‘Stewart’s Zeebest’ Okra by Patty G. Leander

 

Southern-Living-Seed-Guide

The Southern Living Seed Guide

A little over a month ago I was thumbing through the February issue of Southern Living while waiting for a dental appointment. I skipped past the kitchen redo, the make-your-own-berry-wreath and the South’s new hotels to land on a piece titled The Southern Living Seed Guide. As a seed-admiring, seed-saving vegetable gardener I am drawn to stories and articles about seeds, varieties and the stories behind them.

My favorite seed story, of course, is the one I am most familiar with and one I have a personal connection to – ‘Stewart’s Zeebest’ bushy okra, developed by my all-time favorite garden mentors, teachers and encouragers, the late George and Mary Stewart. So when I saw ‘Stewart’s Zeebest’  listed as a Southern Living pick it made me smile real big, and then my smile turned to disbelief and dismay when they referred to it as a Louisiana heirloom!

Stewart’s-Zeebest-okra

‘Stewart’s Zeebest’ okra harvest.

Uh-uh, no way. We love you, Louisiana, but the Lone Star State’s reputation is at stake here: ‘Stewart’s Zeebest’ is not a Louisiana heirloom though you certainly get some credit since George was born in Westlake, Louisiana and ‘Zeebest’ was selected from a planting of ‘Louisiana Green Velvet’ okra. But all the toil and sweat that George and Mary put into developing ‘Zeebest’ – planting, selecting, saving, replanting and ultimately sharing – occurred in the 1980s at the Stewart homeplace in Houston, right down on South Main where George and Mary spent most of their adult life, across the street from the train tracks and a few doors down from the auto repair shop. And to add a little more perspective, George and Mary had lived in Houston so long they could remember the installation of Houston’s first traffic light and gleefully shared tales of the days before air-conditioning.

houston-chronicle-stewart

Houston’s premier garden educators, George and Mary Stewart, profiled by Kathy Huber in the Houston Chronicle, 1990

George and Mary Stewart were extraordinary gardeners, full of wit and wisdom and a special gift for entertaining while educating. They drew the audience into their horticultural adventures with stories and laughter, inspiring a can-do attitude that made you want to go home and grow-your-own. For posterity’s sake and to keep the record straight, here is a brief history of ‘Stewart’s Zeebest’:

George-Stewart

A proud George with one of his branching, productive ‘Zeebest’ okra plants. Photo by William D. Adams

In the 1980s George and Mary were given a few pods from a highly productive planting of ‘Louisiana Green Velvet’ okra from the garden of family friend Joe Ziegler. The seeds were planted in the Stewart garden and George recognized that some of the plants developed a strong branching pattern. They began carefully selecting for tender, productive and heavily branched plants which George enthusiastically referred to as ‘Stewart’s Zeebest Bushy Okra’; over time it was shortened to ‘Stewart’s Zeebest’ or simply ‘Zeebest’ and soon they were promoting their home-grown Texas variety and giving away seeds. That was almost 30 years ago so it hasn’t yet reached heirloom status. An heirloom is generally defined as an open-pollinated variety that has been grown and maintained by an individual or a community for 50 years. Well, George and Mary are gone now but they left ‘Zeebest’ in our hands and we in turn need to keep it in production for future generations. Today, thanks mostly to the efforts of Bill Adams, Retired Harris County Extension Agent and good friend of George and Mary, seeds are available from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (Rare Seeds) and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (Southern Exposure).

Whether you are a native Texan or a transplant, if you live in Texas I hope you have learned to love okra. If you haven’t planted seed yet now is a good time. Okra not only survives but it thrives in our heat and looks pretty good while doing it, thanks to being a member of the mallow family which also includes hibiscus and hollyhock. Most varieties produce in 60-65 days and will continue to produce right up to the first frost. Overgrown okra can be fibrous and tough and should be picked when it is 3-5” long. It grows fast so check for pods every other day.

stewarts-zeebest-okra

Flag the best okra pods for saving and let them dry on the plant.

Saving seed of okra is very easy to do as the seeds are big and the pods are a perfect receptacle.  To ensure the purity of the seed it is recommended that you grow and save seed from only one variety at a time. Select one or two pods (or more if you want to have plenty to share) from your healthiest specimens, flag the chosen pods with brightly colored tape, and let those pods dry on the plant.

