The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (of the 2016 Spring Garden) by Patty G. Leander

You’ve probably heard the saying that the weather in Texas is one long drought interrupted by occasional floods. It’s also a series of El Niño (wet) and La Niña (dry) weather patterns that affect the temperatures and precipitation. Here in Austin we are coming out of an El Niño which contributed to delightfully mild spring temperatures and the wettest May on record at Austin-Bergstrom Airport – 15.82 inches.

The resulting rains promoted vigorous – I’m inclined to call it rampant – growth in the vegetable garden. An interesting season for sure. Here are some observations that some of you may relate to: the good, the bad and the ugly, with a weird and a wonderful thrown in for good measure.

sliced-tomatoes

Even when juicy heirlooms and big, round slicers fail cherry tomatoes produce generously.

THE GOOD

My Water Bill: The lowest in a long time!

Vegetable-containers

Spring-planted containers thrived without supplemental water until early June.

Containers: It was a great year for my spring “pot” garden. I used large containers (mostly 7-10 gallon) and planted compact varieties of green beans, tomatoes, cucumber, squash and okra in late March; by early June I was harvesting from every container. Then it got really hot, really fast and the rains turned off. All I have now is ‘Baby Bubba’ okra, ‘Peppermint’ Swiss chard and okra, but that’s ok because I’m ready to give the pots a rest until cooler temperatures return in fall.

Heirloom-corn

Country Gentleman’ (left) and ‘Glass Gem’ (right)

Corn: No raccoons – that alone is a minor miracle in my backyard! They tend to show up every year for the corn but not this time. Maybe the rain deterred them or perhaps they didn’t care for the varieties I chose.  This year I planted an old-fashioned shoepeg variety called ‘Country Gentleman’ (an heirloom from 1890); I also made room for a small section of ‘Glass Gem’, a beautiful, jewel-toned flint corn carefully selected for its vibrant colors by a seed saver and corn grower from Oklahoma named Carl Barnes.

Carl was part Cherokee, and he was devoted to preserving the colorful, traditional corns of Native Americans. The sturdy stalks of ‘Glass Gem’ are 8-9 feet tall which makes the individual ears look disappointingly small, but once you pick them and pull the husk back the striking colors and translucent sparkle will make your jaw drop. I never knew Carl Barnes but I thought about him when I planted my ‘Glass Gem’ seeds in March and was thankful for his lifetime fascination with corn. He passed away a month later, on April 16, at the age of 87. You can help keep Carl’s legacy alive by planting ‘Glass Gem’ in your own garden. Seeds are available from Victory Seeds (www.victoryseeds.com), Baker Creek (www.rareseeds.com) or Seeds Trust (www.seedstrust.com ). The kernels can be ground or popped but frankly they are so stunning I plan to just admire mine for awhile.

growing-quinoa

Cherry Vanilla’ quinoa got off to a great start but quickly rotted in the wet, rainy environment.

THE BAD

Quinoa Fail: I picked up a packet of quinoa at a garden show thinking it would be fun to try.  It takes 90-120 days for the seed heads to form and dry.  I planted seeds in mid-February and it grew impressively during March and April, developing beautiful crimson blooms, then it rained and rained and rained some more and the beautiful pink flower heads rotted under the constantly moist conditions. One packet contains plenty of seeds so I will try again, perhaps this fall.

garden-snails

Snails were everywhere! This bucket o’ snails was brought to the June meeting of the Austin Organic Gardeners by a member who presented a brief show and tell on how to collect and prepare snails for the dinner table…I think I’ll stick with vegetables and more familiar protein sources.

Crunch, crunch; buzz, buzz: The snails and mosquitoes came out in full force with the wet weather; I could hardly walk to my garden without hearing the crunch of a snail shell below my shoe or the buzz of a mosquito around my ears. Now that the rains have tapered off so have the snails, but no matter how often I empty standing water or replenish the mosquito dunks in collected rainwater the mosquitoes just keep buzzing. Be sure to eliminate all sources of standing water – even the ones you don’t think about or see, like shallow plant saucers, gutters, depressions in plastic tarps or folds in bags that might hold even a small amount of water.

When working outside follow the four D’s: DRAIN (standing water), DEET (apply repellent to clothes and exposed skin), DUSK & DAWN (stay indoors at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active) and DRESS (wear long sleeves and long pants).

early-blight-tomatoes

Blight-infected tomatoes were a common sight in many gardens this year.

This was an especially bad year for early blight in tomatoes, a soil-borne fungus that appears as small dark spots on the lower leaves, which gradually turn yellow and dry up. The fungus spreads quickly, moving up the plant, infecting healthy green leaves as quickly as you can remove dying diseased foliage. Unfortunately, once plants are heavily infected no amount of fungicides, fertilizer or magic sprays will save them so at this point in the season it may be best to cut your losses. Harvest remaining tomatoes (fried green tomatoes, anyone?), remove infected plants and plan to rotate the next round of tomatoes to another spot in the garden. We’ll have more on early blight in a future post.

THE UGLY

squirrel-damage

How can such cute critters do such an ugly deed?

Critters: I’ve always heard that squirrels and birds eat tomatoes because they are thirsty, but not in this case. There was water everywhere yet they still opted for the red, juicy tomatoes. Squirrels always seem to go for the best tomatoes so at least you could say they have good taste.

THE WIERD

Tromboncino-Squash

These squash truly grow inches overnight – be careful or their vines will take over!

Tromboncino Squash: This vigorous Italian heirloom starts out green like a zucchini and ends up tan like a butternut squash. Eating quality is best when fruit is less than 12 inches long, but it will quickly and effortlessly reach 3 feet in length – especially with lots of rain! It’s crunchier than zucchini and perhaps a little nutty – I have heard its flavor described as walnuts combined with pumpkin and a touch of artichoke. It can be sautéed, grilled, baked, eaten raw in salads or spiralized into zoodles. It is supposed to be less susceptible to squash vine borer, however in my experience the borer still gets in but the vines quickly outgrow it. And if you like squash blossoms this may be the squash for you – they are big, beautiful and plentiful. Sources for seed include Territorial Seed (www.territorialseed.com) and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (www.southernexposure.com).

