Austin Urban Gardens

Raised Bed Gardening and Eating Well in Austin, Texas

The Quest for Tomato Security has Begun May 30, 2013

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It’s late May, and the tomatoes are quickly ripening on their vines all over town.  I’ve been harvesting 3-5 big tomatoes per day and the Springdale Farm farmstand tables are overflowing with all kinds of heirloom tomatoes.  Time to start canning!

I picked up some gorgeous ripe tomatoes from Springdale, to supplement my own garden tomatoes for my first canning of the season.  In the last few years, I’ve made tomato sauce with basil, salsa, tomatoes and green chiles, and I can’t even remember what else, but when it comes time to pull our a jar of tomatoes in the Winter, its usually just plain old crushed tomatoes that I reach for.  They can be the base of anything, and you can always build a sauce later by adding herbs, onions, and whatever else you want.

So, for my first canning of this tomato season, I decided on simple crushed tomatoes.

Each tomato gets scored on both sides, to facilitate peeling of the skin.



Then, working  in batches, each gets a quick turn in boiling water to loosen the skin.


Once they are cool enough to handle, each tomato gets peeled and cored.


I don’t use a knife to chop them,  I just de-seed with my hands and crush the tomatoes into a pan, where they get simmered for about 5 minutes, while I line up the sterilized jars.  You always want hot product to go into hot jars.

This year, I used citric acid (leftover from cheese-making), rather than a Tbls. of lemon juice.  1/4 teas. in each pint jar should raise the acidity without adding flavor.  I also added some salt for flavor.

Fill the jars leaving a quarter of an inch of head space, then water bath process for 35 minutes.  I started with nearly 12 pounds of tomatoes, which yielded 5 pint jars.  There will be more canning sessions like this, until my pantry is filled with tomatoes for the long season until they are back.  Tomato security.



Taking Clues from Nature – Throwing Out the Planting Guide January 17, 2012

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This has been a warmish winter.  Before Christmas, I noticed a volunteer tomato plant had sprung up in one of my Earthboxes.  I don’t get a lot of tomato volunteers, so I thought for kicks, I’d keep this one warm and see how things went.  I’m not even sure what it is, perhaps a Large Red Cherry.  After hauling it in and out of the garage and covering it during our few freezes, it has grown into a hearty plant and has been flowering for a couple of weeks.

January Tomato Plant

When I was watering this plant today, I noticed that there were two other volunteers it the same Earthbox.  In the empty pot next to it, there were 4 or 5 more, and another in the raised bed on the driveway-the bed that housed the heaviest producers last Spring.  It occurred to me that if conditions were good enough that all of these plants were coming up on their own, perhaps, I’d just help them along.  So, with cold weather expected tonight, I dug several of them up, planted them in pots, and brought them indoors.

My little volunteer army

They were all growing in awkward spots, so I’m going to put them into the raised bed on Thursday, ahead of a couple weeks of warmer weather.  I also decided, since seeds are so cheap, to experiment and sow some seeds directly into the garden.  Perhaps all of our freezes are done, perhaps not,  I can always cover the plants.  Nothing to lose, really.

In a more traditional seed starting manner, I have 5 or 6 varieties of tomatoes in a seed starting tray in the kitchen, under a light.

Seed Starting Tray

I’m tempted to build a bed solely for experiments and just toss a handful of various seeds into it, and see if each variety waited to germinate when the weather was appropriate.  I may do this too.  But, I have to save room for the corn experiment to come.  You all know how I love to grow corn.

Happy Gardening!  I’ll report back.


Garden Relish – A Canning Day November 5, 2011

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Sometimes my schedule gets the best of me and I need to recharge at home for a day or two.  Last weekend was a whirlwind of Good Food Awards Road Show events, a Texas Game and Green Corn Project.  All of these were really fun, but I was wiped out come Monday morning, and began to plan a slow weekend at home, before the holidays rush sets in and things get hectic again.