I met George and Mary in 1989, when Mary was 79 and George was 83. I was in my early thirties and they could run circles around me in the vegetable garden. They gardened intuitively and frugally, generously sharing what they knew about growing vegetables to scores of home gardeners along the Gulf Coast.  George and Mary were proud of the vegetables that they grew and their produce needed no enhancements. But George was a born storyteller and was known to sometimes embellish the truth. Though he tried to keep his exaggerations to a minimum, it seemed to be Mary’s lot in life to keep George grounded in truth. In fact, at the age of 83, after some 60 years of marriage, Mary wrote and dedicated the following poem to George:

Tell any tale you like, m’love,

Embroidered with lies and fiction;

I’ll not interrupt to correct, m’love,

                   Your facts or figures or diction.

Embellish your stories to any degree

                   With fables and falsification;

Just don’t turn to me and expect me to give

                   My unqualified verification.

 

With that in mind, below is a description of ‘Zeebest’, taken right out of Mary’s garden notes:

“The parent plant of these seed had 28 branches and 243 pods on it at one time.  We started with Louisiana Green Velvet and over a period of 9 years of selection for branching tendencies, this is the result.  To save seed, let a fine pod on a good specimen plant dry on the stalk,
then shell out and let dry completely in open tray at room temperature.  Store seeds in a tightly closed container in the refrigerator.”

mary-stewart

Mary’s collection of recipes and remembrances, published at the age of 80

Mary learned to use a computer when she was 80 years old and proceeded to write a cookbook which she titled, “Kitchen NostalgiaAn Incomplete Cookbook–A Collection of Heirloom Recipes, Past and Future”.  The preface of Mary’s cookbook begins “This is in memory of Mamma.” Here is a favorite recipe from the files of vegetable gardener and home-cook extraordinaire, Mary Stewart, in her own words:

Okra and Tomatoes

“This has been a summer mainstay as long as we have had a garden, which has been forever. Some add browned beef, but I never have. It is good served over rice or just as a side vegetable. Searing the cut okra in hot fat at the start takes away some of the slickness and makes it more palatable. The amounts are really variable, so feel free to deviate.”
4 cups sliced fresh okra

¼ cup oil (or bacon fat)
1 cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped bell peppers, red, green or mixed

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon cumin

2 8-ounce cans tomato sauce or 1 can tomato paste (or 2 cups peeled, chopped tomato)

1 cup water

Heat the oil in a heavy pot or skillet; add okra, stirring to sear the cut edges. Don’t let it burn. Add onions and sauté till limp, then add garlic and pepper and simmer about 5 minutes, stirring to prevent burning. Then add the tomato sauce or paste, thinning with water to have it a bit on the “soupy” side. Add the seasonings and simmer about 15 minutes, stirring now and then until the okra is tender but not falling apart. Yield: 8 servings

George and Mary Stewart in their Houston vegetable garden in the early 1990s. Photo by William D. Adams

George and Mary Stewart in their Houston vegetable garden in the early 1990s. Photo by William D. Adams

I hope that if you decide to grow ‘Stewart’s Zeebest’ bushy okra, you will share it with compliments of George and Mary, and take the time to reflect on the heritage of gardeners from your own family history, passing these stories down to a future generation of vegetable growers.

Tip of the Week – Week 19 in the Zone 9 Garden

Yesterday I heard a meteorologist say that we have a two thirds greater chance of having a cooler and wetter summer than normal.  While that is great news it is still Texas and it is still going to get HOT out there.  I bring this up because even though May is the beginning of harvest time, it is also the first month where high temps begin to be a problem.  Each year I pay hundreds of dollars to have pre-cancerous spots burned off and I always manage to dehydrate myself.  Patty Leander has a great article full of tips that will help you stay cool and safe in the garden this year.  Click here to read her tips.

blog6Vegetables

While there is still time to plant lima (butter) beans, southern peas, gourds, winter squash and sweet potatoes, May is really the beginning of harvest time.

I am excited to say that we will soon be harvesting artichokes for the first time.  We will also start picking green beans soon.  If you don’t already have green beans you will in the next week or so.  Your green beans should produce until temps start to stay in the 90s.  Harvest often for best yields.  Summer squash should soon be on your plate as well.  Again, pick it early and pick often.

In my opinion, the big harvests of the month are potatoes and onions.  My potatoes still have a couple of weeks to go but my onion tops are beginning to fall over.  My onions have been in the ground since December and I am ready to get them up.  Not only do I need the space for my purple hulls, I truly love onions.   If you have a large harvest, be sure to cure, or dry them before you store them.  Patty and I both have articles on how to properly harvest and care for your bulbs.  Check them both out.

