Monday, January 25, 2010

Acres of Alliums

Okay, it isn't really acres.  In fact, our total growing area is probably less than a quarter-acre.  But I couldn't resist a bit of alliteration.  "Many square feet of onions" didn't grab me as a good post title.  Anyway, we have planted a lot of onion family (aka Allium) plants this season.  At least, it seems like a lot to me.  Many more than last year.

First it was 200 cloves of garlic back in October.  Nine different varieties.  We ordered two sampler packs from Bob Anderson, self-proclaimed Garlicmeister, of Gourmet Garlic Gardens in Bangs, Texas.  A box arrived full of little brown paper bags holding garlic heads (bulbs) of various varieties.  I sure wish I had taken a photo.

We split the heads up into individual cloves and planted the largest ones according to Bob's detailed instructions.  After a week or so, we started to see little greens shoots poking up through the mulch.  Now there is a little forest of garlic tops.  They are all varieties suited to our hot, humid, short-day climate; each one should form a nice head of garlic cloves.  We will harvest some green, before they fully mature, and leave the rest to mature in early summer.

Bob's website is fun, sprawling and colorful - check it out for interesting information about garlic cultivation, cooking, health benefits, medical uses, and history.  He ships garlic heads for eating, too; if you are a garlic fanatic, try ordering one of his samplers and taste some of his varieties for yourself.

Stay tuned for Episode 2: Scallions and Shallots and Onions, Oh My!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ordering Seeds

The seed catalogs with their brightly-colored covers and beguiling contents began arriving in late November. The people who design the catalogs are very good at what they do - when I first open up a catalog, I am tempted to call the convenient 24-hour toll-free phone order number and say "I'll have one of each, please". The photos of the vegetables are enticing and the descriptions make you think each variety is either the best tasting, the earliest yielding, the most productive, or the easiest plant you will ever grow. How do we ever decide?

Well, we have one big constraint which helps us to narrow down the candidates and makes our variety selection easier: our climate. We have scorching hot summers with frequent droughts and nighttime temperatures in the mid-70's (some plants, notably tomatoes, will not set fruit if they don't get to cool off enough overnight). Plus some very robust insect populations due to the generally mild winters and early spring. Paradoxically, our summertime daylight hours are shorter than in areas further north, so that the plants don't get as much light energy with which to grow, produce, and stay ahead of the pests. So the number of suitable varieties is greatly reduced.

This month we made our selections and placed four seed orders, all within about a week. These orders, plus the seed leftover from last year, should get us through most of the year, though we will probably order a few more varieties for the fall growing season. We ordered from Johnny's, Tomato Growers, Territorial, and Baker Creek. All the orders have arrived; we now have a container full of seed packets in our refrigerator.

Take a look at these beautiful seed packets from Baker Creek:

Can't you just taste one of those Green Zebra tomatoes? I hope ours look like that.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Cold Snap

Lately the weather here has been unusually cold, as it has been in most of the U.S. The air temperature sunk below freezing on Thursday night and stayed there more than 24 hours. Saturday morning the temperature was 18 degrees! That doesn't sound like a big deal for most places, but it isn't common here in Decker Prairie, Texas - we really aren't that far from the coast.

Before the freeze, we harvested our lettuce, but left the rest of the cool-weather plants to fend for themselves. This includes the Brassicas (broccoli, kale, radishes, etc.), legumes, beets, chard, carrots and the Alliums (garlic, onions, shallots). So far, most appear to have survived, though they look a little wilted.

We won't know how the citrus trees fared for a little while. I don't think it killed them, but they may not produce anything this year. I'm glad this cold weather came when it did because we have been talking about buying a bunch of citrus trees and planting them in front of the main garden, near the street. They would be completely unprotected out there, unlike the ones we have now which are near the house and the shelter of some larger trees. I would love to have a variety of fruit grown right here in my own yard, but I don't relish the idea of trying to cover a bunch of 5-foot-tall trees every time we have a cold snap. So this was a good test!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Welcome to the Rain Song Farm blog!

This is the beginning of our second year of growing vegetables and herbs for market. It feels like a good time to start sharing our experiences as part-time small-scale farmers.

I hope you enjoy coming along for the virtual ride as we grow fresh, local, sustainable food for the Northwest Houston area.