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.

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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.

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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!

tomato-seedlings

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.

bean-seeds

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!

Harvesting Wildflowers

While many fields and roadsides are still covered in cheerful, yellow Brown Eyed Susan’s, Mexican Hats and warm orange blanket flowers, the 2017 wildflower season is beginning to come to an end.  The bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrushes have been gone for about a month now and most of the spring flowers are literally going to seed.  I really hate to see the fading of these flowers because I know that as soon as they are gone our long hot summer begins.

Texas-Wildflowers-1

Bluebonnets may get all the press, but they are definitely not the only beautiful wildflowers that we have in Texas!

If you love wildflowers, and you would like to have more of them at your house, now is a great time to get out and harvest their seeds.  Seed harvesting is very easy and requires only three things-a sharp pair of garden shears, a paper bag and patience.   While it is easy to clip seed heads or seed pods and drop them in your paper bag, they will not germinate if you cut them at the wrong time.  The absolute key to success in gathering wildflower seeds is having the patience to wait until the seed heads, or seed pods, are completely dried out.

Bluebonnets are definitely the most loved wildflower in the state.  Luckily, their seeds are about the easiest to harvest.  Since bluebonnet seeds form in little pods, all you have to do is find pods that have not yet split open.  Clip the pods with your shears and drop them into a paper sack.  Nature will eventually force the pods to burst open (or “shatter”) releasing your seeds into the bag.

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You are not really a gardener until you have more plants than you can care for or until you start stopping on the side of the highway to gather wildflower seeds!!!

Mexican Hat, Brown Eyed Susan, Blanket Flowers and Echinacea are all what we generically call “cone flowers”.  Cone flowers layer their seeds in flat rows around a central conically shaped structure at the top of the stem.  This creates a semi-circular mass of seeds.  Cone flowers are ready to pick when all flower petals and pollen are gone and the seeds and top part of the stem are dry and brittle.  When the seed head is in this condition simply stick your thumb nail into the seeds and make a “split”.  Then use your thumb or fingers to separate the seeds from the cone.

Antelope Horn Milkweed are beautiful and a host for Monarch butterflies.

Antelope Horn Milkweed are beautiful and a host for Monarch butterflies.

One of my favorite wildflowers is Antelope Horn Milkweed.  This plant is a part of the genus Asclepias.  Asclepias are milkweeds and milkweeds host Monarch butterflies.  Like the bees, Monarch butterfly number are declining.  Since I like Monarchs and I love milkweed flowers I have two reasons to collect the downy seeds of this plant.  Asclepias seeds are stored in pods.  When the pod breaks open long, downy wings that are attached to the seed catch a breeze and spread the seeds far and wide.  If you want to gather the seed, watch closely and pick the dried pods (which look like antelope horns) right before, or just as soon as the pod opens.

Brown-Eyed-Susan

The Brown Eyed Susan seed head on the left is not quite ready for harvest

After gathering your wildflower seeds, place them in a cool place in the house and wait until fall.   Texas wild flower seeds should be put out in early October.  You can put them out as late as early November but the plants really benefit if planted early.  Many people recommend simply scattering wild flower seeds on top of the soil and then watering them in.  This will work, but not very well.  Most wild flowers have fairly low germination rates.  In addition, flower seeds on top of the soil are eaten by many birds and mammals and rain washes away a bunch of them.  Due to all of these factors, the best way to ensure that you get the most flowers for your money is to lightly till the area in which you are going to scatter the seed.  Then scatter the seed and rake soil or mowed vegetation over the seeds.  In my experience, lightly covered seed germinate at a much higher rate that those that were scattered on top of the ground.

This shot from Bruce Leander shows bluebonnet pods that are mature enough for harvest

This shot from Bruce Leander shows bluebonnet pods that are mature enough for harvest

Texas has incredibly beautiful wildflowers that bloom over a long season and require no maintenance.  That’s why I collect their seeds and replant them on my property.  In addition to making our little “native pasture” beautiful from March through June, the wild flower seeds that we collect and grow attract a wide variety of birds, butterflies, pollinators and mammals that we love to watch.  If you want to get some wildflowers started on your place, now is harvest time.  Keep your clippers and some bags in the car so you will be ready when you find some fading flowers on the side of the road.

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!

