Week 27 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden

AmericanFlowersWeek This week has been declared “American Flowers Week”.  The week is designed to promote and celebrate American flower growers, marketers and florists. Did you know that 80 to 90% of the cut flowers sold in the US come from overseas?  Many find this fact shocking when I share it with them.  If you would prefer to buy flowers that are fresher, grown in a more ecologically responsible manner and produced right here in the USA then be sure to check out the Slow Flowers website.  Slow Flowers is a cooperative effort between American growers and florists that allow you to find local growers and the florists that use their flowers to fill your flower buying needs.

In honor of “American Flowers Week” this week’s tips focus on growing, harvesting and arranging your own beautiful “local” flowers.

Flowers grown at the proper spacing are healthier and produce more blooms that plants that are grown too close together.

Flowers grown at the proper spacing are healthier and produce more blooms that plants that are grown too close together.

Growing Tips

  • Plant at the recommended spacing on the package– Over planting is the biggest mistake most home gardeners make. Plants that are grown too close together do not get as large or produce as many flowers and they are much more susceptible to pests.
  • Weed and feed regularly – Most flowers are annuals. Because of this they need to get as much nutrition as possible during their one growing season.  Feed monthly and weed regularly.  The weeds will rob your soil of the moisture and nutrients that your flowers need.
  • Control most pests with a strong blast of water to the underside of their leaves – Most flowers are plagued by a variety of pests. Most are tiny little rascals (like mites and aphids) that hide under the leaves of plants.  Because of this they are very difficult to control with your typical spray applications of pesticides.  I use a tool called the Mitey Fine Mister.  This wand attaches to my water hose and is designed to spray water with enough pressure to kill the pests without harming the plant.

 

teddy_bear_sunflowers

Cut flowers early in the morning and keep them cool to extend their vase life

Harvest Tips

  • Cut flowers when buds are just beginning to open – If you cut most flowers when their buds are just beginning to open they will open in the vase.  This will allow you to enjoy them much longer
  • Cut flowers in the morning- Flowers cut in the morning have the highest moisture content (this is called turgidity in the horticultural world) and look their best.   
  • Strip leaves and immediately drop blooms into a plastic container that is full of clean, cool water
  • Get flowers inside as soon as possible-Your flowers begin to die as soon as they are cut. Heat speeds up their ultimate demise.  Get them inside and into the air conditioning as soon as possible
Nothing says summer in the country like sunflowers in a homemade arrangement!

Nothing says summer in the country like sunflowers in a homemade arrangement!

Arrangement Tips

  • Use more flowers! – My youngest daughter is an incredibly talented floral designer. I asked her why my arrangements do not look half as good as hers.  She said it is because I do not use enough flowers.  According to Whitney, when making floral arrangements, more is almost always better
  • Use more than flowers in your floral arrangements – While it is pretty easy to make a very pretty and presentable arrangement by grouping together lots of beautiful flowers, the really outstanding arrangements use other things to add interest. Lovely branches with interesting leaves are great fillers as are twisting garlic scapes, iris leaves, lemon grass and onion flowers.  Fresh vegetables, wasp nests, bird nests, dried sunflower heads and dried poppy heads all add a bit of whimsy and surprise to your arrangements
  • Throw away the floral foam – As useful as it is, floral foam is not biodegradable. There are tons of “green” alternatives that you can choose to support your flowers.  Sally and I have a small collection of antique floral frogs.  You can also make a wire ball out of chicken wire that fits in the top of your vase.  My daughter loves to use fresh fruit.  She cuts a hole into a melon or squash and then wires wooden stakes to her stems.  She then inserts the stakes and stems into the firm flesh and rinds of the fruit.

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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!

Tip of the Week – Week 21 in the Zone 9 Garden

It finally finished raining long enough for Sally and I to harvest the rest of the potatoes.  While we were out there we also pulled our first cucumbers and picked a small mess of green beans.  We just finished an amazing dinner of cucumbers and onions, green beans and an okra/tomato/sausage/smoked poblano concoction.  Everything but the sausage came straight from the garden or the freezer.  And that my friends is why I garden!

On another note, I recently read an article that said internet readers want their information quick and easy.  With that in mind I am going to structure my weekly tips in a different format for a while.  If you like it, or even if you don’t, leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

Potato-harvest

Vegetables

  • Pick Green Beans
  • Harvest and cure onions
  • Control aphids, thrips and scale insects with a strong blast of water. If this is not working spray entire plant with neem oil or a water/dish soap mixture
  • Harvest Potatoes-It has rained so much lately that it has washed much of the soil away from my potato plants. I literally have potatoes on top of the ground.  This will cause two problems.  First, the harvest is going to be a muddy mess.  No way around this.  I will have to dig them and then go directly to the hose for a good wash.  I do not normally recommend washing your potatoes.  When potatoes come out of the ground their skins are soft and can be damaged by washing.  Damaged skins let in fungus that will cause the potatoes to rot during storage.  That is why we cure them before we store them.  To cure potatoes we need to let them dry in the hot sun for a few hours.  All of this rain is causing an unusual lack of sunshine.  Because of this I will have to figure out a way to move the potatoes into the garage for curing.  This is a big problem for me because my garage is already covered with the onions that I had to cure inside because of the rain.

marigolds-1

Ornamentals 

  • Pull weeds while the ground is soft.  Throw them in the compost pile if they have not set seed
  • Dead head zinnias and marigolds
  • Plant zinnias (Benary’s Giant are my favorites) and marigolds from seed
  • Plant Sunflowers-There are about a million different varieties of sunflowers and I grow several of them (my favorite is a double called “Teddy Bear” that grows on three to four foot tall stalks and produces gorgeous flowers). For the next couple of months I will plant more seeds every other week.  This “two week planting schedule” will ensure that Sally and I have an ample supply of fresh cuts for our home right up to the first frost.
  • Plant Gomphrena (Bachelor’s Buttons) – I have two places in my yard where I grow gomphrena (Bachelor’s Buttons). Gomphrena is a great plant for our area because it can really take the heat and it will keep flowers until the first frost.  Even though it is an annual it is a great self-seeder and will come back on its own year after year.  That is, it will come back year after year as long as you don’t have free ranging chickens that scratch up all of the seedlings in your beds.  That is what has happened at my house.  Thanks to my chickens I currently have no gomphrena.  So this weekend I will be replanting.  Many of our reseeders (like gomphrena, zinnia, poppies and marigolds) can be planted by running a rake over and area and then putting the seeds out in a broadcast manner.  Once the seeds are down, run the rake across the soil to lightly cover the seeds.  Finally, gently water the area.  Keep the soil moist until the little plants develop their first set of real leaves.

Lawns

  • Do not fertilize until things dry out. Nitrogen, moisture and cool temps encourage brown spot

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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!

teddy-bear-sunflowers

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 Zinnias (Zinnia elegans)

Lovely red and yellow Benary’s Giant zinnias in the potager

My mother  is convinced that I would not have had a little sister if it weren’t for zinnias.  Now before your mind goes wandering to some hot and steamy romantic place that it shouldn’t, let me explain that my little sister was adopted.  If you have ever adopted a child you know that it is an arduous process that requires lots of paper work, background checks and home visits.  My parent’s desperately wanted another child.  However, due to complications caused by my birth, another child was a dream that could only come true for them with the help of an adoption agency.  Since my mother wanted this child so much, she always worked very hard to make the best impression possible when the agency folks came to visit.  These visits always warranted my mother’s best; her best dishes, her best cut work table cloth (hand made by my grand mother), her sweetest tea and a large bouquet of zinnias cut from her yard.

My parents were lucky enough to get my sister in record time and with the absolute minimum of fuss.  My mom still swears that their process went so smoothly because the agent loved her tea parties so much.  I have tried to tell her many times that the hassle free adoption probably had more to do with the fact that she and my dad were pretty good people that lived a very good life.  However, she refuses to hear it.  To her,  she got her daughter because of her Southern charm and a big bunch of zinnias.

If you want fool proof color in your Zone 9 beds try Purple Fountain Grass, Sweet Potato Vine and zinnias.

I can honestly say that I have never had a garden without zinnias. They are beautiful, prolific, resilient and resistant.  They come in a million different colors and their upright stalks with their alternating leaves make them so easy to cut and strip for the vase.   They look so good in the beds around my house that not a single bee, moth, wasp or butterfly can get past them.   Yes, I truly love zinnias.

This year, my zinnia seeds were a gift from Kim Haven of Billabong Fresh Cut Flower Farm in Hempstead, Tx

This year, I grew Benary’s Giant.  Benary’s Giant are the flowers the pros grow.  My seeds were a gift from my good friend Kim Haven at Billabong Fresh Cut Flower Farm in Hempstead.  While I was a generic zinnia lover before, Kim’s seeds have made me a zinnia connisoer.  The Benary’s Giants were so outstanding, I don’t think I will ever grow another variety.

Growing Zinnias – Each spring I am amazed to see flats of zinnia starts for sale at the nurseries.  While there is nothing wrong with this, zinnias are so easy to grow from seed that it seems a waste to spend so much on so few plants.  One pack of seeds properly planted will yield many more flowers than a whole flat of starts from the big box.

These baby Benary’s Giants are about 30 days old in this picture

The zinnias that most of us grow are cultivars of the species Zinnia elegans.  While there are varieties that grow all over the world, Zinnia elegans originated in Central America and Mexico.  Because of this, they love the full sun and hot temperatures found here in the South.

To start your zinnias, plant the seeds after the soil has warmed up to around 70 degrees.  For me, here in Zone 9, that usually happens by April 15. (***See sidebar at the end of the article).  Cover lightly with no more than a quarter inch of soil.  Zinnias need some light to germinate so if you plant them too deep you won’t get any sprouts.  For best results, plant in a loose soil that has been well worked with organic matter.  To plant my seeds, I drag a rake over the area I want to plant in and then sow the seeds in a broadcast manner.  After they are down, I drag the rake once in the opposite direction.  I then use a spray nozzel to lightly water in the seeds.  For the first couple of weeks I water enough to keep the soil moist but not soggy.

40 days after planting

If the soil is warm enough, your first sprouts should appear in about 7 days.  Once they are up let them grow to about 3″.  Thin your sprouts to about 6″ for smaller varieties and 12″ for the bigger varieties like Benary’s Giant.  At this point you can begin to apply the standard 1″ of water every five days or so.  If the weather cooperates, you can have your first sprouts about 40 days after germination.  If you dead head regularly and add a mid-season application of compost, you can keep your zinnias blooming until the first frost.

This guy is fully mature at 50 days

Zinnias are amazingly resilient flowers.  They can take some over watering and they can withstand some periods of drought.  They are not bothered by many pests.  However, some of the older varieties are very receptive to mildew infestation.  Mildew will cause your leaves to brown and curl and can eventually kill the plant.  The best way to avoid this is to water from below with drip lines or soaker hoses.  If you have to water from above, water in the morning so the sun can thouroughly dry the foliage during the day.  If you do all of this and still have mildew problems, look for a newer vaiety.  Many of these have been breed for mildew resistance.

Cut and strip your zinnias early in the morning and drop immediately into clean water to extend their vase life

Cutting Zinnias – I grow A LOT of zinnias every year.  I grow them to use as cut flowers in my house.  Heck, this year I even got to use them in my daughters wedding arrangements and bouquets.  With their tough stems and long upright stalks, zinnias make great cut flowers for the home gardener.  To extend their vase life, cut your flowers in the early morning.  Cut above a node to encourage branching and more blooms.  Once you cut the flower, grasp it with your thumb and forefinger right under the flower head.  Then, grasp the stalk with your other hand and pull straight down to remove all of the leaves.  Once the stems are stripped, drop them immediately into bucket full of fresh, clean water.  Finally, transfer to a vase with the proper amount of flower food.

 

We cut the last of our zinnias on November 26 for this lovely birthday bouquet for my mother-in-law.

Last night we cut the last of my zinnias.  They went into a very special bouquet for my mother-in-law.  You see, today is her birthday.  Unfortunately, she is in the final stages of Alzhiemer’s and she will most likely not have her best birthday ever.  Regardless, my wife went out into our garden last night and cut zinnias, cockscomb and roses and made her a spectacular bouquet.  While the bouquet was very beautiful, it was bittersweet on many levels.  First, as sick as MiMi is, we all know that there is a very good chance that we may never get to make another of these late fall bouquets for her.  On a far less tragic note, the bouquet required us to cut the last of our remaining zinnias.  While I know that I will have many more zinnias in the spring, the cutting of the last zinnia of fall is a very real reminder to me that what we call cold weather in Texas is on the way.

(Sidebar: “Plant after the soil has warmed to 70 degrees” is a pharase that is used in the planting guides for a lot of flowers.  What that really means is “for the fastest and most uniform germination, plant when …”  In reality zinnias and many other flower seeds can be planted whenever.  The seeds will lay dormant in the ground until some environmental factor like moisture or day length tells them to grow.  If you want to test this, let a zinnia (or cockscomb, hollyhock, cleome, larkspur or whatever) go to seed.  Crumple the dry seed head and  let the seeds fall to the ground.  Then walk away.  In early April, plant some of the same type of seeds in another part of your garden.  I will bet you a dollar to a donut that the seeds that were “naturally planted” at the end of their season will produce sprouts before you ever get you April seeds in the ground.)

Celebrate the Bulbs of Fall!

All across Central Texas, Oxblood lilies (Rhodophialia bifida) are at the peak of their season.  For those of us that live in areas that were once part of Mr. Austin’s original colony, these red trumpet shaped flowers have announced the arrival of fall for generations.

Oxbloods in my front bed

Here in Central Texas, no other bulb is as loved or celebrated in the fall as these Argentinian imports.  Sometime in the 1870’s the German immigrant/botanist/horticulturist Peter Oberwetter introduced these bulbs to the German speaking areas of the Texas Hill Country.  These bulbs were so pretty and so reliable that they quickly spread throughout Texas.  Now, thanks to the work of people like Chris Wiesinger and Dr. Bill Welch, oxbloods (and other heirloom bulbs) are becoming hugely popular throughout the entire Southern part of the U.S.

A mass of oxbloods on an abandoned homesite. Photo from The Southern Bulb Company

Even though oxbloods are the most common fall blooming bulb in Central Texas, they are not the only ones.  Two members of the of the Lycoris genus (Lycoris radiata and Lycoris aurea) also produce prolific blooms during the early days of the fall season.  Spider lilies (Lycoris radiata) are my personal favorite of the fall blooming bulbs.  All Lycoris bloom on top of a single, unadorned stalk after the first fall rains.  Because of this they are often called “Naked Ladies” or the “Surprise Lily”.  How can you not love their big, red, exotic looking heads?  Their curly petals burst open and arch backward to release long, curved stamens that look like the most gorgeous eye lashes imaginable.  I truly love these flowers!

These exotic looking  Japanese beauties have also been popular here for a very long time.  While they do not reproduce as rapidly as the oxbloods, Lycoris are tough and reliable.  These flowers are beautiful in their own right, but a mass of them is truly stunning.  If you want to see some of the best pictures of spider lilies that I have ever seen, be sure and catch this month’s issue of Southern Living.  My friend Dr. Bill Welch has an excellent article about them and the supporting photography is exceptional.

A stunning mass of Spiderlilies. Photo from The Southern Bulb Company

The blooms of the fall blooming bulbs of Central Texas last for only a couple of very short weeks.  Since they make terrible cut flowers and are almost impossible to dry, get outside in this amazing weather and enjoy them now.  These flowers make these fleeting early days of the Texas autumn truly special.

Since these flowers last for such a short time, be sure to give them ample water while they bloom.  This will extend their life by a few more precious hours. If you don’t currently have your own (or enough) fall blooming bulbs, contact my buddy Chris Wiesinger at The Southern Bulb Company.  Chris knows more about these charming antiques than anyone I know.  His bulbs are truly the best available anywhere.

This post has been shared on the Homestead Barn Hop and the HomeAcre Hop.  Be sure to check in on other homesteaders and organic gardeners!

P.S. Bulb blooms aren’t the only way I know fall has finally come to my garden.  Each year around this time I begin to see Green Tree Frogs all around the beds and borders of my property.  I don’t know where these guys hide the rest of the year, but the cool fall weather seems to erase their shyness.

This cute little fellow thought the cushion of one of our rocking chairs was a great place to hide.

See MOH on TV This Weekend!

Nine months ago, the folks at KLRU’s Central Texas Gardener (CTG) came and filmed my potager for an upcoming fall gardening segment on CTG. Well, that “upcoming time” is finally here!  I am so excited to have this opportunity and I want to say a great big thank you to Linda Lehmusvirta and crew for all of the hard work they did on this.  Click on the link below to watch it now.

Central Texas Gardener now airs on five Texas public television stations and is coming soon to New Mexico. Check the station link listed below for the most recent local schedule.

KLRU / 18-1, Austin

  • noon & 4:00 p.m. Saturdays
  • 9:00 a.m. Sundays (repeat)

KLRU-HD, Austin

  • noon & 4:00 p.m. Saturdays
  • 9:00 a.m. Sundays (repeat)

KLRU-Q / 18-3, Austin

  • 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays
  • 7:00 a.m. Wednesdays
  • 9:30 a.m. Fridays

KAMU, College Station

  • 5:00 p.m. Saturdays

KNCT, Killeen

  • 1:30 p.m. Saturdays
  • 5:30 p.m. Sundays

KLRN, San Antonio

  • 11 a.m. Saturdays

KWBU, Waco

  • 3:30 p.m. Saturdays
  • 12:30 p.m Thursdays

KPBT, Midland (Permian Basin)

  • 12:30 p.m. Mondays

KBDI, Denver

  • 2:00 p.m. Sundays
  • 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays

Stephen F. Austin Plant Sale in Nacogdoches

A lovely hydrangea in the Mize Arboretum

If you are going to be anywhere close to East Texas  on October 6, you really need to take time to swing by the gardens at Stephen F. Austin University.   The SFA Gardens at Stephen F. Austin State University will host its annual Fabulous Fall Festival Plant Sale from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Saturday, October 6, 2012 at the SFA Pineywoods Native Plant Center, 2900 Raguet St.

A wide variety of hard-to-find, “Texas tough” plants will be available, including Texas natives, heirlooms, tropicals, perennials, shrubs, trees, and exclusive SFA introductions.  Most of the plants are extensively trialed in the gardens before being offered to the public and most are produced by the SFA Gardens staff and volunteers.

A lovely double pink althea at SFA

This popular event benefis the SFA Mast Arboretum, Pineywoods Native Plant Center, Ruby M. Mize Azalea Garden, Gayla Mize Garden, and educational programs hosted at the gardens.  Combine your plant buying with a tour.  The arboretum and gardens are absolutely beautiful and the weather should be wonderful.

Since I have several plants in my yard that came from this sale I can attest to the fact that you will be buying incredibly healthy and hearty plants that are sure to thrive for you.  Your support will ensure that the team at SFA will be able to continue providing educational programs that reach over 15,000 students (ages 1 to 100) on a yearly basis.

Come early and bring three things; a wagon, a camera and your questions.  There will be staff on hand to provide you all of the tips and tricks you need to make your plants thrive and answer any other gardening questions you may have. For more information, call (936) 468-4404, or visit www.sfagardens.sfasu.edu for a list of available plants.

My wife with Greg Grant in front of one of the many camellia’s at SFA

Sustaining My Health, My Soul and My Sanity by Patty G. Leander

Save seeds from this year’s crop or order from seed catalogs for planting next spring

There is a lot of talk these days about sustainable gardening – gardening in a way that builds soil, is gentler on the environment and makes the most efficient use of resources. But after a crazy, busy and hot summer that involved relocation moves for my daughter, my niece, my mother and my in-laws, followed by my husband’s back surgery and topped off with an emergency room visit for my father-in-law, I barely had the time or energy to work on sustaining my vegetable garden. But I was amazed – yet again – at how my garden sustains me.

‘Calico’ crowder (also known as Polecat)

Because of some unanticipated – but completely appreciated – rain in July (almost 8” in my south Austin backyard!) my garden was producing a decent supply of okra, eggplant, crowder peas, butter beans, Malabar spinach and winter squash. By August the rain tapered off and when we left for South Carolina to help with my in-laws’ move to Texas, I figured that was the end of my summer garden. I didn’t have the heart to ask a neighbor or even my daughter to go out and tend my vegetables amid the mosquitoes and the heat, and I was prepared to let it all go in anticipation of a re-start in fall.

Southern peas (left) and butter beans (right) are allowed to dry on the vine, after shelling they are ready for cooking or storage

Not surprisingly, upon my return, the okra and eggplant had withered (they were in pots and never really had a chance) and the winter squash was overcome by squash vine borer damage, but miraculously the crowder peas and the butter beans continued to yield. The pods were not as plump and numerous as production in early summer, but still they kept coming, and I kept picking. Every few days I’d have enough for a small meal, and even after I had picked the last of the green pods, there were plenty of dried pods on the vines.

A mix of ‘Jackson Wonder’ butter beans and ‘Dixie White’ butter peas

Shelling peas takes a little time but the results are well worth the effort. And cooking field peas is a cinch – they require very little preparation and as they simmer they create a rich potlikker that is nourishing and delicious. Dried peas can be stored in glass jars, plastic bags or any other airtight container and should be consumed within a year for best quality. Believe me, a meal of crowder or black-eyed peas, home-grown and dried from your own garden, dished up with a slice of hot, buttered cornbread in the middle of winter, is really a treat and will garner all kinds of compliments. Serve with a side of simmered collard greens (from your fall garden, of course) for a down home-taste of Texas terroir.

Plain and Simple Southern Peas

My dad used to say that “everything tastes better with a little pig meat” and it certainly applies to these Southern peas. He grew up in a time when families subsisted on what they produced from the land and nothing from the farm was wasted. As a result, all kinds of vegetables prepared in southern kitchens were flavored with bacon or ham hocks, which add a hearty goodness. But if you are not a fan of bacon you can sauté the onion in olive or vegetable oil or just throw all the ingredients into a pot and let them cook together until tender. They are so good they practically cook themselves.

 

2 slices bacon, chopped

½ cup chopped onion

2 cups dried Southern peas (crowder, black-eyed, cream, purple hull)

4 cups water

1 tablespoon white vinegar

2-3 teaspoons sugar

1-2 teaspoons salt

1-2 teaspoons pepper

 

Cook bacon until crisp; remove from pan and set aside.  Sauté onion in drippings. Add remaining ingredients, adding enough liquid to cover peas by one inch. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer about 2 hours, until peas are tender and liquid has deepened in color and flavor. Add more liquid and adjust seasonings if necessary. Serve with crumbled bacon, chopped onion or chow-chow, if desired. 

Yield: 4-6 servings

 

Why I Grow Lettuce and Spinach

Last night, just as it was getting dark, my wife was hand watering our trees .  Suddenly something small and furry shot out of the grass and gave her a bit of start.  She shrieked and I jumped into action.  I bravely chased down this furry little flash and quickly discovered it was a very frightened baby cotton tail. 

The poor little thing was scared to death.  It’s tiny little rabbit heart was pounding out about a million beats per minute.  I picked it up and held it close.  I gently rubbed its little head and rabbit ears and it slowly calmed down long enough for us to get some pictures.  After we took the attached pics, we took it back out to its burrow.

This rabbit burrow was very interesting to me.  Somehow the mom had hollowed out a den by burrowing under bermuda runners.  She had lined this with her fur.  All of this was neatly camoflagued under a pile off dried grass that was left over from our last mowing and weed eating.

Since we just mowed a couple of weks ago, and this little guy looked half grown, I was curious about how quickly rabbits mature.  According to the National Geographic, cotton tails are born completely helpless.  In fact they are so helpless that only about 15% of all babies born survive.  The ones that do are weaned at three weeks and leave the nest at seven weeks.  So, I guess we won’t be mowing around that tree for a while.

All the time that I was holding the little bunny, my country mind kept telling me that I should make this little guy one of the 85% of bunnies that don’t make it to adulthood.  But I knew I couldn’t do it.  Eventhough I know that in about four weeks this little guy and his siblings will be in my garden eating my lettuce and spinach shoots I am just going to let it happen.  Watching the few rabbits I have on my property gives me almost as much pleasure as growing the vegetables that they feast upon.  And, since I don’t really rely on the garden to feed me, I don’t mind sharing my harvest with a couple of bunnies.

2012 Fall Gardening Tips

Right now it is so hot outside I work up a sweat just walking to the garden.  Photo by Heather White

August 1 is the official kick off date for fall gardening in my part of Texas.  In reality, I actually start working on my fall garden around the middle of July.  Like most of us in zones 7-9, my tomatoes are basically done by July 4th.  When your spring tomatoes stop setting fruit you have two choices.  Pull ’em up and replace with new plants in August, or trim your exisiting vines up, give them a little shade, a few nutrients, and wait for the temperatures to drop.

In my opinion, the best way to ensure a fall tomato harvest is to keep your spring plants alive through July and August. These mature plants will flower and bloom much faster than new plants put out in August.

Ever since the November night that I was late to my anniversary party because I was building cold frames out of old windows around the tomato plants I planted in August, I have been in the tomato trimming group.  Little tomato plants planted in the 100 degree August heat will not always produce red ripe tomatoes before our first freeze.  Because of this, I try and keep my spring tomato plants alive through July and August.  To keep my spring tomato plants alive, I prune them by about a third to a half in mid-July.  I then add a thick layer of composted chicken manure, mulch and put up some sort of shade.  For me, this has been the best way to ensure a harvest of a few fall tomatoes.

While I am out trimming tomatoes I also do a good garden clean up.  July is when I pull down any vines on my trellises that have stopped producing.  This can included beans, gourds, cucumbers, cantelopes and squash.  I also pull up any old mulch that is still lying on top of the ground.  I take all of this dead vegation directly to the burn pile.  Many of those bugs that caused you so much grief earlier in the year are sleeping and laying eggs in the mulch and plant liter under your plants.   Because of this, removing it and burning it twice a year is a good pest control measure.

Put out a fresh layer of compost on your clean Fall beds. Animal manures like cow manure and chicken manure are a little higher and nitrogen than the palnt types. I use these to give a boost to my newly trimmed tomatoes.

After my beds and trellises are clean, I amend the soil.  I add about 3″ of whatever compost is on sale to the tops of my beds.  I don’t usually till this compost in.  I actually kind of use it as mulch.  The compost will eventually get worked in when I plant or it rains or through the natural processes of all of the tiny little animals in the soil that feed off of the compost.

Finally, to conserve moisture, cool remaining roots and protect all of those micro-organisms in the soil I add a fresh deep layer of hay mulch.  If you mulch with hay you need to be careful.  Alot of herbicides that farmers use to control weeds in their hay crops are very persistent.  There can be enough residue is some hays (particularly bermuda hays like coastal, Tifton and Jiggs) to kill your new plants that are trying to germinate or become established.  I typically use rice straw as my mulch.  In my experience rice hay has no residual herbicides and very few weeds.

A large $70 roll of rice hay will supply me with all of the mulch I need for an entire year of gardening

After doing all of this prep, I spend a lot of time on the internet figuring out what I am going to plant and when I am going to plant it.  This year, I found the best planting guide/calendar I have ever seen.  This guide is on the Austin Organic Gardeners  website.  (they also have one for herbs).  Instead of a list of dates, this calendar is a graphical representative of the entire year.  It’s easy to read format allows you to quickly look up any plant you want.  The headers show every month broken down into weeks and the rows are an alphabetical listing of all of the vegetables we can grow in this area.

This very good planting guide is on the Austin Organic Gardeners website. This graphical guide is the easiest to use that I have found. They website has one for herbs as well.

My grandmother used to say you could find something nice to say about anything.  So, I am going to say something nice about Texas summers.  Even though it is 106 in the hot Texas sun right now, that sun is what is going to allow me to grow some of my favorite vegetables over the next six months.  I know it is hot out there, but now is the ideal time to get that fall garden going.  All of the sweat of July and August will pay off big in September and October.  So suck it up and get busy.  You will forget all about how hot July was when you are OUTSIDE in your garden harvesting broccoli, cauliflower, collards, and cabbage in January!