Nematodes Put an End to Cucumber Season by Patty G. Leander

My thriving cucumber season came to an abrupt halt a couple of weeks ago. It started when a strong windstorm knocked over a cage of ‘Amiga’ cucumbers and uprooted the plants completely. All my other cages were staked so I can’t explain why this one was not but anytime you grow anything on a tomato cage, don’t forget to stake it!

Zeebest-Okra

Strong winds uprooted a cage of cucumbers but luckily did not damage the adjacent planting of ‘Zeebest’ okra

I was disappointed but not surprised to find evidence of root-knot nematodes on the roots (see photo). Though my plants had been producing well throughout June and early July I had begun to notice pale green leaves, misshapen fruit, reduced yields and general wilting, all signs of nematodes infestation.

root-knot-nematodes

Root-knot nematodes are microscopic but a heavy infestation on the roots is easily visible as swollen galls within the roots

Nematodes are soil-dwelling, microscopic, worm-like parasites that feed on plant roots, causing swelling or galls within the roots, impeding the flow of water and nutrients. They are most active in summer when soil temperature ranges between 85 and 95°F. Cucumbers, okra, squash, beans and non-resistant tomatoes are especially susceptible. Because nematodes are most active at higher temperatures they are not a serious threat to most cool season plants, the exception being carrots and beets which can have severe damage. Alliums and sweet corn are not affected by nematodes.

Nematode-beets

Most cool-season crops are not affected by nematodes but beets and carrots are an exception

Because nematodes can devastate a crop it’s important to take action if you discover them in your garden. Below are a few earth-friendly methods for battling nematodes; you may never completely eliminate nematodes but the following methods will help keep their numbers in check so that damage will be kept to a minimum. Note that nematodes can be spread by tools and soil so be sure to clean and disinfect tools after working in soil that contains nematodes, also be careful not to fling soil from infected roots to adjacent parts of the garden.

Summer Fallow:  Nematodes are most active in warm soils and they need water to thrive so take advantage of summer’s heat to wither them away. Withhold water from nematode infested areas of the garden and turn or till the soil every 7-10 days during the summer to expose nematodes to the drying effects of the sun.

Crop Rotation: Plant nematode susceptible crops where non-host crops such as onions, garlic and sweet corn were previously grown.

Plant Nematode Resistant Crops:  If your garden is too small for crop rotation look for plants that are bred to have nematode resistance. A tomato labeled with “VFN” indicates disease resistance: V= resistance to Verticillium wilt; F = resistance to Fusarium wilt; N = resistance to root-knot nematode resistance. Resistance doesn’t mean they won’t get nematodes but they are able to resist them enough to produce a harvest. Resistant tomato varieties include ‘Better Boy’, ‘Tycoon’, ‘Celebrity’, ‘Big Beef’, ‘Lemon Boy’, ‘Sweet Chelsea’ and ‘Supersweet 100’.

natural-nematode-control

French Marigolds and ‘Pacific Gold’ mustard can be used as cover crops to reduce nematode infestation

Plant Nematode Suppressive Crops: Certain types of marigolds (Tagetes patula) work by excreting a substance that is damaging to nematodes as well as trapping them in their roots and preventing reproduction. The key is to plant the entire area as a cover crop and leave it in place for several weeks to reduce nematode populations. A late summer planting of French marigolds can be left in place right up to the first frost; effective varieties include ‘Tangerine’, ‘Petite Harmony’, ‘Petite Gold’ and ‘Janie’. At the end of the season remove the tops and turn under the roots.  Elbon rye is an effective nematode control that can be planted as a cool-season cover crop that is turned under in early spring. Cut down or weed-whack the tops a couple of times during the growing season and either leave the tops in place as mulch or add them to the compost pile. ‘Pacific Gold’ mustard, also sold as Mighty Mustard®, contains high levels of compounds called glucosinolates that help suppress nematode populations. Cut down mustard before it sets seeds, add the tops to the compost pile and leave the roots to decompose in the soil. Both Elbon rye and ‘Pacific Gold’ mustard are available from Johnny’s Seeds (www.johnnyseeds.com).

rye-cover-crop

Cut down or weed-whack cereal rye a couple of times during the growing season

Biological Control: In 2010, Dr. Kevin Steddom, a plant pathologist with Texas AgriLife Extension, conducted a trial at the AgriLife Research Station in Overton comparing several products for nematode control. He found that of all the products he tested, which included two soil fumigants, a biological fungicide called Actinovate was the most effective in lowering nematode populations. A 2-ounce packet sells for $18-20 but you only need ½ teaspoon per gallon and it can also be use for powdery mildew, black spot, early blight and other fungal diseases.

natural-nematode-control

Secure clear plastic over very moist soil to create a greenhouse effect that will raise soil temperatures enough to kill nematodes.

