Growing Garlic- 5 Reasons Why You Should

Is it possible to have a favorite herb? Maybe, but I haven’t been able to choose one yet. BUT, Garlic is definitely one herb I won’t ever be without.

How to grow garlic and five reasons you should.

A- garlic- bulb- that -has- been- harvested -and -is -ready- to -be used. -Garlic- has- a -dry -paper-like- skin -once -it -has- been- harvested- and -dried
A garlic bulb that has been harvested and is ready to be used.

Five Reasons to Grow Garlic:

  • Garlic is an anti-bacterial– there are many studies that show how garlic combats harmful bacteria. You can read one study done on the effectiveness of garlic against bacteria in food that would cause the consumer to get sick. The extract of the garlic kills and/or inhibits the pathogen from multiplying.
  • Garlic is anti-viral– long before the Coronavirus became national and global news, there were and are many virus that attack the respiratory system as well as all the systems of the body. As you may know, a virus cannot be killed by an anti-biotic. Also, by nature a virus will mutate as it spreads making vaccinations largely ineffective. So, with studies showing naturally occurring compounds in garlic to be effective against the respiratory diseases, garlic an incredibly valuable herb.
  • Garlic is anti-fungal– when it comes to fungus, there are few that we really welcome into our lives. Mushrooms being the most popular. There are also fungi that wreak havoc on our bodies and Candida albicans is one of the most common. The natural compound Allicin is a powerful compound and can neutralize the fungi.
  • Garlic is delicious- When it comes to bringing flavor to the party, garlic is a heavy hitter. The more the merrier, I always say. It goes great with lots of food, one of my favorite dishes is a French dish of scalloped potatoes.
  • Garlic keeps Vampires at bay- Now, I know vampires are lore, but after the previous two years- why not just cover all our bases? For centuries, garlic has been said to have supernatural powers. This stems from the fact that during the plague, garlic mongers did not get sick. So, folks deduced that it must be the garlic and they began to wear bulbs of garlic around their necks to ward off the evil spirits that made you sick. We now know that it was all those anti-microbial qualities of garlic that we discussed above that kept the garlic mongers from getting sick.
a-beautiful-garlic-bloom
Nothing Prettier Than A Garlic Plant In Bloom

As we get out and about now selling our herbs a Farmer’s Markets and Garden Festivals, I am frequently asked if I have any garlic.  When I ask questions to clarify just what the customer is looking for, I am surprised that they are looking for seedlings so that they can grow their own Garlic.  How marvelous!  Just one problem…

If you want to grow garlic in Texas or anywhere in the South, you need to plant is in September or October, the same with strawberries- but that is a whole other blog and soapbox.  Once planted in the early fall, the bulbs will sprout and grow all winter long then in June or so, the tops will start to turn brown and it is time to harvest.  Yes, no matter where you live garlic takes that long to grow.  But, it is so worth it and it really is easy.

How To Grow Garlic

To get started, you will need something to plant- right?  Garlic can be purchased in the store as a bulb.  In that bulb are many cloves.  Each clove when planted will produce another bulb and the cycle just keeps going.  So, once you purchase your garlic you will not ever need to purchase more, just save some cloves from your harvest and you will be good to go.  You can plant the garlic from the grocer or you can order from a seed company.  If you order from a seed company you will know exactly what variety you are getting and in the supermarket you will have no idea.  I have planted plenty from the grocer and did just fine but ordering from an organic grower means you know what you are getting.

Two suppliers that I like to order from are:

Baker’s Creek

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

The looser the ground, the better for growing garlic.  However, I have grown in clay and done fine.  Just dig a little whole twice as deep as the clove is long and plant the clove pointy end up.  Then wait.  You can inter plant with something like lettuce that has a shallow root system to make use of the open soil and double your harvest from the same square footage.  For the best harvest, you will need to water- but no more than you would for any other crop. One inch once a week is perfect.

Laying- Out- the- Garlic- cloves -in -prepared -soil.
Laying Out the Garlic cloves in prepared soil.
bright- green- leaves -of -the- young -garlic- plants
Young Garlic Plants

You will know when to harvest by the fact that the stalks have bloomed and now are beginning to turn brown.  Use a pitch fork or something similar to loosen the soil.  Gently pull the garlic up.  Spread the stalks on a dry and flat surface and let the cure (dry out a bit and the outer “paper” will dry).  Garlic can by stored for the better part of the year easily meaning that if you plant enough you will never need to buy garlic again.

Some-varieties-of-garlic-have-beautiful-purple-stripes-like-these-pictures
Gorgeous- inside and out!

