Poppies, Potatoes and Protecting Squash by Patty G. Leander

Patty-Leander-Spring-Garden

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

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

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

Patty-Leander-Poppies

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

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

Patty-Leander-Potatoes

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

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

Patty-Leander-Potatoes-2

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

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

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

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

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

Red-La-Soda-Seed-Potato

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

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

Red-La-Soda-New-Potatoes

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

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

Micromesh-Squash-Vine-Borer

Micromesh: a new product to battle squash vine borer

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

Patty-Leander-Squash

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

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

Grow Better Caladiums

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

Caladium-Border

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

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

Tiki-Torch-Caladium-Full-Sun

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

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

Mixed-Caladium-Border-3

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

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

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

Potted-Caladiums

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

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

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

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

Sangria-Leaves-Caladium

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

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

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

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

Add caladiums to your potted arrangements to making stunning floral displays

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

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

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

"Aaron" looks lovely with impatiens.

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

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

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

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

A Garden Visit with Eli Kubicek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Name:  Eli Kubicek

Location:  Brenham, Tx

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

Favorite thing to grow:  Snapdragons and perennials in general

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Goode-Company-Restaurants

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

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

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

Texas-redbud

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

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

Texas-Wildflowers

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

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

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

2016-rock-stacking-world-championship

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

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

 

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

 

rock-stacking

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

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

 

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

Spring Time is Weed Time!

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

tomato-transplants

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

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

Butter-cup

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

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

acetic-acid-weed-spray

Concentrated acetic acid is a great organic weed killer.

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

Sweet-green-fertilizer

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

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

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

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

Time to Plant the Spring Garden

Kentucky-wonder

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

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

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

st-pauls-christian-day-school

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

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

Crimson-Glory-Rose

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

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

dr-william-welch-garden

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

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

texas-redbud

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

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

Happy Spring y’ all and happy gardening!

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

Fixer Upper

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

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

fixer-upper-shotgun-house

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

 

 

A Garden Visit with Bill Adams by Patty G. Leander

bill-adams

Tomato aficionado Bill Adams, horticulturist•educator•author

Tomatoes rule the spring season and with that in mind Jay and I decided to visit with tomato guru Bill Adams in our second feature on Lone Star gardeners.

bill-adams-books

Bill’s books are excellent reads, both informative and entertaining

After all, Bill is the author of several garden-related books, including “The Texas Tomato Lovers Handbook” (2011), and he has been growing, testing and tasting tomatoes well over 40 years, much of it in the official capacity as the A&M Extension Horticulturist for Harris County. Together with friend, collaborator and former Extension colleague Tom LeRoy, Bill has solved thousands of horticulture dilemmas and taught a multitude of aspiring gardeners the commonsense approach to growing vegetables.

bill-adams-tomatoes

Tomatoes at every turn

A visit to Bill’s vegetable garden is nothing less than exhilarating. He is a walking, talking horticultural encyclopedia and shares unexpected nuggets of knowledge at every turn. Last year he grew over 40 varieties of tomatoes, evaluating each one for flavor, texture and overall quality. He is frank and honest in his assessment, the winners get his seal of approval and the duds get panned.

tomato-varieties

A sampling of fruit I brought home after a visit to Bill’s tomato paradise. He marks the “ugly side” with a marker to keep track of varieties, and then he can photograph the good side.

Bill has staying power, too. Even after retirement he remains active in the Garden Writer’s Association and continues to educate and entertain gardeners at nursery talks, garden events and conferences. He and Tom will be giving their annual Spring Vegetable Class at Arbor Gate Nursery on March 5.

arbor-gate-tomato-tasting

Judging tomatoes at Arbor Gate’s annual tomato contest

Bill will also be judging tomatoes at three different events this season: May 21, 10:00 AM at Enchanted Forest in Richmond, May 21, 2:00 PM at Enchanted Gardens in Richmond, and June 11, 10:00 AM at Arbor Gate in Tomball. Bring your tastiest tomatoes and go for the gold!

For a rundown of Bill’s winners and losers from his 2015 tomato trials visit: http://arborgate.com/blog/tried-and-true-in-2016/

Name:  William D. (Bill) Adams

Location:  South Central Texas—near Burton

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The Adams kitchen garden

Years gardening in this garden:  Ten

Favorite thing to grow:  Tomatoes

Marianna's-Peace

‘Marianna’s Peace’ – according to Bill it’s so good you’ll want to lick the juice off the plate

Best growing tip:  Organic matter, especially compost, must be constantly on your agenda—“The gardener with the most compost wins”.

