Home Gardening Statistics

Infographic from “The Mother Nature Network”

If I haven’t mentioned it before, I am a numbers guy.  In my real job, I create and maintain computer applications that analyze all of The M.D. Anderson Cancer Center’s numbers.  Because I crunch and report numbers all day, every day, I am kind of a nut about them.  So, when I found a website that that had numbers relating to gardening, I was ecstatic.  All of the statistics that we are about to discuss came from a very cool web page on the Mother Nature Network.  MNN got all of their stats from the National Gardening Association.

The Average Gardener – According to the National Gardening Association, the average gardener in the U.S. is female.  She is over 45 years old and there is a 79% chance that she has a college degree or at least some college education.  She spends an average of five hours a week working in her 600 square foot food garden.  Each year she spends about $70 on her hobby and harvests $600 worth of food.  In my recent interview with Central Texas Gardener, Linda Lehmusvirta asked me if gardening was worth it.  Well, thanks to that last stat, I have scientific proof that at a bare minimum, my hobby is worth at least $530 per year.

Does Size Matter?– Evidently, my little potager is just about average.  My potager is 24’X24′ for a total of 576 square feet.  According to the stats on the MNN site, the average food garden in the U.S. is 600 square feet.  This stat was the one that hit me the hardest.  Was it coincidence that my potager was so close to the average?  Probably not.  I bet the average garden is 600 sq ‘ because that is about the perfect size for a middle aged, college educated gardener to maintain in five hours per week.

Another interesting stat in this line was the reported median size of a garden.  In case you have forgotten, the median is the point in a population where half of the values fall above a certain point and the half fall below.  So, with a median garden size of 96 square feet (or 12’X8′), that means that there are a lot of people gardening in very small spaces.  While this was a little surprising to me at first, it dawned on me that a lot of those middle aged college grads are urbanites that just don’t have a lot of space to garden in.  I say YEAH!  It is better to have gardened small than to have never gardened at all.  My wife’s school garden is based on Mel Bartholomew’s square foot gardening method.  It is only 8’X3’, but her second graders grow a lot of produce in that 24 sq ‘ space.  So, if you don’t have the space or time to grow an average sized food garden, plant some containers or put together a couple of 3’X3’ sqaure foot gardens in your yard or on your patio.

What Does Our Garden Grow? -It should come as no surprise to you that the most grown vegetable in the American garden is the tomato.  Tomatoes are the most grown vegetable in home gardens all around the world.  However, I have to admit I was shocked by number two and three.  Cucumbers and sweet peppers rounded out the top three.  Even though I grow them, I had no idea that everyone else did too.  Probably has something to do with how versatile they are and how easy they are to grow.  BTW, when you read the chart and you see “Tomatoes 86%”, it means that of the total respondents, 86% grew tomatoes in their garden.

Where We’re Growing – According to the survey, no region of the U.S. gardens significantly more than any other.  If you look at the map on the left, you will see that what they call “The South” has the highest number of gardeners.  If you look closely you will see that this is the smallest geographic region in size but 29% of the folks that live in that area garden.  The second largest region is called “The Midwest”.  It is the largest geographically and 26% of the people that live there garden.  23% of the folks that live in “The West” grow their on food. Finally, 22% of “Northeasterners” grow some of their own food.  “The Northeast” may have the lowest per centage of gardeners and yet it has the highest population density in the U.S.  Because of this, I don’t think these folks garden less because they don’t want to, I think it is probably a result of the VERY urban environments that they live in.

The State of Our Hobby – Right now, the state of our hobby is strong!  In 2008,  31% (or 36 million households) of Americans had a food garden.  By 2009, that number had grown to 37% of households (or 43 million households).  I am not sure what drove this increase but it truly incredible.  Whether driven by a desire to eat in a more healthy manner, or the desire to save money because of the economy, over one third of your neighbors are now growing at least a part of the food they consume.

Compared to 2008, 6 million more Americans kept a garden in 2009.  This bodes very well for the future of our hobby.  However, the most encouraging news in that stat is the fact that 21% (or 1.26 M) of that 6 million were first time gardeners.  How exciting is that?  Historically, gardening was a hobby practiced by the middle aged and the retired.  Not anymore!  More and more young people are rolling up their sleeves and getting dirty.  These newbie’s are going to ensure that the state of our hobby is strong for a very long time.


