Eat, Drink and Soak Up Summer by Patty G. Leander

Summer living is casual and easy but it’s also sweaty and dehydrating. Every day we perspire, respire and excrete water and as the season progresses and the temperatures rise we need to make sure that we replenish that loss. Thirst is an excellent gauge but in summertime we need to be more conscious of our intake. Elderly people, especially, tend to have fewer fluid reserves often coupled with a reduced sensation of thirst so they may need to push their fluid intake even when not thirsty.

infused-water

Slice, chill, drink and revive – use your favorite fruit and herbs to make infused water.

For years the recommendation to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day has been promoted like the 11th commandment but that doesn’t mean we need to literally swallow 64 ounces of H2O a day, or even worse, drink and toss 4 of those 16-ounce plastic water bottles.

water-bottle

Ditch the plastic bottles of water.

Yes, it’s important to stay hydrated, but other beverages and many foods that we eat contribute to our total fluid intake. Think about seasonal summer produce – cucumbers, watermelon and papaya, for example; they are more than 90% water, so whether you are eating them raw, adding them to a salad or using them to make a refreshing beverage they will help you meet that daily fluid recommendation.

watermelon-boy

Seasonal produce helps meet your body’s water needs.

It’s easy to be lured by the marketing hype of colorful sports drinks, detox brews and vitamin water with clever names and flavors but water is really what our bodies crave – it’s free, it’s safe, it’s readily available and contains no calories. Boost the appeal of the water you drink at home by infusing it with the subtle flavor of summer’s produce. Below are some tasty and easy combinations for DIY infused waters:

 

Strawberries + basil + lemon

Blueberries + orange

Pineapple + orange + mint

Cucumber + lime

Watermelon + lime + mint

Pear + ginger

 

Slice the fruit into a one quart Mason jar. Add herbs, fill the jar with water and chill. For a more robust flavor muddle the fruit and herbs before adding water. I refill my jars once or twice, but after two days the fruit goes into the compost pile and I start a fresh batch. herbal-infused-water

There is no set recipe for making this refreshing drink, but it is an easy way to take advantage of your garden’s bounty and hydrate yourself in the summertime. Experiment with other fragrant herbs from the garden that suit your taste, including lemon balm, lemongrass, peppermint, spearmint and lemon verbena. infused-water

Another way to embellish your summer beverages is to freeze fruit (watermelon cubes, whole grapes, pomegranate seeds and cantaloupe or honeydew balls) and add it to a glass of water, sparkling water or even a sparkling beverage like Prosecco. It’s summertime – drink up!!

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!

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (of the 2016 Spring Garden) by Patty G. Leander

You’ve probably heard the saying that the weather in Texas is one long drought interrupted by occasional floods. It’s also a series of El Niño (wet) and La Niña (dry) weather patterns that affect the temperatures and precipitation. Here in Austin we are coming out of an El Niño which contributed to delightfully mild spring temperatures and the wettest May on record at Austin-Bergstrom Airport – 15.82 inches.

The resulting rains promoted vigorous – I’m inclined to call it rampant – growth in the vegetable garden. An interesting season for sure. Here are some observations that some of you may relate to: the good, the bad and the ugly, with a weird and a wonderful thrown in for good measure.

sliced-tomatoes

Even when juicy heirlooms and big, round slicers fail cherry tomatoes produce generously.

THE GOOD

My Water Bill: The lowest in a long time!

Vegetable-containers

Spring-planted containers thrived without supplemental water until early June.

Containers: It was a great year for my spring “pot” garden. I used large containers (mostly 7-10 gallon) and planted compact varieties of green beans, tomatoes, cucumber, squash and okra in late March; by early June I was harvesting from every container. Then it got really hot, really fast and the rains turned off. All I have now is ‘Baby Bubba’ okra, ‘Peppermint’ Swiss chard and okra, but that’s ok because I’m ready to give the pots a rest until cooler temperatures return in fall.

Heirloom-corn

Country Gentleman’ (left) and ‘Glass Gem’ (right)

Corn: No raccoons – that alone is a minor miracle in my backyard! They tend to show up every year for the corn but not this time. Maybe the rain deterred them or perhaps they didn’t care for the varieties I chose.  This year I planted an old-fashioned shoepeg variety called ‘Country Gentleman’ (an heirloom from 1890); I also made room for a small section of ‘Glass Gem’, a beautiful, jewel-toned flint corn carefully selected for its vibrant colors by a seed saver and corn grower from Oklahoma named Carl Barnes.

