Join Me next Tuesday, Feb 4, at 7:00pm, at the South Texas Botanical Gardens!

Bee Pollinating Sunflower

Bee Pollinating Sunflower

Friends, join me for a unique and interesting discussion about bees next Tuesday, Feb 4, from 7:00pm to 7:30pm.  The event is sponsored by the Coastal Bend Audubon Society and will be held at the South Texas Botanical Gardens, 8545 South Staples, Corpus Christi, 78413View map.

This event is free and open to the public.  All ages welcome!

Thank you friends for spreading the word about this event.  Please support the Audubon Society with your presence at this free event.  The Coastal Bend Audubon Society is dedicated to a culture of conservation and the appreciation and stewardship of our natural resources.

This presentation, “Bees Seen through a Gardener’s Eyes”, will focus on how pollination works, the electric fields of flowers, attracting bees to your garden year-round, and a little about wasps as well.

“Bees Seen through a Gardener’s Eyes” with Justin Butts

What: A presentation about bees and how to bring them to your garden.

When: Tuesday, Feb 4, from 7:00pm to 7:30pm.

Where:  South Texas Botanical Gardens, 8545 South Staples, Corpus Christi, 78413.  The meeting will be held in the classrooms to the left of the entrance of the Botanical Gardens.

Who:  All ages are welcome!

The Scent of a Radish

A Harvest of Radishes

A Harvest of Radishes

Freshly-picked radishes can be spicy, sweet, flavorful, and delicious.  Unfortunately, the all-you-can-eat salad bars of the 1980’s ruined radishes for most of us.   But even if you don’t like to eat them, radishes can play an important role in your garden.

Radishes were first cultivated in China, and they were carried along the ancient Silk Road to Rome, and then northward throughout Europe.  The Conquistadors and the Pilgrims brought radishes to the New World in the holds of their ships, and pioneer settlers carried them west.  I first learned the value of radishes in the lush gardens of Japan, where daikon is a dietary staple.

Radishes for Pest Control

On our farm, we grow radishes primarily for pest control.  The scent of a radish repels and confuses pest insects.  To protect your delicate winter greens from bugs, companion plant a variety of radishes liberally throughout the garden.

You can also plant a thick line of radishes across the width of your garden beds every few feet down the rows.  Plant your greens and carrots and broccoli right up to the line of radishes on either side.  The radishes will form walls, or barriers, to trap insects into confined areas, where they are easier to eliminate.

Whether you need to remove your bad bugs by hand (the pinch method), or spray them with Bt (a natural treatment for caterpillars), pests are easier to find and do less damage when they are confined in your radish “bug traps”.  Also, beneficial predators seem to have an easier time hunting pests when they are trapped in confined areas.

Purple Radish Flowers

Purple Radish Flowers

Bees and Beneficial Predators

Mature radish plants offer a brilliant display of pink, purple, and white flowers, and radishes are the one plant we can count on to flower in the coldest weather, even when they are covered with frost.  The flowers serve as a beacon to draw bees and beneficial predators into the garden, especially when they are the only flowers blooming in the bleak winter landscape.

Radish, Bee Drinking

Radish with Bee Above

Radish with bee buzzing

Radish with Bee Pollinating

Radishes Help Chickens Make Delicious and Nutritious Eggs

If you leave them in the ground long enough, radish roots can grow up to ten or fifteen pounds.  I harvest these huge bushy radishes and feed them to our laying hens, and the hens devour them, root, stalk, and all.  Radishes are an inexpensive and highly nutritious food source for our chickens during the winter, when green material is scarce—and radishes help chickens produce exquisitely delicious eggs.

Laying Hens Enjoying Radishes

Laying Hens Enjoying Radishes

Varieties of Radishes

The standard varieties for radishes are cherry bell, scarlet globe, white icicle, sparkler white tip, and long scarlet, but there are dozens of varieties to choose from.  Plant as many different types as you can find, because different varieties are better at resisting different types of pests, and you might even find some tasty radishes that you like to eat.

