Prepare Now For Fall/Winter Vegetable Harvest by Keith C. Hansen

All of this heat reminds me of a line from an old country song – “It’s too hot to fish and too hot for golf”.  Unfortunately for those of us that garden in Texas in the fall and winter, it is not too hot  garden.  I spent about eight very hot and sweaty hours in the garden this past weekend getting my garden ready for the fall and winter.  If you have not already started your garden you are a little behind schedule.  My friend Kieth Hansen recently retired from his role as Horticultural Extension Agent in the Tyler area.  While doing some reading last week I came upon an article he wrote a while back that does as good a job as anything I have ever seen at helping you prepare now for your fall and winter harvests.  I was so impressed with the article that I asked if I could rerun it here.  Kieth is an outstanding horticulturist and an outstanding writer.  Once you read this I am sure you will want to jump over to his website,  East Texas Gardening blog, and check it out.

Keith Hansen, retired AgriLife Extension horticulturist for Smith County, examines one of the tree in the IDEA Garden at the Rose Complex on Monday in Tyler.

Keith Hansen, retired AgriLife Extension horticulturist for Smith County, examines one of the tree in the IDEA Garden at the Rose Complex on Monday in Tyler.

Prepare Now For Fall/Winter Vegetable Harvest by Keith C. Hansen

 

Mid-July means two things: the dog days of summer and fall vegetable gardens. Everyone can relate to dog days – it’s hot and humid, good only for dogs to find a cool spot to dig a hole.

But fall gardens? In July? That’s right! Mid-Summer is the time to begin preparing and planting the garden for a fall harvest.

The first key for a successful fall garden is to get the weeds out. And if Bermuda or bahia grass are among those weeds, you can’t just rototill everything under because once you start watering and fertilizing again, you’ll have the greenest lawn in town.

Solarization is one method to reduce weeds, and other pests, by using the sun’s energy to pasteurize the upper layer of soil. However, this takes time. Prepare the soil, removing garden debris and weeds, form your beds, and then thoroughly water the soil. Cover the prepared area with clear polyethylene, sealing the edges with soil, to trap the sun’s heat. This doesn’t sterilize the soil, but reduces populations of harmful nematodes, weeds and other pests. It’s critical that his is done during July and August, the hottest time of the year. Treat for at least 6 to 8 weeks. You won’t get to plant tomatoes or peppers, but the garden site will be ready in time to plant cool-season vegetables. Solarizing-Weeds

Another non-chemical method of killing weeds is to smother them under 6 to 8 layers of wet newspaper, and then cover this layer with pine needles, old hay or grass clippings. Whenever weeds like Bermuda grass shows up through the edges, place another layer of paper over it. By continually denying them light, they’ll eventually weaken and die. Transplant through the papers, or just use them in the pathways. The paper will be mostly decomposed by next spring.

newspaper-mulch

using newspaper and mulch is a great way to smother weeds in your garden

Hand digging is another option for real small plots, but take care not to get heat stroke; work early in the morning before it gets too hot.

If the garden spot has perennial weeds, like Bermuda, you can spray the weeds in an empty garden site with a weed killer that contains glyphosate. Some brand names for glyphosate include: Roundup, Kleenup, and Weed Away. Check the ingredients on the label for the term glyphosate” and follow label instructions for application rate. Glyphosate will not stay in the soil; it is strictly a foliar weed killer, but it kills roots and all. It takes about 2 weeks to completely kill Bermuda, maybe slightly longer if the weeds are under drought stress. It works best if weeds are healthy, actively growing and not suffering from lack of water. Remember, the garden spot must be empty to use glyphosate! Read the label completely before using.

While not as effective as Round Up, concentrated acetic acid is a good, organic weed killer that will work on both grassy and broad leafed weeds

While not as effective as Round Up, concentrated acetic acid is a good, organic weed killer that will work on both grassy and broad leafed weeds

There are also organic herbicides formulated with oils and soaps that will kill many tender annual weeds, but will not eliminate Bermuda and other perennial weeds with one application.

For future weed control, once you have your garden prepared, always maintain some sort of mulch covering the surface of the soil to prevent weeds from taking over again.

