Category Archives: Farm

Life on the super awesome urban farm

PORTRAIT OF A HOUSEPLANT: LIVING ROOM CACTUS

Meet this funky cactus. He’s been living with us for over a year now. He joined our family in the first round of houseplants we acquired, shortly after we returned from our Hawaiian honeymoon. I suppose he reminded us a bit of the palm trees.

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His first home was on our dining table in a larger pot. But once we set up a workspace in our office, we moved him in there. The office gets morning light, but enjoys the afternoon shade. He spent a couple months complaining about the arrangement, and lost all his leaves.

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After he was done with his pity party, we got him a new pot, and moved him into the living room, next to a very sunny window. This window receives about 29 hours of sunlight per day, and it can get quite warm near it. The cactus can’t get enough of it. He has thanked us by growing non-stop leaves, and generally being a ray of sunshine.

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We’re really happy with this addition to our family.

SUMMER TRAINING

In the past month or so, its been the blazing hot Austin weather you associate with book bag induced back sweat from walking across campus. We knew it was coming. It comes every year.

We spent most of spring and early summer preparing our plants for it. We did our planning early. We planted the drought-tolerant native plants. We did the deep waterings to encourage the roots to seek the water. But unfortunately, a couple of plants did not take their training as seriously as others.

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But this morning, the sun took a nap, and it almost felt like a tiny bit of cool breeze could be around the corner. We know you are tired, and being thirsty and hot is hard, but hang in there- a break is coming soon. Just a few more reps and we’ll get you all a nice big protein shake.

SCENES FROM AROUND THE FARM

1. We did a transplant of the pumpkins, zucchini, and melon to make room for the tarp. We knew there was a 90% chance they might not make it, but it was a save the many situation. One of the pumpkins is doing pretty well, so not all is lost.

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2. Our tomato plants are making a final push. They have really been good sports about August. We even got a couple cute peppers to add to salads.

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3. There are so many fancy hamburgers out there. The classic burger will always be #1 to us. Our unofficial ranking of hamburgers in Austin is coming soon.

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4. We have been stealing snippets of hens and chicks from my mom, but we have a heck of a time trying to get them to grow. Its probably a bit of a climate shock. But this one started to grow a friend, and I couldn’t be more happy for them to have each other.

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5. It rained. Thank goodness we decided to trust the weatherman and not put on the sprinkler the night before. We would have looked so dumb.

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You can follow us on Instagram for more real-time scenes from around the farm.

SOIL SOLARIZATION

In soil solarization, you harness the sun’s energy to kill weeds and bad insects/fungus/bacteria, which allows the good stuff to take over. It bakes the dirt into something more palatable to growing gardens. The term is fancy talk for “putting a tarp on some dirt.”

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We have been fighting this pesky vine plant that is growing on part of our future garden plot. As diligent as we have been with pulling them up and spraying them, they just keep coming back and I hate them. So we decided to take things large scale and kill them all at once (in large square sections).

To try soil solarization for yourself, you need:

  • Big tarp (preferably clear)
  • Something to hold tarp in place
  • Lots of sun/heat

1. Ideally, rake the area and pull and discard any weeds. Next, wet the area at least 12 inches deep. We sprayed ours with a hose for a little while. Enough for it to boil the weeds.

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2. Get out your tarp.

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3. Lay out the tarp to cover area, and then anchor in place. We used some rocks and pieces of wood.

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4. Wait. Since it is still hot weather here, and will be for a while longer, the sun should work in our favor to help us out. We plan on rotating the tarp around the area, and crossing our fingers real hard.

THE CONCLUSION OF THE SICK CUCUMBERS

Long weekends are a wonderful invention. In the future, we see a world that revolves around them. When only the best of the best survive, long weekends will rise victorious.

Do you want to know what will not last until the end of time? These cucumbers.

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With the case of the sick cucumbers solved, it was time to deal with the aftermath. Since there was a chance the plants could have had an infection from bug bite weakness, we decided to pull the plants up and dispose of them in a bag, instead of tilling the nutrients into the soil. We cut off the vines, pulled up the roots, and then wrestled them and some of the surrounding mulch into a lawn bag.

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After everything was cleared away, we poured a little soil activator on the dirt, to help strengthen it, and covered it with some leftover straw.

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Once our other veggies are done for the summer, we have some plans to mix up our garden configuration. Think more than just a row of garden beds, but less than a tomato plant labyrinth.

GREEN WITH ENVY

I believe the term originated in the days of yesteryear. A long time ago, a farmer looked over his fence to gaze at the neighbor’s garden. It was much more bountiful than the farmer’s own, which left the farmer jealous. Thus, the intense green caused the farmer much envy.

Such a feeling was burning inside me when I peeked over this fence. Unfair advantage- this garden is located in the Pacific Northwest.

I guess tomatoes like growing in August there. I can hear ours asking for water like Dumbledore in Half Blood Prince.

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This pepper is so shiny, I can see myself eating it.

