Planting Poppies and Larkspur

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).

blue-larkspur

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

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 www.instagram.com/kurtsdirt. 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.

Kurts-Dirt-Sink

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.

Kurt's-Dirt-Okra

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.

kurts-dirt-luffa

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.

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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.

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.

newspaper-mulch

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.

finished-compost

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!

A Look Back at Spring by Patty G. Leander

scarecrow

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

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.

2017-tomato-harvest

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°.

2017-cherry-tomatoes

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.

Tromboncino-squash

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.

shishito-pepper

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

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 (http://www.foreveryongfarms.com/products.html) 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!

Saving Lettuce Seed by Patty G. Leander

Lettuce-seeds

A feathery tuft of lettuce seed.

Gardeners love to save stuff. We save vegetable scraps for the compost, dried leaves for mulching, buckets for toting, rocks for edging, small containers for seed-starting and rainwater for irrigation. And we save seed.

Seed saving is a natural extension of vegetable gardening. It allows you to replenish your seed supply and share seed with other gardeners. In addition, seeds saved year after year from plants grown in a particular region or microclimate gradually acclimate to that location; each time you plant your saved seed the plants that develop produce seeds that are better adapted to your soil, climate and cultural conditions. Win-win!

Crawford-Lettuce

’Crawford’ lettuce is a tasty romaine type with a striking appearance.

Several years ago, a gardener friend gave me a few seeds of ‘Crawford’ lettuce, a reseeding romaine variety that has been grown and shared in the San Antonio area since the 1980s. I love vegetable seed that has a person’s name attached to it because it also comes with a mix of horticultural knowledge, persistence, pride, faith and history. You don’t get to attach your name to a plant or a seed until you have a worthy specimen that has proved its merits again and again. And if you can trace it back far enough you can even discover a little bit about where it originated. ‘Crawford’ lettuce got its name from Marshall Crawford, a Life Member of the San Antonio Men’s Garden Club. Marshall got the seed from his father-in-law, John Wesley Van Houtan, a long-time gardener in Tulsa, OK. John was born in 1900 and his daughter, Irene (Marshall’s wife), remembers her dad always planting this lettuce in their backyard garden, saving seed from the best plants year after year. And today, thanks to Irene and Marshall Crawford, we can grow that same seed, enjoy the same lettuce and appreciate its history. And we can save the seed and pass it on.

Bolted-Lettuce

As the days grow longer and warmer lettuce sends up a flower stalk.

Lettuce seed is easy to save because it is a self-pollinating annual, meaning the flowers that are produced at the end of the season have both male and female parts and pollinate themselves – no need to worry about isolating plants to prevent cross-pollination by wind or insects. However, seed-saving guidelines do recommend a distance of 10-12 feet between different varieties of lettuce to avoid chance crosses and maintain the true genetic traits of each distinct variety.

Bolted-Lettuce-2

Yellow flowers give way to fluffy tufts of seeds.

Lettuce is a cool-season vegetable and as mild days of spring give way to summer heat, plants signal the end of their life cycle by sending up a flower stalk. The leaves become progressively smaller as they spiral up the stalk, and soon the top of the plant explodes in tiny, yellow flowers that give way to feathery tufts of seed. Like dandelions, these billowy tufts allow the seed to disperse by floating through the air. To collect the seeds before they all fly away, cut or tap the seed heads into a bag or other container and allow them to dry for a couple of weeks. Then shake the seed heads and/or rub them between your hands to loosen all the seeds (there will be many seeds!). To separate the seed from the chaff, press it through a screen or colander a few times. You can also use the wind or a small fan to blow the dried chaff into the air. Be careful because it doesn’t take much to blow the seed into the air as well. Once the seed is clean store it in a glass jar or paper envelope with a label and the date.

dried-lettuce-heads

Cut the feathery seed heads from the plant and place them in a bucket, bag or bin to dry.

My lettuce plants held on longer than normal this summer so I have been collecting seed for various projects and for fall planting. If you would like to try ‘Crawford’ lettuce in your own garden seed can be purchased from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (www.southernexposure.com).

saving-lettuce-seeds

Shake or rub the seed heads with your hands; a screen or fan will help separate the chaff from the seed.