The Flutter of Fall by Patty G. Leander

So long, mosquitoes! One of the reasons that fall gardening is such a wonderful season is because {most} pests tend to quietly fade away this time of year, and the one I am happiest to see go is the mosquito. It’s hard to think of anything that sucks the joy out of being outside more than a single, determined mosquito. Good riddance. I hope their annoying buzz and bite is waning in your outdoor environment as well.

mistflower-tithonias

Butterflies love Gregg’s mistflower (left) and tithonias (right).

As the mosquitoes retreat the butterflies arrive in throngs, fluttering gracefully among the flora. We’ve been enjoying the queens and monarchs while they’ve been enjoying the bright orange tithonias in my garden. I highly recommend planting tithonias next year; they are easy to grow from seed and tolerate hot and dry conditions. A good match for summer in Texas!

tithonia-mexican-sunflower

Butterflies are drawn to the vivid orange blooms of tithonias.

I planted mine in the vegetable garden in late March, between some pole beans and peppers, and they bloomed all summer, growing even taller than the 6’ trellis nearby. They outgrew their space and I had to pull them up in early September to prepare for fall planting; with no effort on my part they reseeded and the resulting plants burst into blooms a few weeks ago. They will bloom until frost, providing a bright accent in the garden, nectar for the butterflies and cut flowers for the house.

Schoolhouse lilies appear like magic in early fall, reminding us that school is once again in session.

Schoolhouse lilies appear like magic in early fall, reminding us that school is once again in session.

Another enjoyable aspect of fall is the seasonal color in the landscape. Just as wildflowers herald spring there are certain plants that announce the arrival of fall in Texas. Year after year, schoolhouse lilies, also known as Oxblood lilies, dutifully pop up, usually sometime in September, along with fall asters, Maximilian sunflowers, Mexican mint marigold and native ornamental grasses.

fall-aster

Fall aster and Maximilian sunflowers harmonize in the garden while gulf muhly shows off its spectacular purple plumes.

The rhythm, color and seasonality of plants is amazing and people who say that Texas only has two seasons – green and brown – just aren’t paying enough attention.

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Big Muhly grass frames a yellow spray of Maximilian sunflowers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Ornamental grasses look their best in fall but not all grasses are native to Texas. There is one type of non-native grass in particular that I have noticed everywhere this year along roadways, medians, fields and even in my own backyard.

It’s called KR bluestem, a clumping grass native to Europe and Asia that was found growing on the King Ranch in the early 1900s. For years it was incorporated into seed mixes that were used for soil erosion and forage, but it outgrew its usefulness when it started “messing with Texas”, spreading to unwanted areas and threatening to overtake wildflowers and other native species.

KR-Bluestem

KR Bluestem, a non-native invasive weed, growing along Mopac near Davis Lane in southwest Austin.

If you find this grass in your landscape don’t let it go to seed. Mow regularly, before seed heads form and dig out clumps if feasible. Keep your lawn watered and fertilized so it can outcompete any KR bluestem that tries to move in.

KR-Bluestem-2

Keep KR Bluestem mowed so it does not have a chance to reseed.

Fool Proof Summer Color

Summer is a tough time for me.  As someone that likes to be out doors, the oppressive summer heat makes it a whole lot less enjoyable for me to be outside.  While the heat is a bit of a problem for me, I can adjust.  I can always get up earlier or wait until the evening to do my gardening chores.  My plants, on the other hand, are stuck wherever they are and they have to either adjust to the heat or die.  Since our extreme climate makes it impossible for many of the beautiful flowering plants that we love to grow in the spring die by July, it can be a bit of a challenge for we Texas Gardeners to keep our beds and borders looking alive, vibrant and inviting. TurksCap6

A few years ago I was talking about my search for no fail summer color with my buddy Morgan McBride of Tree Town USA.  Before he started selling trees, Morgan worked as a landscape maintenance supervisor for over 20 years in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area.  According to Morgan, the businesses he serviced wanted attractive landscapes at the lowest cost possible.  To fill these requirements, he relied on three very common plants to ensure colorful commercial landscapes throughout the hottest parts of summer –sweet potato vine, purple fountain grass and lantana.

