Tip of the Week – Week 22 in the Zone 9 Garden

I am getting a lot of questions about what to do about all of this rain.  I really don’t know.  According to the weather man we are experiencing “historical rain events”.  This means that nobody really knows how all of this water is going to affect our yards and gardens.  I am certain that if all of this moisture doesn’t kill our plants out right, we are going to have problems with fungus and mold and bugs once the sun comes out.  The only advice I have right now is pray that all of these “historical rain events” end soon!

crowder-peas

Planting time is slipping away. However you can still plant southern peas like crowder and black eyes.

Vegetables

  • Pick cucumbers regularly. With this much rain it is not unreasonable to expect to harvest every day
  • Make pickles with all of those cucumbers
  • You can still plant basil. If you have basil ready to harvest pick often and pick early in the morning when flavors are strongest
  • We are nearing the end of planting season but you can still plant sweet potatoes, lima beans, okra and southern peas.  However, your planting window is closing.
Prune your climbing roses after they finish blooming

Prune your climbing roses after they finish blooming

Ornamentals

  • Prune running roses after blooms fade. Train new growth onto or around structures
  • Feed roses and other blooming shrubs. Add compost monthly and blended fertilizers every six weeks
  • All of this rain is going to make fungal diseases a problem. Inspect roses regularly for black spot or powdery mildew.  Treat with a fungicides easily found at your garden center.
  • All of this rain will leach nutrients from your potted plants. Now is a great time to replant, or at a minimum, fertilize them. I like to use a slow release fertilize like Osmocote so they are feed all summer long

Lawns

  • If you can stand it, do not mow until things dry out a bit, especially if you use a riding mower. The ground is so wet you can damage your lawn and your equipment.
This cool, wet weather has extended the time we have to plant small trees and shrubs.

This cool, wet weather has extended the time we have to plant small trees and shrubs.

Trees

  • Take advantage of the unusually cool temperatures and large amounts of water to plant small trees and shrubs. This extended planting season for trees and woody perennials is the only bright spot I can think of right now.
  • If you grow fruit trees in containers be sure and fertilize them regularly. Right now they have fruit so they need water and nutrients.  Feed weekly with a liquid organic solution like compost tea.  One of my favorite liquid organic applications is John’s Recipe from Lady Bug.

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

 

Heat Loving Veggies for the Texas Garden – Patty Leander

Jay’s enthusiasm for horticulture is infectious, and I could not resist his invitation to contribute a guest post to his interesting and well-organized blog.  Growing vegetables is my favorite horticulture-related activity and like many a gardener I am addicted to the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat that comes my way each season.

Patty and I in her garden

We endured a hellacious drought last summer – not our first, not our last – yet winter and spring have brought much anticipated renewal, for both garden and gardener. The drought has reminded us of the importance of mulch, efficient irrigation and planting the right plant at the right time. It’s not even a bad idea to think of summer as a dormant time in the vegetable garden, but for those who are not deterred by rain deficits, sun, heat and sweat I’d like to highlight a few Texas-tough vegetables to fill the summer gap: 

 

 

Okra can be a little "prickly" to some gardeners. if okra gives you the "itch" simply wear gloves and a long sleeve shirt when harvesting. Photo by Bruse Leander

Okra – This quintessential heat lover is first on my list.  Smooth, ribbed, long, short, green or red, I have never tried a variety that I didn’t like.  Okra seed can be planted once the soil has warmed (70-80º), usually April or May in Central Texas.  It will reach maturity (4-6 feet tall) in approximately two months and picking will be easier if you space it at least 2 feet apart – and once it starts producing you will be picking almost every day!  In fact the secret to tender okra is to check your plants daily and harvest pods when they are only 3-5” long. And unlike those temperamental heirloom tomatoes, heirloom okra varieties grow like champs without much coddling or cajoling at all.  ‘Clemson Spineless’, ‘Emerald’ and ‘Hill Country Heirloom Red’ are available from Baker Creek Seeds (www.rareseeds.com). I know of two open-pollinated varieties with Texas roots that deserve mention.  ‘Beck’s Big’, a giant okra with fat pods, introduced in 1968 by organic trailblazer Malcolm Beck of San Antonio, and my personal favorite, ‘Stewart’s Zeebest’, a smooth, dark green variety carefully selected over several years for branching and productivity by two of my favorite gardeners, the late George and Mary Stewart of Houston. Both okras are available from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (www.southernexposure.com). Okra plants have tiny, mostly inconspicuous spines that cause an annoying itch, so be sure to wear gloves and long sleeves when harvesting pods.

 Grilled Okra

Not sure what to do with your okra bounty? Try it grilled: toss whole, 3-4” pods in olive oil, season with salt and pepper and toss them on the grill. Grill 10-15 minutes, until pods are tender and slightly charred.  Yum!

A plump pod full of Colossus Crowder peas. Photo by Bruce Leander

Southern Peas – These legumes go by many names – cowpeas, field peas, black-eyed peas – but no matter what you call them they can take the Texas heat. They also taste delicious, produce beautiful blossoms, and can be used as a cover crop to build nitrogen and organic matter in the soil.  Two old-fashioned varieties for summer cover crops are ‘Red Ripper’ and ‘Iron and Clay’.  For fresh-eating I am partial to ‘Purple Hull’ and crowder peas (so called because the peas are crowded in the pod) such as ‘Mississippi Silver’ and ‘Colossus’.  Heavenly Seed (www.heavenlyseed.net) is a small, family-owned seed company located in Anderson, South Carolina, that offers a superb selection of southern peas.

Asparagus, or long beans, can grow to 18" and are great in a stir fry. Photo by Bruce Leander

Asparagus BeansAlso known as yard long beans, this heat-loving relative of the cowpea is popular for use in Asian stir-fries. Most varieties are vigorous vines that require a sturdy fence or trellis. Harvest when pods are about 15-18” long, before beans begin to swell. ‘Red Noodle’, available from both Baker Creek and Heavenly Seed, produces long, burgundy pods that can be sliced and sautéed or stir-fried.

 

Malabar spinach is a great green for the Texas heat. Photo by Bruce Leander

Molokhia and Malabar Spinach – Lettuce and other greens thrive in most of Texas from fall to early spring, but home-grown salad greens are hard to come by as summer approaches. As the days grow long and hot many gardeners turn to Malabar spinach as a warm weather salad green. Another summertime option is a popular Middle Eastern green called molokhia, sometimes referred to as Egyptian spinach. The nutritious, grassy tasting leaves are plucked from fast-growing, multi-stemmed plants that grow 4-6 feet tall. Young leaves and shoots can be added to salads or sandwiches and older leaves can be cooked or sautéed and added to soups or casseroles. A reliable seed source for both of these greens is Kitazawa Seed Company (www.kitazawaseed.com).

Molokhia leaves and seed pods. Photo by Bruce Leander