GardenDishes

dishin' the DIRT on hit and myth landscaping

Archive for the category “edible landscaping”

Produce Chart with Pesticide Levels

Several folks asked for a LABELED produce chart showing pesticide levels, so here it is! RED means it is likely to have a higher level and GREEN means a lower level usually.

If you cannot buy all organic produce, here's a lesser of evils approach chart.

If you cannot buy all organic produce, here’s a lesser of evils approach chart.

Always Best to Buy (or GROW) Organic Produce?

Lately, I’m getting more requests from my landscaping clients who’ve never considered themselves gardeners to grow their own food.

And they want to do it organically.

Horror stories of tainted greens drive many to question what else they might be buying in that bag of lettuce or spinach. Restaurants, bars, and even airlines blame skyrocketing prices for dropping lime and avocado from their menus. It might tempt some folks to just grow their own food. While citrus and other heat loving plants thrive in my part of the world, what about you who don’t have the weather – or space – to grow your own? Should you move? Well, maybe.

At my house, produce may be found throughout the landscape. If I cannot grow enough, the rest is bought from local farmers whenever possible. I believe in permaculture, which is simply good stewardship of the land. But, as I said before, my options for growing food are vast because of where I live.  And I enjoy gardening.

Should you buy or try? Check this chart to see what produce you should ALWAYS buy organic.

Check this chart to see what produce you should ALWAYS buy organic. Green means little pesticides, red shows what has the most pesticides in traditionally grown produce.

If you’re confused about buying organic produce, check out this chart I made for a lecture I gave. It shows which traditionally grown produce items have the highest pesticide levels. Scary? That’s not the purpose of my talk or why I’m sharing this information. I simply want to give you guidelines on which items deserve the extra bucks to buy organic, or extra time and space to grow in your yard, if your climate allows. Although this won’t necessarily make you a better organic gardener, it could make you a better shopper when it comes to organic produce.

NOTE: if you want an easy-to-reproduce copy of this chart, just let me know. I’m happy to send you a larger JPEG or PDF of it.

Best fertilizer? Holy crap, BATMAN!

We’ve put in some new plants this spring and wondered what type of fertilizer you’d recommend.

Depends. What type of plants? What type of soil?  The best fertilizer for all plants and all soil types is rich soil. Don’t have that yet? Here’s my favorite fertility Rxs for the plantings here in my Texas garden. Here goes:

Crap happens. And when it does, let it rot and put it on your garden!

Crap happens. And when it does, let it rot and put it on your garden. Great soil is the best fertilizer for ANY plant!

ALL: Add 1-2″ composted manure over the whole landscape at least once per year. I try to do this Valentine’s Day. Why Valentine’s Day? It’s important this process occurs in cool months so plants or lawn won’t burn. The other reason for that date is I can remember it…fertility & Valentine’s go hand-in-hand…. or, well, you get the idea. For how long? I plan to stop with my annual cupid compost ceremony when I die, move, or my soil morphs into a rich loam yielding not only great produce, but also a shovel full of earthworms every time I effortlessly dig a hole. By the way, this is NOT mulch; it’s besides and underneath a spring application of mulch.

Osmaco&MedinaVEGGIES, FLOWERS, ETC. – Used as a foliar spray or poured-on soil activator, I keep a jug of Medina’s MEDINA PLUS  handy for monthly after-planting-pep-ups. This is also what I put into my compost to heat it up.

My double compost tumbler also boasts a spigot and container on bottom for an easy compost tea treat.

My double compost tumbler also boasts a spigot and container on bottom for an easy compost tea treat.

Speaking of which,  COMPOST TEA is a cheap – as in FREE – fertilizer. At my house, making compost tea is easy because of the composter I use: a double barrel tumbler with tea spout in the bottom. Never heard of compost tea? Here’s how to make it happen.

A local company (in Houston) called MICROLIFE has come up with great all-around organic fertilizers in several formulations for the different applications in the garden. They also have specialty formulations for specific plants, like azaleas and citrus, as well as for problems in the lawn, like brown patch. Their nifty online chart tells you what to use and when. I buy MicroLife by the 40 lb. bag, I’m such a fan.

When I tuck in just about any flowering/fruiting plant, I often add a dash of Osmocote for Flowers & Vegetables. This slow release, balanced (14-14-14) formula feeds the babies without burning or giving too much nitrogen (the 1st number in the 3 part formulation numbers, N-P-K), which makes it develop gorgeous green but few flowers. NEVER use lawn fertilizer in flowerbeds with blooming plants or they’ll spend all of their energy on the leaves and none on the blooms.

Another commonly used fertilizer that has no place in my garden is a “weed and feed” product. I absolutely hate these for many reasons, only one of which is how destructive it can be to plants other than lawn grasses. So if you have a grudge against me, you now know the chink in my armor!

NOTE: I am not paid, nor do I receive these products to endorse. I buy them at my local garden center just like you will.

Oh, deer, not tonight, please

Help! We bought a house in the suburbs that needed new landscaping, but every time I put out plants, the deer come during the night and eat them. What can I do?

