Our First Grand Chick

This past Sunday, Sally and I became grandparents – in a manner of speaking.  Our favorite hen, Chicken Little, hatched the first of what we were hoping would be a whole litter of baby chickens.  We started out with five fertilized eggs that we picked up from our friends at Yonder Way Farms in Fayeteville, Texas.   However, one precious little chick is all we got.

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Our precious little chick on the day she was hatched.

And that is just fine with us.  We really don’t need a lot of chickens at our house.  Our coop is not set up for more than six to eight birds.  In fact, this is why we waited so long to let one of our hens sit.  We didn’t want a crowded coop.

Sally and I decided to let Chicken Little sit for a couple of reasons.  First, she is the hen at the bottom of the pecking order.  It is hard for us to watch the constant pecking and pushing around that she is forced to endure.  We read on a blog that a batch of chicks had a way of bringing out the mother in all of the hens.  So, we are hoping that this little chick will make the other girls treat Chicken Little a whole lot better.  At the very least we are hoping it will prevent, or at least delay, the bad treatment that Chicken Little is forced to endure.

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Our baby is four days old and already getting pin feathers on her wings!

While Sally and I think Chicken Little is the sweetest, bestest hen of the bunch, she does have one little problem – she gets broody – A LOT.  In the past few months she has become broody four different times.  Each time this happened we were forced to quarantine her in a metal cage for a few days.  During that time she didn’t eat or drink much.  Plus it was just hard for us to watch.  So, since she is such a good girl –and she REALLY wanted to sit – we decided to let her.

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Chicken Little is such a good mother! Here, she and baby explore their world.

While we had hoped for a few more chicks, we are absolutely thrilled with our one little baby.  She truly is precious and Chicken Little is proving to be a great little mother.  Plus, the other hens really do seem to be impressed (and they are treating her a little better).  They keep coming up and looking at the baby.  When they get too close Chicken Little blows up her feathers and clucks and they politely walk off.  I truly hope that that this new baby raises her mom’s standing in the flock!

BTW, this post has been shared on The HomeAcre Hop and the Homestead Barn Hop #173.  Be sure to check them out.  They are full of great posts from homesteaders across the web.

Harvesting Grapes at Paradox House Vineyards

If you drop by our house on most evenings, you will find Sally and I sitting in the backyard sipping a nice glass of wine and feeding blueberries to our chickens.  Sally and I really enjoy our evening glass of wine.  In fact, my love of drinking wine inspired me to learn to make mustang grape wine.  While we really enjoy making our homemade wine, it just doesn’t taste like the wine we are willing to pay for.  Our mustang grape wine making experience made us wonder if we could learn to make wine that tasted a little less like cough syrup and whole lot more like the “store bought” wine that we really enjoy.

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These Blanc du Bois grapes will soon be turned into a fine Texas white wine.

Thanks to a chance meeting, Sally and I recently had the opportunity to learn how to make good wine.  We volunteered to help Doug and Linda Rowlett of Paradox House Vineyard harvest their white grape (Blanc Du Bois) crop.  Paradox House is a small, family owned vineyard in Industry, Texas.  When harvest time comes, they rely on a small army of volunteers to get their crop to market.  In exchange for a morning of hot, sweaty labor the Rowlett’s provide the volunteer’s an absolutely fabulous meal, free wine made at the vineyard (which was excellent), access to several dedicated hobby wine makers and the opportunity to help Doug and Linda make 200 gallons of really good wine.

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Paradox House Vineyards relies an an army of volunteers to bring in their crop.

Sally and I had so much fun harvesting these white grapes.  While it was hot, we really enjoyed the work and visiting with all of the seasoned volunteers.  Since I do not know that much about grapes or the wine industry, the horticulturist in me truly enjoyed everything about the day.  I learned a lot, made new friends, ate well, sampled a variety of great wines and learned how to make “store bought” wine.  What more could you ask for?

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People aren’t the only ones that like these grapes. The little purple grapes have been damaged by birds.

The Rowlett’s grow two main crops – white Blanc Du Bois and red Lenoir (also known as Black Spanish).  They sell their grapes to some of the top wine makers in our great state.  If you would like to help them harvest grapes (and learn how to make wine) you are in luck.  They Rowlett’s will be harvesting their Lenoir grapes this weekend.  If you are looking for a fun and unusual way to spend your Saturday, use the contact info at the bottom of this post to contact them (you must contact them before you show up).  They will appreciate it and I promise you will have a great time!  Families are welcome so load up the car with kids, cousins and friends.  The more the merrier!  Just be sure and dress appropriately.  Grape production is Texas agriculture. Please wear close toed shoes and dress for the heat!

