Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Companion Plants: Sweet Pepper & Okra

Leave room in your sweet pepper beds for okra. Okra often grows taller than pepper plants, offering a bit of shade in our burning Texas sun and wind protection.
Michele advises us to generally not plant okra before May, due its resentment of coldish weather; however, if you leave space for it where you've planted sweet peppers, then you should be able to fit the okra in nicely.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Honeysuckle Bush

Walking the dog around the back of our place today, I noticed a distinctly sweet smell. It reminded me of honeysuckle vines, but I couldn’t remember having seen any on our property before. We followed our noses and came across several very large bushes full of sweet smelling white flowers. I had never heard of a honeysuckle bush, and had no idea what these were. They were very pretty, smelled very sweet, and were very attractive to butterflies and bees. There were dozens of butterflies flitting around the bushes. The dog and I watched them for a few minutes and then we headed back to the house to fetch the kids. I traded the dog for a camera, and the kids and I set off to watch the butterflies and take a few pictures.

The picture at the start of this post shows a couple of butterflies enjoying the flowers.  Below is a close up of the flowers.

And finally, here is a picture that shows more of the bushes and gives a better idea of how they can grow and how lovely they look.

After searching online to try to determine the type of bush – and being very unsuccessful – I typed in honeysuckle bush just because it smelled so much like the vines. Guess what, there is such a thing and some of the pictures online looked just like the ones we took here! I’m not completely convinced that’s what these bushes are (just mostly convinced), but am going to keep an eye on them this fall. The honeysuckle bush will produce berries in the late summer that ripen early in the fall.

The bush is considered invasive and there are web sites devoted to giving instruction on how to kill them! I thought they were very pretty and don’t want to kill ours. There are a wide variety of honeysuckle bushes in existence, some with berries that are slightly toxic to children and others that are fine to consume. It was noted that although it was ok to eat them, they were very bland tasting and people didn’t tend to bother with them. Birds will eat them in the winter after the other, tastier food has been foraged. That is one of the reasons they spread so easily. The flowers can be dried and used in teas or made into an oil. There are some reported health benefits that are associated with consuming them in this manner.

Here are links to pages discussing these:

I think I’ll wait to try any of these out until after I confirm what the bush is. In the meantime, it is a very ornamental shrub that seems to thrive in our climate. It can attract butterflies to your garden and add a sweet smell to your yard. The bushes may be trimmed to keep the size in check if your space is limited, or left to grow tall and thick like ours and used as a privacy hedge, or to decorate a fence row. Be sure if you decide to grow these that you keep them in check and don't let them choke out any of your other plants!  I know that mine are going to stay for now. I may even transplant some a little closer to the house so that we can enjoy them more easily.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Nutritious and Delicious Mulberries

The mulberry trees are full of fruit and it is ripening fast.  It will be a race to see who gets the most off of the trees – the kids or the birds.  The birds usually win, but the kids don’t do too badly.   We have four trees in our yard that we planted from seedlings shortly after moving to our current home.  In the nine years since, the trees have flourished, and have been yielding fruit for the past few years.  They are hardy here in NE Texas, like rocky soil, and are drought tolerant (although they do appreciate a drink when it’s as hot and dry as it was last summer).  What’s not to like?

Our trees, being relatively young, aren’t all that big yet, but they can get up to fifty feet tall.  A word of warning – they can be messy!  The fruit drops off and if squashed on a walkway, can easily stain it.  Our trees are planted away from any sidewalks and this will not be a problem for us.  Another thing to consider if you live in a city and the tree will be close to the house, driveway or walkways is that birds love these berries.  A lot of birds usually leads to a lot of droppings.  On the upside though, they will grow well where other trees will not, can be used as a windbreak, are easy to propagate, and the fruit is healthy and delicious.

Here is what one page had to say about the nutritional benefits, along with the link:

Mulberries are actually a good source of raw food protein, a rarity in the fruit kingdom.  They are also a good source of magnesium, potassium, riboflavin, iron, calcium, vitamin C, and fiber. One of the mulberry's greatest health assets is it's high concentration of resveratrol, an antioxidant currently being studied for its effects on heart health. An ancient fruit of Asia, the mulberry is touted in medicinal folklore as a remedy for ringworm, insomnia, arthritis, and tapeworm.

I sent the kids out today with a container and told them to get to work.  They came in with about two cups of berries and the stained fingers and cheeks that led me to believe they’d eaten another cup or so while they picked.  The earliest of the berries are just ripening now, and in next week or two there should be plenty more.  It is easiest to just put a tarp on the ground and check it every day.  The ripe berries tend to fall off of the tree.  If you check it often enough, you can beat the birds to the sweetest berries!  I made a batch of mulberry muffins this evening to reward the kids for their hard work.  

I think the fact that they complained that I didn't make enough is a sign that they liked them!

Trees are a longer term investment than a traditional garden, but they'll reward you for years to come.  

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Companion Plants: Borage

Photo by Jengod
Borage makes a good companion plant for tomatoes and all brassicas. They're also one of the few plants that have truly blue flowers. I have borage interplanted throughout my garden beds, mostly as companions to strawberries and tomatoes. Borage itself is also edible by the way.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Sweetwater Farm Greenhouse - Upcoming Seminars

Sweetwater Farm Greenhouse in Denison is giving some great seminars in April.  Be sure to check them out!

Wednedsay April 4th, 2012
"How To Build A Rain Barrel"
Learn how to take a food-grade 50 gallon drum and turn it into a rain barrel to harvest rainwater.  Rainwater is great for your garden!
One lucky attendee will win a completed rain barrel.
Wednesday April 11th, 2012
"Herbs Through Time"
Master Gardener Sandra Haynes will talk about the history of herbs and how they played an important role in ancient civilizations.  Fascinating!
Saturday April 14th, 2012
"Mickey Goes To Cambodia"
Mickey Brown, travelling nurse, has just returned from a medical mercy trip to Cambodia and has fascinating tales (like her encounter with flesh-eating fish)
to tell of her experiences.
Sweetwater Farm will donate 10% of the sales of plants on the day of Mickey's talk (Sat, April 14) to her foundation which will help allow her to continue her wonderful work helping bring basic health care to many desperate people throughout the world. 
Sweetwater Farm Greenhouse is located at:
4400 W Crawford Street
Denison, Texas 75020
Hope to see you there!