Spring Time is Weed Time!

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

tomato-transplants

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

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

Butter-cup

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

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

acetic-acid-weed-spray

Concentrated acetic acid is a great organic weed killer.

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

Sweet-green-fertilizer

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

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

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

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

A Garden Visit With Harry Cabluck

I love this sign that Harry has hanging in the back of his garden

I love this sign that Harry has hanging in the back of his garden

Over the next twelve months we will be visiting with 12 gardeners from all over Texas.  They will be sharing some of the knowledge that allows them to garden successfully in our beloved, but climatically challenging state. I have a masters degree in horticulture and I have gardened for years.  However, most of my gardening knowledge came from visits with other gardeners.   I hope these monthly visits will provide you, and me, with a few tips and tricks that will help us all become better gardeners.

Patty and I visited harry Cabluck and his incredibly well done garden earlier this month. We were blown away by how well down it was. Always humble, Harry gives much of the credit for his garden infrastructure to his good friend Tom Lupton.

Patty and I visited Harry Cabluck and his incredibly well done garden earlier this month. We were blown away by how well done it was. Always humble, Harry gives much of the credit for his garden infrastructure to his good friend Tom Lupton.

Our first gardener is Harry Cabluck.  Harry gardens in the back yard of his central Austin home.  While his garden is not the biggest I have ever seen, it is one of the neatest and most well managed gardens that I have ever been in.  Harry was gardening organically long before it was “cool”.  He collects rainwater for irrigation, makes tons of compost, has the nicest cold frame I have ever seen and grows tomatoes from seeds (click here to read how Harry grows his tomato transplants) and then grafts them onto other tomatoes that he has grown from seed.

Garbage bags over tomato plants Thursday, March 19, 2015, in Austin, Texas. ( Photo/Harry Cabluck)

Garbage bags over tomato plants Thursday, March 19, 2015, in Austin, Texas. ( Photo/Harry Cabluck)

tomato-cage-cover

Harry uses a piece of string and a rubber band to quickly and effectively secure his garbage covers to his tomato cages

Harry gives his beloved tomatoes a head start by growing them in an ingenious cage method that he developed.  As early in March as he can, Harry plants the tomatoes he started in January in his neatly bordered beds that are extremely well worked with compost.  He then takes a 55 gallon trash can liner, splits the end and bunches it around the tomato plant.  Then he uses his heavy duty cages to anchor the the trash bag in place.  To keep his trash bag liner secured to his cage he uses an ingenious string and rubber band fastener that is incredibly effective and easy to use.  With bags in place he is able to easily pull the bags up over his frame at the earliest sign of cold weather, high winds or heavy rain.  I was so impressed with this cage method that I seriously considered changing the way I grow tomatoes!  Now let’s hear more from Harry:

Cabluck garden on Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in Austin, Texas. ( Photo/Harry Cabluck)

Cabluck garden on Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in Austin, Texas. ( Photo/Harry Cabluck)

Name: Harry Cabluck

Location: Central Austin.  **City garden of three 100-sq. ft. raised beds.  We rotate a plot holding 12-15 tomato plants a year.

organic-garden-austin

(Photo/Harry Cabluck)

Years gardening: 43+.  First gardened as a child in late 1940’s.  My mother had a green thumb and a source for manure, as her father was a dairy farmer.  As an adult we have had small plots in Dallas and larger plots in Pittsburgh, Pa., and Columbus, Ohio.  We made good use of our Troy-Bilt 6 hp rototiller.  Often improved the soil in these gardens by importing soil, manure and/or spoiled hay.

Years in this plot: 20.   **Our backyard was once the corral area for a nearby home.  When we moved in it was black gumbo clay that would hold ankle-deep water for a few days after each rain. De-ionized the soil with gypsum. Built multiple compost piles 20-feet long before starting to plant in 1995.

tomato-transplants

Tomatoes under lights Sunday, March 2, 2014, in Austin, Texas. ( Photo/Harry Cabluck)

Favorite crop: Tomatoes.  Usually start 60 seeds in trays under lights in the garage in January.  This is the first year to use LED’s instead of T-5 or fluorescent lights. Hope to yield 36 heirloom/hybrids along with 18 rootstock for grafting.  After starts in trays become root bound, transplant to four-inch pots.  Some 12-15 pots stay under lights, the remaining pots are moved to the cold frame.  Sometimes need to run an extension cord and heating pad to cold frame.  Usually give away the tomato plants that are not planted in our garden.  Crop rotation includes basil, green beans, arugula, spinach, marigolds.  January crops include greens, carrots, elephant garlic, shallots, gumbo onions.  Would like to attempt parsnips.  Have never had good luck with sweet peas.