Every time you prepare the soil to plant a new crop, always mix in as much compost as you can get your hands on. Add well-decomposed animal manure, fertilizer and lime if soil tests indicate a low fertility or pH, and work all ingredients into the soil.

finished-compost

Compost helps sandy soils retain moisture and clay soils drain. It also supplies plant ready nutrients slowly and consistently.

Southern peas such as blackeye, purplehull, cream and crowders make a great, edible summer cover crop for building the soil and providing food. The pea vines can be mowed and rototilled under while still green for extra soil building benefits or allowed to produce peas and then tilled under.

Tomatoes and peppers need to be planted soon – by the first of August – if they are going to make a good crop before first frost. What if your garden spot is not yet ready? Buy your transplants now and grow them in a larger container to plant in the garden later.

*****Check out our planting guidelines in the sidebar to see when you need to put out your favorite vegetble seeds and transplants.

Get either 6-pack transplants or 4-inch transplants. Put them in a 1- or 3-gallon nursery container filled with potting soil. Do not use soil from your garden. Add slow release fertilizer (like Osmocote or other slow release formulation) to the soil mix. Set the pots in a sunny spot in the yard, not in the shade!

tomato-seedlings

When watering seedlings uses a water soluble fertilizer or compost tea

Every time you water, use a water-soluble fertilizer solution instead of just plain water. Your transplants will continue to grow and be healthy, just as if you have transplanted them directly into the ground. Once your garden site is ready, you will have large, healthy tomato and pepper plants to set out. They will be easier to take care of and you will be assured of a bountiful harvest before the first freeze of winter.

Grow fast maturing tomato varieties for the fall harvest. Look for varieties with less than 75 days to maturity, such as ‘Merced’, ‘Bingo’, ‘Celebrity’, ‘Whirlaway’, and ‘Carnival’. ‘Surefire’ is a smaller, processing tomato variety (with thicker skin) which sets and matures all of its tomatoes very quickly, giving you a “surefire” harvest that beats the first freeze. Most cherry tomatoes will bear within 65 days of transplanting.

Timing is very important for a successful fall garden. Heat tolerant/cold sensitive crops need to be planted in time to mature before cold weather slows and stops growth, while cool season/heat sensitive crops are planted late enough to avoid the heat, but early enough to take the first frosts of winter.

Seeded vegetables can be tricky to get up in the heat of summer. Soil often forms a crust on the surface after tillage and watering. This “crust” can hinder tender seedlings from breaking through. Here are a couple of tips to help get seedlings up in the summer.

bean-seeds

Open a furrow down the row as you normally would to sow the seeds. Before sowing, take your garden hose and thoroughly soak the bottom of the seed furrow with water. Next sow the seed. Finally, cover the seed to the proper depth with dry soil and firm. The seed should stay moist enough until germination, and if you avoid overhead watering, the soil will not form a crust to hinder seedling emergence.

Other folks will place a board or wet burlap over the seed row to provide constant dampness to encourage germination and emergence. You need to check every day for signs of emergence, and remove the covering when you see the first seedlings breaking through.

I share my posts on The Simple Homestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by and check out all the amazing things these gardeners and homesteaders are doing!

It’s Go Time in the Vegetable Garden! by Patty G. Leander

spring-vegetables For weeks now the thought of fresh tomatoes, beans, cucumbers and okra, home-grown and sun-drenched, has been dancing across my consciousness. It’s a form of visualization that I just can’t escape this time of year and it is what drives me to dig, plant, weed, water and sweat. I’m sure you are experiencing similar spring fever symptoms! DSCN2971

Here in Central Texas we may well have even experienced our last freeze (?!?) but Easter, which falls on April 16th this year, seems to be a magnet for cold weather so pay attention to the forecast in case Mother Nature decides to throw us a curve ball. Be prepared to protect or replant if damaging weather ensues. Even if we don’t get another freeze this month our young and tender transplants are vulnerable to strong winds, hail and heavy rains. vegetable-garden

Fortunately the mild days of March are easy on both garden and gardener. Our goal in the spring vegetable garden is to plant as early as possible so we can harvest as early as possible, not so much for bragging rights (wait, this is Texas so that’s not entirely true!) but rather to avoid the misery of insects, disease and stress that comes with summer’s blistering heat.  It’s hard to imagine such torment during these premiere gardening days, but it will come.

