President’s Day Potatoes

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

planting-potatoes-1

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

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

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

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

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

fall-potatoes

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

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

potato-containers

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

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

harvesting-container-grown-potatoes

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

 

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

A Garden Visit With Harry Cabluck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tomato-cage-cover

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

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

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

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

Name: Harry Cabluck

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

organic-garden-austin

(Photo/Harry Cabluck)

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

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

tomato-transplants

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

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

Best tips:  Make good garden dirt.

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

compost-bin

Harry composts directly in his beds

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

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

Garden-Cold-Frame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leander_Graduation

Proud of our courageous firefighter (and valedictorian)!

Bruce_Leander

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

Leander-Wedding

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

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

Romanesco-Cauliflower

Galactic Gardening – apparently this Romanesco cauliflower grows in other galaxies

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

Romanesco_Cauliflower-2

A striking Romanesco cauliflower ready for harvest

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

Bolted_Romanesco_Cauliflower

Bolting Romanesco – not a pretty sight but still edible

 

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

 Week 49 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden  

I hope you have been able to get outside and take advantage of this unseasonably gorgeous weather.  Last Saturday, Sally and I took a little horticultural get away to our state’s capital.  We had a lovely visit with co-blogger Patty Leander.  We toured her amazing garden (she is growing peanuts!) and the extremely well done garden of long-time reader Harry Cabluck.  We also took time to visit the new “Lucy and Ian Family Garden” at the Ladybird Johnson Wildlife Center.  If you have never been to the Wildflower Center you really need to go.  It has always been an awesome place for adult gardeners, landscapers and nature lovers.  Now, with the addition of the family garden, the wildflower center is the perfect weekend trip for the entire family.

lucy-Ian-Family-Garden-1

There has never been a better time to visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. The recent addition of the Lucy and Ian Family Garden ensures your kids or grandkids will enjoy the trip as much as you do.

 

VEGETABLES/FRUITS

  • Plant Onions – Last weekend I planted my onions (read how I do it here). I ordered my onions from Dixondale Farms. Dixondale has been growing onion sets in Texas for almost 100 years.  Their website is a great resource for onion growers.  Not only can you order you plants, you can find recommendations on how to grow them, when to plant them and which varieties to use for your area.
  • Plant more greens – It is still possible to plant arugula, collards, mustards, lettuce and spinach. In fact, I just planted a container with red lettuce, arugula and spinach last weekend.  I love growing greens in containers and keeping them close to the back door.  This way my wife and I have ready access to fresh and fabulous salads all weekend
  • Plant strawberries – December is a great time to plant strawberries. Plant them in full sun and in soil that drains well.
  • Get row cover ready– Believe it or not, it really is going to freeze sometime soon. Get ready by digging out your row cover and getting moved to your garden.
  • Spray fruit trees with dormant oil – Dormant oils smother scale insects and other sucking insects that plague peaches, plums, pears and apricots (and crepe myrtles too) in the spring.  Most of these are refined petroleum products but you can find dormant oils that come from plants oils.  Organic dormant oils should carry the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) seal.

    cauliflower-shallots-spinach

    Last year I had cauliflower, shallots and spinach sharing space in my potager garden. You can still plant spinach in your Zone 8 and 9 gardens.

ORNAMENTALS

  • Plant flower bulbs – My 16 month old grandson is visiting.  This afternoon I am going to get him to help me plant 50 daffodil bulbs.  If you want spring blooms of narcissus, daffodils, jonquils or luecojum you need to plant them now.
  • Flowers – After Roger and I finish planting our daffodils we are going to plant larkspur.   I put out larkspur seeds in a broadcast manner.  You can also plant poppies in the same way.  December is also a great time to plant dianthus, pansy and violas from transplants
pansy-viola

December is a great time to plant pansy and violas (Johnny Jump-Ups) from transplant

 

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!

Week 43 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden

As I write this I am listening to the sounds of water dripping off my roof! I am also enjoying the lightning storm that is telling me more rain is on the way!.  Thanks to a whole weekend of thunderstorms, I am hoping to do absolutely nothing in the garden!  If you get rained in this weekend I recommend reading the latest issue of Texas Gardener.  This issue is really good.  Friend and co-blogger Patty Leander has an excellent article on growing microgreens.  For those of us who need to grow something all year round, her excellent article tells you how to grow these flavorful (and pretty fancy) greens all winter long.  If it is not raining on you this weekend there is plenty to do in your fall yard and garden.