I am very proud to announce that I have joined the team of the very talented writers, photographers and editors that bring you TEXAS LIVE magazine.   I will be doing a regular garden column that focuses on the organic growing tips that will allow you to grow the best plants possible in the very tough and unpredictable Texas climate.  My first article explains the “hows” and “whys” of soil preparation.  It also includes suggested planting times for the most commonly grown flowers, veggies, perennials, fruit trees and berries in the state.

TEXAS LIVE is an incredibly beautiful and informative magazine that covers the very best of “All Things Texan.”   My wife and I devour every issue.  We particularly love the Home and Garden section (no surprise there).  Each month, this section allows us to peek inside some truly amazing “country homes” that have been decorated by some very talented Texas designers.  Since Sally and I have been remodeling our own “country house” for the past five years each of these featured homes are an invaluable source of ideas and inspiration.

This month's issue of TEXAS LIVE features "Farmhouse Round Top". This is one of the beautiful guest rooms remodeled and styled by Beverly and Mike Corte.

When we are not gardening, remodeling or decorating we love to travel.  If we get the chance to run away for a few days we can count on TEXAS LIVE to tell us where to go, what to see, where to shop, where to stay and what to eat once we get there. 

The “LIVE” part of the TEXAS LIVE name is actually an acronym that stands for Luxurious, Informative, Vibrant, and Entertaining.   Those four words perfectly capture the essence of this beautiful and entertaining magazine.   You can find TEXAS LIVE in many of the businesses that are featured in its pages.  You can also buy it at your local HEB, Super WalMart, Books a Million, Barnes and Noble, and the Austin airport. The magazine usually sells out on newsstands, so go ahead and subscribe to ensure that you don’t miss a single issue.   

The writers at TEXAS LIVE are dedicated to finding the best of everything that Texas has to offer.  However, since Texas is a really big place it is impossible to for this small group of dedicated reporters to find and report on all that is wonderful in the greatest state in the America.  So, if you have an idea for a story, or you would like to contribute, feel free to drop them a line.  They are always looking for new story ideas, writers, and photographers.

Radishes – The Perfect “Prepper” Plant

Yesterday I harvested a big bunch of radishes.  My wife usually gets excited when I bring things in from the garden.  However, radishes are an exception.  You see, she is a radish hater.  I have found that she is not alone.  If I ever have anything left over from the garden I generally have a list of people that are ready to take it.  Not so with radishes.  Seems like the world is full of two types of people:  those that love radishes and those that don’t.

A very lovely bunch of radishes from the fall potager. Photo by my lovely wife

I am proud to say that I am a radish lover.  I love how easy they are to grow and I love the way they taste.  I love the way their crispy texture and pungent flesh add a spicy little surprise to my salad.  I love to pour a mound of salt into the palm of my hand and dip raw radishes directly into it just like I did with my dad when I was little.  Heck, I even like radishes for breakfast!  One of my favorite breakfasts consists of a boiled egg, a big slice of sharp cheddar cheese and a handful of French Breakfast radishes.

As much as I love radishes, I will be the first to admit their uses are somewhat limited.  Google up radish recipes and you will not get too many interesting results.  I discovered this fact while trying to figure out what do with my latest harvest.  This lack of results got me to thinking.  What could I come up with to elevate the status of the lowly radish?  Something that is this easy to grow, tasty and good for you should be more celebrated.  Then it hit me.  Radishes posses a ton of traits that make them the perfect plant for “preppers”.


Every part of the radish is edible, even the greens. Photo by Sally White

Are you familiar with the “prepper” movement?  “Preppers are people that believe there is a very high probability that something really bad is going to happen to the U.S.  in the near future.  Whatever this really bad thing is (asteroid, nuclear attack, economic collapse), it is going to be bad enough that it will force all of us that want to survive to be a whole lot more self reliant.  In order to be prepared for “the undefined really bad thing that is most likely going to happen sometime”, preppers do things like stock pile food, water and seeds to ensure their families can survive the rough times. 

If you are a “prepper”, I believe radish seeds should be a pretty important part of your initial survival kit.  Below are three really good reasons why I believe radishes are the perfect “prepper” plant:

1.  Easy to Grow – Radishes are so fool proof that I truly believe their seeds have a 100% germination rate regardless of variety.  To grow radishes simply place the seeds about 2” apart in a sunny location and cover with about ¼” of soil.  Water in and keep moist until germination.  After germination, continue to apply about 1” of water per week.  The plants will go from seed to plate in as few as 30 days. 

