Saturday, December 31, 2011

January Gardening in NE Texas

Tomorrow starts a whole new year of gardening!  I know January and February are the cold months, but we can’t state too often that there is still plenty to do outside to help prepare for the coming year.  January is one of the best months to plant bare-root fruit trees or berry vines.  It is also when you should consider doing your major pruning.  If your flower garden is anything like mine, you’ll notice that this year has seen such a mild winter that the rose bushes are still green and leafy.  I plan on waiting a few more weeks before I attack them with the pruning shears, but other ornamental trees and shrubs are getting chopped!  Tulip and Daffodil bulbs can be separated/planted in January and asparagus and many other cold weather vegetables can be planted as well.  Take advantage of the beautiful weather and get the work done now.  It may be much colder soon!

Here is a more complete list of some January gardening chores and a link to a guide that shows what fruits grows best in our area of Texas.

Happy New Year and Happy Winter Gardening!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Dusting Houseplants

As if there wasn't already enough to do around the house, I'm going to add another thing to the list. Don't forget to dust your houseplants! It's important for both their health and their beauty to keep the leaves clean. Here is a good article that talks about the importance of the task, how to dust the leaves of various types of plants, and then mentions few other plant maintenance issues not to be overlooked.

Happy Dusting!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Link - Making Your Own Cosmetics

Here's another good reason to grow beets:  You can use them to make homemade, toxin free cosmetics!  Click here for a recipe that uses beets to make a natural lip stain.  Don't skip the comments!  There are some great suggestions on color alternatives.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Propagating Christmas Plants

I love decorating the house with Christmas plants this time of year.  We can generally keep a Christmas cactus alive for a couple of years, and it usually even blooms right on time for us (the one in the picture was recently purchased without blossoms).   After a couple of years though, the plant seems to lose it’s will to live and gives up.  Guess life around here can be challenging.   Poinsettias are another plant I love to have around at Christmas time.  I have successfully kept them alive year after year, but have never gotten them to bloom the next year.  The stores love me because I keep going back each year to purchase more plants.

No more.  This year is the last year I should ever need to purchase another Christmas cactus or poinsettia because this year, we are going to propagate new ones from our existing plants and get them to bloom.  How’s that for confidence? 

There are some great articles out there so I won’t retype all the information.  I’ll provide the link and let you view the details for yourself.  I put the kids to work on some special pots for the Christmas cactus and we’ll get to the poinsettia this spring, when the time is just right.

Christmas Cactus


I will make a note here that we did a bit of an experiment.  No article I read said anything about using root stimulator on the cactus, but since I had some here, I made two pots using it and two pots without.  I’ve made a note as to which are in each pot and will monitor progress to see if it is a good idea or not.  Why not turn this into a fun science experiment for the kids?

Here is a picture of the fancy pots and lucky little plants in them.  If you followed the above links, you probably know by now that the leaves will wilt or even shrivel.  I have warned the kids not to panic, as this is expected.  The new leaves will grow out of the end of the dead ones when rooting has occurred.  I have noticed this same thing happens very often when propagating prickly pears. 

I’m sure the local nurseries are rooting against my success in this little project, but hopefully we’ll have a house full of home grown happy plants by next Christmas that we can enjoy and share with friends!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

More on Growing Herbs Indoors - Quick Tips

If you've been meaning to plant some herb pots to keep indoors, then choose larger, deep pots if space permits.  12" deep pots with a nice wide diameter are my favorite.  Avoid pots with a narrow diameter, as these will dry out quicker.  The increased amount of soil in deep pots allow for better moisture retention and give the roots more space to spread out in, so they're more forgiving of you forgetting to water them (I say when, not if).
If you only have a small space for plant pots, then remember that you can combine several herbs into one.  I've seen parsley, thyme, and basil sharing space happily in the same container.
Parsley, basil, and chia are pretty tough customers.  They make good starter plants for people who are new to growing herbs.  Yes, I said chia.  They're not just good for a laugh.  Chia is an easy-growing, super nutritious food source.  Use them just as you would sprouts:  as an additive to salads, sprinkled over burgers, baked potatoes, and anything else that you would top with sprouts.
Most of all, don't give up.  Even if you've killed lots of cute little herb pots in the past, don't believe that you can't do it.  Each failure brings us lessons that eventually lead to success.  Remember that you can always bring your questions here!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Growing Herbs in the Kitchen

Just because the cold weather has arrived doesn’t mean you have to give up fresh herbs. Growing many herbs year-round in the kitchen is easy and can add beauty to your kitchen as well as wonderful flavors to your food.