After my visit with Morgan I realized I was looking for color in all the wrong place.  Instead of trying to brighten my beds with colorful annual flowers I should get my summer color from the many of the perennials that do well for us despite our oppressive summer heat.  Thanks to his advice I have finally come up with my short list of Texas tough plants that will reliably provide tons of low maintenance and low water color in your summer landscape.

Foliage Plants

Purple Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) – Purple Fountain Grass is one of many grasses that do well in our climate.  However, it is the only one that will add a lovely burgundy color to your landscape.  Combine that striking color with the lovely and graceful flower spikes and you have a very showy and useful plant that can be used in mass, as a specimen and even in pots.

Purple Fountain grass is so versatile that i grow it in pots.

Purple Fountain grass is so versatile that i grow it in pots.

Sweet Potato Vine (Ipomoae batatas) – With its rapid growth rate and varieties that come in colors that range from almost black to the brightest chartreuse, there is no better way to bring a lot of color to your summer landscape than with this cousin of the edible sweet potato.  Sweet Potato Vine is incredibly easy to propagate and it tells you when it needs water.   If you want more vines simply snip off a piece and root it in water and if you see your vines wilting, give them a little drink.  Sweet potato vine is great as a ground cover, spilling over a wall or tumbling out of a pot.  If you live where winters are cold and wet, you can dig up the tubers and store in saw dust for next year.  Otherwise you can leave them in the ground for years of beautiful foliage.

Coleus (various species) –   I love coleus and grow several varieties every year.  Coleus are one of the few plants that you actually have to work very hard to kill.  Coleus can take a lot of drying.  If you forget to water your coleus they will wilt down pretty quickly.  However, you can take some very wilted coleus, trim them up a bit, water them and watch them miraculously bounce right back.  Coleus work as well in the ground as they do in pots.  Group them together for a very colorful display.

Artemisia (var Powis Castle)- Artemisia is a woody perennial plant that is known for its gray, feathery foliage and its distinctive smell.   There are many artemisias out there but the variety Powis Castle is the best one for most of Texas.  Powis Castle loves full sun, high heat and well-draining soil.  A single plant will create a silver mound that is three feet tall and five feet wide in a single season.  With its lovely silver-gray color, Powis Castle is the perfect companion for plants in a variety of colors.  It is lovely when paired with pink Knock Out roses or pink antique roses like “Old Blush

Powis Castle artemesia has lovely silver foliage that pairs well with a wide range of plants. Here is pairs nicely with "Hotlips" salvia

Powis Castle artemesia has lovely silver foliage that pairs well with a wide range of plants. Here is pairs nicely with “Hotlips” salvia

Setcreasea purpurea ‘Purple Heart’ – In my mind, Purple Heart is one of the most versatile, yet underutilized plants in the Texas landscape.  Talk about color!  This plant is all purple!  While it does get lovely, small, pink flowers in the spring, Purple Heart is used for its lovely purple foliage.  I love this plant and I grow it in mass as a ground cover.  While it can get aphids and spider mites it is a mostly carefree plant that loves full sun and crowed conditions.  Purple Heart will spread rapidly by sending out runners up to 3’ long.  Plus, it is so easy to propagate.  If you want more purple heart just break a piece off, stick it in moist soil and it will root.  Truly an awesome plant for bringing lots of color to your landscape!

Nothing brings in more intense color to a summer landscape than a mass of Purple Heart

Nothing brings in more intense color to a summer landscape than a mass of Purple Heart

Flowering Plants

Lantana – There is really nothing bad to say about lantana.  This mounding perennial starts blooming in the spring and blooms and blooms and blooms well into winter.  Right now I grow a yellow variety called New Gold.  However, I have grown many others through the years.  One of my favorites is a red and yellow variety called “Dallas”.  Lantana is the ultimate hands off plant.  While I water, most varieties will survive on annual rainfall.  If you water it occasionally, it will reward you with flowers for six to eight months of the year.  Then, when the freeze does finally get it, just cut it back to about six inches and wait for spring.

If lantana can thrive in the middle of an HEB parking lot, it can certainly thrive in your yard. In my opinion lantana is the most versitile, tough and pest free color plant you can use in your Texas landscape.

If lantana can thrive in the middle of an HEB parking lot, it can certainly thrive in your yard. In my opinion lantana is the most versitile, tough and pest free color plant you can use in your Texas landscape.

