Copyright © Sheryl Williams - Yardfanatic 2016. All rights reserved.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Weed On The Way To Weeding

I found myself having a Portland moment this morning.

In Oregon, the definition of gardening is the three minutes per year you have between freezing and weeding.  In those three minutes you have to choose how many other things you can accomplish, all while cursing the rain that causes the weeds to grow.

Here in Austin we've had a pleasantly wet June.  We had the normal 2.5" of rainfall - which didn't all fall in 20 minutes.  It actually rained a little bit here and there, watering the garden rather nicely.  And the weeds.

I've been working 60-70 hours a week on my job so haven't been able to spend the amount of time I'd like out in my yard.  That plus the rain means that things have gotten out of control.  I decided this morning that I was going to head out into the garden at first light and tackle the weeding.  Triage dictated that I start in the front of the house where especially invasive species were taking over and grabbing pedestrians as they passed.

Our Municipal Utility District (MUD) has a weekly landscaping service that will pick up yard debris.  They provide oversize black buckets for you to capture the smaller items.  Tree branches can be stacked on the curb.  Since the weeds in front were seedy and the type that I don't want in the compost, I decided that I would utilize the MUD bucket and get the offending plants hauled away.  I went out the garage and to the back to get the MUD bucket.  Except I couldn't get through the gate.  The sunflowers and trumpet vine had completely taken over.  Should I just go back to the other gate and ignore it?  Or should I weed?  I decided that barring passage was an offensive enough crime that I should just take care of it.
Freed gate with just a few scattered leaves of evidence

Of course, once I freed the gate I noticed that the loquat was now overhanging the path - it too needed a pruning in order to provide free access to that side of the house.  Once the loquat was cleaned away there were a bunch of hackberry seedlings that had to go.  And oh, geez, look at all that chickweed.

The chickweed and trumpet vine went in the MUD bucket that I was finally able to get to.  The sunflowers and loquat were destined for the compost bin.  I carted the four armloads back to the bin and settled in to cut them into small pieces so they will decompose faster.  As I was cutting through the pile I noticed that the sunflower stems were starting to get really woody.  Perfect as nesting cavities for my insect hotel.  As I marched through the debris I cut the woodier stems into 5.5" lengths and left them on my leaf bin to dry.
About an hour later I finally finished cutting up the pile and headed back to the front yard.  However, the path to the front was choked full of weeds, plus the squash was creeping into the path.  I really needed to work in back.  But no!  What about the front?  The place where everyone sees my weeds?  I made a deal with myself.  Go ahead and pull weeds, but only as many as you can carry.  Whatever you pull goes into the MUD bucket out front.  Okay.  A plan.  I pull weeds, I go out front, I put the weeds in the MUD bucket.

Since I carried an armful (yes I used my t-shirt as a carrier), it filled the bucket.  I have three of them, so I made another deal.  Go ahead and go in the back yard to get the other bucket.  Whatever you pull on the way has to go into the compost bin.  Okay.  Another plan.  I pull up a bunch of sunflowers out of the front yard and prune back the beauty berry.  I haul them back to the compost bin, spend 15 minutes cutting them into pieces.

Now I need a break.  I sit by the pond and notice that the upland cress needs trimming back.  Of course I have my clippers handy.  The mint is also taking over - I should harvest some for tea or a nice minty fruit dessert tonight.  Crum, that squash needs picking and geez the beans are coming in thick!  Wait, the peas are also ripe.  I make another deal, go in the house, get something to drink, bring out the harvest basket.  It's okay to pull weeds on the way.

I go in the house, I get something to drink.  I look at the time.  I promised Ed I'd make him a nice lunch today.
Guess I'm done weeding.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

A Toast to Sheldon Glassberg and the Life Superficial

Today is the day that we uncork the bottle of Cab that we've been keeping. We purchased it in 2004 from our favorite wine merchant - Sheldon Glassberg, and dutifully let it age all these years per his instructions. I even wrote on the label "Drink in 2014" so not to accidentally open it too soon. 

Sheldon died the next year, and I still miss him. Our drinking the wine today is a reminder of those people that touch our lives - those superficial moments that collectively form our existence and influence who we are.

Sheldon was a great teacher of wines and wine drinking. His small shop in Springfield was, sadly, not as successful as it should have been. I did my part and bought as much wine as I could afford - simply because I wanted him to stay in business. Toward the end I even considered investing in him just to keep him afloat. Alas, it was not to be, he closed shop, and I believe the stress and heartbreak is what killed him. He died of heart failure while stocking the shelves at a new job.