Carl was part Cherokee, and he was devoted to preserving the colorful, traditional corns of Native Americans. The sturdy stalks of ‘Glass Gem’ are 8-9 feet tall which makes the individual ears look disappointingly small, but once you pick them and pull the husk back the striking colors and translucent sparkle will make your jaw drop. I never knew Carl Barnes but I thought about him when I planted my ‘Glass Gem’ seeds in March and was thankful for his lifetime fascination with corn. He passed away a month later, on April 16, at the age of 87. You can help keep Carl’s legacy alive by planting ‘Glass Gem’ in your own garden. Seeds are available from Victory Seeds (www.victoryseeds.com), Baker Creek (www.rareseeds.com) or Seeds Trust (www.seedstrust.com ). The kernels can be ground or popped but frankly they are so stunning I plan to just admire mine for awhile.

growing-quinoa

Cherry Vanilla’ quinoa got off to a great start but quickly rotted in the wet, rainy environment.

THE BAD

Quinoa Fail: I picked up a packet of quinoa at a garden show thinking it would be fun to try.  It takes 90-120 days for the seed heads to form and dry.  I planted seeds in mid-February and it grew impressively during March and April, developing beautiful crimson blooms, then it rained and rained and rained some more and the beautiful pink flower heads rotted under the constantly moist conditions. One packet contains plenty of seeds so I will try again, perhaps this fall.

garden-snails

Snails were everywhere! This bucket o’ snails was brought to the June meeting of the Austin Organic Gardeners by a member who presented a brief show and tell on how to collect and prepare snails for the dinner table…I think I’ll stick with vegetables and more familiar protein sources.

Crunch, crunch; buzz, buzz: The snails and mosquitoes came out in full force with the wet weather; I could hardly walk to my garden without hearing the crunch of a snail shell below my shoe or the buzz of a mosquito around my ears. Now that the rains have tapered off so have the snails, but no matter how often I empty standing water or replenish the mosquito dunks in collected rainwater the mosquitoes just keep buzzing. Be sure to eliminate all sources of standing water – even the ones you don’t think about or see, like shallow plant saucers, gutters, depressions in plastic tarps or folds in bags that might hold even a small amount of water.

When working outside follow the four D’s: DRAIN (standing water), DEET (apply repellent to clothes and exposed skin), DUSK & DAWN (stay indoors at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active) and DRESS (wear long sleeves and long pants).

early-blight-tomatoes

Blight-infected tomatoes were a common sight in many gardens this year.

This was an especially bad year for early blight in tomatoes, a soil-borne fungus that appears as small dark spots on the lower leaves, which gradually turn yellow and dry up. The fungus spreads quickly, moving up the plant, infecting healthy green leaves as quickly as you can remove dying diseased foliage. Unfortunately, once plants are heavily infected no amount of fungicides, fertilizer or magic sprays will save them so at this point in the season it may be best to cut your losses. Harvest remaining tomatoes (fried green tomatoes, anyone?), remove infected plants and plan to rotate the next round of tomatoes to another spot in the garden. We’ll have more on early blight in a future post.

THE UGLY

squirrel-damage

How can such cute critters do such an ugly deed?

Critters: I’ve always heard that squirrels and birds eat tomatoes because they are thirsty, but not in this case. There was water everywhere yet they still opted for the red, juicy tomatoes. Squirrels always seem to go for the best tomatoes so at least you could say they have good taste.

THE WIERD

Tromboncino-Squash

These squash truly grow inches overnight – be careful or their vines will take over!

Tromboncino Squash: This vigorous Italian heirloom starts out green like a zucchini and ends up tan like a butternut squash. Eating quality is best when fruit is less than 12 inches long, but it will quickly and effortlessly reach 3 feet in length – especially with lots of rain! It’s crunchier than zucchini and perhaps a little nutty – I have heard its flavor described as walnuts combined with pumpkin and a touch of artichoke. It can be sautéed, grilled, baked, eaten raw in salads or spiralized into zoodles. It is supposed to be less susceptible to squash vine borer, however in my experience the borer still gets in but the vines quickly outgrow it. And if you like squash blossoms this may be the squash for you – they are big, beautiful and plentiful. Sources for seed include Territorial Seed (www.territorialseed.com) and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (www.southernexposure.com).

THE WONDERFUL

mom

One of five siblings born to a farmer and a teacher in Burlington, North Carolina, my mom definitely has some strong stock in her genes. She catered weddings, cooked Wednesday night church suppers and helped start the Meals on Wheels program in Midland. A Registered Dietitian, she was usually wearing a white uniform, white shoes and a hairnet and was often known as Liz-The-Whiz-The White-Tornado.