Regardless of why you grow garlic- for use as a natural medicine or to create culinary masterpieces- Happy Planting!

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5 Reasons Rosemary Should Grow In Your Garden

Upright Rosemary

“What’s your favorite herb?”

This is probably the question I am asked most often.  I couldn’t pick a favorite herb- possibly a Top 10 list, but never a favorite.

Rosemary is an herb that would ALWAYS be on this list and very likely in the #1 spot.  The reasons are many- from ease of growing to the powerful medicinal benefits- but for sake of time, I will narrow it down to five reasons you will love Rosemary.

5 Reasons To Grow Rosemary

#1 Rosemary loves heat.

I have always gardened in Texas and it is ALWAYS hot in the summer.  Rosemary doesn’t care, in fact- it likes it!  Because Rosemary hails from hot, arid conditions in Northern Africa and the Mediterranean, its DNA makes it perfect for Texas gardens and the great majority of the United States. This is definitely an herb that should be a foundation of your herb garden.

#2  Rosemary Protects Against Alzheimer’s

Rosemary may also become useful in preventing and treating Alzheimer’s disease in the near future. Researchers have discovered that certain phytochemicals in the herb prevent the degradation of acetylcholine, an important brain chemical needed for normal neurotransmission. A deficiency of this chemical is commonly seen in Alzheimer’s patients.  See full article here

I, personally, am not waiting for all the test results, I have started including rosemary in our family’s diet on a daily basis.  An easy way to use rosemary medicinally is in a tincture.

#3 Rosemary Makes A Great Hedge

Rosemary can be utilized as a shrub.  If you are feeling creative, rosemary can be shaped into topiary.  But more simply, plant as a hedge and trim like any other landscape hedge- except save the clippings and make a tincture!

Rosemary is heat and drought tolerant so it saves on water usage.  Very few pest or fungal problems exist with rosemary.

It blooms!  Very pretty light blue flowers appear in spring and continue for several weeks.  Some years, rosemary will bloom again in the fall.

#4 Bees LOVE Rosemary

Its becoming common knowledge (THANK GOD) that our bee population is in trouble and if the bees go, we go.  Two of every three bites we eat are pollinated by bees.  As we have said, Rosemary needs little care and won’t need spraying of any kind to look beautiful, so it is a great choice for feeding bees, butterflies and a whole host of beneficial insects.  So, plant some rosemary for the bees.  Don’t worry about getting stung, the bees have way too much work to do to worry over you.

#5 Rosemary Will Make You A Great Cook

Well, I may be over-selling rosemary’s abilities just a bit. However, it can’t hurt.  Rosemary can transform a dull chicken or homely sweet potato into something fantastic with very little effort.  Just sprinkle the chopped rosemary in the pot and – VIOLA!

Not only does rosemary taste great, but by adding it to your food you are taking advantage of the health benefits and those are many:

“Indigestion

Rosemary leaf is used in Europe for indigestion (dyspepsia) and is approved by the German Commission E, which examines the safety and efficacy of herbs.

Muscle and joint pain

Applied topically (to the skin), rosemary oil is sometimes used to treat muscle pain and arthritis and improve circulation. It is approved by the German Commission E for these purposes.

Alopecia

Historically, rosemary has been used to stimulate hair growth. In one study of 84 people with alopecia areata (a disease in which hair falls out, generally in patches), those who massaged their scalps with rosemary and other essential oils (including lavender, thyme, and cedarwood) every day for 7 months experienced significant hair regrowth compared to those who massaged their scalps without the essential oils. But the study was not well designed, and it is impossible to say whether rosemary caused the hair growth.

Neutralize food-borne pathogens

Several studies show that rosemary inhibits food-borne pathogens like Listeria monocytogenesB. cereus, and S. aureus.

Improve memory or concentration

Rosemary is often used in aromatherapy to increase concentration and memory, and to relieve stress. One study suggests that rosemary, combined with other pleasant-smelling oils, may lower cortisol levels and help reduce anxiety. Another study found that the use of lavender and rosemary essential oil sachets reduced test taking stress in graduate nursing students.

Cancer

Several studies suggest that rosemary extract may inhibit tumor growth by preventing cancerous cells from replicating. One study found that rosemary, on its own and in combination with curcumin, helped prevent breast cancer. A second study found similar effects of rosemary on colon cancer cells.” Article here

So, you see, Rosemary should really be in your garden or at least in a pot on your patio!

I am also sure that you understand that I am NOT a doctor nor have I tried to diagnose or treat any of your ailments.

Bee on the Rosemary Bloom herb
upright-rosemary.jpg

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Dividing Perennials- Now Is The Time

Fall- the perfect time to divide perennials in the South.