Saving seed from your own vegetable plants has many advantages: it is a frugal way to increase your seed stock, it contributes to the diversity of our seed supply and each generation of collected seed will be more acclimated to your unique growing environment. Plus observing and participating in the rhythm of nature is enlightening and downright satisfying!

Crawford-Lettuce-2

’Crawford’ has its own bed in the Children’s Vegetable Garden at the San Antonio Botanical Garden.

 

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!

Organic Control for What’s “Bugging You”

The 2017 spring garden is, so far, one of the best gardens I have had in a long time.  Thanks to a lack of any real winter, soil temps were high, air temps were moderate and rain that came at just the right times allowed lots of us too planted early (I have friends in Austin that put out tomatoes in February!!!).  While a mild winter and almost perfect spring weather are great for your plants, it is also great for bugs.  So while our gardens look great right now, your beautiful plantings will soon (or maybe already are) full of bugs.

Aphids and other bugs are already beginning to move into our gardens. Photo by Bruce Leander

Aphids and other bugs are already beginning to move into our gardens. Photo by Bruce Leander

To me, organic bug control is the most challenging task in the organic garden.  While there are a few “decent” organic pesticides out there, they do not act quickly and they do kill as wide a range of bugs as I would like.  Since I don’t have a “magic bullet” to kill all of my pests I have had to develop a “system” to help me keep the bugs at bay.

When I was in grad school I took several courses related to greenhouse production.  In those courses I learned that, even though greenhouses are the perfect environment for pests to thrive in, greenhouse use very few chemicals to control them.  Pesticides are expensive and customers don’t like them so greenhouses use a system called Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to keep their bugs at bay.  Through the years, I have taken my cues from these greenhouse producers to develop my own Integrated Pest Management System for my organic garden. IPM-Triangle

The IPM system consists of Cultural control methods, Mechanical or Physical control methods and Chemical/Biological methods.  This method is generally illustrated with the “IPM Triangle”.  Cultural methods provide the “biggest bang for the buck” in your garden.  Because of this they are the biggest part of the system and they are represented as the base of the triangle.  Once your cultural methods are in place you can apply mechanical and physical methods to control your bugs.  Finally, if you still have bugs after implementing the other methods, you should use chemical or biological methods to gain control over the pests.

Cultural Control Methods

Pull bugs off of plants and drop them into soapy water. Photo by Bruce Leander

Pull bugs off of plants and drop them into soapy water. Photo by Bruce Leander

The best way to control bugs is to not let them get in the garden in the first place.  Below are list of things you can do to discourage or prevent pests from setting up home in your garden.

  • Grow Healthy plants in healthy soil
  • Grow crops recommended for area
  • Use Crop Rotation
  • Control weeds
  • Water in the morning
  • Plant many types of vegetables as opposed to a single type
  • Space plants properly
  • Clean up mulch and debris
  • Sanitize hand tools, stakes and cages in light bleach

 

Mechanical/Physical Control Methods

MiteyFine-Sprayer

Get rid of aphids and scales from your plants with a strong blast of water. patty and I use the Mitey-Fine water blaster.

If bugs get in your garden you can use several of the methods below to keep them under control.  Remember, as with most things, these methods are most effective when used before the bug problems get out of control.

  • Pick bugs off plants and drop in solution of soapy water
  • Remove eggs from undersides of leaves
  • Spray aphids and scales with water blasts
  • Mechanical barriers (row cover)
  • Traps (Yellow Sticky Pads, bucket of water with lighting attached)

 

Chemical/Physical Control Methods

Control soft bodied pests like cabbage worms with Spinosad

Control soft bodied pests like cabbage worms with Spinosad

If all of your efforts have failed, you will need to spray.  Be careful when spraying for pests.  All pesticides, whether they are organic or not, will kill both good bugs and bad bugs.

  • Last resort. Using sparingly
  • BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) for caterpillars
  • Spinosad controls caterpillars, leaf miners, fire ants
  • Predators (lady beetles, praying mantis)
  • Homemade concoctions

 

 

zinnia-bug-trap

I grow zinnias and other flowers in my garden to lure bugs away from my vegetables

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!

