Cold Weather Champs and Colorful Beets by Patty Leander


Ice-covered one day, on the dinner table the next.

How ‘bout that kale?! It hardly skipped a beat despite temperatures that dropped to 18° here in my southwest Austin garden. Brussels sprouts, collards and garlic also came through unscathed. They are truly cold-weather champs. The broccoli, cabbage and cilantro drooped a little after thawing but all recovered just fine. Carrots and radishes suffered some freeze damage above ground but the roots were protected below.


Though I didn’t have time to cover my plants I did dash outside for a quick pre-freeze harvest.

Swiss chard, peas and cauliflower, however, didn’t fare so well. All are susceptible to damage when temperatures drop into the 20s. Had I covered them with frost cloth they would have done fine but I didn’t have a chance and ended up with droopy, mushy plants that could not be salvaged. If you notice less than stellar cauliflower at local Famers Markets it can probably be attributed to the frigid weather. Thankfully the worst of the cold has passed and cole crops, root crops and peas can go into the garden now to provide a harvest about two months down the road. Keep an eye on the weather forecast and protect vulnerable plants if another hard freeze threatens.


Colorful, flavorful beets: ‘Chioggia’, ‘Detroit Dark Red’ and ‘Golden’

The National Gardening Bureau has proclaimed 2018 as the Year of the Beet –Beta vulgaris. Did you know that vulgaris in Latin means common? That’s right, there is nothing vulgar about flavorful, jewel-toned beets. If one of your resolutions is to increase the plant slant in your diet be sure to include beets. From round to oblong, maroon to white and heirloom to hybrid most varieties can be grown in Texas during cooler weather. This year I’m looking forward to trying a recent introduction called ‘Shiraz’; a disease resistant variety developed in a collaborative effort through the Organic Seed Alliance (available from High Mowing Seeds:


Double the pleasure with greens and roots.

Beets offer something to enjoy both above and below the soil, with tender greens and tasty roots, and a good dose of fiber, potassium, folate and health-promoting antioxidants. One of my favorite ways to eat them is to roast them slowly in the oven. Whole or sliced into wedges, scrubbed but unpeeled, they go into the oven lightly coated with oil and wrapped in foil and come out tender, earthy and delicious.


Harvest beets before they reach baseball size; these overgrown beet roots are tough and stringy inside but those succulent tops will make a luscious pot of beet greens.

To some people the earthiness of beets is overpowering. I often hear “they taste like dirt” but that is likely due to variety and/or sensitive palates – some beets contain larger amounts of an organic compound called geosmin, the more geosmin the stronger that muddy flavor comes through. For beets with more sweetness and less earthiness, harvest when young and tender and remove the skin which contains higher concentrations of geosmin. If you are especially sensitive to the mustiness of beets try growing ‘Detroit Dark Red’, ‘Avalanche’, ‘Crosby Egyptian’ and ‘Golden’ which are all low in geosmin.


Ditch the dirt flavor with ‘Avalanche’ (photo courtesy All-America Selections) and ‘Golden’ beets.

The popular heirloom beet with the striped candy cane interior known as ‘Chioggia’ has high levels of geosmin; perhaps best avoided by folks who have an aversion to the robust “flavor” of garden soil.

For more on growing beets check out Jay’s post here:


Our view from the bathroom window has become more interesting lately. I think this is a red-shouldered hawk but would love corroboration or correction from any bird experts out there.

A new year means a new gardening season ripe with opportunities to improve our home-grown harvest and increase our vegetable consumption. Sowing in succession, growing vertically, interplanting and plant protection help maximize our efforts in the vegetable garden. Cheers to your harvest AND your health!


I share my posts on The Simple Homestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by and check out all the amazing things these gardeners and homesteaders are doing!

One Plant, 52 bugs

My wife recently sent me a link to a video that I enjoyed so much that I wanted to share it with you.  The link comes from “Insects in the City”.  This is one of the most useful websites out there for Texas Gardeners.  It is run and written by Mike Merchant, PhD.  Mike is an Entomolgy Specialist for Texas Agrilife Extension and his website is the first place I go for insect identification and control questions. Preying-Mantis

Sally sent me this link because I am currently working on an article for Texas Gardener about using your gardening skills to create spaces that will bring more wildlife into your garden.  When most people think about doing something like this, their goals is usually to attract more birds and butterflies.  While there is certainly nothing wrong with this, this video clearly shows that the end result of these efforts will always bring in a whole lot more than just birds and butterflies.

Mountain mint, one day in August from David Cappaert on Vimeo.

The video was created by retired entomologist David Cappaert.  He volunteers at a school in Connecticut.  He noticed that a mountain mint plant in the school’s garden had a large amount of insect activity.  He decided to film the plant for 12 hours and see how many bugs came to visit.  This 12 minute clip shows each of the 52 insects he recorded.  The video really surprised me.  This single plant brought in 52 pollinators.  That is truly amazing to me. Lady-Bettle

I generally consider bugs in my garden a problem.  However, this video shows there are many more useful bug species visiting my garden than there are harmful ones.  While I have been in favor of organic pest control methods for a long time, this video really brought home why that is important.  If you spray a pesticide you are going to kill a lot more than the intended target.  I hope you enjoyed the video as much as I did and I hope it encourages you to use targeted, organic methods that do the least damage to your garden and the insects in it.


