Nothing, and that’s the trouble of it. I learned—or relearned—several things about myself through trying to create a small business.
First, I learned that I don’t think like an entrepreneur, and I don’t really want to. Second, I learned that I may not have the talent, personality, or strengths needed to be a natural at being an active go-getter and driver of commerce. Meh, I say.
And “meh” is the root of the problem. I lacked the mental discipline to overcome those other things. I did nothing much, and nothing much was the fruit of my lack of labor.
It’s ok to not be an entrepreneur. But it’s not ok to go about life without discipline. Other things took priority, and that’s ok too. Things like making enough income to provide for my family. I became a staff member at my church, and that work took precedence. I worked at a startup for a person who is actually driven to be a good entrepreneur, and that took time.
Watson Abbey Farms isn’t dead though. It still represents everything about my faith, family, community, and ministry calling. I hope to homestead someday, and that starts with my backyard now, but I may never have a market garden and sell my produce at a farmers market. But I will make disciples through the work of the abbey, come hell or high water, as they say.
So thank you to my three customers, all from my church, who loved me and wanted me to succeed. The Ackermans, The Loves, and Randall. It means a lot to me I got to build a BackyardPantry for you.
This is the biggest obstacle for most people just getting into gardening. Maybe they’ve gone to the big box store and bought a tomato plant, put it in the ground, and then it didn’t produce anything before it died. It is easy to feel defeated and convince yourself you have a black thumb when this happens.
Plants are particular: different species germinate in the soil at different temperatures. So it is important to know when you can start a seed in the ground, or transplant a seedling, in order to maximize your chances of success.
Your county extension office should have resources to help you know what will grow when. Our local extension office in Bexar County has two planting calendars (and a wealth of other resources) available. This one is for spring, and this one is for fall. if you live in the area go ahead and bookmark those now. Here is a sample:
The left column provides the general category of vegetable with the specific varieties that do well in our area. It also tells you if it can be planted by just poking a seed in the soil or if you need to transplant a seedling. Some plants take a long time to mature from seed, so nurseries supply seedlings that they have already started to make things easier. This is the case with tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, etc..
The right columns show the planting ranges for that species based on area. If you are in north Bexar county or higher in the hill country, use those dates. If you are in Atascosa county and south, use those dates. I live in northeast Bexar county, near the border with Guadalupe county, so I use the middle column. These dates are based on temperature. The soil temperature will be too high to plant any earlier than these dates, and if you plant later you will probably have the frost in November kill them before you get anything to eat.
What I’m doing
Right now I’ve pulled up all my squash plants and am about to do the same to the green beans. They have stopped producing and are just taking space. They get thrown in the compost and I use a machete to chop them up so they’ll break down easier. I’m slowly doing my weeding now and I’m thinking about where I want what for the next season. The tomatoes and peppers are still working, so I’ve left those alone. I’m making a trip to Fanick’s this week to get more and will go ahead and get those in the ground now. Most eEverything else wont get planted till August so I have some time to survey my seed stores and see what I need to re-order. I hated the variety of green beans I sowed this year so I’m going back into my records to see what variety worked better to order those seeds.
Click here to read about my favorite seed companies, and stay tuned for a post on our local and independent nurseries in San Antonio. Part 2 of the Fall Garden Planning series will be how I keep track of when I need to schedule plantings.
San Antonio has two growing seasons with some overlap in winter: Mid-March to July, and August to Mid-Nov. July is mostly a break because it’s just too dang hot to have germinated seedlings try and survive into viable plants. This is when most farmers and gardeners in this area take a break.
For now, let your plants keep going but don’t worry too much about maintenance like pruning or keeping control of anything. Pick what fruit you can, and otherwise just let your plants die off. Those of you with shadier gardens might have a little bit longer period of gathering fruit. For those in full sun, don’t be surprised if everything other than tomatoes and peppers look like this:
When to clear
After the July 4th festivities, go ahead and nuke it (except the plants still producing). Clear out the heat stressed and dead plants, the stuff trying to go to seed, the pest-ridden, etc., and put it in the compost if you have it. After that, give the garden a good weeding and make sure you do that early on, like first or second week of July. Try not to disturb the soil too much; just pull unwanted stuff out. Go ahead and turn off the irrigation too. No use in wasting water on bare soil.
Fall bed prep
Fertile soil is productive soil. I apply this organic fertilizer before planting. You can get it at any big box hardware store or one of our amazing family-owned nurseries for around $10. This is also the time to apply any finished compost (if your personal compost piles have not broken down enough you’ll just be adding weeds to your topsoil). Mix the fertilizer and any compost into the top two inches of your beds either by raking your hand across the top or using a small trowel. You do not need to turn the whole bed over.
