Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Empty grocery store shelves, Part 2

Two weeks ago Sunday as my husband and I were leaving mid-day church, I had to divert to HEB Clear Lake Market (i.e., not the closer League City HEB) to pick up the week's supply of milk. 

My husband began complaining out loud, which is highly unusual for his laid-back self, but my diversion was creating a risk of making us late for a post-church commitment on our time.   This is what I offered in response to his protests:

"I have to do this because I know from experience that my odds of securing half-gallon cartons of organic skim milk in HEB-CLM at this hour on a Sunday are about 50%, whereas my odds at any other grocery store in Clear Lake are closer to 25%.  And if I wait until later today, those 50% odds will decline from there.  So I either have to do this now, or else wait to get milk for us until after the restocking which typically occurs mid- to late-day on Monday, which would be too late for today's needs."

The mood of my husband, an engineer mildly obsessed with systemic efficiencies, degenerated even further from that point.  His initial grumble amplified to a full-blown howl as he wondered aloud how any grocery store manager could possibly be so stupid as to allow the inventory such a high-dollar, high-margin staple to remain so consistently low or un-stocked for significant periods of time.  The market offers all kinds of "JIT" (just-in-time) software specifically developed to prevent that very scenario, after all.

Last November, I wondered whether this chronically-understocked condition was a ramification of the Eagle Ford Shale boom in Texas which perhaps was siphoning off the labor that would be required to achieve effective retail management in places such as our local grocery stores.

Here's a screengrab of my milk wails from that original blog post.  On that day, I had attempted to get the grocery shopping done before going to church. 
But now there's a new suggestion that this supply-and-demand break-down may be more systemic than regional.  TIME recently published an article titled "The Trouble Lurking on Walmart's Empty Shelves" which postulates that this retailer has intentionally reduced its labor force to such a degree that it's now cutting its own profit-margin throat. 

In other words, it isn't an external labor shortage (such as what might be wrought by a nearby workforce-sucking oil boom) which is driving the trend - it's an internal failure of the business model. 

The article explains, "A number of accounts quote shoppers as leaving Walmarts empty handed and heading for competitors."  Absolutely!!  Not only did I have to stop shopping at the League City Walmart some time ago for that reason, I actually took the time to file a formal complaint about the fact that so much grocery stock was chronically missing from their shelves that it made the store literally un-shoppable for me, because I target specific organic items and I'm not willing to purchase any inferior substitutes that might happen to be still stocked. 

Here's where TIME could improve its own content by looking more deeply at the issue.  The question they asked both directly and indirectly is the obvious one:  Why would Walmart let a thing like this labor shortage happen?  Are they not thusly shooting themselves in the retail foot?

The answer is not the resounding "Yes!" that one might first guess.  Retail businesses succeed on the basis of the incremental value that they offer relative to their competition.  But if every other retailer is also chronically understocked for key consumer commodities, then it becomes questionable as to how much net damage Walmart is really doing to itself.  It's not like we consumers have anywhere else to turn at this point. 

Either way, whether this problem is originating externally or internally, it sucks for us consumers who will need to continue wasting valuable time scrounging for un-stocked essentials.
Yet another empty Clear Lake grocery shelf, photographed in early April 2013.  The sale tag reads "What a Deal!"  Well, it ain't much of a deal if there's none of the stuff available to buy, is it?? 

I found a very efficient way around this particular chronic organic brand shortage (Nature's Path Pumpkin Flax Granola): Sam's Club sells it in institutional sizes and they usually have at least one partial pallet available in their El Dorado location.   Therefore whenever I spy this particular empty shelf in a grocery store, I gloat to myself, "Ha ha!!  I found a workaround for the chronic shortage of that one product, at least!!"