It’s Go Time in the Vegetable Garden! by Patty G. Leander

spring-vegetables For weeks now the thought of fresh tomatoes, beans, cucumbers and okra, home-grown and sun-drenched, has been dancing across my consciousness. It’s a form of visualization that I just can’t escape this time of year and it is what drives me to dig, plant, weed, water and sweat. I’m sure you are experiencing similar spring fever symptoms! DSCN2971

Here in Central Texas we may well have even experienced our last freeze (?!?) but Easter, which falls on April 16th this year, seems to be a magnet for cold weather so pay attention to the forecast in case Mother Nature decides to throw us a curve ball. Be prepared to protect or replant if damaging weather ensues. Even if we don’t get another freeze this month our young and tender transplants are vulnerable to strong winds, hail and heavy rains. vegetable-garden

Fortunately the mild days of March are easy on both garden and gardener. Our goal in the spring vegetable garden is to plant as early as possible so we can harvest as early as possible, not so much for bragging rights (wait, this is Texas so that’s not entirely true!) but rather to avoid the misery of insects, disease and stress that comes with summer’s blistering heat.  It’s hard to imagine such torment during these premiere gardening days, but it will come.

Below are six tips to help get your vegetable garden off to a good start: harlequin-bugs-kale

Harvest and remove cool season crops. As cool weather crops reach maturity go ahead and harvest and enjoy; leaving them to grow past their prime as the weather gets hotter will only invite pests and disease. The exception, of course, is if you are growing to save seed (more on saving lettuce seed in a future post). growing-vertically

Grow vertical. If you have limited garden space consider growing up instead of out. Pole beans, cucumbers and small-fruited melons or winter squash can be trained to grow on an A-frame, a trellis or other vertical structure. Every couple of years I rotate vining morning glories or moonflowers on my trellises to give the soil a break from growing vegetables. watering-the-garden

Plant into moist soil. Seeds need moisture to germinate; if it hasn’t rained in your neck of the woods then water the area where you will be planting. Really let the water soak in and saturate the soil. The same goes for transplants, water the transplant and the hole before planting.  If, on the other hand, it has rained where you live allow the soil to dry out slightly before you start planting. Working wet soil can damage the structure and form long-lasting clods. Pick up a handful of soil and squeeze it into a ball then drop it onto the ground. If it breaks apart it is ok to dig but if it stays in a muddy wad it’s best to let it dry out a little longer. Spring-Weeds

Keep up with weeds. Warm, sunny days coupled with spring rains encourage weeds seeds to sprout and quickly get out of hand. They will greedily suck up any water and nutrients you provide for your vegetables.  Invest in a long-handled weeder to dispatch weed seedlings in and around the garden. Above all – don’t let them go to seed. Even if weeds are not growing in the garden their seeds can blow in and they can also provide refuge for damaging pests. zinnias-vegetable-garden

Plant some flowers. Plant now and you will provide habitat and attractive blooms for beneficial insects and pollinators as the season progresses. Texas-Gardener-Planning-Guide

Keep records. It’s a good idea to keep a simple diagram of your garden plot which will help as you rotate your crop families from year to year. I like to also make note of varieties, planting dates and days to harvest so I can gauge growth during the season and keep track of productive or tasty varieties for next year’s garden. The Texas Gardener Planning Guide & Calendar  pictured above is a great resource – I’ve been using it for years: https://www.texasgardener.com/Store/Products/viewproduct.aspx?id=56.

Last of all (and note to self), show a little restraint. It’s extremely easy to be enticed by warm sunshine, the smell of fresh dirt and the expectation held within tiny seeds, but as everything grows so does the time required to water, weed, scout for pests, harvest, prepare and preserve. Stick with the vegetables that will yield the most satisfaction and dining enjoyment for you and your family and go forth and have a great gardening season!

 

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!

Crop Rotation for Healthy Plants by Patty G. Leander

You probably know where you planted squash in your garden last year but what about the year before or even three years ago? Did you also plant cucumbers or melons? This is important information to keep track of so you can maintain a rotation schedule for the vegetables you grow in your garden.