THE WONDERFUL

mom

One of five siblings born to a farmer and a teacher in Burlington, North Carolina, my mom definitely has some strong stock in her genes. She catered weddings, cooked Wednesday night church suppers and helped start the Meals on Wheels program in Midland. A Registered Dietitian, she was usually wearing a white uniform, white shoes and a hairnet and was often known as Liz-The-Whiz-The White-Tornado.

Happy 90th Birthday, Mom!!  We celebrated my mom’s birthday earlier this month. She has always loved purple – growing up in Midland we were “the house with the purple door”. So at age 90 we went all out with a purple party. I even presented her with purple beans, purple eggplant, purple tomatoes, purple potatoes and a big, purple artichoke bloom. All fresh from the garden. She picked out her favorite purple shirt to wear that day – the one that says “It’s all in the attitude”.

Her stamina for physical activity has dwindled over the last couple of years but she’s great at shelling. She lives close so I do my best to supply her with butterbeans, cowpeas, pecans, peanuts, shrimp and anything else that needs to be shelled. She works so fast that by the time I get home she’s calling me saying, “Your peas are done, do you have any more?” Those farming genes run deep…sometimes I think I ought to hire her out.

Gardening with Delightfully, Daffy Ducks

A couple of years ago we adopted two pairs of Peking ducks – sort of.  In reality the ducks adopted us.  The children of a deceased friend put her ducks on the 56 acre lake behind us.  Soon after the ducks arrived on the lake they started showing up at our house.  At first they simply waddled up to the house, ate whatever fell out of the bird feeders and then went home.  However, it wasn’t long until they discovered the chickens (and all the food they wasted) and their visits grew longer. Now, two years later, these ducks are an adorable part of our daily routine.

peking-ducks

We truly love our adorable, adopted ducks

Each morning around daybreak the ducks line up single file and waddle up to our house from the lake.  They spend their days hunting bugs, eating bugs, breeding (they do a lot of this in the spring), laying eggs and finally resting.  Our favorite duck behavior happens each time we drive up to the house.  When they hear our car coming they run quacking to the driveway.  They sit outside the car and they quack and quack and quack and wiggle their little tails until we follow them to the coop and feed them.  After their evening meal they lounge around a little more and then finally line up again and waddle back to the lake.  Yes, my wife and I have really fallen for our adopted ducks.  Their goofy antics are just downright enjoyable to watch plus, their love for bugs and nut grass (I have heard they love to eat nut grass but I have not actually seen them do it), makes them just as practical and useful as they are adorable.

Each morning our adopted ducks march up from the lake in a single file line

Each morning our adopted ducks march up from the lake in a single file line

While I am sure this will bring some comments, we have slowly come to the realization that ducks are much better pets for gardeners than chickens.  Don’t get me wrong, we still love our chickens.  However, if you love your gardens and you have free range chickens you will quickly understand why I have come to this conclusion.

Over the past three years I have been shocked to learn just how much damage chickens do to gardens.  Most of the articles I read before we got our chickens mentioned their “digging and scratching” behavior.  However, the articles I read kind of glossed over this.  Some tried to sell the behavior as “soil aeration” and other made it sound cute. Let me assure you, it is not cute.   The first thing a chicken does when it leaves the coop in the morning is head to your vegetable garden or flower beds to dig and scratch and dig and scratch and dig and scratch some more.  While I had hoped that my chickens would be different, they were not.  A chicken is gonna do what a chicken has to do.  So, after three years of fighting to keep them from destroying my gardens, I am throwing in the towel.  I have finally accepted the fact that chickens and gardens really do not mix.

chicken-proof-garden

Here you can see some of the defensive measures I have empoyed to try and prevent my chickens from digging up everything in my garden

Over the last three years I have watched our chickens turn newly tilled and mounded rows in flat, shapeless messes.  I have seen them eat freshly planted seeds, new sprouts and dig up every ornamental and vegetable transplant I set out.  I have also watched them kick fresh mulch out of my beds almost faster than I could put it down. I quickly learned that if I was going to have free ranging chickens and lovely gardens I would literally have to change the way I gardened.

Despite the head aches they caused me, we really loved those silly chickens — so I adapted.  For the past three years I have built fences, I have covered my freshly planted rows with chicken wire to keep them from scratching and I have built wire frames to protect transplants and new sprouts.  While I understand this is what chickens do, I have finally arrived at the point were I am tired of trying to beat them.  The good new is, ducks don’t do any of these things.  All they do is roam our gardens and eat our bugs.  Because of that, if I switch to ducks for my free ranging pets, I will never again have to cover my freshly planted rows or build wire frames or temporary fences.  In short, if I confine my chickens and let my ducks roam free I can garden they way I used to.

buff-orpington

Sally and I love our chickens! However, since they are so destructive I am afraid their free ranging days are coming to an end

Before these four adorable birds literally arrived on our doorstops, my wife and I knew absolutely nothing about ducks.  However, since they adopted us, we have become such big fans of these gentle, affectionate and somewhat goofy birds that we have decided to let them be our only free ranging bug catchers and keep our chickens confined to the very lovely and luxurious coop and yard that I built for them when we got them.  If you are a gardener (and I assume you are since this is a gardening blog) and you are considering raising chickens, I highly recommend investigating ducks too.  You can raise and house them in almost the exact same way as you raise chickens.  They lay pretty decent eggs (which make wonderfully dense and moist cakes) and they eat your garden pests without destroying your plants or garden beds.  I have also heard they love nut grass!  If that turns out to be true then everyone I know should get themselves a whole flock of ducks!!!

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!

Chicken-Coop

Don’t feel too sorry for the chickens that will soon be confined. They have a very nice coop, run and yard that is more than adequate for their needs

Breed Your Own Daylilies

May is undoubtedly the prettiest month of the year in my garden; and the thing that makes my garden outstanding this time of year is the daylilies.  I grow an old fashioned variety of daylily called Hyperion.  My wife’s grandmother got these daylilies sometime in the 1950s.  For the next several years they thrived and reproduced so successfully in her Garden Oaks yard that she divided them and took them to her ranch in Lovelady, Texas.  My wife’s grandmother passed away 15 years ago.  However, the daylilies she planted over 60 years ago are still thriving at her east Texas ranch and now, in our Brenham yard.