Its been a while since I saw water dripping of the roof and the trees!

Its been a while since I saw water dripping of the roof and the trees!

!!!!!!!CAUTION/AVISO!!!!!!

Sally walked out of our guest house this weekend and almost stepped on a young copperhead that was coming up the steps to meet her!  Copperheads love hunting at dusk and they love pockets of high humidity.  Right now they are breeding and trying to bulk up for winter.  Since this is one of their most active times of the year you really need to wear sturdy boots and carry a stick when you are out in your yard and garden.  Please be careful out there! Just FYI, if you get bitten by a copperhead you are probably going to be ok.  If bitten, go to the hospital ASAP but know that, even though they are the most aggressive of the poisonous snakes in Texas, they are the least venomous.

beet-sprouts-1

Don’t fertilize your plants until they have developed their true leaves.

VEGETABLES

  • Plant root crops from seed – Last night I put out my second planting of beets. I also put out icicle radishes and three varieties of carrots (Danvers, Danvers Shorts and Cosmic Purple).  You can still plant all root crops from seed plus chard, kale, collards and mustard greens.
  • Make Compost Tea- I do not recommend fertilizing any plant until it is past the cotyledon size. Once your brassicas, lettuces, spinach or root crops have their true leaves, feed them!  When plants are small I really like foliar applications of compost tea.  To make compost tea, add a cup of molasses to five gallons of rain water.  Add an old sock that has been filled with compost and tied at the end.  Place outside and stir twice a day for a week or ten days.  Then pour directly on your plants or strain and apply with a sprayer.
The only thing cuter than my grandson is my grandson enjoying a playdate in a pumpkin patch!!!

The only thing cuter than my grandson is my grandson enjoying a playdate in a pumpkin patch!!!

ORNAMENTALS

  • Water your decorations! – Right now it is hard to find a yard a porch that does not have a big bunch of mums on it. Water the mums almost daily. To extend, or encourage their bloom, feed weekly with Miracle Grow mixed to 50% of the recommended rate.
  • Plant ryegrass now! – If you can beat the rain, this weekend will be a perfect time to over seed your lawn with rye.
  • Move plants – I need to move several little crepe myrtles that have popped up from seeds. Now is the best time to move them and all other perennials.  For best results move perennials when they are small, take as many roots as possible, plant them slightly higher than they were in their original location and then water, water, water!

 

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!

Gumbo Time! by Patty G. Leander

gumbo-104

There is nothing better than a cup of hot gumbo on a cool fall evening!

There are always a few things I can count on this time of year: shorter days, cooler temperatures, fewer bugs and either the Longhorns or the Sooners reigning over the Cotton Bowl till next year (congrats UT!). Plus a big pot of flavorful gumbo thickened with the last of the okra from the garden.

gumbo-089

Cooking the roux while the Cajun trinity waits their turn to be added to the pot

It is too dang hot to stand over a stove stirring a roux in the middle of summer when okra is at its peak, but in the fall, when the bell pepper plants are loaded and the green onions are big enough to harvest, I feel compelled to make gumbo just before okra gives up the ghost; a little for immediate consumption, a little for sharing and a little for the freezer to enjoy on cold winter nights in front of a cozy fire. A small disclaimer here – I am Texan and did not grow up making gumbo in a Louisiana kitchen.  If you grew up in the Gumbo State I bet you make amazing gumbo and I salute you, but for the rest of the readers out there, including my two daughters, here is a pretty good version that I have been making, sharing and enjoying for over 25 years.

gumbo-093

It really smells good now!

 

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

Gumbo contains onions, bell pepper and celery – the Cajun trinity.

