Monday, October 27, 2008

Houston Fall Vegetables


BEANS, BUSH: 'Dwarf French Tendergreen,' 'Jade,' 'Contender,' 'Derby'

BEETS: 'Detroit Dark Red,' 'Pacemaker III'

BROCCOLI: 'Bonanza,' 'Early Divided,' 'Green Comet,' 'Packman,' 'Premium Crop'

BRUSSELS SPROUTS: 'Tasty Nugget,' 'Diablo'

CABBAGE: 'Early Jersey Wakefield,' 'Point One,' 'Sombrero,' 'Ruby Perfection'

CARROTS: 'Bolero,' 'Danvers,' 'Scarlet Nantes,' 'Texas Gold Spike,' 'Vita Sweet'

CAULIFLOWER: ''Majestic,' 'Snow Crown,' 'Violet Queen'

COLLARDS: 'Blue Max,' 'Champion,' 'Flash,' 'Georgia'

CUCUMBERS: 'Diva,' 'Sweet Success,' 'Spacemaster,' 'Soo Yoh Long'

GARLIC: 'Texas White'

KOHLRABI: 'Early White Vienna,' 'Purple Danube,' 'Prague Early Forcing,' 'Grand Duke'

LETTUCE: 'Red Sails,' 'Buttercrunch,' 'Black Seeded Simpson,' 'Oak Leaf,' 'Lollo Roso,' 'Vulcan' 'Salad Bowl,' 'Little Caesar' (romaine).

MUSTARD: 'Florida Broadleaf,' 'Savannah,' 'Tendergreen'

ONION, BULB, SET: 'Granex,' 'Grano 1015 Y' 'Grano 502'

POTATOES: 'Kennebec,' 'Red LaSoda'

RADISH: 'Champion,' 'Cherry Belle,' 'Early Scarlet Globe,' 'Easter Egg,' 'White Icicle'

SPINACH: 'Bloomsdale,' 'Melody,' 'Space,' 'Tyee'

SUMMER SQUASH 'Early Yellow Crookneck,' 'Dixie,' 'Goldbar,' 'Multipik'

TOMATOES: 'Early Girl,' 'Celebrity,' many others.

TURNIPS: 'Tokyo Cross' (roots), 'Purple Top White Globe' (roots) 'Seven Top' (greens)

See more varieties at

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Houston garden pests

100_0728 Stink bugs
100_0741 Fusarium Wilt
100_0744 Caterpillars
Pests - Spider Mites 02 Spider Mites

Monday, August 18, 2008

Whole Foods' beans for seeds

I heard recently of using beans from the grocery store as garden seeds, with Whole Foods suggested as a good source for clean, well-handled legumes. Whole Foods wouldn't sell GMO beans and offers several organically-grown varieties.

To test the beans, I ran a seat-of-my-pants germination trial. I took 10 seeds of ten varieties: Pintos, Adzuki, Anasazi, Red Kidney, Cannelini, Red Beans, Navy Beans, Soy Beans, Black Beans and  Baby Lima Beans. Of the ten, all but the Back, Red and Red Kidney Beans are labeled "organic". For the trial, I used distilled water, with the seeds placed between layers of paper towel.

Seed Trials

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Russian Kitchen Garden ... in Houston

In his book entitled Reinventing Collapse, Dimitry Orlov tell us how Russian households fed themselves through the difficult times of the Soviet century by cultivating small 'kitchen gardens'. Averaging 1000 square feet, the kitchen garden was remarkably productive, much more so than the failed collective farms of the era. Russian gardeners proved that society can weather enormous hardship so long as its families can feed themselves.
Big HouseProjecting the Russian system on a city like Houston is enlightening. It works like this: the 2000 census listed 717,945 households in Houston, which would require 717,945,000 square feet, or 16,475 acres of land to give each household a garden. The land needed would amount to only 5% of Houston's 383,838 acres--but converting the green areas of Houston would still be a gargantuan task. The task would represent the physical equivalent to the Victory Garden effort of the forties. Doable, but I am skeptical that we can pull it off. Success would require that we reinvigorate social and spiritual muscles that have gone flaccid after decades of disuse.
The gap in Houston is more of a culture gap than a land gap. At one end of the spectrum are apartment dwellers with little access to open land. At the other end are massive houses sitting on 1/4 acre lots; not well situated for homesteading. Houston's neighborhoods are vast and complex. Cultural diversity has been in driving growth in Houston, which adds to the complexity. During times of expanding economic opportunity, people feel well-disposed to neighbors who are different than they are. When the economy gets bumpy, the same people grow distrustful. I'm skeptical, but we're running out of time supporting the unsustainable habits of 717,945 households.