One quick note, radishes are generally a cool season crop.  Most of the short cycle radishes will not grow during the hottest times of the year.

2. Nutritious – Every part of the radish is edible and every part is good for you.  Radishes can go from seed to seedling in 10 to 15 days and then to full grown root with edible top in two more weeks.  The “greens” and roots are high in Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), folic acid, potassium, vitamin B6 and calcium.   With their high germination rates, rapid growth rates and high nutritional content, radishes will allow you to quickly supplement your food stores with fresh greens and veggies.

3. Storage – Since radishes are root crops they can be stored in root cellars for very long periods of time.  The ascorbic acid in them is not depleted in storage and will fend off scurvy just as well as citrus.  Radishes can also be pickled to further extend their shelf life.

So there you go!  Radishes are tasty, healthy and versatile.  Their ease of cultivation and rapid growth rate make them a great plant to have with you if you need to quickly be able to start feeding yourself and your family.  I hope preppers every where take my advice and finally give the lowly radish some much deserved respect!

A mature radish next to radish foliage ten days after planting. These young sprouts are very tasty and very nutritious



Hollyhocks (Alcea rosea)

In my opinion, if you are going to have a cottage garden, you have to have three plants: roses, larkspur and hollyhocks.  While many other plants will fit nicely into the cottage plan, these three are what I believe most people picture when they close their eyes and imagine a cottage garden.

Hollyhocks, with their tall upright stalks and big showy flowers, are the perfect plant for the back of a bed or border.  They come in a variety of colors and flower types (singles, semi-doubles and doubles) and will grow in just about any type of soil.  Some people say that the plants with deep colored flowers prefer sandy soils while the pinks, whites and other lighter colors prefer a clay soil.  So, wherever you live, there is a variety of this flower for you.

Here I am in May with three different varieties

Hollyhocks are members of the mallow family (Malvaceae).  This family includes the shrub Althea (Rose of Sharon) and hibiscus.  The flowers are edible and some folk remedies suggest making a tea out of them to treat “throat problems” and digestive issues (diarrhea).  Hollyhocks have been popular with gardeners for centuries.  They are believed to have originated in Asia but were brought to Europe by the 1400s.  The English really took to them.  In fact, the name hollyhock comes from the old English “Holyoke”.  Maybe this is the reason that my grandmother grew them and I love them so.  Since we are of good English stock I guess something in our genetics predisposes us to these lovely plants.

A volunteer hollyhock in my potager

Not all in my family have wonderful hollyhock memories.  My Aunt Sarah loves to tell the story of how my Uncle Bubba pulled up a hollyhock and used it to give her a whipping.  She still cannot look at a hollyhock without remembering what her brother did to her 70 years ago.  According to my Aunt Sara, hollyhocks were not just for corporal punishment at my grandparent’s house.   Evidently, my grandmother grew hollyhocks to hide their outhouse.  Their tall structure (some varieties can get 8’ tall) did a great job of camouflaging a very necessary but often maligned out building.

I don’t grow hollyhocks to hide anything or punish anyone.  I grow them simply because I love big showy plants that are easy to grow.  Hollyhocks are planted in the late fall or early winter.  They prefer full sun but can tolerate some light shade.  They can also survive temps in the teens for short periods.  The plant takes about six months from the time it first appears until it blooms.  It is also a good re-seeder so once you get it established you will have it forever.

This lovely arrangement featuring hollyhocks was made by my daughter Whitney

Hollyhocks are pretty heavy feeders so they do best in a bed that is well worked with organic material.  They are fairly drought tolerant but do require at least an inch of water per week to be fully productive.  You should not overwater or water from above as they are extremely susceptible to rust.  Rust is a very bad deal in the garden.  If you see reddish, powdery spots on the leaves of your plants, you have rust.  You can try and control it with a fungicide.  However, this is not organic and not always effective.  The best thing to do in my opinion is pull out the infected plants and burn them.  It is also recommended that you not replant in the area where the rust infection was spotted for three years.