Thanks to my old-timey daylilies, May is the prettiest time of year in my yard

Thanks to my old-timey daylilies, May is the prettiest time of year in my yard

While daylilies make my yard pretty, my yard pales in comparison to the hundreds of feet of daylilies that line Highway 290 just west of Brenham on Magnolia Hill Farms (5059 HWY 290W, 979-251-4069).  My buddy Nathan Hanath is an organic farmer and a commercial daylily grower.  He currently has over 800 named cultivars for sale and hundreds more cultivars that he has bred.  Right now they are all in bloom and a visit to the farm will literally blow your horticultural mind.  While Nathan loves growing organic produce, his zeal for breeding daylilies is contagious.

Magnolia Hill Farm in Brenham has 0ver 800 cultivars of daylilies.

Magnolia Hill Farm in Brenham has 0ver 800 cultivars of daylilies.

According to Nathan, you do not need to be a professional to breed and grow beautiful daylily hybrids.  With just two or more cultivars, a few horticultural skills and some basic documentation skills, home gardeners like you and I can create daylilies that are just amazing as the pros.

Breeding:

Botanically speaking, daylilies are perfect flowers.  That means they have both male and female organs inside each flower.  The male parts are called stamens.  There are six of these in the center of the flower and they are topped with the pollen you will use to make your cross.  The female parts of the flower are collectively called the pistil.  Pollen is applied to a part of the pistil called the stigma.  In the daylily this is a single, long curved structure that is generally noticeably longer than the six stamens.  To make your cross, gently remove a stamen from the first plant you want to breed.  Then use it like a small paint brush to gently paint the pistil of the mother plant.

In this lovely daylily you can clearly see the stamens covered in pollen and the stigma that receives the pollen

In this lovely daylily you can clearly see the stamens covered in pollen and the stigma that receives the pollen

When the flowers open in the morning their pollen is slightly sticky.  In fact, according to Nathan, some daylilies have not even made their pollen by the time their flowers open.  Because of this, the best time to pollinate daylilies is around 10:00 am.  His experience has shown him that you will be much less successful with your crosses if you breed too early in the morning or too late in the afternoon.

Documenting Your Crosses:

While paperwork is not necessary to cross breed flowers, it will provide you with the information you need to understand what crosses work and which ones don’t.   Some daylilies have 11 set of chromosomes (diploid) and some have 22 (tetraploid).   “Dips” and “Tets” (as they are called in the trade) will not cross.  Since it is almost impossible to determine if your flowers are dips or tets, good documentation will allow you to understand which plants you can cross and which ones you can’t.

It is a good idea to make a permanent tag that notes the pollen plant and mother plant when crossing daylilies

It is a good idea to make a permanent tag that notes the pollen plant and mother plant when crossing daylilies

Good documentation will also allow you to begin to understand which plants do a good job of passing on their genetics.  As you get better at breeding, your documentation will allow you to begin to understand which of your plants will more likely create good results when crossed with others.

Once you place the pollen on the stigma, immediately make a record of the cross.  When Nathan crosses daylilies he attaches a little plastic tag to flower he just crossed.  His tag lists the name of the pollen cultivar first and the mother plant second.  These tags will not only help you remember what plants you have crossed but they will also be a visual reminder of which pods have the hybridized seeds at harvest time.

Here Nathan applies pollen to the mother plant

Here Nathan applies pollen to the mother plant

Growing your Crosses:

If you made a successful cross, your plant should produce seed pods in about 3 days (as soon as the spent blooms fall of the plant).  The seeds in those pods will be ready to harvest when the pods dry out, turn brown and begin to open.  For most cultivars this happens from mid to late June.  Most pods have 6 to 8 seeds in them but some will have more or less depending on the cultivar.  When the seed pods open the seeds are ready to plant.  However, if you will be saving them for a while, you need to lay them out in a warm dry place and let them cure further for a few days.  Once this final drying is done Nathan takes the seeds and places them in small, clear ziplock bags.  Nathan cuts the tag that was on the flower down and slips it inside the baggie with the seeds so he knows what he has.  Once your seeds are packed, place them in the crisper draw of the refrigerator.  This will provide the the seeds the chilling hours they need to germinate.

The tags Nathan applies at pollenation will follow the seeds into the bag that holds the seeds and finally into the seed starting trays

The tags Nathan applies at pollenation will follow the seeds into the bag that holds the seeds and finally into the seed starting trays

Nathan plants his seeds around Labor Day.  He fills 50 cell planting trays with a high quality potting mix and wets it thoroughly with a water/hydrogen peroxide mixture that is mixed at a rate of two tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide per gallon of water.  He places 1 seed in each cup and lightly covers them in soil.  He then uses this solution to water his plants until he moves the seedlings to his beds in early October.

Seed pods begin to form as soon as the spent flower falls off

Seed pods begin to form as soon as the spent flower falls off

While many people put their seeds under grow lights, Nathan sprouts his seeds in an enclosed back porch.  Once the little seedlings sprout he moves them outside under shade.  While most of his seeds germinate in a week or two, he has seen some cultivars take over a month to sprout.  Once the sprouts reach 2 to 3 inches tall, Nathan plants them in partial shade beds that are well worked with compost.

With a few skills and a little practice, the average gardener can breed exceptionally beautiful daylilies in their home garden.

With a few skills and a little practice, the average gardener can breed exceptionally beautiful daylilies in their home garden.

If you are going to be passing through Brenham you really need stop at Magnolia Hill Farms and visit with Nathan. His knowledge and enthusiasm for daylilies is infectious.  I have grown daylilies for years.  However, until I saw 800 cultivars side by side in a single place, I never understood why over 6000 people were members of the American Hemerocallis Society (AHS) .  After visiting with Nathan I finally get it.  Most gardeners enjoy creating things.  While it is fun to design and install a new bed or border, nothing could be more fulfilling than filling your design with beautiful flowers that you also created.

 

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!

Poppies, Potatoes and Protecting Squash by Patty G. Leander

Patty-Leander-Spring-Garden

I sure don’t need a calendar, computer or even a meteorologist to tell me it’s spring. Anytime I am outdoors I can see it, hear it, feel it and smell it. Not to mention the chirp of crickets in the house!

There is so much happening in the vegetable garden this time of year that it is hard to narrow it down to just one topic but here are three that are currently at the top of my list.