Happy 90th Birthday, Mom!!  We celebrated my mom’s birthday earlier this month. She has always loved purple – growing up in Midland we were “the house with the purple door”. So at age 90 we went all out with a purple party. I even presented her with purple beans, purple eggplant, purple tomatoes, purple potatoes and a big, purple artichoke bloom. All fresh from the garden. She picked out her favorite purple shirt to wear that day – the one that says “It’s all in the attitude”.

Her stamina for physical activity has dwindled over the last couple of years but she’s great at shelling. She lives close so I do my best to supply her with butterbeans, cowpeas, pecans, peanuts, shrimp and anything else that needs to be shelled. She works so fast that by the time I get home she’s calling me saying, “Your peas are done, do you have any more?” Those farming genes run deep…sometimes I think I ought to hire her out.

Poppies, Potatoes and Protecting Squash by Patty G. Leander

Patty-Leander-Spring-Garden

I sure don’t need a calendar, computer or even a meteorologist to tell me it’s spring. Anytime I am outdoors I can see it, hear it, feel it and smell it. Not to mention the chirp of crickets in the house!

There is so much happening in the vegetable garden this time of year that it is hard to narrow it down to just one topic but here are three that are currently at the top of my list.

POPPIES: Jay has written about poppies before (http://masterofhort.com/2012/11/remembering-our-veterans-with-poppies/) but they are so lovely in spring they deserve another mention, especially since this is when we gather seeds for sowing next year. Poppies start to look a little ratty if left long enough to reseed themselves but a few seedpods will give you hundreds, if not thousands, of seed for sowing and sharing, so it’s not necessary to let ALL your blooms go to seed. Choose a few for saving and let the seedpods dry on the plant, long enough so you can hear the seeds rattle. Carefully snip off the seedpods (keep them upright so the seeds don’t scatter to the ground, unless that’s where you want them), remove the seeds and store them in a cool, dry location. Sow seeds in the fall for a spectacular spring display in 2017.

Patty-Leander-Poppies

Save seeds from spring poppy blooms to plant in the fall.

POTATOES: Potatoes are growing everywhere in my garden – under mulch, under hay, in cages and tucked in between other plants. My garden is big but it’s not big enough to grow bushels of potatoes and still have room for other favorite vegetables so I usually grow a few reliable favorites, like Yukon Gold and Red La Soda, along with a few less common selections. This year I have planted 8 varieties: Red La Soda, Austrian Crescent, Red Thumb, Russian Banana, Purple Majesty, Purple Viking, Russet Nugget and Lemhi Russet.

Patty-Leander-Potatoes

Potatoes go in where carrots came out, flanked by celery and tomatoes (left); on the right a fingerling variety grows under straw in a cylinder lined with fine mesh screen.

It sounds like a lot but I only purchase a pound of each variety since I am growing them more for fun and discovery than to fill a larder. I usually order my seed potatoes in December or January from Potato Garden in Colorado; they are one of the few places that will ship potatoes at the time we need to plant them here in Central Texas, which is mid-February. And they have an amazing selection of potatoes and growing information on their website (www.potatogarden.com).

Patty-Leander-Potatoes-2

More potatoes tucked inside an A-frame constructed for pole beans and sugar snap peas (I wouldn’t recommend this unless you are petite in stature and into lots of bending, crouching and squatting – hey, this is how I get my exercise!). You can see their rapid growth from April 6 (left) to April 22 (right). As soon as the sugar snap peas on the right are done producing they will be removed to provide easier access to the potatoes.

Most of my potatoes were planted on February 26th, a little later than I would have liked, but the potatoes seem to be making up for lost time. Potatoes like people weather – mild days, cool nights, not too wet and not too dry – and so far Mother Nature has obliged.

Patty-Leander-Potatoes-3

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

Patty-Leander-Potatoes-4

Growing by leaps and bounds: Russet Nugget (center) catches up to Purple Majesty and Red Thumb by 4-22-16

Growing potatoes means lots of surprises since you don’t get to see what is going on below ground. As the season progresses it’s hard for me to resist the temptation to dig around the base of the plants feeling for swollen tubers. Last week, much to my surprise and delight, I harvested 3 pounds of new potatoes from a planting of sorry looking Red La Sodas left over from my fall harvest.

Red-La-Soda-Seed-Potato

They may not look like much but these Red La Sodas had plenty of life yet to give

If you are growing potatoes be sure to keep the base of the plants mounded with soil, mulch or hay as they grow – it’s ok to bury some leaves in the process. The goal is to keep the tubers covered so they are not exposed to the greening effects of sunlight. And if you decide to start digging around to harvest some baby spuds remember that they do not store as well as mature tubers so eat and enjoy!