Patty’s article – Harvesting and Curing Onions

My article:  How to Harvest and Cure Onions

poppies-potagerOrnamentals

Last week I wrote about how much joy I get from my daylilies.  While that is true, they are not the only thing blooming right now.  All of my salvias have started blooming.  I also have datura, dianthus, crinums, yarrow and petunias that are in full bloom.  All of these flowers are filling my yard with bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.  Keep flowering plants well watered to extend bloom time.  Also dead head often to encourage re-bloom.

If you grew poppies this spring, they should just about be ready for you to harvest the seeds.  I collect my poppy seeds each year.  Because of this I have been able to spread them all over my property.  Read more about collecting your own poppy seeds by clicking this link: Remembering our Veterans with Poppies.

I share my posts on the HomeAcre Hop.  Be sure to stop by the hop.  It has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

crinum-bulbisspermum-1

 

 

 

 

Tip of the Week – Week 18 in the Zone 9 Garden

Last week I did a post about my favorite gardening tools.  I did not realize I should have added rubber boots and a raincoat to the list!  Can you believe all of this rain?  I am thankful for the rain but it makes it very hard on us that can really only garden on the weekend.  Don’t want to sound like I am complaining though.  All of these spring rains gave us a great wildflower year and my yard has never been prettier.  Plus I will soon start harvesting from a vegetable garden that has received absolutely zero supplemental water.

sweet-potatoes

If you are not already making your sweet potato slips you are quickly running out of time.

Vegetables

By now most of our spring and summer veggies are in the ground.  This makes the early part of May a time of fertilizing and weeding.  I have been making compost tea and using it to fertilize my tomatoes.  You can do that or continue adding finished compost to your beds once a month.

I have a long time reader named Donna that is currently growing her own sweet potato slips.  If you want to grow sweet potatoes you need to get busy if you are going to grow your own slips.  July 4th is about as late as you can plant them and still get a respectable harvest in the fall.  Last year I did an experiment with sweet potatoes.  I wanted to see if there was a benefit to growing them from slips or if they would do fine if they were grown like Irish potatoes.  Turns out both methods yielded about the same.  However, in my opinion, growing them like Irish potatoes was a very easy, and sensible way to use up all of our sweet potatoes that were too small to cook or were sprouting in storage.

My Hyperion daylilies were passed to us by Sally's grandmother.  These tough and reliable plants provide me a solid month of blooms each May.

My Hyperion daylilies were passed to us by Sally’s grandmother. These tough and reliable plants provide me a solid month of blooms each May.

Ornamentals

My wife and I have hundreds of yellow Hyperion Daylilies scattered throughout most of the beds on our property.  I absolutely love these plants for two reasons.  First, they came from my wife’s grandmother.  Nana grew them for years and then after she passed we found a clump on her ranch.  We dug half of the clump up and brought it home.  That was eight years ago.  We have now turned that one clump into more than 150 feet of lovely borders that bloom none stop during the month of May.  And there is the second reason I love them.  Daylilies are beautiful, reliable and prolific!  If you don’t have any, I really suggest you give them a try.

Lawns

Thanks to all of this rain most of our lawns are looking pretty good.  If you have not already fertilized it is time.  Regardless of whether you use chemical or organic fertilizers, put them out about every five to six weeks.  Also, try setting your mower and little high and mow more frequently.  This, combined with the fertilization, will create a thick, healthy lawn that chokes out weeds.

peaches-in-bowl

Last year a late freeze “thinned” our peaches. The resulting fruits were the biggest and sweetest we ever harvested.

Trees

When putting out the fertilizer don’t forget your trees.  They are putting on new growth right now and they will thank you for a good feeding.  Apply fertilizer under the entire canopy with the heaviest application at the drip-line.  The tree’s most active and “absorbtive” roots grow at the drip line.

My peach and plum trees are currently covered in fruit.  If you want bigger, sweeter fruit remove about ¼ to 1/3 of the immature fruit from the trees.  Last year a late freeze did this for me.  We had the biggest and sweetest peaches ever because of this accidental thinning.