Doug and Linda Rowlett
paradoxhouse@gmail.com
Paradox House Vineyard, Inc.
8544 Bermuda
Industry, TX 78944
281-435-7227
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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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. “

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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!

Purple Bindweed – The Thorn in My Side

In II Corinthians, Paul talks about enduring a “thorn in his side”.  While no one knows exactly what the thorn was, most agree that God gave it to Paul so that, despite his many blessings, he would not become too prideful in his faith.  That story comforts me because each year the Lord “blesses” me with some new gardening “thorn” that keeps me humble about my garden and my gardening abilities.  This year, my thorn came in the form of a beautiful (but noxious) vining plant called purple bindweed!  While the flowers of this noxious weed are truly beautiful, that beauty does not make up for the overall nastiness of this weed.

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The flowers of purple bindweed are definitely beautiful

Purple bindweed is a native Texas morning glory.  It is also an aggressive vining plant that will literally grow over anything in its path.  One plant can send out trailing, twisting vines that stretch out over 15 feet.  While I have to admit, when those vines cover a fence and explode with flowers, the effect is very beautiful.  However, when they creep up your sugar cane or get twisted in with cucumbers and cantaloupes, the effect is not so nice.

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Purple bindweed is a native Texas morning glory.

Even though this plant is literally driving me crazy, I have to admire its shear survivability.  Each plant can produce 500 or more seeds.  The seeds have a very thick seed coat that can lay dormant in the soil for 20 years (some say 50 years or more).  The plant develops an extensive root system that can grow 10 feet or more into the soil.  Because of this, you can pull it, dig it or plow it and it will still come back.  In fact, research shows that a 2” piece of root can produce a new plant.  In addition, all of those deep roots make this plant very drought resistant.

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The twisting vines of purple bindweed will be covered in its lovely, lavender blooms.

All of the survival traits that the plant has developed make it very hard to control organically.  The only real option you have is frequent pulling or smothering.  If you decide to pull, realize that you will need to pull every shoot that pops up every three weeks or so for the next three years!  If you want to try and smother it you are going to need to use something like a large sheet of plywood or hardi-plank and you are going to have to leave it in place for years.  However, since the seeds can remain dormant for years, smothering and pulling is really only going to slow down the spread of this weed.

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The vines of bindweed will wrap around anything-even its own vines!

The only way to effectively kill bindweed is with an herbicide.  Even though I do not personally like chemicals, the reality is that some weeds will never be fully contained with organic methods.  If you don’t mind spraying chemicals try Glyphosate (Round Up) or Tripcloyr (Remedy).  Both work well against bindweed.  For the best effect, many recommend mixing up a combination of both Glyphosate (2-3%) and Remedy / Triclopyr (0.25%).   These chemicals will definitely kill the bindweed if you spray it while the plant is actively growing.  For bindweed, the absolute best time to spray is when it is blooming.  NOTE:  These chemicals will definitely kill the bindweed.  Unfortunately they will also kill just about everything else that is actively growing.  Be careful to avoid overspray when applying this (or any) herbicide.  Also, apply just enough herbicide to wet the leaves.  There is no need to soak the plant. There is also no benefit to mixing them in higher concentrations than are listed on the label.

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Even though this plant is driving me crazy, it does attract hummingbirds and other pollinators

The purple bindweed is beginning to bloom at my house.  This means that despite my best organic control efforts, it has beaten me.  This “thorn in my side” is one of just a few plants that have made me question my commitment to organic control methods.  Thank goodness I have St. Paul for inspiration.  Although his “thorn” tormented him his whole life he persevered; and so will I.  However, I have to admit, when I am out there pulling this weed in the Texas heat the thought of spraying it with an herbicide is very tempting!

My Best Peaches Ever (and how they got that way)

I am finishing up the last of the best peaches I have ever grown.  While this year’s harvest was not the largest I have ever grown numerically, the individual peaches were the biggest and sweetest that have ever come off of my tree.

