Saturday, November 15, 2014

Dealing with the freezes and hoop houses

Texas freezes are getting a lot colder and with the drought stressed landscape plants we need to take special care to protect them. Also more people than ever are planting home gardens and many of these plans will not take a “hard freeze” well or at all.  So the temp is dropping and what do you do?  
Central Tx Gardener:

  1. Water plants well. keep the water off the leaves and do not make the soil wet.
  2. Mulch well around the roots of perennials like roses, mums
  3. Cover plants with cloth — blankets, sheets, frost blankets etc—not plastic unless it is over a frame.
  4. Make temporary row covers from any bendable substance-wire, then cover with heavy frost blankets late in day and remove in morning. Frost blankets come in dark green and white. the white ones let light through and can be left in place for a couple of days. The green ones work for deciduous shrubs / small trees that need no light . 
  5. Make hoop houses—you’ll need 1/2” PVC in 10’ lengths, 4 way connectors or strap ties, 4-6mm plastic sheeting, clamps,   PVC can be made into hoop and attached to beds with U-brackets, cinderblock, short rebar pieces. (see pics following) Securing a piece at the top stabilizes the structure. attaching a length of wood or PVC to bottom of each side keeps it in place. Step by step instructions:  or  
  6. Use lights for heat. Old fashioned light bulbs work well, strands of Xmas lights 7w type, even mini-lights wrapped around pots help. Clamp type shop lights work well too—might need a colored bulb. For greenhouses the small oil filled radiator type electric heater works well. 
  7. Precondition tender fruit trees and strawberries using a spray like seaweed or kelp and watering with a higher potassium fertilizer. Several spays like Frost Away or Freezepruf work on non-edible leaves. These are anti-transpirants so plants do not loose moisture through their leaves. Trees need their graft area wrapped too. 
  8. Use buckets or water in a circle around a tree. fill the tree-gators with warm water—who would do that????
  9. many potted plants have to be moved inside for a freeze. porous pots tolerate freezes worst as they water gets into the clay and freezing shatters the posts, any pot where water might stand(remove the drip trays) can cause frozen roots. putting several pots together and wrapping them or placing them inside a barrier filled with mulch/leaves can help them winter. Check the zone rating—those for 6 and less will overwinter here generally well. 
  10. consider creating a cold frame from boards or cinderblocks with a glass/plastic/plexiglass top. These are frequently placed against the house or garage but can be put against any wall. you can grow plants in it that need a bit more protection from cold or wind, put potted plants into it (depends on height) , store dormant plants until spring, harden off seedlings, 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Starting your plants from seed or rooting and making them thrive

I love doing this starting my little plants from seeds and have played with a lot of ways to do it and have had multiple chances to see how it is done on a much larger scale at the Johnson backyard garden. Soil and moisture are two of the most important factors in the process after the quality of the seeds. Then the amount of effort to keep them going and not damp off before the get big enough to transplant is another big issue. Seeds should be kept dry and cool for best chance at germination. Ideal germination temperatures are different depending on the plant: germination chart  This site endorses pre-sprouting but has a great chart on the #of days to germinate at which temperatures: pre-sprouting and temps .
My best method to date involves a bit of combining of methods.

  1. I use an unfertilized seeding soil well moistened for all seeds but I use a big enough container to put good lightly fertilized potting soil in the wells first and dampen well. I then put in about 1/2-3/4" of the well moistened seed soil and pat it down. 
  2. For littler seeds I scratch the surface and drop on 1-2 seeds per sector. For larger ones I add enough seeding soil to cover the seed the required amount--the depth of 1 seed. 
  3. I water the whole tray when done seeding and set on a tray to catch the moisture and cover with bubble wrap or in a plastic bag or under a clear dome and set in a warm enough place to germinate the seed. 
  4. I watch the flats and wait for the seed to pop out a leaf. I do not water from the top as a general rule. Soaking from the bottom works better and makes for stronger longer roots. 
  5. I generally use a misting of fish oil in water on the seedlings weekly as they grow and most of them get blown on to strengthen their stems. You can use a small fan as well. You can also use weak compost tea.
  6. Once they are up and have at least a set of leaves I move them to the greenhouse most of the year. It is lightly shaded part of the day and gives them better air circulation but does increase their water consumption.
  7. I try to get plants up to several leaves before they go to the garden. I lose fewer this way and have room to grow them and up-pot them when needed. 
Growing herbs and tomatoes from rooting a cutting takes a bit of planing and has been hit and miss for me this year. Most herbs do well if you pinch off a length of a growing tip and drop the stem in either wet sand or just water and wait for roots to appear. Once they have roots move to wet potting soil and decrease watering to bottom only. Tomatoes can be rooted by breaking off suckers from the plant and dropping them into a cup of water. I take a piece about 6" long and strip off the leaves at the bottom if there are any. I use rainwater or purified water for this.  In a couple of weeks the roots will be big enough to transplant into a pot then the garden. Sweet potatoes can be done this way as well. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Garden guild meeting June 2014

