Greens and Things!

Looking at the fall planting guide provided by Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service, it looks like its time to get working on some greens and things. The okra and the peppers and beans are all doing so well right now that I kind of forgot about getting these cool season greens in. I know what I’m doing this weekend! Break out your seed packets or run to the garden store with me, it’s plantin’ time!

  • chard-115336_1280Chard: a beet relative, chard is basically the greens part of the beet without the big root part. Why grow these? Besides being a nutritional powerhouse, it is a hardy leaf green. It takes the heat and cold better than kale or spinach. Some of the recommended varieties for south central Texas are Bright Lights, Fordhook Giant, Lucullus, and Ruby. I planted Bright Lights in the spring and let a couple of the plants stand through summer. They, survived the heat, and seem to have renewed vigor with this nice, fall weather. Either way, I’m planting some more. They are not only tasty, they are beautiful! Not sure how to use this delicious superfood? Try this simple and delicious recipe. Also, just toss ’em in a salad!
  • Collards: a non-heading cousin to cabbage and broccoli, collards are high in fiber and contain multiple nutrients with potent anticancer properties. I’ve not grown these, yet, but I’m going to give it a try this fall. My September planted broccoli is doing okay, but the cabbage just won’t take. Hopefully, collards will fair better. Recommended varieties for south central Texas are Blue Max, Champion, and Vates. Want to try a classic southern collards recipe?
  • bears-garlic-474316_1280Garlic: Oh! I’ve so wanted to try planting garlic in my little container garden, but it’s just one of those things where I have to weigh garden space and time-to-harvest considerations. Rumor is, you won’t recognize the deliciousness of garlic grown in your garden as compared to store-bought. Recommended varieties for Texas include soft-necked types like California Early, Lorz Italian, Texas White and Mexican Pink. Oh, and get a move on! Apparently, garlic is popular and quite in demand. Order early from online stores and keep a close eye on delivery dates for your local garden center.
  • salad-621339_1280Lettuce: I never really gave lettuce much thought until I grew some myself. It was just something that added a little crunch to sandwiches and burgers. I know better now. I’ve grown a couple of different types of lettuce, some Romaine-types and butterheads, greens and reds. Besides being crisp and delicious and being comforted by the fact that they’ve never seen pesitcide, I like just being able to run out and snap off a few leaves and leave the rest safely on the plant. I don’t ever have to throw out lettuce because I couldn’t eat it fast enough. Not to mention, they’re pretty easy to grow. Some varieties to try include Buttercrunch, Black-seeded Simpson, red and green Oakleaf, and Parris Island. For containers, try Little Gem. They are tiny and sweet and delicious!
  • parsley-476872_1280Parsley: This is great to have around if you’re a fan of tabbouleh. If you haven’t tried it, you’re in for a treat! It’s yummy and good for you, too. Recommended varieties for our neck of the woods include Banquet, Italian Dark Green, Moss Curled and Plain Italian. Some say the flat types have better flavor, but I think the curly are prettier and give texture to a dish.

I’ll fill you in on any planting that goes on this weekend. Let me know now things are going with your garden in the comments section.


My dearest…

IMG_0348Dear tiny seed,

I’m so glad you’re here! I pored over seed catalogs all winter searching for just “the one.” I did some online research with the local extension service, borrowed a couple of texts from the library, and googled you, just for good measure. I looked into companion plants and searched for the best sized container for you. I’m getting some special seed starting soil just to make sure you’re comfortable during your first days and have picked out a nice, sunny spot for you to stretch your legs. I’m looking forward to our time together.

-Eager gardener

plant-7407_1280Dear tiny seedling,

I can’t believe you and your brothers made it, you beautiful little sun worshippers! Yes, I know those clippers are getting a bit close, but you don’t all fit. You want your own room, don’t you? The sun’s a little too warm? Let me move you. The shade’s a bit too cool? How about over here? You don’t want to spend the night outside? Come sleep in the window. I can’t wait until you’re a little older!

-Hopeful gardener

IMG_20150809_082328_hdrDear growing plant,

Well, look at you! All grown up and looking fine. You’ve got great color, strong growth… just look at those lovely leaves! Don’t mind the compost tea bath. It’s to keep pests at bay. What pests, you ask? Hopefully, you will never know. These are things your mother gardener worries about. Just keep doing your thing.

-Happy gardener

Who knew okra was so pretty?
Who knew okra was so pretty?

Dear flowering plant,

You are looking lovely today. Those flowers are simply radiant! Whoops… you lost one, or two. I must retreat to the interwebs. Just stay calm, I will be back shortly.

-Panicked gardener

Mini bells!
Mini bells!

Dear fruiting plant,

I’m so proud of you! Look at those gorgeous tiny fruit. Well done, plant… well done! So, uh, how long do ya think before those ripen up? Just curious.

-Hungry gardener

Ten Things I’ve Learned So Far…

  1. Always use a bigger container than you think you need.
  2. Thinning seedlings always feels a bit cruel, but it must be done.
  3. Plants in containers need to be consistently watered, and often!
  4. That being said, plants can drown.
  5. A healthy garden is its own little ecosystem.
  6. Plant flowers!
  7. Don’t kill all your bugs. You’re really going to need some of them.
  8. Never underestimate the tenacity and perseverance of an armadillo.
  9. Soil is a living thing!
  10. Start small.

“Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.”

-May Sarton

Progress in the garden

I’m not sure if I’m the only gardener who goes outside every couple of hours to see if anything’s changed in the garden. Who knows? I could have missed a tomato hiding under a leaf this morning or the beans I’ve been waiting to sprout may have made their way up out of the soil since breakfast. It’s a lot like waiting for water to boil, so sometimes even the changes that are happening subtly don’t get noticed. I have been trying to snap a few pics here and there and those have been fun to see. Here’s a few to share!

Bushsteak Tomato

Red Ripper Cowpeas

Red Burgundy Okra

Control group

So I kinda got caught up in the whole “cowpea” moment last week and decided I was gonna put my money where my mouth is, so to speak. I mentioned that growing cowpeas was so easy it could be done on a commercial break without any hassle… so, in addition to my container planted Red Rippers and Chinese Red Noodles, I did a little guerrilla gardening. Yep, I live in an apartment community, and while my neighbors and management have been very cool about my container gardening spilling over and outside my patio, I’m not sure how they would feel about me planting vegetables in the ground amongst their landscaping. So we won’t tell them, will we?

I took just a few minutes and and hoed a shallow trough an inch or so deep. This clay soil is so dry and hard, it broke into either powder or clods. I dropped a few seeds about an inch deep and six inches apart, covered as best I could with the rock hard clumps of soil and watered in. The biggest effort I did make was to cover the newly planted seeds with a thin layer of mulch. I wanted to try to keep the soil moist, but I didn’t want to deny the future seedlings any sunlight they might need.

That was four days ago and… viola!  The little guys made it through! I’m totally stoked! I can’t wait to see how they produce compared with their pampered container counterparts. I’ll keep you posted.IMG_0340c

Did you get around to putting your cowpeas in? How are they doing?

A Cowpea’s Chance in Texas

Long-podded cowpeas
Long-podded cowpeas

Alright, folks! If you haven’t put in those cowpeas, yet, now is the time. Yes, really, right now! Take that commercial break and jam a few cowpeas into the poorest soil in your garden, cover with soil and water in. Voila! Gardening done for the day! You and I can go back to watching the Criminal Minds marathon.

Okay, so maybe that isn’t the best way to go about planting cowpeas in the garden, but given how well these bad boys do under the Texas heat and drought conditions, it’d probably still work.

So let me tell you a bit about these cowpeas. Cowpeas make their way under quite a few aliases. They’re also called Southern peas and field peas and come in different varieties including creams and crowders. The best known cowpea is probably the black-eyed pea, but there are several others. I’ve grown pink eye purple hulls, red rippers and black crowders in my garden. Most are bush type plants that grow about three feet high, but there are a few climbers. The black crowders I planted in my patio garden grabbed onto one of my hanging planters and was looking for a way on to my neighbors’ balcony right before production halted! A different cultivar, the yardlong bean, or long-podded cowpea, grew ten-foot vines, and loads of pods. I was picking them at just over a foot long, but one did get lost under the stairwell and grew to about two feet long!

Chances are good that even black-thumb gardeners are going to have success with cowpeas. They’re pretty low maintenance. They don’t like too much water or too much fertilization. Basically, until they’re bloomin’ and fruitin’, don’t pay ‘em too much mind.

Cowpeas, like other legumes, develop a good bacteria on their roots that help them pull nitrogen right out of the air. They can also drill a tap root about eight feet deep, which helps them pull nutrients from deep in the soil and makes them incredibly drought resistant. This is the reason you don’t really need to fertilize them, and too much fertilization will just grow a lot of foliage and few beans, anyway.

Plant your cowpea seeds about an inch deep in the soil. If you bought pea and bean inoculant, sprinkle a bit of that over the seeds and cover with soil. Remember that good bacteria I was talking about earlier? Well, it will get there naturally in its own sweet time, but if you want to push things along a bit faster, this stuff will help. Whether you use the powder or let the plant do it on its own, from that point on the soil will have this good bacteria living in it and you shouldn’t have to inoculate the soil again.

Go ahead and water it in and wait for the magic to happen. In this August heat, I’d venture it would be just a few days before you see seedlings. These cowpeas are pretty tough and push through most soil like champs, but we have some serious clay in areas, so don’t let it crust over. They’ll need some light watering until they become established, but then you can pretty much ignore them until they start flowering. If you’re gardening in containers like I am, remember that our plants can’t drill a long tap root and will need more frequent watering than their terra firma counterparts. Either way, once those flowers bloom, they’ll need a little more water; and when the pea pods come in, they’ll need a little more water. Remember, cowpeas and all the other delicious goodies in our garden are, just like our bodies, made up mostly of water. So when you have stuff fruiting, don’t drown ’em, but don’t be chintzy with the water, either.

Now just stand back and let them do their thing! Cowpea pods can be eaten like snap peas when young. Leave them on a little longer and the beans will fatten up and you can use those as a fresh shell peas, or just let them dry on the vine and you’ll have a nice dry pea for storage. If you want them to keep producing, keep them picked. At some point, it will seem like they’re done producing, but they’ll get a second flush of pods. If you want to help those along, just add a wee bit of fertilizer or some compost.

I’d wish you luck, but you won’t need it. These plants love this purgatorial south central Texas weather.