Red-La-Soda-New-Potatoes

Surprise and delight: a little bit of careful digging yielded three pounds of new potatoes eight weeks after planting Red La Sodas left over from my fall harvest

SQUASH: Squash vine borer is a perennial problem for many gardeners but there is a new product to help battle this annoying pest. It is called Micromesh, and after using it the last couple of years I find that I like it better than floating row cover. It is available through the Territorial Seed catalog (www.territorialseed.com) and I have also seen it at The Natural Gardener in Austin. If you have seen this product at other Texas nurseries please share in the comments below.

Micromesh-Squash-Vine-Borer

Micromesh: a new product to battle squash vine borer

Micromesh is a fine mesh netting used to keep bugs off of plants. It still allows water and light to pass but it is more see-thru than standard row cover and provides better ventilation, an important factor as the warm season progresses. I cover my squash plants as soon as they emerge and don’t uncover until I see female flowers. You can recognize a female flower because it has a small, immature fruit attached at the base of the petals. Once the flower gets pollinated the baby squash starts to develop, but if no pollination takes place the flower and the fruit shrivel and fall off. If you choose to keep your squash covered after female flowers appear you will have to perform the role of pollinator. Jay covered the how-tos in a previous post: http://masterofhort.com/2013/01/hand-pollinating-squash/.

Patty-Leander-Squash

All types of squash produce both male and female flowers on the same plant; the male flowers generally appear first, followed by female flowers which have a tiny, immature fruit at their base

Hope you are having an awesome spring season in your vegetable garden! People pests (mosquitoes-grrrr),  plant pests, diseases and heat are lurking and soon enough will make their presence known, but for now we can give thanks for the rain, revel in the mild temperatures and watch in amazement as a seed becomes a plant and a plant becomes a harvest.

BBQ, Bluebonnets, and Rockin’ Out in Llano by Patty G. Leander

Today I’m taking a break from vegetables to remember a BBQ legend, revel in Texas wildflowers and be amazed by rocks.

Goode-Company-Restaurants

In memory of and gratitude for Texan and BBQ icon Jim Goode, founder of Houston’s Goode Company Restaurants, who passed away last month at the age of 71. Like so many Texans, I have always loved Goode Company BBQ, Brazos Bottom Pecan Pie and the Goode Company logo, above. For a bit of nostalgia that takes you back to the 1977 origins of that first restaurant on Kirby Lane, click over to the Goode Company website: http://www.goodecompany.com/our_start.asp.

Mesquite-bar-b-que

Goode woode: Jim Goode’s use of mesquite for smoking brisket and grilling burgers earned him the title King of Mesquite

If you are reading this and you live in Texas let’s all pause for a moment and thank our collective lucky stars. We are a big, diverse, dynamic state with an amazing history, incredible natural resources, the best BBQ and the friendliest people around. Gridlocked traffic and contentious politics can weigh a little heavy at times, but spring is here, Texas is blooming and it’s a beautiful, invigorating sight to see.

Texas-redbud

Early blooms of Texas redbuds promise that spring is on its way

Bruce and I had the opportunity to take it all in recently during a drive from Austin to Midland. I had been invited to give a talk on edible landscaping at a monthly seminar hosted by the Permian Basin Master Gardeners, but they did not have to twist my arm to come; Midland is my hometown and it had been over two years since making the pilgrimage to my West Texas roots.

Texas-Wildflowers

The highways bloom with Lady Bird’s legacy: Bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush (left), Texas poppy and Indian blanket (right)

We took our usual route on Hwy 71, noting the landmarks along the way: the small Post Office in Valley Spring (never a line), Coopers BBQ in Llano (always a line), the rows of grapevines in Pontotoc (the Chickasaw word for “Land of Hanging Grapes”) and the “Heart of Texas” monument in front of the McCulloch County Courthouse in Brady (the geographical center of Texas). US 87 from Brady takes us to Eden where the main intersection in town offers us a choice of either DQ on the north side or Venison World to the south and also marks the halfway point between the house I now live in and the house I grew up in. From Eden it’s on to San Angelo for a pit stop and an iced tea at McAlister’s, then the cautious drive through Carlsbad where we were nabbed several years ago for exceeding the speed limit (it’s easy to miss the two mile stretch where the speed limit drops from 70 to 60 MPH). After Carlsbad the miles pass quickly – 30 minutes to Sterling City, 30 minutes to Garden City and then target acquired – the Midland skyline appears on the horizon. The Tall City.