Planting the same vegetables, or even related vegetables, in the same spot year after year can encourage a damaging build-up of pests and disease; crop rotation helps disrupt recurring cycles of infection by moving host vegetables to a different area of the garden, thereby thwarting the efforts of diseases or pests that may be left in the soil from a previous crop.

For example, squash, cucumbers, pumpkins and melons, all members of the cucurbit family, are susceptible to various diseases that overwinter in crop residue from diseased plants, but moving them out of their previous growing area means they won’t be available to support those diseases.

Below are nine plant families that are primarily grown in vegetable gardens, along with the different vegetables that belong to each family. For simplicity’s sake I’ve used a common vegetable name for each family, followed by its botanical name:

Cabbage Family (Brassicaceae)

 

Arugula, Asian greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, rutabaga, radishes, turnips

Arugula, Asian greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, rutabaga, radishes, turnips

Beet Family (Chenopodiaceae/Amaranthaceae)

 

Beets, spinach, Swiss chard

Beets, spinach, Swiss chard

Legume Family (Fabaceae)

 

Butterbeans, green beans, peanuts, cowpeas, soybeans, fava beans, garden peas

Butterbeans, green beans, peanuts, cowpeas, soybeans, fava beans, garden peas

 

Mallow Family (Malvaceae)

 

Okra (note the broccoli plants in the adjacent row, sheltered from hot afternoon sun by the late summer okra)

Okra (note the broccoli plants in the adjacent row, sheltered from hot afternoon sun by the late summer okra)

Nightshade Family (Solanaceae)

 

Eggplant, peppers, potatoes, tomatillos, tomatoes

Eggplant, peppers, potatoes, tomatillos, tomatoes

Onion Family (Alliacaeae)

 

Chives, garlic, leeks, onions, shallots

Chives, garlic, leeks, onions, shallots

Carrot Family (Apiaceae)

 

Carrots, celery, cilantro, dill, fennel, parsley, parsnips (Look at those impeccably groomed beds – my friend Paul is an engineer, and a master at creating and maintaining perfectly coiffed and rotated beds)

Carrots, celery, cilantro, dill, fennel, parsley, parsnips (Look at those impeccably groomed beds – my friend Paul is an engineer, and a master at creating and maintaining perfectly coiffed and rotated beds)

Squash Family (Curcurbitaceae)

 

Cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, squash

Cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, squash

Lettuce Family (Asteraceae)

 

Artichoke, endive, lettuce

Artichoke, endive, lettuce

Since vegetables in the same families are generally susceptible to similar pest and disease issues gardeners are encouraged to rotate crops by family, thereby thwarting the efforts of diseases or pests that may be left in the soil from a previous crop. This may not prevent re-infection completely, but it does slow down the spread of soilborne diseases and pests so that plants rotated to other areas have a chance at a vigorous start.

How you choose to practice crop rotation will depend on the size of your garden, the number of different vegetables you grow and how much effort you want to invest. The idea here is to rotate crop families to different areas, rows or beds in a vegetable garden over a 3 year period. For example, my garden consists of 5 wide rows numbered 1-5. Each year I maintain records of my plantings and a simple diagram of my garden. This year tomatoes, eggplant and/or peppers will occupy Row 2, next year they will move to Row 3, then to Row 4 and eventually back to Row 1.  I also have four raised beds as well as large pots and straw bale gardens that I sometimes utilize in the rotation – these allow me to expand my plantings or even rotate a crop family out of my garden completely if I notice a persistent pest or disease.

 

Sweet potatoes (left) and a fallow bed covered with alfalfa mulch

Sweet potatoes (left) and a fallow bed covered with alfalfa mulch

Additionally, I may incorporate a row of sweet potatoes (morning glory family) or corn (grass family) into the rotation since these represent two completely different families, or I may leave a bed fallow and cover it with a layer of mulch – all of these efforts to remove and relocate a host vegetable means there is less opportunity for a pest or disease to reproduce and spread once it emerges from the soil.

 

Morning glories and moonflowers, both related to sweet potatoes, are striking rotations for vertical structures. This is my favorite morning glory: ‘Scarlett O’Hara’.

