Sunday, June 3, 2012

Backyard bonanza

You know the old saying:  "It ain't what you've got - it's what you DO with it!"

Nowhere could this be more true than for those of us who have microscopic back yards.  I've blogged about this before - the difficulty in developing landscaping and other outdoor amenities when all there is to work with is an afterthought in the way of a space.  I estimate our back yard at about eighteen hundred square feet - a small fraction of our indoor square footage.

But that doesn't mean it can't be put to productive use, and I've also blogged about that before.  In January of 2011, I published this post describing our use of stock tanks as garden implements.  Stock tanks work well in small spaces because they have such a tiny footprint and because they protect their contents from damage and contamination in an intensively-used small outdoor space.

We are now about eighteen months into our backyard gardening experiment, and I was surprised yesterday to discover that we have already produced about four hundred dollars worth of our own food just from this small effort.
Organic onions, organic tomatoes, organic basil and organic oregano, all harvested about a week ago.  This stuff became part of some a-mazing spaghetti sauce.  Sauces freeze very well, so if you produce them in quantity due to a large backyard harvest, they will not lose quality with freezing. 
Most hobbies positively eat cash.  It's nice to have a hobby that YOU can eat rather than the other way around, a hobby that actually PAYS in return for the effort put into it.  Plus if you are a foodie (as we are), you know that you simply cannot cook effectively without top-quality fresh ingredients.  Once we got used to the superior taste of our own herbs, fruit and vegetables, we had no problem motivating ourselves to keep up with the gardening effort.  We simply cannot buy stuff that tastes this good, not for any amount of money.  In sooth, we're now spoiled, and slaves to our stock tanks.

Anyway, my point here is to re-emphasize that, just because most back yards are tiny in Centerpointe, it doesn't mean that you are shut out of productive activities like this, if that's your interest.  A small space should not be a discouragement.  You have to actually put some work into a hobby of this type, sure, but it can be rewarding both financially and in terms of quality of life.  Houston has many things working against it in terms of quality of life: it's not pretty, it's hot, it's humid, there aren't many outdoor recreational opportunities.  But one thing it DOES have going for it is a spectacular climate for growing food year-round. 

I'll close with a few other pics of our recent gardening fun. 
This is what the winter onion crop looked like just before harvest in late April 2012.  It was not a good year for onions, and I think that was because the La Nina weather effect produced warmer-than-normal temperatures, which caused these onions to stop growing before they got really large.  Even with that, we harvested about sixteen pounds of really tasty organic Texas 1015 onions. 
Here is one of our two "tomato factories", also in late April 2012.  Another benefit of using stock tanks is that they help to ensure hygiene by isolating the crops from contaminants.  This tiny back yard also must serve as our dog's potty and, given the space restrictions, we simply could not have a "regular" garden in the ground. 
This season for the first time, I decided to keep a tally of the organic cherry tomatoes that we harvested.  As of yesterday, the running total exceeded two thousand tomatoes.  We used all of them in fresh meals as well as future meals that now pack our freezer.  In just one season, the tomato harvest saved an amount of grocery money equivalent to what we paid for one of the two oblong stock tanks in which we grow them.
This year for the first time, we are learning to grow cantaloupes.  I went out this morning to find that this guy had ripened to the point where he slipped off the vine.  Because of the space restrictions we have, we grow the cantaloupes upward on a trellis rather than sitting on the ground.
My first cantaloupes have been decent but not wonderful.  I made the mistake of watering them too much too close to the point of harvest, so their taste is diluted.  No problem - I'll chop and freeze most of them for use as ingredients in future fruit smoothies. 
Sweet potato plants in progress.  Whereas onions and tomatoes are cold-weather crops, sweet potatoes do well growing in our hot summers. 
I'm also now trying my hand at highbush blueberries for the first time.  These require a specific acidic soil composition and cannot be put directly into our alkaline coastal soils.  I've planted these in mega-containers so that I can control the soil pH more effectively. 

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