Though Midland has changed over the years, through times of boom and bust, my nostalgia grows as the miles pass, anticipating familiar faces and places, a drive through my old neighborhood and a ‘meat chalupa, add guacamole’, at Taco Villa (can’t seem to shake this habit from high school). But this time the most exciting part of the 300 mile trek was passing rivers full of WATER. Every river and creek we passed – the Pedernales, the Colorado, the San Saba, the Concho – were flowing at levels we haven’t seen in years. I know this is a stark contrast to the flood conditions that so many are dealing with in parts of East Texas but after several years of exceptional and extreme drought conditions throughout West Texas it was a sight and a blessing to behold.

2016-rock-stacking-world-championship

Stacks of rocks got our attention as we crossed the Llano River

On the way to Midland something caught Bruce’s eye as we crossed the Roy Inks Bridge in Llano…stacks of rocks strewn along the banks of the river. We were on a fairly tight schedule to get to Midland and with 250 miles left to go we decided to check it out on the return trip and we are so glad we did. We learned that the stacked rocks were part of the 2016 Rock Stacking World Championship sponsored by the Llano Earth Art Festival. There were four categories of stacking – height, balance, arches and artistic/freestyle – all created without adhesive, wire or any other aids. Visitors were invited to wander among the stacked creations, and to build their own if so moved. I think my rock-admiring, geologist dad would have heartily approved.

 

2016-Rock-Stacking-World-Championship-2

Rocks hanging in the balance – the rock stacks remain in place until nature displaces them

 

rock-stacking

Inspired by the rock stacks I decided my garden needed to have at least one.

Thank you Permian Basin Master Gardeners and Midland/Ector County Extension for the invitation to speak and for your edible garden enthusiasm and welcoming hospitality!

 

I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

A Garden Visit with Bill Adams by Patty G. Leander

bill-adams

Tomato aficionado Bill Adams, horticulturist•educator•author

Tomatoes rule the spring season and with that in mind Jay and I decided to visit with tomato guru Bill Adams in our second feature on Lone Star gardeners.

bill-adams-books

Bill’s books are excellent reads, both informative and entertaining

After all, Bill is the author of several garden-related books, including “The Texas Tomato Lovers Handbook” (2011), and he has been growing, testing and tasting tomatoes well over 40 years, much of it in the official capacity as the A&M Extension Horticulturist for Harris County. Together with friend, collaborator and former Extension colleague Tom LeRoy, Bill has solved thousands of horticulture dilemmas and taught a multitude of aspiring gardeners the commonsense approach to growing vegetables.

bill-adams-tomatoes

Tomatoes at every turn

A visit to Bill’s vegetable garden is nothing less than exhilarating. He is a walking, talking horticultural encyclopedia and shares unexpected nuggets of knowledge at every turn. Last year he grew over 40 varieties of tomatoes, evaluating each one for flavor, texture and overall quality. He is frank and honest in his assessment, the winners get his seal of approval and the duds get panned.

tomato-varieties

A sampling of fruit I brought home after a visit to Bill’s tomato paradise. He marks the “ugly side” with a marker to keep track of varieties, and then he can photograph the good side.

Bill has staying power, too. Even after retirement he remains active in the Garden Writer’s Association and continues to educate and entertain gardeners at nursery talks, garden events and conferences. He and Tom will be giving their annual Spring Vegetable Class at Arbor Gate Nursery on March 5.

arbor-gate-tomato-tasting

Judging tomatoes at Arbor Gate’s annual tomato contest

Bill will also be judging tomatoes at three different events this season: May 21, 10:00 AM at Enchanted Forest in Richmond, May 21, 2:00 PM at Enchanted Gardens in Richmond, and June 11, 10:00 AM at Arbor Gate in Tomball. Bring your tastiest tomatoes and go for the gold!

For a rundown of Bill’s winners and losers from his 2015 tomato trials visit: http://arborgate.com/blog/tried-and-true-in-2016/

Name:  William D. (Bill) Adams

Location:  South Central Texas—near Burton

bill-adams-kitchen-garden

The Adams kitchen garden

Years gardening in this garden:  Ten

Favorite thing to grow:  Tomatoes

Marianna's-Peace

‘Marianna’s Peace’ – according to Bill it’s so good you’ll want to lick the juice off the plate

Best growing tip:  Organic matter, especially compost, must be constantly on your agenda—“The gardener with the most compost wins”.

Best pest control tip:  Try to be in the garden every day and know your pests.  Use cultural techniques and low-toxicity pesticides to win the battle.  In my experience planting twice as much as needed so the pests can have their half doesn’t work—they know the best tasting varieties and they will sample it ALL.

