Spring Time is Weed Time!

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

tomato-transplants

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

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

Butter-cup

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

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

acetic-acid-weed-spray

Concentrated acetic acid is a great organic weed killer.

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

Sweet-green-fertilizer

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

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

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

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

Time to Plant the Spring Garden

Kentucky-wonder

This weekend is a great time to plant most beans from seed.

If you have not already planted your spring garden, this weekend is the perfect time to put out those transplants that you have been babying and also plant lots of other things from seed.  I have not planted yet so this will be a busy weekend for me.  I realize that many of you took advantage of the unusually warm “winter” weather we have been experiencing and planted a little early.  Great!  You took a chance and you will be rewarded with early harvests.

I did not plant early.  This is partly because I am not much of a gambler and partly because life got in the way again.  I have learned that life is a whole lot like the weather.  While you can prepare for the storms you don’t know when they will come.  Luckily this storm is going to pass with very little damage.  However, it did sideline my dreams of a large, magazine worthy spring garden.

st-pauls-christian-day-school

Take every chance you can to teach children about the miracle of gardening

I worked very hard this winter to get my dream garden ready.  I finally finished the granite walk path that runs from my deck all the way through my main gardens.  I also installed six water spigots that will eventually provide water to my drip irrigation system that will water twelve 35’ long rows.   Despite these valiant efforts, my dream garden will have to wait until the fall.   Oh well, such is life.  Sometimes things happen and gardens just don’t get planted on time.

Crimson-Glory-Rose

Even though this is a busy time in the garden, take time to smell the roses!

In the space I have available in my plain, old, six row, crowed garden, I will plant cucumbers and contender bush beans from seed and Tomato and squash transplants.  If you are new to gardening know that there are many, many things that can be planted now (check out Patty Leander’s planting guide here).  While I will be growing contender bush beans you can plant all types of bush and vine beans.  You can also plant Southern Peas like Purple Hulls, Creamers and Crowders.  If beans are not your thing you can plant sweet potatoes from slips or from potato pieces just like you do your Irish potatoes.  In my opinion it is a little early for melon and gourds but I have some growing out of my compost pile so nature apparently says plant them now too.  Got a taste for hot, buttered sweet corn straight form the garden?  Plant it now.  It is also a great time to plant pumpkins.  I have 50/50 luck with pumpkins.  Sometimes they do well and sometimes bugs and fungus get to them before they get half grown.  My best pumpkins ever grew out of the compost pile on accident.  Because of this, I am truly going to throw some pumpkin seed in the compost pile and see what happens.

dr-william-welch-garden

Spring planting is not just about vegetables. Plant some petunias or phlox now to brighten up your beds

Even though I did not get the garden of my dreams this spring, I am thankful for the garden I have.  I have come to realize that it is not what, or how much, I grow that really matters.  What really matters is being outside tilling the soil, pulling weeds, watering transplants, checking the poppies and larkspur to try and figure out when they are going to bloom, enjoying the bluebonnets or watching the first martins of the year return to their house.  Maybe this is why my garden expansion didn’t happen.  I just didn’t get to it.  When I am outside I am truly inspired, and often distracted, by the glory of the world that surrounds me.  And that’s ok.  While life happens, like nature, it is mostly a beautiful thing.   When I am in my garden I am surrounded by, and reminded of, the blessings of my own life and the majesty of my creator’s greatest creation.

texas-redbud

Even though they are fading now, redbuds are one of the reasons I love being outside this time of year.

So tomorrow, when you are out there weeding, tilling and planting be sure to take time to enjoy this most beautiful time of the year.  Before you pull that dandelion, notice what a delicate, beautiful and perfectly designed flower it is. Enjoy the song of the mockingbird that is trying to lure a girlfriend into his nest and revel in the sight and smell of the beautiful roses that are blooming early this year.  For a long time now, I have realized that the act of gardening is much more than the art of growing food.  While all of your efforts will fill your stomach, it is still times between all of the activity that will feed your soul.