Best tips:  Make good garden dirt.

Compost!!!  This year’s compost pile of ground leaves, mixed with kitchen scraps, cottonseed meal, bat guano and molasses, seems to be the best ever.  In previous years used cooked barley malt (byproduct of brewery) mixed with coffee chaff (byproduct of air roasting).  That stuff needed to be turned at least once daily, as it would putrefy.

compost-bin

Harry composts directly in his beds

Although not necessary, we get great results using our cold frame and 800-gallon rainwater catchment.  A two-inch rain on our 20X20-foot garage roof will fill the tank.  It is usually empty around July 4.

Make use of store-bought soil for seed-starting and transplanting. Happy Frog brand seems best.  Don’t waste time and money on cheap tomato cages. Read Bill Adams’, “Texas Tomato Lover’s Handbook.”

Garden-Cold-Frame

Cold frame in Cabluck back yard garden Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Austin, Texas. ( Photo/Harry Cabluck)

Pest control:  Havahart traps for varmints.  For bugs, mix a one-gallon cocktail containing 50-squirts Tabasco, one ounce of liquid seaweed, one ounce molasses, one ounce fish emulsion, dash of dishwashing liquid…when necessary add BT.  I love my Hudson sprayer.

Weed control: We control weeds by cultivating and mulching regularly.  **Best stuff seems to be wood chips. Long-tined rake, six-inches wide, four tines.

Biggest challenge: Thwarting the squirrels and leaf-footed bugs.  **Would like to have a moveable pergola, because a hoop house is always a challenge to erect and doesn’t look good.

Favorite amendment: Cottonseed meal AND anything with trace elements…especially glauconite, WHICH seems to help blossoms set fruit in heat and cold.

Do we preserve:  No.   **Not large enough garden, small yields.

Favorite advice:  Have a good friend who has great ideas.   ***Thanks to Tom Lupton.

What would you like to do better?  Would like to learn more about tomato biology. How to ensure more tomato blossoming and fruit set and how to improve brix.

Week 38 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden

Well, I have a problem.  All of the broccoli and cabbage transplants that I put out a couple of weeks ago are now gone.  Something has eaten every last one of them.  So, this weekend I will be replanting and trying to figure out how to control whatever it is that is eating my brassicas.  Since I will be applying organic pesticides this weekend I thought this would be a good opportunity to review some of the major organic herbicides and pesticides available to the home gardener.

While our chickens eat a lot of bugs I still have to spray things like Bt and spinosad from time to time

While our chickens eat a lot of bugs I still have to spray things like Bt and spinosad from time to time

BUG CONTROL

  • Bt– Bacillus thuringiensis has been used to kill soft bodied pests in the organic garden for a very long time. I suspect that what is eating my broccoli is either a little green caterpillar called the cabbage worm or another green caterpillar called the cabbage looper.  Both of these pests can be controlled fairly well with Bt.  Like all pesticides, organic or not, Bt should be mixed for a single use.  Bt rapidly degrades in the sunlight.  Because of this, spray the plant late in the evening, covering all areas of the plant where the bug will eat.  If you mix too much Bt, add more water too the mixture and leave it out in the sun.  In 48 hours the mixture will be completely inert. NOTE:  Bt does not kill pests mmediately.  You may need to apply three times to get maximum effectiveness
  • Spinosad –. If you pests are tougher than caterpillars you will need to use spinosad. Spinosad is a live bacterium that speeds up a pest’s metabolism to the point where they stop eating and die within a couple of days.  Spinosad has been shown to be effective against caterpillars, leaf miners, fire ants, hornworms and even fleas.  Like Bt, spinosad breaks down in heat and sunlight.  However, it can remain active for five to seven days.  Only use spinosad if Bt has failed as it will kill bees and other pollinators
  • Neem oil – Neem oil is a plant extract that is mostly effective against aphids and scale insects. It can kill some insects if they are covered when they are very young (rigt after hatching).  It has also been shown to prevent some insect eggs from hatching.  It is not very effective against mature beetles like stink bugs or other leaf footed bugs
Large, broad leafed weeds like thistle and dandelion can be easily controlled with acetic acid