Best weed control tip:  Use a combination of newspapers, cardboard, whatever to suppress the weeds and cover it with mulch to keep the paper from blowing away.  Wet the paper first to keep it in place while you go for mulch.

Biggest challenge:  Finding the best tasting varieties.

top-tomato-varieties-2015

A trio of good looking tomatoes from the 2015 season: ‘Red Mountain’, ‘Cherokee Purple’, ‘Caiman’

 

Favorite soil amendment:  Mushroom compost-about 14 cubic yards per season in our garden. (this translates to approximately 12 inches of compost on the vegetable rows and 6-8 inches around the orchard trees)

bill-adams-compost

The gardener with the most compost wins!

Preserving the harvest: We can and freeze tomatoes and hot sauce; make wonderful Bread and Butter pickles….and we have a good record of using them. Froze a bunch of leeks several years ago and they’re about ready for the compost pile—sometimes we lose track.

Favorite advice:  Garden for fun but garden like you mean it.  I’m a fanatic about organic matter but I’m not an organic gardener.  I grow a lot of crops that are never sprayed, I use organic and soluble fertilizers, low-toxicity pesticides-only when needed and I’m in the garden virtually every day.  If a crop is worth saving (the critters/diseases haven’t already done too much damage), and the pests can be controlled with a registered pesticide (organic or low-toxicity chemical) I win!

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!

Planning the Spring Garden by Patty G. Leander

We are well into the second month of the new year and I am loving the mild winter weather we are experiencing here in Central Texas. It is perfect for the gardener – sort of makes up for all the gardening we must do in the mosquito-infested heat that often starts in late spring and lasts till early winter!

Kale-collards-mustard greens

A bed of brassicas – kale, mustard and collards – almost too pretty to pick

The spring gardening season will be here soon and I am giddy with anticipation, itching to plant and obsessed with the weather forecast. January is normally our coldest month of the year yet it has come and gone and now February, a month that can bring snow and sleet and 80°F days, even in the same week, is halfway over…and my winter coat still hangs at the ready, unworn.

soil-thermometer

Gauge planting time by soil temperature rather than air temperature.

The current 14 day forecast for Central Texas shows a string of 60-80F° days with nights in the 40s and 50s. The weather screams, “It’s warm and sunny, come outside, plant some seeds!” But at this time of year soil temperature is a better gauge of when to plant than air temperature. Direct-seeded beans, cucumbers, squash and other warm-season vegetables have their best chance at germination when soil is consistently above 60°F, which usually doesn’t happen around here until early March. If planted now the seeds would likely rot or suffer multiple setbacks as they struggle to get a start in cool soil. And despite the gorgeous weather we could still get a freeze – if you have lived here long enough you know that Easter tends to be a magnet for freezing weather.

vegetables-in-containers

Colorful pottery and fabric pots are suitable containers for vegetables.

Planting too much or too early is a perennial conundrum in spring and it’s best to follow the forecast, monitor the soil temperature and have a plan that takes into account the space available in your garden and how long it takes a crop to reach maturity. Right now the soil in my garden hovers around 45-60°, an acceptable temperature for cool season plants like carrots, beets or broccoli. But those plants take 60-65 days to reach maturity and if planted now they will be taking up valuable space when the time comes for warm season planting next month.

container-vegetables

Lettuce and mesclun mixes grow happily in containers, large or small.

As we transition into spring I always wish I had more garden, but one way to extend the cool season harvest without taking up room in the vegetable garden is to grow in containers. I’ve grown lettuce, beets, radishes, carrots, broccoli and more in large clay pots, fabric grow bags and steel tubs. And at this time of year containers are less likely to dry out as they tend to do later in the season.

interplanting-beans

An excellent example of interplanting from a past season in the Children’s Vegetable Garden located at the San Antonio Botanical Garden. Broccoli and cabbage, planted 6 weeks before tomatoes, beans and squash, are ready for harvest, leaving more space for the remaining crops.

Another approach to squeezing in more is to plant quick-growing, cool season crops along the edge of a bed or in the area between future plantings of warm-season vegetables with larger space requirements. Mark the spot reserved for larger plants, such as tomatoes or squash, then plant beets, Asian greens, turnips, Swiss chard, cabbage or broccoli in the area between the markers. These plants will be ready to harvest before the tomatoes or squash take over. Commonly known as interplanting, this technique will help optimize space in the garden. It also increases diversity, confuses detrimental pests and attracts beneficials.

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!

