How home vegetable gardeners are saving humanity

Hey home veggie gardeners! Did you ever wonder about GMO seeds, heirloom varieties or hybrids? They are confusing terms and can be intimidating. If you are a home veggie gardener, you might grow a fantastic crop of cucumbers or beans, only to be disappointed because you can't find the same variety for the next growing season. If you saved your own seeds, you would have them for the next season and you would be helping maintain varieties of vegetables that may go extinct otherwise. Seed saving is easy, fun and subversive. It's an empowering act that makes a real difference to humanity. Of all of the things I can teach you, this is the most important.

Feel confused about heirlooms vs hybrids? Ever wonder "what's the deal with GMOs?" Did you ever grow an amazing crop of tomatoes only and then feel disappointed because the following season you can't find that variety again? Are you wanting to make a significant impact on humanity? I'm teaching a class about seed saving at SFC in Austin on May 13 from 2-4 PM. All of these topics will be covered! Learn how small scale gardeners can make a difference.

Sign up for my class here.

 

Fun facts about Texas Bluebonnets

Today we shot the Garden Journeys segment for Spectrum news in the Mueller Orchard. It looks incredible now- my photos do not live up to the real thing. There are six species of bluebonnets that grow in Texas. And it diplomatic move to Texas Legislature designated all six as a Texas state flower and any future cultivars or varieties that are discovered will also be designated as the Texas state flower. Of course Texas would have more than one state flower...better than all those tiny states with only one. You may be lucky enough to spot bluebonnets in shades of pink white or maroon or light blue. In Central Texas we know Lupinus texensis best as a deep, dark blue flower that colonizes large swaths along roadsides and in disturbed waste places. They can grow in these tough places because they are legumes- members of the Fabeacea family along with peas, beans, Redbuds and Texas Mountain Laurels. Legumes have a symbiotic relationship with a special soil microbe. All plants need nitrogen to make leaves and stems. But soils in disturbed areas- like those along roadsides- usually don't have enough nitrogen to support most plants. The little soil microbe that lives with the legumes, including bluebonnets, can grab nitrogen out of the atmosphere and "fix" it so the bluebonnet can use it. In return the bluebonnet gives the microbe some sugar that it makes in it's leaves. The microbes make a tiny home on the roots of the legumes and it looks like a little nodule. The plants attract the microbes by exuding stuff that the microbes like out of their roots. Pretty cool!!! The Mueller Orchard is full of bluebonnets right now and is easy to park near and walk into if it is time for your annual bluebonnet photos. The orchard is at the corner of Manor and Berkman roads. 

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Spring Woodland Wildflowers

Many of my customers ask me to help them when their grass dies under large trees. Shaded, woodland yards have become my specialty. In the early spring we have many great choices for blooms in shaded yards. These flowers take advantage of the extra light they get when the trees loose their leaves and they thrive during the cool season then go dormant in the summer heat. White yarrow and purple spiderwort, shown in the photos here, are two of these spring ephemeral flowers that thrive in shade in Austin. Oxalis, Columbine and Baby Blue Eyes are also great choices. I typically pair them with a plant that thrives in summer but dies back in winter like Purple Heart or other types of Tradescantia. That way the plants cover each other when one or the other is going through their ugly dormant time.

There's a reason why it's called spring.

I was talking with my friend the other day and we both couldn't remember the spring season that was more springy than this one. Some well-timed rain and unseasonably warm temperatures have catapulted the plants back into action! But at the same time and seeing a lot of plant fatalities after the extreme cold snap that we had early in the winter. I offer plant shopping and delivery services if you need help replacing plants that died over the winter. At this time of year the nurseries can be really crazy and they can be difficult to navigate if you don't know where to go or what to look for. Here's a pro tip: if you're able to shop the nurseries on Thursdays, you should. Most of the nurseries get truckloads of plants in on Wednesdays so that they are well-stocked for the weekend. So on Thursday you get the absolute best plants and the most stock available with smaller crowds compared to shopping on Saturday. Pack some patience because most of the nurseries don't offer enough parking, and much of the parking lot is taken up with new plants or big cargo trucks full of plants. The nursery parking lot traffic jam is an annual headache for me. Don't go to the nursery in the spring if you're in a hurry. 

Calendula is one of my favorite cool season annuals. A bunch of mine died in the cold this winter when they usually thrive. 

Calendula is one of my favorite cool season annuals. A bunch of mine died in the cold this winter when they usually thrive. 

TOOLS!!!