Daikon is a Japanese radish with a wonderful flavor, and there are many exotic radish varieties from the Orient with incredible flavor.  The quicker you harvest radishes once they mature, the sweeter the flavor; and the longer you leave them in the ground, the hotter and more pungent they become.  I realize that with radishes “sweet” is a relative term–not sweet compared to chocolate bars and strawberry sodas, but sweet enough when they are the first taste of out your winter garden.

Kimmi of Coastal Bend Health Foods with a Bunch of Radishes

Kimmi of Coastal Bend Health Foods with a Bunch of Radishes

Eating and Cooking Radishes

Every part of a radish plant is edible, and the flowers are a unique delicacy.  Shake the radish plant over a bowl to catch the flowers, and sprinkle them on salads and meat dishes.  Radish roots are best pickled or roasted with other root vegetables, like carrots and parsnips.

Successively Planting Summer Vegetables with Radishes

If you plant radishes now, in mid-December, they will be ready just after the New Year, and the scent of your radishes will protect the garden for the rest of the winter.

On the first day of March, when your radishes are dripping with fragrant flowers, pull them out of the ground, and simply drop your tomato, eggplant, and pepper transplants into the open holes.  Cover the new transplants with compost, and keep your garden going through the spring and summer.

Pull this 15 lb radish, feed it to the chickens, and plant a tomato in its place.  Notice the T-post for the tomato trellis is already in the ground.  We put the posts in when we plant the winter garden, so it is easier to transition it to a summer garden later on.

Pull this 15 lb radish, feed it to the chickens, and plant a tomato in its place. Notice the T-post for the tomato trellis is already in the ground. We put the posts in when we plant the winter garden, so it is easier to transition it to a summer garden later on.

Planting by the Phases of the Moon

Full Moon over Four String Farm

Full Moon over Four String Farm

For most of human history, farmers have looked to the night sky, to the phases of the moon, to know when to plant their fields.

The Ancient Egyptians planted their crops in the rich sediment of the Nile Delta according to the phases of the moon.  The great Roman historian, Pliny the Elder, wrote about the moon’s extensive influence over Roman agriculture.

In Africa, China, and the far reaches of the frozen north, areas developing separately and in complete isolation, the moon governed planting cycles.  The Mayan Indians, long before they were reached by Spanish Conquistadores, planted their gardens by the phases of the moon.

Benjamin Franklin published the lunar calendar in Poor Richard’s Almanac to help Colonial farmers plan their plantings.  Our Founding Fathers followed the phases of the moon in their gardens.

In modern times, some folks say planting by the moon is folklore, but some farmers swear by it.  On our farm, we plant by the lunar cycle when possible, but usually we are happy to get our seeds into the ground any time our busy schedule allows.

The fact is, seeds will grow perfectly well any time of the month they are planted.  But if you want to know more about how to capitalize on the magnetic and gravitational impact of the moon on your garden, agricultural scholars Alan Chadwick and John Jeavons offer some insights.  Here is what they tell us:

Alan Chadwick and John Jeavons, courtesy Grow Bio-Intensive

Alan Chadwick and John Jeavons, courtesy Grow Bio-Intensive

The new moon is the first day of the lunar cycle.  When the moon is new, or dark, it exerts a strong gravitational pull on the earth, and tides are high.  The groundwater level beneath the soil is lifted the same way tides are lifted, and in this gravitational pull the roots of plants experience a growth spurt.

The new moon, or dark moon, is the best time of the month to plant short germinating seeds and extra-long germinating seeds.  Short-germinating seeds sprout in one to seven days.  Most garden vegetables are considered short-germinating.  Extra-long germinating seeds sprout in seven to twenty-one days.  Eggplant, peppers, and parsley are extra-long germinating seeds.

During the first week of the lunar cycle, plants experience a balanced rate of growth between the roots and the leaves.

However, during the second week of the lunar cycle, as the moon becomes full, the leaves of the plants grow at a rapid rate in the bright moonlight.  The leaves grow at a faster rate than the roots, which set down strong legs during the first week of the lunar cycle to allow the plant to “reach to sky” during the full moon.

The full moon is the best time to plant long-germinating seeds, which take eight to twenty-one days to sprout, such as basil, okra, and parsnips.  The full moon is also the best time to plant your transplants into the garden.

The third week of the lunar cycle, as the moon is waning and gravitation pull strengthens, plant roots experience another growth spurt, while leaf growth remains relatively static.

