Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Spring In Oklahoma: Warm - Cold - Warm - Cold - Warm

I haven't done a garden post in awhile so I'll be trying to get things caught up with this post. 

Last week I moved those black gooseberry bushes Paula gave me to a bed inside the garden fence.  I was just asking for failure by putting where they might draw the deer and rabbits.  About the only thing that's going to grow out there is something that has thorns.  So when we were at Tractor Supply last week, I bought another thorny little gooseberry plant to put out there.  The variety is "Oregon Champion" and I think the ones I got from June are probably Pixwell, because they were a popular plant with gardeners when her husband would've planted them at their house.  I haven't been able to find any evidence on the Internet that gooseberry plants need a different variety (or male and female) for pollination, but Stark's website says, "Even though our gooseberry plants are self-pollinating, we still recommend planting another variety in your yard for optimum fruit production."   The fact that the plants were literally covered with flowers last spring, but didn't make any fruit, may have been because they suffered from our late freeze.  But then again, maybe they'll take a liking to their new cousin.

Paula's thornless gooseberries seem happy in their new location inside the garden fence.  These plants have a more "woody", upright habit than the gooseberry plants I'm familiar with, more like a currant bush than a gooseberry.  What with several days of warm weather, they have started to flower and the flowers are yellow and tubular.  Paula said she was told they are black gooseberries when she received them in a trade, and while we were up there, KM showed me Pinterest pictures of what the berries look like, and said they were sweet.  But everything I looked at on the Internet in the gooseberry category has thorns.  Jostaberry has flowers that are red.  Currants have leaves that look different.  Then Glenda found THIS Cornell information sheet for me. 

This flower looks suspiciously like Forsythia.  If I'd seen this at a plant sale, I might've thought that's what these are, and passed them up!  But the leaves are very different.  I don't guess it really matters what they are.  Paula and KM had a little harvest of gooseberry-like fruit from them last summer, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they do here.  According to what I've seen, gooseberries are little vitamin and mineral powerhouses that rival Acai and Goji.  Eat that, Dr. Oz. 

Some of you might remember my potato experiment of last fall.  The tub's been in the attached garage all this time, and there were long vines spilling out of it with tiny leaves on the vines.  There is some afternoon light that comes through the garage windows.  While it stays above freezing all winter, it's often cold in there. 
That Croc is there for size comparison reasons.

I think the bigger potatoes are the original potatoes.  This is not very good since I started out with ten potatoes in each tub, and I can't for the life of me, remember why I only have one tub now as I started out with two.  But, so much for "Christmas Potatoes", right?  I thought maybe they would be too fresh to sprout in time, so I chilled them in the refrigerator crisper from about May to August, when they were planted.  But they did absolutely nothing towards sending up a sprout, nothing, I tell you, till November. 

In contrast, ALL the potatoes I put in the pantry were sprouted like crazy by the end of January, and by mid February they were just....  well....  redonkulous

Go figure.  I had to just go ahead and process them for the freezer. 

That's blocks of mashed potatoes on the left, and blanched, peeled and cubed potatoes on the right.  The blanching kills the active enzymes, but the cooking needs to be stopped before the potatoes are soft.  If you don't blanch, the potatoes will just turn black in the freezer and they won't be edible.  You can also shred them after blanching and peeling, form into patties and cook as for hash browns.  To use the mashed potatoes, I usually thaw them first, then stir in a little extra milk, and heat them up in a covered bowl in the microwave.  To use the cubed potatoes, I thaw them and dump them into a skillet, usually with bacon drippings, chopped onion and sweet peppers, and fry till they're browned and smelling like fried potatoes should.  I can't tell any difference in taste or texture between frozen mashed or cubed potatoes prepared this way, and fresh.  And Hubs eats them willingly and without complaint or even rolling his eyes.  My mother used to boil stewed potatoes and freeze them but they always turned mushy and tasted watery and "stale".  Too much cooking before freezing, I think, or maybe the fact that they were frozen in liquid.

