Garden Update: Spring 2017

You always hear that gardening is addictive. You start with one thing…maybe just a single container tomato plant, or a small herb planter box…and then BAM! suddenly you’re the weirdo tilling up your whole front yard.

Well, my friends…I’m like, five seconds away from becoming that crazy person. Since building our wicking raised bed garden just two years ago, I’ve expanded my garden quite a bit, despite what many might call less-than-favorable conditions: we don’t have much land to begin with (we’re on 0.15 of an acre), we have clay soils, and we have a LOT of shade. But that just goes to show that with a little effort and patience, anyone can grow their own food.

So, without further ado, here’s what’s growing!

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In our main raised bed, we’ve been enjoying strawberries for a little over a month now, and just harvested the cabbages last week (post coming soon about that!). That gave us room to put in our summer veggies. Starting with the bottom left yellow plant cage, you’ve got a serrano pepper (so that we can continue to make the serrano pepper jelly we’ve become known for), a Sunchocola Hybrid Cherry Tomato, a Napa Grape Hybrid Tomato, a Brandy Boy Hybrid Tomato, a Gladiator Roma Hybrid Tomato, and finally, in the other yellow cage, an Early Midnight Hybrid Eggplant.

The strawberries are going on their third year now, and are a mix of everbearing Ozarks from a local nursery and Sweet Charlie strawberries from a catalog. The serrano is also from a local nursery, and all the other veggies are from Burpee. It’s our first year ordering seedlings from Burpee, so we’ll see how that goes.

As per usual, I’m using stakes instead of cages for the tomatoes…given the very long growing season here, they just get too tall for even the largest cages. Later today, we’ll put up the bird netting around the entire thing as well.

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In our backyard, our new raised bed berry bramble is doing well, and we even appear to have some unexpected early blueberries growing on one of the plants! Here we have Sunshine Blue blueberry, Prime Ark blackberry, Jewel blueberry, and Misty blueberry. The holes you see on the blackberry plant were due to a pretty rough storm we had a couple weekends back, but the new growth is looking much healthier. These are also from Burpee, and are specifically heat-tolerant, low-chill hour needing, self-pollinating varieties, making them (hopefully) better suited to life here in Texas.

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Also new this year – potatoes! I finally convinced the hubby to take out his overgrown, much neglected cactus garden, and put some Red Luna potatoes in its place. These are just starting to come up, and it’ll be my first-ever time growing potatoes, so we’ll see how they do!

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Onions, onions, onions. After giving up on ever growing bulb-based flowers in the beds that line my front walkway, I put in onions instead…and they’re doing great! We’ve been enjoying topping these plants for green onion for well over a month now. Around June, these will fall over and start to yellow, and that’ll be my clue that they’re ready to harvest to get the white and yellow bulbs underneath. We should yield about 60 total onions this year, and we’ll preserve them the old-fashioned way, by braiding them.

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This year, in our large containers we’ve got artichokes! While I’ve only got a photo of the one, we’ve got two of these big boys. This is another first for me, so we’ll see how they do through the hot summer. We purchased these as small seedlings at a local nursery.

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Also in a container, last year’s basil plant just never really died back and is still going strong. Seeing as how we’re still trying to eat our way through the massive amounts of frozen basil we harvested two years ago, this little guy should be enough to get us through another year.

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Our cherry tree is leafing! Of all the things we planted last year, this was the one I was probably most worried about, and while it certainly took its time, we officially have leaves! The tree is taller than me now, about 7 feet total. But we’ve still likely got another year or two before we’ll actually start getting cherries.

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Speaking of leaves, our giant pecan tree is coming back from winter dormancy as well. Last year was quite a bumper crop for us pecan-wise, and we were able to harvest more than 20 lbs of pecans from just this single tree. Hopefully this will be another good year with plenty of spring and early summer rain.

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Finally, our herb boxes. The chives and oregano overwintered beautifully, though the thyme did not. The cilantro is a recent addition, and still looks to be suffering a bit of transplant shock. Hopefully it perks up soon!

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And, last but not least, our mint garden, aka an essential part of our bar, allowing us to make fresh mojitos and minut juleps, is going strong. We’ve got primarily sweet mint here, though we may add in some peppermint soon just to mix it up a bit.

So that’s it. 23 varieties of fruit, veggies, and herbs, all on a very small plot of land from someone who only devotes a couple hours a week to gardening. Not too shabby!

What’s growing in your garden? Tell me in the comments. 