Soil Solarization: Rake the soil so it is level and smooth, water well and cover with clear, UV resistant plastic (2-4 ml thick). Pull the plastic taut across the soil and secure or bury the edges with soil. Leave in place for 4-6 weeks, patching any holes with duct tape so heat cannot escape. This is often considered a last resort because the heat generated under the plastic kills everything, good and bad. It’s important to add organic matter at the end of the process; after removing the plastic do not work the soil for couple of weeks then top with a 2-3 inch layer of compost and water well before planting.

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Week 31 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden

August 15 is right around the corner.  Why do I mention that?  Well, it is the first planting date for the fall garden.  We are truly lucky to be able to garden in the fall.  If you have never had a fall garden I highly recommend it.  Fall temperatures make it much more comfortable to be outside.  Bug and weed problems are greatly reduced and you can grow a wide variety of vegetables (some that will continue producing until you remove them to make room for the Spring garden).  It is also the best time of the year to plant (or move) trees and shrubs.

Texas_Sunset

Our friend Amy Hime captured this beautiful Texas sunset. Right now it is so hot I wait until about this time each evening to go into the garden!

Vegetables

  • Begin planning the fall garden– My friend and co-blogger Patty Leander creates the planting guides for the Travis County Texas A&M AgriLife Extension service. If you are wondering what to plant for the fall garden, check out her guide.  Not only will it tell you what and when to plant, it will give you some ideas of different vegetables that do well in our area that you may not have tried before.  Check out the guide here:    Travis County Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Vegetable Planting Guide
  • Solarize nematodes-Nematodes plague many of the plants we grow in Texas. Patty has a great post coming out this weekend about controlling them.  One of her tips is to turn up the soil in your infected areas and let the July and August sun rid you of some future problems.
  • Mulch and water – Lots of veggies like melons, southern peas and okra are still producing. Producing vegetables need lots of water. Mulch them heavily now then water early in the morning or late in the evening to reduce water lost to evaporation.
red_birdhouse

Love this shot of our red bird house on our redbud in front of our red garage door. Photo by Amy Hime

Ornamentals

  • Remove “buggy” plants – My marigolds have been good this year and so have my gomphrena. However, they are now beginning to succumb to spider mites.  Remove these plants and throw them away.  Do not put them on the compost pile.
  • Weed beds thoroghly and re-mulch – The heat is slowing down the growth of many of our invasive weeds. Pull them now and mulch heavily to prepare for your fall plantings
  • It is not too late to replant zinnias, cockscomb, sunflowers and gomphrena from seeds.
Lovely mixed annual border at FDR's grave site in Hyde park, New York

Lovely mixed annual border at FDR’s grave site in Hyde park, New York

Trees and Lawns

  • Do not fertilize lawns until the temperatures come down a bit.
  • Let grass grow as high as you can stand it. A thick carpet keeps roots cool and actually helps to conserves water

 

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Week 30 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden

barred-owl

Unfortunately this barred owl was hit by a car on our road. Sally took it to the Wildlife Center of Texas in Houston. GREAT non-profit that always appreciates your donations.

This has been an interesting week.  Of course it has been hot and dry, but in addition to that I have killed another big snake in the chicken coop, my wife has rescued a large barred owl, and I picked up a pretty good case of poison ivy while weeding.  I worked outside from 8 am until 8 pm on Saturday.  Pulled a lot of weeds and even moved a few plants.  However, I got over heated and wound up giving myself a fever.  While July is a good time to accomplish several garden chores you really do have to be mindful of the heat (and the poison ivy).

