Surprises

I don’t know anyone that does not like surprises.  The fact that someone thought enough of you to do something nice for you is enough to make even the grumpiest among us smile.  This past Wednesday I was feeling particularly grumpy.  My work had been one problem after another.  I did not get out of the office until late so I did not get home until it was almost dark.  I was both stressed and exhausted by the time I pulled into the driveway.  As I walked out to the mailbox I could see that something was different.  Since it was beginning to get dark I couldn’t immediately put my finger on what the difference was but I had that uneasy feeling that I always get when my wife says “Do you notice anything different about me?”  As I got closer I was able to determine that the “something different” was a five gallon hibiscus sitting in the middle of my yard.  I couldn’t help but smile.

hibiscus1

The lovely blooms of this hibiscus will always remind me of the kindness of a friend

As I walked toward the plant I tried to figure out who would leave me such a lovely gift.  As I came up to it I realized there was more!  Whoever left the hibiscus also left a lovely book on Texas Natives, a touching little inspirational book called “The Dash” and a native Texas coral bean called Erythrina herbacea.

My gifts came from a long-time reader from Giddings, Tx.  He is what I like to call a serious hobbyist.  He loves horticulture and he grows a variety of ornamentals, Texas natives and unusual succulents.  He also has a knack for finding odd and rare plants growing in his local area.  Over the past few months we have become big e-mail buddies and he has even dropped by to visit.

hibiscus4

The buds of the hibiscus are almost as attractive as the flower they release

This act of kindness made my day.  Since both of the plants he left me are perennial, I will enjoy them for years and remember his kindness each time I look at them.  I truly love the plants and I was touched by his thoughtfulness.  However, I enjoyed the books just as much.  The little inspirational book is based on a poem by Linda Ellis called “The Dash”.  “The Dash” is a lovely poem about striving to live a good life.

This poem has been around for a while.  However, it is truly inspirational and it picked me up, and reminded me of what is truly important, just when I needed it most.  Many thanks to my friend from Giddings for this thoughtful gesture.  I am very glad that you decided to share a little of “your dash” with me.

hibiscus3

Sometimes the back of the flower is just as lovely as the front

THE DASH by Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak

At the funeral of a friend

He referred to the dates on her tombstone

From the beginning to the end.

 

He noted that first came the date of her birth

And spoke of the following date with tears

But he said what mattered most of all

Was the dash between those years.

 

For that dash represents all of the time

That she spent alive on earth

And now only those who loved her

Know what that little line is worth.

 

For it matters not how much we own

The cars, the house, the cash

What matter is how we live and love

And how we spend our dash.

 

So think about this long and hard

Are there things you’d like to change?

For you never know how much time is

That can still be rearranged

 

If we could just slow down enough

To consider what’s true and real

And always try to understand

The way other people feel.

 

And be less quick to anger

And show appreciation more

And love the people in our lives

Like we’ve never loved before.

 

If we treat each other with respect

And more often wear a smile,

Remembering that this special dash

May only last a little while.

 

So when your eulogy is being read

With your life’s actions to rehash

Would you be proud of the things they say

About how you spent your dash?

This post has been shared on the HomeAcre Hop.  Hops are a great way to quickly gather lots of gardening and homesteading information from bloggers across the web.  Please check it out!

Posted in Flowers, Gardening Basics | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Slow Down!

“My candle burns at both ends; It will not last the night;  But ah my foes and oh my friends-It gives a lovely light!”Edna St. Vincent Millay

spider-lily-3
A couple of times of year I know exactly how Edna St. Vincent Millay felt when she wrote those words.  Lately my life has been a big mess of pressure and hurry up.  I am glad to say that after today I can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Regardless of what happens at work tomorrow I am loading my sweetie into the car and heading off to The Southern Garden History Symposium in St. Francisville, LA tomorrow afternoon.  While we look forward to all of our little get aways, this is one of those where we feel like we have actually earned it!

spider-lily-2

This latest bout of “busy-ness” has kind of robbed me of the best fall bulb season I have ever had.  I have been propagating oxbloods (Rhodophiala bifida), spider lilies (Lycoris radiata) and yellow spider lilies (Lycoris aurea) for years.  Over the past few weeks my bulbs have bloomed in record numbers and their petals have been bright and gloriously colorful.  I have been planting and dividing these southern heirlooms for several years now and Mother Nature finally rewarded my efforts – and I was too busy to take the time to enjoy it!

lycoris-aurea-2

I don’t want to sound like a whiner.   As the old saying goes “You can curse the rose bush because it has thorns or you can thank God that the thorn bush gives us roses”.  I am very thankful that God sent me the best bulb season ever.  While I might not have been able to spend as much time with them as I wanted, I did get to see them and I am truly thankful for that.

lycoris-aurea-1

This “missed” bulb season has me in a bit of a melancholy and reflective mood.  One of the things that kept us busy this past month was the birth of our first grandchild.  He was born to two exceptional young people.  My daughter is working on her PhD and her husband is finishing his residency.  THEY are extremely busy people.  Looking back from where I am now I know that I did not take the time to truly slow down and observe the miracle of my own children’s new life.  Now, I wish I had.  My prayer for them is that they do not repeat my mistakes.  Life is beautiful!  Whether it comes in the form of a precious new baby or in the form of a beautiful new flower.  It is beautiful and it is fleeting.

oxblood

My friends, slow down!!!!  Take time to watch the flowers bloom!  Hold your children, and smell them!  There is no better smell in the entire world than a new baby!  It may be many, many years before you get to smell it again.  Tempus Fugit, Memento Mori!!!!