I share my posts on The Simple Homestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by and check out all the amazing things these gardeners and homesteaders are doing!

Grow Roses from Cuttings

Mdme. Cecile Brunner is one of my favorite roses, it is also fairly easy to propagate from cuttings.

In my opinion, fall is the best time of the year to propagate roses.  Each fall, after my fall blooming roses start to fade, I take cuttings and try to turn them into new plants.  Rose propagation is a pretty straight forward process.  Wait until a rose loses its petals, cut the stem that it is on, dip it in rooting hormone, stick it media, keep it some sort of container that will trap moisture and then wait.  While the basics are pretty straight forward, there are some things you can do to improve your chances of turning your cuttings into rose bushes.

Many articles that I have read make it sound like roses are easy to root.  I don’t think they are super hard to root, but they are definitely not a sure thing.  When I started propagating roses I seldom got more than 25% of my cuttings to root.  Now, after years of trial and error, I can regularly get 50% or more of my cuttings to root by using the tips outlined below.

Climbing Pinkie is my favorite pink climber. Since I am building a new garden I have stuck 12 cuttings of this rose that will soon cover the fences that surround the new space

When to Cut

Some of the same hormones that help in blooming also help with rooting.  For best success, take cuttings of stems that have just finished blooming.  While I prefer to do my propagation in the fall, some roses only bloom in the spring.  If you have spring only blooming roses all of these tips apply.  However, you will just have to take extra care to ensure those spring cuttings remain moist during the rooting period.

What to Cut

Roses produce several types of stems for cuttings.  New tender growth (often red or purple in color) is good for cuttings if you have the ability to keep them constantly moist.  Green wood is slightly older wood that is beginning to harden.  Green wood is what I have had the most luck with.  It is firm, easy to handle and it does not dry out as quickly as new wood once it has been stuck.  Finally, roses produce hard wood.  While it is possible to make a new rose bush from a hard wood cutting, your chances are much lower.


Before I take my cuttings I gather up my supplies

How to Cut

While it is possible to get just about any type of cutting to root, I have the most success with “four node” cuttings.  I have seen some tips that say take a six inch cutting or an eight inch cutting.  To me, length is not important. Since rose cuttings need their leaves to root, it is important that your cutting have three or four sets of leaves on them when they are stuck.

A node is simply a place where a leaf grows from a stem.  The space between nodes is called an inner node.  All roses produce different inner node lengths.  This is why length does not matter to me.  Some of my cutting are 8” long and other are 4”.  It all depends on the inner nodes.

Cut on a 45

There is a reason to make a 45 degree angle on your cuttings – and it is called surface area.  When you wound any plant, it sends hormones called auxins to the wound site to start the healing process.  The good thing is, auxins also stimulate root growth.  So, by cutting on a 45 you are increasing the size of the wound which stimulates the plants into sending additional auxins to the wound site.

When it comes to rooting roses from cuttings, the $5 bottle of rooting hormone is the best money you can spend

Rooting Hormones

While many people I have talked to swear you don’t need them, my success rates are always better when I use them.  The powdered hormone I use costs just $5.  I can stick a lot of cuttings with the hormones in that little bottle.  Since most rose bushes cost $20 to $30, getting just one or two more cuttings to root because of the rooting hormone makes that $5 a very good investment.


I create my own rooting media by adding 1 part Perlite to three parts Miracle Grow Potting Mix


Horticulturists don’t use soil for propagation, they use media.  Cuttings need air and moisture to create roots.  Because of this, your rooting media needs to hold moisture and allow oxygen to pass freely to the root zone.  There are a million recipes out there and most of them will work.  For my media, I use 3 parts Miracle Grow Potting mix to one part Perlite.  The Miracle grow has compost, vermiculite and perlite in it.  However, by adding additional Perlite I create a mix that holds enough water, does not compact and readily allows oxygen in to the rooting area.


Dehydration is the biggest reason cuttings fail to root.  Commercial horticulturists can get almost 100% of their cutting to root because they grow them under a misting system.  Since most home gardeners do not have misting systems, we must figure out a way to keep humidity high around the plants while they are rooting.  While I have had success placing my potted cuttings in grocery store bags, this method is cumbersome to me.  Because of that I now put all of my rooted cutting inside an old 10 gallon aquarium that I cover with a board.  My aquarium set up does a great job keeping the humidity high for my cuttings.

While I now use an old aquarium with a top to keep my rose cuttings moist, your grandmother used a mason jar

Natural Light

While I keep my cuttings indoors under grow lights most of the winter, I believe natural light is better.  Right now my cuttings are outside in a bed that gets lots of light but is shaded in the afternoon.  I bring my cuttings inside if the temps are going to drop into the 40s.  However, I put them back outside every time it warms back up.

Propagation is my absolute favorite gardening task.  I have been doing it for years and each year I get a little better at it.  If you are new to propagation I hope these tips will encourage you to give it and, if you have been propagating for a while, I hope these tips will increase your success.

I do not know the name of this rose that blooms pink and then turns red as it matures. However, since it is so lovely I have started a dozen cuttings from it.

I share my posts on The Simple Homestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by and check out all the amazing things these gardeners and homesteaders are doing!