The two, near freezing cold fronts reminded me that once winter moves in, the harvests available from my garden and local farms, will start to move toward greens, winter squashes, and foods that we don’t necessarily pickle or can.  And, with the gift giving season almost here, I wanted to get a lot of things in the larder for gifts for my mother to give to her neighbors, and some for me to give, as well.

I had been perusing relish recipes for a couple of weeks, and finally found one that agreed with me, with some adjustments.  I had seen green tomatoes at a couple of farmer’s markets, and really wanted to utilize those.  So, I set out to make the following recipe from Southern Food, by Diana Rattray.  I wanted a recipe that wasn’t predominately any one thing, and I didn’t want it to be sweet.

8 bell peppers

4 cups green tomatoes

4 cups cucumbers

3 cups onions

3/12 cups cider vinegar

2 cups sugar (I reduced this to about 1/8 cup)

2 Tbls pickling salt

2 Tbls mustard seeds

1 teas celery seeds (I substituted coriander seeds from Springfield Farm)

2 Tbls pickling spices in cheesecloth bag

Chop all vegetables in food processor, then cook over medium-high heat in 1 3/4 cups cider vinegar for 30 minutes.  Strain liquid off vegetables, return to pot with remaining 1 3/4 cups vinegar, salt, spices, and bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes.  Fill sterilized jars and process in a water bath for 10 minutes.

Green Tomatoes

Milagro Farms Red Peppers

All Vegetables Minced and Cooking in Vinegar

The vegetables for this relish came from Johnson’s Backyard Garden and Milagro Farms.  I am always ecstatic when all of the lids, in this case 10 of them, pinged in evidence that they had properly sealed.

Garden Relish

With the kitchen all a mess, and a huge pot of water near boiling, I decided to sterilize more jars and pickle some peppers I picked up at the Wednesday Farmer’s Market.  Why not?

Pickled peppers

I use the same recipe I use for okra for peppers lately.  4 cups cider vinegar, 4 cups water, 2 Tbls pickling salt.  I put garlic, peppercorns and coriander seeds in each jar, not many, pack, fill and process in waterbath for 10 minutes.

My friend Jim was helping me and as he helps with Austin Urban Garden installations, was interested in seeing my garden.  So, we took out something to put picked green beans in, and commenced picking.  I had already cleaned up the kitchen for the most part, or I might have pickled some of these beans, which are so tender they really don’t need much cooking at all.

Green Beans from the Garden

And I still might.

I’m really happy that I took some time to be at home, in my garden and kitchen, where I am most peaceful and relaxed.   And, even better, all lids are down!  Next up, something with Love Creek Apples from the Barton Creek Farmer’s Market today.  They smell delicious.


From Inedible to Edible Landscape April 5, 2011

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A couple of weeks ago, I bought a chainsaw and took out some ugly landscaping to make way for more food gardens.   You can read about that here:

Once the offensive landscaping was gone, I came up with a plan for that side of the house, both decorative and more permanent gardens, with walkways in between and perhaps a fountain.  That plan is a ways down the road, and I needed more garden space for food.  So, I built one out of wood, which I hate to do because wood brings termites and wood ants and rots, but this is only temporary.


temporary wood garden


So, where there was once a big old schrub, now there are bell peppers, padron peppers, ancho chile peppers and watermelon plants.  This is a vast improvement.

The bigger plan involves taking out a sick old Catalpa tree, and possibly planting my fruit trees where the schrubs were.  I’d like to incorporate some recycled glass mulch from the City of  Austin into the walkways and I think the new gardens will be made of Oklahoma Stone and be about 2 feet high.  Because I’m not getting any younger!