P.S.  If you have figured out how to actually take my advice, please leave me a comment here or on Facebook!

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Grow Luscious Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)

Lettuce is a very interesting crop to me.  Most people I know eat a ton of it.  However, I have never had anyone tell me that lettuce is their favorite vegetable of all time.  In fact, if you asked ten people to name their favorite vegetables, I am willing to bet that lettuce would not make anyone’s list.  At its best, lettuce is a just an exceptional supporting character.  While you won’t find many recipes that feature lettuce, we all know that our salads and sandwiches are much better when lettuce is a part of them.

lettuce-7

Lettuce may not be your favorite food but it sure makes a lot of your favorite foods better!

People have been eating lettuce for a very long time.  Scientists believe that lettuce was domesticated about 5000 years ago in ancient Egypt.  Sometime around that time period, the Egyptians started turning a weed whose seeds they used for oils and medicines into a leafy food source.  The Egyptians eventually shared lettuce with the Greeks and the Greeks eventually shared it with the Romans.  In fact, the term “lettuce” came from the Roman name for the plant “lactuca”.

Red-Sails-Lettuce

Since lettuce readily cross pollinates, breeders have built a wide array of varieties

Since lettuce cross pollenates easily, breeders have produced a wide array of plant types and colorations.  Lettuce types range from loose, frilly leaved varieties to the tight balls of leaves you see in iceberg lettuce.  Lettuce coloration can vary from pale green to deep burgundy with some varigations that have both colors.  Because of this range of colors and forms I use lettuce as an ornamental as much as I do for its nutritive qualities.  Lettuce is generally broken up into seven categories based on leaf structure and use.  These categories are leaf, romaine, crisphead, butterhead, summercrisp, stem and oilseed.  Seeds of the first five are readily available to the home gardener.

Lettuce's many colors and textures make it as useful in the flower bed as it is in the kitchen garden. Photo by Patty Leander

Lettuce’s many colors and textures make it as useful in the flower bed as it is in the kitchen garden. Photo by Patty Leander

Growing Lettuce – Lettuce is a great crop for the beginning gardener.  It is fairly easy to grow and it is quick to harvest.  However, lettuce does have a couple of problems you need to be aware of before you plant.  First, lettuce of all types hates high heat.  Sustained temperatures over 75 degrees will make lettuce “bolt”.  Bolting is a term that is used to describe the process where some trigger (heat or stress like drought, weed competition or pests) makes the leafy, edible plant we eat produce a tall stalk that flowers and seeds.  Once this happens lettuce leaves become tough and bitter.  Second, just about every pest known to the gardener likes lettuce as much as we do.  Be aware that if you grow lettuce for many seasons you will eventually have problems with mammals, bugs, bacteria and viruses.

Baby lettuce in a square foot garden.  Photo by Bruce Leander

Baby lettuce in a square foot garden. Photo by Bruce Leander

Here are some basics for growing lettuce.  In addition to cool temperatures (45 to 75 F are preferred by most varieties), most lettuce prefers a soil that is slightly acidic.  Most lettuce varieties do best in soils with a pH of 6.5 to 6.8.  With so much crossbreeding going on with lettuce you can find varieties that will tolerate more alkaline soils.  Lettuce also likes loose, nitrogen rich soil.  Since the plants have a relatively small root system they need ample water and nutrition in the soil to help them thrive.  Also, even though many varieties will tolerate some shade, most prefer at least 6 hours of sunlight a day.

When it comes time to plant remember that lettuce seeds actually need light to germinate.  Because of this, cover them lightly with soil when you plant.  If you plant the seeds  too deeply they will never germinate. When I grow romaine or heading type lettuces I start my plants indoors in coir pellets around the first week of September.  I then transplant them in late September or early October.  I place my transplants about a foot apart for head types and six inches apart for upright types.  Lettuce that is planted too close together deprives the plants of sunlight they need to thrive and also invites in a large number of pests.

lettuce-2

I use lettuce to line the beds of my potager

When planting leaf type lettuce I direct sow the seeds in my garden beds.  I dig a shallow furrow with my Cobrahead Hand Hoe and then sprinkle the little seeds down the row.  Once the seeds germinate I thin to allow at least 6” between plants.  Lettuce needs sunlight to develop color and nutrients.  Lettuce that is planted too closely together will be stunted, pale and low in nutrients.

When trying to establish seeds it is important to keep your seed bed consistently moist.  Since these little seeds were basically planted on top of the ground, their first roots are often exposed to air.  If your seed beds are too dry, these little roots will dry out and die.

Lettuce does not compete well with weeds.  Keep your beds weed free to ensure the best quality lettuce.  Photo by Bruce Leander

Lettuce does not compete well with weeds. Keep your beds weed free to ensure the best quality lettuce. Photo by Bruce Leander

Once your little plants are established you want to keep the area around them weed free.  Lettuce has a small root system.  Most plants only have some type of small taproot and then a few lateral roots.  Weeds can easily suck up the moisture that these plants need to thrive.   Also, if lettuce feels stress from weeds it will begin to bolt.