Happy Spring y’ all and happy gardening!

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!

Fixer Upper

Tomorrow night at 8:00 pm CST, the television show Fixer Upper will air it’s season finale.  Be sure and watch because the house that they will reveal is the absolute most fabulous house they have ever done.  You may be wondering why I know this information.  Well, I know about this incredible little house because it belongs to my daughter and her husband!  So thrilled that these outstanding young adults had the opportunity to be a part of the wonderful things Chip and Joanna Gaines are doing for Waco!  Sorry I can’t show any more pictures until after the show airs.  However, here is a shot to perk your interest from JoJo’s Intagram account.

NOTE:  Now that the show has aired we can show the pictures.  Click here to see the entire gallery on Fixer Upper’s HGTV page.

fixer-upper-shotgun-house

My daughter’s house is the finale for season 3 of Fixer Upper!!!

 

 

A Garden Visit with Bill Adams by Patty G. Leander

bill-adams

Tomato aficionado Bill Adams, horticulturist•educator•author

Tomatoes rule the spring season and with that in mind Jay and I decided to visit with tomato guru Bill Adams in our second feature on Lone Star gardeners.

bill-adams-books

Bill’s books are excellent reads, both informative and entertaining

After all, Bill is the author of several garden-related books, including “The Texas Tomato Lovers Handbook” (2011), and he has been growing, testing and tasting tomatoes well over 40 years, much of it in the official capacity as the A&M Extension Horticulturist for Harris County. Together with friend, collaborator and former Extension colleague Tom LeRoy, Bill has solved thousands of horticulture dilemmas and taught a multitude of aspiring gardeners the commonsense approach to growing vegetables.

bill-adams-tomatoes

Tomatoes at every turn

A visit to Bill’s vegetable garden is nothing less than exhilarating. He is a walking, talking horticultural encyclopedia and shares unexpected nuggets of knowledge at every turn. Last year he grew over 40 varieties of tomatoes, evaluating each one for flavor, texture and overall quality. He is frank and honest in his assessment, the winners get his seal of approval and the duds get panned.

tomato-varieties

A sampling of fruit I brought home after a visit to Bill’s tomato paradise. He marks the “ugly side” with a marker to keep track of varieties, and then he can photograph the good side.

Bill has staying power, too. Even after retirement he remains active in the Garden Writer’s Association and continues to educate and entertain gardeners at nursery talks, garden events and conferences. He and Tom will be giving their annual Spring Vegetable Class at Arbor Gate Nursery on March 5.

arbor-gate-tomato-tasting

Judging tomatoes at Arbor Gate’s annual tomato contest

Bill will also be judging tomatoes at three different events this season: May 21, 10:00 AM at Enchanted Forest in Richmond, May 21, 2:00 PM at Enchanted Gardens in Richmond, and June 11, 10:00 AM at Arbor Gate in Tomball. Bring your tastiest tomatoes and go for the gold!

For a rundown of Bill’s winners and losers from his 2015 tomato trials visit: http://arborgate.com/blog/tried-and-true-in-2016/

Name:  William D. (Bill) Adams

Location:  South Central Texas—near Burton

bill-adams-kitchen-garden

The Adams kitchen garden

Years gardening in this garden:  Ten

Favorite thing to grow:  Tomatoes

Marianna's-Peace

‘Marianna’s Peace’ – according to Bill it’s so good you’ll want to lick the juice off the plate

Best growing tip:  Organic matter, especially compost, must be constantly on your agenda—“The gardener with the most compost wins”.

Best pest control tip:  Try to be in the garden every day and know your pests.  Use cultural techniques and low-toxicity pesticides to win the battle.  In my experience planting twice as much as needed so the pests can have their half doesn’t work—they know the best tasting varieties and they will sample it ALL.

Best weed control tip:  Use a combination of newspapers, cardboard, whatever to suppress the weeds and cover it with mulch to keep the paper from blowing away.  Wet the paper first to keep it in place while you go for mulch.