 

I share my posts on the HomeAcre Hop.  Be sure to stop by the hop.  It has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Tip of the Week – Week 17 in the Zone 9 Garden

Happy Earth Day!  45 years ago Senator Gaylord Nelson decided to raise consciousness about the environment after witnessing a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California.  His efforts started the modern environmental movement and led to a worldwide celebration and network dedicated to raising consciousness about a wide array of problems and issues facing our planet.

chihuly-museum-1As a gardener, you know that April is the perfect time to celebrate the earth.  Everything is blooming and growing.  Unfortunately everything doesn’t just mean flowers and fruits.  No, in April, everything is growing – including weeds and bugs!  Because of this I thought I would take this opportunity to do something a little different with the weekly tip.  Since we will all be spending a whole lot of time and effort battling pests over the next couple of months I thought I would tell you about my two favorite pest control tools.  Before I start I would like to say that I get nothing for promoting these products.  After much trial and error I have found these two tools to be invaluable and I just want to share them with you.

CobraHead

My most used and most loved garden tool is the CobraHead Weeder & Cultivator.  This curved piece of steel with a little football shaped head goes with me every time I go into the garden.  After trying many, many different tools throughout the years, I have found this inexpensive tool works best for me.

Cobrahead-1As the name says, this little tool does it all.  I use it to weed and I use it to plant.  Its sleek shape gives me enough leverage to pry up crab grass or scrape out Bermuda runners.  It also allows me to quickly dig holes for transplants or dig a furrow for planting seeds in my black clay soil.  I get all of this functionality out of a tool that only costs $25.  What a deal!

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 that does a great job keeping aphids, spider mites and even some caterpillars at bay.

Co-blogger Patty Leander introduced me to the MITEYFINE.  Her brother is an engineer and he is the inventor of this organic pest control tool.  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.

MITEYFINE-MisterThe MITEY fine comes in two lengths – 36” and 48”.  The extra ergonomic handle assembly adds 10” to the overall length but makes the wand much easier to handle.  Patty likes the short one and I have the longer one.  This tool has an all metal construction so it will help you kill scale insects for a very long time.

 

I share my posts on the HomeAcre Hop.  Be sure to stop by the hop.  It has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Tip of the Week – Week 16 in the Zone 9 Garden

Spring is definitely in the air!  Many of my roses are in full bloom and one of my chickens just hatched three new baby chicks!  This is going to be a great weekend to be outside.  The sun is out, temperatures are mild and all of this rain should make those beds a joy to work in.

chicks-1Vegetables

The middle of April is a great time to plant our heat loving vegetables from seed.  Patty Leander just did a great post on growing Butterbeans (Lima Beans).  In addition to Butterbeans and Southern peas (black eyes and crowder), this weekend is a great time to plant vining crops like cantaloupe, water melons and gourds.  It is also a great time to get your okra in the ground.

Quick note on vining crops.  They are water hogs!  If you give them as much water as they need by watering overhead you are setting yourself up for the best crop of uncontrollable weeds you have ever seen.  Save water and reduce your weed problems by setting up some type of drip system for your watermelons, cantaloupes and gourds.

grilled-okraOrnamentals

Most of my roses are truly beautiful right now.  There really is not much in this world that is prettier than a rose bush in full bloom.  If you have a rose (or other woody shrub) that you would like to make more of, now is the time to do it.  I have found that people are somewhat intimidated by the thought of propagation.  Don’t be.  Most plants are very tough and adaptable.  Making a new one from a cutting is pretty easy once you know a few tips.

If you would like to try your hand at propagation, read my article “Propogating Antique Roses”.  It has all the tips you need to save a few bucks by creating your own plants from cuttings.

Cherokee-RoseLawns

Right now the conditions are perfect for the formation of brown patch in St. Augustine.  Brown patch is a fungal disease that forms when rainfall is high and temps or low.  It is also more come in lawns that are over fertilized.  Brown patch is not fatal.  Generally, you can control it by cutting back on watering and fertilization.  If it spreads to an area larger than a trash can lid you may want to apply one of several granular fungicides that are designed for control.

If your brown patch does not go away as the temperatures rise you may have Take All Patch.  This is another fungal disease that is becoming more common.  Unlike brown patch, take all patch is fatal.  While there are fungicides for control, this disease is hard to beat once it is established.  If you get Take All, you may want to consider replacing your water hungry St Augustine with Bermuda or zoysia.  Both require less water and are bothered by fewer pests.

I share my posts on the HomeAcre Hop.  Be sure to stop by the hop.  It has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Butterbean Basics by Patty Leander

 

butterbeans-mixed

Whether green, white or speckled, butterbeans are down-home delicious. As mentioned in a previous post, freeze leftover liquid from cooking collard greens and use it to boost the flavor of butterbeans.