Since most varieties of lettuce are ready to harvest in about 45 days you should not need to fertilize if you plant in a bed that has been well worked with organic material.  However, if you want the biggest and greenest leaves possible you can provide a weekly supplement of compost tea or other liquid organic product.  If using a commercial product (like Miracle grow), mix the solution at half the recommended rate and apply weekly.

Lettuce is plagued by a variety of pests.  Once your plants are established begin to watch for bug damage or signs of disease

Lettuce is plagued by a variety of pests. Once your plants are established begin to watch for bug damage or signs of disease

Once your plants become established begin to watch for problems.  Bunnies love lettuce and so do many different caterpillars and bugs.  If bugs become a problem you can apply a translucent row cover to help keep them away.  Diseases are a different matter.  There are several bacterial and viral agents that can attack your lettuce crop.  These agents can cause leaf wilt, leaf spot, curled leaves, rot and even death.  If you believe you have a virus or bacterial infection you need to remove the plants as soon as possible.

Since lettuce is a cool season plant you always have to be prepared to manage unexpected freezing temperatures.  Luckily, even though lettuce is about 96% water, it is a fairly hardy plant.  Most varities can survive temperatures as low as 28 without much damage.  If it is going to get colder than that you will need to cover them.  While some varieties can take a freeze down to 24 degrees, temps this cold will burn the leaves of almost all varieties.  To extended their life as long as possible in cold weather, mulch heavily and set up hoops so you can easily apply row cover.

20121030-007One more thing, lettuce is a great container plant.  I love growing lettuce in containers because I can keep them close to my house for easy harvest and so I can easily bring them inside when temperatures plummet.  With so many textures and colors it is easy to make lovely and edible potted arrangements to keep by the back door.  Plus, if you plant the leafy or romaine types, you can snip off the outer leaves for smaller harvests and keep the same plants producing for months.

This post has been shared on the Homestead Barn Hop.  Hops are great way for you to connect with and learn from some of the best bloggers on the web.  Be sure to check them out!

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Plant Happiness – A Mural for the Guest House

Funny how some of the smallest things in life make the biggest impact.    Last year my wife bought a dish towel to hang on our oven door.  This towel had an embroidered bouquet of flowers with “Plant Happiness” stitched above it.  Something about that dish towel made my wife and her best friend (Margaret Hartley) decide that the back wall of our little guest house would be the perfect place for us to paint a mural that featured that cute little phrase.

Sally and I are so thankful to Kat Hartley for our making of al mural dreams come true!

Sally and I are so thankful to Kat Hartley for our making of al mural dreams come true!

To make our “mural dream” come true, we hired Austin artist and graphic designer Kat Hartley.  Kat is the daughter of Sally’s best friend (and “partner in wild ideas”).  Sally has known Kat all of her life.  We were totally blessed that the tiny little blond girl with the sweetest little voice ever grew up to become a beautiful and talented young woman with so many gifts and skills.

The process begins!

The process begins!

Kat came for a visit to get a feel for us and our property.  Then she sent us sketches back and forth so we would have a basic idea of what to expect.  Her designs were AWESOME and we could not wait for her to get started!  Kat showed up this past Friday evening ready to work.  After setting up some scaffolding she started the process of transforming the tiny little sketch that we agreed on into a great big mural.  We had so much fun sitting under the stars, sipping wine, listening to good music and watching her work.

Thank goodness Kat had awesome friends to help her knock or mural out in record time!

Thank goodness Kat had awesome friends to help her knock or mural out in record time!

Getting the sketch on the wall was the easy part.  Since she did it at night, it was cool and enjoyable.  However, Saturday was a different story.  I swear it was 120 degrees by 10:00 am!  We felt so sorry for her painting out there in the hot Texas sun.  Luckily Kat had two INCREDIBLY GOOD friends that came to help her knock out the heavy lifting.  Michael Brown and Yasaswi Paruchi met Kat in Japan where they all went after college to teach English to rural Japanese school children.  Together again, they laughed, joked, sang, danced and painted!  To keep them from passing out we brought them lots of iced mint tea, sunscreen and big floppy hats!  They had fun in spite of the heat and we made new friends.  It was such a joy to have all three of these outstanding young adults at our house.

Almost done!

Almost done!

Thanks to the help of her friends, Kat finished the bouquet part of the mural early on Sunday.  By the end of the day on Sunday she had finished the lettering.  After a few final touches on Monday we had a mural!

The piece isn't done until the signature goes on!

The piece isn’t done until the signature goes on!

We are absolutely in love with the cheerful wall art that now greets travelers as they approach our house and gardens.  We also absolutely love our young friend for sharing her talents with us!  If you would like your own Kat Hartley masterpiece be sure to leave me a comment.  Kat paints and she also does very high end antique letterpress work.  If you are looking for a one of a kind announcement, invitation, cards or artwork, Kat is your girl! (and BTW, she still has a precious little voice!)

There is no cuter guest house in all of Washington County!

There is no cuter guest house in all of Washington County!