Building a Raised-Bed Berry Bramble

My name is Whitney, and I’m a mail-order gardening catalog addict. (Hi, Whitney.)

And that’s why, at some point in the dormancy of winter, I apparently decided to order a whole bunch of plants that I simply did not have room for in my existing self-watering raised bed garden, or even my in-ground partial-shade garden beds.

In particular, I ordered a bunch of blueberries, which, as any gardener worth their salt will tell you requires a very particular type of planting media. And a media that’s not generally found in Texas, mind you.

So there was only one thing left to do…build another raised bed garden. Unlike my other, 8′ x 4′ x 4′ garden, this one could be a bit smaller. The total proportions were 8′ x 2′ x 1′. But the really big difference here is that we were not going to be including the self-wicking reservoir, but instead placing this directly into the ground.

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The first step was to build the box, which the hubby took care of, while I pulled out the sod and began digging down a bit in the destination location. We dug out roughly four inches of soil, and placed it on a tarp to reincorporate later.

Finally, we lined the opening with a landscaping material to prevent weeds from growing through (or the grass from growing back in, and stapled it to the sides of box once we got it in place. Then it was just a matter of filling it back up.

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Blueberries love an acidic, well-drained soil, so we settled on a soil mix of:

  • 50% peat moss
  • 20% the soil we’d dug out
  • 20% sand
  • 10% compost

And with that, the blueberry plants went in!  We probably won’t get any berries this first year, but with a little luck, we’ll be awash in berries by this time next year. Stay tuned!

It’s Pecan Gathering Time!

Windy days in the fall mean one thing around Unintended Domesticity HQ — time to harvest some pecans from the giant, ancient pecan tree we have growing in our front yard.

Did you feel it, Texans? That big breeze that blew through and dropped the temperature 15 degrees this afternoon….it smells like….fall! (Finally!)

And windy days in the fall mean one thing around Unintended Domesticity HQ — time to harvest some pecans from the giant, ancient pecan tree we have growing in our front yard.

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Yeah, it’s that big. I can’t even get it all in the frame.  (That’s what she said.)

But you don’t even need your own pecan tree to go pecan picking. You can find these bad boys all over local parks, roadways, etc. So how does one harvest pecans?

Well, it’s pretty easy.  You *could* theoretically get a ladder, climb the tree, and pick the pecans from the source, I suppose. But this is where that windy day comes in  — we just wait for them to fall to the ground, then pick them up, shuck them and throw them in a bucket.

There are a few key things to know before you do this:

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  1. You want to look for pecans in which the surrounding greenish-brown husk has started to open on its own accord. That’s why the top three on the left are all ok, even though they are of different shades and stages of dryness/falling from the tree.
  2. Anything that hasn’t opened at all (like the bottom right example) isn’t quite ripe. Also, if the husk clings to the pecan and is hard to remove? Don’t force it. Just toss that one and move on.
  3. Once you’ve removed the husk (or if you find a pecan already out of its husk) you want to survey it for any insect activity (look for wormholes or cracks) but also any mold.  The top right example is covered in a silverish white powder, meaning we should discard it.
  4. Don’t be afraid if they have some brownish residue, like the second example on the bottom left; that’s just some residual husk that will dry out in a few days time.

We spent just under two hours scouring for pecans last night and tonight, and ended up with a 2.5 gallon bucket full of pecans:

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We’ll let these dry for a few weeks (it helps them mature), by occasionally stirring the bucket and keeping them in a cool, dry place. Then, we’ll take them to our local Senior Activity Center, which offers pecan cracking at a very reasonable rate each November.

From there, these will be turned into honey roasted pecans, one of our favorite gifts to give at Christmas time.

And if you can’t make it out today, don’t worry — the pecans will keep falling over the next couple weeks. Happy hunting!

Garden Update: September 2016

Well, it seems like we’ve finally turned a corner on the most oppressive of the summer heat.  Maybe? Knock on wood? While the humidity has been out of control, all this extra rain in August (and the subsequent lower temps) has kicked off our fall growing season even earlier than expected.

Our pepper plants continue to be the stars of the show, with a big basket full of serranos  (top picture) coming ripe every couple weeks.  The habanero has set more fruit as well, and we’ll have a second harvest of those in a couple more weeks too, it seems.

