compost

Plant: Peppers

If you want an easy and productive plant in your home garden, think about planting some hot peppers. They love our Texas heat, and they will prolifically produce peppers (can you say that five times quickly…) for months until winter arrives. And, you can save them in a variety of ways for use throughout the entire calendar year!

In our Dallas urban space, we’ve had good luck with serrano peppers, cayenne peppers, and jalapeño peppers. You can plant them directly in the soil in your landscape bed, or in a container for your patio. The most important thing is to give them at least six hours of direct sunlight every day. Water deeply, when you do water them.

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Once you start harvesting hot peppers from your garden, here are some creative ways you can use and save them at home. [Please note if you are getting hands on with these guys, the interior flesh and seeds can cause irritation to your skin, so use caution; and, if you must, use gloves when handling…]

  1. Use them whole in soups or to add some kick to your homemade stock.

  2. Slice or mince the whole pepper, and use in your everyday dishes depending on how spicy you want them to be.

  3. Dehydrate them whole in your oven, dehydrator, or if you want a cool aesthetic in your kitchen - string them up and hang them to air dry.

  4. Pulse/chop the dried peppers in your blender and save in your pantry. You can also mix them with other dried herbs and powders for a homemade rub on grilled summertime meats and seafood.

  5. Make a homemade pepper sauce.

Lastly, check out this wonderful tip sheet from Texas A&M on recommended pepper varieties and growing tips for our region. Happy planting, friends! Pick some plants to grow in your urban space that love our climate, and can feed your family.

Cook: Citrus

When weather gets warmer, we start thinking about buying and using more citrus in our kitchens at home. As prices lower, it is tempting to buy entire bags of oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit…having more means you may be tempted to forget (and waste) them if not used.

There are several ways you can use an entire piece of citrus – and even preserve it for the future. Here are some tips from our team:

  1. ZEST or GRATE the peel. One of the fastest and easiest ways to add instant flavor to any dish you are preparing is to add a tsp or TB of citrus zest. Having a zester tool in your kitchen is a must have.

  2. DEHYDRATE the peel. You can use a small paring knife (or vegetable peeler) to carve off small strips. You can dehydrate in the oven at a low temp, or in a dehydrator, or even just air dry in a cool dark space.

  3. JUICE the entire fruit. You can: 1, drink the juice (aqua fresca!); 2, freeze the juice in a bag in the freezer (popsicles!); or 3, mix it with some vinegar in a spray bottle to make an eco friendly household cleaner.

  4. Fruit started to harden? SLICE the entire fruit and store it in the fridge in cold water for a refreshing beverage on a warm day.

All of the tools needed for these items can be purchased at high-end culinary shops like Sur la Table or Williams Sonoma. However, they can also be purchased at Dollar General, Dollar Tree, or your local grocery store (Central Market in Dallas has a great section) that has a kitchen utensils section.

Tools (L-R): zester, box grater, paring knife, vegetable peeler, chef’s knife

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Recycle: Rainwater

It’s hard to believe right now that we will ever see a week without rain, but with a little preparation now, you can still have happy plants during our rainless summer months!  Harvesting rainfall, storing it, and using it during periods of drought is a practice as old as time, but its implementation for landscaping in urban areas today helps with many North Texas issues, specifically:

●      Reduces pressure on city water

●      Shrinks your water bill

●      Captures salt- and mineral- free (ie. chlorine) water for plants

●      Reduces urban erosion and contaminated run-off in stormwater systems

While there are many methods of varying complexity and expense to collecting, storing, and using rainwater, all have the same basic components: catchment surface, distribution, and holding area.   Our two favorite methods below are some of the easiest and most cost-effective in an urban residential setting.

1. UTILIZE A RAIN BARREL

○      By replacing your downspout with a rain chain, or diverting your existing downspout into a 50-gallon water barrel, you collect a significant amount of rain from a fairly small amount of rainfall.  The barrel can then be attached to a pump and hose or a regular spout for hand watering and used in your landscape.

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○      For those more mathematically-minded, there are Supply calculations that will help you determine your required storage capacity based on catchment surface runoff coefficients, the storage capacity of the rain barrels, and roof surface area.  For example, 1 inch of rain on a 1000-square foot wood shingle roof can produce 85-gallons of water. 

○      The collected water is NOT potable water, as there can be trace metals, pesticides,  and microbial contaminants from animal droppings.

