Merry Christmas Everyone, Happy Holidays You All!!!!

Well, Christmas has now officially past.  I hope you all had a good time.  According to the Mayans, this was the last time any of us will get to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour.  If this was to be out last Christmas together at least it was great!  For the first time in a long time all of our little chickens were at the nest for Christmas day.  This was the best Christmas gift that Sally and I could have recieved.  For three joyous days we cooked, ate and visited.  The nights were filled with libations, laughter and board games. 

Below are a few pics from our most joyous of celebrations:


Broccoli harvest that we shared with all of our neighbors


Chris, Sassy and Midas prepare the flank steak for Christmas Eve fajitas.



Red solo cup, we lift you up!


Jessie, Katie, Moose and Gran are ready for presents!

Sally set a lovely table and Whitney made a beautiful center piece

BTW, this year’s wine turned out awesomely!  We bought new bottles, a corking machine and had labels made.  Very pleased with the results!

This year’s celebration was almost Rockwellian.  Family gathered together enjoying each other’s company and taking time to be thankful for all that we have been blessed with.  Merry Christmas everyone.  I hope your celebrations were wonderful and I really hope the Mayans are wrong!

Picture Perfect

Several years ago,  I saw a spread in Better Homes and Gardens that had a portrait of the featured home displayed in the living room.  I thought that was such a cool idea that I vowed to have a portrait of my own home done someday.  Well, that someday came this past weekend.

"The Nest" by Scott Heman

The artist of this most awesome painting is our nephew.  His name is Scott Heman and as you can see, he is a VERY talented artist.  This past Saturday, Scott delivered our painting.  OMG!  The painting is so lovely and his technique and attention to detail is amazing.  His painting perfectly captures the way our home feels to us on an early summer afternoon.  This portrait will make such a nice addition to our decorating scheme and we cannot thank him enough for doing this. 

The picture Scott used to create his masterpiece

For the past five years, all of our spare time and money has been spent on the remodel of our little country cottage.  All of the sacrifice and hard work are beginning to pay off.  The remodel is about 90% complete and this portrait is a way for us to celebrate our accomplishments.

Here is what our house looked like in the beginning. At this time, we literally had to go outside onto the proch to get to the only bathroom! Plus, there was no heat and or A/C.

Unless you have worked on an extended remodel, you can’t fully appreciate the toll it takes on you.  It is a bit like raising a child.  It drains your bank account and tests all of your emotional reserves.  However, in the end, it provides you with some of the most rewarding and enriching experiences of your life.  Now that we are approaching the end, I can truly say I am glad we did this.  We now have a lovely home that is truly ours.  Each and every surface and system in the house has been designed and touched by our two hands.  Our home is a perfect representation of who we are and how we choose to live.  My wife and I have now raised five kids and remodeled four homes.  While I highly recommend both activities to those who have not yet done it, this will be the last remodel for she and I.  Yes, I have come to the conclussion that raising kids and remodeling homes are both activities best left to the young!

Even as I write this, I know that our home will never be completely finished.  Just like us, the house will continue evolve as time goes by.  We may not have any more painting to do, but there are still two unadorned acres to make beautiful and many more estate sales to attend in search of that perfect piece.  Yes, even though the walls are done, the home is not finished.  As Sir Winston Churchill so beautifully stated, “This is the end of our beginnings”.

BTW, Scott is available for commissions. So, if you have anything that you want painted, let me know and I will be happy to hook you up.

The Fall Potager

Even though it is the middle of December, my little potager has never looked better.  This is one of the reasons I love living in Texas.  Because of the mild winters, I can literally garden year round.  Everyone loves to complain about our hot summers.  However, in my opinion, our winters more than make up for it.  I heard last night that Houston averages 16 days per year below freezing.  We are about 90 miles north of Houston but I am willing to bet we only have 20 to 24 days that are that cold.  Due to this, with proper crop selection, some rotational planting and the willingness to occasionally cover things up, your fall garden can last right up to the spring planting.  Below are several pics of the things that are currently growing in my potager:

I have three different varieties of broccoli growing in my garden.

I have 12 cauliflower growing.  I planted the cauliflower in blocks of three two weeks apart.  This way I don’t have to worry about eating 12 cauliflower in one week!

My wife and I love spinach.  Because of this, two of our triangular beds are lined with it.  In classic gardening form, one bed had a bout a 100% germination rate.  In the other bed, the germination was very spotty.  These little set backs are the things that keep me interested.  I will spend hours trying to figure out why one bed performed perfectly and the other, identical bed, was somewhat of a disappointment.

I always grow lettuce in the fall.  We eat a ton of it and it is so easy.  I only grow leaf lettuce.  Nothing against head lettuce, but once you harvest a head you have to replant and wait.  With leaf lettuce you can continuously clip the leaves through out the season.

I love shallots.  Their form is lovely in many applications in the potager.  I grow these things year round.  I never harvest them all.  Many people call them dividing onions and there is a good reason.  I recently left a clump in the ground for a year and there were almost 50 off shots on it.  I have about a dozen heads of cabbage scattered around the potager.  We are going to try our hand at homemade sauerkraut when the harvest comes in.

I don’t just have veggies growing in the potager.  I have tons of flowers.  These are baby larkspur.  I also have lots of Victoria Salvia, poppies, calendula, mums, two different roses and hollyhocks.  There are also a few byzantine glads and dianthus scattered around as well.

Pansey’s, vi0las (Johhny Jump Ups), carrots and shallots in the center bed.

A very dedicated little bee is gathering nectar on a 40 degree day.

Calendula are often called pot marigolds.  Their petals are edible and they will bloom until it gets about 90 degrees.

