Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Spring BBQ Trip to Llano

We had been talking about going to Llano for BBQ for a couple of weeks but hadn't made any definite plans. Sunday morning Julie said "I want to go get BBQ" so we did. We indicated our intent on Facebook but didn't really expect anyone to join us on such short notice.

Cooper's BBQ in Llano is arguably some of the best BBQ in Texas. It's definitely in the top five along with Kreutz in Lockhart. It's a different style of cooking from Kreutz' no-sauce-just-smoke approach, using a higher-temperature cooking technique and using a vinegary sauce.

The place itself is, like all good BBQ, part of the experience. Llano is about an hour northwest of Austin, a pretty drive through the Hill Country. When the blue bonnets are in bloom it can be spectacular. We were hoping they might be this year, but they were not.

Cooper's is always very popular this time of year and you have to get there relatively early to ensure they have everything you might want, which means leaving Austin around 11:00 to get there around noon or so before the line gets really long. That's a little early for our neighbors the Bare Naked Family, so we didn't really expect them to join us. In fact, their response to our Facebook status was "We are too wiped out to go...but another time maybe!". So off we went.

We got to Cooper's in good time, stood in line planning what varieties of meat we would get, got our food, and ate it with gusto. Dada especially liked the brisket and prime rib. Just as we were finishing our meal we got a call from the Bare Nakeds saying they were just arriving into Llano. They had apparently had a change of heart and hit the road not long after we did. We hung out with them and tried to recover a bit from our own overindulgence.

This was their first time to eat at Cooper's and they really enjoyed it.

After our meat fest we went down to a little park on the Llano river where we enjoyed the river and played on the rocks and generally hung out in the beautiful spring weather. We then decided to go home via a scenic route that would take us by Lake Buchanan, where we stopped for a while to marvel at how low the lake was.

We had pulled into a public boat ramp with a little park with some old-school metal slides (to which Sunny and Dada made a beeline). The lake was about 20 feet below the end of the concrete boat ramp. We wandered around on the exposed lake bed, which is littered with chunks of what I took to be rose quartz and other pretty rocks.

Finally it was time to head back home, which we did, taking more back roads.

A much longer Sunday drive than we had intended but a really nice day, totally blowing off Spring chores to just hang out in the sun and gorge on smoked meat.

Note: Missing from this picture is Sunny, youngest of the Bare Naked's who was off to the side holding Dada when this picture was taken. See our Flickr stream for that picture.

Garden Journal: 29 March 2009: Soybean patch

Given the fecundity of the potato tower we decided to pull up the secondary potato patch and plant soybeans instead. Our soybean seeds had been back ordered and finally came.

Dada loves soybeans and so do we so it seemed like something good to plant along with the beans and peas.

We also planted two hills of squash in the milpa in places where the corn either didn't come up or didn't actually get planted.

We've had a good bit of rain and everything is growing quite well.

I started putting cages on the tomatoes--got four out of six done before I ran out of steam. We ended up spending all day Sunday on an outing for BBQ so didn't get a chance to finish that task.

Did mulch the tomatoes with shredded live oak leaves our neighbor Linda had collected for us. Having a hard time finding mulch free mulch material. Tempted to buy a chipper-shredder and put bamboo through it...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Garden Journal: 26 March 2009

We haven't done much with the garden lately except watch it grow and try to get rid of lettuce.

We've had a good bit of rain the last couple of weeks and everything is growing quite well.

The lettuce has produced much more than we ever expected and we simply can't eat it or give it away fast enough. The spinach is not quite as productive but it's still growing pretty well and provides more than enough for salads certainly. But it's about time to try to cook up a batch.

The peas have sprouted and are starting their climb up the tee-pee. The corn and beans are coming along nicely and I'm falling behind on the potatoes—will need to get out there this weekend and raise it up at least 6 inches. Also need to put up cages for the tomatoes before they start to sprawl.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Dada and Sunny at Maria's Taco Xpress

Yesterday Julie, Dada, and I attended our first "Hippie Church" show at Maria's Taco Xpress a South Austin landmark but someplace I'd never eaten and Julie had never listened to music at.

The show this week was by Guy Forsyth, a local musician and close friend of our neighbors the Barenaked Family.

Guy is an amazing musician and songwriter and just a huge amount of fun to see live. For his "gospel" show he augments his regular band (bass and drums) with various horns, woodwinds, and accordions. The place was packed and everyone was having a great time. Since this is South by Southwest week there were all sorts of interesting people there who may or may not have been famous, but certainly lots of dedicated hipsters, in addition to the regular Austin crowd of regular crazies.

This picture is of Dada and Sunny, youngest of the Barenaked clan, hanging out during the show.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Garden Journal: 15 March 2009: Rainy Day Fun

It rained approximately 3 inches from Thursday through Saturday by our raingauge.