Deer nibble much of the green in their paths unless your plants don't rate high on the menu.

Deer nibble much of the green in their paths unless your plants don’t rate high on the menu.

Ask folks planning a move into the countryside how they feel about nature and they’ll express devotion. A year and hundreds of landscaping dollars later, the attitude often has drastically changed. Pest control companies make their living off this fact: we like the natural world as long as it stays in our control… nature within prescribed boundaries. Termites tunneling in downed timber? Mosquitoes munched by mockingbirds? Snakes snacking on mice and rats? Wonderful! Deer munching in a serene landscape on the horizon? Lovely. When it’s OUR serene landscape where they’re munching, however, that’s a different story.

So how can we protect nature while keeping our gardens from becoming the Luann platter tonight? Deer-free zones don’t exist where deer do, but you can follow some simple steps to encourage nibbling elsewhere with PLANTS, PARAPHERNALIA, and PARABLES. This post goes over the plants. Looks for the next two deer-deterents later, same bat-time, same bat-channel. (Only those of us over a certain age will know what the heck I’m talking about, and only YOUR hairdresser knows for sure…. Yes, another oldie but goodie from ads of Christmas past!)

• PLANTS – Love fresh greens in your salad? So do deer! New growth lures deer in for the locavore smorgasbord. But there are specific plants they don’t find quite as appealing. Look to the surrounding area for ideas. What plants do deer ignore in others’ gardens or in the indigenous plantings nearby? If your yard is an undistinguishable humdrum café, deer will look around for culinary excitement.

Not only can you discourage browsing ON certain plants, but WITH certain plants. Strong herbs such as rosemary or society garlic to throw off the scent and repel deer. Native plants are also naturally more deer resistant as edging can signal b-o-r-i-n-g, and keep deer in the dark about the rest of your yard. For a list of plants to use, contact your local native plant society or Master Gardener group.

Figs gone wild: YOU CAN GROW THAT!

home-made fig preserves recipe

A few months ago my doctor put me on a LOW-FODMAP diet.  The bottom line is I can’t eat lots of things I love anymore. Including figs. That might not be a big deal to you, but it is to me. Making fig preserves each autumn is a tradition for my dad and me to do together.

So is EATING fig preserves. (I’ll give you the recipe in a bit.)

When my youngest daughter got excited about having a fig tree at her house, I got excited, too.  Like most young couples, she’s limited in her landscaping budget. Fortunately, figs are forgiving….. and giving…. and giving again.  Know someone who has a fig tree with low, pliable branches?  You’ve got a FIG donor!

Got a low FIG branch? You have a baby tree waiting to sprout! This easy propagation method is called “layering.”

Here’s how you do it.

Bend a branch so it can be put into soil.  It will need to be pliable enough to bend without breaking and also have leaves or small branches on it.  Remove those to create an “injury” and bury that spot in a bit of soil. I put a heavy rock on the site to weight it down and keep it from moving around.

roots mean it’s ripe for planting

Wait a few months.  Lift the branch to make sure it has developed some nice healthy roots.

Now cut it away from the rest of the plant and put your new roots in their new home.  Wherever that might be.

FOSTER FAMILY FIGS: 3 c. unpeeled ripe figs, 3 c. sugar (or 2 c. sugar/Splenda blend), juice of 1 lemon, opt. box of pectin – Combine all ingredients and let set for a 1/2 hour.  (We play a couple hands of cards at this juncture.) Cook on medium heat in a large saucepan till thick.  Put into sterilized jars and seal with heated rubber lids to allow seals to set properly. Spoon onto toast or pour over cream cheese.

HIT: making your own fig preserves out of your own figs!

Planting seeds straight into the ground

Lately, I’ve gotten several questions about the best way to start seeds in the ground, also called straight sown seeds. (Of course, I don’t DO straight lines, so that is a bit of an oxymoron at my house…..)  I don’t know that my way is the BEST, but it works well for me.  I’m open to suggestions – and welcome royalties from a patent partnership –  if you’ve found one that’s better.

Bottomless, this pot-o-basil is not what it appears.

HIT: starting your own plants from seed is inexpensive and EASY if you protect the seedlings!

First off, be sure you’re planting the seeds at the proper depth. If they’re from a packet, it should tell you how deep to put them in; as a general rule, seeds and bulbs require planting between double – and – triple their height. (Here’s my friend WILLIAM MOSS with Patti Moreno showing you how it’s done with veggies.) If you’ve planted them properly, you’ll start seeing green several days or weeks – or even months – before they are established well-enough to become actual rooted plants. During that time, the underworks are branching out to support the upperworks, making it vital you baby those fragile seedlings. I find the main protection my new seedlings need are actually from ME, though. Forgetting I’ve put seeds down, I mulch over that bare spot. Or I can’t remember what I put there because the tag is missing.  Sometimes a heavy downpour is the culprit and my seeds end up down the street.

We even have a neighborhood pooch whose owner allows him too much roaming space and he did in some cassia seeds with a well placed dump.  Yes, it is organic, but come on!

