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 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.