Tomatoes tend to get all the attention this time of year but there is another vegetable, so delicious, so easy to grow, so humble, so Southern, that it belongs in every Texan’s garden. I’m talking about butterbeans. Some of you may refer to them as lima beans – the terms can be used interchangeably – but poor lima beans suffer from an overcooked-and-underseasoned-school-cafeteria reputation that still haunts many adults, even though they haven’t touched a lima bean in decades. Butterbeans, on the other hand, elicit nothing but comforting memories of gardens, grannies, greens and cornbread. One of the more memorable comments I’ve heard about butterbeans came from AgriLife Extension Fruit Specialist Jim Kamas. At a fruit seminar a few years ago I had the occasion to ask if he enjoyed butterbeans as a child, and without hesitation he fondly recalled his childhood in Belleville and those luscious beans from his grandmother’s garden. She used to tell him that “if you were eating butterbeans, you were the luckiest boy in town”.  Such a sweet and memorable sentiment coming from a man who lives and breathes Texas peaches. Lucky indeed.

shelled-butterbeans

Fresh butterbeans are hard to come by unless you grow and shell them yourself.

There are several varieties of butterbeans to choose from and I’ve never grown one I didn’t like. Some are bush, some are pole, some are green, some are white, some are speckled but they all like warm weather and they all grow well in Texas.

butterbean-varities

Henderson, Jackson Wonder, Thorogreen, Dixie Speckled, King of the Garden, Christmas Pole, Fordhook 242

You can usually find small packets of butter beans at farm supply or garden centers. Online sources for seeds include Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (www.southernexposure.com), Willhite Seed (www.willhiteseed.com), Seed Savers Exchange (www.seedsavers.org) and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (www.rareseeds.com).

Florida-Speckled-Butterbeans

‘Florida Speckled’ butterbeans engulf a chain link fence.

Because they like warm conditions it is best to plant them a couple of weeks after you plant green beans – any time this month is good. They are not particular about soil but be sure to give them full sun and regular moisture. Pole varieties are quite vigorous and will need a sturdy structure to climb. Most bush varieties are ready for picking in 60-65 days; pole varieties take a week or two longer. Butter beans, especially pole varieties, usually produce through the summer but if it is exceptionally hot and dry (and who knows what awaits us this summer!) their blooms may shut down. Keep them watered and they’ll perk up again in the fall and produce like crazy.

Dixie-Speckled-Butterbeans

Small-seeded ‘Dixie Speckled Butterpeas’ cook up tender and delicious.

If you are new to the business of butter beans, keep in mind that they must be shelled. Not really a big deal unless you plant rows and rows that all come ready at once – then you’ll have some work to do. If you have room in the garden plant a few short rows of different varieties with varying maturity rates so you’ll be able to space out the picking, the shelling and the eating. Cooking is simple, the less you do to them the better – just flavor with a little bacon fat, salt and pepper and let their subtle flavor and creamy texture shine. The fresher they are the quicker they cook, usually less than 45 minutes.

Butterbeans used to be a common side dish served at kitchen tables across the South, but like corded phones, station wagons and cassette tapes, they are at risk of becoming yet another reminder of simpler times and days gone by. Shoved aside by an industrious society fueled by quick-to-fix processed food, their destiny lies at the mercy of local farmers and vegetable gardeners willing to continue their cultivation. I hope you will help carry on their legacy by planting, eating and saving seed. Sop up the simplicity of this humble bean and enjoy a taste that is rich, down-home and satisfying, and always remember how lucky you are to be eating fresh butter beans.

King-of-the-garden-butterbeans

‘King of the Garden’ with a side of cornbread and a piece of fruit for a good-to-the-last-bite satisfying meal.

Old-Fashioned Butterbeans

The secret to a tasty pot likker is to simmer the cooking liquid with bacon drippings or ham hocks for at least 30 minutes before you add the beans. 

1 ham hock, ham bone or 1-2 tablespoons bacon drippings**

2 quarts water or chicken broth

4-6 cups shelled butterbeans

¼ cup brown sugar (optional, but a common ingredient)

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

Bring water and ham hock or bacon drippings to a boil and simmer 30-40 minutes. Add the beans and simmer until tender, about 30-40 minutes, adding more water if necessary, to keep beans covered by about 1 inch. Season with salt and pepper.

** Vegetarian-minded folks can forgo the pig meat and cook beans in water or vegetable broth. Season with salt and pepper then top off with a pat of butter.