Finally, during the last seven days of the lunar cycle, as the moon goes dark and gravitation pull falls away, plants experience a time of balanced rest, where the rate of growth slows in both roots and leaves, and then a new lunar cycle begins.

In North America, the next new moon, or dark moon, occurs this Sunday.  You certainly don’t have to plant your seeds by the lunar cycle to be successful.  But if you do, you can feel reassured knowing you are backed by thousands of years of gardening tradition.

Gardening Class at Moore than Feed, Saturday, October 19

Kayla Planting Seeds with a Trellis Template

Kayla Planting Seeds with a Trellis Template

Friends, join me for a gardening class on Saturday, October 19, from 10:00am to noon.  This class will be held at Moore than Feed, 902 W. Market Street, Rockport, TX.

The gardening classes at Moore than Feed are a lot of fun.  The outdoor classroom is a wonderful venue with plenty of seating.  At this class, there will be a hands-on demonstration of how to plant a winter garden:  preparing the soil, what to plant, sowing the seeds, watering the garden, fertilizing, and more.

We will show how to use a trellis template to create intensive rows of companion plants.  We will also show how to use the design of the garden–the arrangement and selection of plants–to control for pests.

Moore than Feed Outdoor Classroom

Moore than Feed Outdoor Classroom

We will begin the class with bare Rockport dirt, and end the class with a winter garden successfully planted, and answer all your questions in the process.

This event is free and open to the public.  Gardeners of all ages and skill levels are welcome.  Even if you have never planted a seed, you will go home with the knowledge and materials to start your own successful winter garden.

What:  A Winter Gardening Class with Justin Butts

Where: Moore than Feed, 902 W. Market Street, Rockport, TX (361) 729-4909

When: Saturday, October 19, from 10:00am to noon

Who: All gardeners of all ages!

Winter Gardening Class Next Wednesday

Radish Flowers

Radish Flowers

You are invited to a winter gardening class with Justin Butts next Wednesday, August 14, from 10:00am to 12:30pm.  The class will be held at the Aransas County Extension office at 892 Airport Road in Rockport, TX 78382.

This class is sponsored by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and the Master Gardeners of Aransas County.

Winter is a wonderful time to garden in South Texas with beautiful weather, bountiful vegetables, and minimal pest problems.  Join us to discover the chemical-free methods we use on our farm to grow healthy, delicious, and prolific produce.

Call the Aransas County Agricultural Extension Office at 361-790-0103 for more information, or go to http://aransas.agrilife.org  for more information.  There is a $10 registration fee for this class.

The class will be held indoors in the state of the art classroom facility at the Aransas County Extension Office.  The class will focus on:  1) preparing the soil for a Fall/Winter garden, 2) companion planting from seed to maximize yield and variety, and 3) controlling pests naturally.

Gardeners of all ages and skill levels are welcome.  Even if you have never planted a seed, you will go home with the knowledge to start your own successful winter garden.

What:  “Winter Gardening Class” with Justin Butts

When:  Wednesday, August 14, from 10:00am to 12:30pm.

Where:  Aransas County Extension office 892 Airport Road, Rockport, TX (361) 790-0103

Who: All gardeners of all ages!

Working in a Winter Garden

Working in a Winter Garden

A Gardening Class this Sunday, plus Much More!

Intensive Successive Companion Planting

Intensive Successive Companion Planting

Friends, please join me this Sunday, June 23, from 4:00pm to 6:00pm, for a summer gardening class.  The class will be held at the First Baptist Church in Rockport, at 1515 N. Live Oak Street, Rockport, TX 78382.

This event is free and open to the public.  Our class will be held in the shade!  Bring a lawn chair, a hat, and a passion for wholesome food!

At this class, we will focus on:

1)  Preparing the garden from scratch

2)  What to plant now in the hottest weather

3)  The basics of “Intensive Successive Companion Planting”

Gardeners of all ages and skill levels are welcome. Even if you have never planted a seed, you will go home with the knowledge to start your own successful garden.

Moore than Feed of Rockport is graciously sponsoring this gardening class, and we will have coupons to Moore than Feed for class attendees!