Monday, April 29, 2013

Modernizing a traditional home design with color, Part 1: Fireplace make-over

There's a home design trend right now that amalgamates seemingly-opposed highly traditional with highly modern elements.  I don't know that it has a name or an agreed-upon descriptor, but examples of it are everywhere.   
The popular retailer CB2 has coined the phrase "mix in modern" to describe this design headspace, which seems to assume that a shopper is starting from a traditional home design that they wish to update.  Notice in this picture how there's a Victorian chair juxtaposed with a modern or contemporary table and accessories.  Screengrab from CB2. 
To a certain extent, I think some of this trend is a simple rebellion against the matchy-matchy paradigm.  But what makes this design trend artistically viable is not what it opposes but what it embraces (drumroll, please): cross-referencing. 

In the example above, the unlikely Victorian chair goes with the modern table because they cross-reference the same color and pattern palette.  Specifically, both are minimalist white.  Not only do they go together, they actually go together well because they counterbalance and offset their respective design extremisms (incidentally, that's also the reason why American hip-hop succeeds so well as a dance style - because it knits together diverse styles in a coherent new way).  This same table paired with an equally-modern chair would probably be too harsh and unimaginative.  And ditto for across-the-board Victorian - nothing new or original with that. 

So the minimalist re-interpretation of the Victorian chair modernizes it in a new way.  The primary modernizing element is the painting of its wooden frame (solid upholstery is not a new idea, regardless of color).  And that's what I want to talk about in this blog post - how to use paint to update and modernize design elements that otherwise would look terminally traditional. 

In my case, I haven't done it with furniture so much as with architectural elements (the subject of this post) and fixtures (which I'll discuss in Part 2).  Newer neo-eclectic builder-grade tract homes are somewhat schizoid right now - by popular demand, they are leaning more modern or contemporary design elements, but they still tend to get built with a large number of profoundly traditional elements.  For this reason, if you want to build a non-cookie-cutter design without spending a ton of extra money, you have to find creative ways to upgrade or "re-interpret" some of your builder-grade elements as-is, where-is, without incurring replacement costs.

We adopted this approach with respect to our fireplace.  Before I show you our photo progression, let me elaborate a bit on the underlying design problem.  Virtually all greater Houston suburban tract-home fireplaces generally look something like (gulp) these three examples:
The builders usually take a few left-over ceramic tiles from the kitchen and entryway and slap up a fireplace surround using them.  Maybe you'll also get a mantle (or mantel, depending on which spelling you prefer) made out of left-over crown molding.  In this example, the mantel is both floating and under-sized.
Same idea with a larger mantel which seems to be positively levitating above the fireplace.  It looks to me as if it might zoom off into outer space, which is perhaps appropriate for a home in a NASA community
More kitchen floor tile repurposed as a fireplace surround.  I included this pic because the corner configuration is similar to ours, which I will show below. 

Fireplace screengrabs from a few active real estate listings in the Clear Lake, Texas area, courtesy of the Houston Association of Realtors website
This is a matter of taste, but I find those examples above to be profoundly blah.  Even at the best of times, fireplaces are challenging because they represent the antithesis of artistry: they break both the rule of thirds and the rule of diagonals.  Add to that the fact that tract-home fireplaces are usually constructed of scrap materials and you've got a real style disaster on your hands. 

We didn't find any of our builder's upgrade choices to be worth the money (they offered a couple of faux stone options that cost thousands of dollars, but nothing contemporary).  For that reason, what we did instead was order the highest grade of tile for the surround, rather than having the builder use left-over floor tiles.  Because only fourteen tiles were needed, this mini-upgrade only added $165 to our contract price:
Here it is in drywall stage.  At this point, it has clean lines and it's looking like it has good modern or contemporary potential.  Regrettably, the builder did not offer stacked stone or anything like that, because this would have looked really nice if finished with a clean expanse of stacked stone from top to bottom. 
Here's what it looked like with those fourteen high-end tiles installed.  Still looking like it has potential. 

