Signs of Spring

 Each year I like to do a post that announces the arrival of spring in our part of Texas.  In the past I have written about budding bluebonnets, magenta blooms on the red buds, sweetly scented narcissus and the return of the purple martins.  This year, I got a much less beautiful reminder that Spring is right around the corner.

Some of my wife's bluebonnets.  Sally has worked for years to spread our state flower all over our yard.

Some of my wife’s bluebonnets. Sally has worked for years to spread our state flower all over our yard.

Last weekend Sally and I were on the back deck.  She became very excited and told me she saw smoke coming from the back of the Cassita.  I of course ran to see what was on fire.  I was relieved to find nothing burning so I turned to tell her everything was ok.  As soon as I turned toward her the male cedar tree (ashe juniper) over the chicken coop literally exploded and released a cloud of pollen that looked very much like smoke! Now if I were not so allergic to cedar I might have found this a whole lot more fascinating.  Ok, I still found it fascinating, but I knew this natural marvel was going to cause me a whole lot of problems over the next few weeks.


Here is a shot of our little guest house that Sally thought was on fire. We call it the “casssita”.

Now I have lived 51 years and I have never witnessed this.  I actually grew up in a cedar break in McLennan county and I never got to see the trees release their pollen.  My itchy eyes, stuffy nose and headaches always told me the pollen had been released but I had never seen it with my own two eyes.


This is the male cedar tree that released its pollen in my face!

The timing of this has been interestingly fortuitous.  A couple of weeks ago a friend sent me a link from Austin’s KVUE News.  Someone actually caught this phenomenon on camera and sent the film to them.  If you would like to see it for yourself, just click on the video clip below.


So, in honor of almost historic levels of cedar pollen in our area, I am now pleased to announce that spring has arrived in Central and South Central Texas.  If you feel like gambling, realize that after February 15, there is only a 10% chance that there will be another freeze in the Houston area.  I am not much of a gambler.  I am still going to wait until March 15 to do most of my planting.  However, this is a good time to start getting your beds ready for planting.  This weekend I will be tilling, weeding and adding lots of compost to my beds.  If the weather holds (and I am not laid up in bed with a headache and a runny nose) I am looking forward to some very sore muscles and a very achy back on Monday.  Happy Spring Y’ all!!!

Gumbo Onions

There are two things that really get my gardening juices flowing–pass along plants and discovering a new, exceptionally good variety of something.  This year I received a true gift – a pass along onion that has turned out to be the best green onion I have ever grown.  The “Gumbo Onion” is everything you look for in a green onion.  The white bulbs are firm and spicy and the green leaves taste great and are firm enough to be easily chopped. 


These “gumbo onions” have been grown in the same family for over 100 years

I got my “Gumbo Onions” from fellow Texas Gardener writer Patty Leander.  Patty got her starts from Chris Corby who is the editor of Texas Gardener.  Chris got these amazing onions in the mail from L. E. Andrews of Houston. L. E. sent Chris several of these amazing onion bulbs.  L.E. told Chris that the onions came from a family of Cajuns from south Louisiana who migrated to Texas.  They have been growing these onions in the same family for well over 100 years.

Shallots are grown just like regular onions.  Only they have no day length limitations.

Shallots are grown just like regular onions. Only they have no day length limitations.

Mr. Andrews’ “gumbo onions” are technically shallots.  Shallots (A. cepa var. aggregatum) are a variety of the onion family (Allium cepa) that reproduces primarily by division.  Plant a single shallot bulb and that bulb will create several “off sets” from the main bulb.  Because of this growth habit some people call them “garlic onions”

Each shallot bulb will reproduce by creating several "offsets" around the main bulb.

Each shallot bulb will reproduce by creating several “offsets” around the main bulb.

Shallots are not grown in large numbers in the U.S. I am beginning to see them in a few feed stores and nurseries in my area.  However, most of the varieties that I am aware of are still passed from gardener to gardener. Shallots are grown just like regular onions (except you don’t have to worry about any day length issues).  Plant them in the fall for an early spring harvest or in the early spring for a summer harvest.  Do not plant them in soil that has been recently manured.  Shallots should be planted with the root scar down and the pointy end up.  Stick them in the ground deep enough to just cover the top of the offset.  Now all you have to do is water and weed.    

L.E. Andrews' "gumbo onions" are the best green onions I have ever grown.

L.E. Andrews’ “gumbo onions” are the best green onions I have ever grown.

I am thankful for people like L.E. Andrews.  He, and others like him, are preserving our horticultural past by growing these old timey varieties that have slowly fallen out of favor with the nursery trade.  I am so glad that he decided to share his heirloom onions and their story with those of us that will appreciate them and hopefully keep them growing for another 100 years. 

BTW, if you live north of I10, it is time to get your onions and shallots in the ground!