Gorgeous- pink- crinums- in -Galveston- Texas- in- front- of- a -beautiful -front -porch -
Pink Crinums blooming in Galveston Texas

Fall is a great time of the year to thin out perennials that grew over the summer season.

In the lives of perennials, there comes a time when division is needed.  The plant has gotten too dense for the area in which it lives and it is time to make more plants.  These are often referred to as “pass-along plants” because they are easy to pass a division on to a friend.  

Dividing Perennials

To divide a perennial it is best to dig the plant out of the ground.  This way you can make more cuts producing more plants with far less damage.

Once the plant is out of the ground, clean as much dirt off as possible and cut the vegetation back by at least half.  Take your knife and cut down through the crown (the point at which the root system and the vegetation meet) and then separate the roots and continue cutting.

You can make as many cuts as you like, but cuts with a good thick part of the crown, plenty of roots, and vegetation will recover quicker.

To divide a cluster of bulbs or rhizomes, you simply dig up the bulbs or rhizomes and pull them apart.  The dug bulbs and rhizomes can be transplanted to another bed or spread around the existing area.

Materials Needed:

  • Sharpshooter Shovel or Other Shovel
  • Knife
  • Pruning Shears
  • Water
  • Pots (if plant is to be potted)

Now you have more plants to expand your gardens or to share. To share with a friend, simply bag them up and send them along.  If your friend lives far away, wrap the bulbs and/or rhizomes in damp newspaper to keep the plant material from drying out.  Just drop them in the mail and your friend will be happy to check the mailbox.

If you are new to gardening, you might like learning about herbs and about choosing plants for the shade. Often times, designing gardens for shady areas can be a challenge. New gardeners are often interested in knowing how to make trouble spots work. Choosing the right plants for shade is a lot easier when you have some basic information to start with in the beginning. Herbs are also a subject that a lot of new gardeners ask about, they are such fascinating plants.

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Lettuce Get Planting! How To Grow Lettuce In Texas

Growing Lettuce in Texas and Varieties of Lettuce That Grow Well In The Heat

organic- Leafy-green-winter-density-lettuce-grown-in-a-raised-bed
Winter Density Lettuce

Why Grow Lettuce

There are some nasty rumors going around about lettuce.  I hear that it is really hard to grow with lots of insect problems.  It has also been said that lettuce grown in Texas tastes bitter because of the heat.  Lies, all of them.

The misinformation comes from the fact that  the instructions on the back of seed packets and those great little farming magazines are written for folks living in the areas of the country that actually have four seasons and one growing season.  Now do not misunderstand me, I love my gardening magazines, but the time lines do not line up.

Welcome to Texas Gardening.  There is a rhythm to gardening in Texas that is as unique as our Texas spirit.  Once you learn the rhythm you will be amazed at what you can grow.

However, for now we will focus on lettuce and its cousins.  It perturbs me to no end to have to purchase greens of any kind in the grocery store.  Homegrown greens are so easy and tasty!  Also, it is so much easier to have a bed of lettuce and just go pick you some whenever you want, than to have to go to the store when you want a salad.  If you are like me, lots of times what’s for dinner is not something planned very far in advance.  So, having items growing in the garden to have on hand is just the ticket.

One of the perks about lettuce and all the other greens, such as arugula, chard, spinach, etc. is that they can by eaten at all stages.  Baby greens make for a scrumptious salad or sandwich.  Many people, like my children, do not like mature spinach but love baby spinach.  So, while the plants are growing you can pick the outer leaves and enjoy the garden abundance for many weeks.  The greens( the term greens refers to all types of lettuce, herbs, kale, greens, spinach etc)  do not take a lot of space.  One 5X12  foot bed of greens will keep my family of 6 in fresh greens.

You can even tuck lettuce plants into a container!

Spring- flowers- and-lettuce-in -a -container -garden- fertilized- with- compost
Spring Container with blooming flowers and lettuce.

Lettuce Myths Busted

First, that lettuce is hard to grow.  Not so, you just have to know when to plant it.  If you read many of the labels on lettuce sold in Texas, the labels  say to plant after all danger of frost has passed.  The problem with this is that if you wait that long in Texas you can have as little as 2 weeks until the temps are consistently in the mid- 80′s.  The proper planting times in Texas are February- April and September- December.  Lettuce is a cool season crop.  When most areas of the country are having dead of winter, we are having our cool season.   When we have had a mild winter, I harvest greens from September until June.  That is only 2 months of store-bought greens in a year.  That makes my heart happy! Most lettuce varieties,as well as spinach and collard greens, can stand temperatures down to 23′ degrees.  Some winters we don’t even get that cold once so you can have a productive garden all winter.