Best pest control tip:  Try to be in the garden every day and know your pests.  Use cultural techniques and low-toxicity pesticides to win the battle.  In my experience planting twice as much as needed so the pests can have their half doesn’t work—they know the best tasting varieties and they will sample it ALL.

Best weed control tip:  Use a combination of newspapers, cardboard, whatever to suppress the weeds and cover it with mulch to keep the paper from blowing away.  Wet the paper first to keep it in place while you go for mulch.

Biggest challenge:  Finding the best tasting varieties.

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A trio of good looking tomatoes from the 2015 season: ‘Red Mountain’, ‘Cherokee Purple’, ‘Caiman’

 

Favorite soil amendment:  Mushroom compost-about 14 cubic yards per season in our garden. (this translates to approximately 12 inches of compost on the vegetable rows and 6-8 inches around the orchard trees)

bill-adams-compost

The gardener with the most compost wins!

Preserving the harvest: We can and freeze tomatoes and hot sauce; make wonderful Bread and Butter pickles….and we have a good record of using them. Froze a bunch of leeks several years ago and they’re about ready for the compost pile—sometimes we lose track.

Favorite advice:  Garden for fun but garden like you mean it.  I’m a fanatic about organic matter but I’m not an organic gardener.  I grow a lot of crops that are never sprayed, I use organic and soluble fertilizers, low-toxicity pesticides-only when needed and I’m in the garden virtually every day.  If a crop is worth saving (the critters/diseases haven’t already done too much damage), and the pests can be controlled with a registered pesticide (organic or low-toxicity chemical) I win!

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

Tomato Tips From a Commercial Grower

Nathan Hanath and his parents own and operate one of the nicest family farms that I have ever visited.  Magnolia Hill Farm is located just west of Brenham off Highway 290.  They have been filling the stomachs and freezers of Washington County residents with fresh, local, organic produce for the past 32 years.  While Magnolia grows all types of produce, their absolute best selling crop is tomatoes.  Last year, the farm sold 2300 pounds in the spring season and almost that many in the fall.

Magnolia-Hill-Farm-Sign

Magnoli Hill Farm of Brenham has been producing high quality, organic produce for 32 years.

Nathan and I are both members of our local volunteer fire department.  Several of our members are gardeners and the talk at our meetings often turns to vegetable production.  Our little fire department has lots of hobby gardeners who grow tomatoes; and they grow them well.  However, Nathan is the only one of our group that actually makes a considerable part of his living growing them.  Since Nathan depends on his tomatoes to help pay his bills I asked him if he would share some of the things he does to consistently produce almost two tons of tomatoes each and every year.

Grow in Good Soil – Nathan has a 20,000 sq ft bed that has been producing vegetables 12 months a year for the past 32 years.  That is incredible.  He has been able to keep his bed healthy by constantly replenishing it with compost.

Magnolia Hill Farm produces almost a ton of succulent, organic tomatoes every season

Magnolia Hill Farm produces almost a ton of succulent, organic tomatoes every season

Grow Healthy Transplants – Nathan grows over 300 tomato plants each year.  He grows between 10 and 12 nematode resistant determinate or semi-determinate varieties.  He starts his seeds in a commercial mix in January and then again in June.  He starts his seeds in little foam cups and then bumps them up to bigger containers after about 21 days.  He keeps his starts in shallow trays and waters them from the bottom with a solution of “Fish and Poop”.  Some of his favorite varieties include Amelia, BHN1021, Celebrity, Celebration, Carnival, Santa Belle, Top Gun, Phoenix, Tasty Lee and Tycoon.  While these are his favorites he encourages you to try his methods on whatever varieties work best for you.

Fish&Poop

Give your transplants a boost by feeding them with a solution of a soluble organic fertilizer like “Fish & Poop”

Plant Late – Resist the urge to plant early.  Tomatoes grow best in warm soils.  Grow big healthy transplants and do not put them in the ground until the third week of March.  Plant them deep to encourage a large root ball

Fertilize – Each year Nathan has a soil sample done on his beds and each year he gets the same results.  The rich organic soil he has built is perfect to slightly high in all nutrients except nitrogen.  Nathan believes that many gardens are nitrogen deficient because growing plants use so much and rain, heat and tilling all allow it to leach from the soil.  To make up for low nitrogen Nathan works “Sweet Green” into his tomato beds before planting.  Sweet Green (11-0-4) is an organic fertilizer that contains dried cane molasses and beet molasses.  Because of its high nitrogen content Sweet Green is marketed as a lawn fertilizer.  However, the high nitrogen levels of the fertilizer make it an excellent supplement for the organic garden.

fabric-mulch

Nathan use heavy mil landscape fabric to mulch his tomatoes (and cabbage shown here). Be sure to cover it in a heavy layer of hay or wood chips when temperatures begin to rise

Mulch – Keep your beds as weed free as possible.  They rob your plants of nutrients and they attract pests.  Nathan uses landscape fabric to suppress weeds.  While the fabric alone is great to help warm the soil in March and early April, you will need to cover it with a thick layer of mulch once the temperatures start climbing.