Salvia greggii-There are many salvias that thrive in our climate.  One of the more colorful and more reliable is Salvia greggii.  Salvia greggii is a woody, bushy perennial that gets about three feet tall.  Its upright braches are covered in little muted green leaves.  However, the little flowers of this hardy plant are what make it a standout in the summer garden.  Salvia greggii comes in many colors including red white and pink.  However there are other variants available.   A red variety called Cherry Chief is one of my favorites.  However, I am also found of a variety called Hot Lips.  Salvi greggii is a mannerly bush that stays where it is planted.  Besides its almost year round flowering, the best thing about Salvia greggii is the fact that hummingbirds absolutely love it.

Salvias are great color plants for Texas. Many of them are native to the Southwestern United States so they bloom all summer long on annual rainfall.

Salvias are great color plants for Texas. Many of them are native to the Southwestern United States so they bloom all summer long on annual rainfall.

Gomphrena (Bachelor’s Buttons)– Talk about a showy plant!  Gomphrena grows into three foot mounds of foliage that are covered with round, button like flowers.  You can find gomphrena in most colors.  I have a lot of yellow flowering plants in my yard so I use two shades of purple.  Gomphrena is a self-seeding annual.  That means if you leave it alone the seeds from those hundreds of flowers will fall to the ground and remain dormant until spring.  I like this plant because it does not really start blooming until most of my other flowers have faded.  Look for blooms in June and enjoy them until the first good freeze.

gomphrena

I love gomphrena. This Texas Tough self-seeding annual blooms just as things begin to really heat up and then keeps blooming right up to the first freeze!

Celosia (Cock’s Comb) – When you are a gardener you just kind of assume that everyone knows as much about plants as you do.  Each year, my celosia reminds me that this is not true.  I guarantee that each time I use celosia in an arrangement someone is going to ask me what it is.  Celosia comes in two types – the big velvety brain like varieties and the plume type.  I love them both.  I grow several colors and several varieties.  These unusual flowers are also self-seeding and, like gomphrena, the start to bloom in June and then go all the way up to the first freeze.

 

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!

Its American Flowers Week !!!

Its American Flowers Week !!!  That means it is time to celebrate American flower farmers, the beautiful products they grow and the talented people that turn them into the stunning arrangements that will brighten your dinner table, adorn your wedding, let your sweetie know you care or comfort the family of a dear friend at their passing.

American Flowers Week

A lot of people don’t know this, but most of the cut flowers sold in the U.S. are imported.  Each time you buy a bouquet at the supermarket or order an arrangement, there is an 80% chance that the flowers came from overseas.  While there is nothing inherently wrong with that fact, more and more Americans are making a choice to ensure that “the flowers at the center of [their] table [are] as fresh, local and sustainable as the food on [their] plate” (quote courtesy of the American Grown Field to Vase Dinner press release).

Lovely view from the Big Big Barn at Texas Specialty Cut Flowers in Blanco, Tx. Photo credit: Whitney Devin for Field to Vase Dinner Tour.

Lovely view from the Big Big Barn at Texas Specialty Cut Flowers in Blanco, Tx. Photo credit: Whitney Devin for Field to Vase Dinner Tour.

Over the last couple of decades the American floral industry has seen several changes.  One of the most pronounced has been the beginnings of what is now called the “Slow Flowers” movement.  The term “Slow Flowers” was coined by my friend Debra Prinzing.  Debra is the author of the of the best-selling  book “The Fifty Mile Bouquet – Seasonal, Local and Sustainable Flowers”.  Debra was the first person to begin telling the world about the amazing American floral producers who have decided to win back market share from foreign competitors by doing something the foreign growers can’t – locally growing the highest quality, environmentally sensitive floral products available on the planet.

Debra Prinzing, the mother of the Slow Flowers movement, enjoys the great local flowers, the great local food and the company of many passionate flower lovers at the recent American Grown Field to Vase Dinner in Blanco. Photo credit: Whitney Devin for Field to Vase Dinner Tour.

Debra Prinzing, the mother of the Slow Flowers movement, enjoys the great local flowers, the great local food and the company of many passionate flower lovers at the recent American Grown Field to Vase Dinner in Blanco. Photo credit: Whitney Devin for Field to Vase Dinner Tour.