1 pound andouille or spicy smoked sausage, cut in half lengthwise then cut into ¼” slices

4-6 bone-in chicken breasts, skinned

½ cup oil

½ cup flour

1 onion, chopped

1 bell pepper, chopped

2-3 stalks celery, sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp Creole seasoning

2 bay leaves

1-2 tsp dried thyme

1 tbsp Worcestershire

1-2 tsp Tabasco

1½ quarts water or chicken stock, more if needed

1-2 cups okra, sliced

4-6 green onions, thinly sliced, plus more for garnish

Cooked rice

Cook sausage in a large Dutch oven until nicely browned (I usually cook half the sausage in a separate pan for more even browning). Remove to a paper towel-lined dish to drain. Add chicken to pan and brown on both sides in sausage drippings; remove and set aside. Add enough oil to Dutch oven to measure ½ cup; when heated through stir in ½ cup flour. Now get comfortable, roll up your sleeves and cook the roux, stirring constantly, for 20-30 minutes, until medium to dark brown. You may notice that my gumbo is not as dark as what you might be served in New Orleans – I may be a Texan but I am a chicken when comes to cooking a truly deep, dark roux. A darker roux gives a rich, smoky flavor but if you cook it too long or too fast or look way even for a second it can go from perfection to scorched and you will have to start over so pay attention!

Once your roux is toasty brown it’s time to add the trinity, but the roux is so hot I like to move the pan off the heat for a couple of minutes (this also prevents the roux from burning) then stir in the onions, peppers and celery and return to the burner. Cook over medium heat for 5-8 minutes. Add garlic and seasonings, cooking and stirring another 3-5 minutes.

Gradually stir in 1½ quarts of water/chicken stock and bring to a boil. Return chicken breasts to pot, lower heat and simmer 30-45 minutes. Remove chicken and allow to cool. Return sausage to pot along with okra and green onions and simmer for 30-45 minutes. Meanwhile bone chicken breasts and shred.  Return shredded chicken to pot and cook another 20-30 minutes until everything is hot and fragrant. Remove bay leaves and season, if desired, with salt and hot sauce. Serve with rice and fresh green onions.

gumbo-112

And finally, Chicken and Sausage Gumbo…enjoy!

 

A couple of years ago I was fortunate to receive some bulbs for green multiplier onions from the publisher of Texas Gardener magazine. He received them from a reader in Houston, who explained that they migrated to Texas with Cajuns from south Louisiana who had been growing them for over 100 years. They grew them for use in their gumbo and refer to them simply as gumbo onions. I don’t know if this reader has a stockpile to share via this blog but if he does I will provide his name and address in a future post. These onions are dependable and tasty, but unfortunately I have given away most of my bulbs and am trying to build up my reserves.  In the meantime try asking long-time gardeners in your area if they have any multipliers to share or order some white multiplier onions from Southern Exposure Seed Catalog (www.southernexposure.com).

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!

Great Garden Reads by Patty Leander

Labor Day has passed, the kids are back in school, and as we enter the fall garden season I’d like to recommend two new garden books, both written by extremely knowledgeable, lifelong gardeners from Texas.

Month-By-Month Gardening

Good reading for great gardens

 

In the pages of Month-By-Month Gardening: Texas, Skip Richter guides us through the gardening year with common-sense advice for trees, shrubs, lawns, roses, annuals, perennials and edibles. I have known Skip for over 15 years and have learned much about gardening by following both his example and his teaching. We both relocated to Austin in 1998; as he was commencing his new job as the Travis County Extension Horticulture Agent I was frequenting the Extension Office as an eager yet anxious gardener, trying to figure out how to garden despite the layers upon layers of limestone in my southwest Austin backyard (ultimately the answers came in the form of native plants, raised beds, imported soil and layers upon layers of compost).

skip-richter

Skip’s comprehensive, easy-to-read book is laid out in a logical, month-to-month format, with practical tips and friendly guidance on the what-to and when-to throughout the gardening year.

Over the years I became a regular in the audience any time Skip presented on vegetable gardening, soil health or IPM (integrated pest management). This man knows his horticultural science and has a wonderful gift for imparting that knowledge with clarity along with a genuine interest in helping others to succeed. His comprehensive, easy-to-read book is laid out in a logical, month-to-month format, with practical tips and friendly guidance on the what-to and when-to throughout the gardening year. This excellent reference for Texas gardeners offers a holistic, earth-friendly approach to gardening, with an emphasis on prevention and problem-solving plus lots of color photographs and instructional boxes to support the plentiful how-to advice in every chapter.