Planting Poppies and Larkspur


Larkspur are so beautiful and easy to grow. Plus, they re-seed readily so you will have them year after year.

Ever since Hurricane Harvey I have been swamped at work.  Twelve hour days with a three hour commute do not leave a lot of time for gardening.  This past weekend I finally got a break.  Since the weather was great I took full advantage of the last weekend of daylight savings time to plant a few perennials and lots and lots of larkspur and poppies in my latest garden adventure.

I am currently working, very slowly I might add, on a new oval shaped yard flanked by a mixed bed that will include flowering perennials, bulbs and annuals.  While the beds are still far from finished, I used this past weekend to further remove the weeds, prep the soil and plant the first of my foundation plants (Tacoma Sans, Climbing Pinkie rose and a trailing lavender lantana) and some white Datura seeds.  Once this was done I broadcast the entire tilled area with four ounces of Rocket Larkspur Tall Mix and one ounce of red Pepperbox Poppies that I bought online from Eden Brothers (The Seediest Place on Earth).


This lovely blue larkspur is grown by my friends at Texas Specialty Cut Flowers

While I absolutely love poppies and larkspur I have not planted any in a few years.  And that is one of the reasons I love them.  Since both of these beautiful spring plants are prolific self-seeders you can generally plant them once and then enjoy them year after year.  Mine did this reliably – until I got chickens.  While my wife and I love our hens, our gardens have paid the price for that love.  Before chickens my poppies and larkspur would bloom reliably each spring and then either drop their seeds naturally or allow me to collect them and spread them myself.  After chickens, all the plants in my beds paid a price for their constant scratching.  However, the poppies and larkspur paid the ultimate price.

This past spring my wife and I missed our bright red poppies and our blue, pink and lavender larkspur so much that we decided that the chickens would get to live in a very lovely and large fenced yard, and we would once again fill our beds with flowers.

I have grown Red Pepperbox poppies for years.

Larkspur and poppies are very easy to grow.  Since their seeds are so tiny, it is easiest to plant them in a broadcast manner.  Broadcast simply means throw them out on top of prepared soil and gently water them in.  As I mentioned earlier I lightly tilled my new beds then I raked them smooth.  After that I poured the seeds in my hand and began to throw them out on top of the soil.  Once complete I raked the bed again and then walked around in it to try and ensure that the seeds made good contact with the soil.  After that I turned on a sprinkler and let it run for about 30 minutes.

If you love to save seeds then poppies are for you. Each plant produces hundreds of seeds that you can gather yourself for next year or let nature plant for you

While easy to grow, there are a few tricks you can use to ensure the highest germination rate of your poppy and larkspur seeds.  First, plant at the right time.  Almost all cool season spring flowers, including wildflowers, need to be planted in the fall.  I actually planted a little late this year.  While I am sure they will be fine I would have preferred to get them in by late September or early October. To get the most even coverage of your bed be sure to spread your seeds when there is no wind.  These seeds are tiny and even a small breeze can carry many of them away before they hit the ground.  You can also get great coverage, make your seeds go further, and reduce the threat of wind loss by mixing them with sand before you spread them.  After your seeds are down water them in gently.  Too much water, or water that has too much pressure, can wash away many of your seeds before they get a chance to sprout.

Poppies come in a colors and forms. From simple California and Icelandic poppies to the beautiful doubles like this pink that my friend Patty Leander grows.

I once read a quote that said “No garden is better than next year’s garden”.  I love this quote because it speaks to me about the optimism gardeners feel each and every time we plant.  I can honestly say that thanks to my poppy and larkspur seeds I am as excited about next year’s garden as any garden I have ever had.  Nothing picks up my spirits more than the promise of beds full of beautiful spring flowers.

My wife recently spent a lovely afternoon with Nelda Eubank of Austin.  Nelda is the mother of an old friend, a long time gardener and a long time reader of the blog.  She has been a little under the weather lately.   Hope the promise of next year’s garden helps get her on her way to a full recovery. red-pepperbox-poppy-2

The Fall Factor Means a Slower Pace by Patty G. Leander

So long summer, fall has arrived

So long summer, fall has arrived

Summer has released its grip, hundred-degree days are gone till next year (we hope!) and being outdoors is invigorating rather than exhausting. The transition to fall here in Central Texas is complete. We got a taste of chilly temperatures recently with a couple of nights that dipped into the 40s but overall the weather looks great: 70s and 80s during the day with lows in the 60s. The weather may seem idyllic right now but the days are getting shorter, the sun is less intense and as the season progresses plants can grow at an agonizingly slow pace. This is often referred to as the fall factor.

‘White Russian’ (left) and ‘Winterbor’ kale can handle frigid temperatures that plummet into the 20s

‘White Russian’ (left) and ‘Winterbor’ kale can handle frigid temperatures that plummet into the 20s

 Leafy greens, including spinach, collards, mustard, kale, Swiss chard and Asian greens, are easily transplanted now and should do fine since their leaves can be eaten at any size, but broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage are more particular and may not have enough time to head up before freezing weather arrives. Quick-growing varieties of radishes and turnips can be seeded now though slow growth means it may take an extra week or so to reach harvestable size. It’s been my experience that carrots planted this late in the season will likely stall during the coldest part of winter but will take up growing again as the days grow longer in January and February.  So much is dependent on the weather.