Below are six tips to help get your vegetable garden off to a good start: harlequin-bugs-kale

Harvest and remove cool season crops. As cool weather crops reach maturity go ahead and harvest and enjoy; leaving them to grow past their prime as the weather gets hotter will only invite pests and disease. The exception, of course, is if you are growing to save seed (more on saving lettuce seed in a future post). growing-vertically

Grow vertical. If you have limited garden space consider growing up instead of out. Pole beans, cucumbers and small-fruited melons or winter squash can be trained to grow on an A-frame, a trellis or other vertical structure. Every couple of years I rotate vining morning glories or moonflowers on my trellises to give the soil a break from growing vegetables. watering-the-garden

Plant into moist soil. Seeds need moisture to germinate; if it hasn’t rained in your neck of the woods then water the area where you will be planting. Really let the water soak in and saturate the soil. The same goes for transplants, water the transplant and the hole before planting.  If, on the other hand, it has rained where you live allow the soil to dry out slightly before you start planting. Working wet soil can damage the structure and form long-lasting clods. Pick up a handful of soil and squeeze it into a ball then drop it onto the ground. If it breaks apart it is ok to dig but if it stays in a muddy wad it’s best to let it dry out a little longer. Spring-Weeds

Keep up with weeds. Warm, sunny days coupled with spring rains encourage weeds seeds to sprout and quickly get out of hand. They will greedily suck up any water and nutrients you provide for your vegetables.  Invest in a long-handled weeder to dispatch weed seedlings in and around the garden. Above all – don’t let them go to seed. Even if weeds are not growing in the garden their seeds can blow in and they can also provide refuge for damaging pests. zinnias-vegetable-garden

Plant some flowers. Plant now and you will provide habitat and attractive blooms for beneficial insects and pollinators as the season progresses. Texas-Gardener-Planning-Guide

Keep records. It’s a good idea to keep a simple diagram of your garden plot which will help as you rotate your crop families from year to year. I like to also make note of varieties, planting dates and days to harvest so I can gauge growth during the season and keep track of productive or tasty varieties for next year’s garden. The Texas Gardener Planning Guide & Calendar  pictured above is a great resource – I’ve been using it for years: https://www.texasgardener.com/Store/Products/viewproduct.aspx?id=56.

Last of all (and note to self), show a little restraint. It’s extremely easy to be enticed by warm sunshine, the smell of fresh dirt and the expectation held within tiny seeds, but as everything grows so does the time required to water, weed, scout for pests, harvest, prepare and preserve. Stick with the vegetables that will yield the most satisfaction and dining enjoyment for you and your family and go forth and have a great gardening season!

 

I share my posts on The Simple Homestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by and check out all the amazing things these gardeners and homesteaders are doing!

Grow Tomatoes in Egg Shells – Part 1

If your tomato tastes yearn for something different than the standard hybrids or heirlooms that are available at the nurseries and box stores in March, then you need to grow your own plants.  Growing your own tomatoes from seed is fun, pretty easy and the only way to ensure that you have the varieties you love when planting time comes.  For those of us in Zones 8 and 9 planting time is generally thought of as March 15.  Since it takes about three months to turn a tiny little tomato seed into a healthy transplant the time to plant those seeds is now.

This year I am growing tomato transplants in egg shells. The tomatoes I am trying this year are "Old German", "Black Vernissage", "Black", "Barry's Crazy Cherry" and a pass-a-long tomato we call "Brenda's Delight".

This year I am growing tomato transplants in egg shells. The tomatoes I am trying this year are “Old German”, “Black Vernissage”, “Black”, “Barry’s Crazy Cherry” and a pass-a-long tomato we call “Brenda’s Delight”.