Second lie- lettuce has many insect problems. Now there are certain worms- Cabbage Loppers for example- that do like lettuce.  However, these are easily dispatched with Bt.  Bt- (Bacillus thuringiensis) is a naturally occurring bacterial disease that only attacks caterpillars.  Bt is organic and you can eat the produce with no worries that synthetic pesticides bring.  There are other insects that can be a problem at times, but I have found in my gardens that Bt is all I need to keep things in balance.  Also, there are other methods of insect control, but again the Bt is simple, easy and effective so that is what I use.  You can find it at most hardware and garden supply stores.  If you have fertile soil fed and amended with organic compost and fertilizers, most other insects won’t pose a large problem.

Third Lie- lettuce grown in Texas tastes bitter- hogwash.  Again, you just need to know when to plant and what varieties to plant.  The types that are considered “slow to bolt” are the best for planting in the spring.  Bolting refers to sending up a conical shaft with blooms that will produce seeds.  Warm weather signifies to the lettuce that it is time to make seeds.  So, those lettuces that are slow to bolt will be the most tolerant of warm weather.  While you are looking in seed catalogs for heirloom selections (heirloom refers to varieties that will reproduce consistently if the seeds are saved) look for ones that were developed in Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas- of course- or Israel.  These areas have climates similar to ours and those varieties will usually do well here for the spring planting.  Look for varieties labeled “Cool season” or “cold tolerant” on the lettuces, these will be the ones for planting in the fall.  When it comes to the spinach, swiss chard, and kale- these are not even stopped by a freeze so they will grow all winter.

lettuce in compost raised beds
Tom’s Thumb Lettuce with Spinach, Kale, and Herbs

Some of my favorite varieties of lettuce are:

For Fall Planting:

  • Black Seeded Simpson,
  • Drunken Woman,
  • Tom Thumb,
  • Oakleaf

For Spring Planting:

  •  Oakleaf,
  • Jericho- awesome,
  • Tom Thumb

Spinach- Longstanding Bloomsdale is great year round.

Most of your annual herbs like dill, Salad Burnett, chives are best planted on the same schedule as lettuce.
I like to sow the seeds in wide beds.  I thin the seedlings and use them in salads as baby greens.  Keep the lettuce or greens watered one inch once per week and a little shade is very helpful for extending the growing season in the summer.  The seeds usually germinate and emerge in 7-10 days.

So there you have it- the truth about lettuce. 

Now what are you waiting for?  September is coming to a close and October is upon us,  I can just taste the homegrown lettuce now.

Lettuce- and- Greens- in -Bushel -Baskets-organically-grown
Lettuce and Greens in Bushel Baskets

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Making A Hog Waterer From PVC Pipe

PVC Pig Waterer DIY

If you have ever had a pig on your place, then you know how much they love to wallow in mud.  Pigs love it so much they will dump their drinking water over to enjoy the fun of wallowing.  The problem- they have no water to drink, except the muddy stuff.  The muddy water seems to suit the pigs fine, but as a person who wants to provide the best for the animals in my care, it doesn’t suit me.

The challenge is that pigs are so strong that they can flip a trough weighing hundreds of pounds like it was a marshmallow.  The choices you are left with is securing a concrete water trough that is about as heavy as the Titanic or going with an automatic system. 

The concrete waterer is not an option because:

1. Because my husband refuses to move anything that heavy without a tractor and we don’t have a tractor.

 2. I like to move the pigs around to till new ground for me and we don’t have a tractor. 

So, that left us with an automatic type of waterer.

There are several ways of using automatic waterers, but again because I want to be able to move the pens around, I decided on a PVC type waterer.  I have seen these many times at livestock shows made out of green PVC and being about 2 1/2 feet tall and about 4 inches in diameter.  The pigs bite the water valve and water flows out.  When the pig stops biting on the valve the water stops.  This means that a pig’s pen can be kept dry if needed. 

The waters are wired into the corner of the pen eliminating the pig from being able to flip it over.  I do not have any intention of denying our pig the joy of wallowing in mud, so I will fill the hole dug by said pig with water just for fun.

In the following pictures, you will notice that my pipe is not green but white.  Also, I chose the heaviest grade of pipe available, 8 inches in diameter and 5 feet in length.  This is because I do not want to fill this everyday and I thought the heavy grade pipe would have a longer life as pigs can be very rough.  The water valves were purchased at our feed store but sometimes these can be hard to find but you can order them here. The other supplies came from the local hardware store.  I purchased a 10 ft piece of pipe and had the store cut it into 2 pieces along with 2 caps to fit each pipe.  All total I spent about $55.00 and will have two waterers when done.

