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.


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


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


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!

Planting Time – Finally!

This year I built a new vegetable garden.  I tilled up a 35’ X 20’ area next to my orchard and berry trellis.  Because of this, I was extremely excited.  I had grand plans for an early planting of mature tomatoes that I had grown from seed.  However, as we all know, if you get too excited about something in life, life is bound to throw you a curve.  My curve came in the form of bad weather.  In the past two weeks I have suffered through a hail storm and a late season freeze. However, in spite of all of these set backs, I finally got to plant most of my garden yesterday

You really have to love Craftsmen tools.  My Craftsman rear tine tiller set unused in my garage for the past three years.  This year, when I needed it, I added gas, pulled and started tilling.  Amazing!

You really have to love Craftsmen tools. My Craftsman rear tine tiller set unused in my garage for the past three years. This year, when I needed it, I added gas, pulled and started tilling. Amazing!

The hail storm that I mentioned literally pounded my etiolated tomatoes into the ground.  So, in order to have tomatoes this year I went to K&S Farm and Ranch Pet Center to buy my replacement plants. K&S is a family owned operation in Brenham that I frequent quite often.  When I say that K&S is family run, I mean family run.  Like Sally and I, Keith and Suzette Evans have a whole bunch of kids.  Every member of the Evans family has worked together to create a great little place to do business.  Through the years, we have enjoyed dealing with some of the nicest kids in Washington County (and the parents are really nice to deal with too).

Lemon Boy image from Homestead Nursery @ http://www.homesteadnurserywi.com/

Lemon Boy image from Homestead Nursery @ http://www.homesteadnurserywi.com/

Even though Keith and Suzette sell feed and pet supplies at K&S, they are really gardeners at heart.  Because of that, they keep a great selection of seeds (and grow them in their home garden) and sell a wide variety of transplants each season.  I bought a six pack of Early Girl, another of Lemon Boy and a couple of big Celebrity plants.  I also got a six pack of TAM jalapeños, a couple of yellow bells and four poblanos.

Mulching the rows of the "New" garden.  If you are going to garden in blackland soil, mulching the walk pathways is an absolute must!

Mulching the rows of the “New” garden. If you are going to garden in blackland soil, mulching the walk pathways is an absolute must!

I stayed out in the garden planting until almost 8:00 last night.  Thank God for daylight savings time.  In addition to the tomatoes and peppers I also planted contender bush beans and lima beans.  This weekend, barring bad weather, I will finish planting the “new” garden by adding cucumbers and corn. At least that’s the plan.  Who knows what else mother nature has planned for my 2013 spring garden!

Start your tillers!!!!

Even though you did not see it on the calendar, last weekend was the end of winter for the Zone 9 gardener.  Ok, I realize that by making that declaration in print I am probably dooming us to a late season freeze.  However, according to historical statistics, Feb. 15 marked the last day that we could realistically expect a freeze in Zone 9B.  Because of this I am now suffering from a severe case of garden fever.  Last weekend, to celebrate the end of winter, I planted 2 -33′ rows of potatoes (Yukon Gold, Kennebec, Red LaSoda).  I also cleaned out the potager in preparation of the flowers and herbs that will be planted there in the next few weeks.

Now is the perfect time to plant all barassicas like broccoli and cauliflower

Now is the perfect time to plant all barassicas like broccoli and cauliflower

Because of our mild climate, we can now plant everything but the most cold sensitive plants.  If you want to have fresh cole crops on your spring table (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts) you need to get them in the garden soon.  The blue leafed cole crops in the brassica family can be safely planted from transplant anytime between now and March 15.

It's not too late to plant root crops like carrots and beets from seed

It’s not too late to plant root crops like carrots and beets from seed

It is also a great time to put out seeds of lettuce, spinach, collards, chard, mustard greens, beets, turnips, radishes and carrots.  All of these are fast growers and they are very easy to grow from seed.  Since they prefer temps below 80, this is probably the last chance you have to grow them until next fall.

Wait until early March to plant your green beans

Wait until early March to plant your green beans

In the next couple of weeks I will be planting my green beans.  I grow “Contender” but there are several other varieties out there that do very well in our area (see Patty’s recommendations in the sidebar).  Green beans are a little cold sensitive so I always hedge my bets and plant them a little later (around March 1).

Now is the perfect time to plant asparagus and artichoke crowns

Now is the perfect time to plant asparagus and artichoke crowns

Late February into early March is also a great time to put out the two perrinial vegetables that do well in our area – asparagus and artichoke.  Both of these are grown from roots called “crowns”.  They take a little more work and a little more care than our single season vegetables, but they are well worth the effort.

A redbud in full bloom is a great reminder that spring really is here again

A redbud in full bloom is a great reminder that spring really is here again

The past two sunny weekends have induced in me a very bad case of gardening fever.  As I write this, every muscle in body aches from the gardening I forced it to endure last weekend.  And that’s fine!  My achy body means that winter is finally over and the 2013 gardening season has begun.  Gentlemen (and ladies), start your tillers!

Growing Beans

Right now I am eating green beans just about every night.  Which is fine by me because I love them.  Plus, my wife is a really good cook and she knows about 100 different ways to prepare them.  The beans I am eating now are a bush variety called “Contender”.   I grow Contender every year because it is a reliable bush that produces tons of flavorful, firm podded beans that are three to four inches long.

Contender Bush Beans are very productive and tasty green beans for your spring garden

Beans are a staple all over the world.  In places where meat is scarce or expensive, beans provide the protein needed for healthy bodies.  Because of their high nutritive value, people have been growing them for about as long as there have been people.  According to the National Gardening Association almost 40% of all gardeners in the U.S. grow beans.  There is good reason for that; they taste good and they are good for you.  Plus, they are good for your garden too.  All beans are legumes which means they have the ability (with the help of the bacteria rhizobia) to turn atmospheric nitrogen into a soil based plant soluble nitrogen that will improve your soil.  Because of this, beans are often grown as a rotational crop to replenish the nitrogen taken up by plants that are heavy nitrogen feeders.

I space my beans about 4" apart in a single trench

There are basically two kinds of “green beans” that we grow in our gardens; pole beans and bush beans.  Pole beans grow long vines and do best if supported on a fence or trellis.  They are very prolific and usually take the heat better than bush beans.  It is not uncommon for some varieties to continue producing in the Texas heat well into July.  Generally, pole beans are grown as “snap’ beans or dried beans.  While you can pick them young and use them as a green bean, many varieties must be “snapped” and have the “string” that holds the pod together removed before eating in this manner.  Bush beans on the other hand, are designed to be eaten pod and all.  Bush beans are generally planted a little earlier than pole beans and they stop producing once daytime temps are in the 90s and night time temps stay above 75.

The simple little flowers forming on your bush mean that you will have beans in about a week.

To grow bush beans simply place the seeds in well worked soil once it has warmed up to around 70 degrees.  I planted mine on March 31 and picked my first “mess” on May 20.  Beans should be spaced at about 4” to 6” and planted 1” deep.  Since my rows are 33′ long I dig a trench with my Cobrahead hand hoe, scatter and cover.  If you are planting smaller quantities you can quickly plant an area by scattering the seeds and then using your finger to  push them into the soil past the first joint on your index finger.  If conditions are right they should sprout in 3 to 4 days and grow into small bushes that are about 18″ tall.

Beans develop quickly and it is not uncommon to harvest your first beans 45 to 50 days after planting.  Since most bush beans are designed to be eaten pod and all it is best to harvest them before the beans begin to fill out.  The longer they stay on the vine the tougher the pod gets.  Also, many of the beans from bush varieties do not taste all that great.  So, to get the best green bean experience possible pick your beans when they are young.

My raised beds are 3' feet wide and 33' feet long. I plant tomatoes on the cattle panels in the back and bush beans in the front. The nitrogen fixing quality of the beans ensure that my tomatoes have plenty N available

Very few vegetables are as easy to grow as beans.  They do have a few pest issues that you need to watch for.  There are several beetles that love the foliage and a few more that will even drill into the pod and eat the beans.  A regular, weekly application of BT or neem oil will repel many of them.

Beans are an important source of protein all over the world.  They may have also been the reason you became a gardener.  Do you remember your first horticultural experiment?  I am willing to bet that it involved a bean, a paper towel and a Dixie cup.  Watching that little bean sprout was our first introduction to the mystery and miracle of life.  So, if you love growing things from seed, be sure and thank your first or second teacher and beans.  Both of them are probably more responsible for your love of growing things than you realize!

Planting the 2012 Spring Potager

March 15 is the ultimate go date in the Zone 9 garden.  At this point there is an almost 0% chance of a freeze.  Because of this you can now plant just about everything.  I have to admit, I am a little behind the curve this year.  The rain, while much needed and much appreciated, has seemed to come at times that have interfered with my time off.  Who would believe that after last’s year’s drought, I would be delayed in my planting by rain?

A "found" Cherokee rose that I propogated from cuttings now spills over the fence of my potager

As soon as it dries up a little, I am going to plant the potager.  I love selecting and designing with the plants that are going to go into the potager.  Each year I replant it gets a little easier.  I learn which plants do well and I also figure out their size and scale when mature.

A lot of my outside beds are now filled with perennials.  I have lots of salvia, roses and dianthus.  I also have lots of herbs like rosemary and Mexican Mint Marigold (Tagetes lucida).  There are also Egyptian Walking Onions, larkspur and hollyhocks.  The only thing that will need to be pulled this spring is the garlic.  In the open spaces in these outside beds I am going to plant several herbs.  On a recent visit to Texas Specialty Cut Flowers, my wife bought several varieties of peppers.  I have also grown some pimento peppers and Napoleon Sweet Bell peppers from seed.  These will go toward the back of the beds with a few varieties of basil that we have saved from seed.  Along the front, we will be planting parsley, oregano, lavender and thyme.

Salvia and daiseys in last years potager

The center beds are going to be all for vegetables.  The look of the triangular beds will not change dramatically.  As a “spiller”, I will replace the spinach and lettuce with Contender Bush beans.  Beans are a pretty quick crop so when they fade around June 1, I will pull them up and replant with purple hulled black-eyed peas. For my “filler” I will divide the shallots that are there now and leave a few behind the beans so they can divide for replanting in the fall.  Finally, I will plant Black From Tula heirloom tomatoes that I have grown from seed as my “thriller” on the trellises in the center of the beds.

The last bed in the potager is the center diamond shaped bed.  Right now it is full of byzantine gladiolus.  Once these bloom and fade I will plant a lovely red okra.  The okra needs to be planted in June anyway so this work out well for me.  I selected okra for this bed because it grows a pretty, nice, tall and structural plant.  Okra is in the hibiscus family.  Because of this, it produces very large and lovely flowers that look just like hibiscus.

The hibiscus like flowers of okra

Right now is a great time to be outside.  The martins have returned, the bluebonnets are in full bloom and the fruit trees are in bud.  Why not get outside this week and plant your garden?  Below is a list of some of the veggies that you can plant now.