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.

21042423_1449684055110412_2449709441373700096_n

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helping Out After Hurricane Harvey by Patty Leander

Dear Friends,

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

This video from CNN shows a sliver of the destruction before the storm even hit the Houston area: http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/04/us/hurricane-harvey-from-corpus-christi-to-houston/index.html.

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

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

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

https://www.texasmonthly.com/the-daily-post/ways-can-help-people-hurricane-harvey/

http://www.southernfoodways.org/53400-2/

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

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

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

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!

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!

2016 Holiday Gifts for the Gardener by Patty G. Leander

broccoli-transpalnts

Now is a good time to plant seeds of your favorite brassicas indoors under grow lights; in 5 or 6 weeks you will have transplants for a new season of vegetable gardening.

Baby, it’s cold outside! The weather forecasters have been talking about “plunging temperatures” – a sure sign that winter has arrived in Central Texas. We have already had a few light freezes here in Austin but at this point in the season I have to finally admit that winter is here and these colder temperatures will come more frequently and stick around a little longer. Broccoli, carrots, kale, collards and other cold hardy vegetables that are established in the garden generally make it through these “plunging temperatures”, but recently transplanted vegetables that haven’t had a chance to acclimate may suffer cold damage. Though I have harvested the last of the peppers, tomatoes, butter beans and eggplant my garden has taken a back seat to other obligations in my life recently so the cool-season vegetables I planted in fall will have to fend for themselves through the cold. Hopefully they will make it unscathed but if not I am prepared to start again in January.

As Christmas approaches you may still be thinking of a little something for the gardener in your life. Below are a few last minute ideas:

Trisha Shirey’s Vegetable Gardening in the Southwest and Skip Richter’s Texas Month-by-Month Gardening are great gist ideas for organic-minded gardeners in Texas

Trisha Shirey’s Vegetable Gardening in the Southwest and Skip Richter’s Texas Month-by-Month Gardening are great gist ideas for organic-minded gardeners in Texas

Garden Related Books – two recent publications include Trisha Shirey’s Vegetable Gardening in the Southwest and Skip Richter’s Texas Month-by-Month Gardening. Both Skip and Trisha are organic-minded gardeners with Texas roots and they share plenty of wisdom for gardening in the Lone Star State.

 

Dr. (Bill) William C.Welch, Greg Grant and Felder Rushing are all some of the most beloved horticulturists in working in the South. Books by this trio are perfect gifts for those of us that garden south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Dr. (Bill) William C.Welch, Greg Grant and Felder Rushing are some of the most beloved horticulturists working in the South. Books by this trio are perfect gifts for those of us that garden south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Heirloom Gardening in the South by William C. Welch and Greg Grant reminds us of the plants, customs and cultures that have contributed to our Southern heritage; the book includes numerous colorful photographs for inspiration. In Slow Gardening, fun-loving Felder Rushing shares his stress-free approach to gardening, encouraging us all to slow down, break a few horticultural rules and add some whimsy to the garden. A quote from his book: “Life has lots of pressures – why include them in the garden?”

 

This metal sign was purchased at Callahan’s General Store in Austin – it makes me smile and hum every time I see it.

Garden Bling – speaking of whimsy, how about a sculpture, a birdbath, a sign, metal artwork, sun catchers or other decorations that match the gardener’s personality?

coir-pots

A coconut coir block and transplantable coco pots

Coconut Coir Blocks – coconut coir is a by-product of the coconut industry. Marketed as a natural, renewable and disease-free planting medium, it is created from the coarse fibers of the outer husk of coconuts. The lightweight blocks or bricks of compressed coir fiber expand to several times their size when mixed with water.

coconut-coir-blocks

A block of coconut coir fiber the size of a brick expands to approximately 10 liters of planting medium when mixed with water.

Once hydrated, coir fiber can be used as an alternative to peat moss in seed starting or container mixes. A Master Gardener friend recently introduced me to coir fiber pots that can be used for growing transplants. Once seedlings have reached transplant size the entire pot can be planted directly into the garden. The coir pot will gradually decompose allowing the roots to grow unimpeded into the soil. A really cool idea!

garden-tools

All gardeners appreciate the tools that make their tasks easier!