Established plantings of kale, collards and mustard seem to handle freezing weather just fine

That said die-hard gardeners will be seeding and planting all winter, covering crops with frost blankets, fighting blustery winds, cussing and arguing with Mother Nature as they go. Been there, done that. Frankly I’m a cold weather wuss so I do most of my planting in late summer and early fall (in the heat, sweating and cursing) and hope to harvest most of my crops in November and December. I grow plenty of kale, collards and mustard since they ask little of me over the winter, but by Christmas I’m ready to curl up with my seed catalogs until mid-January when I’ll take advantage of the occasional warm and sunny days to prepare for late winter and early spring planting. Experimenting is always fun and is a great way to learn what grows best in your microclimate and also gives you an idea of how much work is required.  Over time you’ll settle on an approach that works for you.


Pull the leaves around white cauliflower to keep it bright white

Keep your crops growing vigorously with a regular dose of water soluble fertilizer every 10-14 days. The key to a successful head of broccoli or cauliflower is to grow a big plant with big leaves before the head even begins to develop. White varieties of cauliflower should be shielded from sun exposure to maintain their snow-white color. Some varieties are self-blanching, meaning their leaves wrap around the head to protect it from the sun, but otherwise tie up the large outer leaves with a rubber band, a clothespin or string. As cauliflower and broccoli reach maturity monitor their development closely and harvest the heads while the buds are still tight.

Broccoli produces a main head and then continues with an encore of side shoots

Broccoli produces a main head and then continues with an encore of side shoots

Once the main head of broccoli is harvested you will be rewarded with numerous (and delicious) side shoots. Cauliflower only produces one head and once harvested spent plants can be removed from the garden. Before you toss the plants remove and trim any leaves that are in good condition – they can be added to the pot when cooking collard and mustard greens. If you missed the window for planting broccoli and cauliflower this fall don’t worry, you will have another chance in the early spring season of 2018.

Lettuce can go in as transplants or seed can be broadcast and harvested as baby leaves

Lettuce can go in as transplants or seed can be broadcast and harvested as baby leaves

Lettuce can be grown from seed or transplants. It is a quick-growing winter crop and there are many colorful varieties to choose from. The tiny seed requires light to germinate so scatter the seeds over the soil, press down lightly and mist daily. Don’t plant a whole row at once unless you really, and I mean really, love lettuce. Tender, succulent lettuce just isn’t a good candidate for canning, freezing or drying, so it is best to plant a few seeds or a short row every week or two for a continuous harvest. Combine seed from a few different varieties and broadcast for a homegrown mesclun mix. Lettuce also grows great in a pot or other container. While collards and kale are sturdy enough to handle freezing weather – their flavor actually improves after exposure to frost – lettuce plants will benefit from row cover protection if the temperature is going to drop below freezing.

Purple mustard and Swiss chard add texture and color to the landscape.

Purple mustard and Swiss chard add texture and color to the landscape.

Swiss chard, spinach, collards, kale and other leafy greens can be grown through the winter with minimum care; you can harvest a few outer leaves a couple of times a week and the plant will keep growing from the center. The young leaves are great for salads or sautés and larger leaves are good in soups and stews. Pretty up your edible landscape with pockets of leafy greens in brilliant hues. ‘Osaka’ purple mustard, ’Toscano’ kale and ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss chard are all outstanding varieties. Culinary herbs and cool-season annuals like violas, dianthus, snapdragons, pansies, stock and alyssum also add color and fragrance to the garden.

If you have not grown vegetables before, now is a great time to take advantage of fall’s cooler temperatures, increased precipitation and best of all – fewer insects. Once you experience the satisfaction and pride of growing your own tasty, nutritious, home-grown vegetables, you may find yourself looking for additional gardening space in spring!

A Garden Visit with Kurt Mitschke by Patty G. Leander

Kurt and his early summer garden plot at Austin’s Sunshine Community Garden.

Kurt and his early summer garden plot at Austin’s Sunshine Community Garden.

He wears a hat that says GRDNR and his name rhymes with dirt, and that’s ok with Kurt Mitschke, our featured gardener for September. I met Kurt earlier this summer while I was wandering through Austin’s Sunshine Community Gardens deep in the heart of Austin. The towering corn (‘Peruvian Chullpi’ from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds) above his garden plot drew me in like a magnet; as I got closer I noticed the beans climbing on a corner trellis, a kale “tree” tied to a sturdy support, a DIY sink set up behind the corn and Cherokee Purple tomatoes carefully tied in green organza bags to deter the birds, all within the confines of a well-tended and maintained 20 x 20-foot allotment. Kurt was working busily in the garden, but not too busy to take a break and talk gardening. Before we knew it, an hour had passed and we had become garden buddies.

Organza bags protect Kurt’s prized ‘Cherokee Purple’ tomatoes.

Organza bags protect Kurt’s prized ‘Cherokee Purple’ tomatoes.

