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 Bruce 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 , , , , , , | 4 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.

Chick-1

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.

Chick-2

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.

Chicken-Little-1

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.

blanc-du-bois-grapes-1

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.

grape-harvest-1

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?

blanc-du-bois-grapes-2

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
 sign-1
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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.

chlorosis-black-eyed-peas-1

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

chlorosis-black-eyed-pea-leaves-2

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.

chlorosis-black-eyed-pea-leaves

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.

pink-eye-purple-hull

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. “

pink-eye-purple-hull-flower

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.

purple-bindweed-flower-2

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.

purple-bindweed-flower-3

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.

bindweed-blooms

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.

bindweed-vines-1

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.

bindweed-flower-5

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

My Best Peaches Ever (and how they got that way)

I am finishing up the last of the best peaches I have ever grown.  While this year’s harvest was not the largest I have ever grown numerically, the individual peaches were the biggest and sweetest that have ever come off of my tree.

peach-white-delight

Pinching half of the buds from your peach tree will yield bigger peaches next summer. Photo courtsey of Dr. David Byrne -Texas A&M

I wish I could say that I did something to produce these wonderful peaches.  My unusually large peaches were the result of a bit of bad luck that that kind of turned out to be a blessing in disguise.   On March 3 we got a very bad late season freeze.  When it hit, the redbuds, plums and peaches were in full bloom.  When the ice thawed, my beautiful redbuds looked horrible and all of the flowers were gone from my fruit trees.  I was sure this freeze would ensure that I would harvest exactly zero peaches and plums this summer.

peach-1

Two of my favorite things–fresh, home grown peaches and Texas Ware bowls!

While my prediction turned out to be correct for the plums, the peaches surprised me.  A couple of weeks after the freeze I noticed little peaches beginning to form.  Over the next few weeks, the peaches that survived the freeze turned into HUGE peaches.  Now I don’t mean that my peaches were super huge, but they were much larger than they had ever been in the past.

peach-2

I love peeling the skins off of peaches after they have been blanched. So fun to squeeze the peach and see it literally jump out of its skin!

Turns out, the freeze actually did me a favor.  While researching my next Texas Gardener article about new white peaches from Texas A&M, I discovered that commercial producers routinely remove (pinch) up to half the buds on each of their trees.  This bud removal allows their trees to produce BIGGER PEACHES!

peach-4

Diced peaches in another Texas Ware bowl ready for canning.

When I read this, I understood why my peaches were so big and so good.  The freeze “pinched” my buds for me.  Until now I did not know that this was something that you needed to do.  However, after seeing the results first hand, it is a garden chore that I will now be sure to do every year!

Right now I only have one producing peach tree.  It was literally the first thing I planted when Sally and I bought our little place in Brenham.  Since Sally and I are empty nesters, this one tree produces enough for us to enjoy fresh and also make lots of preserves.  This year, once we ate all we could, she made 24 jars of peach preserves.  If you would like to make your own peach preserves here is a great post with video from the Georgia Peach Council.  Enjoy!

 

peach-sally-white

I am lucky to be married to one of the cutest “canners” in the world!

 

Posted in Fruit, Gardening Basics, Trees | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

Celebrate the Fourth at Bayou Bend!

If you live in the “Brenham to Houston” part of Texas, and you have stepped outside this morning, you realize that we have two things to celebrate today-America’s Birthday and lower temperatures!   This cool weather has inspired me to write before I go outside and weed.   Now to me, a cool day of weeding sounds like the perfect way to celebrate America’s birthday (and a day off of work).  However, if you would like to celebrate with something a little less sweaty, load up the kids, your friends and your cameras and head over to Bayou Bend.

Bayou-Bend-fourth-of-july-1

A Continental soldier reads the Declaration of Independence on the back steps of Bayou Bend

Bayou Bend is the perfect place to celebrate America’s Birthday.  Each year, Director Bonnie Campbell brings in living history entertainers dressed in Revolutionary War period costumes.  These “Federalists” and “Red Coats” blend in perfectly with the formal gardens and grounds of this stunning mansion that houses one of the finest collections of early American furniture and artifacts in the nation.