Morning glories and moonflowers, both related to sweet potatoes, are striking rotations for vertical
structures. This is my favorite morning glory: ‘Scarlett O’Hara’.

If you have a permanent trellis or vertical structure in your garden think about rotating vining or climbing plants, such as cucumbers, pole bean or even tomatoes in the warm season and vining sugar snap peas or sweet peas in the cool season. I also like to incorporate climbing flowers, such as moonflowers and morning glories, as part of my vertical rotation.

 

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!

Late January in the Texas Garden

Have you ever stopped to buy plants on the way to a funeral?  Well, I can now say that I have.  A couple of days ago we were in Waco for a funeral.  On the way to the burial we passed Brazos Feed and I could see that they had a new shipment of transplants out front.  Now I am not sure of the protocol for such an opportunity so I asked my wife if it would be disrespectful to swing in and pick up a few things that my Brenham sources did not yet have.  She told me stopping would not be disrespectful but being late would.  So, with her blessing (and a strict admonishment to make it quick) I pulled in and grabbed 18 broccoli plants, 6 cabbage, 6 cauliflower and a bunch of Yellow Granex (Vidalia) onion sets.

If you can find brassica transplants there is still time to plant them and get a crop done in time to replant the row in beans or Southern peas.

If you can find brassica transplants there is still time to plant them and get a crop done in time to replant the row in beans or Southern peas.

January is a busy time for those of us in Zones 7 through 9.  Right now is the perfect time to replant all of the brassicas you love (Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, collard greens and mustards).  If you put out your brassica transplants now they will be ready for harvest just in time for you to plant your beans and Southern Peas in late March or early April.  Plant your transplants about a foot a part and make sure they receive nice, even moisture.  Dry soil will stunt their development.  Since brassicas are almost all “greens” they love nitrogen.  Feed monthly with the highest nitrogen organic you can find.  I like Sweet Green (11% N) but have been unable to find it.  I am using MicroLife Ultimate (8-4-6).  Not as high in nitrogen as I like but it is a very good balanced product.

MicroLife-Ultimate

MicroLife Ultimate is a very nice pelleted organic fertilizer that is high in nitrogen (8-4-6)

January is also about as late as I like to wait before planting my onion sets.  I usually plant my onions in November or December but I forgot to order them from Dixondale this year.  Because of this, I had to wait until now for the feed stores to get in their sets.  It is not too late to grow big, sweet onions though.  Just make sure to keep the rows weed free and side dress with an organic fertilizer once a month.  Onions have a very small root mass so they need lots of fertilizer and regular water.

Yellow-Granex-Onion-Sets

If you haven’t planted your onions do it now! The longer you wait to plant the smaller your harvested bulbs will be.

Asparagus is my favorite thing to eat from my garden.  If you have never planted any now is the time (check out my article on planting here).  If you already have an established asparagus bed side dress it now with a high nitrogen fertilizer to ensure lots of shoots in the spring.  I love having fresh asparagus for Easter dinner and since Easter is late this year we should have plenty.

Now is also a great time to plant potatoes. My favorites are Red LaSoda and Kennebec. However, there are over 800 varieties of potatoes so they are great plants to experiment with.

Now is also a great time to plant potatoes. My favorites are Red LaSoda and Kennebec. However, there are over 800 varieties of potatoes so they are great plants to experiment with.

And don’t forget the potatoes!  January is a great time to plant them in our part of Texas.  Right now I have my red LaSodas and my Kennebecs cut up and curing on the dining room table.  Some people like to dust their cut seed potatoes with sulfur to prevent rot.  I don’t do this and I have not had a problem.  However, it is a good idea if your soil does not drain well.  Potatoes are the only thing that don’t need a lot of nitrogen right now.  High nitrogen encourage the potatoes to grow stems and leaves.  Dig a deep furrow (a foot or so) place your potato pieces in the bottom of the row and then back fill with compost.  If you plant deep enough you will not need to “hill” the plants as they grow and the compost will provide enough nutrients to ensure a great harvest.

We are getting some spectacular sunsets right now. My wife Sally captured this one the other evening.

We are getting some spectacular sunsets right now. My wife Sally captured this one the other evening.

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!