Next, get a hose or water can and wet the soil. This will help germinate weed seeds already existing in the soil. After a couple of weeks before replanting, pull any sprouted weeds out. The reason you do not want to disturb the bed more than this is so that you do not help germinate too many weeds, which happens when the soil is turned and oxygen and moisture gets to the seed. It also destroys the soil structure.
Next post we will talk about fall planting and how to plan out the garden.
A lot of time has passed since we last updated what was growing. Our backyard is a test garden, where we try out different seeds and varieties, as well as various methods for farming. This is where we fail forward, learning what works and doesn’t work at any given time. Sometimes that is intentional, and sometimes not.
First update is lettuce. We planted this special, and expensive, variety of Salanova lettuce. It grew! At first slowly, and then when I finally locked in our irrigation for that mini-bed and decided to actually weed out all the chickweed that tried to smother it, we got several nice heads of lettuce.
Here is what we learned while growing this crop:
The window from maturity to “oh GAWD WHY IS IT SO HOT” is quite narrow, and if you aren’t ready to be on top of it to harvest it and eat it, it wont do that well.
That also means you have to want to eat it. Squash and green beans have a variety of culinary things you can do with them. Lettuce has one: salads.
Caterpillars love it.
Site prep and timing are important. We may need to solarize the soil in the future to help deal with weeds.
Since we aren’t growing for commercial production, and since I commandeered my parents’ landscape beds for this project, we didn’t have the ability to use plastic mulch common with cabbage and head lettuce. However, I also didn’t use any mulch, and the grasses and chickweed that germinated after my initial hoeing certainly threatened the crop.
One of the most difficult aspects of gardening with organic and natural processes is chemical free (or chemical-“reduced” depending on your understanding of organics) integrated pest management. I intentionally didn’t touch the lettuce to see what would happen, for how long, and by what species. No neem oil, no soapy water, and no mechanical removal. While we got several heads of usable (i.e. edible) lettuce we definitely would need to plan ahead and explore options for pest control if we want to move forward with this as a production crop.
Whether it is a small patio that holds your grill, a large expanse of turf for playing catch, or a landscaped garden to enjoy just being outside, backyards are excellent resources for family. They are also under-utilized resources for food production.
If you have some sunlight, access to water, and a small amount of space, then you have the ability to grow your own food. This is true regardless if you have a small balcony, condo patio, or a large yard of turf.
Watson Abbey Farms is happy to announce the Backyard Pantry: a raised bed garden kit available to customers in the San Antonio, TX area which include organic soils and fertilizers, plants and seeds from reputable local nurseries and suppliers, water-saving drip irrigation, and installation, available in 4’x8′, 4’x4′, or 2’x4′ sizes designed to fit your growing space.
These kits can supplement your grocery budget by providing affordable and accessible HYPER-local foods, produced using natural practices, right in your backyard. Go grocery shopping by stepping outside.
And for the many who do not have the bandwidth to maintain a garden along with their work and personal lives, we offer service plans for the spring and fall growing seasons comparable to the cost of lawn care so we can help you grow food where you normally grow turf.
Contact us today at email@example.com, or send us a message on Facebook at facebook.com/watsonabbeyfarms/ for a free consultation and personalized garden plan.
In our previous Black Thumb post, we talked about why you should buy seeds from the same places commercial growers buy them: actual seed companies.
At first I was probably like most everyone else: I bought what I saw at the garden center section of my nearest big box retail store. I didn’t know the difference. Seeds are seeds, right?
As I got more involved with our garden and wanted to find seeds that weren’t available to me, I eventually started buying from smaller local nurseries and picked up whatever seed packets they had.
For the locavore shopper, this is a much better solution because you are supporting a local business and getting seeds specific to your area and growing conditions. And I’m sure the staff at your local nursery will be happy to give you any growing info you need!
However, sometimes you still run into the 80/20 rule, where the nursery or garden center is only going to stock what 80% of people want to grow, and it can be hard to find the specialty seeds that you want. So where do you go to find those odd gems that you can’t find anywhere else?
Below are five seed companies (in no particular order) located across the country that I like and why:
(Note: I am not getting paid by any of these companies. They have no idea I’m posting this. If a representative of any said company sees this and would like to pay me, I won’t turn them down.)
Johnny’s is probably the best known seed company out there for farmers. Located in Maine, they have everything from fruit and veg, to herbs and cut flowers. Most of the farmers I’ve spoken to across the country, and the “celebrity” farmers I’ve read, use Johnny’s and similarly they are my go to for seed stock.
