Tuesday, August 26, 2008

You Can Stop Drinking Now!

Or at least stop using my garden edging as an excuse for your wino ways!

(That cri de coeur you just heard was my husband exclaiming, "But I have not yet begun to drink!" Don't worry, honey, you can still drink; I just don't need the bottles any more.)

To my husband, my friends and neighbors, and many of you bloggers, I raise a glass. Many people suggested I ask a wine store for their empties. Some people even slipped me pieces of paper with names and numbers of said wine purveyors. Maybe those friends were just tired of hearing me talk about my quest, but I had faith in Austinites’ drinking abilities.

Collecting the wine bottles became a grand adventure that almost everyone wanted to be a part of. I had a regular pick-up route from friends and neighbors. I knew where to look just inside the gate for their empties. Anyone having a party knew that I would be by for the leftovers. After scavenging an empty wine bottle or two from the table next to us in a restaurant, the server became a co-conspirator. Many patrons may have wondered why I was leaving with such a huge doggy bag, but we--the server and I--knew it was full of the green glass destined for immortality in my garden.

I even committed a Class C misdemeanor in pursuit of my goal. I inadvertently violated city code 15-6-112: DISTURBING OR REMOVING CONTENTS OF CONTAINER PROHIBITED. Maybe that’s what the knowing glance was all about when I crossed paths with the man collecting aluminum cans.

Once I realized that obtaining the wine bottles would be the easiest part of the project, I got picky. No clear bottles, no super-size bottles, no ale bottles masquerading as wine bottles, and above all no wine bottles with writing on the actual bottle. I felt a little sad for the ones tossed back into the recycling bin, but then I realized that they might one day come back to me in the form of glass mulch. It’s the gardener’s version of “If you love something, set it free; if it comes back it's yours, if it doesn't, it never was.”

Actually installing the bottles took much longer than I had planned, not because I was sitting around waiting on you to drain the wine bottles, but because of that little thing I like to refer to as hell. Some of you call it Austin's hottest summer in 80 years, but that seems like a euphemism to me. Let's just call it what it is and accept that it was retribution for all of your drinking.

Initially I made some effort to keep the bottoms, which had become the top, level. Here I am lying on my stomach checking out the line. This start gave me a pretty good foundation for the rest of the edging but boy howdy that was taking a LONG time.

The differences in the bottles’ height and circumference meant that I had to customize the trench for each bottle. Ultimately I decided to strive for overall symmetry and let any individual oddity be my expression of wabi sabi.

I used a friend’s sharpshooter and my favorite hand tool, the soil knife, to dig the trench. Once I got the bottles in at the level I wanted, I backfilled a bit. I could put about three or four bottles in the trench before I had to fill the trench. I didn’t fill it completely until I had finished the whole edging.

I found that trying to line up too many bottles at once led to problems. It was kind of like writing on a chalkboard. I started off okay but by the end I was writing too high. After a couple of power installation sessions, I ended up pulling out several bottles because once I stepped back I could see how out of line they were. I took that as a sign to pace myself and stop to drink some more wine.

I had the curved line for the edging in mind when I dug the bed. Making the large curve was fairly easy. The shorter curve was harder and not entirely smooth. I found the rock when I was digging the bed and used it as a stepping stone to walk into the bed. I left it in the edging because I liked the way it broke up the long line.

The hardest part of the task was removing the labels from the wine bottles. I soaked the wine bottles in my wading pool and then used a razor blade to scrape the remaining label off. I don’t know if the difficulty in removing the label is correlated to the price of the wine but some bottles definitely did not want to be naked.

So there you have it: 102 bottles of Pinot noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Gew├╝rztraminer, and Vinho Verde; Chardonnay, Pinot noir, Tempranillo, Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec, and Sangiovese; the bubblies of Prosecco and champagne; and the ubiquitous red table wine.

102 wine bottles in the ground, 102 wine bottles in the ground, . . ., none of which are keeping my dog from making herself at home in the new bed.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Planting by the Moon

A couple of weeks ago I missed the Austin Organic Gardeners monthly meeting. I wanted to go because the topic was one of my favorites--fall vegetable gardening, but I completely forgot. Luckily, a friend did not and shared her notes with me.

About 130 people attended the meeting, more proof that interest in vegetable gardening is exploding. (I think regularly the meetings have about 30 people.) The speaker was Tim Miller, who runs a CSA-farm in Kyle. The most amazing part of his farm is that it's all dryland farming. Miller uses no supplemental water. Unbelievable! Particularly with the summer we've had. I so wish I had remembered to attend and learned more about this.

One of the keys to Miller's success is meticulous record keeping. He tracks rainfall, wind direction, moon phase, temperatures, when the seedling emerge, etc. From his records, he came up with this planting schedule, which is far more specific than the Organic Gardeners planting calendar I usually reference. The dates are tied to the phases of the moon and specific to the Austin area.