MOH on Central Texas Gardener

Yesterday was a banner day for MOH.  About 10:00 a.m. yesterday morning, Linda Lehmusvirta and a film crew from Central Texas Gardener showed up to film my little potager.  This was very exciting for me and I enjoyed it thoroughly.  The only downside is it will take a while before my little garden makes its television debut.  Turns out television programs take an awful lot of prep and it will take a bit of work to get the final product edited and ready to view.

Linda and I doing the interview

 Over the past three months I have worked tirelessly growing the plants and improving the potager so that it will look awesome on TV.  Because of this, things have never looked better at my house.  There really is nothing like a big dead line to motivate you to get all of those honey do’s finished that have been put off for too long. 

My wife and I with Linda Lehmusvirta from Central Texas Gardener

The focus of the interview was growing the Texas fall garden.  I was asked to describe what I most commonly grew and how I grew it.  Since I grow organically in raised beds we spent quite a bit of time talking about soil and bed prep.  We also discussed the benefits of the paved walk paths.  I am not sure how long the interview lasted but I think I babbled on for about 30 minutes.  The interview will mostly likely be edited to about 3 or 4 minutes of dialog so it will be interesting to see what I actually said!

A pic of the lettuce, shallots and cauliflower that is growing in the triangular beds of the potager.

 I would like to say a special thanks to Linda Lehmusvirta of CTG for taking time to do this.  She was great and the film crew was awesome!  The whole experience was so much fun and Sally and I greatly enjoyed making new friends.

Growing Broccoli (Brassica oleracea) and Other Cole Crops

Broccoli flower head beginning to form. These heads are actually hundreds of little flowers. Harvest the head as soon as you see any yellow tint begining to form.

Right now, I am eating so much broccoli that my skin has a greenish tint! Back in September I planted 36 plants of three different varieties and now I am being rewarded with tons of big, full heads of broccoli every night. Now there is absolutely no way that my wife and I can eat this much broccoli. However, that is never really a problem. To me, one of the greatest joys that I receive from my garden is the ability to share my harvests. People are always so happy to receive fresh, all organic produce directly from the garden.

The first four heads that I harvested this year. the large head in the back was 8" in diameter.

You might wonder why on earth I planted so many broccoli plants. I normally grow broccoli in the fall, just not this much. However, this year I was offered an opportunity that I just could not pass up. The largest gardening program in Texas, Central Texas Gardener, offered to come and film my little potager. I was thrilled. However, there was a catch; they wanted to film in December! So, I had a challenge. What could I grow that would make the potager look great in the middle of the incredibly unpredictable Texas winter?  So, that’s how I wound up with so much broccoli. I needed something fool proof to make sure my garden looked good for the cameras of CTG and broccoli fit the bill.

Now my garden does not have just broccoli in it. It also has a lot of cauliflower and cabbage (plus flowers and lots of other root crops). They made the cut for the same reason as the broccoli, they are fool proof.

Notice the slight yellow starting to show. this head is ready for harvest.

Broccoli belongs to the plant family Brassicaceae. The genus is brassica and plants that belong to it are often called simply brassicas or cole crops. Cole comes from the Latin word caulis which means stem or cabbage. The genus Brassicas contains some of the most important agricultural crops in the world. This family has been a favorite food of humans for so long that there are species that have been improved to allow us to eat literally every part of the plant. Rutabagas and turnips are brassicas that are grown for their roots. Kholrabi is grown for its stems. Cabbage, kale, brussel sprouts and mustard are grown for their leaves. Broccoli and cabbage are grown for their large, edible flower heads. All brassicas are very good for you. They contain vitamin C, lots of soluble fiber and various cancer fighting compounds as well.

Growing Cole Crops – Almost all cole crops are great choices for the garden. In fact, because of the mild winters that we have in Zones 7 thru 9, we can usually grow them in both the spring and the fall garden. Brassicas like cooler weather and they can easily survive temperatures in the middle twenties. It grows best when the daily temperature is in the mid seventies and nights are 20 degrees cooler. Because of this, it is best to plant your brassicas in early spring (February) or late fall (September). Most varieties in this genus mature in 90 to 120 days so plant according to when temperatures will be best suited for them. Do not plant too late in the season as they strongly dislike high heat.

I love the large foliage of broccoli.

Brassicas need full sun exposure and respond best to soil that drains well and has been deeply worked with compost. All brassicas are fairly pest free but they can get aphids.  They are also often plagued by cabbage worms and cabbage loppers.  Both of these pests are the larva of moths and they can defoliate a plant if the infestation is severe (more likely to happen in the spring).  You can control these with floating row cover or BT.

The brassica’s biggest enemy in the fall is the grasshopper. Young plants are very susceptible to grasshopper feeding. To help the plant beat the grasshoppers, place one gallon tin cans with the top and bottom cut out over the plants until they are about a foot tall. I am not really sure why this works, but it does. My theory is that either the grasshopper can’t see the plant or they cannot fly in way that allows them land inside of the can.

As far as I know, I have grown every type of brassica and I love them all. However, broccoli has a trait that makes it my favorite of all the cole crops. With most cole crops, you harvest the vegetable and then the plant is done. Not broccoli. Cut the green head and in a few days, additional little florets will start to form around the site of the cut. While these florets will not reach the size of the original flower head, they are just as tasty and each plant will produce several of them.

Little broccoli florets forming around the site of an earlier harvest.

In my mind, cole crops are the absolute best plant family to grow in the fall Texas garden. Give them good soil, plenty of sun and regular water and they will reward you with some of the most flavorful and nutritious things you can take from your garden.