Sunday, February 28, 2010

Spring Garden Events in Austin, TX

I'm looking forward to these Austin gardening events!

Spring Vegetable Gardening
Saturday, March 13, 10 am - noon
Zilker Botanical Garden
Enjoy juicy tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, and delectable green beans straight from your garden. Learn how to plant and maintain a spring vegetable garden from Master Gardener Vegetable Specialist Patty Leander, who will share her expertise on vegetable varieties that perform well in Central Texas, recommended planting times, and composting. This seminar is loaded with basic facts and helpful ideas, useful to both new and experienced vegetable gardeners. This seminar is free and open to the public. This is one of our most popular seminars, so please come early to get a seat.

African Violet Show & Sale
Saturday, March 20, 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Sunday, March 21, 1:00 to 4:00 p.m.
Austin Area Garden Center at Zilker Botanical Garden

Cool Plants for the Shade Garden
Friday, April 9, 9-11am
Demonstration Garden at AgriLife Extension Office of Travis County
Cool Plants for the Shade Garden is a free in-the-garden discussion. See some of the shade loving plants growing and learn about other perennials and annuals which require limited sun. This seminar is free and open to the public.

Austin Cactus and Succulent Society Spring Show & Sale
April 10 & 11, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Austin Area Garden Center at Zilker Botanical Garden

These are the events I'm most interested in, but there's lots more events listed at the Travis County Master Gardeners Association website and the ACSS website.

Words and photos © 2009-2010 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Austin Snow Day Edition

House finch on snow day

Front yard

Front yard

Back yard

Will it ever let up?

House finch

Lettuces in snow

Carrots & turnips in snow

Onions and strawberries in snow

Spinach & root vegetables

Except where noted, words and photos © 2009-2010 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Winter harvest time

How can you tell when a vegetable is ready to harvest?

In my garden, the decision-making process goes something like this: "Aack! Quick! Get the knife! The broccoli's starting to bolt!"
Broccoli starting to bolt
We got to it just in time, yea, it and all its kin. We've had broccoli several times a week now for the last two weeks. (Yes, I planted all six seedlings at the same time--brilliant, I know.) Broccoli has always been a favorite vegetable in our house, but homegrown organic broccoli, even crowns that have started to bolt, harvested minutes before eating, tastes simply AMAZING. A brief steaming turned the broccoli a deep, dark green, and gave it a sweet flavor. Broccoli is sweet! Who knew? So sweet that now I'm trying to figure out how to get in another crop before the heat hits. (This variety is called Packman.)

Cauliflower is a more challenging cole crop to grow than broccoli, as I've learned first hand. I planted a variety called Snowball, which is a self-blanching variety. Blanching refers to the process of covering the heads with the leaves to protect the heads from sunlight; this keeps the heads snowy-white. The gardener can either tie the leaves around each head, or plant a self-blanching type, which has leaves that naturally grow tightly around the head. This head did pretty well until the last few days, when the leaves popped open and the head turned yellow. Sigh. Cauliflower is also very sensitive to fluctuations in temperature and moisture, resulting in "ricing," as illustrated in this photograph -- the florets separate and spread out instead of remaining tight and close together.
"Snowball" cauliflower
Yellow, ricey heads are fine to eat, they just don't look very pretty, and aren't quite as firm and crisp. This is the only head I've managed to to harvest out of six plants. The other plants either have no heads, or have tiny heads which have been attacked by downy mildew, causing gray spots on the florets and rendering the head inedible. Boo. I may try cauliflower again this fall, but with a different variety.

The White Lady turnips, on the other hand, have been very productive. Here's a photograph of the first harvest.
White Lady turnips
The turnip is a vegetable that engenders strong opinions. Folks tend to either love turnips or hate them. Jack has proclaimed that he does not like turnips. I don't think I've eaten turnips often enough to have an opinion. In any event, now that I have a bumper crop of turnips, I need to find recipes -- and quickly! Three I'm considering are Julia Child's Glazed Turnips, Stephen Cooks' Baby Turnips and Sugar Snap Peas, and Leon O'Neal's Turnip Greens (with bacon and Louisiana hot sauce). We may have enough turnips to try all three recipes.

What about you? What have you harvested from your winter garden? (Yes, herbs count!) Do you have a favorite turnip recipe? If you do, please share!