It is still not too late to plant hollyhocks from transplants.  Many nurseries have them available now.  Why not pick up a few this weekend and plant them in the back of your beds.  These living antiques will instantly add charm to any bed and their tall form and beautiful flowers will delight you throughout the summer.

The $70 Vegetable Garden

I recently read the 2009 survey results of the gardening world by the National Gardening Association (http://www.garden.org/).  One of the stats that I found very interesting was the amount of money the average person reportedly spends on their food garden.  According to the NGA survey, the average vegetable gardener only spends $70 per year on their garden.  Now I realize that I am not the average gardener, but $70?  Really?  I spend an average of $30 per month on just compost.  So this got me thinking.  Could I create a vegetable garden (on paper) with just $70 worth of supplies?

There really is nothing better than home grown tomatoes

To do this, I had to make some assumptions.  Using the NGA data, I decided to be average.  According to their report the average vegetable garden in the US is 600 square feet.  Using this I decided to have a 21’ X 30’ (I know that is 630 square feet, but go with me) virtual garden.  This garden would contain 4-30 foot rows.  Each row would be 3 feet wide and there would be 3 feet wide walk paths between the rows.  In this space I would plant the Top Ten vegetables grown in US gardens (based on results from the same survey).  Those vegetables are tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers, beans, carrots, summer squash, onions, hot peppers, lettuce and peas.  I also assume that this $70 experiment only covers the spring garden.  Finally, since I garden organically, my $70 garden will use organic principals as well.

Below are the four rows that I have designed.

Row 1 –English peas the 10th most grown veggie in the American garden.  Normally I plant them in January.  For this garden, I am going to recommend putting them on Feb. 1.  A little late here, but this is just an experiment and they will probably still produce when planted this late (especially if you live north of Dallas).  Carrots can go in at the same time.  Beans are a little less cold hardy so I am going to virtually plant them Feb. 15.

All of these veggies will be planted by seeds.  The beans and peas will be spaced at 6” and I will get three rows in each three foot bed.  To plant this many beans and peas, you will need to buy two packs of seed for each.  I selected “Contender” bush beans from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  They were $2 per pack so the beans will cost $4.  I found 100 “Green Arrow Peas” from Seed Savers Exchange for $2.75. The carrots will be planted in a staggered grid plan at 4” spacing.  You will need 2 packs of seed for this many carrots.  Since the seeds are so tiny it is difficult to get just one seed per hole.  I chose “Danver” from Seed Savers Exchange.  The two packs were $5.50.

Row 2 –Around here, we plant our onion sets in November or December.  For this garden, we are going to assume that we planted 300 10-15Y onions in November.  They are stagger planted 6” apart in three rows that are 20’ long.  This would require two bunches of sets and would have set us back about $6.  Now 300 is a lot of onions.  However, I love them and they keep well so I also plant a lot.  I planted the onions in the middle of the row.  This leaves two 5’ beds on either side.

In both of these beds I am planting lettuce from seed.  I love lettuce and there are a ton of varieties.  All do well in the cool season so you can plant whatever variety you choose.  I always plant two different varieties of leaf lettuce.  To plant beds this size, you will need about four packs of seeds.  At $1.50 each, that is another $6.

Row 3 – This whole row is dedicated to cucurbits.  30 feet is a lot of room for our squash and cucumbers,  especially since they are both so productive.  Each of these plants need about 3’ of space.  I will plant six  hills of squash (2-yellow crook neck, 2 zucchini, and two patty pan).  I will then plant four trellises of Poinsett cucumbers.  I grow these every year and they are awesome!  They are very productive and are great as slicers and for pickling.  I build thee-legged trellises for them out of cedar limbs.  Four trellises will allow us to have 12 vines.  This will be more than enough.  For this row we will be using 4 packets of seeds at $2.50 each so the whole row will cost just $5.

Row 4 –Tomatoes are the stars of most summer gardens.  They are the number one grown vegetable in the home garden. For the last row of our gardenwe will buy and plant six tomatoes, two Jalepenos and two Bell pepper plants.   I usually buy plants because it is much easier than planting from seed in January and then nursing to April.  I always plant my tomatoes and peppers the first week in April.  I usually make sure and plant at least two plants of each tomato variety that I select.  My favorite for slicing tomato is an heirloom called “Black From Tulia”.  I also usually plant a cherry variety and a grape variety.  We also love Romas so we grow a yellow variety called appropriately “Yellow Roma”.  I do not have a favorite Bell or Jalepeno variety.  I typically plant whatever they have at the nursery.  I buy well established tomatoes in quart containers.  Each of these usually cost about $4 a piece so you are going to have to part with $24 for this row.  I buy peppers in 4’ pots and they are usually about $1.5 a piece.