Our surprise performer has been the bush beans (lower left). Bush beans are known to not set particularly well in high heat, but I experimented with planting them in the sidewalk border garden this year, where they only get direct morning sun and are otherwise shaded by our large pecan tree. While the yield isn’t abundant, we’ll have at least a meal’s worth of beans ready to harvest from just three plants in another couple days, and I anticipate they’ll continue to produce for a few more weeks.

Based on this performance, I think we’ll try some root vegetables in the border garden this fall.

Finally, after last year’s basil-palooza, we went with container varieties for both basil and rosemary this year, and both are growing well (though not in the overwhelming qualities we dealt with last year!)  The rosemary is so wonderfully fragrant, I’m thinking I’ll try to find a way to use it in this year’s Christmas gift baskets.

The tomato plants are also flowering once again, and our dwarf cherry tree has probably shot up about two feet since our last update.  I’m excited to be able to bring in our own food again, and see what the rest of the fall brings!

 

It’s Ladybug Time: How to Use Ladybugs for Organic Aphid Control

Ladybugs are so cute with their shiny red coats and polkadot bodies.  It’s no surprise people love to put them on kids clothing, they’re just so adorable. But you may not know that these sweet little insects are also cold-hearted killers.

Aphid killers, in particular. This time of year, when the honeydew starts to cling to cars and everything from pecan trees to crepe myrtles to pepper plants are mobbed with the tiny green sap-sucking creatures, ladybugs can be your garden’s best defense.

In particular, we use ladybugs on our serrano pepper plants. We purchase the bugs in 1,000-count mesh bags from our local organic nursery, though you can also order them through Amazon or other garden supply stores. Once received, they go directly into the refrigerator, where they can stay dormant for up to a few months, until you’re ready to use.

You want to release ladybugs in the evening, after the sun has already set.  Because the bugs use the sun to navigate, this will give them time to adapt and find their aphid feast before immediately flying off.  Spritz them with some water as they come out of the fridge, then dump them directly onto your most infected plants.

Additionally, if you happen to notice rain in your forecast it’s WONDERFUL to put the ladybugs out just before it rains. Without needing to leave to find water and/or not wanting to fly through a storm, they’ll stay close to where you release them longer, helping to get rid of tons of your pesky aphids.

I’ll usually do a full bag for a first treatment, and then followup 3-4 days later (once I no longer see any ladybugs hanging around) with half a bag as a second dose, and a final half bag dose 3-4 days after that. It’s an inexpensive and completely organic way to deal with aphids, and it’s saved many of my plants over the years.

Are you having aphid issues? Leave your questions in the comments.

Seasonal Gardening & Preserving in Central Texas for Beginners

A lot of my friends have seen my posts over the years and expressed some version of “oh, I’d love to try to plant my own food garden, but I don’t even know how to start.”

For me, I think the easiest “starter” veggies for the central Texas and Austin region are tomatoes, onions, strawberries, peppers, and basil.  If you plant just these five crops, you’ll be able to regularly harvest from about March to November without break, and without having to know too much about soils or pests.

So, I figured I’d give you a cheat-sheet for each plant, helping you to get started as well. Enjoy!

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Tomatoes

I’ve written about tomatoes before, but here are the essentials:

  • Plant your seedlings around March.
  • I’d recommend at least two plants: a cherry variety that will continue to produce through the hottest summer months, and a full-size variety that will give you two big harvests (first in May, second in November).
  • Look for “indeterminate” varietals, which means they’ll bloom multiple times.
  • Remove “suckers”
  • Stake your plants early and often.
  • Try to keep a consistent water level, and plan to water at least daily from June-September.
  • Things to Watch For:
    • Blossom End Rot looks like big brown rotten spots on nearly-ripe fruit. Solution: add some fish bone meal to your soil.
    • Birds and squirrels eating your plants.  Solution: bird netting.
    • Insects eating holes in leaves.  Solution: make a neem oil/dish soap spray and spray your plant leaves in the early morning.
    • Cracked fruit.  Solution: be more consistent in watering; pull any near-ripe fruit before rainstorms.
  • Preservation Ideas:
    • Tomatoes freeze very well – lots of recipes for that here.
    • Fresh salsa will last in the fridge for about 2 weeks

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Onions

  • Plant “onion sets” in mid-January. Break sets apart to give proper growing room or you’ll have small onions.
  • Once green tops begin popping up in mid-February or so, you can cut the tops off for use in any recipe calling for green onions or chives.
  • In late May/June, watch for onion tops starting to turn yellow and fall over.  Once this occurs, you’ll know it’s time to harvest.
  • Things to watch for:
    • Grubs in the soil will eat on your plant roots.  Solution: If you see a grub anytime you’re digging, remove it from the garden.  If you see lots of grubs, treat with milky spore powder before planting and beneficial nematodes every few months.
  • Preservation Ideas:
    • Braid them and story in a cool, dry place to dry.  They’ll last for 6 months or so, just keep an eye out for blackish mold or soft spots.