Words and photos © 2009-2010 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

February's Foliage Follow-Up

In honor of Foliage Follow-Up, I'm posting pictures of succulents (yes, again!). I've posted about two of these three pots before, and the third pot feels left out, so today is its 'day in the sun', so to speak.
Trio of succulent pot gardens

Here it is. Isn't it cute? Clockwise from the top: Watch Chain Plant (Crassula muscosa), Zebra Plant (Haworthia attenuata), unidentified sedum and a cactus that was labeled "Silver Arrows" (but doesn't look like the pictures on the Intertubes).
Succulent pot

The sedum is just a tiny bit that broke off one of my other sedums (maybe the Gold Carpet sedum?). I just stuck it in the decomposed gravel. It should root.
Sedum baby

The Zebra Plant and the Watch Chain Plant were part of a succulent trio I bought from a box store. They were miserable in whatever potting mix they were planted in. Since it's been in the decomposed granite and cactus mix, the Zebra Plant's grown and spread out. I swear it's smiling.
Succulent trio

I stuck a bunch of broken-off ghost plant 'leaves' in the pot, in hopes they too will root.
Ghost plant seedlings

Thanks to Pam Penick at Digging for hosting Foliage Follow-Up on the 16th of every month, the day after Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.

Words and photos © 2009-2010 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day February 2010

Hardly a blossom outside on this February GBBD, so we'll go indoors for photos today.

This Phalaenopsis orchid was a birthday gift from my coworkers last year, nearly 11 months ago. The stalk never withered after it bloomed, so I didn't cut it back; good thing, because it bloomed on the same stalk this year.
Phalaenopsis orchid

And these blooms are a Valentine's gift from my wonderful husband. I love the grass heart, don't you? Valentine's Day bouquet

I have one plant blooming outside: a four-nerve daisy. If the sun comes out, I'll try to post a shot.

Words and photos © 2009-2010 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Starting seeds for mere peanuts

February can be a trying month for gardeners. The spring seed catalogs are starting to roll in, but most days are too cold, windy, wet and/or overcast to facilitate much outdoor work. Even on the rare sunny day, temperatures are still too cold for planting heat-loving crops. While lettuce and carrots will germinate at temps as low as 45°F, tomatoes need a minimum of 70°F.
Spring seed catalogs

Several garden bloggers have been posting about starting seeds indoors--a great way to get ahead of the spring gardening game. I've turned spring green with gardener's envy at some of the elaborate set-ups I've seen: triple-tier metal stands with T-5 grow lights and heat mats and what not. Looking at these systems, I see why the scotch bonnet seeds I tried to start in the garage last winter didn't work well -- no light and no heat! The few seeds that did sprout quickly turned gangly and flopped over before any true leaves formed.

Alas, top notch seed starting systems with grow lights can be very pricey, anywhere from a couple of hundred bucks up to over $600! So tonight, buoyed by posts on The Greenest Dollar and the Simple Green Frugal Co-op, I started thinking about what I had around the house that I could cobble together to make a DIY seed starting system, and this is what I came up with. It's sitting in the corner of my living room (the only spot I have for it!).
DIY Seed Starting System
OK, so it ain't pretty, but I'm thinking it just might work. The "grow light" is a Coralife aquarium light that a friend gave me last year. It's 24 inches long and puts out 130 watts of light (two-65 watt double compact fluorescent lamps). If it's suitable for growing live aquarium plants, I figure it'll sprout some seeds. (I did spend some coin to swap its actinic blue light out for a 10,000K full spectrum light.) The "heat mat" is an old three-setting heating pad that has no auto shut-off. And the cinder blocks supporting the light fixture are, well, cinder blocks. As the plants get taller, I figure I can up-end the blocks to raise the fixture.

Whaddya think? Would it work? Why not? "What could possibly go wrong?" I'm all ears. Until I hear back from you, I'm off to dig the toilet paper rolls out of the recycling bin to make seed starting pots!

Words and photos © 2009-2010 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Was there ever a plant cuter than a sedum?

No WAY! Sedums are THE most cutey-est plants EVER! Just lookit how cute!
Sedums & dracena
Was there ever a plant more difficult to identify as to species and variety? I doubt it. According to Wayne Fagerlund at SedumPhotos.Net, there are over 600 varieties of sedum. According to me, approximately 469 of the sedums in nurseries are mislabeled. OK, maybe that's an exaggeration. Let's say 269. Give or take 100.