Vegetables

  • Start transplants of cole crops– We are about to run out of time to start our broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, cabbage and Brussel sprouts from seed. Start seeds in a high quality media and keep moist.  You can plant your brassicas anytime between August 15 and September 15.
  • Prune tomatoes-I do not replant tomatoes in the fall. I prune my vines by half, mulch with compost and continue to water.  This allows me to start harvesting fall tomatoes in October and right up through December in a mild winter
  • It’s a bad time to transplant, but … This week a friend let me dig up some blackberry runners. This is the ABSOLUTE WORST TIME to transplant.  However, he was going to mow them down and I wanted some blackberries that will grow in my area.  If you find yourself needing to move something in the summer do this:
    • Water the plant well for several days before digging
    • Deeply water the new location for several days
    • When digging the plant create the largest root ball you can handle
    • Dig the hole that will receive the plant 1 ½ times as big as the root ball
    • Remove as much as half of the plant’s vegetation. Green parts transpire and cause large amounts of water loss
    • Water often enough to keep the soil moist but not soggy. DO NOT fertilize.  Fertilizer grows green stuff.  When transplanting you want the plant to put all of it resources toward growing new roots, not foliage
In this heat, containers need water almost every day and feedings at least once a week.

In this heat, containers need water almost every day and feedings at least once a week.

Ornamentals

  • Prune native sunflowers and fall asters – I grow a lot of native Maxamillion sunflowers and fall asters. They get leggy this time of year so I cut them back a third to a half.  This makes the plants have thicker foliage in the fall and encourages additional flower bloom
  • Plant fall blooming bulbs like oxbloods, spider lilies and other lycoris
  • Water containers daily. Once a week water with a soluble fertilizer mixed to 50% of its recommended rate

 

fall-asters

Prune fall asters and native sunflowers now

Trees and Lawns

  • Water a little more frequently – People sweat, plants transpire. Transpiration is the process that moves water from the roots through the plant and out their stomata in the form of water vapor.  Right now they are transpiring almost 24 hours a day.  Water deeply and more frequently until night time temperatures drop out of the 80s.
  • Water trees at the drip line – Small, tender roots take up vastly more water than older, thicker roots. In trees these tender roots grow where water drip off of the tree’s canopy.
  • Water new trees deeply – Those crepe myrtles that you planted in March are still trying to establish themselves in your yard. In addition to your regular watering schedule add a slow, deep watering once a week.  Set the hose to a trickle and place it beside the trunk.  Let it run for an hour.

I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Week 29 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden

Last week my wife and I left blogging and gardening behind and headed to New England for a little R&R.  It was so cool and lush and beautiful.  I saw lots of beautiful landscapes and vegetable gardens.  I have to admit, everything up there was so pretty I had serious “garden envy”.

If you are a gardener then you know that July is the best time to leave your gardening chores behind for a while.  The temperatures right now are so hot that even the bugs and the weeds have decided to take a break.  Even though it is hot and dry there is still a lot that can be done in the July Texas Garden.

Sally and I spent a week in the Berkshires.  It was so lovely and so cool!

Sally and I spent a week in the Berkshires. It was so lovely and so cool!

Vegetables

  • Water correctly– It doesn’t matter how much rain we got in the spring, our gardens need watering now. Water deeply and more frequently.  Use drip or soaker hoses if possible.  Soaker hoses typically put out about an inch of water per hour.  In this heat you may need to apply an inch of water every second or third day
  • Stay Cool-This morning at my house it was 84 degrees at 8;00 am. If you are going to work outside take care to avoid heat exhaustion or dehydration.  Patty Leander wrote a great post a while back about keeping cool in the Texas heat.  Click on the link to read all of her tips:  No Rest for the Weary-Summer Gardening Chores by Patty Leander
  • Harvest okra, Southern peas, Malabar spinach and other heat loving veggies often– Some of these heat loving veggies are still producing. Pick often
  • Prepare beds for fall – This weekend I will pull out all of my spring cucumber vines. Once they are gone if will begin preparing the row for fall planting.  I remove all remaining weeds.  I also remove my old hay mulch and take it to the burn pile.  The old hay is full of bugs and their eggs.  Next I cover the entire row with about three inches of compost and then I cover everything with fresh hay.  Come planting time I will push back my hay mulch, give the row a light till and then plant
I have never been to New England.  I was impressed with all of the quaint cottages and lush landscapes.

I have never been to New England. I was impressed with all of the quaint cottages and lush landscapes.

Ornamentals

  • Water correctly and water frequently – If you see yellow or brown leaves, curled leaves, spotted leaves, etc. on your ornamentals, there is a good chance they have some water stress. The general rule of thumb in Texas is water deeply every five days.  During July and August you may need to up your frequency to every second or third day
  • Mulch, mulch, mulch!- I generally mulch my beds with finished compost. This gives me a two in one benefit.  Mulch conserves water and by using compost you feed your plants at the same time.
  • Control aphids and white flies – Use a strong blast of water to the underside of leaves or apply a mild horticultural oil like neem
We visited the FDR house, museum and library.  This is his horse stable.  Wish I could have been one of his horses!