Large, broad leafed weeds like thistle and dandelion can be easily controlled with acetic acid

WEED CONTROL

  • Acetic Acid – Acetic acid is available in concentrations up to 20%. Concentrated acetic acid is very effective on a wide range of both grassy and broadleaf weeds.  I have seen dandelions and crabgrass begin to wither 30 minutes after the initial application.  Vinegar is best when applied to young plants.  Established weeds may need a second or third application to finally kill them.  Be careful when applying vinegar.  Overspray can kill things you don’t want to die.  I use a spray bottle and a shield when spraying close to my desirable plants.  If you want to spray a wide area, then a pump sprayer works well too.
  • Horticultural Molasses – Neil Sperry recently said that Nut Sedge (grass) is the cockroach of the gardening world. I agree.  I have tried everything to control nut sedge.  This year I read an article by Howard Garrett (The Dirt Doctor) about using horticultural molasses.  Well, I tried it and it works—kind of.  While it killed all nut grass in the cracks of my brick patio, it did not do much damage to the nut grass that was growing in my beds.  I applied the molasses at full strength.

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 34 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden

Well, I learned an expensive lesson today.  If you water your black gumbo yard for 23 hours it still will not close up the cracks that the July and August heat have made!  Yep!  I ran the sprinkler ALL DAY,  And yes, my wife asked me if I had turned off all of the water before we went to bed last night.  Oh well, live and learn.  At least I know my trees and primrose jasmine are now DEEPLY watered as they head into fall.

Even though it is hot and dry, this is going to be a great weekend in the garden.  Forecast says highs in the low to mid 90s with a chance of showers. So start early, drink lots of fluids and get a big part of your fall garden in the ground.

Provide ample fertilizer and water to any veggies that are still producing

Provide ample fertilizer and water to any veggies that are still producing

Vegetables

  • Remove old mulch and burn it – I use spoiled hay to mulch my vegetable garden. Regardless of what you mulch with you will need to remove any that is left and bag it or burn it.  Do not put it in the compost.  Spent mulch is full of bug eggs and larvae.  A warm compost pile is the perfect place for garden pests to over winter
  • If its growing, feed it – I still have okra, purple hulls and tomatoes growing in my garden. This weekend is a great time to feed them.  Side dress with finished composed or give them a foliar application of fish emulsion or other water soluble product.  If using commercial fertilizers apply a high nitrogen blend at a rate of 1 cup for ten feet of row
  • Plant potatoes – You can plant potatoes now. It is better to plant small, whole potatoes, as opposed to cut up pieces, in the fall.  The extremely warm soil will rot potato pieces that are not thoutoghly scabbed.
yellow-canna

Cannas are great, heat tolerant plants that bloom all throughout the summer.

Ornamentals

  • Weed, feed, water and mulch – August is a tough time on existing plants and a tough time for establishing new bedding plants. Take advantage of slower growth rates to remove tough weeds like Bermuda.  Once an area is weeded, sprinkle a little fertilizer, mulch and water.  Water every three or four days.  This will get your beds in prime shape for planting later in the month

Trees and Lawns

  • Baby your pecans! – The shells of pecans are beginning to fill with fruit. Keep your pecan trees well watered to ensure your best possible crop
  • Cut out bag worms – If you see bag worms forming in your trees, cut them out before they get too big. If you have missed them and you have a large mass, use your long handled pruners to open up the webs to encourage the birds to come in and clean up larvae
  • Be on the lookout for chinch bugs – August is prime time for chinch bugs. While chinch bugs can definitely do a lot of damage to St. Augustine lawns, they can be controlled if caught early.  My buddy Randy Lemmon (host of Garden Line on KTRH) has a great article about how to identify and treat them.  Click here to learn more.

Pecans are filling their shells with fruit right now so keep your trees well watered!

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 29 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden

Last week my wife and I left blogging and gardening behind and headed to New England for a little R&R.  It was so cool and lush and beautiful.  I saw lots of beautiful landscapes and vegetable gardens.  I have to admit, everything up there was so pretty I had serious “garden envy”.

