Permaculture madness!

I have spent the past month attempting a Central Texas version of the perfect weed barrier in Gaia’s Garden.http://www.amazon.com/Gaias-Garden-Second-Home-Scale-Permaculture/dp/1603580298  The author says the barrier is forgiving. So, I have been hauling off cardboard boxes from work, wetting them down and then dumping composted manure, live oak leaves, and my home compost on top. So far so good! I experimented with a swath in the back yard before venturing into the front.

After two weeks, this is what I have been able to accomplish:

That’s the back view. Here’s a side view:

My new obsession with permaculture practices has led me to a personal crisis of sorts. What’s happening to me? Where are the pictures of me as a sexy vampire?

Is this a picture of a cabbage I grew from seed?

Who knew radishes were so easy to grow?

This was the first time I grew them. Since it has been raining, I basically ignored them. Once my husband had to put organic garden dust on them.

Although the package said to plant them one inch apart, I would recomend one seed per hole two inches apart. They all sprouted. There would no need for me to have to thin the plantings if I had just gone with my gut and did one per hole.

Because they were that close, some got long and skinny instead of fat. I should have watched the crop closer. Some of the bigger ones cracked from too much moisture.

I have ton of radish greens now. I think I have done some Japanese pickling (Tsukemono) before with them. I have more than I care to keep. I will bring the left over greens to work. Maybe the guy who owns a Texas Tiny pig or the gal with the chickens can use them.

Look at the albino radish! Not a lick of color on it. I ate him right away. He had a milder flavor than the other ones I chomped.

Driftwood, Salt Lick, and Wimberley Wineries

I think this one is self-explanatory. I had no idea that Salt Lick had their own wines. They were okay. They also had a decent selection of other Texas wines like Ed’s Red. It’s definitely worth a stop to their tasting room.

Wimberley Wineries just built a fabulous tasting room and opened it in April. Their wines are too sweet for my taste, but they had a nice selection of wines from a Paso Robles winery by the name of Robert Hall. If you are interested, they have cool fruit wines made of strawberry, blueberry, and plum. I tried the blueberry. It tasted like drunken blueberries.

I’ve been visiting Driftwood Winery for many years, and I am pleased to see how big it had grown. The original tasting room was a tiny mobile unit. About a decade later, they have taken the original family home and converted it to a huge tasting room. They’ve added a really nice (and big) pavilion to have parties. When I was out there today, they were busy making yet another addition.

I’m wondering how the grapes are going to turn out this year. My little grapes are shriveling into raisins when I don’t water them. Amazing: Black Spanish are quite drought resistant. Oh, but not drought-proof.

When I heard that the creek @ Driftwood had officially dried up today, I was worried for the owner. They still have some well water left, but that may dry up before harvest time in 3-4 wks. Yikes.

My grapes have been maturing early this year, though. So, maybe the plant can handle a very difficult growing season.

Torre di Pietra Winery (Fredricksburg area wine trail)

I find this winery to be a very relaxing hang-out. They have couches inside, where in the winter you can sit by a nice fire. It’s a dark, large stone building–like a cellar. In the heat of June, the cavernous tasting room is a welcome relief from the searing sun. When the weather is nicer, they open up a tasting bar outside in the covered patio area. I didn’t even venture out back this last visit due to the heat.

They have a good selection of sweet wines, if you like that type of wine. The dry wines are quite tasty. I’ve heard their port is good. Yuck. Port. <<<shivers>>>

I think their most popular wine is Dirty Girl. That name’s pretty cute.

They have some vineyards around the property. Their grapes were doing well. It helps that they irrigate with a drip system.

Grape development. (for my rapt audience)

My best plant. Back row, partial shade. This will be the one I start babies from. Oh, don't even bother trying to start from seed. I read that it was damn near impossible, but I had to learn on my own. Always the hard way. Always.

Yeah, well. It can’t all be boob shots and beer. (And you’re like, “I don’t remember any beer, Ann.” Whatevs. I have plenty of booze pics; beer is shorthand.)

My Black Spanish grapes are coming along nicely. In the interest of full disclosure, I have been watering them about three times a week this year. I didn’t have to do that last year. It’s just been so dry and hot. I saw my front row (the one which receives the most sun) with shriveled grapes a couple weeks ago, so I knew I had to water each plant if I wanted to have a decent crop.

The back row (which is partial shade), has produced the best for me. It doesn’t even require supplemental water. So, I think when I add to my grapes, it will be along the back row. In heavier shade, the plant looks nice but produces even less than the sun-scorched ones. Like practically nothing. There’s one plant like that in the corner which is shaded by the others. It’s on the north side of my property.

Oh! I just remembered. In Austin, which is ickily humid, you should plant your rows in east-west lines to get the most wind. Grapes can suffer from mildew and rot. The breeze in Austin tends more along the east/west as opposed to the north/south. The wind helps blow the wetness and yicky spores out. Yewwww. If you get mildew yewy yew, copper soap fungicide works nicely.

I hate aphids. I just thought I would throw that in. And fire ants, even though they haven’t done a damn thing to my plants. I still hate them.

So, my advice for Black Spanish grapes in Central Texas would be to find a location that is shaded from the late afternoon sun but sunny the rest of the day. Also, cut those plants back, back, back. NO! Prune them good, or you will get a bunch of green growth but hardly any crop. I know they look sad as heck in January when you chop ’em back. But, grapes are super-aggressive growers. You have to be mean to get them to produce a decent crop.