Since writing “The Fifty Mile Bouquet” Debra has been adopted by these local farmers to spread their message.  These flower farmers and their amazing, high quality products inspired Debra to start a journey that has led her from the flower fields of America all the way to the Whitehouse.  In the past few years she has worked to build growers coops, organize and promote field to vase dinners, create an on-line resource to connect those that want to buy locally with those that produce, promoted flower farmers through regular interviews available on podcast  and written extensively about the “Slow Flower”  movement in publications like the New York Times, Sunset Magazine and Country Gardens Magazine.  Her advocacy for the American flower farmer recently resulted in an invitation to speak about “Slow Flowers” and the importance of the American farmer at the annual “First Lady’s Luncheon” ( a gathering of all of the spouses of our elected officials in Washington, D.C.).

American Grown's Field to Vase Dinners are a great way to show your support of the American flower farmer. Photo credit: Whitney Devin for Field to Vase Dinner Tour.

American Grown’s Field to Vase Dinners are a great way to show your support of the American flower farmer. Photo credit: Whitney Devin for Field to Vase Dinner Tour.

I recently attend a local Field to Vase Dinner in Blanco as Debra’s guest.  The dinner was a very special event for me.  Not only was it a beautiful event that featured local food, local beer, local wine and the beautiful locally grown flowers of Slow Flower pioneers Frank and Pam Arnosky, it was a chance to gather with old and new friends that love American grown flowers as much as I do.  The night was an unbelievably beautiful and tasty tribute to the work being done by these passionate growers of American flowers.

Photo credit: Whitney Devin for Field to Vase Dinner Tour.

Photo credit: Whitney Devin for Field to Vase Dinner Tour.

If you are already a passionate believer in the work being done by these American farmers, or you would like to learn more about them, I highly recommend attending one of these Field to Vase events when they come to your area.  Each year American Grown sponsors several of these events all across America.  Be sure to click here to see when they are coming to your part of the country.

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Market research has shown that, when given a choice between an American product and an import, the vast majority of US consumers would choose to buy American.  In a market that is flooded with foreign products, it is often difficult to find a local alternative.  Thanks to the hard work of these pioneering American flower farmers, their advocates and educational programs like American Flower Week you now know you have a choice when it comes to buying fresh cut flowers.  The next time you need an arrangement, why not head over to the Slow Flowers website and spend your dollars in support of American agriculture.  By buying American from these visionary farmers, florists and designers you will ensure that the flowers you purchase will be as fresh, local and sustainable as the food on your plate.

American grown flowers are grown and sold locally so you get the freshest, most organic products available.

American grown flowers are grown and sold locally so you get the freshest, most organic products available.

Breed Your Own Daylilies

May is undoubtedly the prettiest month of the year in my garden; and the thing that makes my garden outstanding this time of year is the daylilies.  I grow an old fashioned variety of daylily called Hyperion.  My wife’s grandmother got these daylilies sometime in the 1950s.  For the next several years they thrived and reproduced so successfully in her Garden Oaks yard that she divided them and took them to her ranch in Lovelady, Texas.  My wife’s grandmother passed away 15 years ago.  However, the daylilies she planted over 60 years ago are still thriving at her east Texas ranch and now, in our Brenham yard.

Thanks to my old-timey daylilies, May is the prettiest time of year in my yard

Thanks to my old-timey daylilies, May is the prettiest time of year in my yard

While daylilies make my yard pretty, my yard pales in comparison to the hundreds of feet of daylilies that line Highway 290 just west of Brenham on Magnolia Hill Farms (5059 HWY 290W, 979-251-4069).  My buddy Nathan Hanath is an organic farmer and a commercial daylily grower.  He currently has over 800 named cultivars for sale and hundreds more cultivars that he has bred.  Right now they are all in bloom and a visit to the farm will literally blow your horticultural mind.  While Nathan loves growing organic produce, his zeal for breeding daylilies is contagious.

Magnolia Hill Farm in Brenham has 0ver 800 cultivars of daylilies.

Magnolia Hill Farm in Brenham has 0ver 800 cultivars of daylilies.

According to Nathan, you do not need to be a professional to breed and grow beautiful daylily hybrids.  With just two or more cultivars, a few horticultural skills and some basic documentation skills, home gardeners like you and I can create daylilies that are just amazing as the pros.