If you are a gardener then you know that July is the best time to leave your gardening chores behind for a while.  The temperatures right now are so hot that even the bugs and the weeds have decided to take a break.  Even though it is hot and dry there is still a lot that can be done in the July Texas Garden.

Sally and I spent a week in the Berkshires.  It was so lovely and so cool!

Sally and I spent a week in the Berkshires. It was so lovely and so cool!

Vegetables

  • Water correctly– It doesn’t matter how much rain we got in the spring, our gardens need watering now. Water deeply and more frequently.  Use drip or soaker hoses if possible.  Soaker hoses typically put out about an inch of water per hour.  In this heat you may need to apply an inch of water every second or third day
  • Stay Cool-This morning at my house it was 84 degrees at 8;00 am. If you are going to work outside take care to avoid heat exhaustion or dehydration.  Patty Leander wrote a great post a while back about keeping cool in the Texas heat.  Click on the link to read all of her tips:  No Rest for the Weary-Summer Gardening Chores by Patty Leander
  • Harvest okra, Southern peas, Malabar spinach and other heat loving veggies often– Some of these heat loving veggies are still producing. Pick often
  • Prepare beds for fall – This weekend I will pull out all of my spring cucumber vines. Once they are gone if will begin preparing the row for fall planting.  I remove all remaining weeds.  I also remove my old hay mulch and take it to the burn pile.  The old hay is full of bugs and their eggs.  Next I cover the entire row with about three inches of compost and then I cover everything with fresh hay.  Come planting time I will push back my hay mulch, give the row a light till and then plant
I have never been to New England.  I was impressed with all of the quaint cottages and lush landscapes.

I have never been to New England. I was impressed with all of the quaint cottages and lush landscapes.

Ornamentals

  • Water correctly and water frequently – If you see yellow or brown leaves, curled leaves, spotted leaves, etc. on your ornamentals, there is a good chance they have some water stress. The general rule of thumb in Texas is water deeply every five days.  During July and August you may need to up your frequency to every second or third day
  • Mulch, mulch, mulch!- I generally mulch my beds with finished compost. This gives me a two in one benefit.  Mulch conserves water and by using compost you feed your plants at the same time.
  • Control aphids and white flies – Use a strong blast of water to the underside of leaves or apply a mild horticultural oil like neem
We visited the FDR house, museum and library.  This is his horse stable.  Wish I could have been one of his horses!

We visited the FDR house, museum and library. This is his horse stable. Wish I could have been one of his horses!

Trees and Lawns

  • Water, water, water! – An inch of water every five days may not be enough for St. Augustine and Bermuda. Walk on your lawn.  If your grass does not bounce back and fill your footsteps quickly you need to water.  Trees and woody shrubs need frequent, deep waterings; especially ones that were planted in the last two years.  Check out this article on tree watering from Denton County Extension Agent Janet Laminack – Tree Watering Basics by Janet Laminack
  • Lift up the height of your mower deck – If you have been mowing at 3” raise it to 3 ½”. Taller grass will keep it and the soil cool
It is believed that these orange day lilies are the descendants of the first day lilies brought to the Americas.  They grow, and spread, with abandon which has led to their common name of "ditch lilies".

It is believed that these orange day lilies are the descendants of the first day lilies brought to the Americas. They grow, and spread, with abandon which has led to their common name of “ditch lilies”.

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!

 

Tips for Week 25 in the Zone 9 Garden

This past weekend I harvested my first crop of elephant garlic.  This was a new plant for me and I thoroughly enjoyed growing it.  While it is not technically garlic (it is more closely related to leeks) it was a beautiful plant that can be used ornamentally or for its fist sized, mild, garlic tasting bulbs.  My elephant garlic was given to me by a man who has grown it in his garden for 47 years.  He got it from his parents who grew it for years before sharing with him. I absolutely love plants like this.  Whether they are called heirloom plants or pass a long plants, they are a living link to our horticultural past.  I love finding, growing and preserving these living links to our southern heritage.  If you have an heirloom plant that you love, leave me a comment.  I would love to hear about it.

elephant-garlic-scapes-2

With it long curvy scapes and big flower heads, Elephant Garlic is a useful as as ornamental as it is as a food source.