Tip of the Week – Week 15 in the Zone 9 Garden

I hope you have your garden in shape because, according to the weather forecast, this weekend is going to be a wash-out.  They are predicting at least 2” of rain at my house from Friday through Sunday.  There is also a 90% chance of rain on Monday.  Oh well, we really do need the rain, especially my friends in Austin.  Speaking of Austin, if you are in the area why not come out to Mayfield Park this Saturday?  I will be discussing great native and low water adapted plants to bring in pollinators to your garden at the annual Trowel and Error Gardening Symposium.  It starts at 9:00.  They have three speakers, a plant sale and door prizes.  Plus, it really is a beautiful place with lots of peacocks!

Mayfield Park in Austin is a gardeners and photographers paradise in the heart of the city.Vegetables

This past week I finally got my green beans in.  I am way late this year.  If you have not planted your beans, squash and cucumbers you are running out of time.  Temperatures in the 90s cause pollen grains to burst.  Because of this, vegetables planted from seed may still have time to grow and produce some.  However your production will be limited to fruit that was pollinated (or set) before the high heat arrived.

It is not too late for transplants.  You still have time to put in squash, cucumbers, tomatoes and pepper transplants.  If you plant large transplants and give them adequate moisture and nutrition you should still get respectable harvests in June and early July.

If you have sweet potato slips start planting them this week.  If you don’t have slips, cut up some sweet potatoes and plant them just like Irish potatoes.  Production will be slightly delayed but they will grow and continue to produce all the way through the fall.  It is also time to plant southern peas from seed.  Both black eyed and crowder peas do well in our hot summers.

contender-bush-beans

You are quickly running out of time to plant beans, squash and cucumbers from seed

Ornamentals

I have an article about caladiums coming out in Texas Gardener next month.  I love caladiums and I plant lots of them.  Now is the time to get them in the ground.  There are two types of caladiums.  Fancy Leafed varieties produce large, heart shaped leaves and do best in shade.  Strap Leafed varieties produce slightly smaller leaves.  However, they take sun better and work well in containers.  Plant your bulbs with about an inch of soil over them in well-draining soil.

Weeds are beginning to be a problem in our beds.  Pull and add more mulch to control them.  The mulch will also regulate the soils temperatures in your bed which will lead to prolonged blooms for your annual flowers.

Caladiums are great plants for the shadier parts of your yard.  Photo used with permission from Classic Caladiums

Caladiums are great plants for the shadier parts of your yard. Photo used with permission from Classic Caladiums

Lawns

Last week I talked about applying commercial fertilizer to your lawns.  This week I want to remind you that you can add compost to your lawn at all time.  You really cannot over do it with organic products.  If you regularly add compost, and leave your grass clippings in place after mowing, you can grow grass that is just as healthy and pretty as the lawns grown with chemical fertilizers.  You can also apply Corn Glutten Meal to the yard now.  This natural pre-emergent herbicide will stop broad leafs like dandelion and thistle.  We are getting to the end of the time where CGM will be effective.  However, even if it doesn’t kill any weeds it adds a nice shot of natural nitrogen to the soil.

I share my posts on the HomeAcre Hop.  Be sure to stop by the hop.  It has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

2015 Bluebonnet Report

This weekend the kids all came for Easter.  Sally and I absolutely love it when the kids come for a whole bunch of reasons.  However, one of my favorites is my son in law Ramez Antoun’s camera.  Ramez is a dang fine amateur photographer.  Each time he comes he leaves me with a ton of outstanding photographs.  This weekend the bluebonnets of Washington County were at their peak.  He took tons of great shots of the bluebonnets and all of the other wildflowers in our yard.  I was so impressed with them that I thought I would share.

bluebonnets-lake

Our little house sits on a long, narrow two acre lot.  We have a ranch in front of us and one behind us.  One of the ranches has a 56 acre lake on it.  This shot is from our yard looking toward the lake.  I love the way this picture captures the swaths of bluebonnets that lead down to the lake.

Bluebonnets-yorkie

All of our kids are dog lovers.  Kate and Ramez are the owners of the Yorkie in the picture above (my apologies for the ugly sweater they forced her to wear) .  Our daughter Jessie and her husband own the three labs below. The two black labs are retired guide dogs.  While Jessie was in college she and Cameron worked with a group of people that socialized and trained dogs for the seeing impaired.   They got these dogs when they were six weeks old and kept them for the first year of their lives.  They then turned them over for further training.  Finally, the wound up with a seeing impaired person who loved and depended on them for several years.  When it was time for them to retire, the foundation offered them back Jessie and her husband.  How could they refuse?

bluebonnets-labrador

Here is a great shot of our little guest house/bed and breakfast.  I love the mural that my wife had done last year.  If you are planning a trip to Washington County, Sally and I would love to be your hosts.  Click on the link below to tour “The Nest” and/or book your stay.

bluebonnets-guest-house

 

Finally, bluebonnets aren’t the only wildflowers that are blooming now in Washington County.  I leave you with this great shot of an Indian Paintbrush.

