Saturday, October 20, 2012

Herbs: grow them, love them, preserve them, cook with them

We always used herbs--a few but not very many and we were not using many fresh ones. That was before I tried growing them in the garden. We fell in love with purple basil and when I learned to make a good pesto--sweet basil. I got cutting from friends and started more kinds of herbs. Now we were on the lookout for recipes to use sage, cilantro, thyme, and more. I have found that putting them in medium sized pots seems to keep them in control and a bit smaller than those in the ground. It has also let me rearrange them and share them more easily. Found a great website about their growing habits and so in not reinventing the wheel:

I learned how to make the plants multiply by doing cutting and rooting in water but was loosing many cuttings to rot. The last cuttings I rooted in wet sand and they all took. Now I  am trying a batch in seed starter with sand and they also seem to be doing very well. I volunteered at Johnson Farm this summer and one of the days we did mint cuttings and planted them that way. The advantage is they grow faster and true to the parent plant. It worked well on the sage, begonias, lemon basil and mints.

I have tried out several ways of putting herbs up so that we have them fresh when we want to use them. I use my Foodsaver and make  small vacuum bags then fill them with damp herbs, seal and freeze. I have also made up pesto packs with just a bit of oil so they need to have oil added to serve them. We also made parsley - garlic butter and thai basil butter. The mint kept really well in the refrigerator so it has not made it to the freezer. Now to find recipes using rosemary and more using fresh cilantro. drying and freezing herbs
We grew chamomile in the school garden last year but I have never grown it. Great for attracting bees so I need to add one and the tea is not bad either.

Heather shared a printout at our last garden guild meeting on growing herbs from A&M and brought several different herbs for members to touch and smell. We discussed and demonstrated how to take cuttings and start new plants for ourselves. Great short video on this at Propagating Herbs video on youtube.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Gardener's TO-Do list for October

From Organic Living

Our zone-by-zone list will keep you busy this month.

plant a wildflower meadowZone 8
  • Plant more lettuce, Chinese cabbage, spinach, carrots, beets, peas, radishes, onions, turnips, garlic, shallots, and cress.
  • Set out strawberry plants.
  • Sow a cover crop of winter rye (Secale cereale), purple vetch (Vicia benghalensis), Austrian winter peas (Pisum arvense), or ‘Elbon' rye (Secale cereale ‘Elbon') in vacant beds.
  • Use rye clippings to add nitrogen to compost, speeding the breakdown of fall leaves.
  • In flowerbeds, plant anemones, oxalis, and ranunculus for spring bloom.
  • Also, seed annual candytuft (Iberis umbellata) in bare spots of flowerbeds for spring bloom.
  • Broadcast wildflower seeds to establish a meadow.
  • Plant trees and shrubs: Warm fall temps will help them get established before winter.
For more zones or to look at other articles:

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Fall gardening into full swing with brassicas and root crops

I couldn't wait for fall so I could replace the under-performing plants that lived through the heat with the broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and beets/carrots that we seem to be able to grow in great profusion. I started all of the plants except cabbage from seed and am spending time fine tuning the soil with my little test kit and transplanting the little seedlings into the garden. I am also looking closely at companion plantings. The cool mornings are enticing me from many other tasks but the rewards are going to be many.

I found an interesting lettuce tower on Pinterest and got it made up with a few sprigs of red sails lettuce. should be fun if nothing else. I am trying fall green beans and peas to see if they do better. Seems that last fall the green beans did pretty well. I have a new really short season variety to try. 

The herbs are going strong compelling me to find recipes to utilize all of them. Sage stuffed pork roast was terrific, the Thai basil and garlic parsley butters are great on bread, potatoes, rice --the list goes on and on. I have  dozens of packets pesto in the freezer waiting to be  spread on pasta, bread, crackers and more. The lemon basil has appeared on chicken and on a zucchini torte.  George is using a lot more mint in his tea too. I haven't tried out rosemary dishes but will go there next. Garlic cloves are on their way from the grower so next year we should have really tasty garlic to use too. 

I participated in a few plant swaps in the last few weeks and have added a number of perennials to the beds and bringing in new color and textures. I got half a dozen coleus plants of various leaf types and rooted most of them to double or triple the plantings. Looks pretty good out there even with all the heat.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Tim wows the garden guild with fall prep and planting information

 The room was full and Tim Pfluger ( Green 'n Growing) was in high gear talking about how to get a new or old garden ready for planting and what plants and seeds to put into in in the fall. He talked about out clay soils and how to amend them using a variety of organic products which he whipped out of his bag to show us so everyone could examine them and ask about them. He says he starts with a good application of compost (about 1 cu.ft/ 12 sq. ft of garden--double for new beds) each time and mixes in  a bit of green sand which provides iron for the plants and some of the rock phosphate or alpha meal, then spreads this over the area he is planting and digs it in with a garden fork. He says the alpha meal is a natural growth stimulator. He also may add dried molasses to stimulate the micro-organisms in the compost. 

