Category Archives: Outside

I am the Junk Fairy: Sandbox = Raised Veg. Garden

Sandbox, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

A week or so ago I came across this sandbox in a neighbor’s brush-and-bulky trash pile. It’s about 3.5 feet square, and I think it would make an excellent raised vegetable garden bed. After removing the shade cover, I think the posts would work well as frames or supports for a couple tomatoes, or maybe some beans.

I don’t have a good sunny spot for this, so my brother-in-law David is going to use it in his backyard. Success! Junk in, junk out. I am now gifting junk! I am truly the junk fairy!

Free Wood Everywhere

My Neighbor’s Woodpile, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

About a month ago there was a gigantic snowstorm here in Dallas. In one day it snowed more than 12 inches.

This record-breaking event also broke a lot of branches. Evergreens were especially hard-hit, with huge live oaks and magnolias snapping like twigs under the weight of the snow.

Since then, piles and piles of wood keep appearing out in front of houses for brush pickup. The city has made at least one sweep through my neighborhood, but as the cleanup continues the piles keep growing and multiplying, and the city seems to be slowing down. The pile above has been blocking my dog-walking path for weeks.

This got me thinking – what could I use all this wood for? Firewood is an obvious option. But my fireplace has gas logs, and I don’t have an outside fire pit. Surely someone should pick up the huge stumps for firewood?!?

Here are some other thoughts:

Branch arrangement (from

Another branch arrangement (at my local Pottery Barn, and every other similar store)

Wall decoration from Life in the Fun Lane (hands down my new favorite blog!!)

Stump table (from West Elm, who would have thought?)

Magnolia wreaths.  This one ( looks like a holiday one, but I’ve seen square ones recently in stores that are more year-round.

Behold the Portable Kitchen

PK Grill, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

A few years ago my grandma gave me her old spaceship-like charcoal grill. It’s official brand name is the Portable Kitchen, and the cooking vessel is cast aluminum. People in-the-know call it the PK. Does it look familiar? Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like a lot of people had these back in the day.

Recently I felt inspired to start using it. The grates inside had rusted quite a bit. I went online to find out how to get replacements. To my surprise, I discovered the PK continues to be a cult favorite. The old PK is back in production. Yes, you really can buy one of these new.

Apparently it’s popular because it’s easy to control the inside temperature using the grill’s four sliding air vents. It produces consistent low heat, low enough to smoke meat.

I’ve fired it up a few times recently. I highly recommend smoked beer can chicken.

For the truly curious, here is some history from the official PK site:

In the early 1950’s, the man known as the “Barbeque King” of Texas acted on his dream of making the perfect barbeque pit. Mr. Hilton Meigs, a Beaumont businessman, contractor and inventor, designed and manufactured the first Portable Kitchen® cast aluminum grill in 1952.

The immediate popularity of the grill inspired the Meigs family to move to larger operations in Tyler, Texas a year later. Using Tyler as their base of operations, Mr. Meigs and his son, Douglas, loaded as many grills as possible in their 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air (removing the back seat to accommodate more grills) and traveled all across the Lone Star State to pitch their cooker. Sales soon spread to retailers across the country and to several countries overseas. Operations were eventually moved to Little Rock, Arkansas.

Unfortunately, the advent of stamped metal charcoal grills and trendy gas grills in the 1980’s led to the early retirement of the Mr. Meigs’ heavy-duty cast aluminum cooker. Tired of rusted out, cheap charcoal grills and convinced that a propane flame could never produce the flavor of charcoal-fed hickory smoke, Paul and Sarah James retrieved one of Mr. Meigs’ Portable Kitchen® cookers at a garage sale.

The rest is history. Wholeheartedly believing that the Portable Kitchen® cast aluminum cooker is still the perfect charcoal grill and smoker, the James family has set out to reintroduce it to the market. Rekindle an old flame!

Kennebec Potatoes from the Garden

Kennebec, Red Lasoda, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

Kennebecs are the white ones. They turned out smaller than the red ones. Not sure why.

Home Grown Potatoes!

Red Lasoda Potatoes on Plant, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

Yesterday I pulled up my first potato plant. To my delight there were two perfect little red potatoes on it! Red lasoda, to be precise. For some reason I was a little shocked. This is my first potato rodeo, so perhaps that’s why.

A closeup of the newborn taters:

Red Lasoda Potatoes

It appears I could’ve had two more, had conditions been right:

Red Lasoda Potatoes

I hadn’t planned on pulling these up, but I found myself wondering when these would be ready to go, so I just grabbed one. Earlier in the day, I had purchased a few new potatoes at Whole Foods. What an excellent opportunity for comparison!

Keep in mind the store-bought ones are organic and expensive ($3.59/lbs). Yet they still look a ton different. Mine are the pink ones:

Erin's Potatoes vs. Whole Foods Potatoes

I set up a taste test and steamed both sets. I was nervous mine might not taste a lot better. But there was no doubt, the fresh ones were about a billion times tastier. They had a much creamier, more potato-ey texture and taste than the ones from Whole Foods. The store bought ones had a bitter aftertaste that I probably wouldn’t have objected to had I not tasted the better ones.