To construct a waterer:

PVC Pig waterer- PVC Pipe with watering nipple inserted

About 6 inches from the bottom of the pipe (the cap is about 4 inches deep) drill a hole using a drill bit with a circular saw blade attached to it.  This bit cuts a circle, a hole in the pipe.  The hole should be just a bit bigger than the nipple valve.  The valve has threads on it so that you can insert it into the hole and screw it in.  The bit I used was the same size as the valve because the next size up in the bit department was bigger than the valve.  So, I used the drill and bit to wallow out the hole some by just drilling around the edge until it was large enough.  Being that I have small hands and not enough strength to manhandle much more than a small goat- I gripped the valve with a pair of vice grips so that I had enough leverage to screw in the valve.  This is the hardest part- which was not that hard.

cleaning PVC pipe so that the glue will adhere and the pig waterer will not leak.
alcohol is also used to clean the PVC pipe and the cap so the pig waterer will not leak

After the valve is in, the pipe needs to be cleaned to prepare them for the plumbers cement and putty.  If the cap and pipe are not cemented together the water will leak out. Also, the valve needs plumber’s putty to keep it from leaking.  First, I cleaned the pipe and cap with orange oil and vinegar to get all the dirt off.  The orange oil was followed by alcohol so that the surface would be super clean and dry faster.  When you are trying to glue anything, dirt and moisture are not your friend.

Plumbers putty rolled into a snake to seal the nipple waterer into the pig waterer

For the valve: scope out about a quarter’s worth of putty and roll it into a snake (think play-dough and preschool).

wrapping the valve with the putty snake
water valve with the plumber's putty all smoothed out

Wrap the snake around the valve where it meets the pipe.  Then, press the putty down pressing out all air bubbles and smoothing the edges.  There were no directions on my tub I just had to guess at it.  Also, I thought I would have to wait until it hardened then I read on the tub that it never hardens.  So, I wasn’t really sure if this would work, but it did.

Inside the pipe

I did the same thing on the inside of the pipe- just to be certain.  This is what the other end of the water valve looks like.  As you can see, there are threads and a screen to keep debris out of the water valve.

plumber's cement that will be used to glue the PVC pieces together on the pig waterer
spreading the cement

Whereas the plumbers putty was labeled as completely harmless, the cement was plastered with warnings.  One of the warnings was not to breath the fumes.  I find it sad that that warning had to be printed.  The fumes are awful and it was obvious that I should not stand too close.  The lid of the cement has a little ball on it for spreading.  Generously spread the cement on the pipe all the way around.

spreading cement on the lid as well as the pipe

Do the same on the bottom cap.  Then put the bottom cap on the pipe, you may need to use a hammer to tap the cap down. DO NOT glue the top cap on, this is where you will fill the water later.

Pig waterer supplies

An ingredient recap-

Tools

  • drill,
  • drill bit with circular saw blade
  • hammer
  • vice grips
PVC Pig Waterer
PVC Pig Waterer

Once all the pieces and joints are clean and dried, now is the time to fill the waterer up! Simply remove the top cap (the one you did NOT glue on) and fill with a water hose.

As we have used these waterers, we have found that they work best in pens with a single pig. With multiple pigs, even with multiple waterers, they fight over the favorite waterer and this gets ugly. So, if you are raising a feeder pig or using a pig for garden tilling in a mobile pen, these work great.

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It’s National Homemade Soup Day- Recipe!

I am a huge fan of soup. It is the first meal I made solo at the age of five. Yes, I was five- you can read all about it here. My mom made this soup frequently and she taught me how.

Soup comes in so many forms ranging from extremely difficult to super simple. What we called homemade soup is super simple. Because I only know how to make soup in a large quantity, I often freeze portions in quart size freezer bags. This soup reheats well making it a great option for daily lunches. This recipe is very flexible making a great way to repurpose leftovers such as pot roast or pinto beans.

Recipe for Homemade Soup

1 lb. of ground meat or ground turkey
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 medium potatoes peeled and chopped
2-3 cups of mixed veggies- any kind you like
1- 13 once can of stewed tomatoes
1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
1 tsp ground sage
1 tsp cumin
Salt and pepper to taste

In medium skillet, brown the ground met with the onions. 

In an  8 quart stock pot or Dutch oven (you can use a larger stock pot- then you don’t have to worry about over-filling) bring water and potatoes to a boil.  Add enough water to boil the potatoes, but not so much that you have to pour a lot off, because the water does have lots of nutrients in it.  If you are using fresh or frozen veggies, add them now.  Boil until the potatoes are fork tender.  Add the ground meat, stewed tomatoes  and veggies- if you are using canned or leftovers.  Add seasonings and more water or broth as needed to achieve the desired consistency.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes then let  cool a bit.  This soup is great with cornbread or crackers.

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Growing Lettuce!

It’s time to grow lettuce. It has been since September, actually. The thing about lettuce and other similar greens is that they need to be planted in succession. One planting is never enough! If you plant one crop and then follow it with another crop then you always have lettuce in the prime picking stage (succession planting). The weather may have turned cool, but the soil temperatures are plenty warm enough to cause Lettuce seed to germinate.

Now, you may be thinking, “Why bother?”

There are some nasty rumors going around about lettuce.  I hear that it is really hard to grow with lots of insect problems.  It has also been said that lettuce grown in Texas tastes bitter because of the heat.  Lies, all of them.

The misinformation comes from the fact that  the instructions on the back of seed packets and those great little farming magazines are written for folks living in the areas of the country that actually have four seasons and one growing season.  Now do not misunderstand me, I love my gardening magazines, but the time lines do not line up. Well, welcome to Texas Gardening.  There is a rhythm to gardening in Texas that is as unique as our Texas spirit.  Once you learn the rhythm you will be amazed at what you can grow.

However, for now we will focus on lettuce and its cousins.  It perturbs me to no end to have to purchase greens of any kind in the grocery store.  Homegrown greens are so easy and tasty!  Also, it is so much easier to have a bed of lettuce and just go pick you some whenever you want, than to have to go to the store when you want a salad.  If you are like me, lots of times what’s for dinner is not something planned very far in advance.  So, having items growing in the garden to have on hand is just the ticket.

One of the perks about lettuce and all the other greens, such as arugula, chard, spinach, etc. is that they can by eaten at all stages.  Baby greens make for a scrumptious salad or sandwich.  Many people, like my children, do not like mature spinach but love baby spinach.  So, while the plants are growing you can pick the outer leaves and enjoy the garden abundance for many weeks.  The greens( the term greens refers to all types of lettuce, herbs, kale, greens, spinach etc.)  do not take a lot of space.  One 5X12  foot bed of greens will keep a family of 6 in fresh greens. If there is only one or two of you, then a container that can hold 3-4 mature plants at a time is sufficient.

Now to dispel the lies.

First, that lettuce is hard to grow.  Not so, you just have to know when to plant it.  If you read many of the labels on lettuce sold in Texas, the labels  say to plant after all danger of frost has passed.  The problem with this is that if you wait that long in Texas you can have as little as 2 weeks until the temps are consistently in the mid- 80′s.  The proper planting times in Texas are February- April and September- December.  Lettuce is a cool season crop.  When most areas of the country are having dead of winter, we are having our cool season.   When we have had a mild winter, I harvest greens from September until June.  That is only 2 months of store-bought greens in a year.  That makes my heart happy!

The second lie is that lettuce has many insect problems. Now there are certain worms- Cabbage Loppers for example- that do like lettuce.  However, these are easily dispatched with Bt.  Bt- (Bacillus thuringiensis) is a naturally occurring bacterial disease that only attacks caterpillars.  Bt is organic and you can eat the produce with no worries that synthetic pesticides bring.  There are other insects that can be a problem at times, but I have found in my gardens that Bt is all I need to keep things in balance.  Also, there are other methods of insect control, but again the Bt is simple, easy and effective so that is what I use.  You can find it at most hardware and garden supply stores.

Lastly, lettuce grown in Texas tastes bitter- hogwash.  Again, you just need to know when to plant and what varieties to plant.  The types that are considered “slow to bolt” are the best for planting in the spring.  Bolting refers to sending up a conical shaft with blooms that will produce seeds.  Warm weather signifies to the lettuce that it is time to make seeds.  So, those lettuces that are slow to bolt will be the most tolerant of warm weather.  While you are looking in seed catalogs for heirloom selections (heirloom refers to varieties that will reproduce consistently if the seeds are saved) look for ones that were developed in Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas- of course- or Israel.  These areas have climates similar to ours and those varieties will usually do well here for the summer planting.  Look for varieties labeled “Cool season” or “cold tolerant” on the lettuces, these will be the one for planting in the fall.  When it comes to the spinach, swiss chard, and kale- these are not even stopped by a freeze so they will grow all winter.

Some of my favorite varieties are:
For Fall Planting: Black Seeded Simpson, Drunken Woman, Tom Thumb, Oakleaf
For Spring Planting:  Oakleaf, Jericho- awesome, Tom Thumb
Spinach- Longstanding Bloomsdale is great year round.

Most of your annual herbs like dill, Salad Burnett, chives are best planted on the same schedule as lettuce.
I like to sow the seeds in wide beds.  I thin the seedlings and use them in salads as baby greens.  Keep the lettuce or greens watered one inch once per week and a little shade is very helpful for extending the growing season in the summer.  The seeds usually germinate and emerge in 7-10 days.

So there you have it- the truth about lettuce.  Now what are you waiting for?  September is coming to a close and October is upon us,  I can just taste the homegrown lettuce now.

Herbs: An Overview

When thinking of gardening, cooking, eating healthy, one cannot get away from the beauty and necessity of herbs.  Regardless of your goal- to grow healthy food for you and your family, to attract butterflies, to make your gardens beautiful or to simply delight your senses- herbs fit the bill.

For the most part, herbs are perennials and hardy.  Even in our erratic weather patterns in Texas, herbs have performed very well for me and have brought me much satisfaction and joy.  As with most fresh food, when you have tasted the flavors of fresh sage, thyme, rosemary and more- you can never go back to the herb dust you can purchase off the shelves in the supermarkets.  The taste is just so amazing.  And by fresh, I also mean the herbs harvested and dried by your own hands.

And just to clarify a few terms:

Herbaceous– means that a plant dies back to the ground in winter, but comes back each spring.  You can have plants that are not herbs but are herbaceous and Herbs that are not herbaceous!

Perennial– a plant that returns year after year, can be evergreen or herbaceous.

Below is a tip sheet that will help you get stated in the wonderful world of herbs.

Many more articles on particular herbs and gardening are located in the Herb Category and in the Organic Gardening Category.

basil in the crate

Herbs- From Garden to Table

What To Plant Where

A large majority of herbs are perennials and biennials, so they will be with you for quite a while when choosing herbs:

  1. Consider their origin- did they come from wooded areas, desert areas, wet areas etc. and group like plants together.
  2. Consider water requirements of each plant
  3. Consider growth habits: height, cold hardy, heat tolerant, upright or rambler, etc.
  4. Consider their function:
  • For culinary use- what and how do you cook
  • Attract pollinators or repel insects
  • Or just for looks
  • Medicinal

Each of these points will help you determine where in your garden to locate the plants.  Obviously, a water loving herb does not need to be planted with Rosemary and Lavender as these herbs prefer a very dry climate.  If you consider these aspects before you plant everyone will benefit.

What Herbs are good for our area of Texas

  • Thyme- creeping lemon*
  • Sage- Salvia Officinalis*
  • Italian Oregano*
  • Lavender- English and Fern Leaf*
  • Parsley
  • Citronella
  • Basil- all kinds
  • Aloe Vera
  • Lemon Balm*
  • Mints*
  • Salad Burnett *
  • Rosemary
  • Lemon Grass
  • Catnip
  • Stevia
  • Sweet Woodruff
  • Garlic (plant in September)
  • Roses

The list goes on as there are so many, but these will get you off to a good start!

*- good for planting in fall as they grow all year long

 Now To Table

  1. Use Fresh- simply snip and use- sprinkle chopped herbs in your dishes while cooking or on top as a garnish.
  2. Dried
  • Cut and tie in bundle (rubber bands work great!)
  • Hang to dry or dry in oven on low or a hot car
  • Grind and store- chop in blender, store in jars in a cool dark place like a pantry.

Herbed Oils or Vinegars-  place herbs in clean jar and cover with oil or vinegar and let steep for 3 weeks. Strain and store in a cool dark place.

Choosing and Planting Fruit Trees

Fall is prime time for planting trees, shrubs, & roses.  The heat of summer has passed and the cooler weather stimulates root growth.  This root growth gives the plants a great start to the growing system and provides them with a buffer to withstand a Texas summer.

Any type of tree, not just fruit trees, should be planted in fall.  Shrubs include blueberry bushes, elderberry bushes, and other fruiting bushes.  Fall planting is also great for roses as well.

When choosing any plant, but especially fruiting trees and shrubs, you must make certain that you choose a variety that is right for this area.  Soils can change with just a distance of 30 miles and chilling hours are quite different from the Red River down to the Texas coast.  Chilling hours refers to the amount of time in the winter where temperatures stay between 32 and 45 degrees.  So, by choosing varieties that have the lowest required amount of chilling hours you can be sure that the trees will set fruit even when we have a mild winter.

You might think that if you are shopping locally that you will be finding choices that are right for this locale.  Sadly, that is not always the case.  You will need to do a little homework so you know that varieties that you need.  Many times, especially at the big box stores, the stock they carry may have been shipped from five states away or more.  Also, if you have ever tried to ask a gardening question to one of their employees, you most likely found that they did not know any more than you did.  The best place to shop is at a local nurseries that have knowledgeable staff (like The Farm On Holly’s Hill!).

Below are  lists of varieties that are well suited for this area.  There are also links to websites with really good information about varieties, planting, and maintenance of your trees and shrubs.  These selections are based on the most popular items I am asked for, but there are so many choices among fruit producing trees and shrubs.  So, don’t be boxed in try your hand at Papaws, Mayhaws, or JuJubes.  The extension websites have lots of great information on these more unusual selections.

http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/extension/peach/peach.html

Texas A&M University Fruit and Nut Resources

Texas A&M Horticulturalist Jerry Parsons Video Archive

Texas Winegrape Network

Blackberries:

Navaho

Cheyenne

Arapaho

Brazos

Apples:

Red Chief

Gala

Super Gala

Mollies

Starkrimson Red Delicious

Starkspur Golden Delicious

Plums:

Morris

Methley

Ozark Premier

Bruce

Allred

Blueberry Bushes:

Premiere

Briteblue

Climax

Tifblue

Peaches:

Varieties for Low Chill Regions
EarliGrandeSmall-medSemi-cling2004/15-4/20
FlordaCrestSmall-medSemi-cling3504/18-4/24
FlordaprinceSmallCling1004/19-4/29
ValleGrandeMediumSemi-free2004/20-4/25
TropicBeautyMediumSemi-free1504/25-4/30
TropicSweetMediumFree1754/25-5/01
FlordagloMediumSemi-free1504/29-5/7
TropicSnowMediumSemi-free1505/14-5/25
FlordaGrandeLargeSemi-Cling1005/16-5/27
Varieties for Medium Chill Regions
SpringoldSmallCling7505/15-5/20
FlordaKingLargeCling4505/15-5/20
BicentennialSmallCling7005/20-5/30
TexstarMed-largeFree6505/20-6/01
JuneprinceMed-largeSemi-free6505/20-6/01
junegoldLargeCling6505/22-6/03     

Foundation Plantings For Shade

For those of us with shady yards, gardening can be frustrating.  For years I beat my head against a wall planting things that might make it.  After I grew up and stopped trying to force the gardens to look like I thought they should and let the conditions dictate what should be planted, I found that there are some very nice selections for shade.  Some of these may take a little hunting, but the search is worth it. 

AZALEA-  Most found in this area are evergreen and bloom in the spring.  These shrubs range in size from 3′ to 15′ tall, so check the variety before you plant.  All Azaleas like acidic soil.  If you live in East Texas and have pines or oak trees- you have the right soil most likely.  Let the needles and leaves act as a natural mulch- these will break down and add acid to the soil, organic matter & retain moisture.  Prune if needed just after blooming in late spring/early summer.  Encore is a hybrid that will bloom more than once a year.

CAMELLIA-  These beauties bloom in winter through early spring- depending on the variety.  Being evergreen, these add a lot of color in winter and a lovely backdrop for summer flowers.  The old standards can get quite large.  Pruning will keep these to the size you need.  The C. sasanqua hybrids are smaller and bloom in fall- September through December.  Again, if you have oaks and pines you have the soil needed for these plants.  Camellias do not do well if they are dry, so keep them moist.  Letting nature do the mulching with fallen leaves and needles will take care of the moisture and acid.

MOUNTAIN LAUREL- A native woodland shrub does grow in full shade.  However, the more sun it gets the more blooms that will cover the plant in spring.  If the shrub gets too leggy, cut it back to the base branches of the shrub.  You can also pinch back the new growth just after blooming.

PARTIAL SHADE: This means some light is hitting the plants.  Full sun is defined as at least 6hrs/day.  Any less than this is partial shade.

BARBERRY- Beautiful colored leaves, tiny blossoms and small edible berries make this shrub very useful.  Heights range from 2′-6′ depending on the species.  Thorns do line the stems of this shrub, so consider where you will be planting.  The thorns and berries make this an excellent choice for wildlife planting.  If the shrub gets too leggy, just prune it.  Barberry responds well to pruning.  The more sun the more dramatic the color you will have.

NANDINA- Versatile and easy going, this shrub grows well in woodland settings.  There are many varities so pay close attention to the size of the variety you choose.  Easy to grow, most species produce red berries in the fall.  As trees shed their leaves and allow light to hit the leaves of the Nandina- the Nandina produce beautiful color on the leaves- these are evergreens.