President’s Day Potatoes

Last weekend I met Chris Corby (Owner of Texas Gardener Magazine) and Patty Leander (co-blogger and staff writer for Texas Gardener Magazine) in Waco for a little writer’s workshop.  As often happens with Texas Gardeners that are eating Thai food together (instead of gardening) on a beautiful January Saturday, we began to discuss whether or not to trust the weather and do some early planting.  Now we certainly know better.  I don’t care that the groundhog didn’t see his shadow, we have all lived here long enough to know that nothing guarantees a late season freeze better than planting an early spring garden.  Regardless, this warm winter weather has given all three of us a bad case of the itch that often occurs once one has been bitten by the gardening bug.  While we agreed we would wait for the middle of March to do the majority of our planting, we began to talk about the one thing that needs to be planted in the February garden – potatoes!

planting-potatoes-1

It is time to plant potatoes! I grow mostly Red La Soda and Kennebec. However, there is a huge number of varieties that do great for us in Texas

There is an old Southern saying that says you should plant potatoes on President’s Day (in Zones 8A through 9B).  President’s Day falls on Feb. 15 this year so if you are going to rely on the potato to give you a reason to get outside and do some early gardening you need to hurry.  You have less than two weeks left to buy your seed potatoes, get them cut up, scabbed over and planted.

February is not the only time you can plant potatoes in Texas. Save some of your harvest this year and try them in the fall.

February is not the only time you can plant potatoes in Texas. Save some of your harvest this year and try them in the fall.

There is no doubt that President’s Day is a great time to plant potatoes in most of Texas and the Gulf South.  However, after years of growing potatoes I would like to point out that the President’s Day saying is not, in my opinion, completely accurate.  It has been my experience that the saying would be a little more accurate if it said something like “President’s Day is the LAST day to plant your potatoes”.  Potatoes are very hardy plants and they will grow and produce in all but the hottest of months.  If you plant on President’s Day you can be relatively certain that your plants will have time to grow, bloom and produce spuds before our hot weather kicks in.   However, that is not the only time you can, or should plant potatoes in Texas.

fall-potatoes

I planted these Red La Soda and Kennebecs in September of of 2013. I harvested them in February of 2014. As you see I had enough to eat and enough to plant again for my May harvest

The only thing that potatoes will not tolerate is high heat.  Because of that, they will do absolutely nothing in the Texas garden from late June to mid-September. However, once temperatures begin to fall in late September, you can begin planting potatoes. Thanks to their cold hardiness, potatoes can survive most of the freezes we get in the Gulf South.  If you are willing and able to give your potatoes a little TLC, you can plant your potatoes as early as September (for a winter harvest) and as late as President’s Day (for a spring harvest).  Plant potatoes in mid to late September and you can expect a decent harvest in December (as long as you are willing to cover them during cold snaps below 28 degrees).  If you plant potatoes in December, in an area that is protected from the north wind (and you can cover them in a hard freeze), they will be ready for harvest before President’s Day (read about my friends at Boggy Creek in Austin harvesting potatoes right now).  Growing potatoes this way will allow you to produce up to three potato harvests per year.

potato-containers

Each year Patty Leander loves to experiment with new varieties of potatoes. She is also a big proponent of growing them in containers.

If you have never grown potatoes I highly recommend trying them.  You can grow them successfully in long wide beds (click here to see how I grow mine) or you can grow them just as well in containers on your back porch (click here to read Patty’s awesome article on container grown potatoes).  Through the years I have learned to really appreciate the humble potato.  They truly are one of the most adaptable, and easy to grow vegetables available.  While planting on President’s Day is a good rule of thumb, don’t let it stop you from trying to grow potatoes at different times of the year.  This year, why not save some of your February planted potatoes for replanting in late fall and early winter?  With a little management and just a little extra care you can produce up to three potato harvests per year.

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Growing potatoes in containers is fun and easy. Plus harvesting them is a snap!

 

I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

A Garden Visit With 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)

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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.

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(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.

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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.”

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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.

Gardening in a Galaxy Far, Far Away by Patty G. Leander

We began the New Year with three exciting events in our family – our oldest daughter completed her firefighter training, our Red Raider niece married a handsome red-headed Aggie and we took my awesome in-laws (ages 86 and 90) to see ‘Star Wars: A Force Awakens’.

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Proud of our courageous firefighter (and valedictorian)!

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Bruce practicing his photo bomb technique on our niece’s beautiful wedding cake.

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Grammy and Grampy Leander (he’ll be 91 next month) learning to take a selfie at the wedding reception – how cool is that?