This post has been shared on the HomeAcre Hop!  Stop by the hop and see what gardeners and homesteaders across the country are doing.

indian-paintbrush

Tip of the Week – Week 14 in the Zone 9 Garden

This Sunday my two favorite things cross – the Liturgical Calendar and the Planting Calendar.  Over the next few days the traditions of my church will remind me of the truly important things in life – sacrifice, forgiveness and the power of resurrective love.

While I most intensely feel the presence of God during this time of year, I most often EXPERIENCE him outside the walls of the church.  If you are not aware of the mystery and wonder of your creator right now then you are not trying.  Where I live he has once again filled me with awe and wonder by painting our yards, fields and roadways blue.  Bluebonnet season is now fully underway in Washington County.  This weekend, after you finish your ham and pea salad, why not take a drive in the country and experience the majesty of His creation.

My gumbo onions are truly beautiful when they flower.

My gumbo onions are truly beautiful when they flower.

Vegetables

As I write this every muscle in my body aches.  However, I actually enjoy this feeling because it reminds me (every time I move) that I finally got my spring garden planted!!!!  Spring rains made my clay soil too wet to work the previous two weekends.  This past weekend was perfect.  My wife and I cleaned out our left over brassicas and all of our spring weeds and planted five varieties of tomatoes (from the best transplants I have ever grown).  This year I am growing Big Boy, which is my favorite large slicing tomato but does have some problems with cracking.  Celebrity is my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE hybrid.  Medium sized with great flavor and not too much pulp.  My wife loves to make tomato sauce and paste.  Because of this we always grow heirloom “La Roma”.  I am trying a new heirloom variety this year called “Stupice”.  Supposedly this small, flavorful tomato originated in the Czech Republic.  I am growing it because my wife is Czech and because it is supposed to be a very productive and great tasting small tomato.  Finally, I planted “Black From Tula”.  This is my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE heirloom tomato.  I love it’s rich, complex and somehow smokey flavor.  While it is an heirloom that makes a HUGE bush, it produces fairly well for me.

To control blossom end rot, heavily mulch your tomatoes and water regularly.  Blossom end rot is caused by uneven moisture affecting the plants ability to take up and use calcium.  I don’t care what Facebook says, adding your wife’s calcium tablets to your planting holes will not stop end rot.  The calcium in those pills is not available to the plant.  Even if it was available, uneven watering would still prevent the plant from taking it up.  Learn to water properly.

yellow-iris

I love irises and I several that are blooming around around my yard.

Ornamentals

While I love growing ornamental plants in my landscape, my favorite thing is cutting their blooms and foliage to make arrangements for the inside of the house.  Things are finally beginning to bloom well enough to make fresh cuts.  This week I will be bringing in iris, roses, rosemary (for filler), dianthus, coral honeysuckle and onion blooms.  To keep your flowers producing fertilize with finished compost every couple of weeks.  If using blended fertilizer use those with good Phosphorous and Potassium.  These two nutrients encourage blooming and flower set.

Our front yard is truly beautiful right now.

Our front yard is truly beautiful right now.

Lawns

OK yardeners, it now time for you.  The general rule about fertilizer is “apply three weeks after the grass greens”.  For my Zone 9 yard this is now.  As a general rule use a 3-1-2 (15-5-10 or 21-7-14, etc.) fertilizer at the rate of one pound per thousand square feet about every eight weeks.  Set mowers to 3” for sunny yards and 3 ½” to 4” for shady yards.  The lower the setting the more frequently you will need to mow.  Water your lawns only when they show stress.  A good indicator is footprints.  If you walk through and the grass pops back up, don’t water.  If the foot prints remain then water the lawn to a depth of six inches.  Even in the hottest part of summer you can get by watering every five or six days.

Now back to those bluebonnets.  If you have them in your yard (and you want them next year) do not mow them until their foliage dies.  Also do not fertilize the area they are in.  Bluebonnets, and many other wildflowers, actually prefer marginal soil.  If you improve your soil too much the wildflowers will move someplace else.