Lake-Austin-Spa

The award-winning vegetable and herb garden at Lake Austin Spa and Resort

The pages of Trisha Shirey’s Vegetable Gardening in the Southwest are loaded with tips and techniques that she has used over the years to keep Lake Austin Spa Resort looking beautiful, welcoming and organic day in and day out. With the enviable title of Director of Flora and Fauna, Trisha helped transform the rugged, 19-acre Hill Country property west of Austin into an inviting oasis. Her skillful designs and plant combinations indulge all the senses, with a special emphasis on the showy vegetable and herb garden which provides year-round produce for the spa kitchen.

all-blue-potato

Harvesting ‘All Blue’ potatoes in the resort vegetable garden.

A lifelong organic gardener, Trisha draws on her extensive experience to provide methods for chemical-free pest control, formulas for natural plant tonics and recipes for homemade pest remedies. Each month’s chapter contains an at-a-glance summary of tasks that include planning, maintaining, planting and harvesting along with a comprehensive section on growing and harvesting over 40 edibles, as well as tips for growing herbs and edible flowers.

edible-flowers

Organically grown edible flowers add a nice spark of color and flavor to salads, herb butters and deviled eggs

Suggestions for simplifying garden chores, caring for tools and protecting plants from heat and cold are accompanied by helpful illustrations and how-to charts throughout. Her attention to detail and her organized approach to planting and harvesting in concert with the seasons are evident throughout this thorough and thoughtful guide to growing vegetables.

Japanese-soil-knife

One of Trisha’s favorite tools – a multitasking Japanese soil knife

Both Trisha and Skip are gifted educators and observant gardeners who skillfully guide us through the gardening year, reminding us to plan ahead and always focus on the big picture.

Week 32 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden

sunflower-arrangement

A lovely sunflower and gomphrena arrangement in our little guest cottage that we call “The Nest”. Photo by Natalie Lacy Lange

Last night Sally and I came home to every Texan’s worst August nightmare; our air conditioner was out!  Thank goodness for our little guest house!  While watching the news from the air conditioned comfort of our little cottage I caught the forecast for next week.  They are saying it is going to be 105 and 106 on Monday and Tuesday.  That should motivate you to get out there this weekend and get your garden ready for the fall planting (since it is only going to be 101 on Saturday and Sunday).  You will want to get as much done as possible while it is still cool!

cucumber-seeds

It is time to order your seeds for the Fall garden. Check out Patty’s Variety List and Seed Sources on the sidebar.

Vegetables

  • Order seeds now – With only two or three weeks left before the Fall planting season begins, you need to place your seed orders ASAP. Patty Leander has created two great guides that will tell you the best varieties for Central Texas and where to find them.  Click on the links below to read her Vegetable Variety Guide and her list of her favorite seed sources.

Patty Leander’s Vegetable Varieties for Central Texas

Patty Leander’s On-Line Seed Sources

  • Take advantage of the heat – We are right smack dab in the middle of the hottest part of the year. Solarization is a great, cheap and organic way to solve some serious weed problems.  Patty talks about this in her latest post on Nematode control and I did a post a while back (called Weed Free Organically)that is worth revisiting.  Check them both out.  Solarization is very easy to do and very effective.
  • Water and turn your compost – Your compost pile has to stay moist to work properly. Water and turn regularly
purple-fountain-grass-sweet-potato-vine

One of my beds with three of my favorite heat loving ornamentals-puple fountain grass, sweet potato vine and zinnias

Ornamentals

  • Dead head – Last night my wife made a very attractive bouquet of sunflowers and dark purple gomphrena. All of our summer blooming flowers need to be deadheaded to encourages rebloom.  Also, water your flowers more often in this heat.  Right now I am applying about an inch of water every third day to my cut flower garden
  • Order seeds for fall blooming flowers – When you order your vegetable seeds pick up a few packets of flower seeds. It will soon be time to put out spring bloomers like larkspur and poppies.   Order now to ensure the best selection

Trees and Lawns

  • Watch out for sod webworms – August is the month for this pest. The worms are the larval form of a very small, gray moth.  The larvae will strip your grass down to the stolons.  Infestion clues are yellowing grass and/or lots of birds on the lawn.  The birds are eating the caterpillars.  These pests can do a lot of damage in a hurry.  Unfortunately there is no good organic control.  Spray Bayers “Power Force” on day one and Bayer’s “Bayer’s Complete” on day two.
  • Trim shrubs and hedges now – The high heat of August slows the growth of woody perennials. Since they grow less now, your shaping efforts will ensure they look good much longer than they did after their Spring pruning

 

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!