In retrospect, I wish I had held back about five pounds of each kind, cut the sprouts off at about 5" and then buried the potatoes in layers of composted soil, with the compost or newspapers in between each layer, in a big tub, just to hold them till the middle of March.  Mom would always plant potatoes on St. Patrick's Day (March 17), and she was in the same zone that I'm in (6a).  Remember, I'm in the coldest part of Oklahoma, darn near Kansas, so we and the folks in the panhandle have to go by Kansas rules while the rest of Oklahoma is zone 7. 

But, I have learned a lot with this potato experiment. 

I do have another experiment, in that, when I processed those potatoes, I left a little of the potato on the eye where the vine sprouted, and I put those in buckets or pots and poured composted soil over the little potato pieces and some of the vine.  So, if any of them are still alive by planting time, I'm going to trim the vine back some and plant them.  See what happens.  It's possible it might work.  I've heard some people say they can produce potatoes "from potato peelings" and this is probably because they've used a paring knife to peel them and have left some extra potato on the peel.  Will there be enough potato in the ground to keep the plant going?  That remains to be seen.  When I dig up my potatoes, the potato I planted is still there, evidence that the plant hasn't had to "use" much of it in order to survive, so, maybe....

Hedging my bets, I did buy a five-pound bag of Red Norland seed potatoes.  This summer I may try leaving some of my potatoes in the ground longer.  I wonder if I can stretch it to August, to see it that delays sprouting for a couple more months, into, say, planting time in March?  Would wrapping in newspaper delay sprouting?  Or do they magically know day length, even in a dark pantry?  Or is temperature / barometric pressure the thing?

Last summer, I dug my potatoes in June.  They hadn't bloomed and the plant on the surface hadn't died back.  Our wood-chip friend, Kylie, had told me he always digs his potatoes then, and never lets them bloom.  Hubs says his parents always left their potatoes in the ground till after the plants bloomed and then died back.  I should've left them in the ground at least that long, as there were many bitty potatoes that could've gotten to better size with more time, and I would've gotten a bigger yield. 

We've had lots of roller-coaster weather already.  I bought some yellow onion sets at Tractor Supply, nothing fancy.  They were planted during the last warm spell and will probably bolt from having to endure freezing nights.  I have onions up in the Wintersowing containers, though, some from seed I gathered which I think are from Texas Sweet, and some are seed for white Candy, that I ordered in quantity and have been keeping in the freezer.

I have brought these in when there's freezing weather expected.  New seedlings are sensitive to freezing temps and this is the point at which the Wintersowing project requires some babysitting.  It seems to me that, in order to thrive, new onion seedlings need to be very close to each other.  Today I took them out of the wintersowing jug and carefully settled the contents of the jug into a hole I dug in the garden. 
Once the milk jug is trimmed down to a tray, I just slice each corner of the tray so the tray will be nice and loose around the edges.  It will hold like this while I go out and dig the hole for it.  Or I could do it earlier.  Then I take the tray to where I have the hole dug, spread one hand wide open, over the top of the plants, cupping my fingers a little so as to not crush the green parts, and tip the whole contents of the tray, upside down, into that hand.  I find that, if at seed-sowing time, before I put the soil in the milk jug, I will lay down a 6" (or so) square of newspaper in the bottom of the jug, it keeps the soil from sticking to the jug and therefore will tip more easily without breaking apart.  It depends somewhat on the soil that was used and how wet it is at the time of the tipping process.

With both hands, I gently settle the whole clump of soil and plants, as undisturbed as possible, into the hole I've just dug, and I smoosh the loose soil I dug out of the hole so it's snug around the edges of the clump of plants.  Then I water them with the sprinkler can, and go find something translucent to put over them for protection.  After they're all settled in, I can remove these round ice-cream tubs entirely, though I might want to do it gradually.  You know, start with just an hour or two and gradually increase the time every day.  Getting plants acclimated is a touchy thing sometimes.  I've used upside-down laundry baskets during the transition.  Or those curtains we used to call "sheers".  Mainly they need protection from too much heat and too much wind.  Of course with nothing to hold these ice creams tubs down, they'd be blown across the garden with the first hard gust.  So a brick or a nice-sized rock on top of the tub is essential.  In about a month, or sooner if they look like they're ready, I'll dig up the clump, untangle the onions from each other, and plant them separately where I want them to grow. 