According to our contract, this grade of natural slate is called "gauged rustic gold". 
Here's where everything started to go to hell in a hand basket, design-wise.  Did you think I was kidding above when I said that builders use scrap materials for these things much of the time?  Most of that molding you see here was actually snatched from the trash piles of other local jobsites (it's not found anywhere else in our house), and the central piece of fiberboard?  Can you deduce what that is?
It's a left-over scrap of our master closet shelving.  The trim tradesman didn't even bother to rip it down to a more conventional size.  He simply cut it to length and slapped it above the fireplace in its original twelve-inch width. 
Aaaaaaand then just to add insult to design injury, he painted the thing brilliant gloss white such that it resembled a colonial knock-off.  Nevermind the fact that there's not another colonial style element in our entire neo-eclectic house. 
What then happened is that, artistically-speaking, you tended to perceive this abnormally-deep, brilliant white scrap-built fireplace mantel coming straight at you like the cross-section of an aircraft carrier.  That's exactly the kind of feeling I wanted to impart in the great room of our dream home.  Not. 

Aircraft carrier diagram screengrabbed from this How Stuff Works site
Ugh.  We loathed that mantel and vowed to get rid of it eventually, but beyond the slate tile, we weren't paying for an upgrade here, so we couldn't argue with the builder regarding its ugliness. 

Post-sale, we could have ripped it out and added a really nice fireplace surround here for about two thousand dollars.  The trouble is, the fireplace is not important enough to me to spend two thousand dollars on.  This is subtropical Houston - we don't even use fireplaces.  All I do with this one is burn candles in it.  So this is what I did with it instead:
I painted the entire fireplace wall, including the brilliant while mantel, a shade of grey that unified it with the expensive slate tiles.  And then I accessorized it with wood and ceramic pieces that resonate the rust shades in the slate. 
Is that going to win any design awards?  Hell, no.  But I think it maximizes the potential of the existing non-ideal structural configuration. 

Painting a colonial fireplace mantel grey is as unconventional as painting a Victorian chair white.  But I think it works in this space because it cross-references other elements that use the same color:
We have a bulkhead that separates the kitchen from the rest of the great room.  Many people don't like structural bulkheads but I do, because they provide architectural separation and definition among different focus areas of a great room.  I also painted this the same shade of grey.  It's about the same depth as the mantel, so now there are two more elements that are cross-referenced. 

You'll have to forgive my edging work, which isn't complete yet and looks ragged in this pic.  Here in the south, houses are built with textured walls (orange peel in this case), and it's almost impossible to get a clean paint edge with that kind of drywall texture in place. 
The mantel's color now also cross-references the ultra-modern Elfa Platinum shelving that I have in the great room and in the kitchen.  Just as CB2's traditional white Victorian chair goes with its modern white table, my colonial scrap mantel now goes with my ultra-modern Elfa.  And it also cross-references the dark grey drapery. 

Photo from this previous post
You might be wondering what the heck shade of dark grey that is.  Good question - it's particularly difficult to zero in on a grey shade until you've put them up on the wall, because it's impossible to tell in advance whether they are going to throw brown undertones or blue undertones in your space.  So here's the 411:
Amusingly, it's called "Ocean Storm".  Appropriate for a mantle that reminds me of an aircraft carrier cross-section. 
Anyway, like I said, this one isn't going to win any design awards.  But for a $180 total investment in upgrade tile and paint, I think I've been able to successfully side-step the typical scrap-materials suburban tract home fireplace esthetic. 
Look again at my version (left) versus the structurally-similar version from a local active real estate listing (right).  Which version is likely to increase the re-sale value of the house in which it is found? 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

American green tree frog

I think I speak for many Houstonians this morning when I ask, "What the hell just happened?!"
Late yesterday, we had a classic unforecast major rain event.  We were supposed to get a bit of rain, but nobody told Missouri City to expect eight inches of rain, and nobody told Pasadena to expect five inches.   And what happens with this kind of unforecast event is many, many high-water rescues around Houston

Screengrab above and below from the Harris County Office of Emergency Management rainfall map (Flood Warning System). 
Things weren't as severe in the Clear Lake area, but we still got over two inches of rain in League City. 
Some unfortunate folks were calling yesterday's event a "car floater" (this Chron link shows the inevitable submergence of cars on Highway 288 near the 610 exchange... how many more decades will it be before they fix that danged thing, anyway?!).  But many Houstonians instead refer to those events as "toad floaters", although in certain circumstances, the term used may be somewhat less polite, a situation that could potentially be remedied via a management approach such as this one, which leads to the efficient removal of the offending material that has the potential to float.

