Archive for January, 2011

Rough Earth Snake

Monday, January 31st, 2011

While planting my asparagus bed the other day, I uncovered a couple of rough earth snakes.  This was the third or fourth time that I have found these insect and worm eating snakes in my garden.  These two were smaller, but I have seen them get as long as one foot.

I like having the snakes in the garden, but I move them over to the brush pile so that I don’t accidentally stab them with a digging fork.

Rough Earth Snake with Tongue

The snake tried to hide inside of my glove.

Rough Earth Snake under Leaf

Then it tried to hide under a leaf.

Hanging Rough Earth Snake

Once I got a few pictures I let them go in my brush pile.

Planting Asparagus Crowns

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

I decided to reserve the far bed in my garden for a perennial planting of asparagus and thornless blackberries.  I picked up ten asparagus crowns at The Natural Gardener earlier this week and chose UC-72, the variety that they recommend for Central Texas.  I have grown asparagus before in Wisconsin, but the planting guide that The Natural Gardener provided had some useful advice.

Trenches for asparagus planting

The prepped asparagus bed, prior to planting.

First, I prepped the beds by digging two trenches in one of my raised beds about 10″ deep. Then I added some compost.

Asparagus Crowns

The asparagus crown laid out just prior to planting.

Planted Asparagus Crown

Asparagus crown over ridge in trench.

Before putting in the crowns I made a ridge down the middle of the trench. I placed half of the roots on either side of the ridge.

After I placed the crowns I covered them back up with about two inches of soil.  This still left the height of the trench a couple of inches below the level of the bed.  As the asparagus grows I will add the rest of the soil back, bringing the trench up to the original level.

Asparagus bed after planting.

Asparagus bed after planting.

It will take three years for the plants to reach full production.  This year I can’t harvest anything, and next year I can only harvest a few of the larger shoots.  I’ll extend my drip system to keep these plants thriving through the hot Austin summer so that they can build up their root mass.

2010 Garden Reflections

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

Gardeners are risk takers.  They have to be.  Nothing is guaranteed with seeds and plants.  Even with the best care failures occur.  I tried several new things last year and had some successes and some failures, but as usually happens, what works outweighs what doesn’t.

Running two businesses keeps me short on time.  My garden is most always a weedy mess.  It’s gardening on the run.  I’m gone many weekends doing trade shows and while I do get relaxation in the garden, I don’t come close to putting in as much time as I would like to or as the garden really needs.  I garden for the food, but it’s also an experiment, or many experiments, and for me it’s a way to get to understand nature and some of the interactions that define ecology.

Several things went really well this year.  One was my trellised pea planting inter-cropped with lettuces.  My farmer friend Michael Ball had hundreds of volunteer lettuces sprouting from where he let his previous year’s crop go to seed.  So lettuce starts were free for the taking and I took lots, planting them around and between the peas, as well as in part of my garlic bed.  I’ve been inter-planting greens in my garlic for years.  It works great.

I thinned and transplanted corn with very good success.  Transplanting corn can be tricky. You have to get the whole tap root.  Too much root disturbance and the transplants will be stunted.  But the bed I transplanted ended up the equal of the directly seeded bed in terms of production and quality.

I had a decent tomato harvest considering that last year I lost most of my crop to late blight.  This year no blight, but since the garden was virtually un-worked in July and August because of the worst mosquito population Wisconsin has seen in years, the tomatoes were relatively untended.   No trellising or pruning and almost no weeding.  I had noticeably diminished yields but what came through came through healthy.  A lesson reinforced however:  the tomatoes like to be trellised and pruning the low lying branches helps a lot.

My squash harvest was the best ever, but I had bad luck with the melons I planted and we’ll have to work on them for next year.

I’ve expanded my indoor growing.  We’ve been eating salads of mixed greens and harvesting just about all the basil we can use from my LED light set up in the basement.

So as we move into the new year, I’ve learned that I have to take better care of my tomatoes, I want to do even more crop inter-planting, and  extending the season is going to be a primary aim.  I’ve built a cold frame to get a jump on getting some greens going outside in the spring.  The sweet potatoes in mason jars are already setting roots.  And it’s seed catalog ordering time.  Soon the onion seeds will go into flats followed by the rest,  and we’ll keep the cycle going in 2011.

Oneida Corn Soup

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Last week Ted Skenandore came to Austin for a visit and brought me a bundle of dehydrated Oneida White Corn that he grew at the Tsyuhehkwa Farm on the Oneida reservation in northeast Wisconsin.  Ted and I used to work together at Tsyuhehkwa running the farm and community agriculture program before I moved to Austin.

Posing with the Corn

Ted shows off the Oneida White Corn and the Dehydrated Corn

The Oneidas brought this variety of white corn with them when they resettled in Wisconsin after leaving New York State in the 1820s.  It is the same variety of corn that they took to Valley Forge to feed Washington’s starving troops during the American Revolutionary War.  Washington paid them back after the war by sending General Sullivan to burn their crops and girdle their apple orchards.

Oneida White Corn does not lend well to machine harvesting or shelling.  While planted with a tractor, all of the fields are still hand-picked, hand-husked and hand-shelled.  Traditionally, this corn is cooked with hard wood ash in order to remove the hull.  Baking soda may also be used.  This process is similar to the way that tortilla corn is prepared in Mexico by using lime.  Besides removing the hull, cooking with wood ash makes niacin and other nutrients in the corn available to the body.

White Corn on Ear and Dehydrated

The dehydrated corn in the bag has already been cooked with either wood ash or another alkaline substance.


After being boiled for about 20 minutes with the wood ash (until the white corn turns a bright yellow), the corn is sifted through a strainer to remove the hull, then the corn is boiled for several more hours.  Luckily for me, the Tsyuhehkwa program also has a community cannery that pre-cooks the corn and then dehydrates it, making it much easier for the home cook to enjoy this wonderful soup.

The Oneida Cannery also offers canned corn soup cooked with either salt pork or smoked turkey.  The soup is also often made with venison.  My version contains no meat and is not traditional.

Soak one package of dehydrated corn soup in water over night

Saute one chopped onion and some garlic

Add the corn and enough water to cover.

Add vegetable broth.

Add cumin and oregano to taste.

Simmer for one hour.

Add cooked beans (kidney, pinto, or whatever you grew in your garden last year, I used Jacob’s Cattle beans in my latest batch.)

Simmer for one more hour.

If you are interested in purchasing raw or dehydrated Oneida White Corn contact the Tsyuhehkwa Retail Center