Biggest challenge:  Finding the best tasting varieties.

top-tomato-varieties-2015

A trio of good looking tomatoes from the 2015 season: ‘Red Mountain’, ‘Cherokee Purple’, ‘Caiman’

 

Favorite soil amendment:  Mushroom compost-about 14 cubic yards per season in our garden. (this translates to approximately 12 inches of compost on the vegetable rows and 6-8 inches around the orchard trees)

bill-adams-compost

The gardener with the most compost wins!

Preserving the harvest: We can and freeze tomatoes and hot sauce; make wonderful Bread and Butter pickles….and we have a good record of using them. Froze a bunch of leeks several years ago and they’re about ready for the compost pile—sometimes we lose track.

Favorite advice:  Garden for fun but garden like you mean it.  I’m a fanatic about organic matter but I’m not an organic gardener.  I grow a lot of crops that are never sprayed, I use organic and soluble fertilizers, low-toxicity pesticides-only when needed and I’m in the garden virtually every day.  If a crop is worth saving (the critters/diseases haven’t already done too much damage), and the pests can be controlled with a registered pesticide (organic or low-toxicity chemical) I win!

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!

Tomato Tips From a Commercial Grower

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

Magnolia-Hill-Farm-Sign

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fish&Poop

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

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

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

fabric-mulch

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

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

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

Nathan-Hanath

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

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

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

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

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

Planning the Spring Garden by Patty G. Leander

We are well into the second month of the new year and I am loving the mild winter weather we are experiencing here in Central Texas. It is perfect for the gardener – sort of makes up for all the gardening we must do in the mosquito-infested heat that often starts in late spring and lasts till early winter!

Kale-collards-mustard greens

A bed of brassicas – kale, mustard and collards – almost too pretty to pick

The spring gardening season will be here soon and I am giddy with anticipation, itching to plant and obsessed with the weather forecast. January is normally our coldest month of the year yet it has come and gone and now February, a month that can bring snow and sleet and 80°F days, even in the same week, is halfway over…and my winter coat still hangs at the ready, unworn.

soil-thermometer

Gauge planting time by soil temperature rather than air temperature.

The current 14 day forecast for Central Texas shows a string of 60-80F° days with nights in the 40s and 50s. The weather screams, “It’s warm and sunny, come outside, plant some seeds!” But at this time of year soil temperature is a better gauge of when to plant than air temperature. Direct-seeded beans, cucumbers, squash and other warm-season vegetables have their best chance at germination when soil is consistently above 60°F, which usually doesn’t happen around here until early March. If planted now the seeds would likely rot or suffer multiple setbacks as they struggle to get a start in cool soil. And despite the gorgeous weather we could still get a freeze – if you have lived here long enough you know that Easter tends to be a magnet for freezing weather.

vegetables-in-containers

Colorful pottery and fabric pots are suitable containers for vegetables.

Planting too much or too early is a perennial conundrum in spring and it’s best to follow the forecast, monitor the soil temperature and have a plan that takes into account the space available in your garden and how long it takes a crop to reach maturity. Right now the soil in my garden hovers around 45-60°, an acceptable temperature for cool season plants like carrots, beets or broccoli. But those plants take 60-65 days to reach maturity and if planted now they will be taking up valuable space when the time comes for warm season planting next month.

container-vegetables

Lettuce and mesclun mixes grow happily in containers, large or small.

As we transition into spring I always wish I had more garden, but one way to extend the cool season harvest without taking up room in the vegetable garden is to grow in containers. I’ve grown lettuce, beets, radishes, carrots, broccoli and more in large clay pots, fabric grow bags and steel tubs. And at this time of year containers are less likely to dry out as they tend to do later in the season.

interplanting-beans

An excellent example of interplanting from a past season in the Children’s Vegetable Garden located at the San Antonio Botanical Garden. Broccoli and cabbage, planted 6 weeks before tomatoes, beans and squash, are ready for harvest, leaving more space for the remaining crops.

Another approach to squeezing in more is to plant quick-growing, cool season crops along the edge of a bed or in the area between future plantings of warm-season vegetables with larger space requirements. Mark the spot reserved for larger plants, such as tomatoes or squash, then plant beets, Asian greens, turnips, Swiss chard, cabbage or broccoli in the area between the markers. These plants will be ready to harvest before the tomatoes or squash take over. Commonly known as interplanting, this technique will help optimize space in the garden. It also increases diversity, confuses detrimental pests and attracts beneficials.

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

President’s Day Potatoes

Last weekend I met Chris Corby (Owner of Texas Gardener Magazine) and Patty Leander (co-blogger and staff writer for Texas Gardener Magazine) in Waco for a little writer’s workshop.  As often happens with Texas Gardeners that are eating Thai food together (instead of gardening) on a beautiful January Saturday, we began to discuss whether or not to trust the weather and do some early planting.  Now we certainly know better.  I don’t care that the groundhog didn’t see his shadow, we have all lived here long enough to know that nothing guarantees a late season freeze better than planting an early spring garden.  Regardless, this warm winter weather has given all three of us a bad case of the itch that often occurs once one has been bitten by the gardening bug.  While we agreed we would wait for the middle of March to do the majority of our planting, we began to talk about the one thing that needs to be planted in the February garden – potatoes!

planting-potatoes-1

It is time to plant potatoes! I grow mostly Red La Soda and Kennebec. However, there is a huge number of varieties that do great for us in Texas

There is an old Southern saying that says you should plant potatoes on President’s Day (in Zones 8A through 9B).  President’s Day falls on Feb. 15 this year so if you are going to rely on the potato to give you a reason to get outside and do some early gardening you need to hurry.  You have less than two weeks left to buy your seed potatoes, get them cut up, scabbed over and planted.

February is not the only time you can plant potatoes in Texas. Save some of your harvest this year and try them in the fall.

February is not the only time you can plant potatoes in Texas. Save some of your harvest this year and try them in the fall.

There is no doubt that President’s Day is a great time to plant potatoes in most of Texas and the Gulf South.  However, after years of growing potatoes I would like to point out that the President’s Day saying is not, in my opinion, completely accurate.  It has been my experience that the saying would be a little more accurate if it said something like “President’s Day is the LAST day to plant your potatoes”.  Potatoes are very hardy plants and they will grow and produce in all but the hottest of months.  If you plant on President’s Day you can be relatively certain that your plants will have time to grow, bloom and produce spuds before our hot weather kicks in.   However, that is not the only time you can, or should plant potatoes in Texas.

fall-potatoes

I planted these Red La Soda and Kennebecs in September of of 2013. I harvested them in February of 2014. As you see I had enough to eat and enough to plant again for my May harvest

The only thing that potatoes will not tolerate is high heat.  Because of that, they will do absolutely nothing in the Texas garden from late June to mid-September. However, once temperatures begin to fall in late September, you can begin planting potatoes. Thanks to their cold hardiness, potatoes can survive most of the freezes we get in the Gulf South.  If you are willing and able to give your potatoes a little TLC, you can plant your potatoes as early as September (for a winter harvest) and as late as President’s Day (for a spring harvest).  Plant potatoes in mid to late September and you can expect a decent harvest in December (as long as you are willing to cover them during cold snaps below 28 degrees).  If you plant potatoes in December, in an area that is protected from the north wind (and you can cover them in a hard freeze), they will be ready for harvest before President’s Day (read about my friends at Boggy Creek in Austin harvesting potatoes right now).  Growing potatoes this way will allow you to produce up to three potato harvests per year.

potato-containers

Each year Patty Leander loves to experiment with new varieties of potatoes. She is also a big proponent of growing them in containers.

If you have never grown potatoes I highly recommend trying them.  You can grow them successfully in long wide beds (click here to see how I grow mine) or you can grow them just as well in containers on your back porch (click here to read Patty’s awesome article on container grown potatoes).  Through the years I have learned to really appreciate the humble potato.  They truly are one of the most adaptable, and easy to grow vegetables available.  While planting on President’s Day is a good rule of thumb, don’t let it stop you from trying to grow potatoes at different times of the year.  This year, why not save some of your February planted potatoes for replanting in late fall and early winter?  With a little management and just a little extra care you can produce up to three potato harvests per year.

harvesting-container-grown-potatoes

Growing potatoes in containers is fun and easy. Plus harvesting them is a snap!

 

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

A Garden Visit With Harry Cabluck

I love this sign that Harry has hanging in the back of his garden

I love this sign that Harry has hanging in the back of his garden

Over the next twelve months we will be visiting with 12 gardeners from all over Texas.  They will be sharing some of the knowledge that allows them to garden successfully in our beloved, but climatically challenging state. I have a masters degree in horticulture and I have gardened for years.  However, most of my gardening knowledge came from visits with other gardeners.   I hope these monthly visits will provide you, and me, with a few tips and tricks that will help us all become better gardeners.

Patty and I visited harry Cabluck and his incredibly well done garden earlier this month. We were blown away by how well down it was. Always humble, Harry gives much of the credit for his garden infrastructure to his good friend Tom Lupton.

Patty and I visited Harry Cabluck and his incredibly well done garden earlier this month. We were blown away by how well done it was. Always humble, Harry gives much of the credit for his garden infrastructure to his good friend Tom Lupton.

Our first gardener is Harry Cabluck.  Harry gardens in the back yard of his central Austin home.  While his garden is not the biggest I have ever seen, it is one of the neatest and most well managed gardens that I have ever been in.  Harry was gardening organically long before it was “cool”.  He collects rainwater for irrigation, makes tons of compost, has the nicest cold frame I have ever seen and grows tomatoes from seeds (click here to read how Harry grows his tomato transplants) and then grafts them onto other tomatoes that he has grown from seed.

Garbage bags over tomato plants Thursday, March 19, 2015, in Austin, Texas. ( Photo/Harry Cabluck)

Garbage bags over tomato plants Thursday, March 19, 2015, in Austin, Texas. ( Photo/Harry Cabluck)

tomato-cage-cover

Harry uses a piece of string and a rubber band to quickly and effectively secure his garbage covers to his tomato cages

Harry gives his beloved tomatoes a head start by growing them in an ingenious cage method that he developed.  As early in March as he can, Harry plants the tomatoes he started in January in his neatly bordered beds that are extremely well worked with compost.  He then takes a 55 gallon trash can liner, splits the end and bunches it around the tomato plant.  Then he uses his heavy duty cages to anchor the the trash bag in place.  To keep his trash bag liner secured to his cage he uses an ingenious string and rubber band fastener that is incredibly effective and easy to use.  With bags in place he is able to easily pull the bags up over his frame at the earliest sign of cold weather, high winds or heavy rain.  I was so impressed with this cage method that I seriously considered changing the way I grow tomatoes!  Now let’s hear more from Harry:

Cabluck garden on Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in Austin, Texas. ( Photo/Harry Cabluck)

Cabluck garden on Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in Austin, Texas. ( Photo/Harry Cabluck)

Name: Harry Cabluck

Location: Central Austin.  **City garden of three 100-sq. ft. raised beds.  We rotate a plot holding 12-15 tomato plants a year.

organic-garden-austin

(Photo/Harry Cabluck)

Years gardening: 43+.  First gardened as a child in late 1940’s.  My mother had a green thumb and a source for manure, as her father was a dairy farmer.  As an adult we have had small plots in Dallas and larger plots in Pittsburgh, Pa., and Columbus, Ohio.  We made good use of our Troy-Bilt 6 hp rototiller.  Often improved the soil in these gardens by importing soil, manure and/or spoiled hay.

Years in this plot: 20.   **Our backyard was once the corral area for a nearby home.  When we moved in it was black gumbo clay that would hold ankle-deep water for a few days after each rain. De-ionized the soil with gypsum. Built multiple compost piles 20-feet long before starting to plant in 1995.

tomato-transplants

Tomatoes under lights Sunday, March 2, 2014, in Austin, Texas. ( Photo/Harry Cabluck)

Favorite crop: Tomatoes.  Usually start 60 seeds in trays under lights in the garage in January.  This is the first year to use LED’s instead of T-5 or fluorescent lights. Hope to yield 36 heirloom/hybrids along with 18 rootstock for grafting.  After starts in trays become root bound, transplant to four-inch pots.  Some 12-15 pots stay under lights, the remaining pots are moved to the cold frame.  Sometimes need to run an extension cord and heating pad to cold frame.  Usually give away the tomato plants that are not planted in our garden.  Crop rotation includes basil, green beans, arugula, spinach, marigolds.  January crops include greens, carrots, elephant garlic, shallots, gumbo onions.  Would like to attempt parsnips.  Have never had good luck with sweet peas.

Best tips:  Make good garden dirt.

Compost!!!  This year’s compost pile of ground leaves, mixed with kitchen scraps, cottonseed meal, bat guano and molasses, seems to be the best ever.  In previous years used cooked barley malt (byproduct of brewery) mixed with coffee chaff (byproduct of air roasting).  That stuff needed to be turned at least once daily, as it would putrefy.

compost-bin

Harry composts directly in his beds

Although not necessary, we get great results using our cold frame and 800-gallon rainwater catchment.  A two-inch rain on our 20X20-foot garage roof will fill the tank.  It is usually empty around July 4.

Make use of store-bought soil for seed-starting and transplanting. Happy Frog brand seems best.  Don’t waste time and money on cheap tomato cages. Read Bill Adams’, “Texas Tomato Lover’s Handbook.”

Garden-Cold-Frame

Cold frame in Cabluck back yard garden Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Austin, Texas. ( Photo/Harry Cabluck)

Pest control:  Havahart traps for varmints.  For bugs, mix a one-gallon cocktail containing 50-squirts Tabasco, one ounce of liquid seaweed, one ounce molasses, one ounce fish emulsion, dash of dishwashing liquid…when necessary add BT.  I love my Hudson sprayer.

Weed control: We control weeds by cultivating and mulching regularly.  **Best stuff seems to be wood chips. Long-tined rake, six-inches wide, four tines.

Biggest challenge: Thwarting the squirrels and leaf-footed bugs.  **Would like to have a moveable pergola, because a hoop house is always a challenge to erect and doesn’t look good.

Favorite amendment: Cottonseed meal AND anything with trace elements…especially glauconite, WHICH seems to help blossoms set fruit in heat and cold.

Do we preserve:  No.   **Not large enough garden, small yields.

Favorite advice:  Have a good friend who has great ideas.   ***Thanks to Tom Lupton.

What would you like to do better?  Would like to learn more about tomato biology. How to ensure more tomato blossoming and fruit set and how to improve brix.

Gardening in a Galaxy Far, Far Away by Patty G. Leander

We began the New Year with three exciting events in our family – our oldest daughter completed her firefighter training, our Red Raider niece married a handsome red-headed Aggie and we took my awesome in-laws (ages 86 and 90) to see ‘Star Wars: A Force Awakens’.

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Proud of our courageous firefighter (and valedictorian)!

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Bruce practicing his photo bomb technique on our niece’s beautiful wedding cake.

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Grammy and Grampy Leander (he’ll be 91 next month) learning to take a selfie at the wedding reception – how cool is that?

During the movie, both my husband and my daughter looked over and nudged me. I get nudged a lot in reference to the vegetables I grow in my garden and I hope I won’t be giving much away if I tell you that cauliflower makes an appearance in the Star Wars Galaxy!

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Galactic Gardening – apparently this Romanesco cauliflower grows in other galaxies

You can grow Romanesco cauliflower in your earth-bound garden and January is a good time to set out transplants – if you can find them. You can also grow your own transplants but you’d have to start right away because this galactic brassica does not like the heat. It takes 5-6 weeks to grow a good sized transplant, then another 6-8 weeks to reach a harvestable size. That puts us well into April. If you live in North Texas or beyond you may be able to get away with this, but gardeners in Central and South Texas are better off waiting until next fall to give this one a go. If planted too late in spring the warm weather may cause it to bolt before it has a chance to reach maturity.

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A striking Romanesco cauliflower ready for harvest

Put this unique but easy-to-grow cauliflower on your list for fall 2016. Open-pollinated, heirloom seeds are available from Baker Creek (www.rareseeds.com), Sustainable Seed Company (www.sutainableseedco.com) and Seed Savers Exchange (www.seedsavers.org). Or you can opt for a slightly earlier hybrid called ‘Veronica’, available from Johnny’s Seeds (www.johnnyseeds.com) or High Mowing Seeds (www.highmowingseeds.com). And if you or your kids are really into Star Wars, give ‘Skywalker’ cauliflower a try. A hybrid variety noted for bright white, dense heads and cold tolerance; it is well-suited for fall cultivation. Seeds are available from Johnny’s and High Mowing.

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Bolting Romanesco – not a pretty sight but still edible

 

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

Garden Resolutions

Happy Belated New Year !  I hope your holidays were joyous and relaxing.  While not exactly relaxing, our holidays were most definitely joyful!  Sally and I spent a whole week on Orcas Island in Washington State.  We were there to meet the newest member of our family.  Our youngest daughter gave birth to our second grandson.  What a joy to visit with her and welcome Bernard to our ever expanding family.family

Did you make any gardening resolutions? Personally, I gave up on resolutions several years ago.  However, I still set goals.  I guess this is kind of like making resolutions.  However, thanks to some weird part of my brain, I seem to have less guilt when I fail to complete a goal than when I fail to accomplish my resolutions.

I have set lots of goals for 2016.  First, I want to figure out how to spend more time in my garden.  I will need to do this since I am doubling the size of my vegetable garden and adding a large butterfly/cut flower garden.  I also planted two 35’ foot rows of blackberries back in the summer and those will need tending.

If your daughter is going to live far, far away, pray that she lives in a beautiful place. This view of My. Baker is just steps from daughter's house.

If your daughter is going to live far, far away, pray that she lives in a beautiful place. This view of Mt. Baker is just steps from daughter’s house.

My next goal is to finish several unfinished landscaping projects.  I have decided that 2016 will be the year that I finally finish the granite walk paths that pass through the three rose arbors and connect all of my gardens together.  The walk paths were on hold so I could run water and electricity out to my vegetable garden.  I am proud to say this project was completed back in November.  While I am looking forward to finishing the walk paths, I am more excited about the six water spigots that I have added that  will allow me to install and use drip irrigation in my ever expanding vegetable garden.

My final goal is to do a better job documenting all of these changes on the blog.  In addition, Patty and I are going to introduce a new feature.  Each month we are going to visit with gardeners around the state and see what works, and what doesn’t, in their gardens.  Each time I visit with a gardener I pick up something that I can apply in my own garden.  I hope you will enjoy our visits and I hope you get some tips that will make you a better gardener too.

I was impressed with the number of vegetable gardens we saw on the island. Seems like everyone had one. This one was truly beautiful

I was impressed with the number of vegetable gardens we saw on the island. Seems like everyone had one. This one was truly beautiful

Last year was a great year for the blog (click here if you would like to see the “Year in Review” presentation from WordPress).  The “Weekly Tips” were incredibly well received.   While I am not going to continue this, I will continue to post a weekly tip on my Facebook page.  If you don’t already follow us on Facebook please check it out and give us a like.

Thank you all so much for continuing to follow us.  We are so humbled that you choose to get some of your gardening tips from our little website.  We work hard to provide information that is relevant, useful and (hopefully) entertaining.  If there is anything that you would like to have featured or discussed on the blog do not hesitate to send us an e-mail or leave us a comment.  Happy New Year!