Anyway, I prefer "toad floater" and so in honor of yesterday's surprise deluge, this post is dedicated to not a toad, but a related backyard amphibian. 

Do you ever wonder what all those sounds are, those "creature noises" that emanate from your greater Houston / Galveston County back yard at night?  Some of it might be originating with one or more of these guys:
An American green tree frog.  This particular guy had taken shelter in one of my gardening buckets shortly before all hell broke loose, meteorologically-speaking.  Maybe he used his frog senses to deduce that the rain was coming and was hoping the bucket would fill up for him. 
These things are extremely shy and are much easier to hear than see.  They're also nocturnal, so if you do encounter one by the light of day, it's most likely because you've accidentally uncovered its hiding place, as I did with this one above.
They are fantastic jumpers and often fling themselves with wild abandon only to unexpectedly hook some stationary object with one of their sticky feet, such that they come whipping around to rest upon it.  That's what this guy did in jumping out of my bucket and latching onto this hose stand.  Then he hunkered down like this and hoped I wouldn't take any further notice of him. 
So there's some info on one suburban back yard resident that you might not have known you had, and I'll close by embedding a brief vid of the croaking that these guys produce (ignore the thunderstorm in the first few seconds, although that, too, is a propos of yesterday's weather in Houston):

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Wax myrtle wrangling

In this post from about a year ago, I introduced the Texas Wax Myrtle as one of my favorite landscaping plants.  It's native, it's almost indestructible, it grows like mad, it provides almost instant screening, and it can be trained into many different sizes and shapes. 
It grows like mad, especially during the spring.  If you don't want to be looking into your back neighbors' bedroom windows, a few of these might be your ticket to near-future privacy. 
One of those qualities is both a blessing and a curse:  it grows like mad.  I've talked about this previously, showing "before and after" photos of how I've had to whack ours back, because with our small yard, our privacy screen can't be allowed to get out of control:
Screengrabbed from this post.  The wax myrtles will out-grow and impinge upon my crepe myrtle if they are not trimmed regularly. 
Anyway, I wanted to pass along a tip on wax myrtle management here.  I have no idea how tall ours would be by this time if I were not trimming them regularly, but it would probably be at least fifteen feet, whereas I prefer to keep them around nine or ten feet.  When I trim them, there's a lot of new growth that's cut back:
It's enough to carpet the entire mulch bed beneath them.  It's a hot mess. 
However, I can see no reason to make extra work for myself in picking all those trimmings up and bagging them.  I make sure to do a major cut-back right before I lay down the annual mulch replenishment, and I simply put the mulch right on top of all that stuff:
You'd never know that there's a thick layer of myrtle trimmings under that hardwood mulch.  That layer assists with a process akin to sheet composting in this bed. 
This procedure has two benefits: it saves me time and energy, but it also helps to augment the soil.  In this other recent post, I talked about the paucity of natural organic matter in greater Houston's soils being a growth bottleneck for landscaping and gardening.  Every time you forfeit an organic matter source, you're removing potential future soil nutrients.  I see commercial landscaping crews doing this all the time: they will generate "yard wastes" as they maintain raised beds, and then bag that stuff up and set them at the curb.  Then they will lay down mulch.  So they're removing an organic source for the purposes of adding an organic source when they could instead have two for the price of one.

The only thing I will not do is leave large-diameter intact branches under my mulch layers because I worry that those might attract termites.  But leaves and small twigs have never seemed to be a problem for us in that respect. 

