Fall Into Winter Vegetables on Central Texas Gardener

If you have questions about what to grow in the fall and winter garden, then this week’s episode of Central Texas Gardener is perfect for you.  Patty and I were thrilled to be invited to talk about fall gardening on this award winning  PBS (KLRU) television program.

In my opinion Fall is the best time of the year to garden in Texas.  The temperatures are milder and the weeds are not nearly as aggressive.  Plus, you can grow so many great vegetables!  While it is a little late for tomatoes it is the perfect time to plant broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts.  It is also a good time to plant root crops like beets, carrots, turnips, radishes and parsnips.  It is also time to start your salad greens.  Fall and winter are the ONLY time you can grow your lettuce and spinach in Texas. danvers-carrots

I have been a fan of CTG for years.  Growing in Texas is challenging and their experts and guest always have the right answers for the problems I am dealing with in my own garden.  If you are not a regular viewer, or you do not get CTG on your local PBS channel, go to their website (http://www.klru.org/ctg/ ).  Each and every segment they do is available on YouTube on their site or on their YouTube Channel.   texas-lettuce

This was my first time in a television studio and I was a little nervous.  However producer Linda Lehmusvirta and host Tom Spencer (and the Hays County Master gardeners) made the whole experience so much fun.  I would also like to thank all of the people behind the scenes at KLRU for making Patty and I feel  so comfortable in front of your cameras. Heck, I didn’t even get offended when you had to put make up on my bald head to kill the glare!

Many thanks to the whole KLRU, and the Hays County Master Gardeners for a truly wonderful experience!

Many thanks to the whole KLRU crew, and the Hays County Master Gardeners, for a truly wonderful experience!

 

 

Luffas – Nature’s Bath Sponge

Right now, I am growing bath sponges.  Really, I am truly growing bath sponges in my garden.  While this statement makes perfect sense to many of my gardening friends, lots of the non-gardening people that I tell this to, or show the plants to, are truly surprised to learn that the $10 natural bath sponges that they use to scrub their bodies are the xylem fibers of a dead gourd that they can easily grow in their own yard (and you can too). Luffa-Bath-Sponge

Luffas, or loofahs, are members of the same family as squash, cucumbers and gourds.  The luffa is the fruit of one of two plants – L. aegyptiaca and L. acutangula.  Luffas are truly amazing plants.  You can eat them, cleanse your body with them and, thanks to a dedicated and visionary woman named Else Zaldivar, you can build your house out of them.

This little luffa has turned out to be the biggest one we have ever grown

This little luffa has turned out to be the biggest one we have ever grown

Elsa Zaldivar was looking for an alternate crop that could be grown to bring in much needed income for the indigenous people of Paraguay.  One day, while sitting under the shade of an arbor covered in luffa, she had an epiphany.  Luffas were the plant!  She encouraged the women of the area to grow these natural bath sponges for export.  Today, the women have a thriving business that produces bath sponges, mats, slippers, insoles and other beauty products.

While the beauty business was incredibly successful, she was bothered by the amount of waste that was involved in the process.  One third of the luffas were not good enough to be sold and the process of preparing the luffas for sale resulted in a 30% loss of fiber.  In order to find another revenue stream for the people of Paraguay she teamed up with an industrial engineer named Pedro Palas to find a way to turn this waste into another saleable product.

Luffas are big, aggressive plants. This one plant has now grown to over 20 feet. In fact, it has jumped the fence and is growing up into our Cedar tree!

Luffas are big, aggressive plants. This one plant has now grown to over 20 feet. In fact, it has jumped the fence and is growing up into our Cedar tree!

Thanks to their efforts, you can now build your house out of sheets of recycled plastic that are reinforced with the fibrous waste that comes from the process of turning luffas into beauty products.  The product Ms. Zaldivar and Mr. Palas have created is an eco-friendly substitute for plywood.   With the addition of colors to the recycled plastic/luffa mixture you can now clad your house in a renewable, recycled product that never needs painting.  Click here to read more about Ms. Zaldivar (the queen of the luffa as she calls herself) and the amazing things she is doing with this humble plant.

While it is nice to know we can use to luffas to build a house, Sally and I grow them for the shear fun of it.  Luffas are big leafed, unruly, vining plants that are covered in large yellow flowers that have “crinkly” yellow petals.  These flowers always bring in tons of pollinators (this year they have been covered in bumble bees).  Once the flowers are pollenated small, green, pencil shaped fruits begin to develop.  These fruits grow quickly and get big.   In fact, they grow fast enough that my wife and I can notice the changes in both the fruit and vines on our daily trips to the garden.

The big yellow flowers really bring in the pollinators. This year the luffa flowers have brought in an unusually large number of bumble bees.