Garden Tools– these tools make garden tasks easier and more efficient: a good pair of pruners, a CobraHead weeder, a moisture meter and a small, inexpensive knife to keep outside for harvesting (I like the white-handled brand called Dexter – it’s cheap, it’s sharp and it can be found at most restaurant supply stores). I recently acquired a weed-puller called Lawn Jaws. Like a pair of needle-nose pliers with back-slanted teeth, the Lawn Jaws grips weeds securely and pulls them out by the roots – works like a charm on tough weeds that invade my backyard. They run about $16; I bought mine at the Zilker Botanical Garden gift shop in Austin.

Laminated Field Guides – these foldout pamphlets offer quick and easy identification of snakes, birds, spiders, butterflies and more. Available at most bookstores, garden centers and gift shops at botanical gardens or nature centers.

 

Field guides make are incredibly useful in the garden and they are so easy to slip into a stocking.

A gift of seeds or books about growing and preparing vegetables is always appreciated by food gardeners.

Miscellaneous Ideas – any gardener would appreciate the gift of seeds, whether the latest tomato introduction or seed saved from your own garden. In addition, books about seed starting, seed saving or vegetable preparation are useful resources for anyone interested in growing their own food. And for the gardener who just wants to start small, how about a portable fabric planter called a Dirt Pot or Smart Pot? Filled with commercial planting mix these reusable containers can be planted with root crops, herbs or compact vegetable varieties. Look for the 7 or 10 gallon size for best results.

Cheers and warm wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Healthy, Happy New Year!

fiber-pot

Fiber pots are great gifts for beginners or for experienced gardeners looking to expand their potting area.

Okra and Butterbeans – Harvest Now, Enjoy Later by Patty G. Leander

okra-butterbean-heart

Butterbean and okra love

Okra and butterbeans are like peanut butter and chocolate – two great tastes that taste great together…and apart! You may be harvesting them now as the warm weather wanes or perhaps you will consider a space for them in your garden next year. Each vegetable stands on its own delicious qualities, but aside from taste there are several reasons that okra and butterbeans are two of my favorite vegetable crops.

butterbeans-1

Butterbeans love the heat and are relatively pest free.

For starters, they are two of the easiest vegetables to grow in Texas and the South. They like heat, they like sun, they are not prone to disease and unless you have nematode-infested soil they are not bothered by many insect pests.  And unless you grow your own butter beans you’ll be hard pressed to find them fresh, even at the farmer’s market (at least where I live).

canned-okra

Okra does so well in the Texas heat and it is easy to preserve in a variety of ways

They are prolific producers, providing plenty of pods for eating fresh in season as well as preserving for later enjoyment. When I am blessed with a bountiful harvest of both butter beans and okra I like to cook them up in a tasty soup or stew, freeze in smaller portions and then pull it out on a cold night. That home-grown taste of summer warms me up in the middle of winter and reminds me why I love vegetable gardening.

Okra and butterbeans are easy to grow and they taste great when combined together into a hearty soup or stew.

Okra and butterbeans are easy to grow and they taste great when combined together into a hearty soup or stew.

Because they are self-pollinated, okra and butter beans are super easy for beginning seed savers. Be sure you are growing open pollinated varieties (as opposed to hybrid varieties) and allow some of the okra and bean pods to mature and dry before harvesting. For okra I usually tag 2 or 3 pods per plant that I am going to allow to mature for seed and then I can harvest all the rest for fresh eating or preserving. Once the okra pods have dried twist or crack open and remove the seeds.

If you want to keep seeds of okra be sure and plant only a single variety.

If you want to keep seeds of okra be sure and plant only a single variety.

One okra pod has lots of seeds so save according to your needs. Try to pick the healthiest looking pods from the healthiest plants and avoid pods that are diseased or deformed. For butter beans set aside enough dried seed for planting in your garden the next year plus a few more for giving away if you are so inclined. If you are serious about maintaining the purity of a particular variety like I am with ‘Stewart’s Zeebest’ okra, (http://masterofhort.com/2015/05/stewarts-zeebest-okra-by-patty-g-leander/) only plant that single variety to avoid any accidental cross-pollination.

Here is one of my favorite recipes for using okra and butter beans at the end of the season. It is a very forgiving recipe so feel free to tweak it, substitute sauage for ham, leave the meat out completely, add more vegetables or whatever makes it work for you. I usually double the recipe, freeze in single serving or dinner-sized batches and pull out to enjoy in the cold of winter.

okra-butterbean-stew

Okra Stew

If you don’t have fresh butter beans you can usually find them in the frozen food section, most likely labeled as limas beans or baby limas.