This is a sedum rock garden I made a few weeks ago. I originally planned to give it away as a gift for someone's 60th birthday. Unfortunately, once the pot was full of plants, cactus potting mix and decomposed granite, it was too way heavy to lift easily, so I had to make a smaller one for the birthday girl.

I found the beautiful blue pot on sale a few months ago at Shoal Creek Nursery. All the sedums were grown by Gabriel Valley Farms in Georgetown and purchased at Dromgoole's Natural Gardener.

Starting from the tall draecena at the top of the pot in the first photo (we'll call that spot North), and working counter-clockwise, here are closeups of each little baby, with their names, as they were labeled by the grower.

Trailing sedum
In the NW corner of the pot lies this green trailing sedum, aptly named "Sedum: Trailing." It was also labeled "S. brevifolium", although to me, it looks more like a Sedum album clusianum (but what do I know?). Behind it is an unlabeled sedum that looks exactly like the "Red Carpet" sedum spurium I bought at Dromgoole's last summer.

Sedum close up
Here we are at the SW corner of the pot. The green trailing sedum in this photo was labeled "Coral Carpet/Sedum album." We'll see if it turns red in the sun (that is, if the sun ever comes out again)! The bronze and green trailing sedum (with much smaller rosettes than the "Red Carpet" sedum in the previous photo) was labeled "Salsa Verde/S. makinoi". It looks rather like S. makinoi "Kosmosje"; perhaps the salsa reference was made up by a local to describe a Kosmosje hybrid? The largest plant on the right was labeled "Bronze Ghost Plant." A Ghost Plant is not a sedum, it's rather a Graptopetalum, but a Bronze Ghost Plant is a Graptosedum.

Sedum close up
In the SE corner, next to the ghost plant, we have "Sedum: Varigated/Sedum kamtschati." Isn't it adorable? However, it looks nothing like S. Kamtschaticum, which all have larger, more rounded leaves. I think it looks more like a S. lineare variegatum, which has a more pointed leaf.

Sedum dasyphyllum & a penny
In this last photo, nestled in the NE corner of the pot, is "Baby Tears Sedum/S. dasyphyllum", which appears to be properly labeled. Look at all the colors in the leaves at the base of the dracaena -- isn't it gorgeous? The dracaena was labeled, "Dracaena." That narrows it down to about, oh, 100 species, give or take a dozen. If I had to guess (and it seems I do), I'd say it was a D. marginata tricolor. What do you think? Between the dracaena and the Baby Tears sedum are a few springs of lemony-green Watch Chain Plant or Lizard's Tail (Crassula muscosa). It's usually more of a blue-green color. It probably needs fertilizer.

Over the next several months to a year, the sedums should spread, and the dracaena will get bigger, and eventually I'll have to repot the whole thing.

Tiny sedum garden
This is the small pot I made for the birthday gift. It contains sprigs of nearly everything in the bigger pot. (I stuck a sprig of the varigated sedum in the pot after I took this photo.) This pot is only about 3 inches across. I felt a bit guilty at keeping the big pot, but it really is heavy, and the recipient seemed to like this little one just fine.

Cold-tolerant, heat-tolerant, drought-tolerant: yes, I do loves me some sedums!

Words and photos © 2009-2010 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Protect Local Food Sources - Call Your Senators

Dear Senators Cornyn and Hutchison:

As your constitutent, I am writing to ask for your help to amend the food safety bill (S510) that has recently come out of committee in the U.S. Senate. Two amendments are sorely needed:

1) to exempt farms who sell a majority of their products directly to consumers,
2) to exempt small processors.
Boggy Creek Farm

I believe that food safety is of critical importance for our country's health and security. I also believe that support for small businesses and diverse, local food sources are equally important. S510 as it is now written would put an unreasonable burden on small family farms and ranchers, local bakers, small food processors, farmers' markets, and local restaurants that specialize in dishes prepared from locally-grown food. In these tough economic times, our country does not need a bill that will put these small businesses under and create further job losses.

Not one of the highly-publicized major foodborne illness outbreaks and recalls have been due to a small local Texas food producer--not one. I have complete confidence that our state and city health departments can manage the safety of the local food supply, as they have for many decades, without the negative impact that this federal bill will have.
The Hen House at Boggy Creek Farm

For more information on why this bill desperately needs to be amended, please contact the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund (, or the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance ( Please note: the Farm Bureau does not represent small producers of local food.

Please help make S510 a bill that protects both small business and food safety. Thank you.

Words and photos © 2009-2010 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.