February 3, 2014
It has been quite a cold winter, but it is time to get ready for the spring Houston vegetable garden. I planted tomatoes under the grow light on January 2. Varieties this year: Merced, Celebrity, Sweet Treat, Juliet and Blonde Kopfchen. I got some Orange Paruche seed but forgot to plant them. I found 3 seed in an old package of Merced and planted them and got one to come up. It is the best full size tomato that I have grown here; but the seed are no longer available. I also planted some Fourth of July but probably too late. It has done well in test gardens here. It matures very early—always a plus here. Next year I also want to try Mountain Magic. It is reputed to be better than Celebrity.
Next up is potatoes. My grandfather always said to plant them on Washington’s birthday (February 22 for those of you that know only Presidents Day), but warmer weather of recent years has resulted in people planting them earlier. I am shooting for February 15.
In other garden news, the sugar snap peas are starting to climb. Beautiful crop of cauliflower is now ready and broccoli that the varmints did not eat is producing. Great lettuce this year also.
January 28, 2014
If insects and fungi are not enough, we have varmints that love vegetable and ornamentals, especially flowering plants. This year I have had problems with broccoli on my bed by the driveway in my Houston vegetable garden. Something has eaten all the crowns and some of the leaves. I am not sure what animal is responsible. We have a wide range of suspects; raccoons, possums, rabbits and of course, squirrels. I believe the squirrels are innocent for once because it has been happening at night. The number of small animals in the city has greatly increased in recent years. I am not sure why except that it is easy living for them. In the old days, I suspect they would have ended up on the dinner table.
I have successfully used a product called Liquid Fence at our summer home in Montana to fend off deer and pack rats. It works by being foul smelling and thus makes the plants unappetizing. Deer are the hardest pest to control because they will eat anything. I have good luck with the product during the main growing season. When fall approaches and food supplies dry up, nothing will stop the deer. I am going to try Liquid Fence on the broccoli by spraying it just on the leaves. Obviously, if it makes food unappetizing for the animals, we are not going to like the vegetable either. But I hope that keeping it off the edible parts for us, the animals will be repelled enough to go elsewhere. Another option to to repel the animals before the plants reach maturity and then stop using before harvest. According to the web site, waiting a week is sufficient. Liquid fence is made from natural products and is not toxic, though not appetizing. For more information go to this site: http://www.dogfencediy.com/reviews/invisible-liquid-fence/
For vegetables, physical barriers; i.e. fences, are the most effective, but are unsightly for a bed on the driveway. Other than squirrels eating tomatoes and corn I previously have not had a lot of problem with animals in my Houston vegetable garden. When melons get ripe the animals will eat them, but they are easy to protect by putting a small wire cage over the melon.
July 28, 2013
The spring crops are all finished now except cucumbers and eggplants. Of course, the later planted okra is still going well. Eggplants slow down in the hot weather but will likely start producing in the fall. We planted purple hull peas to replace the beans and in some of the open spots:
Cucumbers have really produced. We were out of town for a while and look at the size of the Suyo Long! Both the Straight 8 and Suyo Long have produced well but the quality of the Straight 8 has been mixed. Next year we will go with the Suyo Long (an English type cucumber despite its name). May look into some other “regular” cucs as well.
The green beans were outstanding. All of the vegetables benefited from the cool early spring weather. Romanos produced well but not as long as Derby. However, they have a different flavor and added variety. We raised pinto beans as green beans when I was a kid. I really liked their more pungent flavor. The Romanos are a bit like that.
Tomatoes were all good. The only one I would not plant again is Marglobe. Moneymaker made a huge vine and produced well. At first we thought the flavor might be lacking but later production turned out well. I did not realize that it would vine to the extent it did and next time I will use a 6 foot fence for it. Sweet Treat, Orange Paruhle and Juliet were all good cherry tomatoes with Sweet Treat winning the prize. Will plant it in the fall garden.
The Hansel eggplant has had much more fruit than the others but it is so skinny that it is hard to use it in some of our favorite eggplant recipes.
The Tuscan kale just will not stop. It keeps sprouting back and producing more. The late planted fennel did not work out very well.
Time to start planning for the fall Houston vegetable garden!
May 25, 2013
The tomatoes are pouring in from my Houston vegetable garden. All varieties are producing well. Most of us think the cherry tomatoes (Sweet Treat and Orange Paruche) are the sweetest. Moneymaker is producing large quantities of 2 to 4 ounce tomatoes. They are very red throughout but I think the flavor is a little bland. These three varieties are shown below:
Moneymakeer, Sweet Treat and Orange Paruche
The large slicer varieties are just now ripening but look very good. No problem with stink bugs or other pests that hurt quality.