I have probably thirty total plants that include two other varieties in the garden that should be ready to pull in the coming weeks.

First 2009 Red Tomatoes

First Tomatoes, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

My first tomatoes ripened this week. The two larger ones are “patio” variety. One of the small ones is “sweet 100” and one is “sweet millions.”

Earth Kind Rose: Spice

Spice Rose, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

One of the roses I planted in my front landscape this fall is called “Spice.” It’s an Earth Kind Rose, so designated by Texas A&M for it’s easy-to-grow nature that doesn’t require lots of pesticides or fertilizer.

From The Antique Rose Emporium:

Here’s another rose that some believe to be the true ‘Hume’s Tea Scented China.’ Right or wrong this rose produces the palest of pink, tea-like blooms on a 3 to 4 foot thick bush. The plant is twiggy in growth, more like our China roses and can mildew a little in the early spring. The flowers are good for cutting and have an unusual fragrance that probably earned it its name.

China roses are varieties that were brought to Europe from China in the late 18th century. Hume’s Blush Tea-scented China is said to be one of four stud roses that many modern roses are descended from.

As you see above I cut one of the blooms to brighten up my dreary desk. I may have to start collecting bud vases!

It has a strong, spicy green fragrance that would make a fine perfume. Here’s another photo from the Rose Emporium:

Visit my previous rose blogs:

My First Big Rose Bloom of the Season

Duchesse de Brabant, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

This fall I planted five different types of “Earth Kind” roses in my front landscape, all of them pink. I already had one in the ground from the year before, and it did so well I gave her some friends. Earth Kind is a classification awarded by the Texas A&M Extension, and it means the rose is easy to grow and doesn’t require pesticides, fungicides or a ton of fertilizer.

This particular variety is called Duchesse de Brabant. From the Antique Rose Emporium:

Teddy Roosevelt made this rose his favorite, often wearing a bud or flower as a boutonniere. It is very nearly our greatest favorite, too. The cupped pink flowers have a cabbagey roundness to them, as if they were picked from a luscious old rose painting. Nearly continuously in bloom, these roses can be counted on for a rich whiff of fragrance at absolutely any time of the day, even in the hot Texas sun. The apple green leaves are slightly wavy.

An image of a bouquet from their site:


Underground Dallas Tomato Gardening Video

Husky Red Cherry Tomato, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

About a year ago I was shopping at a local plant nursery when I heard about an underground video. The topic — how to grow the most tomatoes in Dallas, Texas. The expert on the video, the source told me, was a man who was a member of the First Men’s Garden Club. This master tomato-grower had passed away a few years ago, but his technique was legendary, and this video documented his secrets.

Earlier this week I had the good fortune to finally see the program. It was played at a meeting of the First Men’s Garden Club. The film had a Dharma Intiative quality to it. I felt I was seeing something important, historic and also secretive, just like the Oceanic Six lost on that crazy island.

The video details how John Walls produced over 1,300 pounds of tomatoes per season in three 24-foot double rows of tomato plants. Amazing, right?

There was no smoking gun or magic potion. Just a carefully engineered and highly disciplined approach that created perfect growing conditions for an extended period of time.

Many people mistakenly think the growing season here in Dallas for tomatoes is quite long. Not true! Tomatoes need temperatures to be around 65F at night and 85F during the day to set fruit. Once we get into June and July when nighttime temperatures rarely dip below 80F, most plants shut down the production lines. The time window for the ideal temperature range is quite short here.

To extend that range, Mr. Walls got started early. He prepped the raised rows with compost, and he covered them with black plastic. For each plant he would cut a hole out of the plastic just over a foot in diameter. It’s my understanding this plastic kept the soil temperature higher than normal. This reminds me of the Earth Box, which you may have encountered.

He built a long, makeshift wood frame along the rows and covered its pitched roof with 3 mil plastic sheeting. Along the midline of each row he ran one PVC tube that looked to be about an inch in diameter. For each plant he drilled a hole about 45 degrees down from the top of the pipe, such that when a hose supplying the tube was turned on, it would create an arc of water right that hit right at the base of the plant. Each plant had a cage built from concrete reinforcing mesh.

He planted transplants level with the ground, not super deep as so many people around here suggest. In the hole he added a spoonful of cheap tomato food. Near the base of the transplant he added a cupful of granulated sugar and about the same amount of Epsom salt. Where the water flowed near each plant he inserted a single multivitamin. He watered thoroughly at the beginning and end of each day only when the ground two inches down felt dry.

He was meticulous about keeping the rows clean, and the pathways between the rows he kept neat by covering them with roofing paper.

I am sure there were a few more details there but that’s the heart of it. I put some tomatoes out this week and will share what tips from the other portion of the lecture in a future post.

Spring is Nearly Here!

Daffodils, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

The daffodils along the southwest side of my house are blooming!