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If you needed a pepper as long as your arm, you’ve come to the right place.

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Blueberries have to be at maximum bursting blue before they can come inside.

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We had some flowers like those. They burned up in the sun after a sprinkler misunderstanding.

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But I can’t be mad about this. Hens and chicks in a chicken planter. Gets me every time.

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Can’t be jealous about any of it, really. I ate most of it.

THE CASE OF THE SICK CUCUMBERS

Something got to our cucumber plants. We hired a private detective garden gnome to solve the mystery, but he is falling short of expectations. We had a suspicion the perpetrator was a bug, but our detective said the evidence is still in the lab.

Since we are now in the hottest time of the year, not much is wanting to grow anymore, but we would at least like them to have the option, if they feel so inclined. This cucumber stopped growing about a month ago.

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At first, we blamed this bug. Its black. Its red. Kinda evil looking. We have since learned that it is actually a lady bug larvae, which hasn’t formed its more eye-pleasing lady body.

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The plant would grow leaves and flowers, but then they would crinkle up and die. We grew these cucumbers from little baby seeds, so it was heartbreaking to watch them suffer.

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Not ones to stand idly by, we went rouge and did some inspecting of our own. Here is our evidence:

  • Mottled leaves
  • Deformed leaves and flowers
  • Deformed and discolored cucumbers

From the data, we deduce that the attacker was (maybe): Thrips

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Thrips are tiny bugs that feed on flowers and vegetables, causing discoloration, deformities, and disease spread. They are also one of the fastest growing invasive species groups, gaining strength from our plants on their path to world domination.

And with that, our dreams of pickles lay shattered on the floor like glass jars. Stay tuned for a follow-up post where we bag up our broken dreams and dead plants, and prepare to start anew.

DIY LAWNMOWER RAMP

Lawnmowers are heavy. We don’t know how heavy, since we have been working out a lot and can’t tell, but heavy enough to make them inconvenient to lift off the ground. So let’s make things easier for ourselves!

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You’ve seen this problem before. Our shed is a little off the ground, so you have to step up to get into it. Lawnmowers do not have legs, or else they would be creepy.

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To solve this problem, first find a wide board that fits in the doorway of the shed.

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Set one of the long sides of the board in the doorway, and slant the other long side down so it reaches the ground, creating a ramp.

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Now wheel your lawnmower up and down with ease as needed.

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What a simple solution to a very small problem!

WEED REMOVAL, VOL. 2

If you aren’t feeling up to the work-out of pulling weeds with your muscles, we turn to our handy spray bottle. Since our goal is to always stay cool and organic, our reusable spray bottle is filled with 20% vinegar, which you can get at garden stores, or pretty much anywhere.

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So the strategy here is to spray the weeds. We douse them in vinegar. One of the drawbacks here is that it works best and quickest at the hottest part of the day. You can hear them sizzle in the sun.

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If you have a large patch of weeds, be sure to take a break for fresh air, and not spray into the wind. That vinegar is nasty stuff in the eyes. After they are good and sprayed, then comes the waiting.

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In a couple hours or a longer length of time, the weeds turn pale and crispy. They will be much weaker and easier to pull up now, or will eventually disintegrate into nothing, if you are being super lazy about it.

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Just be careful where you spray. Vinegar only knows how to kill. It doesn’t care what. So if you spray a flower, it will do the same thing to it as a weed. We use a piece of cardboard as a shield if we are spraying around plants.

Spraying weeds sounds like the easier way out, but being out in the afternoon summer sun, combined with the real fear of getting a cramped trigger finger, and mixed with the impatience of waiting until the plants die, can make it just as hard. Weeding is just hard. Weeds are sorry not sorry about it.

PLANTING PUMPKIN SEEDS

We have a pack of evil birds that roam the garden. They might be eating bugs, or doing other beneficial things, but you wouldn’t know it by their awful attitudes. Always up to hood rat stuff with their friends, pecking at tomatoes, and eating our seeds. Especially the seed eating. Then they don’t grow, and we are just left wondering- Was it them? Was it us? What did we do wrong? The not knowing is the worst.

After a fight over some pumpkin seeds, we decided to outsmart the birds, and start the seeds inside. Watching seeds sprout should be a tv show, and I would watch it all day all day long.

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After the seedlings grew to be a couple inches tall, and were rocking a strong set of leaves, we took them out to the garden to plant. We set the pots on their future homes for a little bit. Like a new goldfish.

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With all the gentle and careful, we scooped the seedlings out, and planted them in the mound with even more gentle and careful.

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Snug as a plant in some pine straw. After they were all planted, we fed them a little fertilizer with seaweed, to minimize the stress of moving. Lord knows we all need a drink after moving, right? Their signature cocktail is the John Droomgoole, who has the coolest gardener name, and may be a cartoon in real life.

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And just when you think you’ve outsmarted the birds, and the world is pumpkins and rainbows again, now we have to worry about the bugs. Grrreeat.