by hanging purple, fake plastic grapes along the vine. The hope was that the animals would be drawn to the fake grapes first, and decide they do not taste good.  Then, when the real grapes become ripe, the animals will not be interested, thinking they taste as bad as the fake ones sampled earlier. I am not sure how well this concept works, but we did end up harvesting a tremendous number of ripe grapes one week. There were so many grapes that we became tired of harvesting and decided to pick more the following weeks. However, by the next week, there were virtually no grapes to be found! Most of the grapes were bitter-sweet. I found it best to blend them in a juicer and then add just a little bit of honey!

From the Real grape harvest
Okra in Bloom
     We also harvest a little bit of okra. Although the edible vegetable is not pretty, the flower on the plant is large and beautiful. Okra can withstand the heat quite well.

The Pleasing Pea Vine
      In early spring we planted sugar snap peas from seed. By end of spring we had a remarkable harvest of peas from the vines that grew about 10 feet tall. They were fun to eat from the vine. In many cases I had to help our younger members reach the peas at the top!
     Presently we have a large variety of beans growing at the garden that have been harvested a little bit each week. We also have peppers, tomatoes, and a watermelon growing at the garden, but they are not doing well due to the summer heat. We are hoping they perk back up and start producing once the weather begins to cool in early Autumn. Many vegetable plants "shut down" when temperatures exceed 85'F.

And one for the bugs...
And one for the bugs...
     We make efforts to remove (organically) "bad bugs" from the garden, but many insects and bugs are beneficial. We let select critters share in our garden bounty. One example are the swallowtail caterpillars that are attracted to our dill and fennel plants. Although they eat some of the plant, we know they will become beautiful butterflies that will pollinate many flowers. Besides, we mostly eat the fennel bulb which grows underground.

Happy Gardening to all!
Posted by Glenn Starnes 7/21/2019

Monday, April 15, 2019

Getting “Dirty” at the Garden

Garden helpers making super soil in the new garden bed make of cedar wood. 

     A lot has been happening at RWCEG this Spring, 2019. We recently have had additional families join our garden community. To provide more growing capacity for our newest members, one of our deteriorated garden beds has recently been rebuilt. Special thanks to the Nyer family for obtaining building materials and constructing the new raised garden bed frame. The new bed is built of wood to complement the existing concrete-cinder-block and composite-plastic raised beds. Untreated Cedar wood was chosen since it will decay at a much slower rate than most other woods, and it will not leach harmful chemicals into the garden soil that could be absorbed by the plants. For additional protection against weathering, the wood bed has been completely varnished with two coats of raw linseed oil. Linseed oil is derived from pressed flax seeds (a super food!), and it is considered a very safe, non-toxic wood preservative appropriate for organic gardening.

     Of course, the most important part of any garden bed is the soil. An informative class was held at RWCEG to educate our gardeners on the components of good garden soil based on the guidelines of Square-Foot-Gardening methods. With a lot of help from our youngest garden members, the soil ingredients were measured, mixed, and spread in the new garden bed. Our soil components included:
   1. Multi-sourced Compost - This is the primary food for the plants.
   2. Peat moss & coconut coir - Used for improved water retention.
   3. Vermiculite - A heat expanded mineral full of air pockets. It is very light and used for water retention and aeration. It helps make the soil friable (loose) and reduces compaction for improved root growth. 

Glenn & Evan teaching gardeners about soil components.

Garden helpers mixing soil ingredients. 

     The RWCEG community would like to give a shout out to the primary supplier of our garden soil resources, Brite Ideas: Aquaponics, Hydroponics & Organics.

     We could have just bought pre-mixed potting soils, but as an Education Garden, we wanted our members to understand how the unique properties of each soil component contributes to plant growth. Thanks to Brite Ideas, we were able to obtain each soil component in raw form in the quantities desired and at excellent prices. In addition to carrying garden and hydroponic supplies, the store owner, Troy, and his staff are very helpful, and they are very knowledgeable of their products and various types of organic gardening methods. This locally owned business also offers classes open to the public. We highly recommend checking them out for any of your garden supply needs or as a resource for learning more about various organic growing methods. Our Garden Treasurer, Becky, also bought a wide variety of seeds from Brite Ideas that will likely be planted soon in the new bed. Refer to their website for additional information:

Getting soil supplies at Brite Ideas with help from store owner, Troy (right). 

Seed packets bought at Brite Ideas

Blog posted by Glenn Starnes; garden caretaker