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