My little experiment has proven that you can have an average garden with the ten most common plants for under $70.  Including the 8.25% Texas sales tax, my total came out to $64.13.  That leaves enough for 5 bags of compost (which I highly recommend).  I know this doesn’t account for water or mulch or about a million others things you can spend your gardening dollars on, but it does prove that if you have decent soil you can have a very nice garden for a small amount of money.  According to the NGA survey, this $70 garden will produce $600 dollars worth of food.  So, this garden is good for both your health and your pocket book!  February in Central Texas means it is time again to go outside and get dirty!  Happy gardening y’all!

P.S.  If gardening stats fire you up then you can read my full analysis of the results of the NGA survey in next issue of Texas Gardener.

The Fall and Winter Potager

Lately, several people have been visiting my site from Pininterest.com and “pinning” shots of my garden on their pinboards.  I am very flattered when this happens.  If you are not yet familiar with Pintrest you should check it out.  It is a collaborative site where you create “pin boards” of your favorite topics and then post images that you find on the web in them.  Then, everyone on the internet can come to your site and see the things that you have found.  It is really cool and you can quickly burn several hours if you are not careful. 

Right now, my little garden has never been prettier.  The folks from the Central Texas Gardener television program came to film it back in December.  It was pretty then, but it is a lot prettier now.  The veggies are doing great, but the flowers have really matured and look beautiful.  Eventhough the potager is mostly about the vegetables, it is the flowers that make it interesting.  So, for all of you Pinterest users that are fans of small, raised bed kitchen gardens, and my regular readers, here are a few pics of what is currently blooming in my little potager.

Panseys are always a great choice for Texans in the fall.  I planted these around the first of Decemeber.  If you look closely you will notice carrot foliage in the back.  I do companion plantings in all of my beds.  I have a mix of pink and purple panseys that share the center bed with a mix of carrots and vilolas (Johnny Jump Ups).  They are all thriving and look very good mixed together.

My purple panseys.

Violas are one of my favorite winter flowers.  The work great in pots where their pretty little flowers grow rapidly and spill over the side.

Calendula is often called pot marigolds.  Not only is it pretty and a prolific bloomer, the petals are edible.

I love dianthus.  They bloom well into the summer.  Their common name is “pinks”.  People think this is because they are mostly pink, but it is really because their petals look like they were cut with pinking shears.  They come in all colors and all sizes now but I still prefer this old fashioned variety.

This year’s winner in the vegetable department is Comet Broccoli.  This variety is incredible at putting on side shoots.  I have two dozen of these scattered throughout the potager.  Last Sunday, my wife and I harvested 8 produce bags full of side shoots.

Here is a picture of me with a lettuce harvest.  Our lettuce has been outstanding this year. 

One of my favorite things in the potager is not a plant at all.  It is our bottle tree.  While not technically in the potager (it is in the outside border), I still think of it as one of the main things that adds interest and charm to my little garden.

In addition to the flowers pictured above,  I have byzantine gladiolous, crinums, daylilies, two varities of roses, lots of salvia, red poppies, holley hocks, crysanthimums, zinnias and larkspur.  This ever changing pallette of colors and textures is what keeps me excited and watchful throughout the year.


Something I haven't seen in a long time; 3.5" of rain in the gauge!

Well, it finally happened.  After previous rain storms passed us by, we finally got one of our own.  In the past 24 hours it has rained about 3 1/2 inches at my house.  That is very exciting on its own.  However, this rain came in with a storm that spun confirmed tornadoes in Brenham and the Lake Sommerville area.  This storm was also accompanied by lots of thunder and lightening.  If you believe old wives tales, thunder in January means a freeze in March.  We will see.  This year has been so strange I would not be surprised at all if a late freeze comes as soon as the spring plantings are up.

Something else that I haven't see in a long time; a puddle of standing water in my yard.