Pest Control

  • Invest in a few select organic insecticides– Bt for caterpillars, insecticidal soap for soft-bodied aphids, neem oil for beetles and squash bugs, spinosad for caterpillars and stink bugs. Follow label instructions, and spray only as needed. Mark the purchase date on the product container and store in a protected location, preferably indoors.
  • When using any insecticide, mix up only what will be needed for the plants you are treating – I rarely mix up a gallon of anything, and often get by using a one pint or one quart squirt bottle, depending on the product and number of plants needing treatment. Once I determine how much a particular product is needed per pint, I write it directly on the pesticide container so I don’t have to scour the label and recalculate every time.
  • Protect bees by applying pesticides in the late afternoon or evening, when bees are less active.
  • Control Spurge and Puslane-These two plants are some of the most difficult to control. Both grow rapidly and produce thousands of seeds.  Chemical control has little effect on mature purslane.  Pull these weeds and place in a plastic trash bag.  Do not compost!  Apply heavy mulch or solarize if possible after you remove the plants.
acetic-acid-weed-control

When mixing herbicides or pesticides mix only what you need and clearly mark each container

Vegetables

  • Plant okra, sweet potatoes, winter squash and peppers-Realize this is the absolute end of the spring planting season. It may be too late to plant even these in southern parts of the state.
  • Water correctly- It is better for your plants, and your water bill, if you apply one inch of water every five days. Water slowly in the morning to reduce evaporation loss. 
  • Remove spent plants like green beans to avoid attracting pests.
  • Top dress empty rows with compost and cover with a heavy layer of mulch to prepare them for fall planting in late July
water-sprinkler

Water deeply and less frequently to encourage deep root growth and conserve water

Ornamentals

  • Cut fresh flowers for the house-Cut your zinnia’s, sunflowers, gomphrena, celosia and other fresh cuts early in the morning. Cut stems on 45 degree angles, strip foliage and drop immediately into cool, clean water
  • Plant sweet potato vine from transplant-Sweet potato vine is a great way to add lots of low maintenance color to your pots and beds.  With its bright chartreuse or purple-black foliage this drought and heat tolerant plant will add LOTS of color to your summer landscape.  Sweet potato vine will provide you lots of color right up to the first freeze 

Fruit Trees

  • Pick remaining plums-Plums will continue to ripen after they are picked. Pull when they have half color and allow them to ripen inside;  especially if making jelly.  Over ripe fruit left on the trees, or on the ground, invites in raccoons, possums and mocking birds
  • Pick Peaches-Pick peaches when they are slightly soft to the touch

ripe-plums

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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!

Tip of the Week – Week 6 in the Zone 9 Garden

I know that Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, but I think his prediction is wrong.  As I drive the back roads of Washington County, I see signs of an early spring everywhere.  Now I don’t want to jinx anything, but we are quickly approaching the date when a freeze is highly unlikely.  Because of this, there are many, many tasks to be done in the February zone 9 garden.  Below are the things I will be doing this weekend

potato-planting

Most years I grow La Soda reds and Kennebek whites. This year I was only able to find La Soda seed potatoes.

Vegetables

There are lots of veggies that can be planted this week.  For a complete list check out Patty Leander’s planting calendar on the sidebar of the blog.  Since I have planted about all of the seeds I can I am moving on to planting potatoes.  A couple of weeks ago I bought ten pounds of red La Soda.  I cut them into pieces and have allowed them to “scab” in the kitchen.  Plant them 4” deep in loose soil that is in full sun.

larkspur

Larkspur is so pretty and so reliable. Plant this self-seeding annual once and you may be able to enjoy it for a lifetime.

Ornamentals

It is not too late to plant snap dragons (but is getting close).  Place these transplants about a foot apart in full sun.  Give them an extra boost with blood meal.  Blood meal is a great source of organic nitrogen.  The recommended rate is one cup per five feet of row.

If you have not cut back your ornamental grasses, cannas, gingers, asters, salvias and woody perennials, do it now.  It is also a great time to start mulching.  I love mulch and use it extensively.  It suppresses weeds, conserves moisture and insulates roots.  Plus, if you use natural mulches, they turn into compost that will feed your plants.