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Pinching half of the buds from your peach tree will yield bigger peaches next summer. Photo courtsey of Dr. David Byrne -Texas A&M

I wish I could say that I did something to produce these wonderful peaches.  My unusually large peaches were the result of a bit of bad luck that that kind of turned out to be a blessing in disguise.   On March 3 we got a very bad late season freeze.  When it hit, the redbuds, plums and peaches were in full bloom.  When the ice thawed, my beautiful redbuds looked horrible and all of the flowers were gone from my fruit trees.  I was sure this freeze would ensure that I would harvest exactly zero peaches and plums this summer.

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Two of my favorite things–fresh, home grown peaches and Texas Ware bowls!

While my prediction turned out to be correct for the plums, the peaches surprised me.  A couple of weeks after the freeze I noticed little peaches beginning to form.  Over the next few weeks, the peaches that survived the freeze turned into HUGE peaches.  Now I don’t mean that my peaches were super huge, but they were much larger than they had ever been in the past.

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I love peeling the skins off of peaches after they have been blanched. So fun to squeeze the peach and see it literally jump out of its skin!

Turns out, the freeze actually did me a favor.  While researching my next Texas Gardener article about new white peaches from Texas A&M, I discovered that commercial producers routinely remove (pinch) up to half the buds on each of their trees.  This bud removal allows their trees to produce BIGGER PEACHES!

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Diced peaches in another Texas Ware bowl ready for canning.

When I read this, I understood why my peaches were so big and so good.  The freeze “pinched” my buds for me.  Until now I did not know that this was something that you needed to do.  However, after seeing the results first hand, it is a garden chore that I will now be sure to do every year!

Right now I only have one producing peach tree.  It was literally the first thing I planted when Sally and I bought our little place in Brenham.  Since Sally and I are empty nesters, this one tree produces enough for us to enjoy fresh and also make lots of preserves.  This year, once we ate all we could, she made 24 jars of peach preserves.  If you would like to make your own peach preserves here is a great post with video from the Georgia Peach Council.  Enjoy!

 

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I am lucky to be married to one of the cutest “canners” in the world!

 

Farm to Market Flowers

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Debbie Thornton is one of a growing number of people in this country that are doing something I think is very important.  Debbie is the owner of Farm to Market Flowers (FM Flowers) and she is sustainably growing fresh cut … Continue reading 

Vitex-TheTexas Lilac (Vitex agnus-castus)

It has now been a whole month since I finished my horticulture degree at A&M.  In that time I have had three people approach me to do landscapes for them (it is interesting to me that people think all horticulturists are landscapers).  One horseman wants me to landscape his two entry gates, my family cemetery wants me to landscape their entrance and another person wants an “LSU Garden” in their yard.  While all three of these projects are very different, all three will feature a very lovely and durable plant – Vitex (Vitex agnus-castus).

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The 12″ flower spike of the Vitex are beautiful and irresistible to butterflies and hummingbirds

Vitex is a small flowering tree that is, in my opinion, one of the best ornamental trees you can own. Its long, curvy, purple-blue flower spikes have earned the vitex the nickname of “The Texas Lilac”.    In addition to its beautiful flower spikes, this little tree can take the heat, endure the drought and is resistant to most pests.  It attracts butterflies and hummingbirds and deer do not like it.  With all it has going for it, this drought resistant tree really is a perfect choice for the Texas homeowner.

Vitex are typically grown as a multi trunked tree.  The multi-trunk look is achieved through pruning.  When grown as a tree they  grow to about 15 feet.  However, some varieties can get as tall as 35 feet.   If left alone from seed, the Vitex will grow into a lovely shrub that makes a stunning hedge that can, with regular deadheading, produce those long, lovely flower spikes throughout the summer.

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My Hyperion daylilies pair nicely with a Vitex I have left in a shrub form

You can find Vitex with pink flowers, mauve flowers and white flowers.  However, most of the Vitex sold in the trade have a purple-blue colored flower that is often called lilac.  The three most common varieties sold here in Texas include Shoal Creek, Montrose and Le Compte.  My friends at Tree Town USA are about to release a new, and as of yet unnamed, dark blue flowering variety.  Look for them this fall at all of the major nurseries or your local big box.

If you want to grow your own Vitex, plant it in the fall.  Like most trees, the cooler weather of fall will allow the plant to establish itself with much less water.  You can also plant it in the winter when it is dormant.  If you miss both of those opportunities you can still plant it in early spring.  Just remember though, the longer you wait, the more effort and water it will take to fully root.