POPPIES: Jay has written about poppies before (http://masterofhort.com/2012/11/remembering-our-veterans-with-poppies/) but they are so lovely in spring they deserve another mention, especially since this is when we gather seeds for sowing next year. Poppies start to look a little ratty if left long enough to reseed themselves but a few seedpods will give you hundreds, if not thousands, of seed for sowing and sharing, so it’s not necessary to let ALL your blooms go to seed. Choose a few for saving and let the seedpods dry on the plant, long enough so you can hear the seeds rattle. Carefully snip off the seedpods (keep them upright so the seeds don’t scatter to the ground, unless that’s where you want them), remove the seeds and store them in a cool, dry location. Sow seeds in the fall for a spectacular spring display in 2017.

Patty-Leander-Poppies

Save seeds from spring poppy blooms to plant in the fall.

POTATOES: Potatoes are growing everywhere in my garden – under mulch, under hay, in cages and tucked in between other plants. My garden is big but it’s not big enough to grow bushels of potatoes and still have room for other favorite vegetables so I usually grow a few reliable favorites, like Yukon Gold and Red La Soda, along with a few less common selections. This year I have planted 8 varieties: Red La Soda, Austrian Crescent, Red Thumb, Russian Banana, Purple Majesty, Purple Viking, Russet Nugget and Lemhi Russet.

Patty-Leander-Potatoes

Potatoes go in where carrots came out, flanked by celery and tomatoes (left); on the right a fingerling variety grows under straw in a cylinder lined with fine mesh screen.

It sounds like a lot but I only purchase a pound of each variety since I am growing them more for fun and discovery than to fill a larder. I usually order my seed potatoes in December or January from Potato Garden in Colorado; they are one of the few places that will ship potatoes at the time we need to plant them here in Central Texas, which is mid-February. And they have an amazing selection of potatoes and growing information on their website (www.potatogarden.com).

Patty-Leander-Potatoes-2

More potatoes tucked inside an A-frame constructed for pole beans and sugar snap peas (I wouldn’t recommend this unless you are petite in stature and into lots of bending, crouching and squatting – hey, this is how I get my exercise!). You can see their rapid growth from April 6 (left) to April 22 (right). As soon as the sugar snap peas on the right are done producing they will be removed to provide easier access to the potatoes.

Most of my potatoes were planted on February 26th, a little later than I would have liked, but the potatoes seem to be making up for lost time. Potatoes like people weather – mild days, cool nights, not too wet and not too dry – and so far Mother Nature has obliged.

Patty-Leander-Potatoes-3

From left to right: Purple Majesty, Russet Nugget and Red Thumb on 4-10-16

Patty-Leander-Potatoes-4

Growing by leaps and bounds: Russet Nugget (center) catches up to Purple Majesty and Red Thumb by 4-22-16

Growing potatoes means lots of surprises since you don’t get to see what is going on below ground. As the season progresses it’s hard for me to resist the temptation to dig around the base of the plants feeling for swollen tubers. Last week, much to my surprise and delight, I harvested 3 pounds of new potatoes from a planting of sorry looking Red La Sodas left over from my fall harvest.

Red-La-Soda-Seed-Potato

They may not look like much but these Red La Sodas had plenty of life yet to give

If you are growing potatoes be sure to keep the base of the plants mounded with soil, mulch or hay as they grow – it’s ok to bury some leaves in the process. The goal is to keep the tubers covered so they are not exposed to the greening effects of sunlight. And if you decide to start digging around to harvest some baby spuds remember that they do not store as well as mature tubers so eat and enjoy!

Red-La-Soda-New-Potatoes

Surprise and delight: a little bit of careful digging yielded three pounds of new potatoes eight weeks after planting Red La Sodas left over from my fall harvest

SQUASH: Squash vine borer is a perennial problem for many gardeners but there is a new product to help battle this annoying pest. It is called Micromesh, and after using it the last couple of years I find that I like it better than floating row cover. It is available through the Territorial Seed catalog (www.territorialseed.com) and I have also seen it at The Natural Gardener in Austin. If you have seen this product at other Texas nurseries please share in the comments below.

Micromesh-Squash-Vine-Borer

Micromesh: a new product to battle squash vine borer

Micromesh is a fine mesh netting used to keep bugs off of plants. It still allows water and light to pass but it is more see-thru than standard row cover and provides better ventilation, an important factor as the warm season progresses. I cover my squash plants as soon as they emerge and don’t uncover until I see female flowers. You can recognize a female flower because it has a small, immature fruit attached at the base of the petals. Once the flower gets pollinated the baby squash starts to develop, but if no pollination takes place the flower and the fruit shrivel and fall off. If you choose to keep your squash covered after female flowers appear you will have to perform the role of pollinator. Jay covered the how-tos in a previous post: http://masterofhort.com/2013/01/hand-pollinating-squash/.

Patty-Leander-Squash

All types of squash produce both male and female flowers on the same plant; the male flowers generally appear first, followed by female flowers which have a tiny, immature fruit at their base

Hope you are having an awesome spring season in your vegetable garden! People pests (mosquitoes-grrrr),  plant pests, diseases and heat are lurking and soon enough will make their presence known, but for now we can give thanks for the rain, revel in the mild temperatures and watch in amazement as a seed becomes a plant and a plant becomes a harvest.

Grow Better Caladiums

Caladiums do well in the shady, sub-tropical yards of Texas and the Gulf South because they originated in the shady tropical forests of Amazon Basin in South America.  While these beautiful foliage plants have a reputation as shade loving plants, breeders have developed several strains that do well in part to full sun.  Today there are more than 1000 named cultivars of caladiums for growers to choose from.

Caladium-Border

Caladiums make a lovely statement on their own, but they also play well with other perennials. Thanks to Classic Caladiums for sharing these lovely pictures.