Speaking of weird things that have happened this year, here are a few that I have noticed on my own little piece of heaven.  First, my peach trees are in bloom!  And the funny thing is, this is the second time they have bloomed.  Not sure what this will mean for our summer peaches but I can’t imagine it is good.  Also, my Cherokee rose has bloomed twice.  This rose doesn’t usually bloom until March.  I also have a “found” crinum that is about to bloom.  This variety usually blooms in May.

The "found" crinum that is blooming about four months too early

In spite of the bad storms that that brought it, I am so thankful for the rain.  The tornadoes were a little scarey but at least no one was hurt.  This rain was substantial enough that most people’s stock tanks caught water.  This is very good news for all of the people that are trying to keep their livestock.  Plus, with just a couple of more rains in the next few weeks, they should be assured of a pretty good early hay crop.

Mushrooms that have popped up in all of my freshly mulched beds

Yes, this is a very strange year so far.  Everyone seems to have a theory as to why; climate change, La Ninya, the Mayans.  I am not sure what is going on, but I am certain I will be able to find some things that will grow for me in spite of it all.

Ellen Bosanquet and the CobraHead Hoe

Yesterday, while returning from lunch, I found what I believe to be an Ellen Bosanquet crinum bulb laying on top of the ground.  Now I am not certain it is an Ellen Bosanquet but it was laying in a place where a large clump of them had once stood. 

Ellen Bosanquet from SouthernBulb.com

I found this bulb while walking through a garden that I go through quite regularly.  While strolling through it, I discovered that a large bed had been dug up and all of the plant material had been removed.  While surveying this, I noticed the bulb.  It was laying on top of the soil and had just a few roots still in the ground.  I decided that it had been left there to die so I rescued it.

I love crinums and I have several varieties in my beds.  Since Ellen Bosanquet is one I do not have, I was very glad to find this bulb.  In my opinion, Ellen Bosanquet is one of the prettiest.  It rosey pink flowers and slightly rippled foliage makes it an attractive plant whether it is blooming or not.

What I hope is a healthy Ellen Bosanquet bulb

Since I didn’t know how long the bulb had been out of the soil, I planted it as quickly as possible.  This gave me the opportunity to try out a new garden gadget that my wife gave me for Christmas.  The CobraHead Hand Hoe is a marvelous little garden tool that is produced right here in the USA by a small family owned business.  My wife ordered it for me from another family owned business that we often shop with; Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

  I am not a big buyer of garden gadgets.  However, when I saw the CobraHead in the Baker Creek magazine I knew it was something worth having.  The CobraHead is a 13″ long, curved weeder, cultivator, planter, etc.  It has a thin, curved, football shaped head that allows it to work in even the heaviest clays.  In my own garden, the tools I most often use are an old 12′ long Craftsman screwdriver and the claws of an old 20 ounce framing hammer.  The thin and gracefully curving shape of this tool, combined with the overall length and large handle made me realize that I could finally put my hammer and screwdriver back in the tool box.

After using it to plant my new crinum in a fairly heavy clay, I give the tool two big green thumbs up!  The tool performed just as advertised.  I was able to quickly dig a hole with out wearing myself out.  I was very pleased.  (I make this next statement in a very light hearted manner)  Thanks to my new CobraHead, I am actually looking forward to all of those weeds that will soon be popping up in my beds!

Grand Primo Narcissus- Harbingers of Spring

I like to think of my Grand Primo narcissus (Narcissus tazette ‘Grand Primo’) as  “harbingers of spring”.  They are always one of the first thing to bloom in the new year .  Their white, star shaped petals topped with the bright yellow center cup, always reminds me that spring is on its way.  I have hundreds of these lovely and reliable harbingers scattered across my property.  Some were left for me by the last home owner but the bulk of my collection was passed to me by a very generous friend.

The first Grand Primo of the year is beginning to open

There are many varieties of narcissus that do very well in all parts of Texas.  However, Grand Primo is the most hardy and prolific in our part of Central Texas.  Grand Primo readily naturalize here.  Not only do they come back year after year, they divide.  And because of this, you can turn a few bulbs into a whole bunch in just a few years.

Grand Primo beginning to open

Narcissus are incredibly easy plants to grow.  Their bulbs love a nice, loamy soil but they will grow in most Texas soil types.  Many of mine are in unimproved black gumbo and they do just fine.  However, the ones that bloom first and divide most readily are the ones in my well worked flower beds.