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Since all of these lovely little flowers produce seeds, Vitex can be a bit invasive

While I do love this tree, it does have a couple of small problems.  First, each of those little flowers on those 12” flower stalks will produce a little seed.  Because of this it can be a bit invasive.  This is not a huge problem for the homeowner.  The weed eater and mower can easily control all of the volunteers that sprout in the yard.  However, if planted near a creek or tank, the plant can easily escape and create enough of a problem that it is currently listed as an invasive species on the Texas Invasives website (http://www.texasinvasives.org/plant_database/detail.php?symbol=VIAG).  You can control the spread of this plant by diligently deadheading each spent flower spike before the seeds develop.   The other little problem is allergies.  If you have a sensitivity to tree pollen you may want to avoid this tree.  All of those flowers produce pollen and many people claim to be allergic to it.

vitex-flowers-4As I drive around I notice more and more Vitex in yards, commercial landscapes and along the roads and highways of our great state.  I think this is great.  Vitex is a beautiful and versatile plant that blooms throughout the summer and thrives on average annual rainfall.  It is no wonder that the Texas Highway Department has added them to their list of preferred plants.  If this plant thrives along the hot and dry roadsides and medians of our great state, imagine how well it will perform for you in your yard!

Five Tips for Fabulous Homemade Bouquets

Those of you that read on a regular basis know that I love growing flowers just as much as I enjoy growing vegetables.  In fact, I don’t really separate the two in my mind.  Each year my gardens contain both edibles and ornamentals.  While I love watching my flowers grow and bloom, the thing that really excites me is cutting those flowers and turning them into homemade bouquets that I can share with my family and friends.

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This lovely arrangement is comprised of roses, yarrow, dill, mint and salvia — all from my garden

Now I will be the first to admit that I am NOT a talented floral designer.  However, my youngest daughter Whitney is and she loves sharing her tips for creating beautiful homemade floral arrangements with me.  Below are what I believe are her best tips to date.

Tip 1 – Floral arrangements don’t have to be made up of just flowers.  In fact, some of her favorite arrangements have no flowers in them at all in them.  Whitney loves to make homemade bouquets that incorporate branches, grasses and even vegetables.  She also loves using herbs as fillers.  Things like rosemary, thyme and basil add structure and scent to your arrangements.  Plus they last forever in the vase.  In fact, if you leave these herbs in the water long enough many of them will root!  In season, don’t forget to incorporate things from the garden like honeysuckle and fresh fruits and vegetables.

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This late season arrangement uses zinnias, love lies bleeding, wax myrtle foliage and a tatume’ squash!

Tip 2 – Forget the rules.  Don’t worry if the height of your arrangement is not one and a half times as tall as your vase.  In fact, you don’t even have to use a vase.  Don’t worry too much about color either.  While complimentary color schemes are nice, they are not necessary.  Just look around nature, you will see that just about every color is used and they all look fabulous together.  Also, do not be afraid to use just a single variety and color of flower in your arrangements.  Also, vases don’t have to be vases.  A cute container like an old tin can, teacup or sugar bowl can make a good arrangement great.  Whitney also likes to cut the top out of gourds, squash and pumpkins in season.

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I threw this together last month. Notice the weeds? The purple globes are thistle heads from our wildflower meadow.

Tip 3 – Add more flowers.  Your arrangements should be pleasing to the eye.  According to Whitney, most DIYers use too few flowers and not enough fillers in their arrangements.  As you build your arrangement step back several steps and look at it from every angle.  If you see spots that need a little something, add it!  Since you grew the flowers and fillers at home they are free – use them with abandon!

homemade-arrangement-5Tip 4 – If you want your fresh cut floral products to last as long as possible, cut them early in the morning and get them into cool, clean water ASAP.  When you cut, use sharp clippers and cut the stems on an angle and then drop them into a plastic or glass container.  Metal containers and fresh cut flowers do not play well together.  Also, change the water in your vase daily.

Tip 5 – Probably the best tip Whitney ever gave me was “If you can’t create –copy!”  Like I said, I am just not a talented designer.  However, I am a pretty good copier.  Pinterest and Google give us access to thousands of pictures of beautiful floral arrangements every day.  Look at these pictures.  Find things you like and then copy them!

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Cut flowers early in the morning to extend their vase life. Also change your water daily once they are arranged

I hope these tips give you the encouragement you need to get busy cutting and arranging your homegrown flowers!  Even though I don’t feel like I have a gift in this area I have learned that when using beautiful things it is hard to create something unattractive!