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Peppers

  • Plant your seedlings around March
  • I think serrano does best in Central Texas, but jalapenos, habaneros, and poblanos will grow here as well.
  • You’ll know they’re ready to harvest when they start to change color and are easy to pull from the vine. The more they change color, the hotter they’ll be.
  • Plan on getting peppers from about May – October.
  • Things to Watch For:
    • Aphids.  These look like little green dots on the leaves of your plant.  Left untreated, they’ll keep your plant from fruiting.  Solution: release ladybugs, after sundown.
  • Preservation Ideas:
    • Peppers respond great to pickling.
    • Can a pepper jelly (just make sure to use lots of pectin.)
    • Use a food dehydrator to dry them, then store in a plastic bag in the pantry.

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Strawberries

  • Plant seeds or seedlings around mid-February, after freezing weather ends.
  • You’ll need more plants than you think.  8 is a good number to start with; 15+ if you’re actually hoping to make jellies or jams.
  • These plants are perennials, so as long as you keep watering them through the year, they’ll come back and fruit for you year after year.
  • They spread on runners, so give them plenty of space away from other plants in your garden and they’ll continue to expand.
  • Harvest when the fruit is red. You’ll get largest harvest from late-March into June, but some “everbearing” varieties will continue to pump out stragglers even in the summer.
  • Things to Watch For:
    • Aphids.  These look like little green dots on the leaves of your plant.  Left untreated, they’ll keep your plant from fruiting.  Solution: release ladybugs, after sundown.
    • Sugar ants.  These guys will burrow into near-ripe fruit and eat it from the inside out. The problem is that some ants also eat aphids, so it’s sort of a toss up over whether to do anything or not.  Solution: add mulch under plants to keep fruit elevated, and don’t worry too much about the ants taking their cut.
  • Preservation Ideas:
    • Any number of jam and jelly recipes you can find online…that is, if you can avoid eating them fresh!

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Basil

  • Plant a seedling starting in March
  • Works well in a container as well as in the ground
  • Needs near-daily watering or will start to look droopy
  • Pinch off the flowers whenever they appear.  This keeps the basil growing, and prevents the basil from turning bitter.
  • Things to Watch For:
    • Snails – you’ll know you have them if you see streaky, whitish paths on your low-to-the-ground leaves.  Solution: add coffee grounds to your dirt, and pluck off any snails that you see.
    • Spittle bugs – these look like little pockets of foam right that the base of the leaves. Solution: remove any affected leaves, as this is actually the “bubble nest” of the pupal stage of the insect.  Solution: burn the removed leaves and/or seal them in a plastic bag before throwing away.
  • Preservation Ideas:
    • Basil pesto freezes well. You can also freeze loose basil leaves.
    • Dry them, either by hanging in a dry place or in a food deyhrdator

Garden Update: Everything’s Coming Up Salsa!

One of the most frequently visited posts I’ve done on this blog is about how we built a diy raised bed vegetable garden.  It’s been over a year since we first planted anything, and in that time we’ve had HUGE yields of just about everything we put in the ground.

Lately, it’s all about the early season tomatoes, onions, and serrano peppers.  When we came back from our Alaska trip, they had shot up like crazy, and the onion tops were starting to fall over in the garden. So, I resorted to old-fashioned onion braiding to preserve them in our pantry. (No root cellars down here in Austin!)IMG_3613

In the first week of June alone, I harvested more than 30 onions, 9 tomatoes, 16 peppers, and a few handfuls of strawberries. Which meant – salsa time! I love dicing up a quick pico de gallo for an afternoon snack.  Here’s how I do it:FullSizeRender

  1. Quarter 1 large or 2 medium sized tomatoes, and scoop out the seeds, leaving only the firm flesh of each fruit.  Dice the remaining tomato, and put in a bowl.
  2. Finely chop 1 small onion and 1 clove of garlic, then add to the bowl.
  3. Cut one serrano in half, and scoop out the seeds to your level of heat preference – I usually take about 2/3 of the seeds out. Then finely dice and add to the bowl.
  4. Grab a handful of fresh cilantro and shred or quickly dice.  Add to bowl.
  5. Top with salt, pepper, and the juice of half a lime. Stir everything together and serve with tortitlla chips or on top of your favorite meat. Delicious!