Breeding:

Botanically speaking, daylilies are perfect flowers.  That means they have both male and female organs inside each flower.  The male parts are called stamens.  There are six of these in the center of the flower and they are topped with the pollen you will use to make your cross.  The female parts of the flower are collectively called the pistil.  Pollen is applied to a part of the pistil called the stigma.  In the daylily this is a single, long curved structure that is generally noticeably longer than the six stamens.  To make your cross, gently remove a stamen from the first plant you want to breed.  Then use it like a small paint brush to gently paint the pistil of the mother plant.

In this lovely daylily you can clearly see the stamens covered in pollen and the stigma that receives the pollen

In this lovely daylily you can clearly see the stamens covered in pollen and the stigma that receives the pollen

When the flowers open in the morning their pollen is slightly sticky.  In fact, according to Nathan, some daylilies have not even made their pollen by the time their flowers open.  Because of this, the best time to pollinate daylilies is around 10:00 am.  His experience has shown him that you will be much less successful with your crosses if you breed too early in the morning or too late in the afternoon.

Documenting Your Crosses:

While paperwork is not necessary to cross breed flowers, it will provide you with the information you need to understand what crosses work and which ones don’t.   Some daylilies have 11 set of chromosomes (diploid) and some have 22 (tetraploid).   “Dips” and “Tets” (as they are called in the trade) will not cross.  Since it is almost impossible to determine if your flowers are dips or tets, good documentation will allow you to understand which plants you can cross and which ones you can’t.

It is a good idea to make a permanent tag that notes the pollen plant and mother plant when crossing daylilies

It is a good idea to make a permanent tag that notes the pollen plant and mother plant when crossing daylilies

Good documentation will also allow you to begin to understand which plants do a good job of passing on their genetics.  As you get better at breeding, your documentation will allow you to begin to understand which of your plants will more likely create good results when crossed with others.

Once you place the pollen on the stigma, immediately make a record of the cross.  When Nathan crosses daylilies he attaches a little plastic tag to flower he just crossed.  His tag lists the name of the pollen cultivar first and the mother plant second.  These tags will not only help you remember what plants you have crossed but they will also be a visual reminder of which pods have the hybridized seeds at harvest time.

Here Nathan applies pollen to the mother plant

Here Nathan applies pollen to the mother plant

Growing your Crosses:

If you made a successful cross, your plant should produce seed pods in about 3 days (as soon as the spent blooms fall of the plant).  The seeds in those pods will be ready to harvest when the pods dry out, turn brown and begin to open.  For most cultivars this happens from mid to late June.  Most pods have 6 to 8 seeds in them but some will have more or less depending on the cultivar.  When the seed pods open the seeds are ready to plant.  However, if you will be saving them for a while, you need to lay them out in a warm dry place and let them cure further for a few days.  Once this final drying is done Nathan takes the seeds and places them in small, clear ziplock bags.  Nathan cuts the tag that was on the flower down and slips it inside the baggie with the seeds so he knows what he has.  Once your seeds are packed, place them in the crisper draw of the refrigerator.  This will provide the the seeds the chilling hours they need to germinate.

The tags Nathan applies at pollenation will follow the seeds into the bag that holds the seeds and finally into the seed starting trays

The tags Nathan applies at pollenation will follow the seeds into the bag that holds the seeds and finally into the seed starting trays

Nathan plants his seeds around Labor Day.  He fills 50 cell planting trays with a high quality potting mix and wets it thoroughly with a water/hydrogen peroxide mixture that is mixed at a rate of two tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide per gallon of water.  He places 1 seed in each cup and lightly covers them in soil.  He then uses this solution to water his plants until he moves the seedlings to his beds in early October.

Seed pods begin to form as soon as the spent flower falls off

Seed pods begin to form as soon as the spent flower falls off

While many people put their seeds under grow lights, Nathan sprouts his seeds in an enclosed back porch.  Once the little seedlings sprout he moves them outside under shade.  While most of his seeds germinate in a week or two, he has seen some cultivars take over a month to sprout.  Once the sprouts reach 2 to 3 inches tall, Nathan plants them in partial shade beds that are well worked with compost.

With a few skills and a little practice, the average gardener can breed exceptionally beautiful daylilies in their home garden.

With a few skills and a little practice, the average gardener can breed exceptionally beautiful daylilies in their home garden.