This year, I am going to try something new.  My friend and plant mentor Cynthia Mueller of College Station told me that country people used to start their tomato plants in egg shells.  According to Cynthia, these frugal, and practical, old timers would poke a drainage hole in the bottom of an opened egg shell, fill it with a little potting media and seeds and then place them in a sunny window.  Once the plants were ready to up pot they would gently crush the shell and plant both the shell and the seedling in a bigger pot.  I love the simplicity and frugality of this tip so much that I have decided to try it and compare “egg shell transplants” to the ones I grow in my high tech grow center.

Adorable-chicken-coop

If you are going to do a tomato growing experiment that requires egg shells it is a good thing to have your own chickens!

For this test we are going to grow “Old German” tomatoes that I purchased from the Territorial Seed Company.    Since I live in an area that is full of people of German descent I thought this would be the perfect tomato to use in my egg shell experiment.  Old German is a large (fruits over a pound) open pollenated, non-determinate tomato plant that produces sweet “orange-y” tomatoes.

After the egg shells are cleaned, fill with a high quality potting medium

After the egg shells are cleaned, fill with a high quality potting medium

To prepare our egg shells my wife went out to the coop and picked up a dozen eggs.  She used a serrated knife to take the tops off of the eggs and an ice pick to make the drainage holes.  After that she washed them very gently with warm soapy water.  Once the shells were clean she used a kitchen spoon to fill the egg shells with a commercial potting media.  Finally, she watered the media thoroughly and added the seeds.

Sally and I used tweezers to place three tomato seeds in each egg shell.

Sally and I used tweezers to place three tomato seeds in each egg shell.

Through the years I have seen gardeners that have grown great transplants with very simple set ups and others that produce their plants with incredibly elaborate systems.   While this experiment is just for fun, it is a great illustration of just how easy it is to grow your own tomatoes from seed. If you have never tried growing tomato transplants I highly recommend that you order some seeds and give it a try.  It is a fun and inexpensive way to explore the incredible amount of variety that exists the tomato genus.

BTW, now is also the perfect time to plant peppers, eggplants and tomatillos.  Be sure to check back in March and see how my “egg shell” experiment works out.

 

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!

2016 Holiday Gifts for the Gardener by Patty G. Leander

broccoli-transpalnts

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

coir-pots

A coconut coir block and transplantable coco pots

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

coconut-coir-blocks

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

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

garden-tools

All gardeners appreciate the tools that make their tasks easier!

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

fiber-pot

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

 Week 49 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden  

I hope you have been able to get outside and take advantage of this unseasonably gorgeous weather.  Last Saturday, Sally and I took a little horticultural get away to our state’s capital.  We had a lovely visit with co-blogger Patty Leander.  We toured her amazing garden (she is growing peanuts!) and the extremely well done garden of long-time reader Harry Cabluck.  We also took time to visit the new “Lucy and Ian Family Garden” at the Ladybird Johnson Wildlife Center.  If you have never been to the Wildflower Center you really need to go.  It has always been an awesome place for adult gardeners, landscapers and nature lovers.  Now, with the addition of the family garden, the wildflower center is the perfect weekend trip for the entire family.

lucy-Ian-Family-Garden-1

There has never been a better time to visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. The recent addition of the Lucy and Ian Family Garden ensures your kids or grandkids will enjoy the trip as much as you do.

 

VEGETABLES/FRUITS

  • Plant Onions – Last weekend I planted my onions (read how I do it here). I ordered my onions from Dixondale Farms. Dixondale has been growing onion sets in Texas for almost 100 years.  Their website is a great resource for onion growers.  Not only can you order you plants, you can find recommendations on how to grow them, when to plant them and which varieties to use for your area.
  • Plant more greens – It is still possible to plant arugula, collards, mustards, lettuce and spinach. In fact, I just planted a container with red lettuce, arugula and spinach last weekend.  I love growing greens in containers and keeping them close to the back door.  This way my wife and I have ready access to fresh and fabulous salads all weekend
  • Plant strawberries – December is a great time to plant strawberries. Plant them in full sun and in soil that drains well.
  • Get row cover ready– Believe it or not, it really is going to freeze sometime soon. Get ready by digging out your row cover and getting moved to your garden.
  • Spray fruit trees with dormant oil – Dormant oils smother scale insects and other sucking insects that plague peaches, plums, pears and apricots (and crepe myrtles too) in the spring.  Most of these are refined petroleum products but you can find dormant oils that come from plants oils.  Organic dormant oils should carry the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) seal.

    cauliflower-shallots-spinach

    Last year I had cauliflower, shallots and spinach sharing space in my potager garden. You can still plant spinach in your Zone 8 and 9 gardens.