I share my posts on the HomeAcre Hop.  Be sure to stop by the hop.  It has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Tip of the Week – Week 13 in the Zone 9 Garden

Finally!!!!  Great gardening weather is predicted for this weekend.  If you have been able to plant you should have things sprouting.  If you haven’t you really need to get those squash, cucumbers, beans and tomatoes in the ground.

chicken-in-garden

Right now aphids and other pests are beginning to hatch. While I despise them, I have a bigger, and much cuter pest problem to deal with

Vegetables

If you were lucky enough to get your seeds and plants in the ground you are already ahead of the game.  Once your little plants are past the cotyledon size you can begin to fertilize.  You can side dress with finished compost on a bi-weekly basis.  I love using compost in its dry form.  However, I believe in the early part of the growing season compost is most effective when used as a drench (compost tea).  There are a million different ways to make compost tea.  To me, the easiest way is add a shovel full of finished compost to a five gallon bucket and fill with water.  Also add a cup of molasses (to feed the microbes) and stir daily (or add an aerator to it) for a week to ten days.  Strain the finished mixture into your sprayer.  To apply, spray your plants weekly until the mixture begins to drip off of their leaves.

aphid-rose-2

Aphids are beginning to hatch and they will attack just about every plant in your garden. Some research shows that plants treated with compost tea actually repel these pests.

Now is the time to get serious about feeding your onions.  As the temperatures rise their growth will increase rapidly.  If you are growing your onions organically, top dress your rows with a high quality, high nitrogen compost (like manures) every month.  If you are fertilizing your onions top dress the soil with ½ cup of fertilizer (ammonium sulfate (21-0-0) for alkaline soils and calcium nitrate (15.5-0-0) for acidic soils ) for every ten feet of row.  Apply every month until you see the soil beginning to be pushed back by the bulb.

If you are like me you have a tendency to over plant.  Through the years I have learned this is a bad idea.  Plants that are too close together produce less and they produce later.  Plus, plants that are too close together are a magnet for all sorts of pests.  So, if you have already planted, get out there and thin your plantings.  If you are going to plant this weekend try and follow the recommended spacing listed on the seed packets.

aphids-leaf

Control aphids with a strong blast of water or horticultural oils like neem and orange.

Now let’s talk about pests.  If you have plants that are up, then you probably have aphids that are hatching just in time to feast on them.  I got a question about aphids on my Facebook page from Melinda Stanton.  Melinda asked if aphid eggs over winter in the soil.  Well, the answer is YES!!! Aphid eggs over winter in the litter around your plants. They are horrible little pests. If you can start spraying them now with a good blast of the hose it will help prevent them from getting out of control. I use a tool called the Mitey Fine mister to spray mine. If this doesn’t work I suggest trying Neem oil. Neem is an organic horticultural oil that coats them in oil and basically suffocates them. It is more expensive than water but seems to work very well. I use it on all of my plants that have an aphid or scale problem, even my crepe myrtles. Also, my buddy Bart Brechter (curator of gardens at Bayou Bend) swears by orange oil. Exact same concept as the neem but it smells a lot better!

Herbs

My wife loves fresh herbs.  She loves cooking with them and she uses them to make incredible teas. I like eating her cooking and drinking her teas but that is not why I love growing herbs.  Herbs are easy to grow and most are very ornamental.  I absolutely love walking through my garden and crushing a mint leaf or brushing up against my rosemary.  Right now is the perfect time to plant herbs.  Some of my favorites are spearmint, peppermint, lemon balm, rosemary, chives, basil,  thyme and oregano.  My ABSOLUTE fave is Mexican Mint Marigold.  This plant is almost bullet proof.  It takes heat and drought and resists pests.  Plus it makes a lovely little 18” tall rounded mound that gets covered in little yellow flowers in the fall.  It also has a great anise smell and taste.  I use this in many of my flower beds and I truly love it.

Ornamentals

COLOR is the word for the week.  Plant tons of marigolds now.  It is still not too late for seed but you will get faster blooms from transplants.  I also love petunias and the garden centers are full of them.  Those in the garden centers are all fine but they are all hybrids.  Why not try and get a start of the good old fashioned petunia.  It is a purple-y magenta and the blooms are smaller.  However, it is a good reseeder. If you can find this variety and get it going you will have it forever.

poppies-potager

Poppies are my favorite spring flower. Here are some of my red singles in the potager.

I share my posts on the HomeAcre Hop.  Be sure to stop by the hop.  It has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!