Posts Tagged ‘Geoff Valdes’

Mexico City Living Walls

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

Last week I was in Mexico City visiting family and saw an abundance of new living walls.  Here are some photos of two of them.

Living wall with sedums and ferns of rounded patern

Living wall near movie theater in Irrigación neighborhood.


Plumcot Crisp

Sunday, June 15th, 2014

A few years ago, I planted a plumcot tree in my front yard.  A plumcot is a cross between a plum and an apricot.  Two years ago I had a moderate harvest, and last year nothing.  But this year, I have an abundance of fruit that I have been eating, preserving, cooking, and giving away.

Multiple plumcots on tree

Plumcots on tree

So far, I’ve had minimal bird damage and almost no other pest damage, but I know from past experience that birds and possums can ruin the crop overnight.  So I’ve been picking the fruit when they are mostly ripe, but not fully soft, and then letting them finish ripening on the kitchen table.

bowl of harvested plumcots

Harvested Plumcots

Last weekend, I needed to bring a dish to a celebration, so I made a crisp based on Judy’s rhubarb crisp recipe.   I added cardamom, and a little more cinnamon, but otherwise the recipe is identical.


  • 6 cups pitted and quartered plumcots
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup unbleached flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom

Mix and let stand for 15 minutes


  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Place the plumcot mixture in a shallow greased baking dish.  Combine dry ingredients, add melted butter, mixing until crumbly.  Sprinkle over plumcots.  Bake at 375 for 30 minutes.

Serving of Plumcot Crisp

Plumcot Crisp

Note that when I made the crisp, the plumcots were still slightly tart.  If they had been ripe to the point of being soft, I probably could have cut back on the amount of sugar used.

Planting Onions in Austin

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014
Four by four section of garden bed planted with onion seedlings.

The 4″ by 4″ section of bed, after planting

Last weekend, my dad, Noel, visited me in Austin, so I put him to work helping me in the garden.  It was mid-January; that meant onion planting time.

To start your own onion seedlings indoors, you should do so 8-10 weeks prior to planting.  In Austin, that would have meant sowing them in October.  Since I hadn’t done that we first went to the Natural Gardener, where I picked up Southern Belle red, Bermuda white, and Texas 1015 yellow seedlings.  All three varieties are sweet onions.  I’ll usually grow at least one storage variety as well, but limited myself to the above selection this year.

I already had a 4′ by 4′ section of raised bed ready for planting.  I only had to rake it to create a smooth planting surface.  We used our BioMarker plant markers to create a spacing pattern of 5″ offset rows. You could just measure as you plant, but having the markers in place made the planting easy.

A garden bed full of BioMarkers spaced in offset rows.

We used the BioMarkers to mark 5″ offset spacing.

Then, one by one I pulled out the markers and used the CobraHead to open up a hole an inch to an inch and a half deep and dropped in the onion seedling.

CobraHead tool making a hole; onion seedling dropped into hole.

Using the CobraHead to open up a hole, then dropping in the onion seedling.

Next, I firmed the soil around each onion seedling with my hands.

Two hands pressing the soil around an onion seedling.

Firming in the onion seedling.

Finally, I watered them in with a seaweed solution to stimulate root growth. I’ll continue giving them a seaweed watering every two weeks. The onions should be ready to harvest when the tops fall over, in Austin around May.

Heavy Mulching to Defeat Bermuda Grass

Monday, January 6th, 2014

I’ve struggled to keep a corner of my garden free of Bermuda grass. The grass rhizomes keep sneaking under the drip irrigation tubes.   They infiltrate the garden bed and reduce vegetable production.  This year I decided to take that section of the garden bed out of production for the season and put it under a mulch to knock the grass back.

Raised garden bed with grasses moving in from lawn.

Bermuda and other grasses invading the garden bed.

I’ve also decided to divide my beds into 4′ x 4′ sections for planting and rotation purposes.  Since I have four 16′ beds and one 8′ bed, that gives me 18 different crop sections.

Garden pathway around raised bed covered with newspaper and logs.

Mulching the pathway with old newspapers. The newspaper will then be covered with pine straw or wood chips.