And for good reason. Remember the Federal Seed Act I mentioned in the previous article and minimum germination rates? Johnny’s say they go above and beyond those standards and constantly do quality control on their stock. Each packet I get lists the germination rate, the date they tested it, and the lot number. When seeds don’t perform to their standards, they pull them. On a recent order, rather than giving me substandard stock of Easter Egg Radish seeds, they pulled them from inventory because they failed (they also gave me alternative solutions for seed stock that could give me options for my customers).
Their site is smooth, and has a Grower’s Library which is a wealth of information and knowledge in one place. They are employee owned, have organic seed options, refuse to use any GMO seeds, have great customer service, and are just an all around great company.
Botanical Interests has by far the prettiest seed packets in the industry. Out of Colorado, they started as a garage business and have been able to sell their stock directly to consumers, in small garden centers, and hardware stores (which is a legitimate reason to break my “don’t buy seeds from a big box retailer” rule) since 1995. They saw a lack of information on seed packets and found a way to include more … by printing inside the packets.
“Every Botanical Interests seed packet is designed to help gardeners succeed and create their own traditions. Featuring gorgeous botanical artists’ renderings of each variety, every packet provides a wealth of information, inside and out. ‘I like to say that we’re a gardening education company that just happens to sell seeds,’ Curtis [co-owner] says. ‘Our packets are like mini-encyclopedias, full of information to inspire and assist every type of gardener.'”
Due to the art and information on each packet, their USDA Certified organic seeds, and their wide availability, they are also a go to for our farm.
Last year’s catalog I picked up at their location. Copyright Matt Watson.
Sow True Seed may be hard to find at nurseries in certain parts of the country due to their focus on independent and regional agriculture projects. I first found them at a co-op grocery store when we lived in Greensboro and had great success with their seeds. We have some in the ground now, in fact. They are a small seed company located in Asheville, NC, in a tiny shop just off the main drag downtown. I’m talking walking distance from the pubs and the art galleries.
Similar to Botanical Interests, they value art and capture the beauty of the crop on their seed packets in beautiful detail. What stands them out is their devotion to the small farm and home gardener, their seeds are open-pollinated, heirloom and organic, and they work to preserve heirloom varieties that are threatened to go extinct.
Located in Missouri, with seed projects in California and Connecticut, Baker has an extensive catalog of hard to find seeds, with “one of the largest selections of seeds from the 19th century, including many Asian and European varieties.” Their catalogs are just fun to flip through and you’ll see the oddest shapes and sizes anywhere. Seriously, who knew gourds could grow like this?
Baker caters mostly to the homesteader and home gardener, and hosts a festival “to exchange ideas and seeds, to listen to speakers and to enjoy vendors, old-time music and much more.” They even work to provide free seeds to the third-world countries and school gardens.
Located in Oregon, Territorial started in 1979 by providing seeds to growers in the short seasons of the Pacific Northwest. They now work to help producers grow food for every month of the year. Similar to the other companies listed above, they are devoted to providing organic seeds and go through rigorous testing on their farm and in their greenhouses before the stock can pass muster and be sold to customers.
Although other companies like Johnny’s have a wide variety of non-edible plants available, like cut flowers, Territorial may actually surpass them. Check out these GORGEOUS hellebores.
Each company offers free catalogs if you want to flip through and dog-ear the pages as you dream of what your garden could be. Choose seeds that have been tested and taken care of by companies that care about your garden.
Did we miss any? Which companies do you buy your seeds from? Let us know in the comments below!
On Friday (02/15/2019) after a post-Valentines Day date with Amanda, I sowed two new crops I haven’t tried before, Minuet Chinese Cabbages and Green Onions.
The Minuet is a Napa type of cabbage, and we bought it to make some live-cultured sauerkraut. Transplanting is recommended, but we do not yet have our seed starting operation set up, so we are direct sowing a little early. Hopefully by the time they sprout and begin to mature, we’ll be past any frost danger in Bexar County. They only take 45 days to mature so we should have some good kraut in time for summer grilling season.
The green onions, also known as bunching onions, are a variety called White Spear. They are a heat resistant variety, which is needed in South Texas. These are cooked in some recipes and used as a garnish in others. Great on posole, fish tacos, or in cheese dips.
Lastly, I sowed another round of radishes. Planting in intervals makes sure you have a steady supply of vegetables without getting too overwhelmed with them all at once. I’ll be doing that with the cabbages too in order to account for the early sowing time.
We love radishes in salads, as well as pickled. Seriously, try some pickled radishes with brisket next time you smoke one.
What is growing in your garden? Have questions about these crops, or want recipes of our favorite ways to prepare them? Let us know below!