The big yellow flowers really bring in the pollinators. This year the luffa flowers have brought in an unusually large number of bumble bees.

Luffas are incredibly easy to grow.  All you need is a sunny spot with decent soil and some type of structure for them to grow on – and a lot of frost free time!  Luffas take 150 to 180 frost free days to go from seed bath sponge.  I planted my luffas the first week of April.  While I got lots of flowers, I did not get my first fruits until the end of July.  Now the vines have several fruits that range in size for 18 to 24 inches.

I have grown BIG luffas and I have grown some that were not so big.  If you want to grow the biggest bath sponges possible (and get the most fruit possible off the vine) you need to make sure they get plenty of food, plenty of water and a regular trimming.  This year we are growing ours on a fence by our compost pile.  Since the soil is well worked with organic material and we water almost every day, this year’s luffas are the biggest we have ever grown.  We do not trim ours vines.  However, if you clip the ends off of your vines they will branch, get bushy and produce up to 25 fruits per plant.

Here is our giant luffa two weeks after the first picture.

Here is our giant luffa two weeks after the first picture.

Luffas will continue to grow and set fruit up until the first frost.  However, their growth will slow as temperatures fall.  I stop watering them around the first of September to encourage their demise.  We leave our luffas on the vine until the vines are dead and the thin green skins of the fruits have turned brown and brittle.  However, you can harvest your luffa whenever they begin to feel noticeably lighter.  Many people like to harvest them green and then bring them in to cure over the winter.

Here is our giant luffa on Sept. 1. Well over 2 feet!

Here is our giant luffa on Sept. 1. Well over 2 feet!

To get your bath sponge you are going to need to remove the skin.  If the fruit is really dry, you may be able to remove the skins by simply pulling it off.  However, I have much more luck soaking the luffa in warm water in the sink for 30 minutes or so before I start trying to remove the skin.  If you “skin” your luffas when they are still slightly green (but definitely turning brown), you can soak them over night and then peel them like a banana.

As you remove the skins, the black seeds will fall out of the end of the luffa that was attached to the vine.  Since I soak my luffas the seeds are always wet when they come out.  This has not been a problem.  I simply gather them up and lay them out on paper towels to dry.  After a couple of days I gather them up and store them in a seed packs that we make from old magazines.

Once you remove the skins and dry the fruit your luffas are ready to use.  When the “sponge” comes out of the skin it is a lovely, “burlap-y” color.  While they are lovely in their natural state, I like to bleach them.  If you want your luffas to be a lovely off white color, place four gallons of water and 1 cup of bleach in a five gallon bucket.  I bleach my luffas over three days.  Each day I remake my bleach solution and let the luffas stay in the mixture for about an hour each day.

This year our vines have grown to about 30 feet in length and jumped into our cedar tree. If you trim vines you will get more fruit and you won't have to get a ladder to harvest them!

This year our vines have grown to about 30 feet in length and jumped into our cedar tree. If you trim vines you will get more fruit and you won’t have to get a ladder to harvest them!

My wife and I give most of our luffa bath sponges as Christmas presents.  We cut them into 9 inch to 12 inch pieces and tie a bow around them with a with a pack of seeds that came out of them.  These are always big hits.  People love getting homemade things for Christmas.  While people enjoy our preserves and homemade wine they LOVE our luffas!  We literally have people ask us if the can get on the Christmas luffa list.

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

Poppies, Potatoes and Protecting Squash by Patty G. Leander

Patty-Leander-Spring-Garden

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

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

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

Patty-Leander-Poppies

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

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

Patty-Leander-Potatoes

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

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

Patty-Leander-Potatoes-2

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

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

Patty-Leander-Potatoes-3

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

Patty-Leander-Potatoes-4

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

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

Red-La-Soda-Seed-Potato

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

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

Red-La-Soda-New-Potatoes

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

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

Micromesh-Squash-Vine-Borer

Micromesh: a new product to battle squash vine borer

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

Patty-Leander-Squash

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

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

A Garden Visit with Eli Kubicek

Each year I buy several of my ornamental plants from a small, independent grower named Eli Kubicek.  Eli has been organically growing and propagating vegetables and ornamentals in his Brenham gardens for 8 years.  Over the past few years Eli has developed quite a following of local people who literally line up to buy his high quality starts and transplants.  While it is not unusual for gardeners to line up to purchase high quality transplants from an organic grower, it is incredibly unusual for the producer of those transplants to be just 10 years old!

Eli Kubicek is a plant propagating 10 year old entreprunuer from Brenham, Tx

Eli Kubicek is a plant propagating 10 year old entreprunuer from Brenham, Tx

I met Eli three years ago when he was a second grader in my wife’s class at St. Paul’s Christian Day School.  For some occasion or another Eli presented her with a lovely pot of aloe vera that he proudly told her he had propagated himself.  Thanks to that gift I now have pots and pots of aloe vera all around my house.  We were so impressed with this plant propagating second grader that we have made it a point to buy from him each and every year.