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Make Room for Cool-Season Peas by Patty Leander

This weekend I will be planting a lot of sugar snap peas.  I love these peas but it can be a bit tricky to make these babies thrive in our hot climate.  Below is a re-post of a great article from Patty Leander that will give you all the info you need to successfully grow these garden treats.

There is nothing better than fresh green peas from the garden.  Photo by Bruce Leander.

There is nothing better than fresh green peas from the garden. Photo by Bruce Leander.

A few months ago I wrote about heat-loving Southern peas (Vigna unguiculata), but now that September is here and temperatures have begun to cool off ever so slightly, it’s time to switch gears to cool-season peas (Pisum sativum): sugar snaps, snow peas and garden peas.

Peas have been in cultivation around the world for thousands of years, but the sugar snap pea that we enjoy today is American-made, thanks to a plant breeder named Calvin Lamborn of Idaho. In the 1970’s he crossed a garden pea with a snow pea, resulting in a tender pea with a crisp, sweet, edible pod. This new pea was introduced to the public in 1979, and has been a sensation ever since. ‘Sugar Snap’ was the original introduction of edible-podded peas.  It is a vining variety that can reach 5-7 feet. ‘Super Sugar Snap’ is an improved version with resistance to powdery mildew.  Both varieties mature in 62-65 days.

Cascadia Peas ready for harvest. Photo by Bruce Leander

Most peas are compact bush types that grow 24-30” tall and begin producing slightly earlier than the vining types.  A few reliable sugar snap varieties include ‘Cascadia’ (58-60 days to maturity),

‘Sugar Ann’ (52-56 days), ‘Sugar Bon’ (56 days) and ‘Sugar Sprint’ (55-58 days). If garden or shelling peas are more to your liking try the heirloom varieties ‘Wando’ (68 days) or ‘Little Marvel’ (62 days). A more recent introduction is the 2000 All-American Selection winner called ‘Mr. Big’ (58-62 days), a vining variety which grows 5-6 feet and  produces large pods filled with 8 to 10 plump green peas.

 

Wando shelling peas ready for harvest. Photo by Bruce Leander

Sugar snap peas can be eaten at any stage of development; the entire pod is edible when the peas inside are small and immature. Fresh, crunchy pods can be served with dip or sliced and added to salads. Whole pods are delicious sautéed or roasted (see accompanying recipes). Peas that are allowed to fully mature can be shelled and prepared like any garden pea, by simmering in a small pot of water just until tender.

Peas can be a challenge to grow because they are particular about the weather and must be planted during a short window of opportunity. Too hot and they will wither away, too wet and they succumb to powdery mildew, too cold and they will drop their blooms and potential pods. Plant peas at least 8 weeks before your first average freeze in fall so plants have time to grow and mature before the cold weather sets in. In my Central Texas garden I usually plant peas in early September, and again a week or two later. Then I keep my fingers crossed and hope that the peas grow fast and our first frost comes late.

Cascadia Pea blooms. Photo by Bruce Leander

The soil will still be hot at these recommended planting times, so try shading it with row cover, shade cloth, burlap or several layers of newspaper for a week or so before planting to help moderate the temperature. Planting after a rain is ideal, but if you are not so lucky be sure to irrigate a day or two before planting so the soil will be moist and ready to receive seed.

Because peas are legumes they have a special relationship with a beneficial soil bacteria called Rhizobia. The peas allow the bacteria to live on their roots and the bacteria extract nitrogen from the air and convert it to a form the plants can use. If you are planting peas in a new garden, a container or an area of your garden that has not hosted legumes before you can encourage this relationship by inoculating the pea seed before planting to ensure that the bacteria is present in the soil. The inoculant is often available at garden centers or it can be ordered through most seed catalogs. The process is simple and involves nothing more than coating the dampened seeds with the inoculant powder before planting.

 

To harvest pods: hold the vine in one hand and pull pod with the other. Photo by Bruce Leander

Plant the seed 1-1½” deep and 3-4” apart. Bush-type varieties that grow 24-30” are considered self-supporting, but I find that they are easier to tend and easier to harvest if given some kind of support. They will also get better air circulation (therefore less prone to disease) if grown upright and off the ground.  Try using string or chicken wire tied between stakes or insert pruned branches next to the plants for support.  The tall, vining varieties, like ‘Super Sugar Snap’, must have sturdy support and should be planted at the base of a tall tomato cage, a fence or a trellis.  Once your peas start producing, harvest them frequently for peak quality and to encourage more production. And be sure to use two hands when harvesting or you could easily pull up an entire vine (been there, done that).

Your home-grown peas that travel from garden to kitchen in mere minutes will look better, taste better and cost less than any fresh sugar snap pea that you can buy at a grocery store – yet another reason to grow-your-own!

 

Sugar Snap Peas with Mushrooms. Photo by Bruce Leander

Sugar Snap Peas with Mushrooms

Some peas, especially heirloom varieties, have strings, so be sure to snap off the end and peel the strings off before cooking.

½ lb sugar snap peas, trimmed

1 T olive oil

½ lb mushrooms, sliced

Sauté peas in olive oil 3-5 minutes. Add mushrooms and sauté 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Roasted Sugar Snap Peas

1 lb sugar snap pea pods, trimmed

2-3 Tbsp olive oil

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp pepper

Toss pods with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in a 475° oven for 12-15 minutes.