If you’ve ever driven into College Station on Texas 21 then you’ve driven past Kurt’s tiny hometown of Lincoln, Texas, just down the road from Dime Box. He grew up around country gardens and gardeners and now enjoys the thriving urban garden scene in Austin. The vibe, the garden wisdom, the community and the variety of plants he is exposed to at Sunshine has inspired him to a new level of gardening. A community garden is a great place to pick up ideas and inspiration, and social media gives him a place to share. Armed with a camera, a drone and a creative spirit, Kurt enjoys showcasing his urban garden and the interesting variety of edibles that he coaxes from his plot.  See more of what he is growing at And for a bird’s eye view of Sunshine’s 3-acre Community Garden check out his cool drone video:


Name:  Kurt Mitschke

Location:  Austin, Texas

Years gardening: I’ve been around gardens my entire life, so 28 years now, but I didn’t have one of my own until I joined my first little community garden five years ago. Then I got pretty serious about it all once I moved on to a much bigger plot in Sunshine Community Gardens, where I still garden today.


Kurt has created his garden from upcycled and recycled material, including this DIY sink for rinsing his harvest.

Years gardening in this garden: Three-and-a-half years — and in the current setup that includes a mix of in-ground and raised beds, nearly two.

A rainbow harvest from the vegetable garden.

A rainbow harvest from the vegetable garden.

Favorite thing to grow:   Gosh, I have so many favorites, but there’s nothing I find more exciting than growing new-to-me varieties, especially vegetables and herbs that I haven’t ever seen in other local gardens or markets.


Part of the fun of gardening is sharing the beauty and bounty with others.


Best growing tip:  Grow vertically. Using trellises and other supports in the garden is a great way to maximize space and produce healthy crops that are easy to harvest. Plus, it’s just a really fun and impressive way to grow.


Luffa is a favorite plant for growing vertical – the small fruit is edible, the mature fruit can be used as a sponge and the large yellow flowers attract pollinators.


Best pest control tip:  Keep a clean garden. Get rid of dead and decaying plant matter that can be a prime breeding ground for lots of bad bugs, not to mention a bunch of other things you hope to avoid in the garden, such as fungus and disease.

Best weed control tip:  Turn the soil less and mulch more. Chopping and tilling can bring up weed seeds that are dormant in the soil, so if you don’t disturb it these seeds might never have a chance at germination. And I don’t limit my efforts to the growing beds — all pathways in my garden are covered with a thick layer of wood chips that also helps to limit the weeds.

Biggest challenge:  Each season trying to fit in all the different plants I want to grow! Also, Texas summers.


The end-of-summer garden will soon transition to fall plantings.

Favorite soil amendment:  Lots of compost. Specifically, mushroom compost. We had a truckload delivered to the community garden this spring, and my plot — as well as the community garden as a whole — never looked better.

Kurt enjoys munching on the sweet leaves of stevia, mint and other herbs while working in the garden.

Kurt enjoys munching on the sweet leaves of stevia, mint and other herbs while working in the garden.

Do you preserve any of your harvest? Yeah, occasionally. Sometimes I pickle or blanch and freeze vegetables. I also dry some herbs, for tea and cooking, and will probably do the same with chili peppers this year (it’s been a great pepper season and I have a lot to experiment with). I much prefer to eat and share my harvest when it’s fresh though.

Favorite advice: Don’t be afraid to try something new. Always be willing to learn.

Helping Out After Hurricane Harvey by Patty Leander

Dear Friends,

From Corpus Christi to Beaumont, the damaging effects of hurricane Harvey were widespread and devastating. If you were affected please know that our thoughts are with you as we lift you up and pray for strength, perseverance and restoration in the days ahead.

This video from CNN shows a sliver of the destruction before the storm even hit the Houston area:

In the midst of such tragedy the resilient spirit of so many is amazing to witness. The outpouring of help and assistance, from trained rescuers as well as civilian volunteers, has been extraordinary.

Relief agencies and workers are in place to give immediate support to victims, but recovering and rebuilding from such a devastating natural disaster will take a long time. We ask those in our Masters of Horticulture community to please keep Houston and all of Southeast Texas on your radar in the days and months ahead and continue to support the recovery efforts in any way that you can. Make a donation to a relief agency, contribute to a food bank, feed emergency personnel or provide support to the families of first responders, National Guard and relief agency volunteers who have been called into duty at the last minute. The long hours, difficult work and challenging conditions can have a ripple effect on all involved.

Many churches, organizations, restaurants and agencies have stepped up to help. Perhaps you’ve already made a decision about how and where to help but if you’re not sure what to do below are two websites that provide useful information on making donations.

Our hearts are heavy but we know that Texas and its remarkable citizens will overcome this adversity and be better and stronger than before.  

This lovely rainbow appeared outside my house as soon as the rains from Harvey passed

This lovely rainbow appeared outside my house as soon as the rains from Harvey passed

Prepare Now For Fall/Winter Vegetable Harvest by Keith C. Hansen

All of this heat reminds me of a line from an old country song – “It’s too hot to fish and too hot for golf”.  Unfortunately for those of us that garden in Texas in the fall and winter, it is not too hot  garden.  I spent about eight very hot and sweaty hours in the garden this past weekend getting my garden ready for the fall and winter.  If you have not already started your garden you are a little behind schedule.  My friend Kieth Hansen recently retired from his role as Horticultural Extension Agent in the Tyler area.  While doing some reading last week I came upon an article he wrote a while back that does as good a job as anything I have ever seen at helping you prepare now for your fall and winter harvests.  I was so impressed with the article that I asked if I could rerun it here.  Kieth is an outstanding horticulturist and an outstanding writer.  Once you read this I am sure you will want to jump over to his website,  East Texas Gardening blog, and check it out.