I’ve been saving old copies of our weekly newspaper for the last few months.  After removing the staples, I laid these on the garden pathway next to the grass filled section.

Four foot section of raised garden bed covered with weed barrier and logs

Weed barrier over four foot section of bed. The weed barrier will be removed to make way for a cover crop.

Then I covered the 4′ section of bed itself with a piece of weed barrier. I’m not using the weed barrier as a permanent solution to weeds.  It’s a temporary protector of the soil until I’m able to plant a crop, or in this case a cover crop.  Unlike my dad, Noel, in Wisconsin, I don’t have easy access to large quantities of leaves for mulching the garden.

Garden bed covered with weed barrier with pathways covered with pine straw

The newspaper in the pathway, now covered with pine straw.

Finally, I covered the newspaper in the pathway with pine straw.  In the past I have mulched the paths with just pine straw, but the Bermuda grass quickly grows through it. The newspaper should slow down the grass for a couple more months.

I’ve also extended the weed barrier over the next four foot sections. I’ve already prepared this section for onion planting, but they won’t be going into the ground until next week.  I can then remove the weed barrier, drop in the onions, and store the barrier for future re-use.

As the season progresses, I’ll plant the first section with a series of cover crop mixes to smother remaining grass rhizomes.


Making Native Bee Nesting Logs

Sunday, July 28th, 2013

Today I finally built some nesting logs for native bees.  I got inspired by the frequent postings of Gail Eichelberger about native plants and native polinators on her blog Clay and Limestone.  I then used some instructions from the Xerces Society (PDF), grabbed some old oak logs and got to work.  Most native bees build solitary nests.  Some nest in the ground and others nest in holes in wood or other cavities.

According to the Xerces Society, holes for wood nesting bees should be 3/32″ to 3/8″ wide and at 3-4″ deep for holes less than 1/4″ in diameter.  And they should be spaced about 3/4″ apart.  Since I had a 3/16″ drill bit on hand, that’s the size that I chose.

Oak logs ready to be drilled for bee habitat.

The logs before drilling. I peeled off some of the bark so that I could get the holes deeper into the wood. Note that beetles have already made some pathways.

Drilling holes in oak log to make nesting site for native bees

Holes are about 3/4″ apart and should be at least 3″ deep.


Oak log with multiple holes drilled in the top for native bee habitat.

The holes are drilled in the upper portion of the log. The lower portion will be buried to mimic a rotting tree trunk.

I dug three holes in my front yard garden near the pink skullcap.  Then I buried the lower portion of the logs deep enough that they would be stable, with the holes facing Southeast.  The holes are only in the upper portion of the logs.

Oak log drilled with holes for native bees placed upright in garden near pink skullcap, Scutellaria suffrutescens

Finished log placed upright by pink skullcap, Scutellaria suffrutescens.

I’ll find out over the coming months if any bees decide to take advantage of these logs.  As an added bonus, the logs add a decorative element to the garden.


Stopping Leaf Cutting Ants

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Last month I noticed that a two foot section of sugar snap peas had been cut down almost to the ground.  I inspected the damage expecting to see evidence of squirrels or some other mammal, but instead discovered that my arch-nemesis, the leaf cutting ant, had returned.  I saw them methodically carrying away pieces of pea leaves, bigger than their own bodies.

I have a leaf cutting ant nest somewhere on my property, probably underneath my front porch.  I can’t determine the exact location of the nest because their tunnels can extend a hundred feet or more.  I’ve written about the ants before here, and have mostly learned to live with them.  They remain dormant most of the time, but make appearances several times a year.   Each time that they emerge they choose one type of plant to eat, ignoring the other vegetation.  This time it was peas.

Pea stalks chewed off about four inches high.

Peas plants damaged by leaf cutting ants.

Because the ants don’t actually eat the leaves, but instead use them to grow fungus, most insect controls don’t work on them.  For example, both Noel and I have had excellent results spraying neem oil on our plants to control leaf eating insects.  But for the neem to be effective, the insects must ingest it.  This doesn’t happen with the ants.

