Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Protect People, Pets, Plants, and Pipes

I am sure you know what to do to protect your people, pets, and pipes from tonights freezing temps -  but there are always questions in deep south Texas about what to do with our cold tender plants.    
If they’re in containers, move the pots up against your home  - or if possible, move them to an inside corner.   The south side of the house is better than the north side too.   Water the plant well and cover with an old blanket.   You will not get a warming greenhouse effect unless the blanket goes all the way to the ground and stays there.   Use pots, stones, or patio furniture to hold the blanket down.     Of course, you can always move your plants inside your home or your garage.    But I am taking the easy route and hoping that the freezing temperatures don't last more than 2 or 3 hours.   
Do you have tropicals planted in the ground?    Expect leaf burn at the least.   Our mango trees are crispy from our freeze two weeks ago.   I am hoping that the ground remained warm enough that the roots (and thus, the plant) did not freeze.    You can increase your chances at saving a plant by wrapping the trunk with cardboard or a blanket.    
There are special freeze blankets that you may find in garden centers or big box stores.   I saw that Gills Landscape Nursery in Corpus Christi has some in stock but I personally don't know about any in the Rio Grande Valley.  
Succulents are full of water so they need to be protected.   Freezing temps will cause all that water in them to expand and bust the plant cells.    I guess this is why they often turn to mush after a freeze.   I have taken cuttings of my favorite succulents that I can plant later.
It is sleeting in some areas right now.    Ice on plant leaves is not necessarily a bad thing.   It will act to incilate the plant.   I don't understand the why - but that is what I have always read.   If it remains cloudy tomorrow while that ice melts, there won't even be a frost effect.   Plants get frosted when they have an ice covering that the sun shines on.  
 It snowed in Harlingen in December, which is a super-rare occurance.    No freeze, but snow.   I didn't see any plant that was damage by the snow - but have seen some damages by our very slight freeze earlier this month.

Stay safe!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Garden Records and a Free Printable for You!

Every since we moved to this location, I have kept a hap-hazard garden diary.   It's in a spiral notebook and contains vegetable varieties, ornamentals planted, rainfall, bloom dates, etc.   
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There’s a lot of info in there but I’m not sure how much constructive use it has.   This fall I read The Naturalist’s Notebook by Nathaniel Wheelwright and Bernd Heinrich.    It contains lots of information on how develop your inner-scientist.   

And it is beautifully illustrationed by one of the authors, Bernd Heinrich. 


The book includes a five year calendar to record observations - a format that could be handy in recording garden info.    In this time of unusual weather occurances and climate change, a multi-year record may help us see if our climate is really changing - and if it is, how quickly.    I expect that I will include info specific to our veggie/herb growing along with weather items like rainfall, frost, high temps, etc.    And I expect that I'll include some observations of birds and butterfly activity in our yard.   That's the initial plan anyhow.   We'll see what 2022 has me recording.     


I'm so excited about this format that I've put together a free printable 5 Year Garden Calendar for you to use!    It was formatted to be printed front-and-back.   P
rint it on heavier copy paper so that the type doesn't show through.  I took mine to a printer to be spiral bound - but you can just punch holes and put it into a notebook.   I hope you give this a try - it should help make us better gardeners, better naturalists, and better citizen scientists! 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Soup Weather

What is it about soup or a warm drink that is so comforting during cold weather?   I love how they warm me up from the inside out.   And after the weather we've this week, we're all about warming up.   It's been cold and wet and even SNOWED here in deep south Texas! 

Today we decided  we needed some Sweet Potato Corn Chowder.   Luckily, I made a fresh batch of bone broth a few days ago.  It adds tons of flavor to soups, stews or anything cooked in a liquid.    Just look at the deep color!     Here's how I make my bone broth . . . . 

 
This soup starts by sauteeing six slices of bacon until it's crisp.   Remove the bacon, crumble it up, and save it for later.    In the bacon grease, saute chopped onion, celery, and green bell pepper.   I usually add in red bell pepper or anything I have on hand that strikes my fancy.   