Houston suburbanites who understand the value of organic matter have been known to become pickers in a rather unconventional sense.  I have a cohort who helps to administer a local community garden.  He occasionally drives around Clear Lake neighborhoods with a pick-up truck looking for bags of leaves and pine straw that residents' lawn crews have bagged up and set by the curb.  When he finds them, he simply tosses them into his truck and takes them over to the garden's composting area.  After the composting process is complete, he's got a soil amendment that would have cost hundreds of dollars if instead it had been acquired through a commercial landscaping supplier.  Pretty smart stuff. 
Screengrabbed from this site

Friday, April 26, 2013

Landscaping around utility boxes and lines

They are uglier than sin and often a major thorn in the side of any landscape plan.
Three car lateral garage with that kind of architectural detailing in Florida?  That might be a half-million-dollar house in the background, but I'd wager that this eyesore skims ten or twenty grand off its perceived market value.

Screengrabbed from this site

Not much better. 

Screengrabbed from this site
There are a few creative (but usually expensive) commercial solutions on the market...
Some of these artificial rock covers such as this one from Brookstone appear to be high quality and are convincing to the eye - but unfortunately, they have high prices to match (generally $250 - $500 apiece!).   
Occasionally, some DIYer will hit a customized solution out of the park...
This is a screengrab from a post aptly titled "Genius Idea of the Week" by www.cloverandvine.com, but I can only access a cached image right now. 
...and similarly, there's always room for art:
Love it!!  But it's beyond the reach of most ordinary mortal homeowners. 
Screengrabbed from this site, which also will only load cached images today. 
In the series of photos below, I'll show you how we landscaped around our utility boxes.  We didn't just disguise them - we made the area very productive, to the point where it's paying us back for our investment.
Here are the ugly little buggers prior to the construction of our house...
...and here is the same area while construction was in progress.  Note two things here:  (1) My next-door neighbor didn't fare much better, as he ended up with a pad-mounted transformer in his portion of the easement.  And (2) the microscopic quality of our Centerpointe back yards becomes obvious here, as you can see just how far that house in the background extends toward the back fenceline, which is barely visible at photo right.  Their back yard at that point is probably less than 20 feet deep.  Probably smaller than their living room, in other words. 
Because of that microscopic quality of this back yard, I was not content to simply throw up a few bushes around these boxes and call it a done day.  I couldn't afford to lose the productivity of this space.
Ours is a particularly gruesome easement, because it wasn't encumbered by just one utility line - it has three (gas in yellow, electric in red, and fiber optic cable in orange).  And furthermore, those lines extended well beyond the trench established for the boxes, which thankfully were pushed up close to the back fence. 

The yellow arrows point to the same two boxes, which are partially obscured by the nursery containers. 
This is a very important thing to remember when you're dealing with landscaping in utility easements: Those utility boxes you see in your yard are just the barest tip of the iceberg.  There's all kinds of additional inconvenient crap going on beneath your lawn.  That photo above was from this post in which I talked about the importance of using utility locator services (Texas 811 in our case) before working around these things. 

You might look at all that nasty spray paint above and conclude that there isn't much hope for landscaping in this particular area of our yard.  But this is what that same painted corner looks like today:

Anything you plant in a utility easement is subject to being ripped out by the utility company if they ever have to work on their underground lines.  Partially for that reason, most of my landscaping assets in this area are "floating" rather than rooted.  I did add four POH Yaupon bushes directly in front of the boxes to hide them.  But I took the whole scheme much further than a simple vegetation screen.  I added two oblong stock tanks for vegetable gardening.  You can only see one of them here, because the POH hedge hides the other (I love those livestock tanks but at the same time, I didn't want the back yard to look like a metal factory).  The one visible stock tank floats directly over the buried electrical cable that runs to the right-of-way to power a street light. 
I had multiple reasons for using livestock tanks for vegetable gardening.  In this post, I talked about the importance of keeping our food-growing enterprises elevated, because our dog has to go potty in this microscopic back yard.  I also want to grow organically, and isolating the garden soil helps to control both chemistry and insect access. 