We visited the FDR house, museum and library. This is his horse stable. Wish I could have been one of his horses!

Trees and Lawns

  • Water, water, water! – An inch of water every five days may not be enough for St. Augustine and Bermuda. Walk on your lawn.  If your grass does not bounce back and fill your footsteps quickly you need to water.  Trees and woody shrubs need frequent, deep waterings; especially ones that were planted in the last two years.  Check out this article on tree watering from Denton County Extension Agent Janet Laminack – Tree Watering Basics by Janet Laminack
  • Lift up the height of your mower deck – If you have been mowing at 3” raise it to 3 ½”. Taller grass will keep it and the soil cool
It is believed that these orange day lilies are the descendants of the first day lilies brought to the Americas.  They grow, and spread, with abandon which has led to their common name of "ditch lilies".

It is believed that these orange day lilies are the descendants of the first day lilies brought to the Americas. They grow, and spread, with abandon which has led to their common name of “ditch lilies”.

I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

 

Cucumbers: Cool, Crisp and Refreshing by Patty G. Leander

refreshing-cucmbers

Easy to grow and refreshing to eat!

Now that we have harvested, admired, ogled and savored the first of our home-grown tomatoes it’s time to let cucumbers, another summertime classic, share the limelight.

cucumber-vines

Cucumber plants have responded to the rain with oodles of fruit

 

This has been one of the best cucumbers seasons I have seen in several years; my plants have responded to the generous rains with vigorous growth and a steady supply of bright yellow flowers yielding firm, emerald fruit. I planted six varieties in my garden in mid-March and we have been slicing, dicing, dipping, pickling, steeping, even sautéing, cucumbers since early June with no signs of letting up any time soon. Below are a few of my favorite recipes for enjoying the non-stop cucumber harvest.

refrigerator-pickles

Make these quick, no-cook pickles any time you have a surplus of cucumbers

No Cook Sweet and Sour Pickles

6 cucumbers, thinly sliced

1 onion, sliced

1 ½ cups sugar

1 cup white vinegar

1 teaspoon celery seed

1 tablespoon coarse salt

Mix all ingredients and let stand 1-2 hours. Spoon into covered glass jars and store in refrigerator.

Japanese-buckwheat-and-cucumbers

A refreshing blend of mangoes, cucumbers and Japanese buckwheat noodles in a sweet-sour dressing

 

Soba Noodle Salad with Cucumber and Mango

¾ cup rice vinegar

¼ cup sugar

½ teaspoon salt

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 jalapeño or serrano chile, seeded and chopped

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon sesame oil

12 ounces soba noodles or thin spaghetti

2 large cucumbers, seeded, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced

1 ripe mango, peeled, halved and thinly sliced

1 cup chopped fresh basil

1 cup chopped fresh mint

1 cup chopped peanuts

Heat vinegar, sugar and salt over medium heat until sugar dissolves, about 1 minute. Stir in garlic and jalapeño and set aside to cool. Mix in lime juice and sesame oil.

Cook noodles in large pot of boiling water until tender but still firm to bite, 4-5 minutes. Drain then rinse under cold water. Drain again, shaking off excess water.

Transfer noodles to a large bowl. Add dressing and toss to coat. Add cucumber, mango, basil and mint to noodles and toss gently. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts and garnish with lime wedges just before serving.  Yield: 6-8 servings

cucumber-sandwiches

Grow your own sprouts or microgreens to top these little cucumber sandwiches.

Cucumber Sandwiches

Thanks to my local Central Market for this light and easy recipe – perfect for a little pick-me-up.

1 thin-skinned cucumber, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

Salt & pepper to taste

8 oz cream cheese, softened

½ cup chopped pecans

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

8 slices bread, crusts trimmed

Microgreens or sprouts

Sprinkle vinegar over cucumbers and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Mix cream cheese, pecans and mustard and spread lightly on 4 slices of bread.

Top with seasoned cucumber slices, microgreens or sprouts and remaining bread. Cut into 4 triangles to serve.

Thai-cucumber-salad

Peanuts add a nice crunch to this refreshing Thai Cucumber Salad

Thai Cucumber Salad

Sweet, tangy, minty, spicy – this salad has it all.