I also have been checking my coffee-filter seeds every day to see how they were doing.  The Numex Joe Parker and Big Jim seeds turned brown and showed me no signs of life.  They went into the trash.  Two seeds from a packet marked "Hatch", which were soaked and placed in a coffee filter a couple of weeks AFTER the first batch of pepper seeds were, germinated fairly quickly, and then there were more a few days later.  The New Mexico seed came from a blog-reader-turned-friend named Teresa in time for the 2009 garden when we lived on Ponca.  She also taught me how to char the peppers in an iron skillet, which is how you get that smoky Chipotle flavor.  I often wonder if she still comes to my blog as I haven't heard from her in a long time.  I think she told me that the seed marked "Hatch" were saved from some peppers that she bought in Hatch, N.M.  I'm told there's no such thing as a "Hatch" pepper, but whatever it is, it's probably a large hot pepper.  If the plants do well and make peppers, it'll be interesting to see what they're like.  The seeds I saved from the Poblano peppers I grew in 2014 germinated.  I had a bumper crop of Poblano that year and gave most of them to Jay.  Hubs won't eat them and I had just bought chili powder from Penzey's so I didn't really need very many that year.  But they were fun to grow.  Jay was delighted to get them and said he made Chiles Rellinos with them.  I grew some Alma Paprika seeds one year, but they made small, round yellow peppers about as big around as a quarter and then they just fell off the plant.  That was a really dry, hot summer, which might've had something to do with it.  Now and then I'm told that peppers are original to Mexico and it's hot and dry there, therefore they like to be in full sun and dry conditions.  Not necessarily so.  Here in Oklahoma, they need some afternoon shade and plenty of water.  I've actually had sunscald spots show up on the shoulders of peppers.  A lot of people pick their peppers when they're green but I like to let them turn whatever color they turn when they're ripe.  The sweet peppers are sweeter and the hot peppers have more flavor.   HERE is a post about making your own Paprika. 

The Jalapeno pepper seeds that germinated right away were planted, two seeds to a cup, one that had germinated and one that hadn't.  So now I have two plants in just about every cup that I'm going to have to separate and transplant.  When I grow Jalapeno, I make "Jalapeno Pepper Rings", the recipe I use is HERE.  I have given these as gifts and people tend to bring my empty jar back and ask for a refill.  Heh.  Sometimes I make them out of a blend of the ripe and unripe jalapeno peppers.  When jalapeno is ripe, it's red.  It looks very Christmassy with red and green in the jar.  I have thought of making canned Pimiento peppers but I don't use them very often.  I love Pimiento Cheese, however.....  I don't know if any specific sweet pepper is used for these, but it should be a thick-walled pepper.  I think I could use the red Cheese peppers that I grow every year.  HERE is that recipe. 

We haven't seen a rabbit in a quite awhile now and that makes me feel more hopeful about the coming garden year.  No rats for several days, either.  I don't know if it was a "mini-infestation" because of the most recent fire, which didn't get as close to us as the one last fall, or maybe it was "a remnant".  There was a big female and two little ones.  I lost track of how many terrified birds I had to go out and set free.  These birds are an inquisitive lot.  Hubs even found one trapped in the downspout Monday morning. 

I soaked my peas and germinated them inside wet, folded kitchen towels in the oven with the light on, just before the beginning of the most recent "warm spell".  The first night after I planted them, the temperature dipped down below freezing and I was pretty hacked off because our weather man AND Mesonet said it wasn't going to do that.  Of course, we were supposed to get rain and maybe some wild tornado weather last night and that didn't happen either.  I'm not disappointed about the violent weather, but I kinda WAS looking forward to getting some rain.  And now I'm concerned that the cold night right after I planted the peas might've been enough to retard their emergence.  That's happened to me before.  Sheesh.  I think it's so weird that peas need warmth to germinate, but then the plants will live through freezing temperatures and even when covered in snow.  Makes me think we're planting peas different than what God intended us to do.  I bet He meant us to plant them in the fall. 