The only thing I am unsure about on this calender is the September 4th date for flowers (most annuals). I wonder if that includes wildflowers?

A couple other interesting tidbits from Miller's talk: he expects us to have an early freeze this year--October 14. At this point of the summer, it's hard to imagine temperatures below 70 degrees, much less 32 degrees. He also noticed that when we did get rain this summer it was usually around the full moon.

I think I will give his schedule a try. It will encourage and remind me to plant successive crops of certain vegetables, and maybe, just maybe this year I will end up with at least one full-sized carrot!

Have any of you had success planting according to the phases of the moon?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Dai Due Dinner

Last night I had the privilege of attending a Dai Due dinner. The brainchild of chef Jesse Griffiths and his partner, farmer Tamara Mayfield, Dai Due is a roving supper club that offers multicourse dinners prepared with only locally produced, seasonal ingredients, grown with sustainable agricultural methods.

As you can imagine, Jesse and Tamara are big supporters of the local food movement, which is how I ended up at the event. Dai Due sponsored a benefit for Green Corn Project, and I attended as a GCP board member. It was a rough assignment: eat wonderful fresh food, drink Texas wines, and discuss one of my favorite organizations, but somebody had to do it.

What this event even more special was that Tom, the owner of the Great Outdoors nursery, offered up his house as the location for the dinner. (I've met him a couple of times now and have unfortunately completely forgotten his last name. Can I blame the wine?)

Tom lives down south, in Manchaca. Driving through his neighborhood, you would never know that a lush oasis lies behind his fence. The area between the back patio and the pool is the highlight of his yard. It's filled with tropical and semi-tropical plants. You could almost feel a slight ocean breeze (if you had enough cocktails). It was still 90+ degrees in the shade.

The property is actually quite large, and I couldn't resist looking around a bit. This side of the yard was the nuts-and-bolts gardening area--a greenhouse, pots, and tools.

Before I could wander too far, it was time to dine, or drink, actually. We started the evening with muddled peach Tom Collins drinks on the patio.

We then moved inside for the eight-course meal: marinated red snapper, shrimp and grits (my favorite of the night), tomato salad, sauteed rabbit loin, poached turkey salad with purslane and oyster mushrooms, butternut squash soup, Veldhuizen cheese, and peaches with cat's tongue cookies for dessert.

I shared the table with a lovely foursome of well-traveled friends. Vietnam has now moved up on my list of places to visit. Between the food, the drinks, the company and the good cause, I couldn't think of a better way to spend an evening.

If you are interested in attending a Dai Due dinner--and I highly recommend it--sign up on their mailing list and act quickly when you get the list of events. Even before Dai Due's mention in the July issue of Food & Wine magazine, its dinners sold out quickly. I imagine they fill up even faster now. You'll be surprised and delighted at the wealth of food available locally.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Morning Glorious

Yesterday morning when I woke up and realized that I had not heard a rainstorm capable of delivering one to two inches during the night, I was disappointed.

And then I went to let the dog, and the morning glories took my breath away.

The blooms covered the trellis from top to bottom. It's a little hard to tell in this picture but I've got two vines, one on either end, each filled with flowers. We'd obviously gotten enough rain to make them--and by extension me--happy.

A friend gave me the morning glories seedlings in the spring. They looked so frail I really didn't think they would survive transplanting, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to plant them. At the very least, I thought they could fill in the trellis while I was waiting for the passion vine to fill grow.

Instead, the morning glories have become my summer star providing regular blooms in an otherwise bleak landscape of plants struggling for mere survival.

Friday, August 1, 2008

A Budding Garden Blogger

After my trip to Tennessee, I traveled to southern Alabama to visit other family members, including my ten-year-old niece, who is already a good photographer. I think she'll also soon make a fine garden blogger.

She wanted us to go outside and photograph her garden, as noted above. She wanted me to point that she painted that sign when she was little. She writes much more clearly now.

I think she painted this broccoli sign when she was four.

This scarecrow guarding the vegetable garden used to wear my brother's old Mardi Gras krewe costume but I think it got worn out by one too many hurricanes. (I am sure that y'all already know that Mobile is home to the original Mardi Gras in the United States.)

My niece particularly wanted to take a picture of the bamboo bean trellis her father built. And like all garden bloggers when she couldn't remember the name of the plant towering over the garden in the background, she ran inside to ask her mother. My sister-in-law thinks it's a musical note. (This link says that the plant only grows to be three feet tall but this one is about six feet tall so maybe it's not quite the correct identification.)

I let my niece use my fancy and expensive SLR--with a few inviolable rules, like she always had to have the strap around her neck--because she had dropped her inexpensive point-and-shoot in the mud. I've seen her point-and-shoot photos too and know that it's not just the camera; it's her eye and interest.

She took this picture of the zinnia in the frontyard.

I suggested she try another angle, and she came up with this picture.

She then moved on to the other zinnias.

I think in a few years we might have a Mouse & Trowel winner!