While the color patterns are quite varied, caladiums come in three distinct types and each performs slightly different.  Before planting your caladiums decide which type will best fit your need.  Fancy leaf caladiums produce large heart shaped leaves.  Most of these varieties like the shade and do best when planted in the ground.  These large scale plants make a huge impact when massed around a tree trunk, combined with perennial shrubs or mixed in beds with impatiens and begonias.  Strap leaf caladiums produce smaller plants with smaller foliage that is shaped more like a “spear point ” than a heart.  However, smaller does not mean less beautiful.  Strap leaf caladiums take the heat and sun better than the fancy leafed varieties.  Because of this they are a great choice for those of us in the more tropical parts of the South and they also work well in containers.  They also do extremely well in the ground, especially in areas that get six or more hours of sun.  Dwarf caladiums have heart shaped leaves but do not get as large as the fancy leafed varieties.  While beautiful in their own right, they pair well with the strap leaf varieties.  All three types of caladiums can be planted and cared for in about the same way.

Tiki-Torch-Caladium-Full-Sun

Tiki Torch is a Classic Caladium creation that can withstand full sun. Thanks to Classic Caladiums for sharing these lovely pictures.

Your caladiums will do best if planted in some shade, especially the fancy leaf varieties.  Caladiums planted in deep shade will actually get taller than those that are planted in dappled shade or sun.  While all caladiums appreciate some shade, most can take more sun than they are given credit for.  In fact, almost all commercially grown caladiums are grown in fields under full sun.  Caladiums grown in full sun will produce more vibrant colors.  However they will also require more frequent watering than those grown in shade.  If caladiums receive too much sun they can develop small holes along the veins and brown around the edges.  For this reason it is best to try and select a spot where the plants will get no more than 6 hours of sun a day.  It is better if this sun comes in the morning.  The hot evening Texas sun is hard on all plants.  It is especially hard on these large leafed beauties.

Mixed-Caladium-Border-3

Caladiums also pair well with many annuals. I really like the pairing here with the chartreuse coleus. Thanks to Classic Caladiums for sharing these lovely pictures.

If you are buying caladiums for the first time you need to realize that almost all caladiums are infected with one or several viruses.  While these viruses will not stop the tubers from producing well the first year, the size and color of subsequent years growth will diminish with each succeeding year.  To avoid this, ask your retailer if they buy their bulbs from Classic Calidiums.  Classic Caladiums has spent considerable time, effort and money to develop bulbs that are as disease free as possible.

When selecting where to plant your caladiums remember that caladiums like rich, moist, well-draining soil – but they don’t like to stay wet.  Caladiums also like organic matter as much as the next plant, so mix in some finished compost about a month before planting.  This will also help drainage if you have heavy clay soils. Caladiums grow best in slightly acidic soils.  Because of this they will benefit from a monthly sprinkling of bone meal.  If you use commercial fertilizers, be gentle.  Too much nitrogen will damage the tubers and affect the color of the foliage.  Slow release fertilizers like Osmocote work well.

Potted-Caladiums

Caladiums make excellent potted plants. Thanks to Classic Caladiums for sharing these lovely pictures.

If you are planting in containers, select a good quality potting mix.  While there are many mixes out there you want one that has a good amount of peat in it.  If the mix also has perlite or vermiculite in it, all the better.  All of these components increase the soils water holding capabilities.  That will be very important in July and August when you are trying to keep the soil moist in our 100 degree temperatures.  You should also mulch with pine needles or other high quality organic mulches to help regulate water loss.

If you are planting in containers, or you just want to get a jump on the season, you can purchase potted plants.  You can also get a jump on the season by starting your tubers inside four to six weeks before the last frost date.  If you are going to grow from dormant tubers look for firm roots that feel rubbery when squeezed.  Spongy roots are damaged and should be avoided.

Caladiums have one or more eye that is noticeably larger than the others.  These eyes will produce larger shoots than the other eyes.  If you want a nice rounded plant where all of the leaves are uniform in size, you will need to remove these.  De-eyeing is a relatively simple process.  You can take a small, sharp knife and remove about an 1/8th to 1/4th inch of material from the center of the large eye.  This is not brain surgery so you do not have to be incredibly accurate.  You just want to remove enough tissue to destroy the eye.  When doing this, be careful not to damage any of the surrounding smaller eyes.  If you damage too many eyes you will defeat the purpose.  Improperly de-eyed bulbs produce straggly plants.

Sangria-Leaves-Caladium

Mass caladiums like “Sangria Leaves” together to make bold color statements in your beds and borders. Thanks to Classic Caladiums for sharing these lovely pictures.

Caladiums tubers are generally sold by size.  If you have a choice, which you may not, (the garden center that sells me my tubers only sells one size) buy the largest tubers they have.  These will be called Number 1’s.  Quite simply, bigger bulbs perform better.  However, that doesn’t mean the smaller bulbs will not do well for you.

Once you have selected and de-eyed your tubers you are ready to plant.  Caladiums should be planted after all chances of frost have passed.  Even then you don’t want to plant them until the soil has warmed to at least 55 degrees.  If caladiums are planted too early they will rot.  Many caladium growers will tell you that you should never plant before Mother’s Day.

Plant your caladiums eye side up 1 ½ to 2 inches below the soil.  This is the same for both in ground plantings and in containers.  With smaller tubers it is often difficult to decide which side of the tuber is up.  If you cannot determine which side is up don’t worry too much about it.  Caladiums will grow regardless of which side you put down in the hole.  If the bulb is upside down it will just take longer for it to sprout.

Add caladiums to your potted arrangements to making stunning floral displays

Add caladiums to your potted arrangements to making stunning floral displays. Thanks to Classic Caladiums for sharing these lovely pictures.

One of the wonderful things about caladiums is how little maintenance they require.  Once you have planted them, all you have to do is keep them moist.  Because it gets so hot here, keeping soil moist can often be a challenge.  Because of this it is a very good idea to mulch your caladiums.  Earlier I mentioned mulching with pine needles.  As pine needles break down they will help lower the pH of your soil.  This is good as caladiums prefer a pH of 5.5 to 6.5.  However, if you don’t have ready access to pine needles, use any good organic mulch.  The important thing is applying enough mulch to cut your water loss.  Many people grow their caladiums in pots or hanging baskets.  Since both of these containers can dry out very quickly it is very good idea to deeply mulch them.  Regardless of how you grow or how much you mulch them, be aware that for optimal performance you will want to keep an eye on your soil moisture.  Caladiums do not like wet feet but they also should never be allowed to completely dry out.