Some of my tomato plants are getting too big for the little styro coffee cups they were planted in and I'm just rethinking that whole "transplanting-to-32-ounce-softdrink-cups" thing.  There are several problems with it.  1) The bottom of the cups are almost as small as the styro coffee cups and don't allow much room for roots; 2) The tapered shape makes them tip over easily and they waste space in whatever I have them in; 3) They have to be washed (if they are not washed they can harbor eggs of little fruit-fly-looking insects) and stored every year; 4) They degrade and break into pieces with time and it's hard for me to get more now.  The only problem that I find with newspaper cups are that they have to be MADE, but I have ample newspapers and I can make them while I sit with Hubs in the living room and watch whatever he's watching.  I asked Hubs if he would make me another wooden form for newspaper plant cups that's bigger than the one I have, so I can use them instead of the 32-ounce plastic cups.  To make this one he just glued together two pieces of 2x4 that he had laying around, so it's about twice the size of the one I already had.  One of the great mysteries of our time is WHY a 2x4 does NOT measure 2" x 4".  I'm just An Old Redneck Woman and I don't understand a lot that goes on around me.  But SERIOUSLY, Folks..... I hope I'll be able to keep the tomato plants in these containers till planting time and then just bury the whole thing in the garden.

To make these requires two double-sized newspaper sheets (and that's Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise newspapers that are smaller than, say, The Wall Street Journal, just so ya know).   And I have to trim about 2.5" off the long end.  Just wrap around the block, first one folded sheet, then start the second one where the first one ended with just a little overlap.  Only one folded sheet is not enough because the cup is too thin on one side.  You don't want this cup falling apart in your hands at planting time.  Or before.  Put a piece of tape on the side at the end, to hold it, then fold the overlap down onto the end of the wooden block, like you were wrapping a gift, and tape that down.  It just has to hold till the soil's in. 

I found that four of these will fit (tightly) in a one-gallon rectangular plastic ice-cream container.  This is all about using what you have, and I have these ice-cream containers because our friends Leroy and Sherry save them for us.  I have used them mostly as freezer containers, up to now, because they come with a nice, tight lid and they stack very well, one on top of the other, with the lid on, and they make good use of the space that's available in the freezer. 

I lined the tub with a Walmart shopping bag so I can get the plants out easily when it's time to transplant.  When newspaper cups remain pressed against each other, they tend to want to stick to each other and that makes them very hard to peel apart if they are also stuck to whatever they're in.  I will also be sharing some of these plants, and they will be easier to transport this way. 

I also bought a package of nasturtium seed at Tractor Supply, and I just really hope the seed companies can afford to sell this dang nasturtium seed.  There are so few seed in the package it's ridiculous.  One seed was dark brown and no good, I'm sure, another was half a broken seed.  I could excuse that sort of thing if there were more seed in the package.  But this leaves only thirty seeds in a package priced at $2.29.  I'll soak them, germinate them in a coffee filter, and then plant them in the smaller newspaper pots.  Nasturtiums don't like their roots messed with, so they don't transplant well, but in a newspaper pot, they can just be settled down into a hole in the ground and watered in, newspaper pot and all, and they don't even know they've been transplanted.  I grew some really big nasturtium plants, summer of 2014, but they made very few seed.  That was a disappointment, considering how many flowers there were.  Maybe the seed-growers have that same problem, and that's why they don't put very many seeds in each package.

Tractor Supply had a crabapple tree that I would've liked to have had, but it was $25.  I still have my little cuttings of crabapple from one of Kylie's loads of woodchips, and some of them have made little leafbuds.  So I took them out to the cold frame, stuck them in the soil and put a jar over them.  They have greened up a little more since then and seem, so far, to be liking their surroundings. 

I'm going to live to be at least 90, did you know that?  My parents were 92 when they died, so it's in my genes.  That gives me plenty of time to grow a full-sized crabapple tree from a cutting.

My hydroponic spinach growing experiment was a bust, just so ya know.  I guess I can use the "lettuce fertilizer" in my watering can.  Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug.

It occurred to me that, as much as I gripe about the wild critters and vermin, the wind and crazy temperature swings, the "controlled" burning that the ranchers around us do, all that limestone under our soil, and the insects, you might think I'm desperately unhappy out here in the country.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  There is so much I love about living where we do.  And I'm so grateful for that inheritance we received that enabled us to pay cash to buy this place.  Retirement on Social Security would be a very Spartan life for us if we had to use part of it to pay a house payment every month. 