For seed starting he showed up a product to add that stimulates growth called mycorrhizal Fungi (at right) apparently does not need a lot to get things going. 

He also showed a couple of products to use once the plants are established that aid bloom and fruit production pictures below. Both contain a mixture of minerals and other nutrients. Each is a different blend and can be used as a side dressing about once a month.   He also mentioned Lady Bug flower power. Questions were asked about MG and the nitrogen content is way to high to promote fruiting but green growth is enhanced. 

 Tim referred us to the county extension chart for planting and discussed serial plantings so that not all the production is at one time. It is too late to see the brassicas but not to put in transplants. Great time for seeding lots of vegetable that will take a light frost or be ready to harvest within 60 days. Good time for lettuce, spinach, carrots, beets, radish, kale, chard, bush beans, snap peas and even summer squash.  Onion sets get planted in November for harvest in last spring.  It was a great meeting and good information. 

Our first seed/plant exchange had lots of items switching hands. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Tim Pfluger to discuss planting the fall garden and soil amendments 9/15

If you don't think you have a Green Thumb, this is the meeting for you.

Tim Pfluger of Green and Growing will teach us about how to plant the Fall/Winter Garden, including proper soils, compost, fertilizers and amendments for growing vegetables, flowers and other plants during the Garden Guild Meeting Saturday, Sept. 15.  11:00 AM at the Recreation Center on 3000 Shoreline.  

This is the most important basic knowledge for growing plants.  Come get your questions answered.

Also (Extra, Extra), new feature of the Garden Guild, come at 10:30 AM (before the meeting) with plants/seeds to share or food to share a bit of a chat before the meeting. "

Friday, August 17, 2012

Hot, Hot, Hot and still growing

Although the drought is not as severe as last year, the lack of regular rain and excessive heat do take a toll on the plants. I have been trying to soak them every 2-3 days and give them a drink with the watering can if they are too droopy between times but it just has not been enough to keep the okra and eggplant producing. So this week a bit more water and they have really responded even at 100 degrees. I think that the neighbor's tree sucks up so much of the water--there are surface roots that might have to be severed.

I took a chance and planted some black eyed pea seeds that a neighbor gave me and now am almost ready to pick some. The Malabar spinach is thriving and the herbs are doing really well under the oak tree. Chard it still going but is now ornamental as it is just too bitter to use. The purple beans are blooming and setting tiny beans and doing nothing more. I was hoping to have beans longer than 1" for eating, oh well. 

The peppers in the greenhouse have been giving us a steady handful of peppers. Nothing to shout about but then beats none at all. The ones in the back garden have lots of buds but no fruit yet--tree roots again pulling  the water.

I am investigating ways to construct beds that will keep the roots out but let the plants have the depth they need. I also started seeding for fall and have broccoli and cauliflower in grow trays as well as chard and beets. Looking forward to more of the fall stuff soon. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

An oft forgotten task:cultivating and lessons learned

 We have been blessed with quite a lot of rain in the last couple of weeks yet when I checked on some of the plants they are dry several inches below the surface. An Oh My moment hit. We mulched with compost and have not cultivated it much since it went on weeks ago. It has a wonderful crust to keep the moisture below but is not letting rain soak through  well enough. Soooooo.... I spent a hour out in the bed this morning cultivating the top layer, adding a bit of bone meal around the eggplant, tomatoes, and okra,  and watering the plants good from my rain water stash.

The eggplants are blooming again and so are the okra. Peppers have buds and we have had a constant supply of peppers--not enough to put up but enough to eat every day or so. Lots of little beans setting on the plants and blooms. Now if some will get big enough to pick again. Oh, the heat!

The malabar spinach (left) tower has taught me another lesson--do not make the tower higher than my fingertips as it is hard to pick the leaves when I cannot reach them!  I am finally seeing a few more bees around the Mexican petunias too--not nearly like last summer though. 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Creating an herb garden to accent the yard

 We have been talking for a year about doing some kind of plantings around the oak tree at the corner of our front yard but have spent way more time on the other beds. I did put stones around the tree and put down weed cloth topped with grass clippings and some weedy grasses. Last weekend we finally put down a load of compost/mulch and got it spread out. Suddenly it was plain that if I grouped all the herbs there that they would help water the tree and get a bit of protection from the blazing sun and heat we started getting this week. 