During the movie, both my husband and my daughter looked over and nudged me. I get nudged a lot in reference to the vegetables I grow in my garden and I hope I won’t be giving much away if I tell you that cauliflower makes an appearance in the Star Wars Galaxy!

Romanesco-Cauliflower

Galactic Gardening – apparently this Romanesco cauliflower grows in other galaxies

You can grow Romanesco cauliflower in your earth-bound garden and January is a good time to set out transplants – if you can find them. You can also grow your own transplants but you’d have to start right away because this galactic brassica does not like the heat. It takes 5-6 weeks to grow a good sized transplant, then another 6-8 weeks to reach a harvestable size. That puts us well into April. If you live in North Texas or beyond you may be able to get away with this, but gardeners in Central and South Texas are better off waiting until next fall to give this one a go. If planted too late in spring the warm weather may cause it to bolt before it has a chance to reach maturity.

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A striking Romanesco cauliflower ready for harvest

Put this unique but easy-to-grow cauliflower on your list for fall 2016. Open-pollinated, heirloom seeds are available from Baker Creek (www.rareseeds.com), Sustainable Seed Company (www.sutainableseedco.com) and Seed Savers Exchange (www.seedsavers.org). Or you can opt for a slightly earlier hybrid called ‘Veronica’, available from Johnny’s Seeds (www.johnnyseeds.com) or High Mowing Seeds (www.highmowingseeds.com). And if you or your kids are really into Star Wars, give ‘Skywalker’ cauliflower a try. A hybrid variety noted for bright white, dense heads and cold tolerance; it is well-suited for fall cultivation. Seeds are available from Johnny’s and High Mowing.

Bolted_Romanesco_Cauliflower

Bolting Romanesco – not a pretty sight but still edible

 

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 43 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden

As I write this I am listening to the sounds of water dripping off my roof! I am also enjoying the lightning storm that is telling me more rain is on the way!.  Thanks to a whole weekend of thunderstorms, I am hoping to do absolutely nothing in the garden!  If you get rained in this weekend I recommend reading the latest issue of Texas Gardener.  This issue is really good.  Friend and co-blogger Patty Leander has an excellent article on growing microgreens.  For those of us who need to grow something all year round, her excellent article tells you how to grow these flavorful (and pretty fancy) greens all winter long.  If it is not raining on you this weekend there is plenty to do in your fall yard and garden.

Its been a while since I saw water dripping of the roof and the trees!

Its been a while since I saw water dripping of the roof and the trees!

!!!!!!!CAUTION/AVISO!!!!!!

Sally walked out of our guest house this weekend and almost stepped on a young copperhead that was coming up the steps to meet her!  Copperheads love hunting at dusk and they love pockets of high humidity.  Right now they are breeding and trying to bulk up for winter.  Since this is one of their most active times of the year you really need to wear sturdy boots and carry a stick when you are out in your yard and garden.  Please be careful out there! Just FYI, if you get bitten by a copperhead you are probably going to be ok.  If bitten, go to the hospital ASAP but know that, even though they are the most aggressive of the poisonous snakes in Texas, they are the least venomous.

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Don’t fertilize your plants until they have developed their true leaves.

VEGETABLES

  • Plant root crops from seed – Last night I put out my second planting of beets. I also put out icicle radishes and three varieties of carrots (Danvers, Danvers Shorts and Cosmic Purple).  You can still plant all root crops from seed plus chard, kale, collards and mustard greens.
  • Make Compost Tea- I do not recommend fertilizing any plant until it is past the cotyledon size. Once your brassicas, lettuces, spinach or root crops have their true leaves, feed them!  When plants are small I really like foliar applications of compost tea.  To make compost tea, add a cup of molasses to five gallons of rain water.  Add an old sock that has been filled with compost and tied at the end.  Place outside and stir twice a day for a week or ten days.  Then pour directly on your plants or strain and apply with a sprayer.
The only thing cuter than my grandson is my grandson enjoying a playdate in a pumpkin patch!!!

The only thing cuter than my grandson is my grandson enjoying a playdate in a pumpkin patch!!!

ORNAMENTALS

  • Water your decorations! – Right now it is hard to find a yard a porch that does not have a big bunch of mums on it. Water the mums almost daily. To extend, or encourage their bloom, feed weekly with Miracle Grow mixed to 50% of the recommended rate.
  • Plant ryegrass now! – If you can beat the rain, this weekend will be a perfect time to over seed your lawn with rye.
  • Move plants – I need to move several little crepe myrtles that have popped up from seeds. Now is the best time to move them and all other perennials.  For best results move perennials when they are small, take as many roots as possible, plant them slightly higher than they were in their original location and then water, water, water!

 

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!