Bayou-Bend-fourth-of-july-2

A young “revolutionary” tries on a “Red Coat”

I have celebrated the Fourth of July many times at Bayou Bend.  My wife worked there and my buddy Bart Brechter still maintains the gardens (with 100% organic methods).  In my mind, Bayou Bend is the most beautiful garden and museum in the U.S.  However, that is not why I go to it’s Independence Day celebration year after year.  I go to learn.  For some reason, I really do not know that much about our country’s early history.  I know Texas history and I know Civil War history but early American history never really stuck.  And that is why I love Bayou Bend on the Fourth.  There is something about listening to costumed performers that brings the history of America to life and makes my brain retain it.  I cannot imagine a better way to celebrate the country I love than by learning more about her.

This young amn is so wrapped up in history he didn't even realize that these guys were from the wrong war!

This young man is so wrapped up in history he didn’t even realize that these guys were from the wrong war!

Bayou Bend is located at 6003 Memorial Drive at Westcott Street and it will be open from 1:00 to 5:00 today.  It is fun, free and educational.  Plus, it will be much less crowded than the mall or the park.  You and your kids can make a Paul Revere hat, get your face painted, hear period music and stroll around one of the most beautiful places in all of America.  Plus, you (and the kids) may learn something about American history that makes you want to celebrate our  great nation even more!

bayou-bend-butterfly-garden

The butterfly garden is just one of many beautiful things in Miss Ima’s garden

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Gardening in Succession and Companion Planting by Mackenzie Kupfer

I am excited to share a post today from guest blogger Mackenzie Kupher.  Mackenzie is a recent college graduate that studied both zoology and horticulture.  In addition to gardening, Mackenzie writes content and blogs for the Avant Garden Decor website. I love young gardeners and I love supporting them.  Their excitement is contagious and they always make me look at things in a new way.  Enjoy!

Gardening in Succession and Companion Planting

Have you ever wondered how you can keep garden fresh vegetables on the table throughout the whole planting season? It will take much more work and planning than your typical vegetable garden, but the benefits that come along make the extra effort worth it.

The technique is called succession planting, and its overall goal is to maintain a steady income of vegetables with multiple easy to handle harvests. Reaping a single harvest limits your garden’s potential, and will either not accumulate enough food to last, or will produce too much to handle all at once. Knowing what to grow, when to start growing them, and when to pull out the plants that aren’t producing any more are all part of the strategy you will need to consider heading into the planting season.

Kentucky-wonder-beans-1

Pole beans like Kentucky wonder will continue to produce when summer heat makes it impossible to grow bush beans

Time of year

In order to get the most from your succession planting you will need to start as early in the spring as the weather allows, and let it go as late into the fall as it permits. For a fall Texas garden, see this post on Fava beans. You can figure out when the best time to begin by checking when the last frost date for your area is. After that date, your growing season can begin.

Keep in mind that not all plants will thrive in the early spring, so consider some that benefit from the cooler temperatures and less time in the sun, such as lettuce, snow peas, kale, collards, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, rutabagas, beets, carrots, leeks, endive and cabbage. Plan these for early spring and late fall planting times, and maintain the warmer weather vegetables, like tomatoes, corn and squash during the heat of the summer months.

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Broccoli and other cole crops like cabbage, kale and cauliflower are great plants to keep the Texas garden productive in the winter months through early spring.

Harvesting

You will need to be familiar with the timing of your plant’s production rate. Does that plant produce only once in its lifetime like a carrot, or does it continuously produce over time like a tomato plant? Does it reach maturity quickly like a radish, or does it take longer to see progress like an onion? If you are aware of these facts you can gauge when to uproot a spent plant and if you’ll have enough time in the season to plant something else in its place. When planning out the garden, leave some leeway for growing times, as weather and soil quality will play a large part in the punctuality of your plants.

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Radishes and other cool season crops like lettuce and arugula grow quickly and are a great way to keep your garden producing food for the table

Select the vegetables you want to harvest all season long. You will want to plan out when you need to plant your second or third row of this vegetable, keeping in mind growing time, and production time. For example, if you are growing radishes, they will mature between 20-30 days, and each plant will yield a single harvest. So, if you want to continuously have fresh radishes every week, you will need to plant four rows of radishes, each row a week apart. Once row one has been harvested, apply compost and plant new radishes immediately, this way when row four is harvested, row one will be ready again the following week, right on schedule. This gets slightly more complicated with plants that produce for a longer period of time such as tomatoes and peas. The concept is still the same though; you just need to plant fewer rows less frequently.