2 cucumbers, cut into matchsticks

1 onion, thinly sliced

¼ cup chopped mint

1 teaspoon Asian chili paste

2 tablespoon lime juice

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

Salt to taste

½ cup roasted peanuts, chopped

Combine cucumbers, onion and mint in a large bowl. Whisk remaining ingredients together in a separate bowl. Pour over cucumbers and mix gently. Let sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes to allow flavors to blend. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts just before serving. Yield: 4 servings

 

Raita

We love this refreshing Indian condiment; serve with spicy chicken, naan bread, pita chips or whole grain crackers.  Tweak the seasonings to suit your taste.

2 cups plain yogurt

2 medium cucumbers, peeled and seeded

1 garlic clove, minced

1 tablespoon chopped dill, cilantro and/or mint

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

½ teaspoon cumin

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

Coarsely grate cucumbers. Place in a sieve to drain for a few minutes then pat dry. Mix with remaining ingredients and chill 1-2 hours before serving. Sprinkle lightly with cayenne before serving.

pickling-cucumbers

Pickling cucumbers (these are a variety called ‘Calypso’) are best for making dill pickles – they have thin skin and can stand up to the pickling process . Harvest regularly and use the smallest ones for pickles.

And last, but certainly not least, my favorite recipe for dill pickles. A few years ago my husband and I had the pleasure of visiting Greg Grant in his little East Texas kingdom of Arcadia (population 57). One of the highlights while we were there – and there were many – was dinner at his parent’s home…unfortunately his parents were off on a visit with grandkids but Greg played host and served us a delicious dinner, mostly prepared by his wonderful mother before she left town. When Greg set a quart jar of homemade dill pickles on the table I couldn’t stop eating them. I asked about how she made them and it will come as no surprise that his mother’s recipe is almost identical to Mary Stewart’s recipe for dill pickles. Both have been previously published and I am sharing them again here. Hope you will make and enjoy!

pickle-recipe

You know it’s gonna be good when two amazing cooks – who don’t know each other – use the same recipe!

Dill Pickles

This recipe makes 2 quarts, double if you have an abundance of cucumbers. Start with clean, sterilized jars. Use the grape leaves if you can find them – they contribute to crispness.

Small, whole pickling cucumbers, washed and drained

1 cup vinegar

2 ½ tablespoons pickling salt

2 cups water

4 heads fresh dill

4 cloves of garlic

4 hot peppers (optional)

4 grape leaves (optional)

Bring vinegar, water and salt to a boil. Meanwhile place one hot pepper, one clove garlic, one head of dill and one grape leaf in each quart jar.  Pack tightly with cucumbers and add another head of dill and garlic clove. Fill jars with hot pickling solution, leaving ½” headspace at top of jar. Wipe rim and seal with lid. Process jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes OR skip the water bath, let jars cool, top with lids and store in the refrigerator for short term enjoyment.

making-pickles

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Week 27 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden

AmericanFlowersWeekThis week has been declared “American Flowers Week”.  The week is designed to promote and celebrate American flower growers, marketers and florists. Did you know that 80 to 90% of the cut flowers sold in the US come from overseas?  Many find this fact shocking when I share it with them.  If you would prefer to buy flowers that are fresher, grown in a more ecologically responsible manner and produced right here in the USA then be sure to check out the Slow Flowers website.  Slow Flowers is a cooperative effort between American growers and florists that allow you to find local growers and the florists that use their flowers to fill your flower buying needs.

In honor of “American Flowers Week” this week’s tips focus on growing, harvesting and arranging your own beautiful “local” flowers.

Flowers grown at the proper spacing are healthier and produce more blooms that plants that are grown too close together.

Flowers grown at the proper spacing are healthier and produce more blooms that plants that are grown too close together.

Growing Tips

  • Plant at the recommended spacing on the package– Over planting is the biggest mistake most home gardeners make. Plants that are grown too close together do not get as large or produce as many flowers and they are much more susceptible to pests.
  • Weed and feed regularly – Most flowers are annuals. Because of this they need to get as much nutrition as possible during their one growing season.  Feed monthly and weed regularly.  The weeds will rob your soil of the moisture and nutrients that your flowers need.
  • Control most pests with a strong blast of water to the underside of their leaves – Most flowers are plagued by a variety of pests. Most are tiny little rascals (like mites and aphids) that hide under the leaves of plants.  Because of this they are very difficult to control with your typical spray applications of pesticides.  I use a tool called the Mitey Fine Mister.  This wand attaches to my water hose and is designed to spray water with enough pressure to kill the pests without harming the plant.