At this point, you will add a cubed sweet potato, salt, tyme, a bay leaf, and two cups of water or, even better, a rich broth.    I'll take this opportunity to encourage you to grow a few herbs.   Grow them in pots or in a garden, on a windsill or an apartment balcony; it doesn't matter where.   Herbs are easy to grow, take very little space, AND make everything taste better!  Today I used dry thyme but went to the patio for the bay leaf and parsley.    Now, let everything simmer for about 20 minutes or until the sweet potato is soft.   It'll look about like this and will fill your home with an amazing aroma!
Time to thicken things up a bit.   Mix 3 tablespoons of flour and 1/2 cup of cold milk together.    I put mine in a small jar and shake it, shake it, shake it!    Once the sweet potato is soft, add the flour & milk mixture to the pot.    Stir well and let it simmer for 10 minutes.    You will have a fairly thick mixture but the flour needs this time in the heat to do its thing.   

To finish it of, add 2 cups of frozen corn.   Feel free to use fresh corn, but then you'll need to cook it a bit longers.   Also add 1-1/2 cup of warm milk, 3 tablespoons (or more) of fresh chopped parsley, and a squeeze of honey.    Heat until everythings warm.   The frozen corn will cool things off a bit so expect this step to take 5 or 10 minutes.    

Now it's ready!   
Ladle into bowls, garnish with the cooked bacon and enjoy!  

If you want a printable copy of the recipe, click here!     

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Three Reasons To Retire My Tiller

 I can't tell you how long I researched and agonized over which roto-tiller to purchase.   And when I finally made the decision, I couldn't wait for it to arrive and to miraculously - and effortlessly) transform my heavy, hard to work, sticky, mucky clay soil into the perfect sandy loam. 
 
I chose this lovely little Mantis that I can handle easily on my own and envisioned using it for both prep and regular maintanence work. 

Here are my top three reasons for finally giving it away (although I retired it years ago) 
  1. You can't wrangle a tiller through clay soil.   Even with the perfect amount of moisture, clay particles are so small that they lay very close and tight up against each other.   This is what makes clays heavy and hard that work. 
  2. Tilling soil brings weed seed up to the surface where it will receive ample sun/heat to sprout - now there are more weeds to pull.    
  3. Tilling kills earthworms and other microorganisms by running over them (duh) or exposing them to light and air.   So in trying to help my soil, I was actually damaging it.  I discovered that if I mulched my planting beds with shredded leaves, earthworms and other bugs would break it down and move it through the soil more efficiently than I ever could.  Easy Peasy
I still don't have sandy loam (except in the raised beds we've built) but we've managed to grow a pretty nice landscape - and with much less effort. 
 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