ORNAMENTALS

  • Plant flower bulbs – My 16 month old grandson is visiting.  This afternoon I am going to get him to help me plant 50 daffodil bulbs.  If you want spring blooms of narcissus, daffodils, jonquils or luecojum you need to plant them now.
  • Flowers – After Roger and I finish planting our daffodils we are going to plant larkspur.   I put out larkspur seeds in a broadcast manner.  You can also plant poppies in the same way.  December is also a great time to plant dianthus, pansy and violas from transplants
pansy-viola

December is a great time to plant pansy and violas (Johnny Jump-Ups) from transplant

 

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

Week 48 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden

Since we are so close to Christmas I thought I would use this week’s post to give you some great gift ideas for the gardener in your life.  I use the tools highlighted below extensively in my own garden.  Not only are these tools extremely useful, they are extremely durable.  Plus, with the exception of the Felcos, they are all made by hand.  I really like that and I really like supporting artisans and local entrepreneurs.   FYI, I get nothing from any of these companies from recommending these products.  I am just a very satisfied customer that is happy to recommend these products to you.

My favorite pruner is the Felco F7.  The F7 is $58 and worth every penny!

My favorite pruner is the Felco F7. The F7 is $58 and worth every penny!

  • Felco Pruners – I have heard some folks say that Felco pruners are expensive. While they may be a bit more expensive than the average pruner, their quality is head and shoulders above the others that I have tried.  I take my Felcos with me each and every single time I go into the garden.  On my most recent trip to the garden I used them to prune roses, clip crepe myrtle suckers, take cuttings from my geraniums and begonias and then clean up dead tomato and cucumber vines.  I also used them to cut twine, open several bags of compost and my chicken feed.  In short, this is the single most used tool in my gardening arsenal.  I like them so much that I have two pair.  I feel like the $58 that I paid for mine is the best money I have ever spent on a gardening tool.  If you are going to buy pruners for yourself (or as a gift) I recommend the Felco 7 Pruner (F7).  This pruner has a rotating handle that allows you to use the tool all day long and never develop a blister.

    The CobraHead Hand Hoe is the best weeder/cultivator I have found.  At just $24.95 it is a useful gift that won't break the bank.

    The CobraHead Hand Hoe is the best weeder/cultivator I have found. At just $24.95 it is a useful gift that won’t break the bank.

  • CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator – The CobraHead Hand Hoe is a marvelous little garden tool that is produced right here in the USA by a small family owned business.  My wife ordered it for me from another family owned business that we often shop with; Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  I am not a big buyer of garden gadgets.  However, when I saw the CobraHead in the Baker Creek magazine I knew it was something worth having.  The CobraHead is a 13″ long, curved weeder, cultivator, planter, etc.  It has a thin, curved, football shaped head that allows it to work in even the heaviest clays.  When I go into the garden my Felcos are in my right back pocket and my CobraHead is in the left pocket.  I simply cannot garden without these two tools (ok that was a little melodramatic but I really do love these two tools!)

    This dibber and row marker is as beautiful as it is functional.  If you would like to get this hand made gift for your own gardener you better hurry.  Martha Stewert has picked this up as one of her holiday recommendations.

    This dibber and row marker is as beautiful as it is functional. If you would like to get this hand made gift for your own gardener you better hurry. Martha Stewert has picked this up as one of her holiday recommendations.