I mourned someone I hardly knew. I saw him twice a month or so at his shop. I always went to wine tastings, was part of the wine club, plus I tried to drag others I knew in to meet him. I knew nothing of his family, his life outside of the shop, or even his last name. Really barely more than an acquaintance.

I think of other people in my life who are like Sheldon. Certainly moving to Austin has increased that group exponentially. People here in the south are much more superficial than in the pacific northwest. Ed and I call them our "Austin" moments. We have intense, 20 minute conversations with people in ordinary circumstances and places, and then walk away not knowing the person's name. It is the outward friendliness and willingness to share with strangers that enables this. My niece and nephew were always horrified to be with me when one of these moments arose. They couldn't believe I could have a complete conversation with someone I never met. Here in Austin it is so commonplace that I never notice it anymore. If the same thing were to happen in Oregon the person would end up living in your garage. Oregonians don't have conversations unless they are ready for a long-term commitment.

Now that I live here in Texas I can see that it is my former life that was shallow, not the people. The superficial relationship I had with Sheldon enriched me in so many ways. It doesn't matter that I had to look up his last name. It doesn't matter that I spent time discussing the proper temperature to serve Guinness beer with a guy in an irish bar. It doesn't matter that I spent 20 minutes discussing a woman's problems with her tomatoes the last time I was at The Natural Gardener. What does matter is the connections we make with people, no matter how brief or thin. Just because I didn't know Sheldon well does not detract from the man he was and the friendship we shared.

To you, Sheldon, and all the other wonderful people I've met, thank you for unconditionally sharing a moment. The wine, by the way, was excellent.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Blackberries - the perfect backyard snack

Who needs candy bars when you can go outside and stuff plump, ripe and sweet blackberries in your mouth? No one, I say!

Blackberries are one of the few things that are easy to grow here in Central Texas. They don't get a lot of diseases, don't need a lot of water, and with judicious pruning, stay where you want them.  We are just now finishing up our harvest and have the blue teeth to prove it.

You normally plant blackberries around December or January, but now is a good time to plan where you'd like to grow them.

I went ahead and installed a simple trellis to train them to. Forgoing the more elaborate set-ups, I just put in a woven wire fence. You can also use a cattle panel for this job, but it's not necessary to have the rigidity since the berries aren't climbing on the wire.  I use bits of twine or plant ties to keep the arching canes upright against the wire.  This also makes it much easier to harvest the berries.
   We used 8 foot treated 4x4 posts and installed 2x4's for top braces. My trusty side-kick Ed put the posts in, then helped stretch the wire.   To stretch the wire, we wrapped one end around a 2x4 and pulled! While Ed did the heavy work, I nailed in fence staples to keep the wire in place.

I created a raised bed for the berries to grow in. I live on a slight incline so I created a drainage ditch on one side to capture rainwater runoff from my up-slope neighbors. This keeps my berries from being washed into the next county plus provides for some in-soil water storage. I piled the soil into a berm and mixed in some dried leaves (also from the neighbors.) This gives my berries some extra drainage. I  add compost at the end of each harvest to improve soil texture and fertility.

I initially purchased four bare-root Rosborough blackberries. Whenever you buy plants bare-root (meaning they aren't in a pot) soak them in water first to help rehydrate the roots. You don't need to do it for long - I just put them in a bucket while I dig the holes. I planted the berries about four feet apart. Once planted I gave them a good soaking and then spread leaves over the ground for a mulch. You need to keep them watered the first year, but once established mine only need irrigation once a week or so when they have fruit and once a month when they don't.  I use a soaker hose that snakes around them on the berm.  They spread out and fill in as they age - often to places far from the original plant. You can actually dig up these wanderers and replant them.  Most often I chop mine up and put them in the compost.  Be careful doing this though unless you have an active pile - otherwise they will re-sprout and you'll have a new blackberry patch.

The best way to keep your berries productive and healthy is to remove the spent canes every year.  As soon as you pick the last berry, cut that cane all the way to the ground.  Blackberries fruit on second year canes, so the new ones that are sprouting and growing right now are the ones that will bear fruit next year.  The old canes harbor disease and aren't going to flower well, so take them out!  Be gone to the compost bin I say!  Not pruning the canes is the most common mistake people make and is why many berry patches eventually just stop producing.

The Texas AgriLIFE Extension service has a great article on blackberries if you are interested in growing some for your family. Berries are a great source of vitamins and are fat-free, guiltless eating pleasure. I always intend to freeze some or make preserves, but somehow they never make it into the house. I blame the birds. Those stains on my hands and mouth? Mind your own business!