If you are going to be passing through Brenham you really need stop at Magnolia Hill Farms and visit with Nathan. His knowledge and enthusiasm for daylilies is infectious.  I have grown daylilies for years.  However, until I saw 800 cultivars side by side in a single place, I never understood why over 6000 people were members of the American Hemerocallis Society (AHS) .  After visiting with Nathan I finally get it.  Most gardeners enjoy creating things.  While it is fun to design and install a new bed or border, nothing could be more fulfilling than filling your design with beautiful flowers that you also created.

 

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!

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.

Patty-Leander-Potatoes-3

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

Patty-Leander-Potatoes-4

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!

Week 27 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden

AmericanFlowersWeek This week has been declared “American Flowers Week”.  The week is designed to promote and celebrate American flower growers, marketers and florists. Did you know that 80 to 90% of the cut flowers sold in the US come from overseas?  Many find this fact shocking when I share it with them.  If you would prefer to buy flowers that are fresher, grown in a more ecologically responsible manner and produced right here in the USA then be sure to check out the Slow Flowers website.  Slow Flowers is a cooperative effort between American growers and florists that allow you to find local growers and the florists that use their flowers to fill your flower buying needs.

In honor of “American Flowers Week” this week’s tips focus on growing, harvesting and arranging your own beautiful “local” flowers.

Flowers grown at the proper spacing are healthier and produce more blooms that plants that are grown too close together.

Flowers grown at the proper spacing are healthier and produce more blooms that plants that are grown too close together.

Growing Tips

  • Plant at the recommended spacing on the package– Over planting is the biggest mistake most home gardeners make. Plants that are grown too close together do not get as large or produce as many flowers and they are much more susceptible to pests.
  • Weed and feed regularly – Most flowers are annuals. Because of this they need to get as much nutrition as possible during their one growing season.  Feed monthly and weed regularly.  The weeds will rob your soil of the moisture and nutrients that your flowers need.
  • Control most pests with a strong blast of water to the underside of their leaves – Most flowers are plagued by a variety of pests. Most are tiny little rascals (like mites and aphids) that hide under the leaves of plants.  Because of this they are very difficult to control with your typical spray applications of pesticides.  I use a tool called the Mitey Fine Mister.  This wand attaches to my water hose and is designed to spray water with enough pressure to kill the pests without harming the plant.

 

teddy_bear_sunflowers

Cut flowers early in the morning and keep them cool to extend their vase life

Harvest Tips

  • Cut flowers when buds are just beginning to open – If you cut most flowers when their buds are just beginning to open they will open in the vase.  This will allow you to enjoy them much longer
  • Cut flowers in the morning- Flowers cut in the morning have the highest moisture content (this is called turgidity in the horticultural world) and look their best.   
  • Strip leaves and immediately drop blooms into a plastic container that is full of clean, cool water
  • Get flowers inside as soon as possible-Your flowers begin to die as soon as they are cut. Heat speeds up their ultimate demise.  Get them inside and into the air conditioning as soon as possible
Nothing says summer in the country like sunflowers in a homemade arrangement!

Nothing says summer in the country like sunflowers in a homemade arrangement!

Arrangement Tips

  • Use more flowers! – My youngest daughter is an incredibly talented floral designer. I asked her why my arrangements do not look half as good as hers.  She said it is because I do not use enough flowers.  According to Whitney, when making floral arrangements, more is almost always better
  • Use more than flowers in your floral arrangements – While it is pretty easy to make a very pretty and presentable arrangement by grouping together lots of beautiful flowers, the really outstanding arrangements use other things to add interest. Lovely branches with interesting leaves are great fillers as are twisting garlic scapes, iris leaves, lemon grass and onion flowers.  Fresh vegetables, wasp nests, bird nests, dried sunflower heads and dried poppy heads all add a bit of whimsy and surprise to your arrangements
  • Throw away the floral foam – As useful as it is, floral foam is not biodegradable. There are tons of “green” alternatives that you can choose to support your flowers.  Sally and I have a small collection of antique floral frogs.  You can also make a wire ball out of chicken wire that fits in the top of your vase.  My daughter loves to use fresh fruit.  She cuts a hole into a melon or squash and then wires wooden stakes to her stems.  She then inserts the stakes and stems into the firm flesh and rinds of the fruit.

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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!