We had probably one of our very best speakers of the year last Saturday at the Garden guild meeting. Sam Slaughter from Gabriel Valley Farms spoke to us on organic pesticides at the meeting. He was incredibly knowledgeable and it brought sheets for us to take notes on that had all the different categories of pesticides that he discussed. 
He stressed at the very first thing you needed to do was identify what the pest was that you were wanting to treat or eliminate. You can do a web search looking for pictures or images of the pests you have found, take a picture of them with your camera or phone, and ask the county extension office to help you identify what the pest is. Once you've identified the pest then decide how aggressively you want or need to treat for this particular pest. Sometimes you may want to use a trap, just hose them off with a stream of water, or pick them off by hand. You may also want to promote beneficial insects in order to control the pests. Some of these are ladybugs and lacewings or special companion plants that serve to deter pests. If you are going to use beneficial insets remember that many of the pesticides will kill them as well so introducing ladybugs and then spraying with the pesticide is not in an effective way to manage the problem. 

Next he talked about a broad spectrum organic pesticide called spinosad. This is found in several other products as well as a product in its own right. Oils that can be used in the garden are listed as neem oil, cinnamon oil, orange oil, and karaja oil. He said it is more a presence and aroma thing and they are all about as effective as each other.  They are surfactants that clog up the thorax of the insects they are fairly general i.e. not specific to anyone one pest. It is best to use them in the evening as they have about a 24 hour lifespan and most of them need to be used under a temperature of 92° and when it is not sunny to prevent burning of the foliage of the plants.

There are number of soaps on the market that are specifically organic one is safer soap a second one is Desex. You can also use Castile soap, Ivory soap but detergents like Dawn are not organic.

He also talked about pyrethrins which come from a specific Chrysanthemum. This is a much older class of organic pesticide and  is a neurotoxin to the bugs but not to people. The lifespan of these also is about 24 hours give or take. They are great to use on aphids one time. It seems that the pests that are not killed off the first time around develop a resistance to the pyrethrins and need to be treated with a second products to eliminate them. Perhaps a really bad infestation of aphids can be treated with pyrethrins then after about 48 hours ladybugs released to take care of the remaining infestation.
He also discussed diatomaceous earth. it's great for deterring ants. it's a contact dust so if you're sprinkling it around you should be wearing a dust protective mask to not get it inside your lungs. If it gets whetted it becomes ineffective. Sam talked about using sticky cards in the garden and was telling us that there are a lot of them now that have specific pheromones on them to attract just the pest that you are trying to eliminate instead of wide swath of them.

We also talked about Bacillus thuringiensis or BT one of the products on the market is called dipel. It is a stomach poison specific for caterpillars but it will kill all kinds of caterpillars including the larvae of any butterflies that you're trying to attract to your garden. This also should be used in the evening to treat the plants but it takes 2 to 3 days to kill off the caterpillars. You might have to retreat because some of them had not hatched yet when you treated the first time. There is a product on the market for grasshoppers called Nolo but it treats juvenile grasshoppers not adults. Sam says garlic and pepper spray on the foliage is fairly effective as well. 

There are new biologicals being developed that are just coming out on the market commercially they are fairly broad. one is called Preferal the other is called Mycorral trawl they actually are a living fungus that you spray onto the leaves they last for several days and they are trying to specific size them as they are being developed.
We also discussed killing weeds naturally and talked about the vinegar and salt treatment for weeds there are several variations on this listed on the Internet the product not to add to this blend is Epsom salts it is a folio or you can use orange oil in it you can use Nemo oil in it you can use the vinegar and it's sunny days are the very best and retreatment will be required because you're killing the foliage and not the roots. If you're pouring this on the soil the salt may prevent anything else from growing in this location for sometime to come.