Luckily this time I noticed the ant outbreak before they had destroyed all of the peas.  I found that they had only tunneled into the pea bed in one location.  I poured orange oil into the hole.  I returned to the bed two days later and did not see any further damage.  I did, however, find about a dozen ants wandering around the bed still carrying now shriveled pieces of leaf.  Apparently I had severed their only connection with the mother colony.

Small hole in soil.

Leaf cutting ant tunnel entrance.

I won one round in my struggle with the ants.  But I know that they will be back.  And from past experience, I also know that they usually get what they want.

Interplanting Snap Peas and Chinese Kale

Monday, January 28th, 2013

It’s January in Austin and already time to plant early spring crops.  I took advantage of the tomato trellis that I used last year to support this year’s snap peas.

While cleaning out the bed, I worked around a lemon balm plant.

uncut lemon balm

I’m incorporating some perennial herbs into my raised vegetable beds. This lemon balm needs to be cut back to encourage fresh new growth.

Cutting the lemon balm back to about four inches.

Cutting the lemon balm back to about four inches.

Once I got the bed cleaned out, I added a couple of buckets of compost and created furrows for the peas.

sowing snap peas

Sowing the pea seeds about two inches apart. This year I’m trying a variety called Amish Snap available from Seed Savers Exchange.

covering pea seeds

I use the CobraHead Long Handle to make the furrow for the pea seeds and also to pull the soil over the seeds and then firmly tamp the soil above the seeds.

I wanted to take advantage of the space in the center of the bed, so I transplanted the Chinese Kale that I had started indoors a few weeks ago.  Also known as Kailaan, I’m growing a variety available from Botanical Interests.

completed pea and Chinese kale bed

The Amish Snap Peas are planted on the outside of the trellis and the Chinese Kale on the inside. Backwards? Yes. But the trellis structure was already in place.

The next project: prepare a space for Collard Greens and Mustard Greens.  The seedlings are almost ready to transplant.

collard seedlings

These collard seedlings will be transplanted into the garden soon.



Ecology Action

Monday, September 24th, 2012

Earlier this month Anneliese and I had a chance to visit Ecology Action, in Willits, California.

Ecology Action is the research farm of John Jeavons, author of How to Grow More Vegetables than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land than You Can Imagine.  Given that this book had a huge influence on the way that both Noel and I garden, it was a big deal for me to finally be able to visit the site.

The Garden of Ecology Action, nestled in redwood hills

Looking down at the gardens of Ecology Action.

John Jeavons wasn’t available, but another John, who is currently interning with Ecology Action, took time out of his schedule to show us around.   The site is hidden among redwood hills and is difficult to find.  The view of the mini-farm is spectacular, but the soil is not.  Part of the research involves showing whether or not the Bio-Intensive method works in conditions similar to that of small-farmers on marginal soils with little access to outside inputs and large-scale irrigation.

John and Anneliese at Ecology Action

John, one of the interns at Ecology action, gave us a personalized tour. Here he is with Anneliese.

To that end, the goal of the garden is to generate all of its own fertility.  This means growing lots of crops as much for the carbon and other biomass that they produce that then goes back into the compost pile as for their food value.  At Ecology Action, they follow a 60%-30%-10% model.  Sixty percent of the space is devoted to crops that produce a lot of carbon as well as some food, such as quinoa; the seeds are eaten and the stalks go into the compost.  Thirty percent of the space is reserved for high calorie root crops and ten percent of bed space is for vegetables.

Quinoa at Ecology Action

Grains and grain like crops are an important part of the system that Ecology Action has developed, both as a calorie crop and as a source of carbon for the compost. We saw lots of quinoa.

At the time of our visit, we saw lots of quinoa and amaranth almost ready to harvest.  Since this is a research farm, everything that is harvested is weighed and recorded.  Signs on the various compost piles showed the ratio of carbon to nitrogen in each pile; later the effects that different blends of compost had on yields would be observed.

Many gardeners have access to outside fertility.  Even Noel, who generates almost all of his garden fertility on his property, relies on composted leaves from other parts of the yard not dedicated to food growing to replenish the organic matter.  At Ecology Action, the assumption is that the garden must become a source for organic matter, not a sink; the garden must produce more organic matter than it consumes.