Keith Hansen, retired AgriLife Extension horticulturist for Smith County, examines one of the tree in the IDEA Garden at the Rose Complex on Monday in Tyler.

Keith Hansen, retired AgriLife Extension horticulturist for Smith County, examines one of the tree in the IDEA Garden at the Rose Complex on Monday in Tyler.

Prepare Now For Fall/Winter Vegetable Harvest by Keith C. Hansen


Mid-July means two things: the dog days of summer and fall vegetable gardens. Everyone can relate to dog days – it’s hot and humid, good only for dogs to find a cool spot to dig a hole.

But fall gardens? In July? That’s right! Mid-Summer is the time to begin preparing and planting the garden for a fall harvest.

The first key for a successful fall garden is to get the weeds out. And if Bermuda or bahia grass are among those weeds, you can’t just rototill everything under because once you start watering and fertilizing again, you’ll have the greenest lawn in town.

Solarization is one method to reduce weeds, and other pests, by using the sun’s energy to pasteurize the upper layer of soil. However, this takes time. Prepare the soil, removing garden debris and weeds, form your beds, and then thoroughly water the soil. Cover the prepared area with clear polyethylene, sealing the edges with soil, to trap the sun’s heat. This doesn’t sterilize the soil, but reduces populations of harmful nematodes, weeds and other pests. It’s critical that his is done during July and August, the hottest time of the year. Treat for at least 6 to 8 weeks. You won’t get to plant tomatoes or peppers, but the garden site will be ready in time to plant cool-season vegetables. Solarizing-Weeds

Another non-chemical method of killing weeds is to smother them under 6 to 8 layers of wet newspaper, and then cover this layer with pine needles, old hay or grass clippings. Whenever weeds like Bermuda grass shows up through the edges, place another layer of paper over it. By continually denying them light, they’ll eventually weaken and die. Transplant through the papers, or just use them in the pathways. The paper will be mostly decomposed by next spring.


using newspaper and mulch is a great way to smother weeds in your garden

Hand digging is another option for real small plots, but take care not to get heat stroke; work early in the morning before it gets too hot.

If the garden spot has perennial weeds, like Bermuda, you can spray the weeds in an empty garden site with a weed killer that contains glyphosate. Some brand names for glyphosate include: Roundup, Kleenup, and Weed Away. Check the ingredients on the label for the term glyphosate” and follow label instructions for application rate. Glyphosate will not stay in the soil; it is strictly a foliar weed killer, but it kills roots and all. It takes about 2 weeks to completely kill Bermuda, maybe slightly longer if the weeds are under drought stress. It works best if weeds are healthy, actively growing and not suffering from lack of water. Remember, the garden spot must be empty to use glyphosate! Read the label completely before using.

While not as effective as Round Up, concentrated acetic acid is a good, organic weed killer that will work on both grassy and broad leafed weeds

While not as effective as Round Up, concentrated acetic acid is a good, organic weed killer that will work on both grassy and broad leafed weeds

There are also organic herbicides formulated with oils and soaps that will kill many tender annual weeds, but will not eliminate Bermuda and other perennial weeds with one application.

For future weed control, once you have your garden prepared, always maintain some sort of mulch covering the surface of the soil to prevent weeds from taking over again.

Every time you prepare the soil to plant a new crop, always mix in as much compost as you can get your hands on. Add well-decomposed animal manure, fertilizer and lime if soil tests indicate a low fertility or pH, and work all ingredients into the soil.


Compost helps sandy soils retain moisture and clay soils drain. It also supplies plant ready nutrients slowly and consistently.

Southern peas such as blackeye, purplehull, cream and crowders make a great, edible summer cover crop for building the soil and providing food. The pea vines can be mowed and rototilled under while still green for extra soil building benefits or allowed to produce peas and then tilled under.

Tomatoes and peppers need to be planted soon – by the first of August – if they are going to make a good crop before first frost. What if your garden spot is not yet ready? Buy your transplants now and grow them in a larger container to plant in the garden later.

*****Check out our planting guidelines in the sidebar to see when you need to put out your favorite vegetble seeds and transplants.

Get either 6-pack transplants or 4-inch transplants. Put them in a 1- or 3-gallon nursery container filled with potting soil. Do not use soil from your garden. Add slow release fertilizer (like Osmocote or other slow release formulation) to the soil mix. Set the pots in a sunny spot in the yard, not in the shade!


When watering seedlings uses a water soluble fertilizer or compost tea

Every time you water, use a water-soluble fertilizer solution instead of just plain water. Your transplants will continue to grow and be healthy, just as if you have transplanted them directly into the ground. Once your garden site is ready, you will have large, healthy tomato and pepper plants to set out. They will be easier to take care of and you will be assured of a bountiful harvest before the first freeze of winter.

Grow fast maturing tomato varieties for the fall harvest. Look for varieties with less than 75 days to maturity, such as ‘Merced’, ‘Bingo’, ‘Celebrity’, ‘Whirlaway’, and ‘Carnival’. ‘Surefire’ is a smaller, processing tomato variety (with thicker skin) which sets and matures all of its tomatoes very quickly, giving you a “surefire” harvest that beats the first freeze. Most cherry tomatoes will bear within 65 days of transplanting.