 

1 onion, chopped

1 cup chopped ham

1 lb fresh, sliced okra

2 cups fresh butter beans

1-2 tablespoons oil

2 cups chopped cooked chicken

16 oz can puréed tomatoes

1-2cups fresh or frozen corn

2 cups chicken broth

½ tsp each salt, pepper, thyme

2-3 cups spinach or other available greens, chopped (optional)

 

Heat oil in a large pot and sauté onion, ham, okra and butter beans for 6-8 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients and simmer 30-45 minutes. Serve over rice or cooked grains, if desired.  Yield: 2 qts

 

Very Hungry Caterpillars by Patty G. Leander

cabbage-worm-damage

Caterpillars bring insatiable appetites to the vegetable garden.

Along with colorful butterflies, smaller and more ordinary looking moths flit around the vegetable garden this time of year, laying eggs that hatch into caterpillars whose sole purpose is to eat and excrete. If you are growing brassicas your plants have probably already been under attack by these very hungry caterpillars.

Cross-striped-caterpillar-cabbage-looper

Cross-striped caterpillar (left) and cabbage looper (right).

The main culprits here in Texas are the cabbage looper (mottled brown moth with a small white marking on each wing), cross-striped caterpillar (brownish-gray moth with darker brown spots) and cabbageworm (whitish-yellow moth with a single black dot on each wing).

cross-striped-cabbageworm-eggs

What looks like a small yellow blob (less than 1/8 inch across) on the back of a broccoli leaf is actually a mass of cross-striped caterpillar eggs waiting to hatch.

These creatures are stealth; I seldom notice the moths that lay the eggs (they are more active at night) and the freshly hatched caterpillars are so miniscule and blend so well into the foliage that they can do severe damage before they are detected. Inspect your plants often, especially on the underside of leaves; if you miss them you may be surprised to find your plants decimated the next morning.

cabbage-worm

As the caterpillar grows so does its appetite.

Though these tiny munchers are good at camouflage there is one sure way to affirm their presence before too much damage is done: miniature dark green balls of excrement. Yep, what goes in must come out and caterpillars are prolific poopers.

caterpillar-poop

Dark green droppings mean caterpillars are feasting nearby.

And the bigger they get the more they eat and the more they eat the more they poop. I have had more than one novice gardener tell me that they thought those little green balls were eggs, but if you look above or near the excrement you will almost assuredly find a caterpillar or two or three chewing away.

If you only have a few plants a good defense is to hand pick and destroy caterpillars or infested leaves every time you inspect your plants, but if you have many plants an insecticide will be more effective and a more efficient use of your time. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt for short) is the recommended control for caterpillars, especially in the earliest stages of growth. It is an organic insecticide made from a naturally occurring bacteria found in soil; when caterpillars ingest the Bt-coated leaves it destroys their gut, causing them to stop feeding and die within a couple of days.

cabbage-worms-bt

Note the tiny egg mass inside the black circle (left); so tiny yet so destructive (right).

 

Bt is only effective against caterpillars; it will not harm humans, cats, dogs or beneficial insects but it will kill any caterpillars that ingest it, including butterfly larvae, so apply it only to edibles that are being damaged. Be sure to follow label instructions for application rate and frequency as follow-up applications may be necessary for control. Bt is sold under different trade names, including Dipel and Thuricide, and can be applied as a spray or a dust. Liquid Bt seems to roll off some of the thick, waxy leaves of cabbage, kale and collards, so I have found it beneficial to apply Bt as a dust.

Dustin-Mizer

The Dustin Mizer is a good tool for applying Bt as a dust.

Several years ago my brother gave me a tool called the Dustin Mizer that I use quite often for this purpose. When cranked it emits a fine dusting of powder over and under the plant.  It is especially important to direct Bt to the underside of the leaves as that is where the caterpillars are usually feeding.

It’s always a good idea to vary insect control methods in the vegetable garden so consider alternating Bt with a product containing the active ingredient spinosad (also derived from a soil bacterium and also organic). One other option is to use lightweight floating row cover to protect cabbage crops; cover plants as soon as they go in the ground so the moth never has access to the plants to lay her eggs.

 

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!