But in this particular corner of the yard, it was also essential that I have the ability to pick up the gardens and move them if the utility company needs to do any digging.  POH's are tougher than nails and can easily recover if they ever needed to be replanted, so basically there's nothing here that would get destroyed by a utility dig. I'd just have to move it all out of the way temporarily.  Given that I have no problem with soil back-loading, this wouldn't be a problem.
The second stock tank is sitting against the boxes, but not pushing on them.  The boxes are now sandwiched between the stock tank and the POH. 
I left good clearance around the electrical access in case the linemen ever needed to get at it.

Something else to keep in mind:  If you work around these things in your yard, be very careful about the potential for exposed lines.  Lines and cables are not supposed to be left above ground, but they sometimes are, as installers (who usually get paid by the job, not the hour) cut corners on installation.  See what the yellow arrow is pointing to?  I know from experience (insert long story here) that this is my next-door neighbor's cable TV line which the installation subcontractor did not bother to bury in a trench.  So I have to remain aware not to accidentally cut that thing (again) as I'm working in this area.  If one of us raised a stink with Comcast, we could probably force them to bury it as they should have originally.  But I don't want contractors messing with my area here, so I just watch out for it myself.
Those two little stock tanks have been my most productive gardens when evaluated on a per-square-foot basis:
Over two thousand cherry tomatoes last year.  Chart from this post
My costs for landscaping that utility-encumbered corner of the yard were approximately as follows:
  • Two Behlen Country oblong stock tanks -  $250.
  • Four POH Yaupons on clearance at Lowes - $120
  • Pavers to support stock tanks - about $60
  • Stock tank soil and amendments - about $50
  • Mulch - about $30
  • Edging stone (multi-blend four-inch) - about $100 (stone is obscenely expensive in greater Houston because of the transportation costs - it has to be trucked in from hundreds of miles away). 
  • One small sage bush - about $10
  • TOTAL:  Approximately $620 (all labor was DIY)
  • Offset value of food harvested to date from these tanks: At least $150
  • NET TOTAL: About $470, and continuing to drop as more vegetables are harvested.

Look again at what is achieved for that investment.  Do you think this raises my property value by at least $500?  I suspect the answer is yes. 

I've planted tomatoes again this spring.  You can see them coming up in both tanks.  Last summer it was okra
 Because I cook and freeze food in large volumes, I can really leverage the value of harvested food.  Last year's two thousand tomatoes formed a wicked-good base for a lot of spaghetti sauce, chili, and other dishes.  I put the off-set costs above just in case that kind of thing is important to some readers.  I garden as a hobby and I'm less concerned with pay-back, but when I start working the pay-back numbers, I'm always surprised at how high they are. 

The organic versions of these cute little hot-house packages are extremely expensive - about four dollars apiece.  Imagine how many of these could be filled by a harvest of two thousand tomatoes. 

Screengrabbed from this site.
What he said.  Or in my case, I get tomatoes.  Lots and lots of tomatoes. 

Meme source unknown and uncreditable, but here's Ron Finley's site.
So there are some of my ideas for maximizing the beauty and productivity of space around utility boxes and above buried utility lines.  Happy landscaping. 

And oh - if you've got the time for it, here is Ron's latest TED talk.  While not aimed at a typical affluent suburban scenario such as we have here, his gardening and food management ideas are universal.  Dialysis centers popping up like Starbucks, indeed. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ode to an anole

They are often called "chameleons" by Houston homeowners who don't know that they are actually small iguanas
The Carolina anole readily changes color from green to brown and back again, hence the confusion relating to "chameleon".

This guy is eyeing a Monarch butterfly caterpillar, but them's not good eatin'.   
In the greater Houston area, we reportedly have two related species - the native Carolina anole and the invasive brown anole which tends to displace it at lower vegetative levels.  Maybe because most of my gardening is done in raised containers, I seem to have a preponderance of the natives in my yard.
Dude, you look like crap - there's just no other way to say it. 