Posted in Gardening Basics, Potager, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Eating in Season: The End-of-Summer Lull by Patty G. Leander

Below are several easy and tasty recipes that will allow you to get the most out of those late season summer veggies that are still producing.  Photo by Bruce Leander

Below are several easy and tasty recipes that will allow you to get the most out of those late season summer veggies that are still producing. Photo by Patty Leander

It’s the end of August, the kids are back in school, 100 degree days are still in the forecast and here in Central Texas we are experiencing the end-of-summer-lull in the vegetable garden. The bounty of the spring garden has passed and we are not quite revved up for fall, but for now the heat-loving (or in some cases heat-tolerating) mainstays in my garden include okra, Malabar spinach, Southern peas, hot peppers, yardlong beans, tomatillos, cherry tomatoes and eggplant. The Northern half of the country may be boasting a summer harvest of juicy, ripe tomatoes and fresh picked sweet corn, but bless their hearts, they were still waiting for the soil to warm up on Mother’s Day and before you know it they’ll be pulling out their jackets and snow shovels again! Yet we lucky Texans will soon have another opportunity for cucumbers, green beans, tomatoes and squash followed by a round of broccoli, cauliflower, beets, peas, greens and more to finish out the year. It’s good to be Texan.

Since “grow what you eat and eat what you grow” is the vegetable gardener’s motto here are a few of my favorite recipes for enjoying the current harvest.

Shelling-Peas

Many hands make light work when shelling southern peas

Fresh Southern Peas

These heat- loving peas are so versatile – enjoy them fresh, freeze some for later or dry them on the vine for winter storage. When cooking a fresh pot of peas harvest and snap a few immature pods to add to the pot the last 15-20 minutes of cooking.

2 slices bacon, chopped

½ cup chopped onion

3-4 cups shelled cream, crowder, black-eyed, purple hull peas

2-3 cups water or chicken broth

½ tsp sugar

½ tsp salt

½ tsp pepper

Cook bacon until crisp. Remove from pan.  Sauté onion in drippings. Add remaining ingredients and simmer 45-60 minutes, until peas are tender, adding more liquid if necessary. Season to taste. Serve with crumbled bacon and hot cornbread.  Yield: 4-6 servings

Ninfas-Green-Sauce

You can make the world famous Ninfa’s Green Sauce at home with your late season vegetables. Photo by Bruce Leander.

Ninfa’s Green Sauce

Recipe courtesy of The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation in Houston, Texas.

3 medium green tomatoes, coarsely chopped

4 fresh tomatillos, husks removed and chopped

2-3 jalapeños, coarsely chopped

3 garlic cloves, chopped

3 medium avocados

3 sprigs cilantro

½ tsp salt

1 ½ cups sour cream (no disrespect to Mama Ninfa but I use half this amount, and sometimes even substitute yogurt)

Combine tomatoes, tomatillos, jalapeños and garlic in a saucepan. Bring to a boil (tomatoes will cook down and release liquid), reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Remove from saucepan and cool slightly.  Peel, pit and slice avocados. Place all ingredients in a blender with avocados. Add sour cream and blend until smooth. Spoon into a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Serve in small bowls as a dip for tortilla chips. Refrigerate leftovers.

Vegetable-quesadillas

Vegetable quesadillas are a great, lower cal way to use your late season veggies with a Southwestern flair! Photo by Bruce Leander.

Vegetable Quesadillas

1 mild pepper, diced

2 zucchini/yellow squash, diced

1 tablespoon oil

1 cup fresh corn kernels

2 small tomatoes, diced

¼ cup cilantro

1 tablespoon lime juice

4 flour tortillas

2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded

Heat oil in skillet and sauté peppers and squash 3-4 minutes. Add corn and cook 2 more minutes. Stir in tomatoes, cilantro and lime juice and season with salt and pepper. Set aside. Heat one tortilla in a non-stick skillet until lightly browned. Flip tortilla and top with ½ cup vegetable mixture, then sprinkle with ½ cup cheese. Top with second tortilla and carefully flip over. Heat 2-3 minutes, remove from pan, cut into 4 wedges and serve.  Yield: 2-4 servings

grilled-okra

Yum, yum, yum…if you have an aversion to slimy okra be sure to try this – no slime at all, I promise! Photo by Bruce Leander

Grilled Okra

Toss whole, dry okra pods in olive oil, season generously with salt and cracked pepper.  Grill 10-15 minutes, until slightly charred and tender.

roasted-tomatoes

Roasting tomatoes really brings out their flavor! Photo by Bruce Leander

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Roasting tomatoes brings out an amazing, concentrated flavor – these beauties can be used in sauces, salads, sandwiches or simply as a savory snack. They don’t last long around my house, but they can be stored in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks or frozen for up to three months without compromising the flavor.

Toss whole cherry tomatoes generously in olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and roast 4-6 hours at 300°.

Aloo-Bhindi

Spice up your summer with this Indian classic! Aloo Bhindi is another way to use your okra and the last of those spring potatoes. Photo by Bruce Leander

Aloo Bhindi

Potatoes and okra cooked with fragrant Indian spices.