I step out the patio door in the wee hours of the morning and go out into the yard to stand under the stars while the frogs are croaking in Charlie's pond.  Sometimes I say my morning prayers out there under the stars.  In the early summer, or in the fall, when the nights are cool, the tree-toads sing through the night and I leave my bedroom window open so they can sing me to sleep.  There is so much that is right.  Many of the trees we've planted on our land are finally at the stage where are beginning to throw down a little shade.  The woodchips Kylie so generously brings to us all during the summer and fall have done much to increase the ability of the land to retain more moisture.  And that translates out to poor growing conditions for plants that are found thriving in waste areas.  Puncture Vine, for instance.  It's hard for a homeowner to find a benefit to having Bermuda grass, but if it can find a way to grow on open land it does crowd out certain weeds that are more noxious than even IT is.  And its roots anchor down the soil and keep it from being blown by the wind into Jay's Lake.  This place has been a win-win experience.  It has been good for us and we have been good for it.  Our neighbors comment often how it looks better over here than it ever has.

When we go to garage sales, or even when we're just driving down residential streets for other reasons, it always hammers home the benefits to living here when I see house after house lined up with only maybe eight or ten feet between each house.  Not much front yard between their house and the street, along which everyone seems to prefer to park their cars instead of, oh, I don't know..... maybe in the driveway, do you think???  The kids can't ride their bikes in the street because traffic goes by so fast, and so they criss-cross, from their driveway to yours, and maybe that's your car parked in your driveway that they scrape their handlebars across.  Little postage-stamp-sized back yards, requiring privacy fences, depending on what kind of neighbors they have.  And of course, in each neighborhood, there's almost always one house snuggled in there that's all trashy and poorly maintained, and you can kind of guess those poor people on that block might have a Neighbor From Hell.  I mean, I don't generally care what my neighbor's house looks like.  It's when it's so noisy on their property at night that I can't sleep.  Or when their back yard stinks so bad that the smell wafts into mine.  Or when their dogs charge the fence and yap at me all the time I'm in my back yard.  Or when the neighbors come out and curse at you while you're trying to trim your hedges or otherwise keep your place up, because, well, maybe you stepped one step over the property line, or they think you're trying to spy on them, or whatever their little dysfunctional minds can think up.  Never mind that they walk between the houses in the middle of the night, rattling keys and yelling at each other, as if they don't KNOW that people are trying to sleep in the house next door.  If our experience in Dewey is any indication, the City codes do not give you much protection.  Neighbors From Hell are used to bullying people, and so their first tactic when Code Enforcement comes to the door is to just not go to the door.  They're actually too busy, anyway, ushering those nine dogs from the back yard into the back door of the house.  Or they threaten to sue the City for "harassment" and that scares the City into "looking the other way", because most small towns cannot afford to defend themselves from frivolous lawsuits.  Then, the City kind of looks at the people who complain about that sort of thing as "the problem".  Is that backwards or not?  The last time we drove past our old house, that travel trailer was STILL parked between Neighbor From Hell's house and that of their neighbor on the other side.  Never mind that it's on part of their neighbor's property, it's a definite Code violation.  Especially since the grandchildren sleep out there in it so that, when their parents come to get them in the middle of the night, Neighbor From Hell does not have to be disturbed.  Just all the neighbors with all the noise they make in the process.  But then, nine yapping dogs in the back yard (part of NFH's cottage industry puppy mill) were pretty noisy (and stinky), too.

Yes, yes...... We are blessed, truly blessed, to be here.  There is not a day that goes by that I'm not grateful. 

Hugs to all....  xoxoxo


  1. Our pantries could be twins.....what is it about potatoes and sprouting like that:)

  2. Taking time to count our blessings is good for all of us now and then.

    You have done amazing things with that place and it shows.

    Gardening is not happening here at all except for some tilling.
    BTW, I never dig potatoes until they have died back and it is hard to even find the dead vines, but you have to dig before heavy rains start after that because they will re sprout. I have had potatoes for several seasons from potatoes I missed digging. They went through winter freezes with out mulch or anything and then sprouted at the correct time the following season.


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