Growing buddies

Something to keep in mind as you are laying out your garden, there are plants you can place close to others to gain benefits. Certain plants will repel specific bugs, while others can provide shade for less heat tolerable plants.

In some cases, plants can even give off nutrients that another plant requires to thrive. Sometimes, just growing close to another plant simply makes it taste better in the end. Companion planting has so many applications – see this infographic to apply it to your garden in addition to succession planting.

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Marigolds repel stink bugs and some varieties can even kill nematodes

The combination of succession gardening with companion planting requires more planning and attention, but it also helps you yield better results which makes this a step above traditional gardening. If you have a small gardening space, a single harvest will not be enough to maintain a season’s worth of food. On the other hand, if you have a large garden spot, a single harvest will produce too much food and will probably go bad before you can eat it. Succession planting keeps your whole garden producing all season long, without leaving meaningless empty space. With a little hard work and planning, you can get more out of your garden than you ever thought you could.

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Farm to Market Flowers

Debbie Thornton is one of a growing number of people in this country that are doing something I think is very important.  Debbie is the owner of Farm to Market Flowers (FM Flowers) and she is sustainably growing fresh cut flowers for the florists and farmer’s market in Tomball, Texas.   A lot pf people don’t know this, but at least 80% of the cut flowers sold in the US are grown somewhere else.  Each time you buy a bouquet from a grocery store (that is not Whole Foods or Central Market), you are buying products that have been sprayed with every chemical possible and shipped from places very far away.

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Debbie Thronton is a local grower of fresh cut floral products. Look her up every Saturday at the Tomball Farmer’s Market

It doesn’t have to be this way.  When asked if they had a choice between a product created or grown oversees and one grown or created in the US , 78% of respondents said they would buy American.  Unfortunately it can often be difficult to find a local alternative; especially when it comes to fresh cut flowers.  That is why farmers like Debbie, The Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers (ASCFG) and Debra Prinzing (Slow Flowers) are so important.  These people are working very hard to promote locally and sustainably grown fresh cut flowers and let consumers know that they now have a choice.

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How can you resist buying flowers from a booth this cute?

I learned about Debbie and her farm through one of the nicest and most touching comments I have ever received on my blog.  Here’s the comment:

Thank you Jay. I am growing cut flowers as a result of your article in the Texas Gardener Magazine. I did just what you said and visited the Arnosky’s and met Kim with Billabong. I am in the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers and I have been growing for our local farmers market and florists here in Tomball for two years. I was a Master Gardener for several years and heard you speak at the Bear Creek Extension office.

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A load of Debbie’s sustainably grown sunflowers is ready for Market

Luckily, the story of how Debbie became a flower farmer is becoming more common.  After gardening for years, she decided to capitalize on her knowledge and love of growing flowers.  She has now turned her hobby into a small business that provides fresh cut flowers to the Tomball, Texas local area.

It doesn’t take a lot of room to become a flower farmer.  Debbie is currently growing on one fourth of her one acre property.  However, by properly and intensively managing that quarter of an acre, she is able to supply fresh flowers to the weekly Tomball Farmer’s Market and a couple of local florists.  This quarter acre farm has become so successful that she has been able to cut back on her hours at her “real job”.

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It doesn’t take a lot of room to be a flower farmer. Debbie grows all of her flowers on 1/4 of an acre.

I asked Debbie if the hard, hard work of flower farming is worth it. Debbie said “I absolutely love it.  It is hard work, but I love the joy it brings to people. I would definitely recommend it to others. It can be scary at times, but I just try to produce quality flowers and they sell themselves.”

My hat is off to Debbie Thornton and all of the other flower farmers out there that are making a living (or a least a part of their living) providing us with a very beautiful option to the imported, chemical drenched flowers that you find in most outlets.  Debbie’s work ensures that the next time you are in the market for cut flowers, you have a choice.  If you are like me (and Michele Obama who recently decreed that American grown flowers will be used in the White House), it is worth a little effort to “go local” and buy these American grown products.