2 tablespoon canola oil

2 medium potatoes, sliced

1 lb okra, sliced

1 medium onion, sliced

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon coriander

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon garam masala

½ teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon cayenne

 

Heat oil in a large skillet. Add potatoes and cook until lightly browned,

5-10 minutes. Add okra and onion and cook gently over medium low heat

10-15 minutes. Add salt and spices. Mix gently, remove from

heat and cover pan. Let sit 5-10 minutes to absorb flavors before serving.

The really is nothing better than fresh salsa.  In fact, I know several gardeners that grow nothing but onions, peppers, tomatoes and cilantro so they can enjoy this treat fresh and then can it for later.  Photo by Bruce Leander

The really is nothing better than fresh salsa. In fact, I know several gardeners that grow nothing but onions, peppers, tomatoes and cilantro so they can enjoy this treat fresh and then can it for later. Photo by Bruce Leander

Salsa

4 fresh tomatoes, chopped (peeled and seeded if desired, but I usually don’t)
2-3 jalapenos, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, smashed
1/4 cup cilantro
1-2  teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
2-4 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Chop the onion, jalapenos, garlic and one tomato in a blender or food
processor. Then add the seasonings and the remaining tomatoes, and blend
till it seems right. This is personal taste. You can leave it chunky but I
usually blend out most of the chunks. Then I taste and usually end up
adding more tomatoes, lime juice and sometimes another jalapeno. I let it sit a
bit and then go back and taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. It gets a little redder and a little spicier as it sits.

 

** You do not have to use a blender/food processor. If you prefer, finely chop the first five ingredients by hand, then stir in the seasonings and adjust to your taste.

This corn recipe is another great way to enjoy your productive and heat loving malabar spinach.  Phot by Bruce Leander.

This corn recipe is another great way to enjoy your productive and heat loving malabar spinach. Phot by Bruce Leander.

Corn and Malabar Spinach Sauté

It’s hard to resist the fresh sweet corn that shows up at the supermarket this time of year. Pair it with your home-grown Malabar spinach for a quick and easy side dish. But don’t stop there – sauté sliced okra, zucchini, peppers and/or onion before adding corn and Malabar spinach.  

1 tablespoon butter or olive oil

4 ears of sweet corn, husked and cleaned

1 clove garlic, minced

2 or 3 handfuls of Malabar spinach, coarsely chopped (it will cook down by almost half)

Salt and pepper to taste
Cut corn kernels from the cob. Sauté corn and garlic in a medium skillet for 4- 5 minutes. Add Malabar spinach and a tablespoon of water, cover and cook until wilted, 3-5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve with Tabasco sauce, pepper vinegar or your favorite chopped herbs. Yield: 4 servings

BTW, this post has been shared on The HomeAcre Hop Be sure to check it out.  It is full of great posts from homesteaders across the web.

Posted in Patty Leander, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Our First Grand Chick

This past Sunday, Sally and I became grandparents – in a manner of speaking.  Our favorite hen, Chicken Little, hatched the first of what we were hoping would be a whole litter of baby chickens.  We started out with five fertilized eggs that we picked up from our friends at Yonder Way Farms in Fayeteville, Texas.   However, one precious little chick is all we got.

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Our precious little chick on the day she was hatched.

And that is just fine with us.  We really don’t need a lot of chickens at our house.  Our coop is not set up for more than six to eight birds.  In fact, this is why we waited so long to let one of our hens sit.  We didn’t want a crowded coop.

Sally and I decided to let Chicken Little sit for a couple of reasons.  First, she is the hen at the bottom of the pecking order.  It is hard for us to watch the constant pecking and pushing around that she is forced to endure.  We read on a blog that a batch of chicks had a way of bringing out the mother in all of the hens.  So, we are hoping that this little chick will make the other girls treat Chicken Little a whole lot better.  At the very least we are hoping it will prevent, or at least delay, the bad treatment that Chicken Little is forced to endure.

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Our baby is four days old and already getting pin feathers on her wings!

While Sally and I think Chicken Little is the sweetest, bestest hen of the bunch, she does have one little problem – she gets broody – A LOT.  In the past few months she has become broody four different times.  Each time this happened we were forced to quarantine her in a metal cage for a few days.  During that time she didn’t eat or drink much.  Plus it was just hard for us to watch.  So, since she is such a good girl –and she REALLY wanted to sit – we decided to let her.

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Chicken Little is such a good mother! Here, she and baby explore their world.

While we had hoped for a few more chicks, we are absolutely thrilled with our one little baby.  She truly is precious and Chicken Little is proving to be a great little mother.  Plus, the other hens really do seem to be impressed (and they are treating her a little better).  They keep coming up and looking at the baby.  When they get too close Chicken Little blows up her feathers and clucks and they politely walk off.  I truly hope that that this new baby raises her mom’s standing in the flock!

BTW, this post has been shared on The HomeAcre Hop and the Homestead Barn Hop #173.  Be sure to check them out.  They are full of great posts from homesteaders across the web.

Posted in Animals, Chickens | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Harvesting Grapes at Paradox House Vineyards

If you drop by our house on most evenings, you will find Sally and I sitting in the backyard sipping a nice glass of wine and feeding blueberries to our chickens.  Sally and I really enjoy our evening glass of wine.  In fact, my love of drinking wine inspired me to learn to make mustang grape wine.  While we really enjoy making our homemade wine, it just doesn’t taste like the wine we are willing to pay for.  Our mustang grape wine making experience made us wonder if we could learn to make wine that tasted a little less like cough syrup and whole lot more like the “store bought” wine that we really enjoy.