 

teddy_bear_sunflowers

Cut flowers early in the morning and keep them cool to extend their vase life

Harvest Tips

  • Cut flowers when buds are just beginning to open – If you cut most flowers when their buds are just beginning to open they will open in the vase.  This will allow you to enjoy them much longer
  • Cut flowers in the morning- Flowers cut in the morning have the highest moisture content (this is called turgidity in the horticultural world) and look their best.   
  • Strip leaves and immediately drop blooms into a plastic container that is full of clean, cool water
  • Get flowers inside as soon as possible-Your flowers begin to die as soon as they are cut. Heat speeds up their ultimate demise.  Get them inside and into the air conditioning as soon as possible
Nothing says summer in the country like sunflowers in a homemade arrangement!

Nothing says summer in the country like sunflowers in a homemade arrangement!

Arrangement Tips

  • Use more flowers! – My youngest daughter is an incredibly talented floral designer. I asked her why my arrangements do not look half as good as hers.  She said it is because I do not use enough flowers.  According to Whitney, when making floral arrangements, more is almost always better
  • Use more than flowers in your floral arrangements – While it is pretty easy to make a very pretty and presentable arrangement by grouping together lots of beautiful flowers, the really outstanding arrangements use other things to add interest. Lovely branches with interesting leaves are great fillers as are twisting garlic scapes, iris leaves, lemon grass and onion flowers.  Fresh vegetables, wasp nests, bird nests, dried sunflower heads and dried poppy heads all add a bit of whimsy and surprise to your arrangements
  • Throw away the floral foam – As useful as it is, floral foam is not biodegradable. There are tons of “green” alternatives that you can choose to support your flowers.  Sally and I have a small collection of antique floral frogs.  You can also make a wire ball out of chicken wire that fits in the top of your vase.  My daughter loves to use fresh fruit.  She cuts a hole into a melon or squash and then wires wooden stakes to her stems.  She then inserts the stakes and stems into the firm flesh and rinds of the fruit.

.

I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Tips for Week 26 in the Zone 9 Garden

Can you believe half of the year is already gone?  I can’t.  I saw an article yesterday that said we have reached the point in the year where our days will become 1 minute shorter each day from now until winter.  That means that preparations for the fall garden are just around the corner.  Until then, here are a few things you can do to start winding down your spring garden season.

bee-on-sunflower

Sunflowers are some of my favorite flowers. Mine are beginning to bloom. Photo by Sally White

Pest Control

  • Use flour and wood ash for insect control– OK, I am not sure this works because I have never tried it. However I recently visited with a man that has been growing organically for a lot longer than I have and he swears by it.  He said he mixes a grocery bag with five pounds of flour and a shovel full of wood ash.  He then throws it on everything to control caterpillars and squash bugs.  I would love to hear from any of you who have tried this or other organic bug control remedies.
  • Smother weeds when possible – Plants need air, light and water to grow. Remove any of these from the equation and the plant will die.  If you have fallow ground cover it with heavy cloth, mulch or building material to deprive weeds of the light they need to germinate
  • Solarize future planting areas – If you are going to till and plant a new area in the fall, mow it shortwater heavily and cover with 6 to 8 mil poly. Secure the edges with soil or lumber.  The hot Texas sun will raise temperatures under the poly to over 140 degrees.  This is hot enough to kill almost every plant and weed seed that is trapped under the cover
roma-tomatoe

All of the rains of the past couple of months have delayed my tomatoes. I am pleased to say I am finally beginning to bring in a few each day.

Vegetables

  • Plant fall transplants now- If you want to save a few bucks you can grow your own fall transplants. Start broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, chard, Brussel sprouts and cabbage now 
  • Place spent plants in the compost bin – As you pull up your spent plants throw them on the compost pile. Keep it moist and turn it regularly for best results
  • Pick tomatoes when they begin to show color-Nothing brings big pests like birds, bunnies, raccoons and possums into the garden faster than red, ripe tomatoes.
shasta-daisy

Marigolds and daisies are beginning to be plagued by spider mites. Dispose of infected plants in the trash.

