Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Link - Companion Planting Guide

I never plant anything in rows.  My garden beds usually look like a riotous mix of plants with herbs and flowers tucked into every available spot between vegetables.  I'm a big fan of using companion planting to enhance the growth of plants, repel pest bugs, and attract beneficial bugs to my gardens.  A little knowledge can go a long way towards keeping harsh chemicals far away from your vegetables and flowers. My favorite book on companion planting is Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte.  But you can get started with this useful link on companion planting.   It's not as comprehensive as the book, but it is a very good start.

Link - GardenToad's Companion Plant Guide

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Spotlight - The Redbud Tree

The Redbud Tree is one of my favorites.  We have four of them in our front yard and they fill the space with beauty every spring.  They seem to be everywhere in this part of the state and thrive with very little attention.  With the tree being so plentiful, I had to wonder if there were any particular uses for it other than the most obvious – it being so lovely and pleasing to the eye. 

In the course of my research I found out that you can eat the flowers in the springtime and the new, soft green seedpods in the fall.  Wow.  It is a member of the legume family and shares many things in common with the pea.  The flowers, which have been described as having a sweet and slightly nutty flavor, can be eaten by themselves, mixed in with salads or other foods, or even made into jelly or relish.  In the fall when the seedpods are young and tender, they can be eaten raw or cooked like peas.   Like many legumes, the seedpods contain nutrients such as protein, iron and some complex carbohydrates.

 The picture above shows some young seedpods on one of the Redbud trees in our yard.  They look very similar to peas.

Since Redbud trees are usually under twenty feet tall, they makes a good under canopy tree in the forest.   That is not only true for the forests in parks, but also the food forest you might want to start at home.  Whether you’re just looking for an easy to grow tree to add some dimension to your yard, you’re trying to start a food forest and need some canopy trees, or you just want to something aesthetically pleasing, relatively long lived, and easy to care for that will come in handy if things every get really tough, you might consider the Redbud tree.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Video - Curing Onions

Texoma is historically known for growing onions. Our black clay and unfussy onions get along beautifully, making onions high on my list of plants to start with for people new to gardening.
Onions can grow so successfully here that you can end up with quite a harvest. What to do to preserve all of your onions? Well, you have some options. Drying, of course, is one. You can also chop them and keep them frozen in bags, to use as needed. My personal favorite is to cure them and store them in a dark, dry place, where they'll often keep for months.
Curing onions is not at all hard. The key is to not be hasty. Leave them to cure for as long as they need to set properly before storing, and you'll minimize your losses to rot. Here's a video describing the process. Good luck!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Gardening with Wildflowers - Gaillardia

As gardeners, we spend a lot of time trying to find just the right flower to accent our garden beds and yards.   The primary thing that we have to consider is what will grow in our particular area.  The Texoma area is not as forgiving as some areas of the country when it comes to gardening.  This is true for vegetables or flowers.  I often see beautiful plants at our local nurseries that just won’t tolerate the conditions in our yard.  I have learned though experience and failure that certain things just aren’t going to make it. 

In recent years, I have begun to wonder why I struggle to grow plants not meant for this area, when there are so many plants that are native to the area that hold just as much beauty, color and wonder.  Take wildflowers for instance – this time of year our roadsides and hillsides are covered with lovely flowers of all colors, shapes and sizes.  Why can’t a flower that brightens up a highway brighten up your yard?  There is no reason!  I have seen wildflower seeds for sale in many stores and have some growing here in our yard.  One of my favorites is Gaillardia – more commonly known as Indian Blanket.  This is the flower pictured above.  It is lovely and easy to grow.  It is native to this area, doesn’t need any special care and comes back year after year regardless of conditions.  Wow!  Indian Blanket seeds can be purchased in local stores and they are easy to get started in any flower bed.  You can start them inside and transplant them, or just direct sow the seeds.  This is true for many, many of the wildflowers you see growing along the roadsides. 

There are websites devoted to helping you identify your favorites.  Just look up ‘Texas Wildflowers’ or ‘Texas Wildflower Identification’ and follow the links.  Add a little bit of Texas to your flowerbed.  I think you’ll be pleased with the results!

(Just as a side note - as with many native plants and herbs, Gailladria has some medicinal properties and the roots can be dried and made into teas or paste to treat a variety of illnesses.  There are enough native flowers and herbs growing in our area to enjoy new teas all year round).