Like other bulbs, corms and tubers caladiums are perennial.  However, they are perennial with a catch.  If you live south of Interstate 10, you can leave your caladiums in the ground year round, especially if you mulch.  I live just north of that line.  Since we had such a mild winter this year I probably could have left mine in the ground this year.  However, I didn’t.  Each fall I dig my tubers up and then store them for use next year.

"Aaron" looks lovely with impatiens.

“Aaron” looks lovely with impatiens. Thanks to Classic Caladiums for sharing these lovely pictures.

Most people dig their caladiums in late September or early October.  You will know it is time when the colors in the foliage begin to “fade” and the stalks begin to noticeably droop.  When this happens, take your spade or shovel and carefully remove the tubers with the leaves still attached.  Once you have them out of the ground find a covered place to lay them out and let them dry for several days.  Sometimes five days works but sometimes it takes up to two weeks before the leaves dry up and turn brown.  When the bulb is ready for storage the leaves will easily separate from the tuber exposing a dry and cured node where the leaf was attached.    Once the tubers are dry you can store them in sand, sawdust or peat.  Try and keep them around 60 degrees throughout the winter.

Few plants are as beautiful and carefree as caladiums.  These tropical plants are ideally suited for the Texas climate.  Even though they have a reputation for being shade lovers, breeders are constantly developing new varieties that make these reliable and pest resistant beauties available to a wider range of gardeners.   If you have never grown them before now is definitely the time to give them a shot.  New production methods and a certification program from Classic Caladiums will ensure that the tubers we buy this year will continue to thrill us now and well into the future.

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!

A Garden Visit with Eli Kubicek

Each year I buy several of my ornamental plants from a small, independent grower named Eli Kubicek.  Eli has been organically growing and propagating vegetables and ornamentals in his Brenham gardens for 8 years.  Over the past few years Eli has developed quite a following of local people who literally line up to buy his high quality starts and transplants.  While it is not unusual for gardeners to line up to purchase high quality transplants from an organic grower, it is incredibly unusual for the producer of those transplants to be just 10 years old!

Eli Kubicek is a plant propagating 10 year old entreprunuer from Brenham, Tx

Eli Kubicek is a plant propagating 10 year old entreprunuer from Brenham, Tx

I met Eli three years ago when he was a second grader in my wife’s class at St. Paul’s Christian Day School.  For some occasion or another Eli presented her with a lovely pot of aloe vera that he proudly told her he had propagated himself.  Thanks to that gift I now have pots and pots of aloe vera all around my house.  We were so impressed with this plant propagating second grader that we have made it a point to buy from him each and every year.

Eli's skills are not limited to plant propagation. Here he proudly displays a birdhouse he designed and built.

Eli’s skills are not limited to plant propagation. here he proudly displays a birdhouse he designed and built.

Eli lives on six acres outside of Brenham with Dad Stan, Mom Becky and Duece, their flop eared, yellow guard dog.  The Kubicek’s live in a rambling farmhouse that started life as a two room home in the late 19th century.  Stan and Becky have spent years restoring the old house and cultivating some very attractive ornamental and vegetable beds around it.  When Eli came along, his parents included him in everything they were doing.  Around the time Eli turned two they noticed that he had a real affinity for plants.  Since that time they have encouraged his interest.  Both of his parents are what I would consider craftsmen.  Stan (who earns his living as a college math professor) is a fine furniture and cabinet maker .  Becky (who is a nutritionist by trade) has created some of the most beautiful cottage beds and garden rows I have ever seen.  Working alongside his parents, Eli has developed an eye for detail, an appreciation of hard work, the value of “re-use” and the confidence needed to tackle whatever issues he encounters while building a garden, a bird house or a remote control Lego car.

Eli recently installed his latest ornamental bed. He laid the the brick border himself and is filling the bed with several plants that he has divided or propagated

Eli recently installed his latest ornamental bed. He laid the the brick border himself and is filling the bed with several plants that he has divided or propagated

When it comes to plants, Eli now has free reign as far as his parents are concerned.  Each year he selects the plants from the garden he wants to propagate.  He and his dad then get a load of mulch from the local landfill.  To create his potting mix, and the compost for his gardens, Eli sifts the mulch with a slotted tray from the nursery that was used to hold 8 cell transplant packs.   The sifted compost fills his pots and feeds his gardens and the mulch is used to suppress weeds in those same plots.

Eli designed this lovely bed at the entrance to his house. He also grew all of the plants.

Eli designed this lovely bed at the entrance to his house. He also grew all of the plants.

Each year, Eli’s inventory and sales grow.  As he has gotten older he has learned to propagate more and varieties.  This year, I went to buy my annual “Eli Plants” at the Brenham Christian Academy Bazaar.  His booth was lovely and it was stocked with figs, Turk’s Cap, rosemary, several salvias and lots of succulents.  He also had some of the most beautiful Hardy Amaryllis for sale that I have ever seen.  Since my wife is an amaryllis lover we came home with all he had for sale.

A clump of Hardy Amaryllis in that Eli divides and sells at his annual plant sale

A clump of Hardy Amaryllis that Eli divides and sells at his annual plant sale

Eli’s enthusiasm for growing and propagation has been an inspiration for me.  While I love to garden it is always refreshing to find someone who shares your loves and passions.  Eli is an outstanding young man with so much promise and potential.  I am truly glad our paths have crossed and I can’t wait to see where all of his gifts and talents take him.

Name:  Eli Kubicek

Location:  Brenham, Tx

Years gardening in this location: 8 years (80% of my life!)

Favorite thing to grow:  Snapdragons and perennials in general

Eli has several varieties of salvia that he propagates each year. This year he added pineapple sage to his list of offerings

Eli has several varieties of salvia that he propagates each year. This year he added pineapple sage to his list of offerings

Best growing tip:  Don’t “over tend” your garden.  In my garden I don’t do much except weed, fertilize twice a year and water when necessary

Best pest control tip:  We don’t have a big problem with pests.  However we have had grasshopper problems in the past.  For those I pick and smush or let our guinea take care of them.  For slugs I pick and smush with a stick.  I have a good guard dog name “Duece” who takes care of armadillos and other big pests.

Best weed control tip:  Yank ‘em out before they spread

Biggest challenge:  Covering and uncovering all of the plants I am propagating before and after a frost or freeze.  I also have a problem keeping the guinea (grasshopper control) away from the melons,strawberries and persimmons

Favorite soil amendment:  Fresh compost which I make myself!  I don’t use that bagged stuff.