Eli's skills are not limited to plant propagation. Here he proudly displays a birdhouse he designed and built.

Eli’s skills are not limited to plant propagation. here he proudly displays a birdhouse he designed and built.

Eli lives on six acres outside of Brenham with Dad Stan, Mom Becky and Duece, their flop eared, yellow guard dog.  The Kubicek’s live in a rambling farmhouse that started life as a two room home in the late 19th century.  Stan and Becky have spent years restoring the old house and cultivating some very attractive ornamental and vegetable beds around it.  When Eli came along, his parents included him in everything they were doing.  Around the time Eli turned two they noticed that he had a real affinity for plants.  Since that time they have encouraged his interest.  Both of his parents are what I would consider craftsmen.  Stan (who earns his living as a college math professor) is a fine furniture and cabinet maker .  Becky (who is a nutritionist by trade) has created some of the most beautiful cottage beds and garden rows I have ever seen.  Working alongside his parents, Eli has developed an eye for detail, an appreciation of hard work, the value of “re-use” and the confidence needed to tackle whatever issues he encounters while building a garden, a bird house or a remote control Lego car.

Eli recently installed his latest ornamental bed. He laid the the brick border himself and is filling the bed with several plants that he has divided or propagated

Eli recently installed his latest ornamental bed. He laid the the brick border himself and is filling the bed with several plants that he has divided or propagated

When it comes to plants, Eli now has free reign as far as his parents are concerned.  Each year he selects the plants from the garden he wants to propagate.  He and his dad then get a load of mulch from the local landfill.  To create his potting mix, and the compost for his gardens, Eli sifts the mulch with a slotted tray from the nursery that was used to hold 8 cell transplant packs.   The sifted compost fills his pots and feeds his gardens and the mulch is used to suppress weeds in those same plots.

Eli designed this lovely bed at the entrance to his house. He also grew all of the plants.

Eli designed this lovely bed at the entrance to his house. He also grew all of the plants.

Each year, Eli’s inventory and sales grow.  As he has gotten older he has learned to propagate more and varieties.  This year, I went to buy my annual “Eli Plants” at the Brenham Christian Academy Bazaar.  His booth was lovely and it was stocked with figs, Turk’s Cap, rosemary, several salvias and lots of succulents.  He also had some of the most beautiful Hardy Amaryllis for sale that I have ever seen.  Since my wife is an amaryllis lover we came home with all he had for sale.

A clump of Hardy Amaryllis in that Eli divides and sells at his annual plant sale

A clump of Hardy Amaryllis that Eli divides and sells at his annual plant sale

Eli’s enthusiasm for growing and propagation has been an inspiration for me.  While I love to garden it is always refreshing to find someone who shares your loves and passions.  Eli is an outstanding young man with so much promise and potential.  I am truly glad our paths have crossed and I can’t wait to see where all of his gifts and talents take him.

Name:  Eli Kubicek

Location:  Brenham, Tx

Years gardening in this location: 8 years (80% of my life!)

Favorite thing to grow:  Snapdragons and perennials in general

Eli has several varieties of salvia that he propagates each year. This year he added pineapple sage to his list of offerings

Eli has several varieties of salvia that he propagates each year. This year he added pineapple sage to his list of offerings

Best growing tip:  Don’t “over tend” your garden.  In my garden I don’t do much except weed, fertilize twice a year and water when necessary

Best pest control tip:  We don’t have a big problem with pests.  However we have had grasshopper problems in the past.  For those I pick and smush or let our guinea take care of them.  For slugs I pick and smush with a stick.  I have a good guard dog name “Duece” who takes care of armadillos and other big pests.

Best weed control tip:  Yank ‘em out before they spread

Biggest challenge:  Covering and uncovering all of the plants I am propagating before and after a frost or freeze.  I also have a problem keeping the guinea (grasshopper control) away from the melons,strawberries and persimmons

Favorite soil amendment:  Fresh compost which I make myself!  I don’t use that bagged stuff.

Preserving the harvest:  Some vegetables don’t make it to the house.  They are just too tempting and I eat them immediately.  For example, carrots (I just brush off most of the soil and munch away), green beans and bell peppers .

Favorite advice:  Don’t let weeds get out of control!

Eli with mom Becky and dad Stan in front of a bottle tree that they made by wiring together old Christmas Tree trunks

Eli with mom Becky and dad Stan in front of a bottle tree that they made by wiring together old Christmas Tree trunks

 

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

Spring Time is Weed Time!