Calcium – Blossom End Rot is caused by a calcium deficiency.  Prevent it by spraying them weekly with Nutri-Cal.  Nutri-Cal is a calcium supplement that contains nitrogen.  The supplemental calcium will prevent blossom end rot and the nitrogen will give your plants a little boost to keep them healthy and productive up until July.

Nathan-Hanath

If you are passing through Brenham on 290 be sure and stop at Magnolia Hill Farm. Nathan loves to visit about all of the wonderful things they are doing on the farm

If you are going to be passing through Brenham on 290, be sure and stop in at Magnolia Hill Farm.  They have outstanding produce available every month of the year and they stock a huge selection of his mother’s famous preserves and pickles.  In addition to produce, Nathan collects and breeds daylilies.  He has over 900 varieties for sale from March through June.  The farm is truly a sight to see when all of those daylilies are in bloom and Nathan loves to visit with you about them.

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

Nathan has over 900 varieties of daylilies available for purchase at Magnolia Hill Farm

Nathan has over 900 varieties of daylilies available for purchase at Magnolia Hill Farm

Planning the Spring Garden by Patty G. Leander

We are well into the second month of the new year and I am loving the mild winter weather we are experiencing here in Central Texas. It is perfect for the gardener – sort of makes up for all the gardening we must do in the mosquito-infested heat that often starts in late spring and lasts till early winter!

Kale-collards-mustard greens

A bed of brassicas – kale, mustard and collards – almost too pretty to pick

The spring gardening season will be here soon and I am giddy with anticipation, itching to plant and obsessed with the weather forecast. January is normally our coldest month of the year yet it has come and gone and now February, a month that can bring snow and sleet and 80°F days, even in the same week, is halfway over…and my winter coat still hangs at the ready, unworn.

soil-thermometer

Gauge planting time by soil temperature rather than air temperature.

The current 14 day forecast for Central Texas shows a string of 60-80F° days with nights in the 40s and 50s. The weather screams, “It’s warm and sunny, come outside, plant some seeds!” But at this time of year soil temperature is a better gauge of when to plant than air temperature. Direct-seeded beans, cucumbers, squash and other warm-season vegetables have their best chance at germination when soil is consistently above 60°F, which usually doesn’t happen around here until early March. If planted now the seeds would likely rot or suffer multiple setbacks as they struggle to get a start in cool soil. And despite the gorgeous weather we could still get a freeze – if you have lived here long enough you know that Easter tends to be a magnet for freezing weather.

vegetables-in-containers

Colorful pottery and fabric pots are suitable containers for vegetables.

Planting too much or too early is a perennial conundrum in spring and it’s best to follow the forecast, monitor the soil temperature and have a plan that takes into account the space available in your garden and how long it takes a crop to reach maturity. Right now the soil in my garden hovers around 45-60°, an acceptable temperature for cool season plants like carrots, beets or broccoli. But those plants take 60-65 days to reach maturity and if planted now they will be taking up valuable space when the time comes for warm season planting next month.

container-vegetables

Lettuce and mesclun mixes grow happily in containers, large or small.

As we transition into spring I always wish I had more garden, but one way to extend the cool season harvest without taking up room in the vegetable garden is to grow in containers. I’ve grown lettuce, beets, radishes, carrots, broccoli and more in large clay pots, fabric grow bags and steel tubs. And at this time of year containers are less likely to dry out as they tend to do later in the season.

interplanting-beans

An excellent example of interplanting from a past season in the Children’s Vegetable Garden located at the San Antonio Botanical Garden. Broccoli and cabbage, planted 6 weeks before tomatoes, beans and squash, are ready for harvest, leaving more space for the remaining crops.

Another approach to squeezing in more is to plant quick-growing, cool season crops along the edge of a bed or in the area between future plantings of warm-season vegetables with larger space requirements. Mark the spot reserved for larger plants, such as tomatoes or squash, then plant beets, Asian greens, turnips, Swiss chard, cabbage or broccoli in the area between the markers. These plants will be ready to harvest before the tomatoes or squash take over. Commonly known as interplanting, this technique will help optimize space in the garden. It also increases diversity, confuses detrimental pests and attracts beneficials.

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