WEEDING SUCKS! I have been a pro gardener for over 15 years and I really always disliked weeding. The best methods for weed prevention are planting many plants so there isn't a lot of open space for the weeds to grow in, applying a thick layer of mulch to cover bare soil where weeds can thrive and watering as little as possible- heavy weed populations can be caused by overwatering. I recently taped a segment for Spectrum news about my favorite tools for weeding. I will post a link to it after it airs. BUT the best weeding tool is some good music/podcast/book on tape/chatty friend. The sheer boredom is what gets me! Anyway I am also doing a class about tools at Natural Gardener Feb 4 and I will cover weeding tools, and also digging and pruning tools as well. Bring your mystery tools that are collecting dust in the shed- I might know what they are for! I will also cover sharpening and tool care. Check out the event listing here for more info.

Fruit tree classes and Spectrum News Video

I'm really looking forward to teaching my first fruit tree class of 2017 tomorrow! This one is hosted by Sustainable Food Center. Here's a link to my recent Spectrum news segment about how to prune a pear tree. http://www.fox7austin.com/good-day/228503918-story. This 2 minute segment just scratches the surface of what there is to know about fruit tree pruning but it gets to the heart of it- opening up the canopy of the tree so it gets better airflow. We can also prune fruit trees to control their size and to limit the amount of fruit they make. I have pruned a lot of fruit trees but one of my new year's resolution is to learn more about grape vine pruning. I have a grape vine that isn't making much fruit and I have carelessly pruned it over the last 3 years. I got it from a friend who planted it in her yard and it never really grew much. We transplanted it to my yard and in the process discovered it had some pretty serious problems with girdling roots, so I root pruned it during transplanting. Anyway it is thriving in my yard and looking great but not making a lot of fruit and I think pruning has something to do with it...also my friend forgot what kind of grape it is. We both think Champanel but not sure, so that makes it hard to figure out what kind of fruit it should be producing. Anyway my next fruit tree class is Feb 11 and there is at least one more following that one this spring. So if you want more fruit tree info come to one of the classes!  Or schedule a consult with me. 

Free Trees for Austin Energy Customers!

I'm an avid volunteer with Treefolks.org, and each year they organize these huge free tree giveaways. Even if you have large shade trees in your yard already don't forget to add some understory trees like Texas Mountain Laurels that provide shelter for birds and early spring flowers for hungry bees.  Get more info about the giveaway here https://www.facebook.com/events/1705387286448009/

Come get a free tree on Saturday, January 21 from 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM at the ACC Highland Mall campus!

Free trees are available for Austin Energy customers, who can bring their ID or utility bill as proof of residence. Available species include Lacey Oak, Mexican White Oak, Montezuma Cypress, Pear, Pecan, Persimmon, Pomegranate, Satsuma, and Texas Mountain Laurel. The trees will be in 5-gallon containers and are approximately 3 – 5 feet tall, depending on the species.

The giveaway is part of the NeighborWoods program, which is a partnership between TreeFolks and the City of Austin to lower summer temperatures and reduce energy consumption by investing in tree canopy cover for Austin area neighborhoods. 

WHO:  Austin Energy Customers

WHAT:  Free Trees for Austin Energy Customers

WHEN:  Next Saturday, January 21 from 9:00 AM - 12:00 PM

WHERE:  ACC Highland Mall, Parking Lot D (6101 Airport Blvd, Austin, TX, 78752)

Pear Tree Pruning on Fox 7 Good Day Austin

I'm taping today to promote my fruit tree class for Sustainable Food Center. The segment will air on Weds Jan 11 between 9:30 and 9:50 am on the local Austin Fox morning show, Good Day Austin. I'm pretty excited about it! We are taping out in the Mueller Orchard- if you're in Austin you should visit the Mueller Orchard! It is located between Tom Miller and Manor Rds east of Berkman. I've been consulting on and caring for the orchard for a year now and it's been fun seeing the little trees mature.  

Food Preservation Methods

Check out these cool infographics about food preservation. you can use these techniques to get more deliciousness from your garden or to take advantage of a good deal at the farmer's market. Drying is my favorite method because I am an avid herb gardener. Sometimes I tie a rubber band around the stems of the herbs and hang them up to dry in my kitchen. Rubber bands work better than string because the stems will shrink as they dry and fall out of the string. The rubber band can contract to keep holding them. Here in Austin the weather tends to be dry enough that I don't need to worry about them getting moldy. But I do have to worry about cat hair getting on them! So I have a nice little food dehydrator that my brother gave me as a gift. It keeps the herbs clean as they are drying, but I have to be careful not to leave them in there too long or the essential oils, i.e. the great flavors, get cooked right out of them. During the summer I will park my little dehydrator in the sun outside and the herbs dry well in there without having to plug in the machine. Someday I would like to build an actual solar dehydrator but that is way down at the bottom on my to do list. If you like these infographics you can read the whole article here at Fix.com.

Happy New Year

In 2017 I am looking forward to enjoying the literal fruits of my labors in my home garden. I harvested at least 50 key limes from my little Key Lime tree this fall and winter. They are fragrant little treasures that make the perfect gin and tonic. I handed them out to my friends who came to visit during the holiday season. I even baked a Key Lime pie with a gingersnap crust!!! I recently planted an 'Orange Frost' Satsuma and with a little TLC I have big expectations for loads of fruit in years to come. This is what brings true joy to my daily life, a feeling of simple pleasure and abundance. Feel inspired? I can help you find some joy in 2017 by adding some fruits, veggies or herbs to your landscape.  Please get in touch! 512-217-6955. 

Fall herb gardening

Last week my Garden Journeys segment was about building an herb garden for my friend, Sarah. She and I talked for an hour about what kind of herbs she likes and which ones she wants to try. Sarah and her husband are renting their house so tomorrow we are going to plant the herbs in pots so the garden is portable. Most common culinary herbs are Mediterranean plants that like to dry out between waterings so they do well in pots, since pots tend to dry out faster than in-ground gardens. Sarah's herb garden includes Bay Laurel- so she can grab a leaf or two for recipes that call for bay leaves. She will also be enjoying mint and lemon balm iced tea, oregano for Italian dishes and more. While I was shopping for Sarah I also grabbed some shallots and calendulas for myself. I use calendula flowers in salads, as a substitute for saffron and the dried flowers can be soaked in witch hazel to make a healting toner for skin sratches and cuts. 

Calendula's cheery disposition brightens my Austin garden every fall, winter and sprinf.  

Calendula's cheery disposition brightens my Austin garden every fall, winter and sprinf.  

Compost tea tips from Aaron Crenshaw at Natural Gardener

The TWCNews Austin and San Antonio Garden Journeys episodes that I host are only 2 minutes long, so it can be a chalkenge to get in all of the pertinent info. Aaron, the compost tea brewmaster at Natural Gardener, who appeared on a recent interview, gave me his notes to include in my blog to make sure we get all of his knowledge out there! He says- 

"It is very important to have consistentcy when brewing commercially. 4 most important variables when brewing commercially:

1.  Use rainwater- slightly acidic 5.6-5.8 ph, no chemicals like flouride or chlorine/chloramine, city water can slow bacterial reproduction and in some cases kill off good organisms. 

2. Use good quality compost and amendments- different composts have different bacteria and fungi.  Inlike the Lady Bug Brand Revitalizer and Fox Farms Soil Conditioner. Along with good compost you need good amendments to help the bacteria and fungi. 

3. It is very important to have lots of oxygen and circulation. This will give the organisms plenty of oxygen and food to grow and populate. We use 2 air stones, a circulation pump and an areator for the compost bag. 

4. It is very important to check for life and potency before you sell. We use a microscope." 

 

Even though Aaron is brewing commercially these are also all good tips for home gardeners who are dablling in making compost tea at home. I believe compost tea is the answer to many gardening problems so I hope you will buy some from a locally owned nursery or try your hand in making it yourself. 

Studio 512 taping today

I am going to be on KXAN Studio 512 again- not sure when it is airing. I'm showing off some "Thrill Fill Spill" hanging baskets - one for part sun and one for shade. The part sun basket has Ponytail Palm for the thrill, vinca and petunias for the fill and silverponyfoot with purple heart for the spill. The shade basket has a corn plant aka dracena for the thrill, coleus for the fill and creeping jenny for the spill. I was inspired by Articulture designs to use dyed reindeer moss around the tops of the baskets in contrasting colors. Should be fun! 

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Compost Tea at Natural Gardener today

This week's Garden Journeys segment is going to be about Compost tea again... I really believe that compost tea is the answer to many garden problems. I think it can also be a great gateway for people who are trying to wean themselves off of the blue water chemical fertilizers so they can go organic! This time I got an insider's look at the Natural Gardeners BrewHouse!  I also got to see how much life is swimming around in the tea by looking at a drop under a microscope. It was amazing to see how much stuff is in just one drop!!! Look for the segment this Saturday on Time Warner Cable News. 

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Staghorn Ferns at Natural Gardener

Today we filmed the Garden Journeys segment at Natural Gardener in their tropical house. A bunch of people have asked me about Staghorn Ferns and I don't know anything about them. So I decided to interview John Dromgoole, owner of Natural Gardener who is very passionate about these plants. I used to work at Natty G back in 2003, so visiting with John was really a hoot for me. Their tropical house is very cool and the butterfly garden is also totally crazy with flowers now. 

I learned that staghorn ferns prefer bright, indirect light and need protection from cold. The best way to grow them is to tie them onto a piece of wood and surround the root ball with spaghnum moss. Then you can water the moss and mist the leaves with diluted fertilizer. Hanging them in a tree will show the best results. But they need to come indoors in the winter because the cold will kill them as they are native to tropical regions. They are true ferns and reproduce with spores. As the plants get larger you can divide them but John doesn't recommend that because the huge specimine ferns look so amazing! He also told me to check out the huge staghorn fern at Zilker Botanical Garden at the entrance to the garden center. Next time I'm there I will for sure. 

I have very happy memories of working at Natural Gardener. It's where I got my start in horticulture in Austin and it's where I started my transition from conventional gardening to organic gardening. I owe a debt to John and the staff there for helping me along the way in my business too. It's a special place that I am always happy to visit! Visit http://www.naturalgardeneraustin.com.

Little staghorn ferns looking for a home

Little staghorn ferns looking for a home

New pitcher plants in the tropical house at Natural Gardener

New pitcher plants in the tropical house at Natural Gardener

More staghorn ferns

More staghorn ferns

Passionvine in butterfly garden at Natural Gardener

Passionvine in butterfly garden at Natural Gardener

Articulture!!!(tm)

I got to meet Monique and the crew at Articulture today for the next TWC segment. Check out their web site at http://www.articulturedesigns.com. You should also go to their boutique. I bought an awesome candle and oogled all of the wall hanging plant arrangements, living furniture and house-made ceramic planters at 6405 Manchaca Rd, Austin, TX 78745. I gotta say, As a business owner myself, I was impressed when Monique mentioned offhand that she made sure that Articulture is federally trademarked. Way to be detail-oriented in every way!!!

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Art it up, yo! 

Art it up, yo! 

Table with a desert-scape beneath glass

Table with a desert-scape beneath glass

Wall hangin

Wall hangin

I love the colors in this table arrangement

I love the colors in this table arrangement

Compost Tea Part 1

This week's Garden Journey was to my backyard to make a batch of compost tea. I am a big fan of compost tea and I am constantly experimenting with new ingredients and different ratios. The idea is to get an explosion of the population of beneficial soil microbes in the compost tea mixture. Each liquid ingredient in the tea provides essential nutrients to soil microbes. The dry ingredients inoculate the tea with different types of microbes. The wormcastings are full of bacteria, the leaf mold is full of fungi and the finished compost will have a variety of other types of microorganisms. Different plants need different types of soil microbes to thrive, so having biodiversity in your tea is key. This backyard science experiement has worked for me in helping beef up weak plants, reverse disease issues and open up dense, compacted soil. The only thing that I have a problem with is using liquid humus, which is dervived from lignite, a type of low-grade coal. I am trying to illimate non-renewable resources from my gardening life, and using liquid humus goes against that principle. The liquid humus feeds fungal microbes so I will have to find something else to replace that. The molasses feeds the bacterial microbes and the fish and seedweed feeds everybody. Here's my current recipe:

 

4 gallons of water

aquarium bubbler for a small fish tank- I use a brick to weigh down the pumice stone  

1 cup each of Fish Emulsion, Horticultural Molasses, Liquid Seaweed, and Liquid Humus. 

1 pound worm castings (worm poop- I currently buy this at the nursery but I am planning to get pet worms soon)

1 pound finished compost- I use home made when I have it but I will use any bagged type too

1 pound or a couple big handfulls of leaf mold  (leaf mold is just what it sounds like- get some moldy leaves off the ground from a wooded area- you can also use aged mulch, some bagged mulches are aged already)

cloth bags for dry ingredients- old socks, pieces of cloth tied with a rubber band etc will work.  

Put the aquarium bubbler in your bucket of water. Add all of the liquid ingredients. Put the dry ingredients inside a cloth bag. Add the tea bag(s) to your liquid. Let it sit with the bubbler running for 24 hours. After 24 hours mix it with equal parts water. Rainwater is best but you can also use filtered water or tap water. It is better to do this imperfectly than to not do it at all. Try to use the finished tea within 8 hours. If you can't use it right away you can leave it in your bucket with the bubbler running and add more of the liquid ingredients every day until you are ready to use it. 

To apply- I just use buckets and watering cans to dump it on the ground. If you are more frugal and patient than I am you can use a pump up sprayer and spray every inch of your yard using just a few gallons. Really one gallon of concentrate mixed with one gallon of water will cover a normal city sized yard with a light mist. I find it more satisfying to dump it on the ground and I just make more all the time. Watering the ground beforehand will help it soak in, but again, it's better to do this imprefectly than not at all so don't get too caught up innthe details. I toss the used tea bags into my compost pile and it really speeds up the compost pile breakdown! 

Bucket with aquarium bubbler plugged in- you can see the tea bags and the brick in the bucket. The bottles of liquid ingredients are in the background.  

Bucket with aquarium bubbler plugged in- you can see the tea bags and the brick in the bucket. The bottles of liquid ingredients are in the background.