I have tons of poppies, larkspur, marigolds and bachelor buttons (gomphrena) that come back every year.  Be careful not to cover these self-seeding annuals with mulch or pull the tender starts while you are weeding.

acetic-acid-weed-killer

Concentrated acetic acid makes a great organic weed killer

Lawns

My wife mowed for the first time this past weekend.    While the stuff that passes for grass at my house is not growing, lots of weeds are.  A weekly mowing will prevent lots of these weeds from going to seed and spreading their problems into future years.  For weeds that can’t be reached with a mower use acetic acid as a good natural herbicide.  Don’t think you can get by with household vinegar.  Real weed killing power is found in the concentrated form at your local garden supply center.

If you are into organic weed control, start putting out corn gluten meal (CGM) now.  A weekly application during February is a very effective pre-emergent for all broadleaf weeds.  Besides cost, there is absolutely no down side to CGM.  Apply CGM at a rate of 20 lbs per thousand square feet of lawn.  If you have more lawn than money you can also use CGM as a natural fertilizer.  Apply 10 pounds per 1000 square feet to give yor lawn a great boost of natural nitrogen.

 

****Be sure to check out my friend Bart’s blog (Our Garden View) for more great tips for the Central and South Central garden!

This post has been shared on the HomeAcre Hop.  Be sure to stop by the hop.  It has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Tip of the Week – Week 5 in the Zone 9 Garden

Between the threat of rain and the Super Bowl it may be hard to get out into the garden this weekend.  However, Thursday is supposed to be gorgeous and Friday will be nice.  If you can get outside on those days here are some tasks that can be done now: 

Vegetables

Right now is a great time to plant your salad fixings.  While lettuce (check out my in depth discussion of growing lettuce here)and spinach are the stars, don’t forget that the supporting players like radishes, beets, carrots, kale and mustard greens also can also be planted now.  These quick growing greens will be ready for harvest in about 45 days.  At that time you will be ready to thin your onions and use them in the salad.

buttercrisp_lettuce

Now is a great time to replant lettuce. My favorites are buttercrisp and black seeded Simpson

Right now is also a good time to start adding compost to your beds.  I sprinkle a couple of inches over the areas I am going to plant in March and cover with spoiled hay.  It is not warm enough for the compost to start breaking down.  However, in conjunction with the hay, it acts as a great mulch that will suppress many spring weeds.  It will also feed the worms that will begin taking it down into the soil for you.

Ornamentals

As you know I am a big supporter of field grown flower farmers.  Right now my friend Mike at Prickly Pair Farm is planting ammi, stattice and dianthus under cover.  You can start the same flowers indoors now.  Growing from seed is the best way I know to have a ton of flowers for spring planting without spending a ton of money.

finished_compost

Right now is a great time to begin adding compost to the beds that you will be planting in the March

Lawns

I have a couple hundred daffodils planted in my yard.  As I walked around yesterday looking to see if they had broken ground I noticed lots of some very bad weeds beginning to make a stand.  Dandelions and thistles are beginning to come on strong.  These are easy to take care of with a good sharp hoe.  However, my true weed nemesis is Queen Anne’s Lace.  Queen Anne’s Lace is actually wild carrot.  Right now it is forming its cluster of leaves on the ground.  I leave it alone until it sends up its flower stalk then I pull it up, white carrot root and all.

****Be sure to check out my friend Bart’s blog (Our Garden View) for more great tips for the Central and South Central garden!

This post has been shared on the HomeAcre Hop.  Be sure to stop by the hop.  Tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Purple Bindweed – The Thorn in My Side

In II Corinthians, Paul talks about enduring a “thorn in his side”.  While no one knows exactly what the thorn was, most agree that God gave it to Paul so that, despite his many blessings, he would not become too prideful in his faith.  That story comforts me because each year the Lord “blesses” me with some new gardening “thorn” that keeps me humble about my garden and my gardening abilities.  This year, my thorn came in the form of a beautiful (but noxious) vining plant called purple bindweed!  While the flowers of this noxious weed are truly beautiful, that beauty does not make up for the overall nastiness of this weed.

purple-bindweed-flower-2

The flowers of purple bindweed are definitely beautiful

Purple bindweed is a native Texas morning glory.  It is also an aggressive vining plant that will literally grow over anything in its path.  One plant can send out trailing, twisting vines that stretch out over 15 feet.  While I have to admit, when those vines cover a fence and explode with flowers, the effect is very beautiful.  However, when they creep up your sugar cane or get twisted in with cucumbers and cantaloupes, the effect is not so nice.