2. MAKE A RAIN GARDEN

○      A rain garden is a shallow, depressed landscape feature that collects rainwater run-off from impermeable surfaces.  During a storm, rainwater is immediately diverted from a catchment area like a roof or paved parking lot and collected here where it will soak into the soil within 24-48 hours. 

○      Typically the rain garden will be downhill on a small slope from the catchment area, and small berms will be placed on the downhill perimeter of the rain garden to contain the rainfall. 

○      Plants selected to be planted in the rain garden should be native and able to tolerate both waterlogging for 48 hours and 3 weeks of drought. 

○      This method requires minimal upkeep, and can be an easy source of color in your yard in the form of native perennials and wildflowers!

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Recycle: Grass

Cue the Vivaldi and Rolling Stones…Spring has officially arrived! Your plants are waking up after their long winter nap, and so is your landscape grass. You are also probably scheduling your home yard service to start cutting your grass again on a routine basis (or perhaps you’re flexing your muscles and doing it yourself – good on ya!).

In this Garden to Table to Garden blog, we’d like to remind you of two important things:

1.     If you are using the right mowing height and frequency, you don’t need to bag your grass clippings. They can be mulched right back into your grass, which will help it retain moisture and nutrients. To further chop up long clippings, use a mulching mower or run the lawnmower over an area twice. Read more about that here from our friends at Texas A&M Water University.

2.     If you DO choose to bag your grass clippings, remember that fresh cut grass is a wonderfully important nutrient in your backyard compost. Green grass is a pure source of nitrogen in your backyard compost pile. Reminder, the four main ingredients in compost are: brown stuff (carbon sources like mulch, leaves, pine, and branches), green stuff (nitrogen sources like grass, food scraps, and coffee grinds), air and water…Even if you just saved your brown leaves and fresh grass clippings and layered them at home in an outdoor container, you will have easily created a rich compost for your soil by recycling what nature provided you.

Most of us are used to thinking about bagging grass clippings and leaves as waste for the landfill. We want to challenge you to rethink these natural resources in your home landscape.

PS, does your landscape turf need a little TLC after winter? sprinkling a fine layer of compost (called “top-dressing”) will surely help. Read more about that here.

Cook: Stock

My kids are always eating carrots and celery so I keep all of the ends of them in a ziplock bag in the fridge.

If you have any recipes that require vegetable/chicken/beef/fish stock, use that extra celery and carrots to make a stock that can be stored in the freezer until needed. Today, I will be making a vegetable stock.

I’ll chop up some onion and gather the seasonings that I plan on using to make a sachet (you can be creative: I used clove, parsley stems, black pepper, and bay leaves). The appropriate term is sachet d’epices which is French for “spice bag”, often called “sachet” for short. (If you don’t want to make a sachet, you can still cook the sachet items in the pot, just strain it carefully after…).

Once the sachet is made, I’ll tie the string on the lid of the pot, add the vegetables and pour enough water to cover them. I’ll place the sachet in the pot and cover with the lid, then let it simmer for at least 3 to 4hrs on medium heat.

After 4hrs of cooking, turn off the heat and let the stock completely cool off for storing.

Your needs will determine how you decide to store the stock. Whether you pour it in several containers or 1 big container with a proper cover/lid, remember to label it. If you put it in the fridge, it’s good for up to 3 days but if you decide to freeze the stock it will keep for months.

I’ll be making some broccoli cheese soup with this!

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Plant: Onions

Onions are one of the easier vegetables to grow in your urban backyard garden (or patio containers). They are also one of the first (and only) vegetables you can plant outside in January/February and not worry about the cold temps.

Now is the time to purchase and plant onion transplants in our local garden nursery stores. We bought one package of white, and one package of red (fyi, they are readily in stock at Redenta’s, North Haven Gardens, Ruibal’s). One bunch was plenty to spread amongst several homes and friends.

Here are three basic planting tips:

  1. Find a sunny spot (they need at least 6 hours of sun/day) and loosen the soil where onions will be planted (use a trowel or spoon to break up any compact spots; if soil is hard and dry, moisten it).    

  2. Plant each onion base (the part with roots) in the soil approximately four inches apart from each other. Don’t plant more than one inch deep.

  3. Water the soil deeply around all of the onions you’ve just planted. Keep them watered every week in the spring until they get growing. But do NOT overwater!

You should have mature onions somewhere between May and July. Here’s a helpful tip sheet from Texas A&M on planting and growing onions.

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