Tuesday, December 29, 2009

SETX Green Exchange

Gardeners usually are some of the nicest people you'll ever meet. If you have a neighbor with a garden, you've probably been the recipient of some of his or her produce during harvest. Sharing with others is one of the most basic tenants of society - and sharing food is "eat local" at its best.

A new group in Southeast Texas is helping facilitate the sharing through the SETX Green Exchange. A Green Exchange is a community event where participants bring whatever they have they want to share, whether vegetables, herbs, fruit, or prepared goodies. At a Green Exchange, no money changes hands - only goods. You might bring a bag of oranges from your tree and exchange them for salad greens.

The SETX Green Exchange meets once a month. The next meeting will be at 10 a.m. Saturday (Jan 2) at The Barking Dog Coffee Lounge in downtown Beaumont (493 Pearl Street). The first month, they had persimmons, limes, rosemary, basil, mint, lavender, sunflower seeds, nectar plants, peppers, eggplant, coffee grounds, butterfly lilies, spider lily bulbs and homemade jelly. This month, they will have leafy greens, salad mix, radishes, candied pecans, and more.

If you have something to share, join in. Read more at http://www.miakatempire.com/

Monday, December 28, 2009

Will a poinsettia re-bloom?

Christmas is over. The decorations have been carefully packed away, the wrapping paper and bows are stored for next year and everything is back in its place. Only one thing still says "Christmas." The poinsettia that was so pretty for a couple of weeks now sticks out like a sore thumb. Anyone who loves plants faces the same dilemma every year. Do I try to keep the poinsettia alive or let it die the way God and Lowe's intended?

If you enjoy a bit of a challenge, by all means try your hand at keeping the poinsettia healthy for next year. But if you don't like to be bothered with regular care, you'd be better off buying a new one next December. Poinsettias need specific care at specific times. Here's a month-by-month description of what it takes to develop a "red" thumb.

January through March: Continue to keep the soil moist, but not wet. Avoid drafts and direct heat. If your house has low humidity, you might need to water almost every day. Don't let it sit in water.

April: Decrease water in stages; let plant dry between watering. Watch for a shriveled stem (the plant is dying). After 10 days or so, move it to a cool spot at around 60 degrees F.

May: Cut back to about 4-6 inches and re-pot in a bigger container with fresh soil that drains quickly. Water well. Put it near bright light and keep at 65 - 75 degrees F. Water when the soil feels dry. New growth should emerge; fertilize every two weeks with a complete fertilizer. Move the poinsettia outside to a partially shaded spot. Keep watering and fertilizing.

July: Pinch back each stem by about one inch to encourage branching and keep the plant from getting too leggy.

August: In mid-August, pinch back again (leave 3-4 leaves on each shoot) Bring indoors and back in a bright spot. Water and fertilize.

September: Keep temp above 65 degrees F.

October To bloom, poinsettias have to have 10 weeks with 12 hours or less of sunlight per day. EVERY DAY. Put the plant in a completely dark box or space for 14 hours every night. Give it a sunny spot for the rest of the day. Continue to water and fertilize.

November: Stop putting the plant in the dark the third week of November. Leave it in a sunny window. Flower buds should form.

December - Stop fertilizing mid-month. Keep watering and keep away from drafts.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Arugula and Parmigiano-Reggiano salad

The arugula I planted a few weeks ago isn't yet big enough to harvest, so I am spending time looking for recipes to use when it does. I can't wait.

If you've never had arugula, the slightly peppery green, you're missing out. I can eat it by itself, it's so good.

This salad (from about.com) uses lemon juice to balance the sharp flavor of the greens. The sweet, nutty cheese adds depth.

Arugula Salad With Parmigiano-Reggiano

•3 Tbsp lemon juice
•4 Tbsp olive oil
•1/2 tsp salt
•1/4 tsp pepper
•One 7 oz. bag arugula
•1/3 - 1/2 lb Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.
Drizzle the dressing over the arugula. Add the grated cheese. Toss lightly and serve

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Leaf Peeping in Southeast Texas

OK, so we're not New England - by a long shot - but if you look around, you can find beautiful fall color in Southeast Texas.

Usually, it's a small island of red and yellow from a stand of ornamental pears, or a row of mature Chinese tallow trees. Standing beneath such a canopy of trees, you can be reminded of the glory of nature's changing seasons.

Enjoy these photos taken on Dowlen Road near Delaware.

Friday, December 18, 2009

What kind of fruit is this?

Kay wrote in to say she was driving in Beaumont when she saw this tree. I've never seen anything like it before, she said. Do you know what it is?

I didn't at first. I've never seen one, either. So I drove to the neighborhood she told me about until I spotted the tree. The family who lives there told me it is a papaya. They planted the tree more than a year ago, so it weathered our winter just fine. It's planted on the south side of the house, which undoubtedly helps.
Papaya trees can be male, female, or both. A male plant does not have ovaries, so no fruit. A female plant will set fruit, but when no male plant is near to fertilize it, it aborts the fruit. A male/female tree is self-pollinating. The papaya tree in Beaumont has three side by side, all with large fruit, so they either have another male nearby or are self-pollinating types.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Frost damaged plants

Last week, I shared photos of how beautiful something as potentially damaging as frost can be in a garden. This week, I'm sharing the ugly.
These photos are of a hibiscus, dwarf ginger and hummingbird bush. The good news is each of these will return as lush and green as ever this spring. The ginger will need a good shearing, the hibiscus will get gentle but firm pruning - and we will cut the hummingbird bush down to short, bare stalks, as we do each year.