A closed-loop fertility cycle is just a small-part of the method presented in How to Grow More Vegetables.  Even if you are a city gardener who relies on purchased compost for your fertility, the other raised bed techniques, crop spacing guidelines, and more make the book one of our favorites, and visiting the research farm in person gave me a new appreciation for their methods.


Growing Microgreens

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

My friend Ted Skenandore of the Tsyuhehkwa Center has been growing pea and sunflower micro-greens and explained his method to me a few months ago.  Now I’ve been growing them for myself as well as with the young people of the Save Our Youth program.  These are his directions.  My comments are in parenthesis.

  • Fill a 11″ x 21″ tray with small drainage holes half full of potting soil.  (The standard black greenhouse trays that are referred to as 1020 trays work well.)
  • Water potting soil
  • Add about one cup of seeds evenly across soil (Use one cup only if the seeds are large, like peas or sunflowers.  You only need 2-3 tablespoons if the seeds are small like Chinese cabbage or radishes.)
  • Add enough potting soil to cover seeds
  • Press in firmly
  • Water again
  • Cover with second tray that is the same size and press in firmly again.  (For the second tray I use one that doesn’t have holes in it.)
  • Water every two days.  (I have found that if the trays are indoors they only need to be watered every three to four days.)
  • When seedlings start to push top tray up flip it upside down and re-cover.
  • When seedlings push upside down tray up uncover and put in sunny location for one day
  • Seedlings should turn green and are ready to harvest
Sunflower Microgreens still pale before being exposed to sunlight.

The sunflower Microgreens just after I removed the top tray.

Sunflower MicroGreens after one day exposure to sunlight

The sunflower microgreens later that same day.

Pea Microgreen shoots ready to eat

Pea Micro-greens ready to eat.

Microgreens have gotten a lot of hype about their alleged super nutritional value.  Unfortunately the evidence doesn’t yet back that claim up.  They are, however, a great addition to one’s regular outdoor gardening.  I like having something ready to eat one week to ten days after I sow it and they taste great.

Preparing for My Fall Garden in Austin

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

I garden year round in Austin, so there is no point at which I “put the garden to bed”, as is often done in more Northern climates. I never get to start with a clean slate for the next year’s season.  At any given time in my garden I’ll have recently planted sections that are often still months away from harvest, sections in peak production, sections that are still producing but well past their peak, and sections that need to be removed.  During peak planting times, as in early September, the challenge for me is figuring out where I can fit new plantings into this patchwork while still maintaining some semblance of crop rotation.

I’ve come up with a few techniques to make this easier:

  • Start kohlrabi, beets, broccoli raab and Chinese broccoli indoors now in late July so that they have 4-6 weeks before transplanting to garden in September.
  • Although I consider the first two weeks of September prime planting time for most of my fall crops, I actually need to plant pole beans in late August so they have time to mature before the first fall frost.  Our average frost date is November 15, although in my part of Austin it’s usually December before the first frost.  I’ll use the same trellises that I used for my early summer tomatoes for these beans.
  • Some of the spring crops are done and ready to be pulled out.  Even though I never put the entire garden to rest at one time, I can prepare parts of the garden now and use burlap mulch to keep the soil soft and the weeds out while awaiting the better planting dates.
  • Some of my summer crops like sweet potatoes and okra will be growing right up to the frost.  I might wait until late January to re-plant these beds, but I can also start cold hardy greens like mustard and spinach indoors in late September to be planted in November.
  • I’ve gotten excellent results from direct seeding cool season greens mixes in early September.  As the fall progresses and temperatures change, different plants within the mix mature at different times.  Lettuces usually peak earlier and arugula peaks later, with mustard greens in between.

During peak planting times like early September, it would be ideal for me to drop everything else and spend two weeks exclusively in the garden.  Since that’s not an option right now, planning and preparation helps me spread the work out and still get everything in the ground.

Sun Gold Tomato in Geoff's Garden

I’m still harvesting a few sun gold tomatoes, but the rest of the tomatoes that I planted in March have finished producing and need to be removed to make way for fall pole beans.

Okra growing in Geoff's garden.

I like growing okra because it hits stride in the late summer heat when many other crops have stopped producing.  I won’t remove it until the first frost, so it overlaps with the fall garden.