  • StumpDust Hand Made Dibber and Row Markers– Here is something that is as beautiful as it is useful. My wife gave me the Combo Set ($45 at http://www.stumpdust.com/shop/) for my birthday.  I usually use my fingers to make my holes for planting.  I cannot wait to use this beautiful, handmade tool that is made from salvaged materials when it comes time to plant my beans and peas.
  • MiteyFine Mister – While the CobraHead helps keep my weeds at bay, the MITEYFINE Mister helps me wash my bug problems away.  The MITEYFINE Mister is an ingeniously simple tool, made right here in Texas, that does a great job keeping aphids, spider mites and even some caterpillars at bay.  The MITEYFINE is a wand that attaches to your hose.  The tip at the end is specifically designed for pest control.  It applies just enough pressure to knock off the bugs without damaging the plant.  Plus, it uses no chemicals, which is really important to me.
  • Soil Test – While this may not be the sexiest of gifts, it is one of the most important. Most gardeners I know (me included) always plan on doing a soil test.  However, they never seem to make it down to the extension office to get the bag.  Well, do it for them.  All extension offices have these in stock (or they will mail you one.  Click here to order).  Go get it for your gardener and wrap it up.  Once they open it take them outside and gather the sample with them and then take it back to the extension office.  I promise they will thank you!  A good test will cost about $25 and a great test will be about $100.  The information contained in the test results will make you a better gardener!

 

 

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

Week 47 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden

Well the law of averages may actually work this weekend.  According to historical data there is a 50% chance of a freeze in my area by November 22.  Weather.com is predicting that it will be 33 when I wake up on Sunday, November 22.  I would say that is getting pretty close the historical average.  .  If you still have things in garden I would suggest digging out the row cover and the Christmas lights.  Looks like we are going to need them.

VEGETABLES

organic_lettuce

Lettuce and spinach can be grown in most of Texas from September through early April.  Don’t have much room?  Grow them in pots and keep them close to the kitchen door!

  • Plant – Even though it is going to be cool for a few days you can still plant lettuce and spinach in most of the state. If you live north of the DFW metroplex you may need to grow them in a way that will allow you to quickly cover them for temperatures below 24 or the infrequent snow or ice storm.  Thanksgiving is about the last time that you can plant fava beans.
  • Harvest – I don’t know if it is true or not, but I have always heard that collard greens are “sweeter” if harvested after the first freeze. Well, 33 is pretty close to a freeze so I would say this will be a great week to harvest your collard and mustard greens.

ORNAMENTALS

Purple-pansy

Two of the most loved, and most durable cool weather flowers are pansies and violas. Now is a great time to put them out in most of Texas

  • Plant – It is finally cool enough to put out dianthus, snap dragons, pansies, violas and ornamental kale and cabbages. Prepare the soil by gently tilling in an inch or two of compost. You can still plant Texas wild flowers from seed in late November and early December.  Now is also a great time to plant two of my favorite spring flowers – larkspur and sweet peas.  Spread larkspur in a broadcast manner.  Plant sweet peas individually about an inch deep.  They will bloom now, stay small through the cool weather and then take off when the temperatures begin to warm up in March.
  • Prune – Some of the finer textured perennials like guara and salvia can be pruned back after the first freeze. I cut mine down to about 6” and mulch them fairly deeply.
  • Fertilize – Since the soil microbes take longer to break down your compost in the cooler temps it is a good idea to feed your ornamentals with a diluted, water soluble fertilizer for the first few weeks.

    growing-larkspur

    Broadcast lasrkspur seed now for to ensure you have lots of these beautiful reseeding annuals in the spring,

 

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

Week 46 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden

Thanks to the generosity of a friend, the “dream I dreamed” for my vegetable garden is now very close to completion.  Danny Hartley came down last weekend and sloshed around in the sticky, muddy clay and helped me install my irrigation system. It was a big job and I simply could not have done it without his help.   Next spring, my garden will consist of 12 rows of herbs, flowers and vegetables that are watered by a soaker hose irrigation system that is feed by my six new water spigots!  Thanks so much Danny!

This weekend I will finally get to pull up my okra, tomatoes and cucumbers.  One row will be reserved for my onions.  The other two will be replanted with beets, turnips, collard and mustard greens.  Below are some more things you can do this weekend in your yard and garden.