Preserving the harvest:  Some vegetables don’t make it to the house.  They are just too tempting and I eat them immediately.  For example, carrots (I just brush off most of the soil and munch away), green beans and bell peppers .

Favorite advice:  Don’t let weeds get out of control!

Eli with mom Becky and dad Stan in front of a bottle tree that they made by wiring together old Christmas Tree trunks

Eli with mom Becky and dad Stan in front of a bottle tree that they made by wiring together old Christmas Tree trunks

 

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!

BBQ, Bluebonnets, and Rockin’ Out in Llano by Patty G. Leander

Today I’m taking a break from vegetables to remember a BBQ legend, revel in Texas wildflowers and be amazed by rocks.

Goode-Company-Restaurants

In memory of and gratitude for Texan and BBQ icon Jim Goode, founder of Houston’s Goode Company Restaurants, who passed away last month at the age of 71. Like so many Texans, I have always loved Goode Company BBQ, Brazos Bottom Pecan Pie and the Goode Company logo, above. For a bit of nostalgia that takes you back to the 1977 origins of that first restaurant on Kirby Lane, click over to the Goode Company website: http://www.goodecompany.com/our_start.asp.

Mesquite-bar-b-que

Goode woode: Jim Goode’s use of mesquite for smoking brisket and grilling burgers earned him the title King of Mesquite

If you are reading this and you live in Texas let’s all pause for a moment and thank our collective lucky stars. We are a big, diverse, dynamic state with an amazing history, incredible natural resources, the best BBQ and the friendliest people around. Gridlocked traffic and contentious politics can weigh a little heavy at times, but spring is here, Texas is blooming and it’s a beautiful, invigorating sight to see.

Texas-redbud

Early blooms of Texas redbuds promise that spring is on its way

Bruce and I had the opportunity to take it all in recently during a drive from Austin to Midland. I had been invited to give a talk on edible landscaping at a monthly seminar hosted by the Permian Basin Master Gardeners, but they did not have to twist my arm to come; Midland is my hometown and it had been over two years since making the pilgrimage to my West Texas roots.

Texas-Wildflowers

The highways bloom with Lady Bird’s legacy: Bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush (left), Texas poppy and Indian blanket (right)

We took our usual route on Hwy 71, noting the landmarks along the way: the small Post Office in Valley Spring (never a line), Coopers BBQ in Llano (always a line), the rows of grapevines in Pontotoc (the Chickasaw word for “Land of Hanging Grapes”) and the “Heart of Texas” monument in front of the McCulloch County Courthouse in Brady (the geographical center of Texas). US 87 from Brady takes us to Eden where the main intersection in town offers us a choice of either DQ on the north side or Venison World to the south and also marks the halfway point between the house I now live in and the house I grew up in. From Eden it’s on to San Angelo for a pit stop and an iced tea at McAlister’s, then the cautious drive through Carlsbad where we were nabbed several years ago for exceeding the speed limit (it’s easy to miss the two mile stretch where the speed limit drops from 70 to 60 MPH). After Carlsbad the miles pass quickly – 30 minutes to Sterling City, 30 minutes to Garden City and then target acquired – the Midland skyline appears on the horizon. The Tall City.

Though Midland has changed over the years, through times of boom and bust, my nostalgia grows as the miles pass, anticipating familiar faces and places, a drive through my old neighborhood and a ‘meat chalupa, add guacamole’, at Taco Villa (can’t seem to shake this habit from high school). But this time the most exciting part of the 300 mile trek was passing rivers full of WATER. Every river and creek we passed – the Pedernales, the Colorado, the San Saba, the Concho – were flowing at levels we haven’t seen in years. I know this is a stark contrast to the flood conditions that so many are dealing with in parts of East Texas but after several years of exceptional and extreme drought conditions throughout West Texas it was a sight and a blessing to behold.

2016-rock-stacking-world-championship

Stacks of rocks got our attention as we crossed the Llano River

On the way to Midland something caught Bruce’s eye as we crossed the Roy Inks Bridge in Llano…stacks of rocks strewn along the banks of the river. We were on a fairly tight schedule to get to Midland and with 250 miles left to go we decided to check it out on the return trip and we are so glad we did. We learned that the stacked rocks were part of the 2016 Rock Stacking World Championship sponsored by the Llano Earth Art Festival. There were four categories of stacking – height, balance, arches and artistic/freestyle – all created without adhesive, wire or any other aids. Visitors were invited to wander among the stacked creations, and to build their own if so moved. I think my rock-admiring, geologist dad would have heartily approved.

 

2016-Rock-Stacking-World-Championship-2

Rocks hanging in the balance – the rock stacks remain in place until nature displaces them

 

rock-stacking

Inspired by the rock stacks I decided my garden needed to have at least one.

Thank you Permian Basin Master Gardeners and Midland/Ector County Extension for the invitation to speak and for your edible garden enthusiasm and welcoming hospitality!

 

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!

Spring Time is Weed Time!

If you need a reminder as to why gardening in Texas is so difficult, here it is.  According to something I heard on the radio the other day, this is the earliest spring since something like 1884.  Despite that, if you planted your “tomatoes” when you were “supposed to” in a normal year, they still got burned by a late season freeze during the earliest spring ever!  Gotta love Texas!!!

tomato-transplants

I hope your tomato transplants made it through the late season cold snap. If they didn’t, I hope you have enough left to replant

If you took my advice and planted your tomatoes last week then I hope you got them covered before the cold weather came in.  If not, I apologize.  There was a 95% chance it would not freeze.  Since it froze anyway many of you will probably need to replant if your tomatoes lost most of their leaves.  This late season cold snap also hit ornamentals.  If you had already put out tender flower transplants they likely got burned as well.  Pull them up and replant if more than 50% of their foliage was burned.