What’s popping up in your garden? Tell us in the comments.

Tomato Gardening 101

If, like me, you live in the Southern part of the country then you’ve probably recently come the conclusion that “winter” is just not going to happen this year.  In central Texas, the last frost date is usually sometime mid-March, and since the 10-day forecast shows balmy temps in the 60s and 70s for our foreseeable future, I went ahead and planted my vegetable garden this weekend.

The bulk of the space in my garden is dedicated to tomatoes.  Four well-tended, high-yield tomato plants will eventually yield hundreds, possibly even 1,000s of tomatoes by season’s end. But tomatoes are also great because they’re a pretty easy plant for beginners.

That said, there are a few things you should know if you’re making your first foray into growing your own food, so here are a few quick tips that I’ve learned over the years.

Step 1: Prepare the Soil

If you’re planting directly into the ground or an existing raised bed, then you’ll want to work some organic matter into the soil.  For our 4′ x 8’raised bed garden, I tilled the unplanted areas to the top to loosen the existing soil, then added a 20-lb bag of compost and a 20-lb bag of new potting soil and raked them all together. This will help the plants to have plenty of food throughout the growing season.

Additionally, turning your soil over allows you to watch out for what I consider the most evil garden pest of all – grubs. I hate these little assholes.  They will kill young plants by eating their roots before they ever even get established. Since we eat what comes out of our garden, we try to keep things organic, and the best organic treatment for grubs is milky spore bacteria and beneficial nematodes.  If you find a few grubs while working your soil, go ahead and work in these solutions before you add your seedlings.

Step 2: Watch out for “suckers”

Once your soil is ready and you’ve mapped out where your tomatoes will be placed (be careful not to to overcrowd!), then you can go ahead and plant your tomato seedling.  As you do, though, be on the lookout for “suckers” on your young plant.

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A “sucker” is essentially a new “branch” of your tomato plant, that grows in between the main stalk and an existing branch. If allowed to grow, your tomato plant is more likely to grow “out” than “up”, which will result in the plant needing to put more effort into leaf and branch production than tomato production.  For a high-yield garden, keep each plant to one main stalk, and pinch off suckers as they appear.

Step 3: Stake ’em from the start

Our tomato plants regularly get around 8 feet tall. It’s easy, when they’re all of about 4-inches to think that the cutesy 3-foot tall plant support cages sold at places like Home Depot specifically as “tomato supports” will actually work.

But they won’t.  They’re much too short.  So what will end up happening is that your tomato plant will grow until it’s taken over the cutesy-little support, and you’ll have to add additional much taller stakes, but by that point, the plant is so wrapped around the original support that you can’t get it out to put something new in.

Save yourself the hassle – go with the tallest stakes you can find, from the very beginning. I generally prefer to put two 8-foot stakes together in a teepee formation, tied at the very top, over my young tomato transplants.

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Four tomato plants, staked and netted.

Step 4: No animals allowed

Birds and squirrels think tomatoes are delicious. And if given the chance, they will happily take a single bite out of each and every tomato you grow.  To prevent this, you’re going to need protective netting. The net keeps the big pests out while still letting pollinators like bees and butterflies in.

You can wait to do this step until your plants actually set fruit, but I usually prefer to set up my nets from the very beginning.  Again, make sure that your net clears the top of your stakes, because these plants will get very tall.

Step 5: Avoid droughts and floods

That’s pretty much it.  Only other thing: water. Tomatoes need a lot of it. But they like a constant level of soil moisture level.  So water regularly, and consider ways to reducing moisture fluctuations.

For example, our raised-bed is what’s called “self-wicking” and sits atop a built-in reservoir. Others choose drip lines. If you’re gardening in a container, you could try those “aqua globe” things.

This becomes even more important one fruit sets – big fluctuations in moisture levels will cause tomatoes to “crack” allowing bugs and pests to get inside your beautiful fruit. So try to keep moisture as constant as possible, and if you see a big storm in the forecast, consider pulling your tomatoes that are close to being ripe ahead of time.

And that’s about it. 

Water regularly, pull off suckers about once a week, and once you have big juicy looking red tomatoes on the vine, pull them off and enjoy! If something weird starts happening (yellow leaves, fruit rot, fruit falling off) then you can always come back to the internet and poke around till you find an answer, but tomatoes are really pretty easy, and home-grown fully vine-ripened tomatoes taste so much better than store-bought.