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

tomato-transplants

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

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

Butter-cup

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

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

acetic-acid-weed-spray

Concentrated acetic acid is a great organic weed killer.

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

Sweet-green-fertilizer

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

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

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

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

Tomato Tips From a Commercial Grower

Nathan Hanath and his parents own and operate one of the nicest family farms that I have ever visited.  Magnolia Hill Farm is located just west of Brenham off Highway 290.  They have been filling the stomachs and freezers of Washington County residents with fresh, local, organic produce for the past 32 years.  While Magnolia grows all types of produce, their absolute best selling crop is tomatoes.  Last year, the farm sold 2300 pounds in the spring season and almost that many in the fall.

Magnolia-Hill-Farm-Sign

Magnoli Hill Farm of Brenham has been producing high quality, organic produce for 32 years.

Nathan and I are both members of our local volunteer fire department.  Several of our members are gardeners and the talk at our meetings often turns to vegetable production.  Our little fire department has lots of hobby gardeners who grow tomatoes; and they grow them well.  However, Nathan is the only one of our group that actually makes a considerable part of his living growing them.  Since Nathan depends on his tomatoes to help pay his bills I asked him if he would share some of the things he does to consistently produce almost two tons of tomatoes each and every year.

Grow in Good Soil – Nathan has a 20,000 sq ft bed that has been producing vegetables 12 months a year for the past 32 years.  That is incredible.  He has been able to keep his bed healthy by constantly replenishing it with compost.

Magnolia Hill Farm produces almost a ton of succulent, organic tomatoes every season

Magnolia Hill Farm produces almost a ton of succulent, organic tomatoes every season

Grow Healthy Transplants – Nathan grows over 300 tomato plants each year.  He grows between 10 and 12 nematode resistant determinate or semi-determinate varieties.  He starts his seeds in a commercial mix in January and then again in June.  He starts his seeds in little foam cups and then bumps them up to bigger containers after about 21 days.  He keeps his starts in shallow trays and waters them from the bottom with a solution of “Fish and Poop”.  Some of his favorite varieties include Amelia, BHN1021, Celebrity, Celebration, Carnival, Santa Belle, Top Gun, Phoenix, Tasty Lee and Tycoon.  While these are his favorites he encourages you to try his methods on whatever varieties work best for you.

Fish&Poop

Give your transplants a boost by feeding them with a solution of a soluble organic fertilizer like “Fish & Poop”

Plant Late – Resist the urge to plant early.  Tomatoes grow best in warm soils.  Grow big healthy transplants and do not put them in the ground until the third week of March.  Plant them deep to encourage a large root ball

Fertilize – Each year Nathan has a soil sample done on his beds and each year he gets the same results.  The rich organic soil he has built is perfect to slightly high in all nutrients except nitrogen.  Nathan believes that many gardens are nitrogen deficient because growing plants use so much and rain, heat and tilling all allow it to leach from the soil.  To make up for low nitrogen Nathan works “Sweet Green” into his tomato beds before planting.  Sweet Green (11-0-4) is an organic fertilizer that contains dried cane molasses and beet molasses.  Because of its high nitrogen content Sweet Green is marketed as a lawn fertilizer.  However, the high nitrogen levels of the fertilizer make it an excellent supplement for the organic garden.

fabric-mulch

Nathan use heavy mil landscape fabric to mulch his tomatoes (and cabbage shown here). Be sure to cover it in a heavy layer of hay or wood chips when temperatures begin to rise

Mulch – Keep your beds as weed free as possible.  They rob your plants of nutrients and they attract pests.  Nathan uses landscape fabric to suppress weeds.  While the fabric alone is great to help warm the soil in March and early April, you will need to cover it with a thick layer of mulch once the temperatures start climbing.

Calcium – Blossom End Rot is caused by a calcium deficiency.  Prevent it by spraying them weekly with Nutri-Cal.  Nutri-Cal is a calcium supplement that contains nitrogen.  The supplemental calcium will prevent blossom end rot and the nitrogen will give your plants a little boost to keep them healthy and productive up until July.

Nathan-Hanath

If you are passing through Brenham on 290 be sure and stop at Magnolia Hill Farm. Nathan loves to visit about all of the wonderful things they are doing on the farm

If you are going to be passing through Brenham on 290, be sure and stop in at Magnolia Hill Farm.  They have outstanding produce available every month of the year and they stock a huge selection of his mother’s famous preserves and pickles.  In addition to produce, Nathan collects and breeds daylilies.  He has over 900 varieties for sale from March through June.  The farm is truly a sight to see when all of those daylilies are in bloom and Nathan loves to visit with you about them.

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!

Nathan has over 900 varieties of daylilies available for purchase at Magnolia Hill Farm

Nathan has over 900 varieties of daylilies available for purchase at Magnolia Hill Farm

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!