Isn't Mother Nature wonderful?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Back on track

It's been much too long since I've posted. But...sometimes, life gets in the way of the best intentions. The main reason I've been absent is the release of my book, "Grace, Gratitude & Generosity," a collection of columns taken from the 800 or so I've written during the past 17 years for the Beaumont Enterprise. That's a good thing, a very good thing, but it has meant book signings, which have taken a lot of my time. Again, a good thing. So I'll try hard to get back on track this week. And just in case you are interested the book, I will be signing copies today from 3-7 at The Enterprise in downtown Beaumont. Tomorrow I will be at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas, also in downtown Beaumont, from 11-1:30. The book is available at http://www.janemcbridebook.com/ as well.

Monday, December 7, 2009

How to care for poinsettias

To make the most of a purchase of a poinsettia for the holidays , begin by choosing a healthy plant. Look for a plant with strong stems and no signs of wilting. The freshest plants will have a tight cluster of yellow flowers in the center of the bract. Protect the plant from temperatures below 50 degrees while transporting home. If necessary, place it in a large shopping bag.

At home, place the plant in bright, indirect light (at least 6 hours a day). Don't put it near a draft, excess heat (like a fireplace or heater) or near heating or a/c vents. Water when the soil begins to dry. It needs moderate water but always pour the excess out that accumulates in the saucer after watering. The roots will rot if kept too wet.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Frosty garden

The light freeze we had last night left the yard a garden a study in frosty beauty.

Here are some photos of snapdragons, pansies, hibiscus, lettuce and citrus with an icy coating.

After the quick thaw already underway, I'll see how well everything fared.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Are poinsettias poisonous?

Contrary to what you've probably always heard, the beautiful plant seen around Christmas is not poisonous. While the milky sap can be irritating, it poses no threat to children or pets.

10 other things you might not know about poinsettias:

1. In nature, poinsettias are perennial flowering shrubs that sometimes attain 10 feet in height.
2. December 12 is National Poinsettia Day.
3. Poinsettias make up more than 85% of potted plants sold during the holidays.
4. Joel Poinsett brought the Mexico native to the US in 1825.
5. The Paul Ecke Ranch in California grows about 80% of the flowers in the US wholesale market.
6. More than 100 varieties of poinsettias are available.
7. Poinsettias are the top-selling potted plant in the US.
8. Women buy more of the plants than men - 80% vs 20%.
9. In Chile and Peru, the plant was known as the "Crown of the Andes."
10. The red leaves are not a flower; they are colored bracts (modified leaves).

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Narcissus: The December Birth Flower

It's no wonder the narcissus was chosen as the birth flower for those born in December. The beautiful, almost iridescent blooms are reminiscent of a winter snowfall, and begin poking through the soil here as November wanes. Right now, the narcissus in my yard are bursting into bloom, putting on a display of delicate white flowers atop a pedestal of thick green leaves that provide a beautiful contrast.

While the mythic Narcissus fell in love with his own beauty and came to an unpleasant end (and legend says was turned into the narcissus plant we love so well), the narcissus flower now represents respect, modesty and faithfulness. In the Victorian era, it was given to a lover with the message "You are the only one." Photo by Wikipedia Commons

Monday, November 30, 2009

Weeds in manure

Another lesson learned: just because a bag of cow manure says "composted" doesn't mean it really is - composted properly, that is. I knew fresh cow - and horse - manure had weed seeds in it, but when properly composted, the heat means most of the seeds won't be viable.

When I cleaned out my small flower bed a couple of months ago, I used some bags of soil I had stacked beneath the carport. One of them turned out to be the cow manure I had bought at least a year before. I had already dumped it in the bed before I realized it. What was a pristine bed now is filled with weeds that sprouted a week or so ago. I keep pulling them, but it's obviously going to be a long process. My advice - skip the manure and use true compost you know to be good.

The seed problem occurs with both horse and cow manure. What they eat is going to end up in their manure - and wherever that manure ends up.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Naturalizing bulbs over a large area

I'm so proud of my niece, Jennifer, who lives near Tulsa, Okla. Jennifer is artistic and creative in every aspect of her life, and recently decided to take on a huge project to beautify a big open field and ditch along the highway in front of her Dad's Sonic, which her husband Eric manages. Jennifer took on a bulb naturalization project from scratch - and I'm positing an email from her (with her permission) so she can describe the project firsthand. Jennifer - you are officially my first guest blogger!

From Jennifer:
"The total number of bulbs planted in the front field/ditch were 1,730 (it was increased because I dug too many holes and there was NO way I was going to fill in an empty hole…so I went back to SAMS and bought what was left). As for “why,”this summer when we were on our road trip (via 13 states) we saw tons and tons of daffodils along I-40 in North Carolina. Eric kept hollering “Take a picture” “Look, there’s more” “Wow, that’s covered in those flowers”….on and on. So when we saw that daffodils were on clearance at SAMS we bought a batch so I could plant them in front of Sonic. Then one thing led to another and the obsessive shopper in me took over. Before I knew it I had also bought the Stars And Stripes Forever Triumph Tulip Collection (240 tulips total) to go around our front sign…not in the field.

"I invited all of my girls’ little friends to come help last week but to my shock, that didn’t even make a dent in the work to be done. They did get all of the red, white & blue tulips planted and Rachel’s friend Ian planted a few daffodils…but I had to work almost every day for the past week to actually get it finished. I left you a voice mail when I was on my way home from the final planting….I was so excited and a little sad that it was finished. I didn’t get quite the WHOLE field covered like I wanted but maybe next year I’ll fill in the blanks. I didn’t just want a few flowers out front – I’m going for Shock & Awe! Just like what we saw in NC. That way when Eric goes to work for a month this spring he can be just as happy & excited as he was on the road trip through NC this summer…oh and it would be nice if it draws in some extra business - but it was mainly for Eric. My mom took pictures of us planting. My hope is that this experience will be just like having a baby…once spring hits I can forget about the pain and just sit back and think 'Wow, I did that.' But as for now, my knees and wrists are very sore.

"I tried every method to planting bulbs over the week. I bought & used two different hole diggers especially for planting bulbs, both of which you step on to extract the cylinder of dirt. They worked great in the flower beds where there was no compacted dirt or clay. The problem in the field was getting that cylinder of dirt out of the digger thing. One had a lever you pulled for it to open so in theory the dirt would fall out…not if you just pulled up a cylinder of clay. Then you have to smack it and push & prod to get the clay out. Aaahhh!! We have every variety of bad ground all blended into one. Huge chunks of clay surrounded by sand & shell with gravel & tons of rocks…not just any rock - this is solid bedrock - then out of nowhere you hit dark rich soil. I resorted to using a narrower trenching/spade kind of shovel. I don’t remember what they are called. Most of my holes were probably 8” across and about 6” apart or more then 6-8” deep.

"In most of these holes I sprinkled a little Bulb Booster, planted two daffodils (one on each side of the hole), and threw in a handful of Peat Moss on each bulb. I added a tulip here and there. I threw in crocus in most of the holes once the hole was filled in ½ way. I read every website I could find on how to plant the bulbs and in the end I combined all the info I learned & hoped for the best. All and all the sites agree that Daffodils are deepest 6-8”, followed by Tulips 6” and Crocus at 4”. All the sites differed on if you need fertilizer or not…so I opted for a little in each hole until I ran out. Most all of the sites mentioned Peat Moss, some with more emphasis on it than others so I put it in every single hole since majority rules on that one. I squeezed every bulb before it went into the ground to be sure they are firm & not squishy. So, what’s done is done and now I’ll hope for the best."

Way to go, Jen!! Are you sure you're not related to me by blood, and not just by marriage and love? Send me a picture of you planting the bulbs so I can post it, too.
Aunt Jane

Monday, November 23, 2009

Kugel with apricot nectar

Every year, I spend weeks thinking about Thanksgiving food. We do a pot luck in our family, with everyone bringing a dish. This year, so far we've lined up ham, turkey, cornbread dressing, fresh green beans, candied yams, corn casserole, broccoli rice, cranberries with pecans, pumpkin pie, pecan pie and an as-yet-undecided dessert.

I might also make kugel from a recipe provided to me by one of Beaumont's best cooks a number of years back. It's made with apricot nectar and topped with crushed corn flakes. Here's the recipe if you'd like to try it.


8 oz. pkg extra wide egg noodles
3/4 stick melted butter
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs, sell beaten
1 cup Coffee Rich
1 cup apricot nectar

2/3 cup crushed corn flakes
1/4 stick melted butter
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup sugar

Cook noodles; drain. Mix eggs, sugar, Coffee Rich, nectar and melted butter in a big bowl and pour over noodles in a 9 x13 pan sprayed with non-stick spray.

Mix crushed corn flakes, melted butter, cinnamon and sugar. Sprinkle topping over noodles.
Bake at 325 degree for 1 hour.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Citrus Show

The Golden Triangle Citrus Show Thursday was a success by all measures. More entries than ever before, big attendance and new people - all good things.

The variety of fruit was impressive.
I tasted kumquats, round oranges, satsumas, and a tasty little mandarin that seemed to be everyone's favorite. It was great way to see and taste varieties to see which one you might want to start growing. The show also had lemons, limes, loquats, grapefruit and a bunch of things I'd not seen before.
Dr. Monte Nesbitt gave a great lecture on citurs, followed by a Q&A that sent backyard growers home with new information to keep their citrus healthy and productive.
If you haven't been to a show, make plans for next year. If you have citrus, enter them.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Boy Scouts feed the hungry

I read a great story yesterday about a group of Boy Scouts in Amarillo who partnered with Texas AgriLife Research scientists for a project that helped feed the hungry. Dr. Charlie Rush, an AgriLife plant pathologist, planted three acres of potatoes as part of a study. The potatoes, which had no pesticides on them, grew well. When the project was over, the potatoes "were just laying there," Rush said. Instead of letting them go to waste, Rush and 15-year-old Michael Hoy, a boy at his church who was looking for an Eagle Scout Project, teamed up. Hoy called on fellow Boy Scouts to volunteer to harvest the potatoes. On three different days, the Boy Scouts, plus 30 other volunteers, harvested 5,600 pounds of potatoes and took them to the local food bank.
The project had to meet the Department of Agriculture Research Service guidelines, which it did, and the project got the go-ahead. That's good stewardship in my book.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Golden Triangle Citrus Show

Don't forget the Golden Triangle Citrus Show is tomorrow evening at the AgriLife Extension Auditorium downtown next to the courthouse. If you've ever wanted to taste different varieties of citrus that grow well here (like these kumquats), here's your chance. In addition to watching the judging and awarding of prizes for the best three examples of each variety, attendees get to taste the goods.

Your $5 entry fee also gets you into the talk by Dr. Monte Nesbitt, a Texas A&X Extension Program Specialist in pecans, fruit and citrus. The organizers also will give away some good gardening-related door prizes. For more info, call 409-835-8461 or 727-2191, ext. 8461. See you there.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Petunia Power

Petunias can provide a big punch of color in any garden. An old favorite, petunias can maximize impact in a border, container or hanging garden - while provide constant fragrance to boot. Petunias come in four forms: grandiflora, multiflora, spreading and milliflora. The grandifloras produce trumpet-shaped flowers up to 3-4 inches across. Multiflora blooms are smaller but more profuse, providing a mass of color when planted densely. Millifloras are petunias in miniature, producing pretty little blooms about an inch to an inch and a half. All are available in singles or ruffled doubles. The showy spreading petunias can provide a dense blanket of flowers. If you were a regular customer of Roy Henslee at the old Shell Plant Farm, you probably remember the year Roy planted a wide row of cascading Wave petunias all the way across the roof over the entrance. They were stunning. Petunias stop producing in heat, so they are lovely in a cool-weather garden - but they aren't fond of frost. If you didn't plant any this fall, think about them for an early spring planting.

Type: flowering annual

Light: full sun to part shade

Foliage: dark green, slightly fuzzy leaves

Flowers: all available colors but blue and black

Blooms: summer (will stop setting buds in extreme heat) into fall

Growth habit: low, dense, cascading with some

Height: 6 inches; width varies with variety

Soil: needs well-drained soil; don't let dry out, but don't keep wet

Zones: all

Pests or diseases: hearty

Uses: borders, containers, ground cover

Fertilize: every month; weekly for spreading types

Care: deadhead older varieties; pinch back by half when leggy

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mourning Doves

I glanced out the kitchen window this afternoon to find three mourning doves making themselves at home in a patch of sand beneath three hackberry trees and a yaupon. The sand was used to fill in a low spot where we once had dug a big hole to build a water garden. The rains came, the hole became a mud pit and we eventually decided we didn't want to tackle a water garden when so much else needed attention.

The sand helped fill in the hole and a low spot, and the birds have been making good use of it. These three took turns spreading their wings and lowering their bodies into the fine dust, then puffing up and sunning. I love the cry of the mourning dove, though I can respect my mother-in-law's annoyance with the dozens in her retirement park in Kerrville that never seem to shut up. I guess it is possible to have too much of a good thing, but here, I love the doves' cooing.

Garden Blogs

Thursday night, I had the pleasure of speaking to the Jefferson County Master Gardeners group about blogging. Before the talk, I asked the group three questions: How many of you have ever read a blog, even once? How many of you read a blog regularly? and How many of you have ever blogged, either on your own blog or as a guest blogger? The answers surprised me a bit. Very few people had read a blog even once, let alone regularly. Not one of them had ever posted on a blog. During the talk, I used a laptop and projector to take the group to several blog sites and showed them what they could find, from plant profiles to seed exchange lists to Q&A's. The group was surprised to hear how many garden bloggers there are out there, and how much they had to offer.

After the talk, I asked how many now planned to check out a garden blog. About a third to half of the hands went up. I'm not sure how much they enjoyed my talk; I was battling a head cold that kept me feeling bad all weekend (which is why I haven't posted in three days) and my main goal for the talk was to be coherent. I do, however, consider the answer to my last response a success.

Thanks for reading

Thursday, November 12, 2009

All about snapdragons

No cottage garden would be complete without snapdragons (antirrhinum majus), but their vibrant colors and upright growth habit make them a welcome addition to most any garden design. Snaps are cool weather plants, which gives us one more choice here in the sunny South, where many great flower choices for other areas will simply wilt and die, if they grow at all. This sweet, slightly fragrant annual self-seeds, but may not be true to form. These peach/orange snaps share space with pansies and petunias in my annual bed.

Botanical name: Antirrhinum majus
Type: self-seeding annual
Light: full sun to part shade
Foliage: narrow dark green leaves
Flowers: most available colors/bicolorsBlooms: summer
Growth habit: narrow, upright; adds gentle vertical contrast
Height: 10 inches (dwarf) 18-24 (standard)
Width: 6-12 inches
Soil: neutral ph, average moisture, well-drained soil
Zones: all
Pests or disease: snapdragon rust can occur; many disease-resistant available. Don't overcrowd; allow air circulation between plants

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Golden Triangle Citrus Show

For some of us, getting a new citrus tree to bloom, set fruit and grow to maturity is a blue-ribbon accomplishment. But for seasoned citrus lovers, a perfect globe of orange or a blemish-free Meyer lemon grown in a backyard is far more satisfying. If you have magazine-shot worthy citrus, the Texas AgriLife folks provide just the place to show it off.

The Golden Triangle Citrus Show will be from 6-9 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19 at the AgriLife Extension Service Auditorium (1225 Pearl St - downtown next to the courthouse). The show is open to anyone who wants to enter. All you have to do is pick three of your best citrus fruits - that's three of each entry, as in three lemons, three limes, three satsumas, etc. - clean them up, shine them and bring them down to show them off. You can enter as many as you like. Prizes are awarded, so you could earn bragging rights along with a blue ribbon. The show also offers door prizes and a talk by Dr. Monte Nesbitt, a Texas A&M Extension Program Specialist in pecans, fruit and citrus. He'll speak about "Growing Citrus on the Gulf Coast for Fun and Profit."

Admission is $5 and covers both the show and lecture. If you have questions, call the extension office at 835-8461 or 727-2191, ext. 8461. By the way, your citrus will need to be a whole lot bigger than this young lime on my tree - but it has promise, don't you think? Maybe next year.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Honoring Maree Calcote

If you didn't know Maree Calcote, you missed out on a special lady. The late wife of the Rev. Dean Calcote was a fabulous cook, gracious hostess, gifted educator and tireless supporter of Beaumont. One of the ways she improved the city she loved was through Beautify Beaumont. She organized BB - the city's first green organization - in 1987. Her campaign against littering earned her the nickname "The Garbage Lady." It wasn't an insult but a honor.

Tomorrow morning (Tuesday, Nov. 10), Beautify Beaumont will honor Maree at 10:45 with the dedication of the Maree Calcote Greenway, two 100-foot rose gardens that grace the median at the intersection of Phelan Boulevard and Kennedy Drive. Guest speakers include former Mayor Evelyn Lord, Mayor Becky Ames and Rev. Calcote.

As a Master Gardener intern, I'm proud to say Texas Agri-Life and Jefferson County Master Gardeners donated 40 EarthKind roses for the project.

Please consider taking time out from your day to honor a woman who gave so much of her time to make Southeast Texas a better place.

Commenting etiquette

This morning, someone posted a comment on my blog about cara cara oranges, instructing people to call him if they wanted one. I removed the comment because he is a grower who was using the blog to try to sell his product. While he might be a perfectly nice, reputable grower, using my blog implies endorsement from me - and that certainly is not the case. I do not know him - or his products.

I apologize to anyone who might have seen his comment and called him. It was posted without contacting me, which is the appropriate thing to do. I have removed the recent comments sections for now, until I can moderate them more closely.

I value your comments and welcome them - as long as they are intended for information sharing with those who follow Dig-it. If you have a product to sell, email me. I often mention growers/nurseries/individuals I know and can verify as legitimate and ethical with quality products. Any comments or recommendation I make are my personal opinion - and I do not receive compensation for them.

If you have any questions, email me at jmcbride@beaumontenterprise.com and I'll be happy to answer them.

As a journalist, ethics matter a great deal to me - and I value your trust.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Meyer lemon Cara Cara orange marmalade

This recipe for Meyer Lemon and Cara Cara marmalade was printed in the Boston Globe, courtesy of Bonnie Shershaw, who makes jams commercially. It sounds wonderful.

9 Meyer lemons
3 Cara Cara oranges
1 cup water
3 cups sugar

Wash lemons and oranges. Quarter and seed lemons. Quarter oranges. Pulse in a food processor until fruit is in 1/4 inch pieces. Combine lemons, oranges and water. Cover and let stand overnight.

Transfer to a heavy saucepan. Heat until mixture begins to boil. Add sugar. Let it bubble, stirring often with a long-handled metal spoon for 20 minutes, or until a little of the mixture dropped from spoon forms thick drops. The mixture will thicken as it cools.

Pour into 6 sterilized half-pint canning jars. Seal and let cool completely. Will store for a year; once open, it will last for 6 months in fridge.

Cara Cara Oranges - Love at First Bite

I had two firsts this past week: I ate my first kumquat (whole!) and tasted my first Cara Cara orange. The Cara Cara is a navel orange cross between the Washington navel and the Brazilian Bahia navel. It was discovered at the Hacienda de Cara Cara in Venezuala. It has juicy rosy pink flesh and is sweet and low in acidity. It's also extremely delicious. It's now my favorite orange.

The Cara Cara will grow well in Southeast Texas; the one I ate was straight was a Master Gardener's yard. It's not easy to find in grocery stores and the season is short, so you can bet I'm planting one as soon as I find a good one grafted locally on dwarf root stock. I'll post a recipe using this fabulous orange later today.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Giant Salvinia in Toledo Bend

The Plant Doctor, Dennis Franklin, liked to say that a weed was a plant whose value had yet to be discovered. Every plant had some value, he believed; you sometimes just had to look really hard to find it. That's certainly the case with giant salvinia, that whorlly mass that is driving botanists, recreational anglers, swimmers and those who just love being the water, crazy.

Along with the other major waterway pest - water hyacinth - giant salvinia is threatening the quality of life at Toledo Bend Reservoir. The South American native can double in size in as few as 4 days. An aggressive invasive species, giant salvinia can cover the surface of a lake or other still water and choke off the oxygen supply, killing other water plants, and eventually, fish.

Giant salvinia was found in the northern part of Toledo Bend some time back. The recent rains flushed it into the south end. Now, it becomes a battle of wills between the plants and Texas Parks and Wildlife. No matter how much pesticide - or money - you throw at it - a noxious weed has Mother Nature on its side.

Like Dennis, I can admire the plant's structure and strength, but still hope it loses the battle for survival when it shows up in places where it shouldn't be. Sadly, it's one of the facts of life in a global society.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Why are my oranges splitting?

Everything seems to be going right. Your citrus trees are loaded with healthy young fruit. One day, you notice tiny cracks down the center of an orange. Soon, the fruit begins to split down the middle, leaving a big gash and ruined fruit. What happened?

A lot of folks who have a citrus tree, especially satsumas, are seeing this lately. Citrus fruit need a lot of water. During dry times, if you don't water the trees, when a series of rainy days like we've had the past month show up, the thirsty fruit suck up as much water as they can, sometimes so much they literally burst, splitting down the middle. The key is to make sure you don't let citrus, especially thin-skinned satsumas, go thirsty during dry days.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Fall Bedding Plants

Two weeks ago, I started working on a small bed that lines the brick idewalk leading from our carport to the deck.

I removed irises and most of the paperwhites that threatened to take over. I also dug up a Texas gold lantana that was too big for the spot. Mainly, I needed to clean the bed out and get rid of garlic chives, Mexican petunia and Virginia Creeper that had invaded it. Why not start from scratch?

I planted petunias, pansies and a pretty peach/coral snapdragon to augment the wood violets, paperwhites and a daylily already there.

Here's the before (with the violets and a daylily I spared) and after. It looks pretty sparse now, but should fill in nicely. And it's definitely neater and more manageable. Still to come, mowing and edging the bed.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Growing Greens

The tiny lettuce transplants that looked so fragile when I put them in the ground a week ago now are thriving. They obviously are tougher than they look, since even the pounding rain we had didn't beat them into the ground.

For the first time, I also planted arugula, the spicy, slightly peppery green that can be used in a salad or wilted in an appetizer or main dish. I used seed strips, and three rows of them sprouted in 4 days. They are so neatly spaced I might try other seed strips. So easy! They will need to be thinned as they grow, but I will wait as long as possible and harvest the whole, tiny plants as micro-greens, which is all the rage these days.

Friday, October 30, 2009


If you've never grown crocosmia, consider picking up some corms to add this pretty cousin of the gladiolas to your perennial bed. Crocosmia also can be grown in pots in a sunny location. A new friend from the Jefferson County Master Gardeners gave me a bag of corms a few months back that she thinned from her garden. I cut the tops back to a few inches and stored them in a cool, dry spot. Now, I'm ready to plant for a colorful display in the spring.

Crocosmia (Montbretia):

Bloom: orange/red/yellow flowers in spring and summer; makes good cut flower
Size: 24” wide, 24" tall, with spikes of blooms
Space 6-8 inches apart; plant 2-4 inches deep. Multiplies
Native: South Africa
Soil: grows well in well-drained soil; can rot in standing water
Light: Best in full sun; can tolerate some shade
Zone: 5-9
photo: Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Naturalizing Paperwhite Narcissus

When we moved into our 100-plus year old home in rural Jefferson County more than 25 years ago, we were lucky enough to inherit numerous bulbs. The most consistent - and far-spreading of these - is the paperwhite narcissus. The bulbs multiply with abandon, forming attractive clumps wherever a bulb ends up. They are so hardy that I've tossed some on the ground when digging up a bed, and a couple of years later, a new clump emerges. These paperwhites - hundreds of them - are clustered around an ancient tallow tree in the back corner of the yard. Two other volunteers showed up here as well: old-fashioned canna and a dewberry vine or two. I also have a couple of hundred or more paperwhites in the yard on the south side. I've given many away, and just started a big pot for my daughter, who will plant them in her Nederland yard.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Little Volcano Bush Clover

Sheri B. bought a plant this past weekend at the Master Gardeners Plant Sale and couldn't remember anything about the plant other than it was a volcano plant. When she started researching the plant, she couldn't find any information. What Sheri bought is a Little Volcano bush clover, a semi-deciduous shrub with dramatic clumping branches filled with small, dark green leaves. Pretty fuschia blooms cover the bush from summer through fall.

Little Volcano Bush Clover (Lespedeza liukiuensis )
Height:4-6 ft. tall and 6-8 ft. wide
Spacing: 36-48 in.
Hardiness:USDA Zone 6-9
Sun : Full Sun
Blooms: Late Summer/Early Fall

Monday, October 26, 2009

Planting lettuce

My well-intentioned plans for planting a fall vegetable garden for the first time this year fell by the wayside. Both my husband, who was going to build a tall, raised bed and yours truly, who was going to do the planting, had a full schedule. So, instead, I decided a couple of the clay chimney flues that I use for my herb garden would work just fine. I bought Romaine and two loose-leaved varieties, including red tip lettuce, and planted them densely in one of the pots, sort of a mini-one-square-yard garden. I plan to harvest often, so hopefully, it will work.

I discovered baby lettuce is hard to transplant. With the exception of the Romaine, the leaves were so tender I mangled half of them getting them in the ground. Lettuce is easy to grow from seed, but I took the shortcut. I did buy some arugula and cilantro seeds, which I will start this week.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Successful sale

Each year, I look forward to the Jefferson County Master Gardeners spring and fall sales. This year, I saw it from the other side when I worked at the sale as a Master Gardener intern. It takes a lot of work to get the sale ready, and there were lots of willing hands this year.

As usual, the line began forming around 7 a.m. even though the "gates" didn't open until 8. Many savvy shoppers knew exactly what they wanted and headed straight to the desired plants. As usual, citrus trees went quickly, especially considering we had a truckload. Also quick to go were Peggy Martin Roses and clumping bamboo.

The variety of plants was impressive. The first run ended about 10 a.m. and the shoppers had made a huge dent in the inventory. Shoppers kept coming until we closed at 1. All in all, a wonderful day, both for shoppers and for us newbies who got to see what it takes to run a plant sale - as well as get to spend time with our fellow gardeners. Look for the next sale next spring. Come early if you want to ensure getting just the plants you want.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Eastern Screech Owl

Several years ago, I pulled into the carport one night just as my cell phone rang. I answered it, then sat in the car for about 10 minutes while I chatted with a friend. When I got out, I reached up to grab the top of the door to close it and found myself face-to-face with an Eastern screech owl. He was literally less than two feet from my face, yet didn't fly away.

We stared at each other for a minute while I held my breath. I'd seen a screech owl in the oak tree in our backyard before, but never had been this close. I gently closed the door far enough to turn the inside light off, but didn't shut it all the way. He had to lift his foot to keep from getting it caught, yet still, he didn't leave. I backed away a few feet and watched him for a while before going in.

Those few minutes were extraordinary. Being in such close proximity to something wild makes my heart race. Not in fear, but sheer delight. Growing up in the country, I saw many of God's beautiful creatures up close, but today, those types of encounters are more rare. The owl took up residence in the oak tree and for years, I'd sit on the back deck and search the branches for him. I'd always find him. One year, there were no sightings, which worried me. None the next, or the next. Finally, I stopped looking for him.

This spring, I was in the laundry room when I glanced out the window and saw two familiar eyes staring back at me from the fig tree. I don't know how long screech owls live, so I don't know if this was my old Friend or a new one. But I grabbed my camera and took a couple of shots through the window pane. Isn't he beautiful?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Master Gardener Plant Sale

Gardeners who look forward to the annual Jefferson County Master Gardeners Fall Plant Sale will be happy to hear the rain should have passed and the weather should be good for the sale this weekend.

Fall is a great time for planting. It gives trees, shrubs and ornamentals time to develop good, strong root systems before spring, when most of the plant's energy is concentrated in producing new foliage and blossoms.

The sale is from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. out at the MG test garden at the airport in Nederland. Parking is free.

Shopping for plants sometimes is a hit-and-miss proposition. Unless you read labels carefully and do your homework before you go, you can end up with a beautiful plant that will take a nose dive when the Southeast Texas heat and humidity hit it. That's not the case with this sale. Phyllis Smith, plant sale chairman, said gardeners can rest easy. Every plant sold this weekend was chosen for its suitability to Southeast Texas. Some, like select varieties of citrus, are Texas SuperStars.
"We have a wide variety of things people will be looking for, including unusual and uncommon garden plants. We focus on getting things that are different from the everyday plants, but are zoned for Southeast Texas weather," Phyllis said.

Here's some of what will be available this weekend:
Shade and ornamental trees (including Trident maple and the Chinese Pistache tree which provides wonderful fall color), shrubs (mayhaws, azaleas, banana shrubs and assorted flowering shrubs that will continue blooming into winter), citrus (lemons, satsumas, mandarin oranges, grapefruit, kumquats), a few cool-weather herbs, bulbs (red spider lilies, crinum, canna) and roses, all chosen for fragrance, including a few Peggy Martin roses. New this year is clumping bamboo (not the running bamboo that can be invasive).
The sale also will have some home decor items. The Master Gardeners booth will be open for questions, as well as selling its cookbook ($15) and copies of Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac ($20).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Master Gardener Plant Sale

The popular Jefferson County Master Gardeners Fall Plant Sale is this weekend at the Southeast Texas Regional Airport in Nederland.
I'll post again later today with details about what plants will be available this year. The sale always is a good one - and Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer questions.
They'll be wearing blue aprons like this one. Later...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Multi-tasking Gardener

I like to think of myself as a multi-tasking gardener. I've always got any number of gardening tasks going at one time. Right now, I'm doing a lot of fall tasks, from clearing out a small bed that borders the brick walkway to digging up plants that I put in the wrong place or would do better elsewhere.

The truth is, my husband would say, is that I am easily distracted. Example: Saturday, I was weeding the brick-bordered bed and digging up old plants to put in annuals for the fall and winter. I dug up all the irises in the bed, along a Texas gold lantana. The irises will go elsewhere, but I called my sister, Billie, to see if she wanted the lantana. She did, and asked about some shell ginger I had offered her a while back. So I started digging up, or shall I say, tried to dig up, some ginger. The roots have grown so dense and deep that after an hour of solid digging, I was only able to break off three roots for her. I have a deep trench dug around the roots, and they still show no signs of budging.

Sunday, I woke up with a monster stomach virus and fever and chills and stayed in bed all day. This morning, I woke up better, although tired, and went outside to see what I wanted to tackle today. As I looked around the south side of the yard, my version of a secret garden, I had to laugh at what I saw. I have a bed waiting for new plants, partially-dug ginger, The Fairy climbing rose prunings I completed Saturday that need taken out back, a Peggy Martin Rose I planted Saturday that needs tied to the trellis and mulched, and empty pots in the herb garden that need filled. I counted at least six tasks already begun and none completely finished.

I don't mind. I can work on whatever my level of energy permits. Like today. I'm still recuperating, so I will go into town, as we country folk say, and pick up supplies: mulch, fire ant killer, plant ties and new plants for the brick border bed. Tomorrow, I will be able to take my pick of any number of works-in-progress.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Goodbye Garlic Chives

See those thick, multi-fingered roots at the bottom of these garlic chives? I spent three hours today digging the little bas#*tar#s up from around my herb garden.

To do that, I had to pry the chimney flues up with a shovel and empty all the dirt from them before I could get to the roots. I'd guess they weigh about 50 pounds or more with the soil in them, and I know I will pay for this dearly tomorrow, especially since I spent three hours this morning working at the Master Gardeners test garden at the airport.

I know, I know. Not long ago I said I was giving up the chive battle. You win, I said. But gardeners don't give up. Total defeat is not an option. Of course, some things are going to die, but you replace them with something better. But letting something so innocent looking as garlic chives get the best of you is not an option.

I don't know that I've gotten all the roots, but I used a hand cultivator to keep raking through and picking them out. If any more come up, I'm getting out the Roundup and dabbing it on with a little sponge. We'll see how they like that!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Growing limes in Southeast Texas

All the recent rain has sent my lime tree into production. I bought the tree three years ago and have yet to put it in the ground, so the production has been limited. The rain brought a bunch of new blossoms and many of them produced fruit, as you can see in this photo of a new cluster. Don't do like me; choose your location and put your citrus trees in the ground right away, in a well-drained site. Pick the fruit off a newly-planted tree for the first couple of years to get it established. Fruit grows on last year's wood, so avoid pruning anything but shoots that sprout below the graft line. Cut those off.

Limes do well in Southeast Texas. They can freeze, so winter protection is important. Plant them in the sun on the south side of a house when possible. My lime is a Bearrs, often called Persian lime. For a good publication on citrus, get a copy of "Ambrosia from Your Backyard: Growing Citrus Fruit on the Upper Gulf Coast of Texas." It's available through the Jefferson County Agri-Life office.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Art of Rain

One of my favorite times to walk through a garden is after a gentle rain. When the clouds open and light comes through, colors explode. The greens are more vibrant, allowing you to see the endless variations of shades from leaf to leaf. Bright colors, like the red of this hibiscus that grew taller than me this year, are saturated with hues that reflect off the raindrops that pool like jewels.

I've always loved rainy days. I think it goes back to my childhood, when I'd pack a lunch, call my dog to come along and go exploring the woods around our Arkansas home. I'd stay gone for hours, enjoying the solitude and being at peace in surroundings that fed my soul. I loved the days it misted. I'd sit under a big oak and listen to the subtle ways the woods changed. The rain sent creatures seeking shelter, and although a forest never is truly silent, everything became a whisper: the wind, heavy drops cascading down a leaf's vein and falling from the tip with a liquid plop!

This morning, I stood under a small porch my husband built with a bar and space for the barbecue pit. It has a tin roof, and there's no better place to listen to rain than that. A good friend recently brought me boxes of mix-and-match Mexican-style tile he found at a rummage sale. I've been sorting through the boxes seeing if there was enough tile in one pattern to cover the bar. While it rained, I shifted tiles back and forth, looking for a pattern that would fit. The silence, except for rain, soothed me and brought such peace while I worked. My prayer for you today is that such moments come to you often, and that you find your own company entirely pleasing.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Paul James at Shangri-La

Paul James, the host of HGTV's Gardening by the Yard, will not be making his scheduled appearance at Shangri La Botanical Gardens in Orange.

James, who lives in Oklahoma, is known for using goofy jokes and making faces while giving out serious advice for gardeners. He was supposed to lecture at Shangri La Oct. 17, but his people called and cancelled, a spokeswoman at Shangri La said. No reason was given.

No appearance has been rescheduled.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Spotlight on: Orange Bulbine

Although the photo is as hazy as the early morning when I took this picture today, you can tell that orange bulbine is an attractive plant with deep green succulent leaves that look a lot like onion leaves and stems of orange and yellow blooms. My plants, which badly need to be divided, bloom all year except for winter. They produce thick clumps that nicely fill in an understory.

Orange bulbine (Bulbine frutescens):
Form: clump-forming
Season: evergreen
Bloom: continuous from spring to fall (deadheading promotes more blooms)
Size: 18-24” tall. Space 18-24” apart. Produces 10-12 flower stalks per plant 2-3 feet above foliage
Native: South Africa
Soil: grows well in a well-drained soil; very tolerant of poor, dry soil.
Light: Best in full sun
Zone: 9 (20 °F) to 11 (40 °F) Grows 18-24” tall. Space 18-24” apart.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Orchid Festival at Shangri La

Orchid lovers - be sure and check out the Orchid Festival at 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Oct. 10 at Shangri La Botanical Gardens in Orange. Orchids are among the world's most beautiful flowers - and make up 20% of all identified plant species, according to Shangri La, which houses many varieties in its Epiphyte House.

Among the events: 10 a.m. - Growing Orchids in the Gulf Coast Area by Jim Butler, accredited judge with the American Orchid Society.

1 p.m. - Orchid Jewels of East Texas by authors Joe Liggio and Ann Orto Liggio.

10 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily Oct. 13-17 - Guided tours of the Exhibition Greenhouses.
All events are free for Shangri La members and included in the general admission fee for non-members ($4 for kids, $5 for seniors and $6 adults). Check it out at http://www.shangrilagardens.org/

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Southern Living Pumpkin Recipes

I love fall food. Almost any dish with pumpkin in it calls to me. And call me strange - you won't be the first one - but I also adore squash, turnips, beets and other root crops. I like them roasted with a light glaze of olive oil and sea salt, pureed in hearty soups, or baked into casseroles. Most of all, I like breads heavy with spices and pumpkin.

This month's Southern Living has great recipes in it using pumpkin: Caramel-Pecan-Pumpkin Bread Puddings and Mini Pumpkin Cakes, along with a tutorial on how to roast pumpkin seeds, which are both nutritious and tasty. The bread pudding recipes are simple. They also offer a one-dish version if you don't want to make mini-puddings. The recipe calls for eggs, pumpkin, milk, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, vanilla extract and French bread. The sauce uses pecans, brown sugar, butter, corn syrup and vanilla extract.

The October issue is worth buying (in my opinion, they all are), but if you don't have one, here's a decade-old recipe from Bon Appetit

Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce

2 cups half and half
1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin
1 cup (packed) plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
10 cups 1/2-inch cubes egg bread (about 10-ounces)
1/2 cup golden raisins
Caramel sauce
1 1/4 cups (packed) dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup whipping cream
Powdered sugar

For bread pudding:Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk half and half, pumpkin, dark brown sugar, eggs, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon and vanilla extract in large bowl to blend. Fold in bread cubes. Stir in golden raisins. Transfer mixture to 11x7-inch glass baking dish. Let stand 15 minutes. Bake pumpkin bread pudding until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare caramel sauce:Whisk brown sugar and butter in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until butter melts. Whisk in cream and stir until sugar dissolves and sauce is smooth, about 3 minutes.
Sift powdered sugar over bread pudding. Serve warm with caramel sauce.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Breast Cancer Awareness

Each year, I look forward to the first day of October. It means that, for the most part, the days of 90-plus degrees and humidity are over. That's welcome news to gardeners, who are worn out from battling the heat that exhausts both them and their crops and gardens.

Summer has its charms; the long, hot days help make the garden bountiful. Many beautiful flowers and ornamentals are at their glorious best in the heat. But there is something about those first cool mornings that promise a revival of the body and the spirit.

October is important not only for gardeners and those who love the outdoors, but for all women and those who love them. It's National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and a reminder to get a mammogram. While the weather turns cool in October, display shelves turn pink. Each year, more companies are joining the list of those who promise a portion of the proceeds from sales of their products will go to breast cancer research.

Gardeners who want to support the fight against breast cancer can buy gardening tools like these I found at Al Cook Nursery in Beaumont. Look at your favorite nursery, home supply store and discount stores for similar products. As a breast cancer survivor who prays her daughter - and all our daughters and granddaughters - never have to battle this cruel and persistent disease, I join millions of other women who say, thank you.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fall veggies

If you want to plant fall vegetables, you can find young plants all around town. Here's what I found at area nurseries yesterday:

Ritter's garden center - buttercrisp lettuce; Georgia collard; broccoli; Snow Crown cauliflower - $1.50 a four-pack

Al Cook - nice 4-inch pot of yellow straight-neck squash for .99; Giant Marconi Italian grilling peppers and buttercrisp lettuce, $1.99 a four pack

Lowe's - Rio Verde cabbage; broccoli; Georgia collard; Rubra spinach - 2-inch pots for $1.78, as well as larger biodegradable pots of Celebrity and Better Boy tomatoes and Black Beauty zucchini for $3.48.
Beaumont Greenery - broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage - $1.75 for a 4-pack