Nematodes Put an End to Cucumber Season by Patty G. Leander

My thriving cucumber season came to an abrupt halt a couple of weeks ago. It started when a strong windstorm knocked over a cage of ‘Amiga’ cucumbers and uprooted the plants completely. All my other cages were staked so I can’t explain why this one was not but anytime you grow anything on a tomato cage, don’t forget to stake it!

Zeebest-Okra

Strong winds uprooted a cage of cucumbers but luckily did not damage the adjacent planting of ‘Zeebest’ okra

I was disappointed but not surprised to find evidence of root-knot nematodes on the roots (see photo). Though my plants had been producing well throughout June and early July I had begun to notice pale green leaves, misshapen fruit, reduced yields and general wilting, all signs of nematodes infestation.

root-knot-nematodes

Root-knot nematodes are microscopic but a heavy infestation on the roots is easily visible as swollen galls within the roots

Nematodes are soil-dwelling, microscopic, worm-like parasites that feed on plant roots, causing swelling or galls within the roots, impeding the flow of water and nutrients. They are most active in summer when soil temperature ranges between 85 and 95°F. Cucumbers, okra, squash, beans and non-resistant tomatoes are especially susceptible. Because nematodes are most active at higher temperatures they are not a serious threat to most cool season plants, the exception being carrots and beets which can have severe damage. Alliums and sweet corn are not affected by nematodes.

Nematode-beets

Most cool-season crops are not affected by nematodes but beets and carrots are an exception

Because nematodes can devastate a crop it’s important to take action if you discover them in your garden. Below are a few earth-friendly methods for battling nematodes; you may never completely eliminate nematodes but the following methods will help keep their numbers in check so that damage will be kept to a minimum. Note that nematodes can be spread by tools and soil so be sure to clean and disinfect tools after working in soil that contains nematodes, also be careful not to fling soil from infected roots to adjacent parts of the garden.

Summer Fallow:  Nematodes are most active in warm soils and they need water to thrive so take advantage of summer’s heat to wither them away. Withhold water from nematode infested areas of the garden and turn or till the soil every 7-10 days during the summer to expose nematodes to the drying effects of the sun.

Crop Rotation: Plant nematode susceptible crops where non-host crops such as onions, garlic and sweet corn were previously grown.

Plant Nematode Resistant Crops:  If your garden is too small for crop rotation look for plants that are bred to have nematode resistance. A tomato labeled with “VFN” indicates disease resistance: V= resistance to Verticillium wilt; F = resistance to Fusarium wilt; N = resistance to root-knot nematode resistance. Resistance doesn’t mean they won’t get nematodes but they are able to resist them enough to produce a harvest. Resistant tomato varieties include ‘Better Boy’, ‘Tycoon’, ‘Celebrity’, ‘Big Beef’, ‘Lemon Boy’, ‘Sweet Chelsea’ and ‘Supersweet 100’.

natural-nematode-control

French Marigolds and ‘Pacific Gold’ mustard can be used as cover crops to reduce nematode infestation