Ornamentals

  • Pull up plants that are invested with spider mites-Marigolds are notorious for spider mite infestations. If your plants are looking bad remove them and dispose of them in a sealed plastic bag
  • Fertilize blooming plants – I use a finished compost to fertilize my flower beds. Along with feeding them it acts like mulch which suppress weeds and conserves moisture. I also make compost tea on occasion and apply as a drench.  Feed blooming plants monthly through August

I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Tips for Week 25 in the Zone 9 Garden

This past weekend I harvested my first crop of elephant garlic.  This was a new plant for me and I thoroughly enjoyed growing it.  While it is not technically garlic (it is more closely related to leeks) it was a beautiful plant that can be used ornamentally or for its fist sized, mild, garlic tasting bulbs.  My elephant garlic was given to me by a man who has grown it in his garden for 47 years.  He got it from his parents who grew it for years before sharing with him. I absolutely love plants like this.  Whether they are called heirloom plants or pass a long plants, they are a living link to our horticultural past.  I love finding, growing and preserving these living links to our southern heritage.  If you have an heirloom plant that you love, leave me a comment.  I would love to hear about it.

elephant-garlic-scapes-2

With it long curvy scapes and big flower heads, Elephant Garlic is a useful as as ornamental as it is as a food source.

Pest Control

  • Invest in a few select organic insecticides– Bt for caterpillars, insecticidal soap for soft-bodied aphids, neem oil for beetles and squash bugs, spinosad for caterpillars and stink bugs. Follow label instructions, and spray only as needed. Mark the purchase date on the product container and store in a protected location, preferably indoors.
  • When using any insecticide, mix up only what will be needed for the plants you are treating – I rarely mix up a gallon of anything, and often get by using a one pint or one quart squirt bottle, depending on the product and number of plants needing treatment. Once I determine how much a particular product is needed per pint, I write it directly on the pesticide container so I don’t have to scour the label and recalculate every time.
  • Protect bees by applying pesticides in the late afternoon or evening, when bees are less active.
  • Control Spurge and Puslane-These two plants are some of the most difficult to control. Both grow rapidly and produce thousands of seeds.  Chemical control has little effect on mature purslane.  Pull these weeds and place in a plastic trash bag.  Do not compost!  Apply heavy mulch or solarize if possible after you remove the plants.
acetic-acid-weed-control

When mixing herbicides or pesticides mix only what you need and clearly mark each container

Vegetables

  • Plant okra, sweet potatoes, winter squash and peppers-Realize this is the absolute end of the spring planting season. It may be too late to plant even these in southern parts of the state.
  • Water correctly- It is better for your plants, and your water bill, if you apply one inch of water every five days. Water slowly in the morning to reduce evaporation loss. 
  • Remove spent plants like green beans to avoid attracting pests.
  • Top dress empty rows with compost and cover with a heavy layer of mulch to prepare them for fall planting in late July
water-sprinkler

Water deeply and less frequently to encourage deep root growth and conserve water

Ornamentals

  • Cut fresh flowers for the house-Cut your zinnia’s, sunflowers, gomphrena, celosia and other fresh cuts early in the morning. Cut stems on 45 degree angles, strip foliage and drop immediately into cool, clean water
  • Plant sweet potato vine from transplant-Sweet potato vine is a great way to add lots of low maintenance color to your pots and beds.  With its bright chartreuse or purple-black foliage this drought and heat tolerant plant will add LOTS of color to your summer landscape.  Sweet potato vine will provide you lots of color right up to the first freeze 

Fruit Trees

  • Pick remaining plums-Plums will continue to ripen after they are picked. Pull when they have half color and allow them to ripen inside;  especially if making jelly.  Over ripe fruit left on the trees, or on the ground, invites in raccoons, possums and mocking birds
  • Pick Peaches-Pick peaches when they are slightly soft to the touch

ripe-plums

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I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Drought-Busting Rains by Patty G. Leander

As the designated voice of vegetables for Jay’s blog, it seems fitting to commiserate with all the vegetable gardeners out there who are dealing with the challenges of May’s drought-busting rains. First let me say that my heart and deepest sympathy go out to those who have experienced tragic losses as a result of the flooding and I extend my admiration and gratitude to the hard-working first responders, rescue teams and dedicated volunteers who have come to the aid of the distressed.

Here in Central Texas we broke the record for total rainfall for May with a little over 17 inches; our average May rainfall is normally around 4 inches. The experts have declared that we are officially in an El Niño year which means more rain and hotter temperatures can be expected. After receiving almost 10” of rain the last week of May things are starting to dry out around here and a look at the latest drought monitor map indicates that the rains have finally pulled Texas out of the extreme drought category:

http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/Home/RegionalDroughtMonitor.aspx?south

Not the most stylish look but it works!

Not the most stylish look but it works!

