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)

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

Tip of the Week – Week 2 in the Zone 9 Garden

If it is not raining or freezing this weekend there are lots of things to be done in the Zone 9 garden.

Ornamentals

It is not too late to plant pansies, Johnny Jump Ups (viola), cyclamen, snap dragons, alyssum and ornamental cabbage.  Water in new transplants with fish emulsion or other water soluble organic  fertilizers.  Fertilize established plants with 6 cups of organic fertilizer (or two cups of synthetic) per 25 sqaure feet of plantings.

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It is still not too late to set out pansies and violas.

Vegetables

If you have not already planted onions, do so this month.  Discard any onions that have a diameter bigger than a pencil.  Onions are heavy feeders with a small root system.  Because of this you need to keep the onion bed weed free and fertilize monthly at a rate of 6 cups of organic fertilizer (or two cups of synthetic) per 25 sqaure feet of plantings.  For detailed information on growing onions in Zone 9 check out my post “Grow Bigger, Sweeter Onions”.

January is the month to start your tomato transplants from seed.  If you want big, healthy plants by March 15 you need to get the seeds planted by January 15.  MOH contributor Patty Leander has a great article about this in this month’s Texas Gardener Magazine.  You can also see how long time Austin reader Harry Cabluck grows his transplants in my post “Harry Cabluck’s Tips for Growing Healthy Tomato Transplants”.

Tomato transplants (and photos) by Austin reader Harry Cabluck Maintenance

If you still have leaves on the ground, rake them up before they blow away.  Leaves are great mulch and great compost additives.  Now is also a good time to get out your row cover (or buy new).  If you have things planted now you are probably going to need it in the next few weeks.

****Be sure to check out my friend Bart’s blog (Our Garden View) for more great tips for the Central and South Central garden!

This post has been shared on the HomeAcre Hop.  Be sure to check out all the great tips and tricks on this outstanding gathering of bloggers.

Harry Cabluck’s Tips for Growing Healthy Tomato Transplants

If you want to grow and harvest the best tomatoes possible, you need to grow your own plants from seed and then get those little plants in the ground as soon as possible..  Growing your own plants at home ensures that the varieties you want are available and that they are at the optimal size for transplanting on your optimal planting date.

Some of Harry Cabluck's home grown tomatoes are almost ready for transplanting.  Photo by Harry Cabluck

Some of Harry Cabluck’s home grown tomatoes are almost ready for transplanting. Photo by Harry Cabluck

I have a long time reader (and long-time tomato grower) from Austin named Harry Cabluck.  Many of my Austin readers know Harry as an award winning photographer that snapped some of the most iconic sports and political images of our generation.  What you may not know about him is that when he was not covering politics at the state capitol he was home working very hard to grow a perfect tomato.  The main thing he has learned is that early harvests of tomatoes come from plants that were planted as early as possible.  To do this Harry grows from seed in a home-made grow center in his garage.  Harry was kind enough to share some of the secrets he has learned about growing tomatoes from seed.

Media – Harry starts his seeds in expandable coir pellets.  These pellets provide a loose media that is perfect for germinating plants.  Early on, the expandable pellets fit nicely into a specially designed rack.  After the plants form their true leave, Harry transfers the entire pellet to 3-ounce bathroom cups that come from the supermarket.  These cups are just the right size to hold smaller peat-pellets and they fit perfectly into the pellet rack.  A red-hot nail head is applied to burn a hole in the bottom of each cup and felt-tip pen makes it easy to label the plantings.

 

Coir pellets fit nicely in a 3 ounce cup.  In addition, the cups are easy to label. Photo by Harry Cabluck

Coir pellets fit nicely in a 3 ounce cup. In addition, the cups are easy to label. Photo by Harry Cabluck

Warmth – Even though we live and grow in a mild climate, it is not mild enough to grow tomato seeds without some protection from the cold.  As Harry said “The recent cold front that blew through Austin has prompted the need for heat again for our tomato seedlings.”  To speed up the seeds germination and early growth, he places his coir pellet racks on heated grow mats.  Tomatoes grow best in temperatures above 50 degrees.  These warming mats ensure the soil that holds his seeds stays a toasty “70ish” degrees even in his garage.

Heat mats ensure quick germination and rapid growth.  Phot by Harry Cabluck

Heat mats ensure quick germination and rapid growth. Phot by Harry Cabluck

Light – All plants need light.  If you are going to grow your plants in the absence of natural sunlight, you are going to have to simulate that light for them.  Harry uses T5 fluorescent tubes to provide light to his young plants.  While florescent are not an exact match for sunlight, you can get pretty close by buying bulbs that emit light in the warm and the cool spectrum.  This is usually listed on the packaging.  Harry keeps four tubes above his seedlings.  He also recommends keeping them very close to the plants to avoid making the plants produce weak, spindly growth.

Strength- One of the true secrets of growing healthy tomato transplants at home is “keeping them moving”.  If tomato plants are grown in an enclosed area with no air movement, they can look very pretty but be very brittle.  To avoid this, you need to either run your hands gently through your plants on a regular basis or create some way to have a slight breeze blowing over them at all times.  Harry’s home-made grow center incorporates a whisper-fan that he salvaged from an old desktop computer.  According to him, this small fan provides the air circulation needed to strengthen stems and it also helps cools plants on warm days.

A salvaged fan from an old computer provides the movement needed to ensure Harry's transplants are strong when moved outside.  Photo by Harry Cabluck

A salvaged fan from an old computer provides the movement needed to ensure Harry’s transplants are strong when moved outside. Photo by Harry Cabluck

If you live in Austin it is a little late to start your tomato seeds at home.  However, if you live a bit further north, you may still have plenty of time.  By following Harry’s tips you can ensure that you never have to search for your favorite variety again.  If you follow Harry’s advice and start your seeds at home a couple of months before their recommended planting time, you will have strong healthy plants that will provide you with the earliest and best tomatoes anywhere.

This post has been shared on the HomeAcre Hop.  Be sure to stop by and check out some of the best gardening and homesteading information available on the web.