Like other lizards, they shed their skin as they grow.  This guy was caught in the act. 
They are amazingly fast.  This is the same skin-shedder taking flight and photographed at a speed of 1/125 second, and the camera still can't touch him. 
According to what I've read, these two species can be distinguished in part by the fact that Carolinas can turn green and the browns can only vary themselves among different shades of brown.  But if you're examining one, chances are that it's frightened, and they tend to all go to brown when stressed, so that makes it a bit difficult to tell them apart.
Am I brown or am I a really a green guy who has simply turned brown for the moment?

Most of the time, they are far too skittish to allow themselves to be touched, but I've noticed that their territorial disputes tend to make them irrationally bold.  This guy was in the process of fighting with someone else when I took this pic, and he refused to cede his ground. 
A brown or a brown phase Carolina perched on the edge of one of my culvert gardens.   Dare anything with six legs attempt to gain access to this area. 
This is what's cool about anoles: They eat bugs.  Lots and lots of bugs.  They cruise around methodically all day long eating bugs, especially on vegetable plants, which disproportionately attract bugs.  I don't think I could even begin to garden organically in this area if I didn't have an army of anoles out there on patrol.  I don't have to pay them anything - they show up and do the bug control for free.  Because I garden and landscape so intensively, and because Carolinas like to be up off the ground, my corresponding anole density is impressive.  At any time during the day, I can go to a vegetable stock tank and find at least a few anoles in it, enthusiastically engaged in their lizardly work. 

They're fun to watch with their leaping and color-shifting and territorial antics, and they're photogenic, too.  Count yourself lucky if your yard is home to a healthy population of them. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The gift of cold in late April

Right now, Houstonians probably feel like they've entered nuclear winter.  We saw a record low temperature of 39 degrees this past weekend, and once again this morning, a butt-kicking cold front is blasting through. 

It's been bad news for basil, which requires consistent temperatures above 50 degrees in order to grow properly.
That splotchy, yellowish leaf coloration?  Not good.  This is sweet basil.  Other varieties such as African Blue are better at surviving cold weather, but I find they don't taste as good in recipes. 
Fortunately for us, I had two cruciferous starts just kicking around, left over from the winter planting interval, and I decided to pop them into the soil this spring just as an experiment (if nothing else, maybe for those local not-quite-killer bees).
If you ignore the volunteer tomato growing up among them, this is how they unexpectedly turned out. 
I harvested this perfect 4.5-pounder last week!  In greater Houston in mid-April! To put that in context, I harvested its litter-mates in late January.  In normal weather conditions, this kind of a result would not likely happen in April, but this year, we've had enough cold weather (especially cold nights) to keep these things healthy through to maturity.   
The broccoli weighed in at 2 pounds, so I ended up with a total of 6.5 pounds of organic food here from two seed starts that I normally would have discarded.  Bonus.
If you look carefully at my harvested cauliflower, you'll see that I do something different than commercial growers:  I allow it to advance to a more mature state before I harvest it.  The individual florets separate and spread with increasing age as it prepares to bolt, and harvesting at that stage allows for easier division into sub-bite-sized pieces.  Those pieces, by virtue of their manageability and the very mild, unobtrusive taste which is derived from the home-grown organic method, can then be shoe-horned into a wide variety of recipes as a significant nutritional augmentation.  In this photo above, I'm boiling some white rice, but I'm adding finely-divided cauliflower pieces to it.  White rice by itself is primarily an energy food with a high glycemic index.  Augmenting it with cauliflower helps to round out its nutritional profile. 

If instead you buy cauliflower from mainstream grocery stores, you'll see that it's been harvested at an earlier, less-developed stage of growth.  It's essentially a giant dense lump, and more difficult to chop into uniform small pieces.    
I'll close with a link to this interesting piece that describes, from the perspective of several nursery owners (one of whom is an urban Houstonian), just how much the residential vegetable-growing consumer base has expanded in the past five years.  I'm an old fart who falls into the "always wanted to do this but never got around to it until recently" category of home gardener, but many young people are taking this practice very seriously as an assumed component of their lifestyles.  That bodes well for future creativity and idea-sharing.