As of Jan 31, 2019, we have Parsley, Malabar Spinach, and Radishes in the test garden.
Parsley is slow to germinate and needs to be soaked overnight to assist it sprouting. Same with the Malabar Spinach. We very scientifically eyeballed an amount and dumped it into a half pint mason jar with some water. Oddly, the spinach seeds gave off a red pigment to the liquid.
The Malabar Spinach is not a “true” spinach but is more of a vine and can be trellised. They have red stems like rainbow chard, so maybe that has something to do with the red pigment whilst soaking. I’m doing keto right now and spinach gives me a great dose of veggie vitamins without having a ton of net carbs.
Radishes are just about the easiest things to grow, and this heirloom variety is marked as frost tolerant. We have about a month to go before we are out of frost danger in Bexar County, so these should serve us well till then. We also look forward to our Easter Egg radish seeds expected to be delivered in March.
Ever notice how every seed packet says the plant grows best in loam soil? Loam is the perfect balance of sand, silt, and clay which allows for the best drainage and soil nutrition. The thing is, most people don’t live in an ideal, well-balanced world with perfect soils. So what happens then?
Here is what we have in Bexar County, Texas:
If you live in the middle of Bexar County, say inside the 1604 loop of San Antonio, you have heavy, alkaline, clay soils. It has a high pH and doesn’t drain well.
If you live in the northern part of Bexar County, closer to the Hill Country, well, good for you, but your soil is all rock. You might have an inch of top soil.
If you live in south Bexar County, closer to Wilson and Atascosa counties, then you have acidic, sandy soil. It doesn’t hold water.
There is a solution that solves all of these problems and more: Raised Beds.
Raised beds are garden beds where the soil has been raised up, and usually held together by some sort of structure. Most of the time it is a wooden frame, but it doesn’t have to be. Potato cages and mounded rows are also examples of raised beds.
They can be made out of anything and fit most anywhere. I mentioned my friend who put a baby swimming pool on his apartment balcony so he could grow his own food. And it worked! I have another friend who used cinder blocks and then planted marigolds and herbs in the holes of the blocks.
Here are seven ways raised beds help the gardener grow in all soil conditions:
1. Soil Correction
It is near impossible to change what years of geology has already created. In a raised bed you typically add soil to the frame and can localize where and how much you add amendments and fertilizer. It is prohibitively expensive to truck in soil from the Ohio River Valley and change your entire property, but it’s not that expensive to add soil to a 4′ x 8′ frame. Therefore, your native soils of clay, sand, or rock, are no longer problems.
2. Soil structure
Any root vegetable, like carrots, turnips, potatoes, etc., grow down into the soil. If it is rock or compact clay, then they can’t do that. The soil structure needs to be looser, or else you’re going to have stubby little nothings instead of food. On the other hand, you don’t risk damaging soil structure in raised beds because you aren’t tempted to step into the bed in order to pick a veggie, whereas that is A LOT harder to instinctively avoid in ground beds.
3. Intensive Growing
Raised beds allow you to grow intensively, which means you can maximize output by planting or sowing seed close together. You can really pack in the plants and have an abundance of food production in a raised bed. This also helps keep weeds down because the close proximity of the plants can out-shade the weed seedlings (because you’ve already picked out the more fully grown weeds, right?) and then they die off.
4. Proper Drainage
Related to soil structure is drainage. Sand has large, coarse particles and doesn’t bind up, so the water easily drains through it. That’s unfortunate when the roots of plants need that water to, you know, live. Clay particles are fine and they bind up really tightly. Then our Texas sun bakes the clay and you basically have pottery urns for garden soil. Soil in raised beds can easily be mixed with organic matter to create proper drainage which allows roots to drink deeply, while not drowning.
5. Proper pH
Now for some science: pH measures the acidity of a thing. On a scale of 1-14, with neutral being 7, something is acidic if it measures below 7 on the scale, and alkaline or basic if it measures above 7. There are soil tests you can do to find out the pH of your soil.
Most plants like a balanced pH. They can survive in un-ideal conditions, but you might not be able to get the best out of your acid-loving carrots and potatoes in alkaline soils. Here is a link to the Farmer’s Almanac on pH levels. You see how many vegetables like higher pH soils? Not many. Raised beds let you focus your soil amendments (like lime for acidic soils, or peat moss for alkaline soils) so that you can have the proper balance for your specific growing needs.