The first bud of January is fully open

Since Narcissus bloom in January, it is best to plant them in the late summer or early fall.  Realistically, you can plant them just about any time.  However, if they are planted to late in the fall they may not bloom the first season after planting.  Don’t worry about this, it is normal and they will do fine in the second season.

Since these bulbs divide so well, you can easily divide them to get more plants.  All bulb plants have a similar growth cycle.  They flower and then put out additional foliage.  This foliage does the photosynthesis for the plant.  All of those green leaves are capturing the sunlight that the plant then converts to food that it stores in the bulb.  This foliage is usually present for about six months after the bloom.  Once the foliage fades the bulb goes dormant until the conditions are right for it to sprout.  Because Grand Primos bloom in January, you should divide them late June or July (For more information on harvesting bulbs, check out my “Bulb Hunting” post from last February).

A bunch of Grand Primos that I harvested last year.

Whether you buy your bulbs or harvest them, you should plant them around early September.  To plant your Grand Primo bulbs, dig a hole about two to three bulb lengths deep.  Place the bulb in the hole with the wide end down.  If you are not sure which end to put down, simply lay the bulb on its side.  Cover the bulb with soil, water in and wait.  That is all there is to it.  These bulbs have an almost 100% success rate when planted in this manner.

As you drive around town on these cold, gray January days, look for the bright white and yellow Grand Primos.  They are everywhere!  These beautiful “harbingers” will brighten your day and remind you that spring really is just around the corner again.

Succession Planting of Fava (Broad Beans) in the Potager

The only way to get your small garden to continuosly produce is to practice succession planting.  Succession planting is nothing more than putting something in the ground as soon as something else comes out.  Since my potager is so small, and I love a steady supply of fresh veggies, I have to be fairly deligent in the way I manage my plantings. 

This past weekend, I harvested all but one of my cauliflower plants.  This freed up the middle of my four triangular beds for something else.  I decided to replace the cauliflower with fava beans (or Broad Beans for my English readers).  I also took this opportunity to plant a few more radishes, some round Paris Market carrots and Green Arrow English Peas.

I have never eaten or grown fava beans before.  However, the seeds were a gift from my dear friend and gardening mentor, Cythia Mueller.  So, in honor of my friend, and in keeping with my tradition of trying new things, I decided to plant them where my cauliflower had been. 

Fava beans (Vicia Fava) are a cool season crop that have been grown for millenia.    While native to North Africa and Southwest Asia, they are widely cultivated around the world.  It is believed that along with lentils, peas and chickpeas, fava has been in production for over 6000 years.  It is also interesting to note that they are not true beans.  Fava beens are legumes; but they are more closely related to vetch than they are to green or lima beans.

Fava beans are a great choice for the fall Texas garden.  They love a nice loamy soil, but will grow well in less perfect soils.  They will also tolerate soils with high salinity so that makes them a great choice for the Bryan-College Station area.  Fava are a true cold weather crop and they can take just about anything our winter can throw at them.  They will survive freezes into the the twenties.  Even though I planted mine on December 31, most people in our area plant them around Thanksgiving.  They grow best at temperatures between 40 and 70 degrees F and they will not set beans once the night time temps go above 75 degrees.

Here you can see how I use the end of my hand rake to make holes for large sized seeds

Fava beans produce a thick, square stalk and can grow to heights of three feet or more.  The leaves of these tall plants can be harvested and used like spinach.  Their white flowers are streaked with black.  Since black is a very unusual color in the plant world I can’t wiat for these plants to bloom so I can see it for myself.   Also, those lovely white and black flowers are edible.

Here you can see me placing the beans in their holes. And yes, that is a Baylor hat on my head. I did my undergraduate in Waco so I can wear that hat with as much pride as I have when I wear my maroon hats. BTW, did you see the Alamo Bowl? Awesome! Sic 'em Bears!

Fava beans should be planted about an inch deep.  You can plant them every four inches or so but they need to be thinned to about 8″ apart.  I used the end of a hand rake to make holes in my soil about 1″ deep and about 9″ apart.  Next, I placed the beans in the hole, covered them with soil and watered them in.   Now, if eveything goes right, I should be picking my favas by mid-March.  What do you think the odds are that the temps will stay below 75 until then?