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These Blanc du Bois grapes will soon be turned into a fine Texas white wine.

Thanks to a chance meeting, Sally and I recently had the opportunity to learn how to make good wine.  We volunteered to help Doug and Linda Rowlett of Paradox House Vineyard harvest their white grape (Blanc Du Bois) crop.  Paradox House is a small, family owned vineyard in Industry, Texas.  When harvest time comes, they rely on a small army of volunteers to get their crop to market.  In exchange for a morning of hot, sweaty labor the Rowlett’s provide the volunteer’s an absolutely fabulous meal, free wine made at the vineyard (which was excellent), access to several dedicated hobby wine makers and the opportunity to help Doug and Linda make 200 gallons of really good wine.

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Paradox House Vineyards relies an an army of volunteers to bring in their crop.

Sally and I had so much fun harvesting these white grapes.  While it was hot, we really enjoyed the work and visiting with all of the seasoned volunteers.  Since I do not know that much about grapes or the wine industry, the horticulturist in me truly enjoyed everything about the day.  I learned a lot, made new friends, ate well, sampled a variety of great wines and learned how to make “store bought” wine.  What more could you ask for?

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People aren’t the only ones that like these grapes. The little purple grapes have been damaged by birds.

The Rowlett’s grow two main crops – white Blanc Du Bois and red Lenoir (also known as Black Spanish).  They sell their grapes to some of the top wine makers in our great state.  If you would like to help them harvest grapes (and learn how to make wine) you are in luck.  They Rowlett’s will be harvesting their Lenoir grapes this weekend.  If you are looking for a fun and unusual way to spend your Saturday, use the contact info at the bottom of this post to contact them (you must contact them before you show up).  They will appreciate it and I promise you will have a great time!  Families are welcome so load up the car with kids, cousins and friends.  The more the merrier!  Just be sure and dress appropriately.  Grape production is Texas agriculture. Please wear close toed shoes and dress for the heat!

Doug and Linda Rowlett
paradoxhouse@gmail.com
Paradox House Vineyard, Inc.
8544 Bermuda
Industry, TX 78944
281-435-7227
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Posted in Chickens, Field Trips, Fruit | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Combating Chlorosis

Chlorosis - abnormal reduction or loss of the normal green coloration of leaves of plants, typically caused by iron deficiency in lime-rich soils, or by disease or lack of light

I love black eyed peas.  Each year I dedicate more space in my garden to black eyed peas than any other vegetable.  This year is no exception.  I currently have two 33 foot long rows of pink eyed purple hulls growing.  Of those 66 feet of peas about 55 feet of them are doing fine.  The vines are big, dark green and producing lots of purple hulled peas.  However, a group of plants right in the middle of one of the rows is not doing very well.  They are bright chartreuse in color and they are not producing peas.

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Notice the chartreuse pea plants mixed in with the healthy plants. This coloration is good indicator of chlorosis

My chartreuse peas are suffering from a condition called chlorosis.   Chlorosis is a condition where plants do not produce enough chlorophyll to properly support their growth. Because of this lack of chlorophyll, chloratic plants produce foliage that is yellow to yellow green (or even white in extreme cases).   Chlorosis happens when something in the soil prevents the plant from taking up enough iron (or magnesium).  Both iron and magnesium are necessary for proper chlorophyll production

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The deep green veins and the light green foliage of chloratic purple hull peas

I have grown peas for years and I have had absolutely no problems.  However, I grew them in raised beds that I had amended with lots of river sand and compost.  These peas are growing in ground in a “new” garden that I started last fall.  The fall garden did fine– no problems with chlorosis.  Because of the early success in the new garden, the unmistakable signs of chlorosis on my peas really surprised me.

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These leaves are so chloratic they are beginning to die.

Cause – Even though I knew what was wrong with my peas, I did not know what to do for them.  So, I did the only thing I knew to do; I contacted my friends in extension horticulture.  I am very lucky to be friends with some truly talented horticulturists.  Whenever I have a problem I send them pictures and a description of the problem.  You can do the same thing.  Most extension offices have people that can answer your plant questions.  Do not be afraid to contact them.  It is their job to answer your questions and they love to hear from.

My first response came from Cynthia Mueller.   Cynthia is a volunteer with extension and one of the most knowledgeable plant people I have ever known.  Like me, she was interested in the fact that the problem was isolated to a certain part of the garden.  Our discussion reminded me that I once had a burn pile in the exact same place that was now experiencing the problem.  Next, I heard from Greg Grant.  Greg is definitely one of the top horticulturists in Texas and also the most successful plant breeder around.  When I told him what Cynthia and I were discussing he became convinced the burn pile was exactly what had caused the problem.  I grow in the alkaline black clay that is common in the central part of Texas.  Greg reminded me that since black eyed peas prefer a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.5 my alkaline black clay (high pH binds up iron) was not the best environment for this variety.  In addition, the burn pile added a lot of phosphorous and lime (both of these also bind up iron) to a soil that type that is already known to tie up iron. So, I am trying to grow these acid loving peas in an environment that is just not suited to them.