What are your top tomato tips? Share in the comments.

Ripening Late-Harvest Tomatoes

IMG_2929A friend of mine came over for lunch recently, and was shocked when I mentioned the tomatoes we were enjoying had come from my garden.

“But how?” she wondered.  “Our first freeze was over a month ago! How can you possibly still have fresh, ripe tomatoes this time of year?”

Well, the answer is that we pulled all our tomato fruits *before* the first freeze and have slowly been ripening them on our countertop.  Of the 100 or so tomatoes we pulled back in November, we’ve had probably 8-10 ripen up each week, allowing us to enjoy tasty, fresh tomatoes well into the colder months.

There seems to be a lot of confusion about how to go about indoor-ripening your tomato harvest, so let me explain the process. All you need is a space to let the tomatoes sit in a room-temperature, dry place. You’ll want to put an absorbent material down to lay the tomatoes on, in a single layer.  (A shallow cardboard box is ideal for this.)

Then, go to the grocery store and get a single not-quite-fully-ripe tomato of any variety. Place it in the middle of the box with your garden tomatoes. The single ripening tomato from the store will release a chemical called ethylene as it continues to ripen that will trigger ripening in the rest of the tomatoes as well.  Then, once some of your garden tomatoes start to ripen, they’ll trigger a chain reaction and soon your whole box will start to turn red and ripe.

That’s really it.  No special lights needed.  No chemical ripeners.  Just a carboard box and a single grocery store tomato. And you’ll be enjoying home grown tomatoes well into January.

Saving Money with Rain Catchment Barrels: Doing The Math

14458354548_b5f423512d_zPrepare yourselves: this post contains math.  (Ack, the horror!)

In case you were wondering, it’s been balls hot in Texas lately.  As such, our garden is feeling the effects.  We’re having to fill the resevoir in the raised bed daily, and our in-ground roses, begonias, salvia, and snapdragon at least every other day.

Which means, we’re using somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 gallons a day to water our plants at the moment

(For those that are interested in the math – we have an approximately 8’x4’x2′ reservoir in our raised bed garden, but it’s filled with rocks.  Assuming that the actual portion that the water fills is about 1/4 of the reservoir, then, 8 cubic feet of water.  8 cubic feet is about 60 gallons.  Assuming I use about half as much again to water the in-ground plants (but that I only do it every other day) then that averages out to about 15 additional gallons a day.)

It’s that hot in Texas from about July – September.  The rest of the year, we water once or twice a week, so even taking the lower once-a week figure, that’s roughly 10k gallons a year just going directly into our flowers & veggies. Considering that our water rate (given our other residential uses – laundry, showers, cooking, etc.) is roughly $7.48 per thousand gallons used, that comes out to around $75 a year.

For water. That we’re putting right back onto the ground.

So what’s an aspiring gardener to do? Our answer: rainwater collection barrels.

We found 50-gallon barrels on Woot for $69.99 a piece.  Given that Texas (and some other states) exclude sales tax for rainwater collection, and our city subsidizes the purchase of rain barrels to the tune of 50 cents per gallon, that means we were able to purchase two barrels (or 100 gallons capacity) for just $90 total – a pretty good price.

According to stats that I found online, Austin averages between 25-40 days a year of precipitation.  Meaning our new rain barrels could help us save up to 4,000 gallons of city water, or approximately $30, a year. In other words, our rain barrels will pay for themselves in three years time, and after that, they’ll start making us money.

But wait, you say. Even if it rains 40 days a year, that doesn’t mean you’ll fill your barrels with every storm.  And that’s true, BUT…the genius of rain catchment systems is that they use the large surface area of your roof to funnel water into your barrels.  The conventional formula is that 1,000 square feet of roof + 1 inch of rain will yield you approximately 623 gallons of water.

I’m not entirely sure of our roof size, but it’s probably fairly close to 1,000 square feet.  Which means that I only need 1/6 of an inch of rain to fill our barrels.  I’m liking our chances.

So if you really want to grow your own vegetables and have it be economical, it’s basically a no-brainer. But beyond that, it’s also environmentally friendly (especially in drought-prone areas) and in an emergency situation, they can even serve as backup water for you and your family (so long as you boil it first). Win-win.

Do you use rain barrels?  Tell us your experience in the comments!  Header image courtesy of Flickr user mwms1916, under a Creative Commons license.