Most herbs can easily be started from seeds. Just place them is well drained soil like you would any other seed you were trying to sprout. Coming up with just the right pot can be a lot of fun too. I let the kids jazz up some clay pots. Having the kids decorate them for you not only gives them a creative outlet, but it can also get them interested in gardening. My kids love to see plants growing in pots they have painted for me. Keep the seeds in a window if possible, but keep them close enough that you don’t forget about them when you cook!

Basil, rosemary, thyme and parsley are only a few of the herbs you can grow in the kitchen, and some are ready to harvest in as little as six weeks. That means you could be using fresh grown herbs before the spring planting season begins. Many herbs will grow for years once started, and the flavor of fresh herbs just can’t be beat by the dried herbs you buy in the store. If you have a few extra minutes, give it a try!

Worm Composting

Marjory Wildcraft of Backyard Food Production brings us a video interview of how to build a worm composting bin.  Worm composting, or vermiposting, is a way to create compost on a fast track.  The worms tend to work quicker than a traditional compost pile, and they add their lovely castings (poop) to the mix, which plants adore.  You can create a worm bin on a small scale in a covered bucket under your sink, or on a larger scale as you see in the video.  The concept is exactly the same.  You'll simply vary the amount of worms that you add to your container based on its size, and monitor its moisture level to ensure the worms are in a "just right" environment.  There are a lot of ways to vermipost, and it doesn't have to be complicated.  If you've never tried it before, start by checking out this video, look up the mountain of information out there on worm composting, and always remember that you can post your questions here.  If we can't find an answer from our own experience, we'll find someone who can!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Winter Reminder: Projects & Planning

My family finally made a start measuring out the area where we intend to build a large garden. It's an ambitious project that we're taking on, but this is the perfect time of year for that.
I've said this before, but it bears repeating. Winter is a great time to plan out your spring gardens, construct raised beds, pick your seeds, and all things garden planning related.
Many of us have put our gardens to bed for the winter. Those of us who do still have things growing find that caring for them is minimal. This leaves the time to accomplish tasks that are often difficult to finish in the growing seasons.
Take advantage of this time to take care of those lingering tasks and projects. Build that chicken coop! Dig those irrigation trenches you've been putting off! Assemble that tool shed! Believe me, you don't want to be doing these things in the burning heat of summer.
If you've never gardened before, then hack together your first raised bed, fill it, and cover it with mulch. Dig out a conventional bed in the ground, and mulch that over if you prefer to work with native soil. Decide which seeds you'd like to plant, or decide which store bought plants you'll be purchasing. Start small! One garden bed is plenty for a new gardener. You can add beds as you gain experience.
If you finish off these tasks now, they'll be ready for you come spring. It's very easy to get overwhelmed with all that you feel needs to be done with a garden, especially if you're gone all day with an outside job, have kids to raise, and/or are new to gardening. But gardening does not have to be mutually exclusive with any of those things. Be kind to yourself, and use each season to finish the tasks that are suited for them. It will make the busier growing seasons much calmer and enjoyable. And that is, after all, a large part of what gardening is all about.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Cooking Dried Beans

Beans are easy to grow and harvest.  They're high on my list of plants recommended for new gardeners.  As dried beans, they also store beautifully in containers for a long time, making beans a favorite for people who like to keep a little food put by for hard times.  If you're not growing beans, then you can always pick them up at the market.  They are VERY affordable.  
Cooking our dried beans, however, seems to be a bit of a dying art.  Many of us eye those cute little bags in the market, and opt for the cans instead, not knowing where to begin with dried beans.  Let me tell you, cooking dried beans is super easy.  Here's a video that I found showing you how to cook beans simply and painlessly.

If you cook more beans than you need for one meal, then you can freeze the extra for another day!  I usually use my slow cooker to cook beans.  The process is exactly the same as cooking on the stove, except that the beans usually take closer to 2-4 hours on the low setting in a crock pot.  You can play with seasonings as you see fit.  I usually cook a large pot, and freeze them in dinner sized quantities.  When I need them, I grab a container and warm up the beans, using whatever seasonings fit the recipe that I'm making that night.  So my basic bean recipe is designed to create beans that are fully cooked, but ready to take on whatever regional flare I want to give it.  You can throw them into a soup pot, re-fry them, make a bean dip, whatever you like!  

Here's my Basic Bean Recipe.

1 lb bag of whatever bean you like
Water, Chicken or Vegetable Broth
1/2 an Onion, whole
1 Bay Leaf
Salt to Taste
Pepper to Taste
Old Bay Seasoning to Taste

Examine the beans for any rocks, or other non-bean debris.  Soak your beans for at least 6 hours in water.  Overnight is best.  This will soften them, and cut down on cooking time.  Drain off the water.  You can collect the water and dump it onto your garden beds.  Dump the beans into a crock pot.  Add water or broth to about an inch above the beans.  Set the cooker to the low setting.  Add the bay leaf.  Float your half onion on top of the liquid. No need to chop the onion, as you'll just be pulling it out later.  Add salt, pepper and Old Bay seasoning to taste.  I tend to like a lot.  Cook the beans until they are done (not hard anymore), probably a few hours.  Discard or compost the bay leaf and onion.  You can eat them as is, or add them to another recipe.  They're ready to go!  If you intend to freeze some, then let them cool before storing.  Use a slotted spoon to scoop the beans out.  You won't need the cooking liquid, though you can save it as a flavoring broth if you like.  This recipe can be sized up or down as you like, but don't use more than one bay leaf.

It's that simple!  Give growing and cooking beans a try!  You'll be amazed at how easy it is!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Choosing the right living Christmas tree

Almost every store you go into this time of year is selling Christmas trees.  Most are either cut trees or artificial ones, but if you look around, you can also find living Christmas trees.  They come in many sizes and also many varieties.  After having seen so many trees die from lack of proper growing conditions, I decided to do some quick research to see if what the stores are selling will do well in our area after they are planted.

Let me start with the Afhgan or Eldarica pine.  This is the type of tree pictured above.  It was one of the first trees my family planted after moving to our current home almost nine years ago.  We bought it as a living Christmas tree.  It was about three feet tall and came in a five gallon container.  Not a very impressive tree if you have a large room, but we had a very small living room at the time and it was perfect.  I honestly had not done my homework previous to this purchase and just picked it because I liked the way it looked.  It seems that I got lucky and the Eldarica is doing great.  It has grown to almost twenty feet tall and is a beautiful addition to our yard.  It is recommended as a good plant for the area on the Texas A&M web site (, but Howard Garrett has a different opinion to offer.  He states on his web site that the tree is prone to root rot if it gets too much rain and said that most of the Eldaricas in East Texas are dying out.  West Texas is ideal because it is so dry.  He says they will not do well at all in irrigated areas.  Here is a link to the page where he discusses the tree:  Maybe it’s just the dry conditions we have had lately that have made this tree so happy in our yard, or the particular soil in our area.  Although I will definitely keep in mind Mr. Garrett’s cautious remarks, I would be inclined to purchase this tree again based on my own experiences.

On that same page, Howard Garrett does recommend the Italian Stone Pine as an attractive alternative.  These trees are not native to Texas, but do seem to do well here.  He states that they are hard to find, but I found them today at the Home Depot in Sherman.  I was tempted to pick one up and give it a try and may go back and get one later this week.   They are hardy trees that also produce an edible pine nut and have been cultivated since prehistoric times.   A tree that gives back to it’s caretaker is always a winner in my book!

Other trees I made note of in stores lately were both the Leyland and Arizona Cypress trees.  It seems both will grow in this part of the state, but the Leyland does like it a little bit dry.  Well drained soil is a must for this tree.  The Leyland Cypress also likes full to partial sun and the Arizona Cypress prefers full sun.  Both make good screens and are generally happy in NE Texas.

I’m sure there are many more varieties of living Christmas trees being offered for sale in nurseries in the area.  The few that I’ve mentioned all seem to do well here (with the possible exception of the Eldarica pine), and all make lovely additions to the yard when planted with care and consideration of the proper area.  If you see a different species that you like, just look it up and see how it does in our area.   It only takes a few minutes and could make the difference between a tree that will give you enjoyment for many years to come and one that will struggle to survive in our environment.

Determinate vs Indeterminate Plants

Here's a link that I found to some good information on what a determinate plant is vs an indeterminate one.  You see this designation most often with tomatoes.  In a nutshell a determinate plant will bear its yield all at once, and then it's pretty much done.  An indeterminate plant will grow and fruit right up until a frost kills it.  Because an indeterminate plant tends to continue growing, it usually needs more support, like cages or trellises, than a determinate one.
I tend to be an indeterminate lover, since I plant in large beds, and value a long, drawn out yield. We have a long growing season here in Texas, and indeterminate varieties allow us to harvest fruits for a very long time before frost comes our way.  In my New England days I planted tomatoes in large containers, and found determinate varieties to be more manageable for that scenario, both for the less rangy growth and the heavy yield in an area with a shorter growing season.  Determinates may also be preferred if you're a canner, since you'll want a large amount of yield to work with at one time.  There's also no reason why you can't choose both.  You'll end up with a large harvest of one kind all at once, while the indeterminates continue to perform for you until you or icy weather choose to end the long run.
Click through to the link for further details, and don't ever be shy to send us your questions!

Happy Gardening!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Shockingly, I have a few moments to myself tonight.  I'm going to spend them Christmas shopping and checking out SeedChat over at Twitter.  It starts at 8pm Central tonight.  Join me if you like! Use hashtag #seedchat to participate!

Swiss Chard

Well, even the chard resented the cold weather that we've been having.  I'll have to clip off as much as I can.  If it recovers, fantastic.  If it gives up on growing for the winter, that's alright.  It was a good ride.

Photo courtesy of mercedesfromtheeighties
If you're new to chard, then just treat it like you would fresh spinach.  It has more of a peppery bite than spinach, but cooks exactly the same.  I usually give it a very rough chop, and saute it quickly in bacon fat or olive oil.  Like spinach, it wilts down super fast.  Sprinkle a little sea salt and black pepper after you toss it in the pan, and you're good.  It's that easy.  You can also eat chard raw, steam or boil it.
Chard is very healthy for you, and VERY easy to grow. You direct sow the seeds into the soil after all danger of frost is gone.  Give it water.  Give it sun.  In about two months, you'll be clipping leaves for the table. If you're new to gardening, then add easy, forgiving chard to your list of spring plantings!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Gardening Gifts

If you're shopping for a gardener, click through to our store for some great suggestions on what you can give to the garden obsessed!  Combine a new book with a trowel, a few seed packets and a new pair of garden gloves for a lovely gift that any gardener will appreciate.  And no need to get too fancy.  A five gallon bucket makes a great container for garden tools and soil amendments.  Check the Gardening Tools section of our store for a caddy that will fit nicely around the outside.  Perfect!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Getting Cold

Well, my fingertips are like ice, but the chickens are set for the very cold week that we're getting.  I dragged their movable coop to a new location, and gave them fresh hay.  In return I have a wheelbarrow full of lovely chicken pooped hay to dump onto a garden bed.  After that, I had to run in and warm up my hands!

The rest of the afternoon will be spent making my first ever batch of wild plum jam.  Michele had bags and bags of these cute little plums, and graciously chose to share her wealth with me.  Wild plum jam is my favorite kind of jam on the planet, so I'm looking forward to making my own.  Click here to see a previous posting that Michele made on wild plum jelly, including her recipe!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Lamb's Ear

Did you know that lamb's ear, a member of the Stachys family, was used as a bandage for minor cuts right up until cloth and band aids became the popular choice?  That's how it earned one of its nicknames:  woundwort.
Photo courtesy of Chhe.
I have it planted along my front walkway because I love it's soft, furry leaves and its durability.  Finding out that it has a medicinal use just makes me love it more!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Local Holiday Parade

I'm planning on shooting over to Whitewright this evening to enjoy their holiday parade and lighting ceremony in the nature park. Should be fun. Maybe I'll see some of you there! Go to for more details.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Cats vs Houseplants

Do you have cats digging in your houseplants (and using them for a litterbox)? Try spreading a layer of rocks over the soil to stop them from doing this.  You can even add in a few of the flattened glass beads from the craft store to give it a splash of color!
The kind of rock doesn't necessarily matter.  Most any kind that takes your fancy should do the trick.  If your cat is stubborn, however, and continues to dig through the rocks, then switch to lava rock, which you can usually find at your local home improvement store.  Cats don't enjoy the abrasive feel of the rock on their paws.
And that's usually all it takes.  Happy gardening (even in the winter)!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Wild Asparagus

I blogged early this spring about trying my hand at growing asparagus and am glad to report that it’s still doing great!  Although I have yet to read that asparagus makes a reappearance in the fall, mine did.  I planted it early this year, it sprouted, suffered through out hot dry summer, died off, and now I have new asparagus shoots all ferned out and looking good.  I give you this information just in case you’re not familiar with the growing patterns of this particular plant.  I know I’m not, but I’m learning fast! 

So, to get to the ‘wild’ part that the title of this post suggests – the power company came by a couple months ago and cleared a big swath of ground (looks HUGE to me) near our fence line.  The cedar trees there were coming just a little too close to the power lines.  We had not gone in there much because the trees were very thick.   Since I had no say in the matter, I decided to try to make the most of it and have decided it is a nice wide path to walk the dog along.  What did I find the other day but something that looks like just the asparagus in the raised bed!  Here’s a picture of the wild plant, followed by a picture of the asparagus in the raised bed.  

There is evidence that there were other, similar plants growing nearby at some time this year.  I don’t know if the utility workers ran any over or not, but I expect if there had been any, they wouldn’t have been able to avoid it. 

I have done enough research online to know that asparagus does grow wild and some people go foraging for it.  Stories abound about family outings looking for wild asparagus much the same as my family used to go looking for wild mushrooms.  I’m not ready to declare this asparagus yet, but am planning on putting a wire basket around it and checking it again in the spring.  If it is what I think it is, it should sprout about the same time as it’s cousin in the raised bed.  I’ll let you know what I find out!