Timing is very important for a successful fall garden. Heat tolerant/cold sensitive crops need to be planted in time to mature before cold weather slows and stops growth, while cool season/heat sensitive crops are planted late enough to avoid the heat, but early enough to take the first frosts of winter.

Seeded vegetables can be tricky to get up in the heat of summer. Soil often forms a crust on the surface after tillage and watering. This “crust” can hinder tender seedlings from breaking through. Here are a couple of tips to help get seedlings up in the summer.


Open a furrow down the row as you normally would to sow the seeds. Before sowing, take your garden hose and thoroughly soak the bottom of the seed furrow with water. Next sow the seed. Finally, cover the seed to the proper depth with dry soil and firm. The seed should stay moist enough until germination, and if you avoid overhead watering, the soil will not form a crust to hinder seedling emergence.

Other folks will place a board or wet burlap over the seed row to provide constant dampness to encourage germination and emergence. You need to check every day for signs of emergence, and remove the covering when you see the first seedlings breaking through.

I share my posts on The Simple Homestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by and check out all the amazing things these gardeners and homesteaders are doing!

A Look Back at Spring by Patty G. Leander


Butterbeans on the trellis are slow growing now but will perk up when the weather cools slightly.

Texas has a long growing season. If you know what to plant and when to plant you can grow vegetables year-round, and many dedicated gardeners and farmers {thankfully} do just that. But the triple digit temperatures, lack of rain and water restrictions truly test the limits of both garden and gardener this time of year, leading us into a sort of heat-induced dormancy.


Long beans can take the heat and still produce a tasty harvest.

As the squash wilts, the cucumbers droop and the home-grown tomato harvest comes to an end, my attention and my water goes to the few die-hard vegetables that can stand up to this blistering, unforgiving heat and still yield a harvest. Currently producing are okra, long beans, Southern peas, Malabar spinach, sweet potatoes, eggplant, peppers and basil. Butterbeans, mint and sorrel are hanging on, and though their quality is temporarily compromised I know they will perk up when the temperatures “cool off” (you know, into the low 90s).

In between frequent okra harvests I like to review the spring season and make notes for next year. In southwest Travis County where I live and garden, spring came early, stayed long and brought generous rains, at least by Central Texas standards. The average date of our last freeze is March 8, but this year we did not even have a freeze in February. March and April brought warm days and mild nights, perfect weather for growing a vegetable garden and a pretty good season for tomato lovers.


It was a good season while it lasted but the 2017 spring tomato harvest has come to an end.

A few favorites we enjoyed this year included ‘Genuwine’, a cross between ‘Brandywine’ and ‘Costoluto Genovese’, ‘Porter’, a pretty, plum-shaped, deep pink Texas heirloom developed by Texas seedsman V. O. Porter, of Stephenville, and ‘Black Krim’ and ‘Japanese Black Trifle’, both reddish-black tomatoes with rich, bold flavor. ‘Juliet’, a productive, oblong cherry, is a perennial favorite and did great again this year, producing right up until the thermometer hit 103°.


Left to right: ‘Sweet Olive’, ‘Dr. Carolyn’, Black Cherry’, ‘Sunrise Bumble Bee’ and ‘Helsing Junction Blue’

Besides ‘Juliet’, I grew 4 colorful cherry varieties: ‘Sweet Olive’ (red), ‘Dr. Carolyn’ (yellow), ‘Sunrise Bumble Bee’ (yellow with pink striping) and ‘Black Cherry’ (dark mahogany red).  All are good producers and add lively color and flavor to summer salads, sandwiches and wraps. I noticed a deep purple cherry tomato growing in various plots at a local community garden and had to inquire. It is called ‘Helsing Junction Blue’, named after an organic farm and CSA in Washington state. The tomato was bred by Tom Wagner, the same fellow that bred ‘Green Zebra’. It’s a pretty little tomato on large, indeterminate plants but the flavor of the ones I tasted was odd. Harvesting it at the right stage of ripeness seems to be key. Might try that one next year just out of curiosity; plus the blue tomatoes that have been introduced lately are bred to have higher levels of anthocyanins, which help decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease and may help with memory function.


My refrigerator was not big enough to hold the Zuchetta harvest – an Igloo cooler held the overflow.

Another recent discovery I’ve enjoyed growing the last few years is a squash called ‘Tromboncino’, also known as ‘Zuchetta Rampicante’. It is so vigorous that it seems to outgrow the squash vine borer and the result is a plethora of pale green, twisted squash. There are so many and they come so fast that I sometimes don’t have enough room for them in my refrigerator and must store them temporarily in a cooler. They were highly productive this year but just couldn’t stand up to the triple digit temps.


Leave a few ‘Shishito’ peppers to ripen on the plant then save the seed to plant next year.

‘Shishito’ peppers have been another welcome addition to the garden the last few years. The plants are fairly small but the more I pick the more peppers the plants pump out. The crisp, mild and flavorful peppers are popular in Japan and started showing up in restaurants and on food blogs in the US a few years ago. They are often blistered in a hot skillet and served as an appetizer or sliced into salads or stir-fry dishes.


Texas Rose’ garlic, purchased from a farm in Arizona, did great this year.