I wound up moving the plant stand too so it would be closer and open up the path area to the chairs a bit more. This may be our permanent grouping or we may move things around a bit more. I'd like to pot a couple of the coleus to get a bit more color in the area but need to monitor the sun a bit more yet for that.  I am getting lots of comments from people walking by on the garden and the mix of flowers and vegetables. The bamboo teepee is attracting a bit of attention now that the malabar spinach is climbing well.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Garden Guild visits Boggy Creek Farm

She had some very interesting perspectives on things including early blight on tomatoes. She says every year some of the plants get it. It is the climate as much as anything. she leaves the plants alone and just keeps picking until the crop is done--in another few weeks here. her plants look like mine--some brown and dying leaves and branches and lots of growth still, blooms and fruit. She plants in long rows --kind of in hills with valleys between. she runs drip line down the row along the stem and waters when the plants are newly transplanted and until they set fruit then hardly at all. she does have clay soil under the composted and organic soil she has built up over the years. Squash and melons are blooming and setting, she seems to have some bees.

I didn't see peppers but she had them for sale in the tarped area out front.  She did have okra, sunflowers, eggplants and melons. She kept telling us that people put on way too much nitrogen and to not pull the plants out after the season but to just cut them at the ground, chop them with a hoe, add a bit of sulfur and gypsum, and plant the next crop between them to use the nutrients that the plants have brought to their root area. It seems to be working for her and she has had the concern for nearly 40 years now.

It was interesting that she started raising chickens for the droppings and sells the eggs to pay for the feed, adding the droppings to the brush/leaf/compost pile she builds and uses.
Boggy Creek Farm is at 3414 Lyons Road, Austin TX 78702.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Adding compost for mulch makes garden look spiffy

 We are so lucky in my neighborhood to have access to free compost to use from our yard waste. I am also very lucky to have a husband that does not mind helping shovel and haul it home in buckets. This morning we brought home 15 buckets to increase the layer of mulch from scant to 2-3" in the mostly flowering part of the garden. It will be better than the mulch in that it has nutrients too.
The native hardwood bark mulch is also $2.35 per bag instead of the free compost so it gets spread a bit thinner. I have been using shredded leaves, chipped small branches, and the neighbor's lawn clippings along with the mulch.
We probably need another 10-15 buckets of it to finish the front and some for the back too. Good workout too. Sure made things look nice this morning as I gave every plant a good drink to settle it in before our temperature hit 96 this afternoon. This week is the first time I have had to use city water to water the garden. I still have a bit of rain water in 5 gallon buckets that I am saving for the few potted tomatoes.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Heat happy plants coming into their own

With all the 95 degree days we are having my heat thriving plants are coming into their own, blooming and setting fruit that we are really looking forward to. Not to say anything bad about the greens (especially as they are responsible for my recent weight loss!) but they have been very productive for a long time. It is nice to see the eggplant and peppers of all kinds on their bushes. I am growing both kinds of eggplant this year-Black Beauty and long purple. The many pepper plants are thriving in the shelter of the converted greenhouse giving us a few peppers every day from one or another of the plants.  Putting row cover cloth over our GH frame is giving a great sheltered place to grow them. We have Anaheims, small orange and red sweet,  jalepenos, habeneros, sweet banana, poblano, and giant red sweet. Now for some new recipes. 
As you can see I am adding lots of mulch to keep the soil mosture in. I have been reading the pros and cons of this method and it is sure food for thought.  We have been discussing how to expand or continue the design in the front shade garden. While I have added begonias and inpatients I am still looking for more ideas there and for the walkway.

Wish the cucumbers and squash were doing as well--getting squash borers on many of the plants that the pill bugs let grow. I have an organic spray by Green light with  Spinosad  that is highly recommended so I have hopes otherwise, it is grow bags for us this summer. I have looked at homemade organic treatments to keep the plants healthier but haven't needed much this year. 

I have lots of New Zealand spinach growing and finally put up a tee pee for the Malabar spinach. Cannot say enough about planting the varieties that are recommended for our area. 

I was intrigued by the new SF garden on our tour and need to investigate the soil mix Steve and Karen are using to produce the stunning amount of vegetables in such a small raised bed. I am also looking at how best to maintain a great level of nutrients that matches what I want to grow or when to supplement. Lots to think about before fall. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mystery plant identified

I thought I was being so clever amending my soil after the broccoli was finished with my own wonderful compost. It was hot all winter and really looked perfect for digging in. (It is working great!) I transplanted the eggplant in a square then added okra seeds in a cross and the middle. Apparently none came up but these beautiful plants did.
At first they looked like okra until they had tendrils. They were so healthy I left them and got okra that was already in 6 packs and added cages and a triangle trellis to support the vines . My next guess was cucumbers as the leaves early on were not too big or dissimilar to the ones I have out back but as they bloomed and began to set fruit the mystery is solved--cantaloupe! we ate a lot of it last fall and threw the seeds into the compost along with their rinds. What a wonderful present for us as we really like it. this is the only way we have grown it too--mystery surprise. Guess I should screen the compost but then look what I would have missed out on.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

WB Garden Tour 2012 gives peek behind the fences

What an absolutely fabulous time we had looking at other people's gardens. We started at the community gardens that has around 80 plots and they have creatively used every inch of space there to grow a great variety of vegetables and flowers. We toured about a dozen sites in all ranging from full sun to deep shade and our gardeners found ways to create a restful oa sis and beauty in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Wish I had taken more pictures but I was too busy looking.
Many people added fences, birdbaths, critters, and all kinds of items to the gardens to create more interesting areas. Every kind of path was in use from crushed stone to mulch to pavers and grass paths. Most had punches of color and all shades of green. One of our gardeners has an intensive square foot garden that is amazingly full. Benches and chairs were everywhere so the gardeners could stop and relax to enjoy the areas they created.  I want to go back for a 2nd look as I am sure I missed as much as I saw.
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Saturday, May 12, 2012

WB Garden Tour 5/19/2012

The Wells Branch Garden Guild invites the community (and your friends) to join in a tour of gardens in the area. The garden tour will begin at the Wells Branch Community Gardens around 9 am. We will spend 20-30 minutes at each garden on the tour and finish up at the WB Homestead in the park to see the results of our plantings in April and maybe sit in the shade a bit and discuss the gardens. The gardens include vegetable and flower, shade and sun, drought treatments, community and demonstration gardens.
  • A.       9 am WB Community Gardens at Town Hill and Single Trace
  • B.       9:35 Don Harrell - 14533 Donald Drive
  • C.       9:50 Eleanor Brooks - 14535 Donald Drive
  • D.      10:10 Heather Johnson--15209 Mallard Green Lane
  • E.       10:35  Laurie Childers--2436 Rick Whinery
  • F.        11 am Dianne Koehler--14909 Alpha Collier Dr
  • G.      11:25 Rachel Lebansky--14904 Yellowleaf Trail
  • H.      11:50  Steve  Weikal- Karen Nunely--2333 Klattenhoff Drive
  • I.         12:15  Wells Branch Homestead 2106 Klattenhoff Drive

Garden tour map

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sunflowers planted by birds are stunningly large

Last fall I threw out some sunflower seeds from the pantry for the birds as they smelled bad. What a surprise for us this spring to have several come up in the garden and top out at more than 9' tall. I know now what Van Gogh was inspired by in the sunflower fields!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Our garden is a destination

Twice in the last week people actually came by to show off my garden--people we  did not know! My husband was working out in the garage when a man and his son came into the yard. The man was pointing out the different types of vegetable to his small son--that is a cabbage, that is carrots, etc. Quite interesting to observe. The second time a woman brought her mother by in the car to see that the garden was in the front yard. We are managing to share more growing information than we otherwise could. Every day someone walking by stops to comment on the plantings. I have the tomatoes out now and am ready to start taking cabbages in. Most of the kohl rabi are already pulled but there are quite a few yet to bring in.
There is also a fair bit of interest in the rain barrels and how to build them and use them. So much fun!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Spring bringing change to the gardens

 The winter garden this year was amazingly productive but as I pull out the cauliflower and broccoli plants I have all kinds of spring summer plants ready to slip into the ground. Using the window grow box and the greenhouse to grow my transplants has helped me to provide plants for the garden that I know were grown the way I want them grown. I kind of jumped the season a bit by planting tomatoes on Christmas day but when they were transplanted in the  last couple of weeks they
were ready. Some had buds on them and many now are blooming. A few even have tomatoes on them already. We refinished a bench glider and put it on a platform against the house looking out on the gardens. We can sit morning and late afternoon and have a drink and rest looking out at our bounty. More than that, people who are walking by stop and ask questions about the garden and the plants and are amazed that the plants are largely vegetables with a smattering of flowers here and there.
I thought by now I would be taking the sides off the greenhouse and replacing the plastic with row cover cloth but the extra humidity has the peppers going crazy and setting lots of fruit so I am holding off a few more weeks. I found a variety of cucumbers that do not need pollinators to grow in the greenhouse and have a nice showing already.
Off to do more planting as there are still a few feet of unplanted soil that I can drop seeds into.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Looking forward to the Garden Guild meeting Saturday

Attracting the Birds and Bees and Butterflies, too.
Mar. 17, 2012, 11:00 AM at the Community Center at 2104  Klattenhoff – Yvette Shelton has arranged for Lynn Hill, an expert in plants that attract and help Birds, Bees and Butterflies, to teach us about the right plants to use in our landscapes. To have sustainable yards and gardens we need birds and bees and butterflies. This will be a great opportunity to get good info and your questions answered just in time for the Spring plantings.

A very bountiful winter

I have to admit that I planted a few too many seeds in my little starters. Never in my wildest imaginings was I prepared for all of them to germinate and thrive. The winter crops have been incredibly bountiful enabling me to share with friends and put some bags of cauliflower and broccoli in the freezer for later in the year. Now the kohl rabi is starting to head up and the cabbage is heading nicely. Should hold us for another 6-8 weeks, maybe more. We even made our first batch of sauerkraut and several batches of slaw--from the cauliflower leaves and bok choi. Fabulous tasting and better than just composting the leaves. My husband says we are on a cabbage diet and maybe we are as we are focusing on eating what I am growing.
The Malabar spinach and new Zealand spinach that did not do well last year both have seeded themselves and are thriving.  Even the regular spinach which we can only grow over the winter and early spring here is much more productive this year than it ever has been. I am also having a bumper crop of peas that I planted last October and suddenly took off with the rains this winter. Chard, of course is thriving and so pretty.

I wound up with 4 different kinds of cherry tomatoes/small tomatoes so they are going to stay in large pots and sit next to the greenhouse. I tried to find tomatoes that would thrive in the heat of our summer and am trying a couple of Porters and Porters Pride, Creole, Heatwave, super Sioux, and Arkansas traveler. I may have a couple of Romas or not. They did so poorly last year that I am about given up on them. I have both Black beauty and oriental eggplant, one that wintered over is blooming to beat the band--now will it set fruit? I haven't figured out where to put the green beans but they are so good fresh that we have to put some in. I am going to put more cucumbers in the greenhouse with row cover to try and avoid the bugs.
If I can find room for most of the plants I will be lucky. Maybe I'll have to share a few of the little guys with friends to turn them on to gardening too.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Getting a jumpstart on tomatoes in the sunroom

 I think Christmas was a bit early to start  the tomato seeds as they are getting pretty big and have another 30 days to go until I can put them into the ground. They started in the heated mat I made then up potted to 6 packs under the grow lights. Now they are in 4" pots under grow lights in the sunroom.  they will be ready to go into the greenhouse in a week or so or into the unheated mini-greenhouses I bought last year so maybe I was not to early after all. 

 Some (cherry ) will go into tubs and not into the ground. I think that anything less than 5 gallon is too small for tomatoes although the peppers are doing great in the kitty litter buckets that are about 3 gallons. I think the eggplants may do ok in the smaller buckets too so we'll try them this year. 
Germination rates were mostly fabulous resulting in over 20 plants growing out now. I'll have lots to share with friends. I am specifically growing ones that are heat tolerant and many from Texas or nearby states with our hot summers.
I also started about a dozen sweet 100s for the new garden at the school as well as almost as many romas. The school will get some and I'll keep some to put into pots. 
This year's list of tomatoes includes Porter and Porter's Pride, Creole, Heatwave, super sioux and white rabbit. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Greens take off

Last fall when I was planting the cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli, kohl rabi, chard, and spinach I didn't think as much about what it would look like in the winter as I am now. The gardens look beautiful and are feeding us most days with really healthy greens. We have found we like the bok choi so much that I reseeded for spring. Chard has been a bane. It grows so well but it is an acquired taste until this week when I steamed it in tomato juice instead of water or oil. Also found a great greens recipe with beer and molasses in it. WOW! Now we cannot get enough. I am impatiently waiting to harvest the first broccoli and kohl rabi.
Broccoli is really coming on--2 last week and several not far behind. The cauliflower are heading too deep in their leaves while close by the kohl rabi are beginning to make their bulbs. None of them is following the schedule on the seed packets but the produce will be welcome as it comes. We will probably get far more than I planned on from the looks of it now. 

The green house has been a real surprise to us. We really just wanted to salvage and protect the plants that were not done bearing but were frost tender--tomatoes and peppers with an eggplant thrown in. The heat and humidity has produced a new crop of peppers and has resulted in tasty vine ripened tomatoes that are better than I had last summer. I have draped the lettuce bed with plastic sheeting in a kind of cold frame arrangement to try and even out temperature and moisture and am being rewarded with bags of leaves every week now. Better get some more seedlings going to put in next month as these play out.