If you are a flower lover in the Tomball area, head over to the Farmer’s Market and visit with Debbie.  She loves growing these flowers and she loves telling you why they are so special.  Once you buy a bunch of her beautiful, long lasting bouquets you will be hooked.  If you live somewhere else, and would like to buy local flowers, go to the ASCFG website and find out if there is a local grower in your area.  If not, you still have a choice.  Please check out The Slow Flowers website.  This new offering from Debra Prinzing (mother of the field to vase movement and author of “The Fifty Mile Boquet”) will allow you to buy and ship locally grown flowers regardless of where you live.

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Slow Flowers is your source for locally grown fresh cut floral products. Check it out!

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Vitex-TheTexas Lilac (Vitex agnus-castus)

It has now been a whole month since I finished my horticulture degree at A&M.  In that time I have had three people approach me to do landscapes for them (it is interesting to me that people think all horticulturists are landscapers).  One horseman wants me to landscape his two entry gates, my family cemetery wants me to landscape their entrance and another person wants an “LSU Garden” in their yard.  While all three of these projects are very different, all three will feature a very lovely and durable plant – Vitex (Vitex agnus-castus).

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The 12″ flower spike of the Vitex are beautiful and irresistible to butterflies and hummingbirds

Vitex is a small flowering tree that is, in my opinion, one of the best ornamental trees you can own. Its long, curvy, purple-blue flower spikes have earned the vitex the nickname of “The Texas Lilac”.    In addition to its beautiful flower spikes, this little tree can take the heat, endure the drought and is resistant to most pests.  It attracts butterflies and hummingbirds and deer do not like it.  With all it has going for it, this drought resistant tree really is a perfect choice for the Texas homeowner.

Vitex are typically grown as a multi trunked tree.  The multi-trunk look is achieved through pruning.  When grown as a tree they  grow to about 15 feet.  However, some varieties can get as tall as 35 feet.   If left alone from seed, the Vitex will grow into a lovely shrub that makes a stunning hedge that can, with regular deadheading, produce those long, lovely flower spikes throughout the summer.

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My Hyperion daylilies pair nicely with a Vitex I have left in a shrub form

You can find Vitex with pink flowers, mauve flowers and white flowers.  However, most of the Vitex sold in the trade have a purple-blue colored flower that is often called lilac.  The three most common varieties sold here in Texas include Shoal Creek, Montrose and Le Compte.  My friends at Tree Town USA are about to release a new, and as of yet unnamed, dark blue flowering variety.  Look for them this fall at all of the major nurseries or your local big box.

If you want to grow your own Vitex, plant it in the fall.  Like most trees, the cooler weather of fall will allow the plant to establish itself with much less water.  You can also plant it in the winter when it is dormant.  If you miss both of those opportunities you can still plant it in early spring.  Just remember though, the longer you wait, the more effort and water it will take to fully root.

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Since all of these lovely little flowers produce seeds, Vitex can be a bit invasive

While I do love this tree, it does have a couple of small problems.  First, each of those little flowers on those 12” flower stalks will produce a little seed.  Because of this it can be a bit invasive.  This is not a huge problem for the homeowner.  The weed eater and mower can easily control all of the volunteers that sprout in the yard.  However, if planted near a creek or tank, the plant can easily escape and create enough of a problem that it is currently listed as an invasive species on the Texas Invasives website (http://www.texasinvasives.org/plant_database/detail.php?symbol=VIAG).  You can control the spread of this plant by diligently deadheading each spent flower spike before the seeds develop.   The other little problem is allergies.  If you have a sensitivity to tree pollen you may want to avoid this tree.  All of those flowers produce pollen and many people claim to be allergic to it.

vitex-flowers-4As I drive around I notice more and more Vitex in yards, commercial landscapes and along the roads and highways of our great state.  I think this is great.  Vitex is a beautiful and versatile plant that blooms throughout the summer and thrives on average annual rainfall.  It is no wonder that the Texas Highway Department has added them to their list of preferred plants.  If this plant thrives along the hot and dry roadsides and medians of our great state, imagine how well it will perform for you in your yard!

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