I used to stack rocks, cairn-like, stick a flag in it with the plant name, and cross my fingers as I walked away.  Either the flag, the rocks, or both ended up missing.

All you need to be a seed superstar is a plastic planting pot, scissors and a marker!

Now I hold on to all those small pots when I buy plants at the nursery and recycle them into seed starting studs.  I use a few the traditional way, but what works even better is making them into a TEXAS-STYLE SEEDLING CORRAL. I cut the bottom out, turn ’em upside down, and write down the plant’s name and the date I planted it with a silver marker.  Then I bury it partially into the ground, up and over the “lip” that used to be the top of the pot. Then I add a bit of potting soil and push the seeds into place.  I’m always looking for activities to lure in kids to gardening and think this might be a great one for little ones to try.  (As a bonus, this method allows me to know exactly where I need to mist when it dries out, and it holds in the water for longer.  And this isn’t proven, but it seems the black color of the pot absorbs the day’s heat and gets my seedlings going faster in early spring.)

Cut the bottom 1/4 off the small plastic plant pot and turn it on its head for a plant perimeter/marker.

Ignore the label on this one….it’s actually G. aestivalis winklerii ‘Grape Sensation,’ not ‘Purple Passion.’ But I wouldn’t know WHAT or WHERE it was without its seedling corral, would I?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You might want to cut the perimeter away once the seedlings are up….

or just leave it in place so you remember those bulbs are there even when they aren’t in bloom.

WARNING: if a varmint wants those seeds, even an armed guard can’t stop ’em!  Need proof?

Here’s who came to dinner at my house last week.  Yes, those are carefully dried/saved/planted hibiscus seeds this little guy decided to grab in the run-through at Casa Colburn-a!

YOU CAN GROW THAT: squash isn’t just a child’s game!

When you follow the rules in gardening, it works.  When you don’t, it doesn’t.

A harvest in summer requires following the recipe in spring.

But the rules we must follow are not OURS.  They are nature’s rules.  That’s why gardening seems difficult.  We Americans tend to be proud of our rule-breaking ways! Actually, rules make things much easier and as Andy Rooney loved to ask, “EVER WONDER WHY…. ?”.  Well, in gardening, you don’t have to wonder.  The law of sowing and reaping cannot be bargained with or altered.  It offers a comforting predictability. Plant a squash seed, get a squash, unless yet another of nature’s rules intervenes, such as survival of the fittest squirrel or cutworm or squash bug. When it comes to planting any seed, it will have its own set of rules.  Too deep for one is just right or too shallow for another.  Think Goldilocks.  As trying as it may be, knowing thy seeds is much like knowing thy child (or spouse): they are all different and have specific needs that, like it or not, require meeting if they are to thrive.  Okay, back to seeds….  squash seeds, in particular. I grow primarily two types of summer squash. (I’ve put out seeds for winter squash, too, but those disappeared in a downpour the next day. Probably could look in my neighbor’s yard for them, but didn’t have a decent LOW-FODMAP recipe for them anyway, so just waved good-bye.)

4-6 seeds per mound for zucchini squash is a good start.

RULES FOR SUMMER SQUASH

1) Both my summer types – zucchini style and the yellow straight-neck – have the same basic needs list: SUN, WATER, and TIME.

2) Seeds sown in hills – with 5 or so seeds to a mound and a 1/2 inch soil and a sprinkling of pine straw mulch – is my success recipe. My daddy taught me how and his Uncle Jim taught him.

3) Germination to ripened harvest is a couple of months, but the time from production to harvest seems only a few minutes.  It’s a booger keeping up once they start popping. I find it easiest to have a couple of sowing dates (mid-March and mid-April here in Texas) so they don’t all ripen simultaneously. Squash fatigue sets in pretty quickly at my house.  If I miss early seeding because of a late-cool snap, I purchase plants from my local nursery instead of using open-pollinated seeds stored from last year’s crop, a reputable seed company or CSA.

4) Keep squash plants picked to keep them producing.  The flowers are also tasty, which alleviates some squash over-load.  Top a salad with a yellow squash bloom for a lovely edible garnish.  Folks here along the Gulf Coast eat them fried, too.  (I might try that this summer since my daughter found a gluten-free breadcrumb mix for me.  Thinking about using corn flakes as batter…anyone experimented with that?)

Slice squash thin for freezing or dehydrating.

5) Squashes are impatient. Pick while young so they aren’t tough. And since they rot quickly after harvesting, what I don’t eat or share, I slice thin, put on a cookie sheet in the freezer then into containers and back into the freezer.  Since slices freeze individually on the cookie sheet, they easily pour out individually.

Introducing children to gardening is one of my passions. Passing on to them that there are natural rules and consequences we cannot change makes for a more fruitful – and less frustrating – life, for both parent AND child.  So get a packet of squash seeds and grab a kid (your own, preferably).  A bit of spring sweat will turn sweet come summer.  In fact, it will be a summer neither of you will soon forget. c:

HIT:Gardening with kids teaches EVERYONE patience!

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