Butter-cup

Some weeds are too pretty to pull! Even though they are a bit invasive, I leave most of the buttercups that pop up in my beds

If last weekend was the perfect time for planting, then this weekend is the perfect weekend to get control of the weed problems that are “popping up”.  I get a lot of weed control questions on the blog.  For an organic gardener, the options are fairly limited.  You can pull them, hoe them or spray with an acetic acid mixture.  Only problem with acetic acid is it kills everything.  So if you are trying to kill a few dandelions in the middle of your beautiful lawn, cover them with a shield.  A great trick is cut the bottom out of a jug.  Place the bottomless jug over the weed and spray your herbicide into the top of the container.   This will limit the amount of grass, or other plants that are potentially affected by overspray.

acetic-acid-weed-spray

Concentrated acetic acid is a great organic weed killer.

If you go to the trouble of pulling and chopping all of those weeds this weekend, be sure to mulch afterwards.  The best way to control weeds is to prevent them and nothing does that better than a thick layer of mulch.  I am lucky enough to have a truck so I get my mulch in bulk from my local landfill.  I use wood chips in my ornamental beds and spoiled hay in my vegetable garden.  Any dead, organic material will work.  Another thing I often use in the vegetable garden is newspaper.  If you wet newspaper and then overlap several layers over an area it will dry and form a very good barrier.  Cover it with mulch to make your rows and beds look a little mote tidy.

Sweet-green-fertilizer

Sweet Green is a high notrogen, organic fertilizer that works as well on your vegetables as it does on your lawn

I also get a lot of lawn questions this time of year.  Here are my tips.  Do not put out pre-ememrgent weed and feed products now.  It is too late.  The fertilizer is going to feed the weeds that have already germinated.  Instead, mow your lawn on your lowest setting.  In fact I would do this for the next two or three weeks in a row.  This will kill most of the weeds that are growing now.  After mowing put out a high nitrogen fertilizer like “Sweet Green”.

Another great thing about spring is the chickens start laying again on a regular basis!

Another great thing about spring is the chickens start laying again on a regular basis!

Time to Plant the Spring Garden

Kentucky-wonder

This weekend is a great time to plant most beans from seed.

If you have not already planted your spring garden, this weekend is the perfect time to put out those transplants that you have been babying and also plant lots of other things from seed.  I have not planted yet so this will be a busy weekend for me.  I realize that many of you took advantage of the unusually warm “winter” weather we have been experiencing and planted a little early.  Great!  You took a chance and you will be rewarded with early harvests.

I did not plant early.  This is partly because I am not much of a gambler and partly because life got in the way again.  I have learned that life is a whole lot like the weather.  While you can prepare for the storms you don’t know when they will come.  Luckily this storm is going to pass with very little damage.  However, it did sideline my dreams of a large, magazine worthy spring garden.

st-pauls-christian-day-school

Take every chance you can to teach children about the miracle of gardening

I worked very hard this winter to get my dream garden ready.  I finally finished the granite walk path that runs from my deck all the way through my main gardens.  I also installed six water spigots that will eventually provide water to my drip irrigation system that will water twelve 35’ long rows.   Despite these valiant efforts, my dream garden will have to wait until the fall.   Oh well, such is life.  Sometimes things happen and gardens just don’t get planted on time.

Crimson-Glory-Rose

Even though this is a busy time in the garden, take time to smell the roses!

In the space I have available in my plain, old, six row, crowed garden, I will plant cucumbers and contender bush beans from seed and Tomato and squash transplants.  If you are new to gardening know that there are many, many things that can be planted now (check out Patty Leander’s planting guide here).  While I will be growing contender bush beans you can plant all types of bush and vine beans.  You can also plant Southern Peas like Purple Hulls, Creamers and Crowders.  If beans are not your thing you can plant sweet potatoes from slips or from potato pieces just like you do your Irish potatoes.  In my opinion it is a little early for melon and gourds but I have some growing out of my compost pile so nature apparently says plant them now too.  Got a taste for hot, buttered sweet corn straight form the garden?  Plant it now.  It is also a great time to plant pumpkins.  I have 50/50 luck with pumpkins.  Sometimes they do well and sometimes bugs and fungus get to them before they get half grown.  My best pumpkins ever grew out of the compost pile on accident.  Because of this, I am truly going to throw some pumpkin seed in the compost pile and see what happens.

dr-william-welch-garden

Spring planting is not just about vegetables. Plant some petunias or phlox now to brighten up your beds

Even though I did not get the garden of my dreams this spring, I am thankful for the garden I have.  I have come to realize that it is not what, or how much, I grow that really matters.  What really matters is being outside tilling the soil, pulling weeds, watering transplants, checking the poppies and larkspur to try and figure out when they are going to bloom, enjoying the bluebonnets or watching the first martins of the year return to their house.  Maybe this is why my garden expansion didn’t happen.  I just didn’t get to it.  When I am outside I am truly inspired, and often distracted, by the glory of the world that surrounds me.  And that’s ok.  While life happens, like nature, it is mostly a beautiful thing.   When I am in my garden I am surrounded by, and reminded of, the blessings of my own life and the majesty of my creator’s greatest creation.

texas-redbud

Even though they are fading now, redbuds are one of the reasons I love being outside this time of year.

So tomorrow, when you are out there weeding, tilling and planting be sure to take time to enjoy this most beautiful time of the year.  Before you pull that dandelion, notice what a delicate, beautiful and perfectly designed flower it is. Enjoy the song of the mockingbird that is trying to lure a girlfriend into his nest and revel in the sight and smell of the beautiful roses that are blooming early this year.  For a long time now, I have realized that the act of gardening is much more than the art of growing food.  While all of your efforts will fill your stomach, it is still times between all of the activity that will feed your soul.

Happy Spring y’ all and happy gardening!

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!

Fixer Upper

Tomorrow night at 8:00 pm CST, the television show Fixer Upper will air it’s season finale.  Be sure and watch because the house that they will reveal is the absolute most fabulous house they have ever done.  You may be wondering why I know this information.  Well, I know about this incredible little house because it belongs to my daughter and her husband!  So thrilled that these outstanding young adults had the opportunity to be a part of the wonderful things Chip and Joanna Gaines are doing for Waco!  Sorry I can’t show any more pictures until after the show airs.  However, here is a shot to perk your interest from JoJo’s Intagram account.

NOTE:  Now that the show has aired we can show the pictures.  Click here to see the entire gallery on Fixer Upper’s HGTV page.

fixer-upper-shotgun-house

My daughter’s house is the finale for season 3 of Fixer Upper!!!