Monday, December 12, 2011

The Mistletoe Moon

The Mistletoe Moon is a good name for the full moon of December. Of course there's the Christmas tradition of kissing under the mistletoe, and it is a wintery sort of plant. It gets its white berries in the winter, and if it's growing on a deciduous tree, like this elm here, it's a lot more noticeable in the winter when the host tree drops its leaves and the only leaves you now see are bushes of mistletoe.

I've heard that mistletoe is a lot more common in Texas than it is in Europe (it's also a different species), which is an important thing to keep in mind when thinking about its mythical status. In Europe it's a rare oddity to find a green mistletoe bush on a barren tree in the dead of winter, so I can see how it can seem magical. Here it's mostly considered a pest. I've seen some very heavily infested trees. I've never heard of mistletoe actually killing a tree, though, but I guess it is possible. One redeeming quality is that the berries of mistletoe are an important winter food for birds (along with holly, another Christmas plant). The birds return the favor by spreading its seed to other trees.

I heard the full moon was an eclipse this time, but I missed it because of all the clouds. It's been raining a lot lately. We're actually ahead on rain for the months of November and December, though we're still way behind for the year.
I've started some more peppers. The same kinds as the ones I started in fall. If the fall-planted ones become too root-bound as they wait for spring, I have a backup. My tomato and eggplant seeds have also just started to sprout.
The lettuce doesn't seem to mind the freezes we've had, and is doing great with all the rain. I like how a variety of lettuce growing looks, with the different colors and shapes. I'm thinking of planting my extras in the flower bed out front.
The Lincoln Shell peas are starting to put out pods. The Tall Telephone peas haven't, but the plants are growing much taller. I still think I like TT better. I think I'll end up getting much higher yields from the bigger plants.
I just planted the celery in little trenches to hold in water. I've heard that celery is hard to grow, but I thought I'd give it a shot. I read that it likes things really wet. I hope it's cold tolerant, since if it needs wetness, then winter is the time it'll get it.
The mustard greens are the best looking out of the brassicas. The freezes don't seem to have bothered them at all. I've been harvesting some for stir-fries. They've got a nice peppery flavor.
The cauliflower and collards, on the other hand, have gotten a bit damaged. A lot of the outer leaves have turned pale and crispy. I hope the cabbage worms are finally gone, and the plants can recover without getting munched on some more.
I have some turnips that are ready to harvest, but I think I'll leave them in the ground until just before I cook them. Turnips are one of those vegetables I started eating just because they're easy to grow. My favorite application for them so far is to make Scalloped Potatoes and Turnips. Just make a regular recipe for scalloped potatoes, but use half turnips layered in evenly with the potatoes. I sometimes make that at Yule to go with the ham, and it's great. The turnips cut down the potato's starchiness a bit, while the potatoes mellow out the turnips. Being covered in cream sauce probably doesn't hurt either.
The garlic seems to be very happy growing up through the thick straw mulch. It would be swell to have a good garlic harvest in 2012 to make up for my 2011 garlic disaster.
I'm a little surprised that the Swiss chard was damaged by the freeze as badly as it was. Most of the outer leaves turned to mush, though the inner leaves look like they survived. Usually I find chard to be a very tough, foolproof plant. Maybe this variety (Golden Sunrise) is less cold tolerant than what I've grown before. Maybe it just needs time to acclimate.

Once again I find myself wishing I had planted more for the winter garden. Winter is a great time to garden in Texas. As long as you plant things that can take the occasional freeze, you can have stuff growing all winter, and you don't have to water nearly as much as you do in the summer. Summer really is the true off-season around here, not winter.

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