Last fall I planted a variety of garlic called ‘Texas Rose’, purchased from Forever Yong Farms in Arizona. With Texas in its name I figured it had to be worth a try. Upon further investigation, I learned this garlic has been grown for many years in South Texas and was originally known as Hallettsville garlic. Forever Yong farms says they obtained the garlic from a fellow in Seguin named Ray Reininger. It’s an early artichoke type; I planted my cloves in September and harvested most of it by early May. Forever Yong Farms sold out of their garlic last fall but they should have fresh stock later this year. Check their website ( for availability and ordering information.

French Mother’s Cucumber Salad made with ‘Vertina’ cucumbers

French Mother’s Cucumber Salad made with ‘Vertina’ cucumbers

My favorite cucumber this year was a pickler called ‘Vertina’. The dark green, crunchy fruit was very productive, great for pickling and eating fresh. My friend Carolyn shared a favorite recipe that came from her niece who spent a semester living with a family in France. The family ate daily from their garden and the French mother made a cucumber-tomato salad that Carolyn and her sister still enjoying making every summer. It’s quick and delicious and can be made “to taste”. They call it French Mother’s Cucumber Salad:

1 large or 2 small cucumbers, peeled and sliced

Equal amount of cherry tomatoes

Mozzarella balls

Basil to taste


Mix together 1 part balsamic vinegar to 2 parts olive oil, salt & pepper then add

to cucumber mixture. Chill slightly before serving.


As you can see from the photo I don’t peel my cucumbers and I added purple onion. But that’s the beauty of this salad – you can’t go wrong plus it’s easy and yummy. Thanks, Carolyn!



I share my posts on The Simple Homestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by and check out all the amazing things these gardeners and homesteaders are doing!

A Garden Visit with John Boswell

John Boswell is an organic gardener from Waxahachie. He has been growing vegetables for just about all of his 92 years

John Boswell is an organic gardener from Waxahachie. He has been growing vegetables for just about all of his 92 years

A few weeks ago I headed out to Waxachie to interview John Boswell.  John is an outstanding vegetable gardener that has been growing food for over 80 years.  That is not a typo.  John is 92 years young and each spring he plants and grows a garden that is bigger than most men half his age would attempt to grow.  John is an organic grower that uses barnyard waste and other organic fertilizers to improve the fertility of his soil and also help his black clay drain.

John gardens in black clay that he continually improves with the addition of compost.

John gardens in black clay that he continually improves with the addition of compost.

Years gardening: 80+.  John grew up in Missouri during the depression.  Gardening was not a hobby, it was how his family survived.  In addition to feeding them, John’s dad was able to make a few dollars selling produce.  He literally does not remember a time in his young life that the garden was not a part of his daily routine.  When he got old enough he joined the Navy.  He served in the Pacific as a medic during World War II.  John wound up in San Antonio and retired from the hotel industry.  Except for a few years, he has kept a garden his entire life.

This is only half of John's amazing garden!

This is only half of John’s amazing garden!

 Years in this plot:  5 years

Favorite crop: John loves pickled beets so he grows lots of them.  He also loves to grow zucchini, red potatoes, 1015 onions, tomatoes (Celebrity and Porter), cabbage, Blue Lake bush beans and an unnamed heirloom melon.

John loves growing beets but zucchini is a close second

John loves growing beets but zucchini is a close second

 Best tips:  Set up and use a low water system.  John uses drip tape and emitters to apply just the right amount of moisture to the base of most of his plants.  For his beans, John set up three sprinkler heads and uses them to water a 5’ to 6’ wide row of Blue Lake green beans.

John built his own irrigation system for the garden PVC and off the shelve sprikler heads

John built his own irrigation system for the garden PVC and off the shelf sprinkler heads

Pest control:  While John doesn’t have too many bug problems he tells an interesting story about controlling potato bugs back on the farm in Missouri.  His family used to keep a bucket full of horse manure and water.  They would use a tin can with holes punched in it to water their potatoes.  According to John, this manure tea grew great potatoes and they never ever had a problem with potato bugs.

Weed control: John does not believe in spraying herbicides to control weeds.  Instead, he has set up his garden in a way that allows him to keep the weeds under control early in the season with just his hoe.  As the weeds get more aggressive in the summer he slowly lets most of them go.  He believes the weeds provide shade and cooling that his late season vegetables seem to enjoy.

John's favorite tomatoes are Celebrity and Foster

John’s favorite tomatoes are Celebrity and Porter

Biggest challenge: Rabbits.  His garden draws in rabbits and other four legged pests.  John has done everything he can to keep furry critters out of his beds.  Unfortunately, no matter how much wire or screen he puts up the animals still manage to get in.

Favorite amendment: Compost and   “Barnyard” soil.

Do you preserve:  Yes.  He loves pickled beets so He grows and cans a bunch each year.  He shared a jar with me and I can tell you, he really knows how to pickle a beet!

Favorite advice:  John recommends that you constantly work to improve your soil.  Even though his garden plot was once a chicken yard, he brought in an entire trailer load of “barnyard” waste and tilled it into his garden.  Each year he adds more compost to his garden in late fall.

One of the more unusual things that John grows is comfrey.

One of the more unusual things that John grows is comfrey.


I share my posts on The Simple Homestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by and check out all the amazing things these gardeners and homesteaders are doing!