Filled up all our barrels and then some. Plants all very happy.

Sun came out in the afternoon today and we saw sprouts in the pea mounds at the base of the pea teepee. Three days of rain and we're all like "where is the sun? What did we do?" I know the folks in the Northwest are all "boo freakin' hoo". Of course, it will be back in the 80's by Tuesday.

While it was raining we entertained ourselves making stepping stones from a kit from the hobby store. Pictured is my attempt to honor the milpa. It's kind of fun, although after we bought the second box of cement mix from the hobby store (with a 25% off coupon, at least) we did learn that Quikcrete from Home Depo works just fine for a fraction of the cost. So we'll know for next time.

Julie picked up some interesting bits of broken tail light and road reflector on her walk with Humphrey. Now I'm thinking about other things to use as molds. The next step up would be pulling our own molds and casting into that. When will it end?

Dada and I went on a fruitless quest for pickle buckets (for self-watering containers) Saturday afternoon. Chick-fil-a says they do sometimes have buckets but the recyclers get them at random times. Guess I'll have to try in the mornings or something. Although I'm starting to think it would ultimately be cheaper to just buy the $5.00 buckets at Home Depo. But that just seems wrong.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Garden Journal: Understanding the Dust Bowl

This picture shows two clumps of grass I removed from the yard in order to make holes for soil for the peas for the pea teepee. I have removed the soil, what little there was, but otherwise not done anything too them.

Observe the incredible density of roots--this grass is growing in about two or at most three inches of cedar mulch on top of the caliche that makes up the subsoil in the front yard.

With this view it's easy to see why we have been completely unable to remove this grass from the yard. One also gets an understanding of why removing it turned the prairies of the Midwest to dust.

I don't know what variety of grass this is but I assume that it is some sort of native grass.

Garden Journal: 8 March 2009: Planting peas

Busy day today.

Julie and Dada planted carrots in amongst the spinach and lettuce.

Julie planted garlic and basil in the tomato bed (basil seeds come from a basil plant off the back porch that had gone to seed).

I built the bean teepee pictured here, although since we only had seeds for bush beans, we are planting peas. I made a doorway on the north side so Dada can go into the teepee. The teepee is made from bamboo and secured with zip ties, which made the whole thing go together pretty quick. The poles are set into holes made with a little augur I picked up when I got the chicken tractors.

I also added another 3-4 inches of soil to the potato tower.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Dada's map of the garden March 2009

This is a map Dada drew of our garden. It's a remarkably, I think, accurate portrayal of the garden. I think the triangular bit in the lower left is the to-be-constructed pea tee-pee, about which Dada is very excited (she wants to pee in the pea tee-pee--can't say I blame her).

Garden Journal: 7 March 2009: Tomato transplants

Our attempt to start tomato seedlings didn't quite work out: started too late and the experiment of using fiber egg cartons turned out to be doomed from the start--too hard to keep them moist.

As it happened, one of the largest community gardens in Austin had its plant sale today so we went and bought tomato plants.

Bought 8 plants, 6 for planting in the tomato bed (shown here), two for growing in containers.

Planted the tomatoes in prepared soil that is roughly a 50/50 mix of last-year's compost and the soil/compost mix we bought. Added a handful of worm castings to each hole and watered with a compost tea solution. As shown in this picure, the plants are, left-to-right, front to back:

- Arkansas Traveler
- Cherrokee Purple
- Brandywine
- BHN 444
- Brandywine
- Valley Girl

All are full-size tomatoes. Tried to pick heirloom or interesting varieties.

The plant sale was packed--we were told it was a record attendance, which is not surprising given the dramatic upswell in gardening this spring.

Corn and beans are coming along nicely, as are the potatoes, spinach, and lettuce. Can now harvest sufficient lettuce and spinach to make a full-sized salad without noticeably reducing the available greenery.

Cherry tomato plant continues to grow and produce. I cut away all the dead stocks but there is still lots of green growth--I guess tomatoes can be perennials if freeze doesn't kill them.

Our biggest problem now is figuring out what to use for mulch. We don't have a chipper (with which we could chip bamboo and other trash wood that grows nearb) and haven't found a ready supply of popular stuff like oat hulls or whatever. We have lots of leaves, but I'm not sure that would be the best mulch. Could buy hay from the feed store but trying to avoid having to buy anything.

Our plan for today is to plant garlic in with the tomatoes, carrots in with the lettuce and spinach, set up at least one more soaker hose, and set up one or two pea tee-pees (we've been soaking the seeds overnight, per the instructions, so they have to be planted today). Also need to raise up the potato tower another six inches or so.

Elm and Ash pollen very high the last few days, including today.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Garden Journal: 1 March 2009 Garden salad

This picture is greens and probably the last of the cherry tomatoes from our garden.

Beans and corn seem to be progressing nicely.