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Purple bindweed is a native Texas morning glory.

Even though this plant is literally driving me crazy, I have to admire its shear survivability.  Each plant can produce 500 or more seeds.  The seeds have a very thick seed coat that can lay dormant in the soil for 20 years (some say 50 years or more).  The plant develops an extensive root system that can grow 10 feet or more into the soil.  Because of this, you can pull it, dig it or plow it and it will still come back.  In fact, research shows that a 2” piece of root can produce a new plant.  In addition, all of those deep roots make this plant very drought resistant.

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The twisting vines of purple bindweed will be covered in its lovely, lavender blooms.

All of the survival traits that the plant has developed make it very hard to control organically.  The only real option you have is frequent pulling or smothering.  If you decide to pull, realize that you will need to pull every shoot that pops up every three weeks or so for the next three years!  If you want to try and smother it you are going to need to use something like a large sheet of plywood or hardi-plank and you are going to have to leave it in place for years.  However, since the seeds can remain dormant for years, smothering and pulling is really only going to slow down the spread of this weed.

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The vines of bindweed will wrap around anything-even its own vines!

The only way to effectively kill bindweed is with an herbicide.  Even though I do not personally like chemicals, the reality is that some weeds will never be fully contained with organic methods.  If you don’t mind spraying chemicals try Glyphosate (Round Up) or Tripcloyr (Remedy).  Both work well against bindweed.  For the best effect, many recommend mixing up a combination of both Glyphosate (2-3%) and Remedy / Triclopyr (0.25%).   These chemicals will definitely kill the bindweed if you spray it while the plant is actively growing.  For bindweed, the absolute best time to spray is when it is blooming.  NOTE:  These chemicals will definitely kill the bindweed.  Unfortunately they will also kill just about everything else that is actively growing.  Be careful to avoid overspray when applying this (or any) herbicide.  Also, apply just enough herbicide to wet the leaves.  There is no need to soak the plant. There is also no benefit to mixing them in higher concentrations than are listed on the label.

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Even though this plant is driving me crazy, it does attract hummingbirds and other pollinators

The purple bindweed is beginning to bloom at my house.  This means that despite my best organic control efforts, it has beaten me.  This “thorn in my side” is one of just a few plants that have made me question my commitment to organic control methods.  Thank goodness I have St. Paul for inspiration.  Although his “thorn” tormented him his whole life he persevered; and so will I.  However, I have to admit, when I am out there pulling this weed in the Texas heat the thought of spraying it with an herbicide is very tempting!

Grow Bigger, Sweeter Onions

I love growing onions.  They are so reliable and easy to grow.  Because of this they make a great crop for beginning gardeners.  If you are a new gardener and you have decent soil, just stick some quality sets in it at the right time of year and water them regularly.   That is basically all it takes to get a pretty decent onion harvest.  However, onions are not just for beginners.  For those of us that have more gardening experience, we can use all of our knowledge and skill to grow the biggest and sweetest onions possible.

20110513-053 A couple of weeks ago I got an e-mail from my friend Christi at “The Brown Shed”.  She bought several more onion sets than her garden could accommodate so she offered me her extras.  Since it is onion planting time in Washington County I gladly accepted her generous offer.   Christ gave me six different varieties;   Yellow Granex (Vidalia), 1015Y (Y is for yellow), 1015W (Texas Super Sweet), Texas Early White, Texas Legend and Belle Red.

While you can grow your onions from seeds, this article applies to those of us that grow them from sets.  Sets are simply immature onion plants.  These immature little onions are very tough.  The average onion set can live for three weeks without water.  Because of this, if your local nursery or feed store does not have the varieties you want, you can order directly from a number of reputable sources.  My favorite is Dixondale Farms.  Dixondale is a family owned business that has been growing and selling onion sets in the Rio Grande Valley for the past 100 years. (http://www.dixondalefarms.com/category/onion_plants).  In fact, if you live in Texas and you buy your sets from a local nursery or feed store, there is a very good chance that they got their sets from Dixondale’s (all of the onions Christi gave me came from Dixondale).

A young "Belle Red" set .

A young “Belle Red” set .

