I’m gonna need a bigger backyard.

by Shawnda on February 24, 2014

in Garden


I’ve gotten really good at cramming too much stuff into too little a space, having had to lay on the bed to get my jeans to zip for the last couple of weeks. But even then, I’m hardly a miracle worker. And I’ve completely maxed out my 8×4 raised garden bed.

The carrots and non-tomato-bug-repelling herbs have already been exiled to pots. I see only one solution: knock down the fence and take the neighbor’s backyard by force.

Jason sees another: stop trying to hoard the state’s supply of tomato seeds.

Sometimes I’m not sure how we stay married.




by Shawnda on February 20, 2014

in Garden

White Peach tree in bloom

Guess what time it is?! Squueeeee!

I seriously thought we were going to be stuck in some &^%$#-weather Groundhog-Day loop forever. But finally a break. THE break.

I’ve been busy ripping out weeds, pollinating peach blossoms by hand, ripping out more weeds, getting ready for the new gardening season.

4x4 garden boxes

I’ve gardened with those four 4×4 boxes the last several years. But last weekend, I ripped those out to make room for margarita citrus trees and a new, single 8×4 box. My square footage might be cut in half, but I’m actually planting a far larger crop than I’ve ever planted before.

But man. What a mess.

To build the new 8×4 garden box, the 4-year-old and I snagged:
– 3 1x8x8 cedar planks*, one of the pieces cut in half for the short ends.
– 1 2x2x8 cedar plank**, cut into ~15-inch lengths for the corner posts (~6-inches of the posts are below ground to provide stability, 1-inch sticks above the bed for aesthetics)
– Exterior screws
– Measuring tape
– Drill (and a just-smaller-than-the-screws drill bit for pilot holes)
– Saw
– 1 hour

*I wanted a 2×8 but they were out and I didn’t care enough to hit a second store. Or wait. Because garden NOW!!!

**Or, you know, 2 1x2x8s sandwiched together because see *.

I attached the corner posts to the inside-ends of the long planks, moved them to the garden area, dug 4 holes for the corner posts, then attached the short ends to form the box, and then leveled the box. It took Landry & I maybe an hour from start to shovel-drop.

San Marzano Tomato

To fill the box, I simply used the “Mel’s Mix” that I reclaimed from the old garden boxes. If you’re familiar with The Square Food Garden Method, you know that Mel’s Mix is a mixture of dirt, vermiculite and homemade compost (which I’ll talk about later). If you’re not familiar with the method, I cannot recommend this book enough.

Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew

So let’s talk about that vermiculite. It’s kiiind of expensive. Especially when you’re just starting out and you only have what you think are “just” these 4 small beds that all of a sudden turn into bottomless pits and – OMG AM I GOING TO HAVE TO SELL A &^%$#@! KIDNEY TO FILL THESE THINGS UP?!

But it is completely necessary – especially when barely 4 inches below your grass is good ol’ Texas clay. I only had to invest in the vermiculite that first year and if you’re starting out new, so should you. Bite the bullet. Eat grilled cheese and soup for two weeks. Totally worth it for years to come.

So here we are 4 years later. And the soil is still so perfectly workable and aerated and has excellent drainage. When soil levels get low, I’ll work in a bag of garden dirt or some homemade compost into boxes to bring the level back up. But I’ve never added more vermiculite.


Right now, everything is just starting to wake up from the coldest winter I can remember. I’m behind on starting seedlings – my heirlooms just went into the tray last weekend – but a few starter plants are in the ground already.

That said, most of the backyard still looks this sad. And worse.


I need a garden fairy. Or a volunteer that accepts promise of payment in 9 varieties of tomatoes.



Garden Fridays: The “Brown & Crispy” Edition

by Shawnda on August 30, 2013

in Garden

Black Beauty Eggplant

Please lower your head in a moment of silence for:
2 blueberry bushes [sob]
1 San Marzano tomato
1 Juliet tomato
16 green bean bushes
20+ strawberry plants [sob]
2 pots of basil

And may your prayers or good thoughts be sent to the grapefruit tree, you know – the one with more grapefruit (12) than leaves.

I will be winning no pro-am gardening competitions this year.

What hasn’t shriveled to a crisp in this drought? The eggplant. And the red and yellow bell peppers. And the poblano. Not coincidentally, those are also the newest items on my “I don’t care if I never see another one in my entire life again” list.

How are your gardens doing? Hopefully you have fared better than I have!



Garden Fridays: Figs and a Reboot

by Shawnda on July 12, 2013

in Garden

It’s mid July and that means two things: it’s seventh-circle-of-hell hot and it’s time for Garden 2.0!

The most wonderful things to come out of the garden this last month were the figs. No question. We got our first real crop from our small fig tree and it was fabulous. This happened more than once:

Fresh figs, honey, and brie

But sadly, it was short-lived. Backyard fig season was over within 2-3 weeks.

Also extremely wonderful: San Marzano tomatoes. I have 3 quarts of pizza sauce in the freezer and fridge. 12 cups! Do you know how many tomatoes it takes to make 12 cups of pizza sauce? I stopped counting… but it was a crazy bunch.

San Marzano Tomatoes

Everything else is barely creeping along, thanks to being at the mercy of me and my water hose. We’ve had one small sprinkling of rain in the last 6 weeks. If you’ve got a spare rainy day just lying around, I’ll take it!

Still Alive
Eggplant, it’s a survivor. I don’t know what it was about that plant. It only recently started growing after being in the ground and 4-inches tall for ~4 months. But we’ve gotten our first flowers and should see our first eggplant soon.

Red and Yellow Bell Peppers are doing fabulously. The yellow bell pepper is especially happy after the cantaloupe vine was trimmed back off the netting – more sunlight!

Jalapeno – moved it to the prime position previously occupied by the 3-year-old serrano “tree.” It’s is much happier now.

Strawberries – done producing for the year but now comes the tricky part: keeping them alive during nearly-triple-digits and drought.

Red grape – Nothing this year so far.

Basil – I am temporarily over pesto and caprese everything. I aggressively cut back the basil so I have a bit of a reprieve.

Garden tomatoes

Tomatoes! A new San Marzano and a new mystery tomato plant. I can tell it’s not a vining plant, but that’s about it. I also started some clippings in a glass of water to root and those will go in the ground shortly. Long live summer tomato sauce!

Green beans – the spring plants got spindly and crispy so I pulled them and am planting the rest of the seeds in the ground this weekend.

Butternut squash – ’tis the season!

In Limbo
2 San Marzano and the Juliet tomatoes were aggressively pruned… and now look aggressively almost dead. They might not make it. But I’ll deal with the month-long lull between tomato crops if it means my back yard is temporarily free of those disgusting leaf-footed stink bugs. They are my nemesis. Even more so now that one tried to fly into my mouth. Luckily, my lips were pursed in preparation of releasing a very angry “Mommy word” and no damage was done to either party.

Tomatillos – I will never even try again. The plants are gigantic and took over far more valuable garden real estate than they produced tomatillos. Never again.

Cantaloupe – produced a handful of cantaloupe and then died.

Serrano – after 3 years, we pulled the serrano in favor of getting the more-desirable jalapeno more light. Because you know what makes a better stuffed pepper? Jalapenos.