Danny-Hartley-6

Thanks to Danny Hartley my dreamsof a “Southern Living” quality garden is one step closer!

VEGETABLES

  • Plant – One of the great things about gardening in Zone 9 is the ability to plant year round. Even though it is the middle of November you can still plant lots of things.  This weekend I will be putting out more beets, turnips, collards and mustard greens.  You can also plant sugar snap peas, radishes, lettuce, spinach, Asian greens like bok choi, kale, chard and so much more!!!  Do not forget to check out Patty Leander’s Planting guide to see what else you can plant in your November garden
  • Harvest – If you have things ready for harvest I would suggest that you bring them in.  We are fast approaching our average first frost date.  While many of our fall veggies can take a light freeze, squash tomatoes and cucumbers cannot.
  • Fertilize –Heat increases the metabolism of all living things. Because of this, the nutritive value of the compost is “used up” more quickly in the warmer months of the year.  If you compost now the cooler temperatures will make your compost “last longer”.  Basically, a good heavy application of compost now means you will not need to feed your soil again until April or early May. Fall-Pumpkins

ORNAMENTALS

  • Plant – You can still scatter poppy and larkspur seeds for the next week or so. I have tons of these two flowers and I love them both.  They come in several colors so they work in every landscape AND they reseed with abandon.  Plant some now and you can realistically have them forever
  • Prune – It is still too early to prune trees. However, it is a great time to prune ever green shrubs.  Since the cool temperatures slow their growth rate for the next few months a good shaping now will keep them looking great until Spring
  • Fertilize – Just like your in the vegetable garden, an application of compost to your yards will gently feed your lawns until the grass begins actively growing in the spring
  • Move – If you have made any landscaping mistakes now is a great time to correct them. November is the best time to move (or plant) perennials.

    chicken-and-asparagus

    Chicken and Asparagus! Our girls like the fall garden almost as much as Sally and I do.

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

Week 45 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden

Well, turns out all of our recent rains did not ruin my tomatoes!  Last night I brought in 6 pounds of Celebrity, Stupice and Black From Tula.  Some of them were a little cracked but they were in mostly great condition.  Unfortunately, the cucumbers did not fare as well.  Ever since the big rains of a couple of weeks ago they have shut down and the vines have begun to wither.  I think the combination of high moisture and unseasonably warm temperatures turned on the nematodes.  I will find out tomorrow when I pull them up.

Most of those crops that we planted back in August are ready for harvest.  I am going to focus this week’s tips on the harvest and preservation of the some of the crops that are now in the vegetable garden.  On another note, don’t forget that right now is a great time to plant trees and shrubs.  It is also a great time to over seed your lawn with rye grass.

Dried tomatoes are packed with flavor.  Slowly dry tomates in a 200 degree oven, spinkle with sea salt and drizzle with olive oil.  Anzing flavor and they will keep in the refrigerator for up to a month.

Dried tomatoes are packed with flavor. Slowly dry tomates in a 200 degree oven, spinkle with sea salt and drizzle with olive oil. Anzing flavor and they will keep in the refrigerator for up to a month.

  • Harvest fall tomatoes – It is supposed to drop into the 40 next Monday. Since tomatoes do not like temperatures below 50 pull any that are beginning to show color.  I would not pull the green tomatoes yet.  I leave my green tomatoes on the vine until the night before the first freeze.  By doing this I have had years where I was still harvesting vine ripened tomatoes up to the week before Christmas.
  • Harvest squash- I think we are still a couple of weeks away from the first freeze. Be aware that all squash, both summer and winter types, are extremely cold sensitive.  Do not let these crops stay on the vine when a freeze is expected.  I use my fall “summer squash” squash to make what we call “Chow Chow”.  I’ve heard it called other things but it is basically squash relish.  When it gets a little cooler, nothing is better than Chow Chow with those black eyed peas that you still have in the freezer.  Here is a simple and tasty Chow Chow recipe if you want to give it a try:  http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/yellow-summer-squash-relish.

    I love making (and eating) homemade pickles.  There are tons of great recipes out there on the internet.