May in Your South Texas Garden

I am going to risk sounding like a broken record and say prepare yourself - and your plants - for a hotter-than-normal summer!
  • Get on a good watering schedule.   This time a year, I usually water my vegetable beds once a week but will be checking the soil on day 4 or 5 to make sure it doesn't need it sooner.  Stressed plants are a target for insects.   Our plants will already be a bit stressed from our hot, hot, hot weather.  Don't compound that by starving them for water. 
  • Weed, weed, weed.   Weeds compete with your plants for both moisture and nutrients.   Don't let them steal those valuable resources.
  • MULCH!   It doesn't matter what your mulch of choice is.   I use wood chips, shredded leaves, and hay throughout my garden spaces.   My goal is to have no exposed soil.  
This month you will want to: 
  • I'm going to repeat myself again, and remind you to apply a layer of mulch to all planting beds.   If you see bare soil, cover it with something!   This will save you water, will protect your plants roots from the heat, will keep (some)  weed seed from sprouting. and will add organic matter to your planting beds. 
  • Check your plants for pests.   My go-to treatment is a sharp stream of water.  You may need to do this every day or two until they give up.   There are some pests that you can just pick off and squish - like tomato horn worm. There are some that will need something stronger.   I use an insecticidal soap on hard bodied insects like scale.   As I've said before, when you see something that is munching on your plants, identify it before you decide that it is a pest. The resource I use is  bugguide.net   
  • Plant some nectar and host plants to attract butterflies to your garden.  Host plants are the plants that the butterfly will lay her eggs on. You have to be okay with the fact that the caterpillars are going to eat these plants before they form a chrysalis.  I don't know of any instance where their feeding kills the host plant; they just grow back.   The host plants that I always like to have are dill, fennel, and milkweed.   Last summer when I got hot and tired and abandoned my garden, I ended up with lots of action on the old kale and artichoke plants.
  • Shred your dry bluebonnets with a seed trimmer.   The seed will lay on the ground and work its way into the ground until next winter when it's time to sprout and begin the cycle again.  If you had heavy flowering and seed production, you can spread your bluebonnet planting around by spreading some of the shredded plants onto a new area.     
  • Turn and water your compost.   With warm temperatures, your compost bins will dry out and then nothing will happen in there.   Turning and keeping the material moist (not wet, just moist) will help the process. 
  • Deadhead your cutting flowers and roses for continued blossoms.
  • For best taste, harvest vegetables every day.   
  • Trim off palm seeds before they mature.  They are beautiful but they become heavy (and hard to dispose of).   If you leave them, they drop and germinate.  And who's got time for that!   There can be 100s - no 1,000s of baby palm trees to be pulled one-by-one.
  • PLANT: 
  • Trees:   Don't plant them now unless you have to for an occupancy certificate.  
  • Palms, cycads, yuccas, and agaves:  Plant any and all now!   They do best planted during warm months.  
  • Vegetables:  okra, southern peas (like black-eyed peas), and peppers from transplants. 
  • Herbs:  Dill, fennel, lavendar, mint (grow in a pot to contain the roots), oregano, parsley, rosemary
  • Flowers from seed:  alyssum, aster, cosmos, marigold, sunflower, zinnia
  • Flowers from transplants: dianthus, ice plant, geraniums, kalanchoes, marigold, periwinkle, ruellia, salvia, zinnia, 
  • Flowers from cuttings:  geranium, ice plant, kalanchoe,ruellia
  • Fertilize
  • Acid fertilizer for your acid loving plants like gardenias
  • Any vegetable / herb that is a heavy feeder.

  
Here's my downloadable May Gardening Calendar.   I just sat down and listed the tasks I plan to accomplish next month.  Of course, that list will grow . . . It's also a great spot to keep track of garden observations.  

Saturday, April 1, 2017

April in Your South Texas Garden

On the news last night, KRGV meterologist Tim Smith, shared that temperatures for January were 5 degrees over normal, February were 10 degrees over normal and March were 5 degrees over normal.   The number of aphids already attacking some of their fave plants attest to our mild (i.e. non-existant) winter.   Prepare yourself - and your plants - for a hotter-than-normal summer.   
  • Get on a good watering schedule.   This time a year, I usuall water my vegetable beds once a week but will be checking the soid on day 5 or 6 to make sure I don't need to turn the water on sooner. 
  • Weed, weed, weed.   Weeds compete with the plants you want for both moisture and nutrients.   Don't let them steal those resources.  
  • MULCH!   It doesn't matter what your mulch of choice is.   I use wood chips, shredded leaves, and hay throughout my garden spaces.   My goal is to have no exposed soil.
  • Group plants with the same water and sun requirements together.   That's just plain common sense but often we just look at color and texture when putting together a planting.  
April is a wonderful time of year in south Texas.   The March winds tend to die down and (usually) we have fairly moderate temperatures.   If you are going to change or add a planting area, it's time to get busy.   You will want to plant before Memorial Day so that the new plants can settle in before triple digit summer temps.   The exception to the rule are palm trees.   They are a monocot (like grasses) and are best planted once the soil has warmed up.   
 

This month you will want to: 
  • Continue to collect and shred leaves for ground cover and to compost.  I use my electric shredder weekly this time of year.  It is a string shredder and works well for the cost.   But, the next time I will buy one with some metal blades.  
  • Apply a layer of mulch to all planting beds. 
  • Check your plants for pests.   My go-to treatment is a sharp stream of water.   You may need to do this every day or two until they give up.   There are some pests that you can just pick off and squish - like tomato horn worm.     We had our first tomato horn worm last week on our one eggplant.   It is amazing how much they eat (define that as "how quickly they will eat your plant")    If you enjoy butterflies in your garden, these are two pest treatments that are targeted to the actual pest.   On that note: if you see a caterpillar or worm, try to identify it before you decide that it is a pest.  One good resource is bugguide.net   
  • Speaking of butterflies, if you want to attract them to your garden, plant some nectar and host plants.  Host plants are the plants that the butterfly will lay her eggs on.   The little caterpillars will feed on the plant, growing a thousand times bigger until it's time to form a crysallis.  The plants that I always like to have are dill, fennel, and milkweed.   Last summer, I abandoned my garden and ended up with lots of action on the old kale and artichoke.  
  • Amaryllis are blooming now.   If you have some plantings that are becoming crowed, you may want to dig up the bulbs, divide them, and replant.   Store them in a cool dry place and replant next February.   
  • If you have a bluebonnet patch, let the seeds develop and the plant dry (die) before you cut them down.   Leave them to sprout and bloom again next year.   You can shred the plants with a string trimmer and they will disappear quickly.     
  • PLANT: 
    • Trees:   Don't plant trees until next October or November unless you have to.   Studies have shown that trees planted in the fall and winter outgrow those planted the summer before.   
    • Palm Trees:  Plant any and all now!   Some palms are understory trees which means they want a shady spot.   Choose the right tree for your space.  
    • Vegetables:  okra, summer squash, southern peas (like black-eyed peas), and sweet potato and peppers from transplants.  If I didn't have tomatoes planted, I would definitely plant one in a 4" or 1 gallon pot.   And I will confess that I planted pole green beans this morning.   I don't know how they will do, but I had a little space and I didn't want it to go to waste   
    • Herbs:  Basil, catnip, dill, fennel, lavendar, mint (grow in a pot to contain the roots), oregano, parsley, rosemary
    • Flowers from seed:  alyssum, aster, cosmos, marigold, sunflower, zinnia
    • Flowers from transplants: dianthus, ice plant, geraniums, kalanchoes, marigold, periwinkle, ruellia, salvia, zinnia, 
    • Flowers from cuttings:  geranium, ice plant, kalanchoe ruellia
  • Vegetable Planting Date Sources - Texas Extension Service and the Old Farmers Almanac.
  • Fertilize
    • Acid fertilizer for your acid loving plants like gardenias
    • Lime trees that haven't bloomed yet.   
    • Avocado trees
    • Any vegetable / herb that is a heavy feeder.
Don't forget to download your April calendar!   It's a great place to keep track of what's going on in your garden and tasks you want to do.   I print mine up on a piece of cardstock. 

Gardening is cheaper than therapy . . . and you get tomatoes! 

Don't Buy This

Don't ya love it when trying to save time backfires - like yesterday when I grabbed some potting mix at the grocery store because I didn't want to stop at the nursery for one item.
 
 I'll add this brand to my list of "Don't Buy This".  
And here is why . . . 
 
Yep, that's how it came out of the bag.   (And it was Made in Texas so I expected some good stuff)

The label clearly lists the ingredients as "compost, indigenous wood fiber, and sand".   Those are good things but the mix must have been moist when it was bagged.  The bag was heavy and stiff so I should have realized that it was not what I wanted.    

Lucky for me, I had a bag of vermiculite to amend the mix with.    And the result wasn't too bad - 
 
Definitely good enough to bump a plant into a larger pot.   I'm still not sure what the white and orange spots on the potting "chunks" is so I won't use it again until I give it some time and make sure it doesn't do any harm. 

Happy gardening!  

Friday, March 17, 2017

Gardening Calendar

I found that one of the most important components of being a successful gardener is to do each task at the right time. For this reason,  most gardeners keep some sort of journal that they can look back on from time to time.   Thomas Jefferson who was not only one of our first presidents but also a renowned gardener and meticulous record keeper. My garden records are sloppy to non- existent in comparison.  I like to keep all my notes for the month on one sheet of paper like this below.

I love to check off accomplished tasks - but otherwise, each month is a fairly blank sheet for me to keep notes like varieties, rainfall, harvest - anything I think is noteworthy.

Here are downloadable printable calendars for March and April.   Check back and I will add a link to a new calendar each month.   I hope this helps you as much as it does me!  

Happy St. Patrick's Day and happy gardening!