Front row (full sun all day). No purple grapes here!

Wine tasting @ Chisholm Trail Winery (Fredricksburg, TX)

I’ve been wine tasting in Central Texas for about ten years now. It’s been so enjoyable seeing the businesses take off. When I started, you’d never see a Texas wine in stores aside from Llano or St. Genevieve. I do like Llano quite a bit–and they are very friendly up there in Lubbock.

I hadn’t ever been to Chisholm Trail before, mainly because it’s on the west side of town past the city. Since I’m coming from Austin (east), I tend to hit the closer wineries. As the day passes, I get so sick of wine that the thought of traveling to yet another tasting makes me kinda pukey.

Today, though, I visited a ranch in Harper, which is west of Fredricksburg. I hit this winery on the way back. $9 tasting for five wines (and you get to keep the glass); $7 for five wines. no glass. Being partial to reds, I chose the 2006 Diablo (70% Syrah, 30% Lenoir) 13.5% alcohol. It has a spicy flavor that was different than the usual wines I drink. It was $14.95 for a bottle. I’m having a glass right now with some fresh gazpacho made from tomatoes I bought on the way back.

I already ate the peach pie (oh, I had help with that). It’s peach season in Fredricksburg. The peaches are small and tart, which means they make mouth-watering pies.

The place has a honky-tonk kind of vibe, which is great if you don’t like high-falutin’ places where all the people are annoying. Not that type of joint at all, which is a plus in my book.

They’ve been open for about a decade, and they get their grapes from the Valley. If you aren’t from Texas, the Valley is the Rio Grande valley near the Gulf of Mexico right on the Mexican border. Lots of agriculture going on down there.

Ceballos Honey in Fabens, Texas (eee! yum!)

I finally made it out there! My last few business trips prevented me (sadfaces), but this time my coworker, opposing counsel, and court reporter gave me the go-ahead. Wee~!

I heard about the place from an El Paso native who transplanted himself in Austin. It’s exit 49 on IH10, head to Main Street/TX 20 East.

The honey is from the ‘valley.’ Dunno if I understand that in reference to West TX. To me, ‘The Valley’ is Brownsville, Weslaco, McAllen, ya know–South Texas by the Gulf. It’s one of those live/learn things, I suppose.

The place is about 35 minutes from El Paso, and totally worth the trip if you enjoy local agriculture/products. The honey was still warm in the Mason jar when I bought it. They melt the crystallized honey in the metal warehouse attached to the store and pump it to a holding tank. The store smelled like sweet heaven.

The owner claimed the intoxicating scent was the honey soap. (Of course I bought those and will do a post dedicated to the product later!!) Nah, I think she is just used used to the honey scent. Beehive central!

oh- the hives are located throughout the agricultural areas nearby. From IH10, you can see an out of place greenbelt to the south. The busy bees pollinate in that region. Cotton is one of the staple crops. However, in this season the bees are nomming on mesquite and cat’s claw. [Evil, evil mesquite that stabs your knee and gives you a joint infection requiring 10 days of anti-biotics. You will never live this down, Mr. or Ms. Mesquite. NEVER.]

I tasted my honey as soon as I walked in the door. Dark amber in color, it had a slightly wild taste to it. Then again, I wax poetic about wine. I have a mighty sniffer! It’s also not teeth-hurtingly sweet. I don’t have another way to describe it. The honey isn’t the type of sweet that hurts your teeth or makes you squish your face. It’s the perfect combination of syrup, sweet, and succulent.

I need to stop stuffing my face with honey. It would help if I closed the jar. And put my spoon away. Temptation, thy name is honey from the Ceballos.

Today in the Garden (Eggplant. Eew.)

Our first edible from the new vegetable garden: Japanese eggplant. I lurve veggies, with the exception of eggplant. So pardon my lack of enthusiasm. I got the Japanese variety because they are smaller and less offensively ‘spongie-wungie.’ Just the thought of eggplant marinara makes me scrunch my face up in anticipation of a leathery, purple-peeled, sloppy, floppy sponge.

I was first turned on to the variety when I purchased a book on Japanese pickling methods (tsukemono). The hubster adores eggplant, so I had to try to find a dish we could both enjoy. Many of the pickling methods hinge on removing water from the vegetable, thus changing the texture to something I might be more inclined to put in my maw.

Most of the pickle recipes can be made in under 6 hours, rather than the weeks required by most other methods. Some are even faster than that! *how exciting*

Of course, they do have the longer-commitment pickling with vinegar, salt, sake lees, or rice bran. There are also recipes for pickling with wine, soy sauce, or malted rice. I’d go into the culinary history and cultural exchanges resulting in the recipes, but you’d likely be bored by that. ‘Tis the stuffs of a PhD thesis.

Recipe for pickled Japanese eggplant, courtesy of Tsukemono: Japanese Pickling Recipes by Ikuko Hisamatsu. The pickling time is a mere 30 minutes.

MARIANATED EGGPLANTS (Nasu Age-bitashi)

8 Japanese eggplants
1 bell pepper
1 medium tomato (optional)
2 tiny onions
1 clove garlic

Pickling medium: 3/4 tsp salt, 2 Tbsp rice vinegar, 6 Tbsp vegetable oil

Slice the eggplants into quarters and flash fry them in vegetable oil. Add to the pickling medium. Briefly fry the bell peppers, drain, and add to the medium. Add the remaining veggies (sliced), toss, and let cure for 30 minutes.

Purple blooms of the eggplant: