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!

Best Wedding Flowers Ever

A stunning bridal bouquet created by my daughter Whitney. See the rest of her creations on the Ruffled wedding blog.

I am so happy to be able to share with you some truly fabulous wedding flowers.  These pictures are courtesy of the Ruffled wedding blog.  Now it is not uncommon for Ruffled to showcase truly stunning wedding flowers, its what they do.  However, what makes these arrangements better than most is the fact that they were created by a young Master of Horticulture named Whitney White.

Whitney is my daughter and I am very proud of her.  I know where she got her love of flowers but I have no idea where she got her ability to arrange them into such beautiful designs.  I am truly in awe of her talents.

Whitney works for the hippest floral design firm in Dallas.  Bows and Arrows is a small Dallas design firm (voted best in DFW last year) that is getting a lot of big press.  They have been featured in Martha Stewart’s Wedding magazine, several other local and national publications, and on the largest wedding blogs on the web.  This video is from today’s post on Ruffled.  Ruffled is one of the top ten wedding blogs and it receives thousands of hits per day.

Whitney came up with the theme for this shoot, found the location, arranged all of the participants and did all of the floral work.  As you can see from this link the results were amazing (click the link to see the full shoot at “Ruffled” http://ruffledblog.com/midsummer-nights-dream-wedding-inspiration/).

I am very proud of Whitney.  She has worked very hard for very long to get to this point.  She had a dream and she did what it took to see it through.  I love you Whit and I am so proud of you!

Red and Yellow Kill A Fellow

Yesterday was a very sad day for me.  You see, I lost the best gardening partner I have ever had; my wife.  Now before you get all teary eyed, realize that she did not die.  No, Sally is still very much alive.  However, something happened yesterday that has me convinced that her gardening days are over.

Since yesterday was an uncharacteristically cool and cloudy July day, Sally and I decided that it would be the perfect time to catch up on some much needed weeding in the flower beds.  Sally and I are a great little weed pulling team.  We have worked these beds enough together that we can very quickly and efficently strip a bed of all unwanted plant material.  Yesterday was no exception.  Spurred on by the cool temps, we quickly built up a nice pile of weeds.  The pile was bigger than either of us could comfortably carry to the burn pile so I went to the garage and got out the wheelbarrow.  When I reached down and picked up the pile I was VERY surprised to find a CORAL SNAKE slithering through the pile of weeds in my hand!  Now I am not a snake hater.  Heck, I am not even scared of most snakes.  But this was different.  This one could kill me and that realization occured to my brain as soon as it saw those bright bands of color gliding through my hands.

Luckily for me, coral snakes are not very aggresive.  If there had been a copper head or rattler in that pile of weeds I would have been very bit very quickly.  However, this little guy only wanted to get as far away from me as quickly as he could.  Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t fast enough.  I never kill snakes; unless they are poisonous!  And since coral snakes are the most poisonous snake in North America, this guy had to die.

There are lots of myths and wives tales concerning coral snakes.  The most common one goes like this “Because of their small size, they can’t bite you except in little skinny places on your body like a little finger or the flap of skin between your thumb and index finger.” THIS IS FALSE!!!!  A coral snake can and will bite you anywhere you give him an opening.  If you try and pick up a coral snake by its tail, it will climb its own body to give you a bite that is at the least, painful and at its worst, deadly.  So never, ever try and pick one up by the tail, even if you think it is dead.  Also remember that when a snake dies, it’s muscles twitch and contract for quite a while after you kill it (this guy twitched for over an hour).  Because of this, snakes can actually still bite you after they are dead.  Due to this, you should never, never, never pick one up by the tail unless you are certain it is “dead still” or it’s head has been removed and disposed of.  It would be awfully embarrassing to get to heaven and have to explain to St. Peter that you got killed by a bite from a dead snake!

All joking aside, finding this snake in my flower bed is very bad news for me.  Because of this little incident, I am certain that I have forever lost my wife as a weeding partner.  Sally is deathly afraid of snakes.  I can no longer brush off her fears and tell her there is nothing out there to worry about.  She now knows very well that there are things out there that can kill her and she is in no hurry to die.  So, thanks to this brightly colored, 25″ long snake, my gardening work load has been increased. Not only have I lost my partner, but my own output will be greatly reduced because now, each time I get on my knees to pull weeds, I will be doing just as much snake hunting as weed pulling!

No Rest for the Weary-Summer Gardening Chores by Patty Leander

Well, is it hot enough for ya?  The sweet corn ain’t so sweet anymore, the spider mites have set up camp on the underside of my green beans, the squash vine borer has mutilated my zucchini and the mockingbirds keep beating me to the tomatoes. It’s a jungle out there and usually by late June or early July I’m ready to pull out these weary spring plantings and give most of the garden (and the gardener) a well deserved rest. Take advantage of the summer ‘dormant season’ to dream, plan and prepare for the upcoming fall season.  


A planting of buckwheat makes a good summer cover crop, the blooms also attracts pollinators. Photo by Bruce Leander

If you are not the type to hibernate in air-conditioned comfort for the next few months there is still plenty to do in the vegetable garden. Summer tasks might include removing spent crops, planting a cover crop of cowpeas or buckwheat or mulching fallow beds with leaves, hay, dried grass or compost. Organic matter burns up quickly in hot weather and a layer of mulch or compost will help add and/or conserve organic matter in the soil so it will be ready to receive your plants in the fall. Red Ripper or Iron & Clay cowpeas make vigorous summer cover crops – I get mine from Heavenly Seed (www.heavenlyseed.net). Johnny’s (www.johnnyseed.com) also carries Iron & Clay, buckwheat and a wide selection of green manures.


A compost bin located in the garden row makes for easy distribution later. Photo by Bruce Leander

Be sure to keep your compost pile going through the summer, and if you don’t have one why not start now? Composting has many benefits for the soil and is an excellent way to reduce, reuse and recycle waste from your garden, yard and kitchen. Most compost guides suggest placing the compost in an inconspicuous corner of your yard, but over the years my compost piles (yes, I have more than one) seem to inch closer and closer to the garden where they will eventually be used. Sometimes they inch so close that they end up IN the garden – I place a square or round compost bin, made of chicken wire or fencing material, right in an empty garden bed or in the row. Over the summer I fill it with kitchen scraps, grass clippings and garden trimmings, keeping it moist to encourage microbial activity (if it’s in full sun cover with an umbrella, tarp or shade cloth to help hold some of that moisture). Come fall I’ll loosen the bin and remove it, freeing up the contents for incorporation into the soil or for mulching crops.


The author using bricks to secure a layer of plastic for solarization. Photo by Bruce Leander

Another task that is well-suited to our hot days and warm nights is solarizing nematode infested soil with plastic.  Use clear plastic that is 2-4 ml thick and anchor it in place with bricks, U-pins or bury the edges with soil. Before putting the plastic in place, turn or till the soil, rake it smooth and water well. The moist soil covered with clear plastic will create a greenhouse effect that will elevate the soil temperature enough to kill nematodes. Leave the plastic in place for 4-6 weeks during the hottest part of the summer. It may get too hot for soil microbes under that plastic so after solarizing be sure to amend the area with 2-3 inches of compost, turn it under and you’ll be ready to plant for fall. To discourage nematodes even further, I’ll usually follow solarization with a nematode resistant crop, such as onions, garlic or corn.


The author’s cat reminds us that sunglasses, hat, sunscreen, water and cooler with cold washcloths will help keep us cool and safe while working in the Texas heat. Photo by Bruce Leander

I know you know this, but it is worth repeating: if you do work in the garden this summer, wear sunscreen, take breaks and drink plenty of fluids.  It is easy to fall victim to heat exhaustion this time of year. If you are going to spend some time working outside, try this tip – wet some wash cloths, roll them up and put them in a cooler with ice or a couple of ice packs. Then when you take a break, you’ll have a nice, cold cloth to wipe down your face and neck or drape over your head. Ahhhh, sweet relief.

Growing Potatoes

This weekend I had one of those experiences that remind me again why I love to garden.  My daughter Heather came out for Father’s Day.  Since she loves going into the garden with me I always make sure she has something to pick.  This weekend, I saved her a special treat; blue fingerling potatoes.

Of all of the things I harvest in the garden, potatoes are my absolute favorite.  Each time I dig them it reminds me of an Easter egg hunt.  I get so excited when I stick my fork in the ground and turn over the soil and find all of those spuds.  Since I like doing this so much, I knew she would too.  And, since they were blue, I knew it would make our dig a little more like an Easter egg hunt for her as well.

My daughter is fueling up on fresh peaches before we started digging the potatoes

I have absolutely no idea what type of potatoes we harvested.  I got them from my mentor Cynthia Mueller last fall.  I tried to grow them in my potato box and they didn’t seem to make.  However, this March, I looked in the box and I saw several little potato vines popping up so I immediately dug them up and moved them to my row garden.

Potatoes of all sorts are pretty easy to grow.  There are well over 800 varieties of potatoes in the world so there is a variety that will grow in just about any condition.  Basically, potatoes come in three maturity types; short season, mid-season and long season maturation types.  To determine which ones are best for you, pick one that will mature between a planting date of three to four weeks before your last freeze and a harvest date before temperatures get up into the 90s.  Potatoes can take some cold but they shut down completely in high heat.  Since it gets so hot so quickly where we are, the mid length maturation types seem to do best.  The two I most often grow are Kennebec whites and La Soda reds.

Digging with a shovel. I prefer to use a spading fork but this was handy and we didn’t have too many vines to dig.

The rule for planting potatoes is three to four weeks before your last frost date.  In reality, here in the Gulf South, we can plant our potatoes anytime after Christmas.  In fact, a friend of mine grew up next to an older gentleman that “planted” his potatoes on December 26 each year.  I say “planted”, because he would scatter his seed potatoes on top of the ground and then cover them in about a foot of spoiled hay.  I tell that story for two reasons.  One, it shows that you really can plant potatoes very early here and it also says something about how adaptable potatoes are.

Freshly dug!

I have heard people say that you have to plant potatoes in sandy soil.  Not true.  While sandy soil allows potatoes to grow a little bigger and makes them a whole lot easier to harvest, you can grow them in clay (or on top of the ground heavily mulched in hay).  Potatoes have just about everything they need to grow stored in that tuber so if you can figure  out a way to get them covered and watered, they are usually going to produce something for you

Last year I tried growing potatoes in a box. I constantly “hilled them up” with compost. I think the compost gave them too much nitrogen. As you can see I got great vines and exactly one potato.

For best results when you plant your potatoes, plant them in loose, well worked soil.  If your soil has a good amount of organic material in it, don’t worry about adding any supplemental fertilizer.  While they appreciate nitrogen as much as any plant, too much of it will cut your tuber production.  Too much nitrogen will result in great big healthy looking vines but very few potatoes.

Some of our “blue” potatoes in my favorite Texas Ware bowl. My wife roasted these with fresh rosemary and thyme from our garden, a little EVOO, salt and pepper. They were awesome!

When your plants get about a foot tall, you should “hill” them by pulling soil or mulch up over the base of the plant.  Cover leaves and everything but leave at least half of the plant exposed.  Continue to do this until your plant is about 2’ tall.  Hilling does a couple of things.  First, if your variety is the type that will produce potatoes all along the submerged stem then hilling will increase your yield.  This works great for some varieties and not so well for others.  However, no matter what type of tater you have, it is good to keep sunlight away from the developing tubers that try to grow at or above the surface of the soil.  If sunlight hits these developing tubers they develop a green “rind” under the skin.  This rind is full of solanine.  Solanine is a toxic substance that can give you a tummy ache in small amounts, or kill you in large amounts.  There is not enough in a potato to hurt you but it is a good idea to peel that green layer off before you eat it.  BTW, potatoes are not the only plant to produce solanine.  All members of the genus Solnum produce it.  Members of this family include potatoes, tomatoes, egg plants and the deadly Night Shade.

Very few vegetables are as productive and easy to grow as potatoes.  Plus they are incredibly good for you.  If you have a milk cow and pile of potatoes you can keep yourself and your family alive indefinitely.   With so many varieties out there, and their adaptability to soil types and pH, there is surely one out there for you to grow.

Three Easy Dinners from Dad’s Garden by Heather White

While my husband and I were away on vacation our little doggies stayed a la maison de l’Yupneck (this is what I call my Dad’s house).

When we returned we visited Brenham to collect our petit chiens. We enjoyed a fabulous lunch as well as a tour of the gardens. We were sent home to Houston with our sweet pups and a bag full of tomatoes, green beans, garlic, onion, and kale from my dad’s garden. As I made our meal plan and grocery list for the following week, I incorporated dad’s organic veggies and thus barely had to buy anything at the store. Here are the three easy and delicious recipes we enjoyed.

Whole-Grain Spaghetti With Garlicky Kale and Tomatoes

From the Garden:

  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • garlic
  • 1 bunch kale, stems removed and leaves torn into bite-size pieces
  • 2 tomatoes, sliced into one inch cubes

From the Cupboard:

  •  6 ounces whole-grain spaghetti
  •  2 tablespoons olive oil
  •  1/3 cup chopped roasted almonds
  •  1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan, plus more for serving

Sautee the onion and garlic with the olive oil, then add the kale and tomatoes and cook until tender. Toss with the cooked pasta, almonds, and 1/3 cup parmesan. Serve with more freshly grated parmesan.

 Ravioli With Sauteed Zucchini

From the Garden:

  • 3 zucchini, sliced into thin half-moons
  • garlic

From the Cupboard:

  • 1 pound cheese ravioli
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan

Sautee the garlic with the olive oil, salt, and pepper, then add the zucchini and cook until tender. Toss with the cooked ravioli and parmesan.

Chinese Green Beans with Rice and Miso & Dumpling Soup

  From the Garden:

  • 1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed
  • 6  cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced


From the Cupboard:

  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • Miso soup, we like the carton available at Whole Foods
  • Frozen Dumplings


Sautee garlic with 1 tablespoon of sesame oil then add the green beans and cook until soft. Stir in sugar and soy sauce and continue cooking until beans reach desired tenderness. I usually remove a bean occasionally and bite into it, not the most sophisticated way to determine when they are ready, but this method always ensures perfectly cooked beans.


Sautee the garlic and onion with remaining sesame oil. Add miso soup and bring to a boil, add frozen dumplings and simmer until cooked throughout.

 Pour the sauce from the bottom of the bean pan over cooked white rice and serve.   

 These delicious meals were easy on our time and our wallet. Thanks dad for adding locally grown, organic produce to our diet. It was a wonderful week of home cooked and home grown goodness.

Borage (Borago officinalis)

When I select plants for the potager, I select on two criteria; form and function.  In my row garden, plants are always selected for function.    I grow food in those beds and I plant what I like to eat.  If I can make it look attractive, that is a bonus but it is not what I select for.  When I plant a bed or border around the house I select solely on form because I am designing something that looks good.  The potager is where my two styles come together.  I want the potager to be beautiful but I also want it to produce food.  So, a lot more thought goes into the plants for the potager.

Young borage in my potager. I planted this at the end of March and this picture was taken on May 25

One of the annuals that almost always makes its way into the spring potager is borage.  Borage is a large scale, leafy herb that produces beautiful little star shaped, corn blue flowers.  The leaves have a mild cucumber taste and can be used in salads and drinks.  As the plant matures, those cumber tasting leaves become “fuzzy”.  A lot of folks, me included, do not like the texture of the leaves when they get to this point.  However, since I don’t grow it primarily for food, I don’t really care about the stiff fuzz on the leaves.  I grow it in the potager because it makes a very lovely three foot tall cone shaped bush.  Plus I love the tiny flowers.

I love the fuzzy white flower buds

Borage is a great choice for containers, the garden and the flower bed.  It is fairly drought tolerant.  Botanists believe it originated in Syria so it is perfectly designed to take high heat and low water.  It is also fairly pest and disease resistant.  Like most herbs it prefers a loose, well draining soil.  I plant from seed in March in full sun and give it about an inch of water every five days or so.  This treatment makes it thrive.  There are some bugs that nibble on the leaves, but what plant doesn’t have a few leaf munching predators?  Borage is also a great companion plant for tomatoes, squash and strawberries.  Some say that it is actually a deterrent to hornworms.

The blue, star shaped flowers are lovely

As I mentioned earlier, the flowers are really why I grow this plant.  I love those little blue stars (the fuzzy white buds are almost as cute)!  These pretty blue flowers are edible and they also have the mild cucumber flavor of the leaves.  Add them directly to your summer salads for a quick way to liven it up.  You can also freeze the flowers in ice cubes and add those flower filled cubes to your summer drinks.

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!

Growing Poppies

(WARNING!  An extremely long and nostalgic post lies ahead.  If you don’t want to hear why poppies, and the British, really matter to this veteran then skip ahead to the growing section)

Air Intelligence Agency Logo

I am very proud to be a veteran of the United States Air Force (Air Intelligence Agency).  The Air Force paid for my education and taught me the skills that I still use to make a living today.  It also taught me that duty, honor and country are a whole lot more than just three words.  In short, the military is largely responsible for turning me into the man I am today.

In addition to shaping my character, the Air Force let me see the world.  I literally went around the world in my ten years of service.  I saw wonderful and amazing things and I met incredible people.  But of all the things I saw, the thing I most remember and treasure is the November I spent in London.

What we call Veteran’s Day, the British call Remembrance Day.  When it comes to appreciating and celebrating their veterans, the British beat us hands down.  Veteran’s Day is huge to them.  I realize this is because war is so personal for them.  Not only did they sacrifice their loved ones to the cause, the world wars literally destroyed their country.  Because of this, each November, the British host a series of events that elegantly and appropriately recognize the service of those that were willing to give the last full measure to the defense of freedom


Crosses with poppies on "graves" in front of Westminster Abbey. There is a grave on the lawn for every unit that served in the defense of Britian in the two world wars. Photo from http://blog.travelpod.com/travel-photo/elyssa_and_dave/europe2006/1163362140/img_3306.jpg/tpod.html

One thing that stuck with me while attending the various Remembrance Day celebrations were the poppies.  They were everywhere.  On lapels, in wreaths and on tiny crosses that were placed on “graves” outside Westminster Abbey that represented the dead from every military unit (including foreign) that served in the defense of Britain.  The poppy was adopted as a symbol of Remembrance Day for several reasons.  However, most agree the poppy was selected primarily because of a poem written by Lt Col John McCrae.  Colonel McCrae was a Canadian doctor that wrote “In Flanders Fields” after losing his close friend and student during the Battle of the Ypres Salient in Belgian Flanders.  His poem is a poignant reminder that even though war is slaughter and sacrifice the healing begins when the gunfire ends.  In case you have never seen it before, here is this beautiful work:

Growing Poppies


This lovely poppy is very similar to those that grow in Flanders Fields. I took this shot in front of Texas Specialty Cut Flowers big blue barn in Blanco

Even though I love growing all of my plants, none of them fill me with so much emotion as do my poppies.  Each Spring they remind me of the millions of soldiers, seaman and airmen that have died in defense of their countries.  They also take me back to a magical few weeks spent in London with my British cousins.   The poppies I grow are deep red singles with black throats and bright yellow centers.  However, if red or single is not your style, I promise there is a color and style out there for you.  Poppies are like roses; they come in every color but blue.

Here is a shot of the bright red variety I grow. Thanks to Carol Ann Sayles of Boggy Creek Farms for sharing them with me

Poppies are so easy to grow.  If you don’t have any, simply order or buy seeds from your favorite source.  They are so adaptable that even if you order from a reseller on the East coast, there is very good chance they will do well for you in Texas.  However, in my opinion, the best way to get your poppies is from a local gardener.  I got my poppies from Carol Ann Sayles at Boggy Creek Farms in Austin.   Since poppies are such great reseeders, everyone that grows them always has plenty of seeds to share.  If you live in Texas, now is the time to stop and mooch those seeds from your poppy growing friends.