Cucumbers are also producing. Beans have finished the first round of picking and we are hoping for a second. The Romano Italian beans were excellent and offered a little different flavor than standard green beans such as the Derby I plant every year. Bought some Prevail beans at the Farmers’ Market—a good, very dark green variety.
The amazing Swiss Chard is still producing. Okra plants are growing nicely.
May 3, 2013
In the past week we have been picking beans and the first tomatoes in my Houston vegetable garden. I am very pleased with the Romano beans—they have a nice, rich flavor and heavy production. So far the cherry and plum tomatoes (Sweet Treat and Orange Paruche) are ripening. The slicer varieties are still a week or more away.
We are finishing up the beets, Swiss chard, carrots and sugar snap peas. I started okra in pint pots a couple of weeks ago and transplanted them today. Planted the old standby Clemson Spineless and well as Flowerbed, Green Fingers and Annie Oakley. I have not tried the last two before.
All three varieties of eggplants have small fruit.
April 12, 2013
I grew up on a farm/ranch near Yoakum, TX. When I was a kid we raised about an acre of tomatoes and sold them at “tomato sheds” that opened in the little towns to buy tomatoes from the farmers. Yoakum still has an annual tomato festival even though commercial tomato raising stopped long ago because of mechanization and cheap migrant labor.
We always pruned our tomatoes; that is removed the suckers at the branches below the first bloom. I did not find anyhow here in Houston that prunes tomatoes until I discussed it with Scott Howard of Urban Harvest. He is a strong believer in pruning. This year I have been pruning although I got a little behind on a couple of the plants. Pruning controls some of the rampant growth and forces the plant to use more energy making tomatoes. It also makes the plants easier to control in the space available. Think I will go back to pruning from now on.
Beans are starting to bloom. I planted cucumbers (that I started indoors and then put in pots) next to the sugar snaps so that they can climb on the fence. Carrots and beets are still producing along with the Swiss chard. Beets and chard (same family) stay fairly dormant until the days get longer and warmer.
Planted okra seeds in pots. They will go where the beets are carrots are now.
March 28, 2013
The New York Times did a review of gardening apps. You might give a quick read. I find them more trouble than they are worth, but beginning gardeners and gadget lovers might find them useful.
Not much new this week in the garden. Beans are growing fast. Sugar snaps are still yielding but the end is in sight. Have started some cucumbers in pots to replace the peas along the fence. Tomatoes are doing great. Some of the cherry tomatoes will probably be ready to pick in 10 days. A little angst this week on whether or not to cover them. We did not and the temperature here never broke 40.
Planted some more fennel seed. It may be a little late but fennel stands the hot weather reasonably well. My grandson wanted to plant some potatoes. I think it is too late but we planted a few anyhow. My grandfather always said to plant potatoes on Washington’s birthday (Feb 22 for those of you that know only President’s Day) I could not find seed potatoes but bought some fall raised potatoes at the Farmers Market. The vendor told me that he plants potatoes February 1. The warmer weather means we can and should start planting earlier than historical recommendations. Store potatoes are often sprayed with sprouting inhibitors—giving you some more chemicals to ingest.
March 19, 2013
The fall crops are fading away and the spring crops are enjoying the warmer weather.
On the left the Swiss Chard has really taken off. I find that it grows much slower than traditional Southern greens in the winter, but then puts out a lot of new growth when the days are warmer and longer. On the right the Orange Peruhle has set fruit. Sweet Treat has also. The slicer tomatoes should set blossoms this week.
Below is a picture of one of the beds. It is a prefab bed made of cedar and bought from naturalyards.com. It is a very good and visually attractive product but is an expensive option. On the left in the middle you can see green beans that have just come up. In the foreground the arugula is blooming. I like to have some blooming plants all the time to attract beneficial insects.
March 8, 2013
Lettuce is a great fall, winter and spring vegetable in Houston. It makes a nice landscape plant because of its variety of vibrant colors-various shades of green and red. Plant lettuce instead of flowers at the front of beds. The bright green lettuce shown below on the left is Black Seeded Simpson—a great variety that produces large, very tender leaves.
Lettuce can also be readily grown in pots if you have limited space. This pot is full of Winter Density—a romaine type lettuce that does well in Houston.
February 28, 2013
One of my Sweet Treat plants was broken off at the ground. Not sure if it was the high wind or a cut worm. I never have had problems with cut worms on tomatoes because the plants are fairly large when put in the ground. However, it was broken off cleanly right at the ground—a cut worm indicator. A fellow gardener told me he lost one plant to the wind.