Onions come in three types (short day, intermediate and long day) based on the amount of daylight needed to initiate bulbing.  Because of our latitude, most Texans grow what are called short day onions.  Short day onions will begin the bulbing process when day lengths reach 10 to 12 hours.  Short day onions can be planted anytime between approximately November 15 (in the southern parts of the state) and the middle of February.  The earlier you plant them the bigger the bulbs will get.

Don’t worry about planting in November or December.  Onions are very cold hearty plants so they can easily survive temperatures into the twenties.  However, temperatures below twenty may kill them.  If it doesn’t kill them, it will force them bolt and set seeds.  So, if it is going to get really cold you should cover them with a tarp or blanket.

Yellow Granex are the  Dixondale hybrid that ulitimately become Vidalia onions.  However, they can't legally be called Vidalia unless they are grown in Vidalia County, Georgia.  I wonder how many of those folks in Georgia realize there most famous export came from Texas?

Yellow Granex are the Dixondale hybrid that ulitimately becameVidalia onions. However, they can’t legally be called Vidalia unless they are grown in Vidalia County, Georgia. I wonder how many of those folks in Georgia realize their most famous export came from Texas?

In addition to a long growing season, bigger, better and sweeter onions require full sun and well-draining, nutrient rich soil.  Onions are heavy feeders and they have a relatively small root structure so it is imperative that your soil has enough nutrition to support the growth of these big bulbs.  Most onions prefer a soil pH that is slightly acidic (6.2-6.8).  If your soil is too acidic you can till in ground limestone.  If it is too alkaline add peat moss to raise the pH.

Once your bed is prepared, use your finger or dibble to make 1” deep holes that are 2” to 4” apart.  Do not plant onion sets more than an inch deep as this can interfere with bulbing.  Drop your onion set into the hole and pull the soil snuggly up around the plant. Most short day onions need at least 4” between plants to develop a large bulb.   If you plant them 2” apart, you need to thin them during the growing season.  Many people over plant in this manner so they can use their “thins” as green onions.  If you don’t intend on making “green onions”, four to six inch spacing will provide plenty of room for your onions to grow into big, healthy bulbs.

Red short day onions like "Belle Red" and hotter and keep better than the sweeter yellow and white short day varieties

Red short day onions like “Belle Red” and hotter and keep better than the sweeter yellow and white short day varieties

If you are growing your onions organically, top dress your rows with a high quality, high nitrogen compost (like manures) every month.  If you are fertilizing your onions top dress the soil with ½ cup of fertilizer (ammonium sulfate (21-0-0) for alkaline soils and calcium nitrate (15.5-0-0) for acidic soils ) for every ten feet of row.  Apply every month until you see the soil beginning to be pushed back by the bulb.

Always water your plants thoroughly after applying fertilizer.  Onions need at least an inch of water per week.  However, since they have such a shallow root system you need to ensure that the ground never completely dries out.  As temperatures rise, monitor your beds closely and adjust the amount of water you put out.  Be careful not to over water.  If you see your onion tops developing a yellow tinge, back off of the water.  Once the onion matures and the tops fall over, stop watering completely.

Because of their weak root structure, onions do not compete well with weeds.  Keep your beds as weed free as possible.  I generally mulch mine with straw.  However, if you use straw you need to pull it back once the plants start to bulb.  This will allow the onions to dry out naturally and will help you preserve them when they are mature.  If you are not a “mulcher” you can also control weeds organically by putting out corn gluten meal every six weeks.  For non-organic growers, Treflan does a great job controlling weeds and has no adverse effect on the onions.

Onions are ready to harvest when their tops fall over.  Stop watering at this point.

Onions are ready to harvest when their tops fall over. Stop watering at this point.

Onions are the second most grown vegetable in the home garden.  When you consider that the average American consumes 20 pounds of these spicy bulbs each year, it is not hard to imagine why so many people love to grow them.  With a little care and finesse, you can make your twenty pounds of onions the biggest and sweetest you have ever tasted.  Julia Child once said “It is hard to imagine civilization without onions”.  I have to agree.

BTW, your onion crop is ready to harvest when the tops fall over.  When that happens, be sure to come back and read “How to Harvest and Cure Onions” and “Harvesting and Curing Onions Part 2” by Patty Leander.

This post has been shared on the Homestead Barn Hop and the HomeAcre Hop.  These hops are a great way to connect with, and learn from, some of the best bloggers on the web.  Be sure to check it out!