Trowel and Error, Mayfield Gardening Symposium March 21, 2011

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Are you ready to fine-tune your gardening skills or just getting started?  Either way, the Mayfield Gardening Symposium, a program of the City of Austin, is coming up on April 2, 2011 from 9:30 to 1:00 at Mayfield Park.  The speakers and topics are as follows:

10 a.m. – Renee’s Bucket Garden List: How to Become a Container Gardener in 5 easy Steps – Renee Studebaker, Austin American Statesman, Blogger & Columnist

11 a.m. – The Wildlife Garden-Beauty and Function with Native Plants  – Meredith O-Reilly, Wildlife Authority & Habitat Steward

12 noon – Antique Bloomers – Cher Groody, Master Gardener & Heirloom Rose Specialist

There will also be a Gardener’s Dream Raffle, Pass Along Plant Sale and House & Garden Tours.

Mayfield Park is next to Laguna Gloria at 3505 West 35th Street


Almost Fall in an Austin Urban Garden September 5, 2010

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The garden is a little boring right now.  The only thing that I’m eating from the garden is serrano and jalapeno peppers.  The lettuce I sowed last week, didn’t survive the heat – it came up, but the sun baked it and it disappeared.  The broccoli is up and looking good.

Baby Broccoli

For comparison sake, I planted more corn a few days ago.  I’m trying to compare growing seasons and different varieties, since I have enough space to do it.  One of my friends makes fun of me for my corn garden, and says I need a Golf Cart combine to harvest my little 5’x5′ patch of corn.  I won’t be sharing.  But, the newly sowed corn is peeking out.

Yes, more corn

The tomatoes look great, especially those in the Earthbox.  Most are flowering but none have set fruit yet.  The peppers are going great guns.  The cucumber/butternut squash looks great.  Can’t wait to see which it is.  A few days ago I planted Royal Burgundy Bush beans.  They aren’t up yet.

Royal Burgundy Bush Beans

Something is coming up where I planted the potatoes.  I’m not sure it is potatoes yet. I’m fairly confident that many of the potatoes composted because the soil was so warm.  I’m on a wait and see still for the potatoes.  I’ll plant more lettuce and perhaps some chard today, and hope for the best!


September 1, Austin Urban Garden – Stress and Success September 2, 2010

With this lingering heat, parts of the garden are struggling to get through each day.  The Corn in the Three Sisters Garden, has been looking pale and tired, although most of the stalks are making corn.  Setting cobs?  Since the other two sisters flew the coop, the beans and pumpkins, the garden isn’t getting nitrogen from the beans.  And corn needs nitrogen.  So I picked up some fish emulsion and hand watered the corn with a diluted mixture.  I also threw some worm castings on top of the soil, because I have an irrational belief that worm poo fixes everything.  We’ll see.  But for now:

Heat stressed corn

corn cobs growing

The peppers are doing fine, but do look a bit stressed in the heat of the day.

Peppers hanging in

The tomatoes in the garden are waiting for less heat to fully thrive.

Garden Tomatoes look puny

Butternut Squash or Cucumber?

This is either butternut squash or lemon cucumber.  I planted both and can’t tell the difference.  Whatever it is, it is happy.  Hoping for the butternut, but if life hands me lemon cucumbers, I’ll make lemon cucumber pickles again.

The broccoli seeds are up.  I need to thin them a bit every day.  I never know how they all show up in one end of the garden.  Watering, maybe.

Broccoli seedlings

The Black Seeded Simpson lettuce has sprouted as well.  I really hope it cools off, or it will be too hot for this lettuce.

Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce

There are some strange things sprouting in the potato bed, although I’m not sure any of them are potatoes.  Still waiting.   They might be compost.

On the Herb Patio, the Bay Laurel, which sat as a barron stick for a year, has sprouted a friend!  This will be fabulous for winter soups and stews.  I love Bay.

Bay for Winter

The garden winners of the day, strangely, are the tomatoes in the Earthbox.  They are the healthiest and heartiest of the whole lot.

Tomatoes in an Earthbox Surviving the Heat

So, it’s still hot, but I’m ever hopeful for Fall weather, and a more and more productive Fall and Winter garden.  The Fall and Winter garden are my favorites.  So abundant and with such good food.