A lovely double pink variety grown by Patty Leander

Since poppies reseed so freely, once you get them established you will always have them.  Poppy seeds are tiny.  Because of this, I put them out in a broadcast manner.  Instead of trying to plant in rows I simply scatter them in the area that I want them in.  Before I scatter them, I run a rake over the area I am going to place them.  Then, once the seeds are down, I run the rake the other way.  Then I water in and wait.  If you want poppies next spring, you need to plant them anytime between now and October.

My poppies start to bloom in early March and they continue blooming well into April.  By mid April the flowers have gone and the “heads” that are filled with all of those tiny little seeds are beginning to dry.  The heads that are left after the flower fades are actually what’s left of the plant’s pistil.  As the pistil dries, little holes open up around the top where the stamen were once attached.  These little holes turn each head into a little “salt shaker” that dispenses the seeds whenever the wind blows or the plant falls over.

A great shot of dry poppy head. Notice the little holes in the top that allow the plant to "shake" its seeds all over your garden

If you want to gather and save seeds, simply cut these heads as soon as the holes open.  Shake the seeds into a bag and store for later use.  I have been doing this for several years and I have now been able to spread poppies all over my property.

All of these seeds came from this head

While many flowers are used as symbols for something, poppies represent the things I value most; sacrifice and service.  Poppies are easy, reliable, carefree and oh so beautiful.  Plant some now and you will be rewarded with a spring time show of beautiful flowers for years to come!

Austin’s Funky Chicken Coop Tour

Like just about every other middle class American, my wife and I feel like we need some chickens.  I don’t know what is going on with people and chickens right now, but these fluffy egg producers seem to be about the hottest thing going.  Sally and I have talked about getting chickens for a while now.  However, talk is as far as it has gone.  We mentioned our chicken desires to our friend Linda Lemusvirta and she suggested that we attend the Funky Chicken Coop Tour in Austin.  So, two weeks ago, that is exactly what we did.

Andrea Feathers is the artist that designed the incredibly cool logo for the tour. Photo by Sally White

Austin’s Funky Chicken Coop Tour started in 2009.  Over the years it has grown into one of the most successful events of its kind anywhere.  The tour is designed to educate people in the whys and how tos of keeping backyard chickens.  Austin is at the forefront of backyard chicken raising movement.  In fact, it has the second highest number of backyard, urban chickens in the US.  Since there are so many chicken coops in Austin and a whole bunch of people who like things that are a little bit weird, Austin is the perfect place for this event.

My daughter Jessie dressed appropriately for the occasion. Photo by Cameron Bell

The tour started at the Buck Moore Feed Store in central Austin.  There, tour goers picked up their maps, registered for a really sweet grand prize and had the opportunity to visit with a host of vendors that were selling just about everything you could ever imagine related to chickens.  The weather was great and everyone was so friendly.  I almost hate to say this, but I think I had more fun at Buck Moore’s than I did one the rest of the tour.

Sharing a laugh with my friends from the Brazos Valley Poultry Club. Photo by Cameron Bell

The tour consists of several coops scattered all across Austin.  You pay a $10 fee for a map and then you, and as many people as you can squeeze in your car, use that map to drive around and visit with the people that are successfully raising chickens in their backyards.  The coops come in all flavors; large, small, beautiful and humble.  Each of the hosts that we visited with seemed genuinely happy that you and about 1000 other people had come to walk through their yard and admire their birds and coops.

Pactical advice from the folks at Urban Patchwork Neighborhood Farms. These are also the folks that feed their chickens hamburger!

Despite the large number of attendees and limited parking, it was everything it was advertised to be; fun and entertaining (I learned that chickens love raw hamburger.  Who knew?).  I had so much fun that I am certain I will be back again next year.  If you are interested in keeping a few chickens of your own, I suggest you stop “brooding” and “laying” around, get off your “tail” and start checking out the zoning laws in your areas.  Then, mark your calendar for next year’s tour.  The Funky Chicken Coop tour is an “egg-ceptionally” good time for you and your whole “brood”!

(Sorry for the bad chicken jokes but I couldn’t resist)!