“Summer Nights” on June 23rd Offers MANY Classes!

As part of the “Summer Nights” program, there will be many other classes in addition to gardening offered this Sunday evening from 4:00pm to 6:00pm.  Dr. Robert Edwards, one of the leading bird watching experts in our area, will teach a class.  I accompanied him on a bird watching trip in Africa, and all I can say is, please don’t miss a class with Dr. Edwards!

Additionally, there will be classes on crocheting with Bonnie Randall; jewelry making with Heather & Pat Janosky;  basic computing skills with Jordan Mims; building mini-gardens with Chris Garis and Sean Janosky; terrariums with June Stamps; and line dancing with Mary Reynolds!  Finally, Dr. Phil Roets will teach a class on the art of woodcarving.

Bring your family out for an evening of wholesome entertainment.  There is something for everyone to enjoy, outside digging in the dirt, or in the air conditioning learning a beautiful art.  I hope to see you there!

“A Summer Gardening Class, plus much more!”

Where:  First Baptist Church in Rockport, at 1515 N. Live Oak, Rockport, TX 78382.  Call 361-729-6382 for details.

When:  Sunday, June 23, from 4:00pm to 6:00pm

Bring a Hat, Sunglasses, and a Cold Drink!

Bring a Hat, Sunglasses, and a Cold Drink!

Native Leaf Mulch for Tomatoes

Thick Live Oak Leaf Mulch

Thick Live Oak Leaf Mulch

Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable in South Texas gardens, but tomatoes are also one of the most difficult vegetables to grow.   The intense heat of our summers, and the relentless Gulf winds, are great challenges to the gardener.

Tomatoes can withstand a lot of heat during the day, 100 degree temperatures or higher.  But it is the nighttime soil temperature that matters.  Tomatoes can only set fruit when the nighttime soil temperature is between 55 and 70 degrees.  When the nighttime soil temperature rises above 70 degrees, the plant may live, but it will not make tomatoes.  That’s why tomato plants often stop producing by July or August.

But you can cool your soil and produce tomatoes through the heat of summer with good mulching.

Adding Live Oak Leaf Mulch

Adding Live Oak Leaf Mulch

Mulch serves as a blanket of insulation over the garden:  mulch prevents weeds, stabilizes soil temperature, and helps retain moisture in the soil.  Good mulching can dramatically reduce the amount of water required for the garden.

Mulch also prevents the soil from drying out in our relentless Gulf winds:  90% of the microbial activity of the soil is found in the top four inches, the layer that dries out the fastest.  Mulching protects this delicate layer of topsoil.

The best mulch material is always the most native, and the very best mulch of all is raked-up leaves from the trees on your own property.  Native leaves have a special relationship with your soil.  The leaves and soil have lived together in biological harmony for hundreds or even thousands of years.  Their chemistry is highly adapted and they are perfectly matched for growing vegetables.

Native leaf mulch is available in vast quantities, usually right in your own yard, and even better, native leaf mulch doesn’t cost anything.  Every year, millions of bags of freshly raked-up leaves are sent to landfills and transfer stations; leaves that would have made perfect mulch in backyard gardens.

Raked-Up Leaves in Bags Spread on Garden

Raked-Up Leaves in Bags Spread on Garden

On our farm, we have been using live oak leaf mulch for years.  There is a myth that live oak leaves contain an acid that hurts plants, but that is not the case.  Our gardens absolutely love their thick live oak leaf mulching.  And as the leaves slowly decompose, they add structure to our garden soil and actually improve the soil Ph.  We even use oak leaves in our compost piles, and as bedding for our laying hens.

The leaves of any native tree will work as mulch:  oak tree leaves, pecan tree leaves, and even the duff, or detritus, of mesquite trees make wonderful mulch for gardens.

The thickness of mulch applied to the garden depends on the heat; the hotter the weather, the thicker the mulch should be.  By the month of August, the mulch around our tomatoes is 6 to 8 inches deep.  This thick layer of mulch keeps the soil cool at night, and our vines are full of ripe red tomatoes into the hottest part of summer.

Live Oak Leaf Mulch 6 to 8 Inches Thick

Live Oak Leaf Mulch 6 to 8 Inches Thick

%d bloggers like this: