Thursday, July 30, 2009

What I Learned - Day 8

Today I learned that if you compost thoroughly enough and add enough organic matter to the soil, you don't have to fertilize. I learned that vegetable gardening is a great hobby for someone with OCD -as our instructor labeled himself - if you have enough time to build and maintain a perfectly aligned, perfectly straight, perfectly planted gardens with seeds spaced EXACTLY the right distance from each other.

I learned that a weed is just another name for a plant whose benefit has yet to be discovered.

I learned how to identify the weeds growing in my garden - from crabgrass to cure-all.

What I Learned - Day 7

I learned about plant problems including canker, iron chlorosis, dieback, mildew and scorch.

I learned how to propagate plants, which is much easier than those who've never tried it might imagine.

I learned how to tell the difference between poisonous snakes (triangular shaped heads and elongated, narrow pupils) and non-poisonous (oval or rounded head and round pupils). I also learned how to tell by looking at the scales on a snake's tail. Why is this important? Because almost all snakes are important in the garden and around the home (although people with laying hens would disagree about the chicken snake) and should be left alone. As someone who played with snakes as a child, they don't bother me. But I do know how to be respectful of them and how to let the beneficial ones enjoy their life as much as I do mine.

Note the perfectly round pupil in the Eastern hog-nose snake above. He's a friend.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What I Learned - Day 6

Among the things I learned Monday:

If you are serious about lawn turf (which I'm not), there is enough to learn to sustain a three-hour class.

Most people haven't a clue how may square feet are in their yard and how to calculate how much fertilizer to use - and so they use two to three times more than they need. Any nitrogen not taken up by the grass becomes runoff that, in a city, gets flushed into the storm drain. In the country, it washes into the water table.

Master Gardener Eddie Wharton is the king of compost. Have a composting question? Ask me. I'll ask Eddie!
Credit: This graphic is from

Sunday, July 26, 2009

What I learned Friday

Citrus, like the Mr. Mac satsuma shown here, don't like wet feet.

Any suckers that sprout below the graft line of citrus should be removed.

If you order and plant bare root citrus, plant in the dormant season, straighten the roots out, cover with soil and then water well to remove air pockets.

I also learned how to graft citrus, though I don't think I'll be trying that. This is one plant I'm happy to buy already grafted - or mature.

Friday, July 24, 2009

What I Learned - Day 4

Thursday's Master Gardeners class was divided between in-depth coverage of landscape design and antique roses. The first half was a real education on the principles of landscape design - which told me everything I've been doing wrong - and the second half was pure pleasure - on one of my favorites. During the next few weeks, I'll be sharing more on the two speakers of the day - both of whom were great.

Three tips from today:

Don't even THINK about putting in a plant until you've designed a bed. Those of us who've passed a plant in a nursery that we just couldn't resist, only to have it sit in a pot for a year (or two) until we figure out where the heck to put it, are good examples of impulse over planning.

If you love bulbs, as I do, you need to do your homework to see which ones are suited to Southeast Texas. Southern Bulbs is a great place to start.

We all owe a big debt to the Texas Rose Rustlers, who, decades ago, began taking cuttings of old roses found in the South. If not for them, we might have lost many of the hundreds-of-years-old cultivars that now are available through years of propogation. William Welch, whose book is shown here, is one of the pioneers.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What Learned- Day 3

Among the numerous things I learned today at Jefferson County Master Gardeners Class:

When building a compost pile, always use a 5-1 ratio of carbon and nitrogen.

Carbon is dry leaves, sawdust, bark mulch, etc; nitrogen is tables scraps (no meat) like potato peelings, greens, fruit, etc.

Home remedy for fire ants: 1 cup orange oil, 1 cup compost tea, 1 cup molasses.

If you have a butterfly garden, you need to provide water. One good way is to put very wet sand in an old birdbath. An alternative is to put a flat rock in the birdbath where the butterfly can land and sip water.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What I Learned - Day 2

Today, I learned that -

If you want to grow mayhaws, Mason is a good variety for Southeast Texas.

If you want to grow blackberries, try Kiowa; it has the best record in trials.

If you want to grow apricots - forget it. Some things just ain't happening in Southeast Texas. We can't grow peonies, and we can't grow apricots.

Oh, well...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Master Gardeners Day 1

Today was the first day of the two-week Jefferson County Master Gardeners class. I was so excited about finally getting to take the class that I didn't sleep well last night. I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, but it was much more - and better - than I could have imagined.
Today, we covered a lot of ground, from Earth Kind Gardening to plant growth and development.

Three things I learned today:
Glucose is the beginning of all growth, including plants. Such a simple formula - CO2 + H2O = H12O6 -with such life-altering impact.

Anything that contains a seed with maternal tissue around it is a fruit - including tomatoes and a pecans.

One pollen grain is needed for each egg (Yes, plants have ovaries and eggs) to be fertilized. Some have hundreds of eggs.

I also learned that, like the wonderful Dr. Dennis Franklin, who taught the Plant Growth and Development, I am a plant nerd. Yeah for me!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Tomorrow is the first day of the Jefferson County Master Gardener's Class and I can't wait. Learning to be an accomplished gardener has long been a goal of mine, and I know the in-depth classes will help me get closer to that goal.

Starting tomorrow, I'm going to post "One thing I learned in class today." I'll do that each day for the length of the course.

I hope this will give you an opportunity to see what the classes are like, as well as provide useful information.

Until tomorrow,

Thursday, July 16, 2009

New Master Naturalist Chapter

Southeast Texas has amazing ecological diversity, from dense forests to open coastal prairies - and now, it has a new chapter of a program that provides education, outreach and service. The newly formed Sabine-Neches Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist Program (Hardin, Jefferson and Orange counties) is accepting applications for their 2009-2010 class.

Students will experience in-depth training in wildlife and natural resource management (taught by recognized experts in the field). Participants will also have the opportunity for advanced training in special subjects of interest. Master Naturalists are volunteers with extensive knowledge of the benefits of managing natural resources. They provide youth education programs, operate parks, nature centers, and natural areas and for provide leadership in local natural resource conservation efforts.

The program is co-sponsored by Texas Parks and Wildlife and Texas AgriLife Extension and partners include Village Creek State Park, Shangri La Botanical Gardens, J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area, and The Nature Conservancy at the Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary.

Weekly classes begin in September and continue through January. Tuition is $150. To become a certified Master Naturalist, participants must also complete 40 hours of volunteer service and eight hours of advanced training during the 12 month period. To learn more, contact Roy Stanford, Orange County AgriLife Extension agent at 409-882-7010, or Amanda Adair with Texas Parks and Wildlife at 409-755-7322. For more information or to download an application, visit the Sabine-Neches Chapter website at

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Vegetable Gardening for beginners

Browsing through a bookstore is a joy. I loved libraries as child; we had no bookstores in our rural Arkansas town. As soon as I became an adult, I started haunting both new and used bookstores, though my budget leaned more to the latter. Novels, poems, short stories, non-fiction - I loved it all.

During the past two decades, I've started spending a lot of time in gardening sections. A week or so ago, I was in a Beaumont bookstore looking for books to teach me how to be a vegetable gardener. I've planted the occasional tomato or onion, but never a "real" vegetable garden. That will change this fall. At the bookstore, I found two I liked: "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Vegetable Gardening" (by daughter/father team Darla Price Bowman and Carl A. Price, Alpha, $16.95) and "The Veggie Gardener's Answer Book" by Barbara W. Ellis (Storey, $14.95)

The Idiot's Guide is an easy-to-read book on everything from planning to planting to pest control. The Veggie Gardener's Answer book is just what the sub-title says: solutions to every problem you'll ever face and answers to every question you'll ever ask. I'm betting I can come up with at least one problem not in the book, knowing a thing or two about problems (being a woman who once weedeated her calf). I also am known for asking questions, so it will be interesting to see if I run across some weird ones (also knowing a thing or two about weirdness).

I like both books and recommend them.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Summer Blues

This is my least favorite time of year as a flower gardener. The stifling heat of late July and August make working outdoors almost as much of a chore as a pleasure. Thankfully, early morning and late afternoon still are manageable, especially since the drought has brought an unexpected blessing - almost NO mosquitoes.

If our flower beds were as lush and pretty as they were a month ago, I might be more tolerant of the heat. But many of our plants look wilted and scorched around the edges and kind of sad, leaving me feeling much the same. I'm using this time as a planning period. I look at the beds where I could have made better choices and think about what plants I'll move elsewhere this fall and what I might replace them with. I think about all the bulbs scattered about and how they overpower some beds and how nice it might be to build a bulb bed. And best of all, I think about the raised beds my husband will build for me soon for a fall and winter garden.

Sweet anticipation is the salve for the cuts and bruises we gardeners endure.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Kids and Gardening

Many kids today think produce comes from a grocery store. Can you imagine never having seen a vegetable in the ground, in a garden?

Danny Chand, Southeast Texas Food Bank Nutrient Education Specialist, teaches kids the link between harvesting and grocery stores. This month, he’s taking dozens of kids from the Salvation Army’s Boys and Girls Club over to the McFaddin-Ward House to tour their garden and see how vegetables go from the garden to the kitchen to the top of a pizza.

That’s a great idea for home gardeners. Maybe you know some kids in your neighborhood who would enjoy a little pizza party, especially when they get to pick the tomatoes and onions themselves. Each of us needs to tackle the task of bringing agriculture back to the people.
One by one, we can help home gardens again become a way of life.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Bradley Tomato Love

I grew up in Southern Arkansas and one of my first summer jobs as a teenager was wrapping tomatoes. Let me explain. Bradley County, Ark. is known for its tomatoes. They are big, meaty and beautiful. The soil there produces tomatoes prized by tomato lovers. The fields were so big back in the late 1960s when I was in high school that they hired teens during the season to wrap and pack tomatoes. The biggest, most perfect tomatoes were individually hand-wrapped with tissue before being placed in a special shipping box. That was my job. I rode in the back of a pickup from Hampton to Warren, where the fields and the production sheds were.

Each year, Warren holds the Pink Tomato Festival when the big beauties are just turning that lovely, deep shade of pink that means they were ready to eat. This year, my sister, Gloria planted her first crop of Bradley tomatoes. Because she lives near Waco, she doesn't expect them to taste absolutely the same. But a Bradley tomato is a Bradley tomato. She's promised to bring me some when she comes for a two-week visit next week to take the Master Gardener Class in Beaumont.