We also talked about ways to treat poison ivy and other poison exposures from that family including feels Napfor soap Ivory soap which both defat the skin there a number of products to treat your reaction once you at once you've been exposed. We also discussed that under no circumstances are the plants to be burned as it can cause your hospitalization.

In the Q&A's we talked about crown disease in cotton and lavender and the need for a root shod that is a living fungus to protect it. For powdery mildew on peas and other plants use oil spray regularly to prevent it. For trees like crepe myrtles it may be as important to adjust the sprinkler heads and promote air circulation as to treat. For leaf miners and shot holes in leaves use oil sprays too. 

Sam has invited us to come out to his nursery for a tour and I believe that George Holcomb will help us organize this trip later in the year.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Springing into the harvest of more than greens

We are also beginning to harvest some of the onions we planted. They are drying out a bit faster now that I have removed some of the mulch--not such a good thing. I put the first harvest in to ferment--1/2 gallon of the white/yellow onions. I will probably ferment these small red coach onions as well.  Lots of the larger ones will go into the onion safe that George built for us last year. 
The yellow onions are getting big--3" or more in diameter and some of the red ones are picking up a better size as I baby them. Some of the garlic is also getting dry but not as big as I hoped for. We have been using the garlic greens for a long time to flavor dressing for salad and butter. These have just been ones I planted to deter bugs over the winter that have been a real treat and bonus crop.Now there are a few squash plants that came up from seed in the compost that I am looking fondly upon. I think one of them is a cantaloupe so am holding off planting more until I can tell. Also have picked the first eggplant in spite of the cooler than normal weather. I think my big cloches helped a lot!

Our garden has been good to us this year and I should not complain as I planted all the greens but sometimes you just want to eat something else. that said, we have had beets and carrots too but a lot of greens for a long time. We had a decent crop of broccoli and a few cauliflower along the way too.This is the 2nd year I have planted Contender Gr. beans and they are fantastic tasting, fast to fruit and produce prolifically--8-10 beans on each plant ripening at once!  

Garden tour recap

There were some fantastic things to see on the tour this year.Take a look at pictures of the tour from start to finish on the WBNA page: 2014 Garden tour 
Loved Rachel LeBansky's yard and am looking forward to a start of the colored yarrow, the trailing rosemary at Barbara Romero's was so interesting all trained over a wrought iron piece and the Victoria salvia a real hit as was her stacked wall around her patio; George Holcombe got to show off his new sweet potato starts and the irrigation system that runs off his rain barrel. Yvette Shelton showed off the plants that are thriving in the shade at home and her 2 gardens at the community gardens, chandra Patel even demonstrated the irrigation system for us and showed how it was laid out--the plants are thriving too. I got to explain those hugelkulture beds and brag on their water retention then we looked at the cinderblock bed with planted squares and the onions. Thanks to Yvette for explaining how to grow great ones. At the school garden we got an up close look at how the hoop houses were constructed and the new tank beds and how both conserve water. Last stop was the community gardens with Heather Johnson , Dianne Koehler, and Yvette Shelton showing us around the beds. Heather and Dianne (me) lead classes during the school year and add considerable expertise in gardening to the program. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Garden tour in WB

We have 8 gardens on our tour this year. Thanks to all who are sharing their yards with us. Invite anyone who is interested to join us. We will meet in front of the Rec center 3000 Shoreline dr. Each site will have a sign and maps will be available the day of the tour.
Schedule for Saturday's Garden tour:
Meet at Rec center 9:00am
9:15 shady garden—Yvette Shelton 2111 Fuzz Fairway
9:35 veggies &fruit trees, drip irrigation setup — Pravin"chandra” Patel 2409 Rick Whinery
9:55 General garden—Barbara Romero 2440 Rick Whinery -
10:20 xeriscaping —George Holcombe 14900 Yellowleaf Tr.
10:40 water wise, mostly perennials, butterfly attracting flowers—Rachel LaBanski 14904 Yellowleaf Trl.
11:05 Hugelkulture beds and alternative raised vegetable beds—Dianne Koehler 14909 Alpha Collier
11:30 Hoop houses, tank beds, greenhouse, kids gardens—WB Elementary gardens enter off Town Hill in back
11:55 Community gardens —Heather Johnson

garden tour map

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Easy to grow and drought tolerant plants for Austin TX

One would think that most plants would be easy to grow here. We rarely get freezing weather, we have decent soil, we used to get an adequate amount of rain especially in the winter. Now and for the for forseeable future it looks like we are going to be in a drought. 

What makes plants easy to grow? Is it that the seeds come up easily? Is it that the plants thrive once they are up and produce? Is it that they do not require a lot of tending? A lot depends on the gardener in this case. 

One of the things that makes plants easier to grow takes a little work up front. Especially during times of drought and heat it is essential that the garden have adequate mulch around the plants. This serves to keep their roots cooler and to retain moisture in the soil. It is also beneficial to establish a soaking program for the plants so that they develop deeper roots and are less

dependent on frequent watering. Some plants however do not have deep roots systems, it is not their culture. This includes peas and beans and many of the cole crops like broccoli and cauliflower.  Many leafy plants can be grown in the heat of the summer like lettuces if they are grown in a much shadier location where they only get 2 to 3 hours of sunshine per day. Plants that have smaller leaves also tolerate drought better as do plants that have fleshier leaves or hard stems. You may want to choose plants with shorter days to harvest in the spring to assure a better chance of picking before it gets hot>> VegetableVarietiesTravisCounty   It is a good plan to place the plants with the same water requirements in the same areas of the garden. If you put your plants in pots, you may want to avoid clay pots that are not glazed in favor of the glazed and plastic pots. Darker colored plastic pots may overheat service of your plants in the summer causing them to die. Best to use lighter colored or to cover the outside of the pot with a wrap to not cook the roots.

When you consider what plants to grow in a vegetable garden for spring and summer most years we need to plant plants that we can harvest the fruits before July. The easiest plants that can be planted very early in the spring February through April are of course the lettuces, some greens like kale, peas, root crops like beets, radishes, spring onions, and carrots, and several types of beans. We are still able to transplant broccoli through mid-March but it frequently will draw diseases to the garden.

 There are several seed suppliers that specialize in plants that seem to do better in Texas and the Southwest where it is drier and hotter. A number of vegetable plants do well until it gets into the 100s in July and August like tomatoes, Peppers, and eggplant. These can be grown from seed on a windowsill and then transplanted into your garden when the soil is warm enough in late March through early May. Black-eyed peas or cow peas thrive in  the heat as does okra and malabar spinach. And sweet potatoes are very easy to grow the summer both for greens and tubers if you can keep them irrigated over the summer. Swiss chard will grow for several years at a time and does not mind a bit of shade.

Landscape plants for the garden should be selected from the list of Texas natives when at all possible. Most of these are perennials and unfortunately during their first year Will require much more water and in subsequent years. Gardeners get the idea that they want A blooming English garden but our climate just doesn't support those kinds of plants very well. It is possible even in a drought tolerant Garden to have blooms from spring through late fall if you pick the right plants and put plenty of mulch around them. They are finding that plants from the nursery that are grown and squarish containers transplant better because their roots don't get all wound around and will spread out better in the garden. 

links:   Recommended Vegetable Varieties for Travis County  Fruit and Nut Fact Sheets  Vegetable Varieties for Central Texas—Great list  Seed source   seed source  seed source  has lots of hot weather seeds—got my summer lettuce here  nice list of plants with interactive features  great discussion on types  shade tolerant veggies  plants to attract butterflies

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Garden survives freeze and keeps on producing

I have been watering and covering plants for weeks now as each cold snap comes through but I think it has been worth it in preserving the plants that we eat. I did not count on all this cold when I bought the cheddar and purple cauliflower. They are nice but don't do the cold as well as the snowball. I am surprised to see how much moisture the soil is holding (see my cute moisture meter) as I was ready to pour more water on an already adequately moist bed. The brussels sprouts though needed water and got a good gallon.
Inside the greenhouse I have a mix right now--peppers and tomatoes in large containers that continue to give up a few fruit every week or so and new seedling that are in their growing pots. I have over 15 tomatoes out there and many celery and broccoli and chard too. The broccoli and chard will move out in a week or so but the tomatoes will live in there until March.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Surviving the freezing weather one blanket at a time

 This has been a really hard cold winter here in central Texas. For the second time in a month our temperatures will fall into the low 20s. I have been out covering up the plants that are supposed to tolerate a little bit of frost. Cauliflower unfortunately does not like to be frozen and apparently neither does arugula. As you can see from one of the pictures the plants did live through the phrase but they sure look battered. It also slowed down the production of the broccoli that was just starting to make nice heads. The cauliflower has been really stunted and I lost two of the cheddar hollow flower