    I love making (and eating) homemade pickles. There are tons of great recipes out there on the internet.

  • Harvest cucmbers – Before my vines shut down we harvested enough cucumbers to make 10 pints of pickles. Pickles take a little work and a few supplies to make but they are easy to make and taste so much better than store bought.  To me, potato salad, tuna salad and chicken salad aren’t worth eating if they are not made with home made pickles. Here is the recipe my wife follows (kind of) to make our pickles:  http://www.food.com/recipe/claussen-kosher-pickle-copycat-249520
  • Harvest beets – When I tell people that I love beets they usually look at me funny. Because of this I am getting much enjoyment seeing TV chef use the humble beet in many of their very fancy dishes.  While I have not tried them roasted yet I do love them pickled.  Harvest beets when they are about the size of a ping pong ball for best for best flavor and texture.  You can harvest them even smaller than that if you are going to roast them.  Check out my post, Growing Beets, to learn a simple way to turn you beets into so amazing refrigerator pickles!

    Read my article on growing beets and see how my family has made pickled beets for the past 97 years!

    Read my article on growing beets and see how my family has made pickled beets for the past 97 years!

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

Week 44 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden

I am happy to report that I got 7.5” of rain last weekend.  While I was grateful for the rain, it really did a number on my garden.  Sad to say that I was watching my best fall tomato crop ever develop.  Now, I am watching my best fall tomato crop ever split open from all of the rain.  Ugh!!!  Oh well, I can still eat the bottom halves!

All of this rain is making my fall tomatoes crack open.  I harvest them anyway and eat the bottom half!

All of this rain is making my fall tomatoes crack open. I harvest them anyway and eat the bottom half!

On another note, winter is coming.  Even though it doesn’t feel like it right now, your first freeze is just around the corner.  Since most of my planting, weeding and mulching are done for the season I will be using this rainy weekend to prepare for that inevitable first freeze.  Here is what I do to prepare for winter in my Zone 9 garden.

  • Determine your freeze dates – Your first and last feeze dates are probably the single most important thing you need to know to garden successfully. If you think you know them I suggest checking again.  Thanks to climate change, freeze dates are changing.  Several years ago my first average freeze date was November 16.  I knew this because it was my anniversary.  I got in a small bit of trouble one year because my wife was very upset with me when I chose to finish up some cold frames instead of leaving on time for our romantic get away!  There are tons of tools on the internet to determine your freeze dates.  My favorite is on Dave’s Garden.  Click here to determine the freeze dates for your area. 10-30-2015 6-55-43 PM
  • Oil and sharpen tools- I buy good tools and I take care of them. When you have time, like now, give them a little attention to extend their life and usefulness.  Wash them with soap and water.  Let them dry.  Take a file to the edges of your hoes, shovels and larger blades.  Once they are sharp, wipe down the blades and the wooden handles with linseed oil.  Come spring, they will be clean, sharp and rust free.
  • Row cover – Row cover is the one thing I cannot get enough of. Just about anything can be used for row cover.  However, I recommend using something that is permeable.  I get my row cover from Texas Gardener (click here to purchase the cover I use).  I really think it is a good Idea to get your row cover out now.  I bunch mine up beside my rows and hold it down with T-Posts.  That way, I am not scrambling around to find it and get it laid down in a blowing wind the night that first freeze comes.

    Take cuttings of begonias and geraniums now to ensure you will still have them in the fall

    Take cuttings of begonias and geraniums now to ensure you will still have them in the fall

  • Take cuttings – I have two heirloom begonias and an amazing heirloom geranium that are truly precious to me (and my wife). To make sure that I have these in the spring, I always hedge my bets by taking tons of cuttings.  Begin by filling your pots with a high quality potting mix (I use Miracle grow) to within a half inch of the rim.   My pots are small solo cups. I use a soldering iron to burn drainage holes in the bottom of them.  Once full, water thoroughly and let them drain while you take your cuttings.  Cut your plants on a 45 below a node.  Remove all of the foliage except a couple of leaves and stick them in the potting mix.  I keep these cuttings in my mud room under fluorescent lights and keep them moist all winter.

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!