Plant Nematode Suppressive Crops: Certain types of marigolds (Tagetes patula) work by excreting a substance that is damaging to nematodes as well as trapping them in their roots and preventing reproduction. The key is to plant the entire area as a cover crop and leave it in place for several weeks to reduce nematode populations. A late summer planting of French marigolds can be left in place right up to the first frost; effective varieties include ‘Tangerine’, ‘Petite Harmony’, ‘Petite Gold’ and ‘Janie’. At the end of the season remove the tops and turn under the roots.  Elbon rye is an effective nematode control that can be planted as a cool-season cover crop that is turned under in early spring. Cut down or weed-whack the tops a couple of times during the growing season and either leave the tops in place as mulch or add them to the compost pile. ‘Pacific Gold’ mustard, also sold as Mighty Mustard®, contains high levels of compounds called glucosinolates that help suppress nematode populations. Cut down mustard before it sets seeds, add the tops to the compost pile and leave the roots to decompose in the soil. Both Elbon rye and ‘Pacific Gold’ mustard are available from Johnny’s Seeds (www.johnnyseeds.com).

rye-cover-crop

Cut down or weed-whack cereal rye a couple of times during the growing season

Biological Control: In 2010, Dr. Kevin Steddom, a plant pathologist with Texas AgriLife Extension, conducted a trial at the AgriLife Research Station in Overton comparing several products for nematode control. He found that of all the products he tested, which included two soil fumigants, a biological fungicide called Actinovate was the most effective in lowering nematode populations. A 2-ounce packet sells for $18-20 but you only need ½ teaspoon per gallon and it can also be use for powdery mildew, black spot, early blight and other fungal diseases.

natural-nematode-control

Secure clear plastic over very moist soil to create a greenhouse effect that will raise soil temperatures enough to kill nematodes.

Soil Solarization: Rake the soil so it is level and smooth, water well and cover with clear, UV resistant plastic (2-4 ml thick). Pull the plastic taut across the soil and secure or bury the edges with soil. Leave in place for 4-6 weeks, patching any holes with duct tape so heat cannot escape. This is often considered a last resort because the heat generated under the plastic kills everything, good and bad. It’s important to add organic matter at the end of the process; after removing the plastic do not work the soil for couple of weeks then top with a 2-3 inch layer of compost and water well before planting.

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!

Week 31 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden

August 15 is right around the corner.  Why do I mention that?  Well, it is the first planting date for the fall garden.  We are truly lucky to be able to garden in the fall.  If you have never had a fall garden I highly recommend it.  Fall temperatures make it much more comfortable to be outside.  Bug and weed problems are greatly reduced and you can grow a wide variety of vegetables (some that will continue producing until you remove them to make room for the Spring garden).  It is also the best time of the year to plant (or move) trees and shrubs.

Texas_Sunset

Our friend Amy Hime captured this beautiful Texas sunset. Right now it is so hot I wait until about this time each evening to go into the garden!

Vegetables

  • Begin planning the fall garden– My friend and co-blogger Patty Leander creates the planting guides for the Travis County Texas A&M AgriLife Extension service. If you are wondering what to plant for the fall garden, check out her guide.  Not only will it tell you what and when to plant, it will give you some ideas of different vegetables that do well in our area that you may not have tried before.  Check out the guide here:    Travis County Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Vegetable Planting Guide
  • Solarize nematodes-Nematodes plague many of the plants we grow in Texas. Patty has a great post coming out this weekend about controlling them.  One of her tips is to turn up the soil in your infected areas and let the July and August sun rid you of some future problems.
  • Mulch and water – Lots of veggies like melons, southern peas and okra are still producing. Producing vegetables need lots of water. Mulch them heavily now then water early in the morning or late in the evening to reduce water lost to evaporation.
red_birdhouse

Love this shot of our red bird house on our redbud in front of our red garage door. Photo by Amy Hime

Ornamentals

  • Remove “buggy” plants – My marigolds have been good this year and so have my gomphrena. However, they are now beginning to succumb to spider mites.  Remove these plants and throw them away.  Do not put them on the compost pile.
  • Weed beds thoroghly and re-mulch – The heat is slowing down the growth of many of our invasive weeds. Pull them now and mulch heavily to prepare for your fall plantings
  • It is not too late to replant zinnias, cockscomb, sunflowers and gomphrena from seeds.
Lovely mixed annual border at FDR's grave site in Hyde park, New York

Lovely mixed annual border at FDR’s grave site in Hyde park, New York

Trees and Lawns

  • Do not fertilize lawns until the temperatures come down a bit.
  • Let grass grow as high as you can stand it. A thick carpet keeps roots cool and actually helps to conserves water

 

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!