6. Weed Control
Weeds are going to happen. But they can be planned for and managed. Weeds compete for nutrients that you want in your leafy greens and vegetables instead. This applies to turf grass too. We have a lot of bermuda grass in this region; great for golf courses and lawns, but horribly invasive for your landscape and garden beds. In a raised bed you can control weeds by having a biodegradable weed barrier at the bottom of the frame, and then filling the frame with a quality soil. This means the weeds that do show up are fewer and further in between than they would be if the bed was just tilled up turf in the backyard.
Within city limits properties get teeny, and space is limited. When we think of crops, we think of commercial farms with long rows spaced about a tractor tire’s width apart. Most people do not have that kind of space in their garden. Raised beds take up just a limited amount of space. If you use the cinder-block method, then you can modify the bed to fit anywhere like side yards and odd angles made by your fence (just make sure you get enough sun light in those places).
That is seven ways raised beds can help you grow your own food in any soil condition. Let us know if you have used the raised bed method, and if there are other ways they can help the home gardener!
You do not need a ton of space to grow your own food. A few containers, or some repurposed materials to form a raised bed, can serve you well to grow fresh vegetables. I know one friend who bought a kiddie pool so he could grow food on his apartment balcony.
First Disclaimer: I don’t have kids. But I hang out with a lot of people who do. A few years ago I was having a beer with a friend from church at his house while he was watching his newish son so mom could have a night off. He went to the freezer, popped out a few multi-colored ice cubes into a bowl, warmed it up, and then fed it to his son. My mind was blown.
Which is weird when you think about it because men and women have had to make their own baby food for a lot longer than we have had access to the jars and pouches at the local grocery store. My friend used a bullet blender to puree the same foods they ate, would freeze it in ice cube trays to control serving size, and then would even use this process to introduce new foods to his child, like citrus and salsa (just a dash!).
For some, I get how this isn’t appealing: you don’t even have time to make your own food let alone have the time to make some for your baby. But for others this is a great way to control what your child is eating. You can purchase the food, or if able, you can grow your own healthy and organic food to blend for your baby. And it could potentially save some money. Even though those pouches just cost $1.19-$1.79 each, that adds up a lot over time. If you spent the equivalent amount of money buying the fruit, vegetables and protein yourself, cooking them, blending them, and then freezing them, you could have a lot more on hand for cheaper than the jars and pouches. And less garbage for the recycling center.
Organic super food option. Copyright Matt Watson
What the rest of us eat. Copyright Matt Watson
Second Disclaimer: I’m not a pediatrician. Obviously follow the nutritional guidelines set by your doctor and whatever works for your family.
There are a lot of sites out there on making the food. Like this one and this one. (I like how the Food Network site suggests veal. I cant afford veal for myself let alone little Johnny.) Here are some ideas about growing your own food:
1. Start Small and Scale Up
Like working out, you don’t need to go hard immediately. That is just asking for burnout and frustration. Work your way up by starting small. Herb gardens take up very little space, just a few small pots or planters that fit in most window sills and apartment balconies. Take that idea and move up from there. Get a tomato plant in a container. Next time you mow your yard, take a few moments to start making space where you can for a few containers and a trellis or two for peas. Don’t psyche yourself out of starting because your condo will never look like Jefferson’s Monticello.
Beds and Trellises at Monticello. Copyright Matt Watson
Simple Trellis at Monticello. Copyright Matt Watson
2. Raised Beds are Key
We’ll focus on why raised beds are such a key to home gardening in a later post. For now, just know that you can use bricks, cinder blocks, scrap lumber, cedar fence boards, old totes, and 50,000 other things as seen on Pinterest to form a raised bed in your backyard. Fence boards are cheap, as are a few nails. Hardware stores will make simple cuts for you. In this space you can grow intensively by grouping plants closer together which controls weeds and maximizes your production. You will be surprised how many tomatoes, peas, carrots, onions, herbs, etc., you can get out of a 4×4, 3×6, or 4×8 rectangle. Or a kiddie pool.
3. Grow the Basics
Focus on what you will use all the time. I saw a lot of peas and carrots with chicken in jars at the big box store. I also saw a lot of spinach in things. Depending on where you live, you can maybe even grow fruit like apples and apricots. In San Antonio where we live those are hard to grow. And you probably aren’t growing bananas and cereal grains. So buy what you need to buy, and grow the rest. Spinach and leafy greens are insanely healthy for you and fairly easy to grow, and then you don’t have to worry about all those national recalls.
You can get small mason jars at any big box retail store. In fact, you’ve probably walked past them a billion times and never noticed. Make sure you keep those in the fridge or freezer if you aren’t going to go full-prepper and can them. You can also use portion it out into ice cube trays and then collect them in a ziploc. They even sell those baby food pouches that you can fill yourself and reuse.
Comment below if you have tried this. Also, what was the craziest food combination you have fed your baby?