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Note the deep green foliage. this what healthy purple hulls look like

Treatment – There are two ways for me to correct the chlorosis in my peas.  One is a quick fix and the other involves making changes to the soil.  My buddy Tim Hartman (who is an extension agent) sent me some very detailed instruction on how to do both.  Here is Tim’s response:

“Different cultivars can vary some in their efficiency at extracting iron from the soil. Iron availability can also vary a lot from one part of the row to the other depending on factors like watering (water with high calcium would raise the pH) or whether you’ve applied a lot of phosphorous fertilizer (organic or inorganic) to that soil (ties up the iron). You could apply chelated iron as a foliar or drench if you have some, or try to lower the pH with some sulfur. Of these, the foliar iron chelate would give you the quickest response and the sulfur the slowest. “

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A lovely, and healthy, pink eyed purple hull pea flower.

So there you have it.  I have chloratic peas because I am attempting to grow them in an area that is just not suited for them.  I will be taking advantage of both of Tim’s suggestions.  I am going to use a watering can to do an iron chelate drench.  This should get the chloratic plants producing.  However, that will not solve my problem long term.  When I re-till for the fall garden, I will begin to add sulphur.  I realize this is critical.  Since most vegetables prefer a pH that is in the range of 6.0 to 7.0, I will always have problems with chlorosis if I don’t fix my alkaline, lime enriched soil.

P.S. This post has been shared on the Homestead Barn Hop.  Barn Hops are a great place to go to get more information like this from a great group of bloggers.  Be sure to check it out!

Posted in Gardening Basics, Greg Grant, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Purple Bindweed – The Thorn in My Side

In II Corinthians, Paul talks about enduring a “thorn in his side”.  While no one knows exactly what the thorn was, most agree that God gave it to Paul so that, despite his many blessings, he would not become too prideful in his faith.  That story comforts me because each year the Lord “blesses” me with some new gardening “thorn” that keeps me humble about my garden and my gardening abilities.  This year, my thorn came in the form of a beautiful (but noxious) vining plant called purple bindweed!  While the flowers of this noxious weed are truly beautiful, that beauty does not make up for the overall nastiness of this weed.

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The flowers of purple bindweed are definitely beautiful

Purple bindweed is a native Texas morning glory.  It is also an aggressive vining plant that will literally grow over anything in its path.  One plant can send out trailing, twisting vines that stretch out over 15 feet.  While I have to admit, when those vines cover a fence and explode with flowers, the effect is very beautiful.  However, when they creep up your sugar cane or get twisted in with cucumbers and cantaloupes, the effect is not so nice.

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Purple bindweed is a native Texas morning glory.

Even though this plant is literally driving me crazy, I have to admire its shear survivability.  Each plant can produce 500 or more seeds.  The seeds have a very thick seed coat that can lay dormant in the soil for 20 years (some say 50 years or more).  The plant develops an extensive root system that can grow 10 feet or more into the soil.  Because of this, you can pull it, dig it or plow it and it will still come back.  In fact, research shows that a 2” piece of root can produce a new plant.  In addition, all of those deep roots make this plant very drought resistant.

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The twisting vines of purple bindweed will be covered in its lovely, lavender blooms.

All of the survival traits that the plant has developed make it very hard to control organically.  The only real option you have is frequent pulling or smothering.  If you decide to pull, realize that you will need to pull every shoot that pops up every three weeks or so for the next three years!  If you want to try and smother it you are going to need to use something like a large sheet of plywood or hardi-plank and you are going to have to leave it in place for years.  However, since the seeds can remain dormant for years, smothering and pulling is really only going to slow down the spread of this weed.

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The vines of bindweed will wrap around anything-even its own vines!

The only way to effectively kill bindweed is with an herbicide.  Even though I do not personally like chemicals, the reality is that some weeds will never be fully contained with organic methods.  If you don’t mind spraying chemicals try Glyphosate (Round Up) or Tripcloyr (Remedy).  Both work well against bindweed.  For the best effect, many recommend mixing up a combination of both Glyphosate (2-3%) and Remedy / Triclopyr (0.25%).   These chemicals will definitely kill the bindweed if you spray it while the plant is actively growing.  For bindweed, the absolute best time to spray is when it is blooming.  NOTE:  These chemicals will definitely kill the bindweed.  Unfortunately they will also kill just about everything else that is actively growing.  Be careful to avoid overspray when applying this (or any) herbicide.  Also, apply just enough herbicide to wet the leaves.  There is no need to soak the plant. There is also no benefit to mixing them in higher concentrations than are listed on the label.

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Even though this plant is driving me crazy, it does attract hummingbirds and other pollinators

The purple bindweed is beginning to bloom at my house.  This means that despite my best organic control efforts, it has beaten me.  This “thorn in my side” is one of just a few plants that have made me question my commitment to organic control methods.  Thank goodness I have St. Paul for inspiration.  Although his “thorn” tormented him his whole life he persevered; and so will I.  However, I have to admit, when I am out there pulling this weed in the Texas heat the thought of spraying it with an herbicide is very tempting!

Posted in Flowers, Gardening Basics, Texas Native, Weed Control | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments