Tip of the Week – Week 4 in the Zone 9 Garden

We got over an inch of rain at my house last night.  We are expected to get another inch today.  I am thankful but I hope the sun comes out tomorrow.  If it is not too muddy there are tons of tasks to take care of this weekend.  Here are some of the things I am doing:

Vegetables

Week 4 in the Zone 9 garden is a very busy time.  It is time to replant all of your brassicas.  The brassica family includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and others.  Click on each veggie above to read Patty Leander’s tips for growing the best brassicas possible.

Patty also wrote a great post about sugar snap peas.  It is time to plant those as well.  This year she has had great luck with “Amish” heirlooms.  Get all the info you need to succeed with peas by reading her post  “Make Room for Cool Season Peas”.

Week four is also the time to plant potatoes.  The two varieties that do best for me are Red LaSoda and white Kennebecks.  Buy now, cut into pieces preserving the eyes and allow to cure for a week or so before planting.  Check out my post “Growing Potatoes” to learn all the other tips and tricks you need.

Cauliflower doesn't have to be white!  Try some of the colored varieties.  Photo by Bruce Leander

Cauliflower doesn’t have to be white! Try some of the colored varieties. Photo by Bruce Leander

Ornamentals

Patty’s latest post reminded me that it is time to cut back your cannas (and ginger).  Cut them to the ground.  Here’s another canna tip.  When they start blooming, cut their flower stalks out at the base of the plant.  This will encourage them to bloom more.

It is also a good time to trim up woody perennials.  My bougainvillea has shed its leaves so it is ready for its annual haircut.  Trim up other deciduous vines like coral honeysuckle, cross vine and wisteria.

If you want lots of flowers in early spring, start their seeds now.  Two years ago I grew 100 marigold transplants.  My beds never looked better.  This weekend is a good time to start marigolds, petunias, begonias, periwinkles and many others.

marigolds

Fruit

It is still a good time to plant bare root fruit trees.  It is also a great time to plant container grown fruit trees.  Container grown fruit trees can be planted anytime of the year but they will root in and become established quicker if you plant them now.

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

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

Brassicas Rule, Cannas Drool by Patty G. Leander

Cannas may be beautiful in the summer time, but they sure aren’t very pretty after a freeze. Mine bit the dust right around Christmas, when Old Man Winter showed up and decided to stick around for awhile. Of course my small bed of canna lilies dies back every year yet every year I am amazed at the contrast of the gloomy canna skeletons against the vibrant greens, purples and reds of the brassicas that shrug off the cold weather and keep on growing, proving once again that they deserve a prime spot in the winter garden.

cannas-freeze-damage

Canna lilies would prefer to spend their winter on a tropical island (me too!) but they’ll be back this summer. Photo by Bruce Leander

Seasoned gardeners are well aware of these gems of the winter garden, but for novice gardeners and those who have been on the fence about a winter garden, I’d like to share a few easy-to-grow vegetables to consider planting next fall.

Chinese-Cabbage

Mustards, kale and Chinese cabbages love the cold weather. Photo by Bruce Leander

I usually plant sugar snap peas twice a year, mid-September and late January. This year I planted a vining variety from Seed Savers Exchange, called ‘Amish Snap’, on September 17. I started picking on November 11 and plants were still producing in December even after several light freezes. On January 8th we experienced a freeze with temperatures that fell into the low 20s; the plants survived but the peas took a hit (Note: a more diligent gardener would have harvested the pods before the arrival of a predicted hard freeze!). The outer pods were damaged but many of the peas inside were perfectly edible, with a flavor slightly reminiscent of, well, frozen peas. Since the vines are healthy and the weather is mild, I’ll leave the vines for now to see if I’ll get a another flush of blooms and pods, but in the meantime I’ll seed another round of peas for a spring harvest.

Amish-Snap-Peas

‘Amish Snap’ peas: planting seeds in September, ready to harvest in November, freeze damage in January. Photo by Bruce Leander

Swiss chard, beets and spinach do not belong to the brassica family but they are ideal specimens for a winter garden.

beets-in-hand

Beets that were seeded in September have provided roots and lovely greens all winter long. Photo by Bruce Leander

Other stalwarts for the winter garden include onions, spinach, carrots and almost every herb you can imagine, except basil. We still have cold winter days ahead and any of these vegetable or herbs could be planted this month to bridge the gap between winter and spring.

multiplying-onions

Multiplying onions look grow so well in the winter garden, and they look great too! Photo by Bruce Leander

winter-mint

Brighten up your winter meals with the fresh flavor of multiplier onions, mint, dill and oregano.

Tip of the Week – Week 3 in the Zone 9 Garden

There are two things that really need to be done in January in the lower two thirds of our state–starting tomato, pepper and egg plant seeds for transplant and planting asparagus.  It is also time to start pruning fruit trees, grapes and perennial ornamentals that have been killed by the freeze.

Vegetables

I don’t want to sound like a nag, but this week is THE PERFECT TIME to plant your tomato seeds.  You can also start your pepper and eggplant seeds too.  Eggplant will germinate much like the tomato seeds but be prepared to give you pepper seeds a little extra time to sprout.

Besides tomatoes, asparagus is my absolute favorite vegetable to grow and eat.  Plant year old crowns now.  My favorite is the heirloom “Mary Washington”.  However, I have had much luck with many varieties of the “Jersey” series.  For more information on planting asparagus check out my post “Growing Asparagus”.

planting-asparagus-crowns

When planting, spread the roots of asparagus crowns over a mound of compost

Ornamentals

Now that we have had a freeze, it is time to trim back some of our perennials.  Clumping grasses can be cut back to about ten inches.  If your grass clumps did not bloom this year consider dividing them in February.  Salvias can be cut back to half of their size.  Root Beer plant (Hoja Santo) can be cut to the ground.

ornamental-grass

Cut clumping grasses back to 10 to 12 inches

Fruit

January and February are the best times to plant bare root fruit trees.  Plant them at the depth they were grown.  Determine this depth by noticing where the color changes at the top of the roots and the bottom of the trunk.

January is also a good time to prune fruit trees and grapes in the lower two thirds of our state.

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

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

peach-blossom

January is good time to prune fruit trees. Definitely do a little research before you start cutting.

Winter Garden Chores

There is always something to do in the Texas garden – even in the winter.  Granted, winter does kind of reduce the number of tasks, but our mild winter ensures that we can be outside tending or growing something every single month of the year.  While there are several tasks in winter that can help us get our gardening fix, winter gardening does have its challenges.  It seems like every time I need to weed or plant or harvest it is either raining or miserably cold.  Sunday was a perfect example of this.  Despite the cold and the standing water in my rows, nature had decided to provide me with a bountiful brassica harvest; as long as I was man enough to brave the elements and harvest it.

The broccoli I harvested this weekend was planted on Sept. 28.  It will continue to produce for me until April or May.  Photo by Bruce Leander.

The broccoli I harvested this weekend was planted on Sept. 28. It will continue to produce for me until April or May. Photo by Bruce Leander.

I am proud to say, I sucked it up and was richly rewarded for my efforts.  Once I got in the garden and started cutting my cole crops I didn’t even notice the cold.  Before long I had harvested six pounds of broccoli, some gumbo onions, a bunch of baby carrots and a three pound head of cauliflower.  I don’t know about you but nothing gets my garden juices flowing more than a good harvest.  As I worked I actually forgot about the cold and enjoyed myself in my muddy little garden.  When I brought the veggies in  I was reminded again why I love gardening in Texas.  I really can enjoy healthy, organic produce year round.

While I was in the garden I also noticed lots of broad leaf weeds that were doing about as well as the broccoli.  So, while I was out I took the hoe to them.  Hoeing is not nearly as much work on a 40 degree day. Because it was such a “pleasant afternoon” I actually enjoyed chopping through all of the dandelions and thistles that were popping up.

This weekend I harvested my first cauliflower of the season - a three pounder!  Photo by Bruce Leander

This weekend I harvested my first cauliflower of the season – a three pounder! Photo by Bruce Leander

Luckily, not all winter gardening chores have to be done outside.  It is currently time to do what I consider the most important gardening task of the entire year —STARTING YOUR TOMATO TRANSPLANTS!!!  If you live in zone 9 you need to get your seeds started by January 15 to ensure you have big, healthy transplants on March 15.  My friend, and MOH contributor, Patty Leander has a great article in this month’s Texas Gardener magazine on growing your own tomatoes from seed.  If you don’t subscribe I really recommend picking up this issue.  Her article is awesome.

It is time to start those tomato seeds!  There is no other way to ensure you have the varieties you want when planting time comes.  Photo by Bruce Leander

It is time to start those tomato seeds! There is no other way to ensure you have the varieties you want when planting time comes. Photo by Bruce Leander

Growing Sweet Potatoes (Ipomoae batatas)

My wife and I love sweet potatoes.  In fact, we love them so much that we eat everything we grow and still need to buy a fifty pound box of “Beauregard” potatoes from a friend that goes to Louisiana every November.

Sweet-potato-1

Sweet potatoes are delicious, versatile and nutritious. Photo by Bruce Leander

Now I have to admit, I have not always loved sweet potatoes this much.  When I was a kid my family only ate sweet potatoes at “the holidays”.  Our Thanksgiving and Christmas “sweet potatoes “ came in the form of a mushy, orange bowl of goo dripping in syrup and covered in baked marshmallows.  Now you would think that with that much sweetness going for it, I would look forward to the holidays.  Well, I didn’t.  I hated this mushy mess (and so did everyone under 40 that I knew at the time) and it made me dread Holiday dinners.  Even though I loved the turkey and dressing, ambrosia and pea salad, I knew it would all be ruined by that sticky, slimy mess that my mother would force me to eat.

I am not sure how or when it happened, but sometime in the past few years my opinion of sweet potatoes changed.  Sweet potatoes have now become a staple in my (and many other Americans) diet.  As interest in healthy eating has surged the popularity of the sweet potato has sky rocketed.  And why not?  Sweet potatoes are loaded with vitamin B6, vitamin C and vitamin D.  They are also full of iron, magnesium, potassium and carotenoids like beta carotene.  Plus, they are full of natural sugars (that make them taste so great when cooked properly) that are actually good for you.

sweet-potato-slips

Patty Leander plants here home grown sweet potato slips in her Austin garden. Photo by Bruce Leander

Making Slips

In my experience, the hardest part about growing sweet potatoes is finding them.  Sweet potatoes are generally grown from “slips” (however they DO NOT HAVE TO BE, read my post on growing sweet potatoes from the actual potato).  Slips are simply sprouts that grow out of a mature sweet potato.  If you have access to a local producer/seller of slips you will have no problem.  In my experience, it is getting harder and harder to find people who are willing to grow, harvest and sell their slips locally.  If this is the position you find yourself in you have two choices – go to the internet and hope for the best or grow your own.

Slips are easy to grow, so I grow my own.  Since we buy 50 lbs of Beauregards each year I always keep a few of those back for seed potatoes.  You can do this with any variety you like.  If you find a variety you like at the store keep a few back.  If using store bought potatoes look at the skins closely.  Some are sprayed with wax to extend their shelf life.  If they have wax on them they will not sprout well for you.  Look for unwaxed varieties if you want to use them for seed.

 

sweet-potato-vines

Sweet potatoes can be planted from March through July in in Central Texas. Photo by Bruce Leander.

Before we talk about how to grow your own, we need to discuss when to start growing them.  Before you grow your slips you have to determine when you are going to plant them.  In my Zone 9 garden I can plant sweet potatoes anytime between March 15 and July 4.  Determine when you want to plant and then start your slips about six weeks before you want to move them to the garden. I like to plant my sweet potatoes a little later than most folks.  I usually plant around June 1.  To meet that planting date I need to start my slip production around the first of April.

I have had good luck making slips by placing tooth picks in the side of the tuber and submerging the bottom half of it in water.  For best results place your tubers in a sunny location where they will be between 75 and 85 degrees.  In a few days, the eyes will begin to produce the shoots that you will use as your slips.  These shoots will grow straight up from tuber.  When they are about 6” long snap them off with a twisting motion where they touch the sweet potato.  If you look closely you will see little roots already beginning to form where the slip grows out from the tuber.  Try and get those little roots when snap the slip off.  Once you have harvested the slips move them to another container of water.  In about a week, the slips in the jar will create a pretty extensive root system.  Once the slips put on roots they are ready for planting.  You can either move them directly to the garden at this point or you can pot them up and let them become established for later planting.

sweet-potatoes-2

Sweet potatoes can easily produce three or four pounds of tubers per row foot. Photo by Bruce Leander.

While I have had success with the tuber in water method, I have had two problems with it.  The first is rotting tubers.  If you leave your potato in water too long it will become mushy and begin to stink to high heaven.  The second issue has to do with the slips.  If you leave them in water for too long the will grow an EXTENSIVE root system.  When I have planted these overgrown slips I have not had good luck getting them to grow when I put them in the soil.  Because of this, I recommend planting, or potting your slips soon after the roots begin to form.

Planting and Growing

Since sweet potatoes grow below ground, it is best to plant them in a loose soil.  Sandy loam is perfect.  Loose soil will allow them to get big and form attractively shaped tubers.  However, the main reason you want to grow in loose soil will become very evident when you try and harvest them.  It can be very hard to get the undamaged roots out of heavy soils like the black clay I grow in.  If you don’t have sand or loam you can still grow sweet potatoes.  Make beds that are about a foot tall and very well worked with compost.

sweet-potato-vines-2

Sweet potatoes produce lovely and lush edible vines. Photo by Bruce Leander.

Plant your sweet potatoes in full sun.  Sweet potatoes are tropical vining plants.  Because of this they love high heat and full sun.  My beds run east to west so my plants can get the most sunlight possible.

I grow my sweet potatoes in a single bed that is 33‘ long and about 10’ wide.  To plant my slips I drive a large screw driver into the center of the bed and swirl it around to make a hole about every 12″.  I then drop the slip in and firm up the soil around it.  Once the slips are planted I water every other day for a couple of weeks to ensure that those young tender roots get fully established before the heat of our summers really kicks in.

Once the sweet potatoes are in all you have to do is water and wait.  These tropical vines will thrive on a twice a week watering schedule.  Once the vines start spreading do not add any supplement nitrogen.  Too much nitrogen will encourage the plant to make big beautiful foliage and small fibrous roots.

sweet-potato-harvest

To grow the biggest sweet potatoes possible grow them in a loose soil. Photo by Bruce Leander.

Harvest and storage

Sweet potatoes take 100 to 140 days to mature fully.  However, you can harvest them at any stage of their development.  Once they reach that 100 day point start watching their foliage.  When they are ready the leaves will begin to turn yellow and the vines will begin to look less full and healthy.

If you plan on storing your sweet potatoes you must dig them carefully.  Knicks or breaks in the skin will encourage rot during storage.  When you get ready to harvest take a garden spade and work it into the soil just beyond the end of the vine.  Gently turn the soil over to expose your tubers.  Pick these up and then continue moving toward the center of the row.  Sweet potatoes can produce tubers anywhere along their vines.  Because of this you will want to turn over all of the soil in the bed.

sweet-potato-harvest-3

Sweet potato skins are tender. use a spade to carefully remove them from the soil. Photo by Bruce Leander.

When harvesting your potatoes do not wash them immediately.  Separate the unblemished potatoes from those that have knicks or cuts.  Go ahead and wash the damaged potatoes and take them inside.  You will want to eat these first.  Next, take the unblemished potatoes and lay them out in the sun for several hours to allow them to cure.  When the roots come out of the ground their skins are very tender.  Laying them in the sun will allow the skins to “set” or harden off before they go into storage.  It will also dry out the soil that is still clinging to the tubers.  Gently brush this soil off before moving them into storage.

Once you have cleaned your sweet potatoes spread them out in baskets that are lined with newspaper.  Place them in a dry area that is around 85 degrees for a couple more weeks.  At the end of this time the sweet potatoes are cured and can be stored for several months.  Store your potatoes in a cool location that has high humidity.  Proper storage will allow you to store your potatoes for several months.

Jalapeño Sweet Potato Soup

Sally and I eat sweet potatoes year round.  Generally we cut them into fries and toss with peppers, onions, olive oil and spices and then bake them at 450 degrees for 30 or 40 minutes.  However, each fall, we use them to make a soup that is ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!  We got this recipe from our friends at Homestead Heritage in Waco several years ago.  I highly recommend you make this soup.  It is truly the best soup I have ever eaten!

4 lbs Sweet Potatoes

1 medium onion

3 slice smoked turkey bacon or ham

3 cloves garlic

2TBSP Butter

8 cups Chicken Broth

1 tsp cumin

¼ cup pickled, sliced jalapeños

½ cup cilantro (leaves only)

1 ½ cups half and half

1 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

Optional sweetener to taste

*Scrub sweet potatoes, cut in quarters, place in large stock pan, cover with water and boil until soft

*When potatoes are soft drain them and let them cool until you can handle them.  Peel of skins

*Peel and chop onion.  Finely chop bacon or ham and garlic

*In large soup pot, melt butter.  Add meat, onion and garlic and sautee until onions are translucent

*Add chicken broth.  Cover and bring to a boil.

*Dice half of the sweet potatoes and stir into the boiling broth

*Puree the remaining sweet potatoes with the jalapenos, cumin, cilantro and half and half.  Stir into soup.  Add salt and pepper.  Stir well, heat through.

* Taste.  Add sweetener if desired

 

Grow Luscious Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)

Lettuce is a very interesting crop to me.  Most people I know eat a ton of it.  However, I have never had anyone tell me that lettuce is their favorite vegetable of all time.  In fact, if you asked ten people to name their favorite vegetables, I am willing to bet that lettuce would not make anyone’s list.  At its best, lettuce is a just an exceptional supporting character.  While you won’t find many recipes that feature lettuce, we all know that our salads and sandwiches are much better when lettuce is a part of them.

lettuce-7

Lettuce may not be your favorite food but it sure makes a lot of your favorite foods better!

People have been eating lettuce for a very long time.  Scientists believe that lettuce was domesticated about 5000 years ago in ancient Egypt.  Sometime around that time period, the Egyptians started turning a weed whose seeds they used for oils and medicines into a leafy food source.  The Egyptians eventually shared lettuce with the Greeks and the Greeks eventually shared it with the Romans.  In fact, the term “lettuce” came from the Roman name for the plant “lactuca”.

Red-Sails-Lettuce

Since lettuce readily cross pollinates, breeders have built a wide array of varieties

Since lettuce cross pollenates easily, breeders have produced a wide array of plant types and colorations.  Lettuce types range from loose, frilly leaved varieties to the tight balls of leaves you see in iceberg lettuce.  Lettuce coloration can vary from pale green to deep burgundy with some varigations that have both colors.  Because of this range of colors and forms I use lettuce as an ornamental as much as I do for its nutritive qualities.  Lettuce is generally broken up into seven categories based on leaf structure and use.  These categories are leaf, romaine, crisphead, butterhead, summercrisp, stem and oilseed.  Seeds of the first five are readily available to the home gardener.

Lettuce's many colors and textures make it as useful in the flower bed as it is in the kitchen garden. Photo by Patty Leander

Lettuce’s many colors and textures make it as useful in the flower bed as it is in the kitchen garden. Photo by Patty Leander

Growing Lettuce – Lettuce is a great crop for the beginning gardener.  It is fairly easy to grow and it is quick to harvest.  However, lettuce does have a couple of problems you need to be aware of before you plant.  First, lettuce of all types hates high heat.  Sustained temperatures over 75 degrees will make lettuce “bolt”.  Bolting is a term that is used to describe the process where some trigger (heat or stress like drought, weed competition or pests) makes the leafy, edible plant we eat produce a tall stalk that flowers and seeds.  Once this happens lettuce leaves become tough and bitter.  Second, just about every pest known to the gardener likes lettuce as much as we do.  Be aware that if you grow lettuce for many seasons you will eventually have problems with mammals, bugs, bacteria and viruses.

Baby lettuce in a square foot garden.  Photo by Bruce Leander

Baby lettuce in a square foot garden. Photo by Bruce Leander

Here are some basics for growing lettuce.  In addition to cool temperatures (45 to 75 F are preferred by most varieties), most lettuce prefers a soil that is slightly acidic.  Most lettuce varieties do best in soils with a pH of 6.5 to 6.8.  With so much crossbreeding going on with lettuce you can find varieties that will tolerate more alkaline soils.  Lettuce also likes loose, nitrogen rich soil.  Since the plants have a relatively small root system they need ample water and nutrition in the soil to help them thrive.  Also, even though many varieties will tolerate some shade, most prefer at least 6 hours of sunlight a day.

When it comes time to plant remember that lettuce seeds actually need light to germinate.  Because of this, cover them lightly with soil when you plant.  If you plant the seeds  too deeply they will never germinate. When I grow romaine or heading type lettuces I start my plants indoors in coir pellets around the first week of September.  I then transplant them in late September or early October.  I place my transplants about a foot apart for head types and six inches apart for upright types.  Lettuce that is planted too close together deprives the plants of sunlight they need to thrive and also invites in a large number of pests.

lettuce-2

I use lettuce to line the beds of my potager

When planting leaf type lettuce I direct sow the seeds in my garden beds.  I dig a shallow furrow with my Cobrahead Hand Hoe and then sprinkle the little seeds down the row.  Once the seeds germinate I thin to allow at least 6” between plants.  Lettuce needs sunlight to develop color and nutrients.  Lettuce that is planted too closely together will be stunted, pale and low in nutrients.

When trying to establish seeds it is important to keep your seed bed consistently moist.  Since these little seeds were basically planted on top of the ground, their first roots are often exposed to air.  If your seed beds are too dry, these little roots will dry out and die.

Lettuce does not compete well with weeds.  Keep your beds weed free to ensure the best quality lettuce.  Photo by Bruce Leander

Lettuce does not compete well with weeds. Keep your beds weed free to ensure the best quality lettuce. Photo by Bruce Leander

Once your little plants are established you want to keep the area around them weed free.  Lettuce has a small root system.  Most plants only have some type of small taproot and then a few lateral roots.  Weeds can easily suck up the moisture that these plants need to thrive.   Also, if lettuce feels stress from weeds it will begin to bolt.

Since most varieties of lettuce are ready to harvest in about 45 days you should not need to fertilize if you plant in a bed that has been well worked with organic material.  However, if you want the biggest and greenest leaves possible you can provide a weekly supplement of compost tea or other liquid organic product.  If using a commercial product (like Miracle grow), mix the solution at half the recommended rate and apply weekly.

Lettuce is plagued by a variety of pests.  Once your plants are established begin to watch for bug damage or signs of disease

Lettuce is plagued by a variety of pests. Once your plants are established begin to watch for bug damage or signs of disease

Once your plants become established begin to watch for problems.  Bunnies love lettuce and so do many different caterpillars and bugs.  If bugs become a problem you can apply a translucent row cover to help keep them away.  Diseases are a different matter.  There are several bacterial and viral agents that can attack your lettuce crop.  These agents can cause leaf wilt, leaf spot, curled leaves, rot and even death.  If you believe you have a virus or bacterial infection you need to remove the plants as soon as possible.

Since lettuce is a cool season plant you always have to be prepared to manage unexpected freezing temperatures.  Luckily, even though lettuce is about 96% water, it is a fairly hardy plant.  Most varities can survive temperatures as low as 28 without much damage.  If it is going to get colder than that you will need to cover them.  While some varieties can take a freeze down to 24 degrees, temps this cold will burn the leaves of almost all varieties.  To extended their life as long as possible in cold weather, mulch heavily and set up hoops so you can easily apply row cover.

20121030-007 One more thing, lettuce is a great container plant.  I love growing lettuce in containers because I can keep them close to my house for easy harvest and so I can easily bring them inside when temperatures plummet.  With so many textures and colors it is easy to make lovely and edible potted arrangements to keep by the back door.  Plus, if you plant the leafy or romaine types, you can snip off the outer leaves for smaller harvests and keep the same plants producing for months.

This post has been shared on the Homestead Barn Hop.  Hops are great way for you to connect with and learn from some of the best bloggers on the web.  Be sure to check them out!

Make Room for Cool-Season Peas by Patty Leander

This weekend I will be planting a lot of sugar snap peas.  I love these peas but it can be a bit tricky to make these babies thrive in our hot climate.  Below is a re-post of a great article from Patty Leander that will give you all the info you need to successfully grow these garden treats.

There is nothing better than fresh green peas from the garden.  Photo by Bruce Leander.

There is nothing better than fresh green peas from the garden. Photo by Bruce Leander.

A few months ago I wrote about heat-loving Southern peas (Vigna unguiculata), but now that September is here and temperatures have begun to cool off ever so slightly, it’s time to switch gears to cool-season peas (Pisum sativum): sugar snaps, snow peas and garden peas.

Peas have been in cultivation around the world for thousands of years, but the sugar snap pea that we enjoy today is American-made, thanks to a plant breeder named Calvin Lamborn of Idaho. In the 1970’s he crossed a garden pea with a snow pea, resulting in a tender pea with a crisp, sweet, edible pod. This new pea was introduced to the public in 1979, and has been a sensation ever since. ‘Sugar Snap’ was the original introduction of edible-podded peas.  It is a vining variety that can reach 5-7 feet. ‘Super Sugar Snap’ is an improved version with resistance to powdery mildew.  Both varieties mature in 62-65 days.

Cascadia Peas ready for harvest. Photo by Bruce Leander

Most peas are compact bush types that grow 24-30” tall and begin producing slightly earlier than the vining types.  A few reliable sugar snap varieties include ‘Cascadia’ (58-60 days to maturity),

‘Sugar Ann’ (52-56 days), ‘Sugar Bon’ (56 days) and ‘Sugar Sprint’ (55-58 days). If garden or shelling peas are more to your liking try the heirloom varieties ‘Wando’ (68 days) or ‘Little Marvel’ (62 days). A more recent introduction is the 2000 All-American Selection winner called ‘Mr. Big’ (58-62 days), a vining variety which grows 5-6 feet and  produces large pods filled with 8 to 10 plump green peas.

 

Wando shelling peas ready for harvest. Photo by Bruce Leander

Sugar snap peas can be eaten at any stage of development; the entire pod is edible when the peas inside are small and immature. Fresh, crunchy pods can be served with dip or sliced and added to salads. Whole pods are delicious sautéed or roasted (see accompanying recipes). Peas that are allowed to fully mature can be shelled and prepared like any garden pea, by simmering in a small pot of water just until tender.

Peas can be a challenge to grow because they are particular about the weather and must be planted during a short window of opportunity. Too hot and they will wither away, too wet and they succumb to powdery mildew, too cold and they will drop their blooms and potential pods. Plant peas at least 8 weeks before your first average freeze in fall so plants have time to grow and mature before the cold weather sets in. In my Central Texas garden I usually plant peas in early September, and again a week or two later. Then I keep my fingers crossed and hope that the peas grow fast and our first frost comes late.

Cascadia Pea blooms. Photo by Bruce Leander

The soil will still be hot at these recommended planting times, so try shading it with row cover, shade cloth, burlap or several layers of newspaper for a week or so before planting to help moderate the temperature. Planting after a rain is ideal, but if you are not so lucky be sure to irrigate a day or two before planting so the soil will be moist and ready to receive seed.

Because peas are legumes they have a special relationship with a beneficial soil bacteria called Rhizobia. The peas allow the bacteria to live on their roots and the bacteria extract nitrogen from the air and convert it to a form the plants can use. If you are planting peas in a new garden, a container or an area of your garden that has not hosted legumes before you can encourage this relationship by inoculating the pea seed before planting to ensure that the bacteria is present in the soil. The inoculant is often available at garden centers or it can be ordered through most seed catalogs. The process is simple and involves nothing more than coating the dampened seeds with the inoculant powder before planting.

 

To harvest pods: hold the vine in one hand and pull pod with the other. Photo by Bruce Leander

Plant the seed 1-1½” deep and 3-4” apart. Bush-type varieties that grow 24-30” are considered self-supporting, but I find that they are easier to tend and easier to harvest if given some kind of support. They will also get better air circulation (therefore less prone to disease) if grown upright and off the ground.  Try using string or chicken wire tied between stakes or insert pruned branches next to the plants for support.  The tall, vining varieties, like ‘Super Sugar Snap’, must have sturdy support and should be planted at the base of a tall tomato cage, a fence or a trellis.  Once your peas start producing, harvest them frequently for peak quality and to encourage more production. And be sure to use two hands when harvesting or you could easily pull up an entire vine (been there, done that).

Your home-grown peas that travel from garden to kitchen in mere minutes will look better, taste better and cost less than any fresh sugar snap pea that you can buy at a grocery store – yet another reason to grow-your-own!

 

Sugar Snap Peas with Mushrooms. Photo by Bruce Leander

Sugar Snap Peas with Mushrooms

Some peas, especially heirloom varieties, have strings, so be sure to snap off the end and peel the strings off before cooking.

½ lb sugar snap peas, trimmed

1 T olive oil

½ lb mushrooms, sliced

Sauté peas in olive oil 3-5 minutes. Add mushrooms and sauté 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Roasted Sugar Snap Peas

1 lb sugar snap pea pods, trimmed

2-3 Tbsp olive oil

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp pepper

Toss pods with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in a 475° oven for 12-15 minutes.

Eating in Season: The End-of-Summer Lull by Patty G. Leander

Below are several easy and tasty recipes that will allow you to get the most out of those late season summer veggies that are still producing.  Photo by Bruce Leander

Below are several easy and tasty recipes that will allow you to get the most out of those late season summer veggies that are still producing. Photo by Patty Leander

It’s the end of August, the kids are back in school, 100 degree days are still in the forecast and here in Central Texas we are experiencing the end-of-summer-lull in the vegetable garden. The bounty of the spring garden has passed and we are not quite revved up for fall, but for now the heat-loving (or in some cases heat-tolerating) mainstays in my garden include okra, Malabar spinach, Southern peas, hot peppers, yardlong beans, tomatillos, cherry tomatoes and eggplant. The Northern half of the country may be boasting a summer harvest of juicy, ripe tomatoes and fresh picked sweet corn, but bless their hearts, they were still waiting for the soil to warm up on Mother’s Day and before you know it they’ll be pulling out their jackets and snow shovels again! Yet we lucky Texans will soon have another opportunity for cucumbers, green beans, tomatoes and squash followed by a round of broccoli, cauliflower, beets, peas, greens and more to finish out the year. It’s good to be Texan.

Since “grow what you eat and eat what you grow” is the vegetable gardener’s motto here are a few of my favorite recipes for enjoying the current harvest.

Shelling-Peas

Many hands make light work when shelling southern peas

Fresh Southern Peas

These heat- loving peas are so versatile – enjoy them fresh, freeze some for later or dry them on the vine for winter storage. When cooking a fresh pot of peas harvest and snap a few immature pods to add to the pot the last 15-20 minutes of cooking.

2 slices bacon, chopped

½ cup chopped onion

3-4 cups shelled cream, crowder, black-eyed, purple hull peas

2-3 cups water or chicken broth

½ tsp sugar

½ tsp salt

½ tsp pepper

Cook bacon until crisp. Remove from pan.  Sauté onion in drippings. Add remaining ingredients and simmer 45-60 minutes, until peas are tender, adding more liquid if necessary. Season to taste. Serve with crumbled bacon and hot cornbread.  Yield: 4-6 servings

Ninfas-Green-Sauce

You can make the world famous Ninfa’s Green Sauce at home with your late season vegetables. Photo by Bruce Leander.

Ninfa’s Green Sauce

Recipe courtesy of The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation in Houston, Texas.

3 medium green tomatoes, coarsely chopped

4 fresh tomatillos, husks removed and chopped

2-3 jalapeños, coarsely chopped

3 garlic cloves, chopped

3 medium avocados

3 sprigs cilantro

½ tsp salt

1 ½ cups sour cream (no disrespect to Mama Ninfa but I use half this amount, and sometimes even substitute yogurt)

Combine tomatoes, tomatillos, jalapeños and garlic in a saucepan. Bring to a boil (tomatoes will cook down and release liquid), reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Remove from saucepan and cool slightly.  Peel, pit and slice avocados. Place all ingredients in a blender with avocados. Add sour cream and blend until smooth. Spoon into a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Serve in small bowls as a dip for tortilla chips. Refrigerate leftovers.

Vegetable-quesadillas

Vegetable quesadillas are a great, lower cal way to use your late season veggies with a Southwestern flair! Photo by Bruce Leander.

Vegetable Quesadillas

1 mild pepper, diced

2 zucchini/yellow squash, diced

1 tablespoon oil

1 cup fresh corn kernels

2 small tomatoes, diced

¼ cup cilantro

1 tablespoon lime juice

4 flour tortillas

2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded

Heat oil in skillet and sauté peppers and squash 3-4 minutes. Add corn and cook 2 more minutes. Stir in tomatoes, cilantro and lime juice and season with salt and pepper. Set aside. Heat one tortilla in a non-stick skillet until lightly browned. Flip tortilla and top with ½ cup vegetable mixture, then sprinkle with ½ cup cheese. Top with second tortilla and carefully flip over. Heat 2-3 minutes, remove from pan, cut into 4 wedges and serve.  Yield: 2-4 servings

grilled-okra

Yum, yum, yum…if you have an aversion to slimy okra be sure to try this – no slime at all, I promise! Photo by Bruce Leander

Grilled Okra

Toss whole, dry okra pods in olive oil, season generously with salt and cracked pepper.  Grill 10-15 minutes, until slightly charred and tender.

roasted-tomatoes

Roasting tomatoes really brings out their flavor! Photo by Bruce Leander

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Roasting tomatoes brings out an amazing, concentrated flavor – these beauties can be used in sauces, salads, sandwiches or simply as a savory snack. They don’t last long around my house, but they can be stored in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks or frozen for up to three months without compromising the flavor.

Toss whole cherry tomatoes generously in olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and roast 4-6 hours at 300°.

Aloo-Bhindi

Spice up your summer with this Indian classic! Aloo Bhindi is another way to use your okra and the last of those spring potatoes. Photo by Bruce Leander

Aloo Bhindi

Potatoes and okra cooked with fragrant Indian spices.

2 tablespoon canola oil

2 medium potatoes, sliced

1 lb okra, sliced

1 medium onion, sliced

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon coriander

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon garam masala

½ teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon cayenne

 

Heat oil in a large skillet. Add potatoes and cook until lightly browned,

5-10 minutes. Add okra and onion and cook gently over medium low heat

10-15 minutes. Add salt and spices. Mix gently, remove from

heat and cover pan. Let sit 5-10 minutes to absorb flavors before serving.

The really is nothing better than fresh salsa.  In fact, I know several gardeners that grow nothing but onions, peppers, tomatoes and cilantro so they can enjoy this treat fresh and then can it for later.  Photo by Bruce Leander

The really is nothing better than fresh salsa. In fact, I know several gardeners that grow nothing but onions, peppers, tomatoes and cilantro so they can enjoy this treat fresh and then can it for later. Photo by Bruce Leander

Salsa

4 fresh tomatoes, chopped (peeled and seeded if desired, but I usually don’t)
2-3 jalapenos, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, smashed
1/4 cup cilantro
1-2  teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
2-4 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Chop the onion, jalapenos, garlic and one tomato in a blender or food
processor. Then add the seasonings and the remaining tomatoes, and blend
till it seems right. This is personal taste. You can leave it chunky but I
usually blend out most of the chunks. Then I taste and usually end up
adding more tomatoes, lime juice and sometimes another jalapeno. I let it sit a
bit and then go back and taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. It gets a little redder and a little spicier as it sits.

 

** You do not have to use a blender/food processor. If you prefer, finely chop the first five ingredients by hand, then stir in the seasonings and adjust to your taste.

This corn recipe is another great way to enjoy your productive and heat loving malabar spinach.  Phot by Bruce Leander.

This corn recipe is another great way to enjoy your productive and heat loving malabar spinach. Phot by Bruce Leander.

Corn and Malabar Spinach Sauté

It’s hard to resist the fresh sweet corn that shows up at the supermarket this time of year. Pair it with your home-grown Malabar spinach for a quick and easy side dish. But don’t stop there – sauté sliced okra, zucchini, peppers and/or onion before adding corn and Malabar spinach.  