All of this moisture has created an ideal environment for lots of pesky mosquitoes and each individual gardener must decide how far they want to go to combat this pest. After a recent morning in the garden spent waving my arms hysterically to shoo the mosquitoes from my face, I abandoned fashion and style in favor of practicality and protection and pulled out my secret weapon: a mosquito hat my nephew bought for me at a Boy Scout Trading Post during summer camp a few years ago. He told me it worked great and he was right. I get tremendous satisfaction when I hear the buzzing around my ears and I know the little buggers can’t get to me. If you don’t have access to a Boy Scout Trading Post, look for these nets at hunting, camping or sporting goods stores – you might even find something more stylish.

container-grown-potatoes

Potatoes growing in open-ended bushel baskets

The excessive rains and water-logged soil caused some rotting among my onions and garlic but fortunately I planted my potatoes above ground in open ended bushel baskets and got a modest harvest of Red LaSoda, White Kennebec and La Ratte fingerling potatoes.

la-ratte-fingerling-potato

‘La Ratte’ fingerling potatoes

tasty-tomatoes

Hoping for tasty tomatoes

It’s been a good year so far for cucumbers and green beans but not so good for tomatoes. From Houston to Austin to San Antonio and beyond I have been hearing reports of delayed ripening and watered-down flavor due to the rainy weather and cool, cloudy days. My favorite variety from a couple of years ago was ‘Marianna’s Peace’, a rich red tomato with juicy, complex flavor, but the first fruits I’ve tasted from this year are washed out and bland tasting. Has this been a good tomato season where you live?  Hopefully the warmth and sun and drier weather will help intensify that flavor we crave in the tomatoes yet to ripen. Hope you are blessed with a good harvest and many sumptuous tomatoes in your future!

Tips for Week 24 in the Zone 9 Garden

Patty Leander reminded me of an old adage about Texas weather.  It goes something like this “Texas weather is a series of droughts broken up by an occasional flood”.  These past few weeks have been a great reinforcer of that old saying.  Once it stopped raining the sun came out in a big way.  After the rainiest May in history I found myself watering Sunday night.  Oh the joys of gardening in Texas!  If it is not raining again this week end (as is predicted) here are a few things you can do in your yard or garden.

ripe-plum

Our plum tree is loaded and ready to harvest. This morning Sally and I picked 10 gallons of plums! Photo by Sally White

Pest Control

  • Control squash bugs-The bugs that a lot of us call “squash bugs” or “stink bugs” are actually called leaf footed bugs. While these pests are most often seen on our tomatoes and squash, they will eat just about anything.  In fact I even found them in my plum tree today.  This hard bodied bug is really prolific and hard to kill.  Pick adults and drop into a bucket of soapy water or suck up with a dust buster or shop vac.  You can also leave boards or shingles under your plants.  The bugs will go under them at night.  In the morning step on the board or shingle!
  • Control broad leaf weeds with concentrated acetic acid-Household vinegar is around 6% acetic acid. While it will kill weeds real killing power is found in concentrated acetic acid found at your local garden center.  You can find acetic acid concentrated to about 20%.  This is the “Round up” of the organic world.  It will kill just about every type of weed (or desirable plant) in your garden so use with caution.
Squash bugs are hard to control.  Use a dust vac or shop vac to suck them off of your plants.  Photo by Sally White

Leaf footed bugs are hard to control. Use a dust vac or shop vac to suck them off of your plants. Photo by Sally White

Vegetables

  • Re-mulch tomatoes-Remove old mulch and destroy it. It harbors bugs, bug eggs, blown in weed seeds and fungus.  A fresh new layer of mulch will help you keep an even soil moisture level.  This will prevent both cracking and blossom end rot
  • Continue removing suckers from tomato plants
  • Trim tomato bushes branches that have outgrown their supports
  • Pick cucumbers and okra daily
  • Side dress all plants with hign nitrogen composts like mushroom or cotton bur
Now is a good time to plant fall blooming bulbs like spider lilies and oxbloods.

Now is a good time to plant fall blooming bulbs like spider lilies and oxbloods.

Ornamentals

  • Trim shrubs so they are slightly fuller at the bottom than the top. This will allow sunlight to reach the entire plant and prevent “leggy” shrubs
  • Plant more zinnias and sunflowers
  • Clip back any remaining foliage of daffodils, jonquils or narcissus
  • Plant fall blooming bulbs like oxbloods and spider lilies

Lawns

  • It is now time to apply nitrogen to your St. Augustine
  • Fertilize trees by applying your fertilizer at the drip line of the canopy