Added to the cultural gap is the lack of simple training in this country. Productive gardens the result of know-how more than they require land, seeds and fertilizer. The knowledge gap for Americans today is wide. In Houston, if only one person out of ten households received training, 72,000 would need to be trained. A daunting task, but a realistic start to reaching a goal. Here again, this city doesn't have the moral will to divert its attentions to gardening and away from all of the other attractions of modern life.

Why make the effort?

There is a big payoff. A concerted household garden movement would strike at the heart of multiple monsters that threaten American society. On a smaller scale, most families are pressed to make changes to their household food economy. Here's how the kitchen garden would benefit households:
1. Inflation- Food costs are the fastest expanding segment of consumer prices. Grow 50% of your family's food and you "deflate" a large portion of your expenses.
2. World Hunger- Food consumed in the U.S. is food that is not available to the world's hungry. Half of an American families' food will support more than a single family in Africa. It's a crazy calculus- but we consume so much food that shifting to half of our demand to the family garden makes a significant impact on the world. It's not just helping the less fortunate "over there", we'll also be helping ourselves. If the world food crisis is not addressed soon, we'll watch increasing numbers of the urban poor of Mexico spill over the border of "el Norte", driven by hunger.
3. Save Energy- Food production in the U.S. is colossally inefficient. Growing tomatoes 20 feet from the kitchen table is an energy miracle. Hey--it's how God intended it.
4. Stick it to "the Man"- Tired of standing in line at the grocery store? Here's your chance to reclaim half of that wasted time.
5. It's Healthy, it's Tasty- This one requires no explanation.
You'll also enjoy the time in the sun, strolling through the plants. Maybe sing a little. Remember, it is the first and most enduring occupation. In a post-petroleum world, we'll all garden--so why not get our hands dirty now?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Future Chicken Coop

Here's a lovely bungalow for laying hens that I found at It is made of panels that break down for easy transport. I'm thinking that I'll build it, take glamour shot of it and apply for a home improvement loan on the equity.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Renascent Victory Garden

Our garden covers approximately 500 square feet of the back yard, and will soon grow to about 700. Crops include beans, peppers, onions, tomatoes, radishes, collards and Chinese kale. This is a first pass at what should ultimately account for half of our vegetables. That's not easy, in that we have become accustomed to eating whatever we want, whenever we want, thanks to the "global trough". We probably won't be growing coconuts, but in South Houston, it’s possible to grow papayas, limes and pomegranates. Total cost was about $500, but we’ll recoup the cost easily, and in the fall it will cost about $100 for seeds and lime (to correct the pH). At the heart of the garden are two compost piles that are 5’ in diameter.
Why bother? The impetus for gardening is two-fold: improving what our family eats and the real concern that I need to ensure that we'll have sufficient food to eat. Without going into the details, consumers of food (like humans) are competing with biofuels, automobiles and bad weather to get enough to eat. We're at the front end of a prolonged food crisis that is unlike what we've seen before- and has no easy solutions.
A little history. Actually, the coming food crisis is a bit like what happened in the 1930's-but different. In the 1930's there was plenty of land, water, fertilizer and labor. What was lacking was a functioning method of exchange; few people had the cash to buy the food grown by farmers. This time we've sacrificed our farmland on pointless suburban development, pumped the water wells into depletion and our farmers can't afford the fertilizer and fuel to keep our massively inefficient agricultural system running. Farmers are competing for scarce resources with commuters, residential heating, and all of the other excesses of our society. From the consumer's point of view, the coming food crisis will differ from the time of the "Great Depression" in that food prices will continue to rise despite falling real wages, and alongside climbing prices for fuel, rent and consumer goods. Another eye opener is the nation’s migration from the farm to the city. In 1930, 21.2% of Americans lived on the farm, and perhaps another 20% lived near farms, in rural towns. By contrast, in 1990, the percentage had fallen to a mere 1.7%. We’re not very well positioned to weather a prolonged food shortage.
Enter the Victory Garden. During the Second World War the nation’s food supply changed from oversupply to high demand as vegetables were canned to feed the troops. The US, UK and Canada encouraged their citizens to support the war effort by planting household gardens. At the height of the effort in 1944, nearly 20 million Americans produced up to 40 percent of the nation’s vegetables.