1 tablespoon butter or olive oil

4 ears of sweet corn, husked and cleaned

1 clove garlic, minced

2 or 3 handfuls of Malabar spinach, coarsely chopped (it will cook down by almost half)

Salt and pepper to taste
Cut corn kernels from the cob. Sauté corn and garlic in a medium skillet for 4- 5 minutes. Add Malabar spinach and a tablespoon of water, cover and cook until wilted, 3-5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve with Tabasco sauce, pepper vinegar or your favorite chopped herbs. Yield: 4 servings

BTW, this post has been shared on The HomeAcre Hop Be sure to check it out.  It is full of great posts from homesteaders across the web.

Combating Chlorosis

Chlorosis - abnormal reduction or loss of the normal green coloration of leaves of plants, typically caused by iron deficiency in lime-rich soils, or by disease or lack of light

I love black eyed peas.  Each year I dedicate more space in my garden to black eyed peas than any other vegetable.  This year is no exception.  I currently have two 33 foot long rows of pink eyed purple hulls growing.  Of those 66 feet of peas about 55 feet of them are doing fine.  The vines are big, dark green and producing lots of purple hulled peas.  However, a group of plants right in the middle of one of the rows is not doing very well.  They are bright chartreuse in color and they are not producing peas.

chlorosis-black-eyed-peas-1

Notice the chartreuse pea plants mixed in with the healthy plants. This coloration is good indicator of chlorosis

My chartreuse peas are suffering from a condition called chlorosis.   Chlorosis is a condition where plants do not produce enough chlorophyll to properly support their growth. Because of this lack of chlorophyll, chloratic plants produce foliage that is yellow to yellow green (or even white in extreme cases).   Chlorosis happens when something in the soil prevents the plant from taking up enough iron (or magnesium).  Both iron and magnesium are necessary for proper chlorophyll production

chlorosis-black-eyed-pea-leaves-2

The deep green veins and the light green foliage of chloratic purple hull peas

I have grown peas for years and I have had absolutely no problems.  However, I grew them in raised beds that I had amended with lots of river sand and compost.  These peas are growing in ground in a “new” garden that I started last fall.  The fall garden did fine– no problems with chlorosis.  Because of the early success in the new garden, the unmistakable signs of chlorosis on my peas really surprised me.

chlorosis-black-eyed-pea-leaves

These leaves are so chloratic they are beginning to die.

Cause – Even though I knew what was wrong with my peas, I did not know what to do for them.  So, I did the only thing I knew to do; I contacted my friends in extension horticulture.  I am very lucky to be friends with some truly talented horticulturists.  Whenever I have a problem I send them pictures and a description of the problem.  You can do the same thing.  Most extension offices have people that can answer your plant questions.  Do not be afraid to contact them.  It is their job to answer your questions and they love to hear from.

My first response came from Cynthia Mueller.   Cynthia is a volunteer with extension and one of the most knowledgeable plant people I have ever known.  Like me, she was interested in the fact that the problem was isolated to a certain part of the garden.  Our discussion reminded me that I once had a burn pile in the exact same place that was now experiencing the problem.  Next, I heard from Greg Grant.  Greg is definitely one of the top horticulturists in Texas and also the most successful plant breeder around.  When I told him what Cynthia and I were discussing he became convinced the burn pile was exactly what had caused the problem.  I grow in the alkaline black clay that is common in the central part of Texas.  Greg reminded me that since black eyed peas prefer a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.5 my alkaline black clay (high pH binds up iron) was not the best environment for this variety.  In addition, the burn pile added a lot of phosphorous and lime (both of these also bind up iron) to a soil that type that is already known to tie up iron. So, I am trying to grow these acid loving peas in an environment that is just not suited to them.

pink-eye-purple-hull

Note the deep green foliage. this what healthy purple hulls look like

Treatment – There are two ways for me to correct the chlorosis in my peas.  One is a quick fix and the other involves making changes to the soil.  My buddy Tim Hartman (who is an extension agent) sent me some very detailed instruction on how to do both.  Here is Tim’s response:

“Different cultivars can vary some in their efficiency at extracting iron from the soil. Iron availability can also vary a lot from one part of the row to the other depending on factors like watering (water with high calcium would raise the pH) or whether you’ve applied a lot of phosphorous fertilizer (organic or inorganic) to that soil (ties up the iron). You could apply chelated iron as a foliar or drench if you have some, or try to lower the pH with some sulfur. Of these, the foliar iron chelate would give you the quickest response and the sulfur the slowest. “

pink-eye-purple-hull-flower

A lovely, and healthy, pink eyed purple hull pea flower.

So there you have it.  I have chloratic peas because I am attempting to grow them in an area that is just not suited for them.  I will be taking advantage of both of Tim’s suggestions.  I am going to use a watering can to do an iron chelate drench.  This should get the chloratic plants producing.  However, that will not solve my problem long term.  When I re-till for the fall garden, I will begin to add sulphur.  I realize this is critical.  Since most vegetables prefer a pH that is in the range of 6.0 to 7.0, I will always have problems with chlorosis if I don’t fix my alkaline, lime enriched soil.

P.S. This post has been shared on the Homestead Barn Hop.  Barn Hops are a great place to go to get more information like this from a great group of bloggers.  Be sure to check it out!