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Above: Nasturtiums, Watercress, Lavender, Fennel, and Broccoli

Gardening in North Central Texas is enough to make you throw away your trowel.  Our summers are hot enough for a blast furnace.  Our winter chill can freeze pipes and coat trees with ice.  We’re pummeled with spring storms and hail, but when we most need the rain, not a cloud is on the horizon.  Dallas’ unforgiving black clay forms clods hard as rocks and is so alkaline, its pH is off the chart.

DALLAS GARDEN BUZZ shares our journey through the triumphs and missteps of gardening in our North Texas heat, clay soil, limited water, and high alkalinity.  In the world of gardening, there is always a story to be told and sage advice to share.  As we dig, trim, harvest, and cook, we’ll give you the best information we can gather from our “hands on” work in the Earth-Kind/WaterWise Demonstration Garden at 11001 Midway Road in Dallas.

DALLAS GARDEN BUZZ is written by Dallas County Master Gardeners, volunteers trained by the AgriLife Extension Service, an agency of Texas A&M University.

Gardening By The Yard


9:00 AM – NOON

  Raincatcher’s Garden Midway Hills Christian Church

 11001 Midway Road, Dallas, TX 75229

Cost: $15.00/session or $60/for all 5 sessions


July 23        Fall Into Gardening

Stephen Hudkins, County Extension Agent/Horticulture Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, Dallas County

  • Establishing the raised bed garden- construction, soil, irrigation
  • Square foot garden design
  • Selecting the vegetable varieties
  • Planting dates for successful fall harvest

August 6     Water Conservation in the Home Landscape

Dr. Dotty Woodson, Extension Program Specialist – Water Resources Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

  • Rain Water Harvesting – Rain barrels and cisterns
  • Drip irrigation for landscape beds
  • Calculating needs and programming your lawn sprinkler system


August 20            The Earth-Kind® WaterWise Landscape

  • Dr. Steve George, Extension Horticultural Specialist Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
  • Fall is the best time to plant shrubs and trees in your landscape. Come and learn what are the best proven Earth-Kind® plants to have in your landscape that will stand up to the tough soil and weather conditions that we have in the Dallas Metro area.

September 3                   Establishing a Backyard Vineyard

Michael Cook, Viticulture Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

Come and learn the art of backyard viticulture production

  • When do I plant
  • What varieties are best for our area
  • What soil conditions do I need
  • What about frost
  • What do I need to have for support
  • When do I get to have my first glass of wine from my grapes

September 17       Healthy Home Lawns

                   Stephen Hudkins, County Extension Agent/Horticulture Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, Dallas County

    • Fall maintenance- fertilization, aireation, weed, insect and disease control
    • Maintaining the lawn during the winter
    • The pros and cons of over-seeding
  • You will also have the opportunity to see five turf grass types which are growing in the demonstration plots as well as view the drip irrigation system that has been installed under each plot.

Reservations not required, pay at the door. Master Gardeners can receive CEU credit. Public is welcome!

Some Like It Hot!

It’s that time of year again when it is too hot to do anything, much less garden in the full sun.  Cool weather crops of greens, lettuce, cilantro, and others have either withered away in the heat or gone to seed.  Even tomatoes, as the temperature climbs up into the high nineties, are beginning to get stressed.  Somehow, at this time of year, purchasing bags of pre-cut and washed lettuce and spinach at the grocery store doesn’t seem so bad.  Yet there are some green leafy vegetables that not only like the heat but thrive in it.

Malabar Spinach (Basella albra and Basella rubra) is an edible vine in the family Basellaceae.  It features dark green, glossy, thick leaves. In its native habitat of the Indian Subcontinent, New Guinea, and Southeast Asia it is a perennial plant.  Here in Dallas it dies in the winter but will often come up readily (occasionally too readily) from seed as the weather warms up in the spring.  It goes by several common names such as vine spinach, Ceylon spinach, and climbing spinach among others.  From its name you can see that it needs something to twine around.  Even an upside down large tomato cage will work, though a large trellis is better because the vines grow quickly and need to be constantly “put in their place.”

Malabar Spinach

Malabar Spinach at Hope Community Garden

There are two varieties of Malabar Spinach. B. alba has green stems and B. rubra has red stems and is quite ornamental.  Though both are called “spinach,” they are only distantly related to spinach and have an entirely different texture and taste.  In general, only the leaves are eaten, though in Africa the stems are cooked too.  Younger leaves have a very mild taste, though larger leaves, especially if not watered well, can have a peppery, astringent flavor.  When harvesting, it is recommended that about every other one of the small to middle sized, younger leaves be picked.

Malabar Spinach,Basella rubra

Malabar Spinach,Basella rubra

Malabar Spinach, like okra, is known as a “slippery vegetable” and some people find the mucilaginous texture of the succulent leaves takes some getting used to.  However, Malabar Spinach is high in Vitamin A and C, iron, and calcium.  It is also high in protein per volume and is a good source of soluble fiber.  It holds up particularly well in stir fries, egg dishes and curries.  Many recipes can be found on the internet for ethnic dishes using Malabar Spinach.  It is also good raw mixed with lettuce and other vegetables for a nutritious summer salad.

Growing Malabar Spinach is easy—just wait until the ground temperature is 65-70 degrees (like okra) since the plant thrives in hot and humid temperatures.  White flowers produce black seeds that will often readily reseed themselves.   Some internet sites recommend scarifying the seeds to help with germination or soaking them but often this is not necessary if the soil is kept moist.

Humans are not the only “animals” that enjoy Malabar Spinach.  Dallas County Master Gardeners who volunteer at the Dallas Zoo have helped grow Malabar Spinach in the past for the Zoo’s animals.  Aaron R. Bussell, Animal Nutrition Supervisor at the zoo, says this about the role of Malabar Spinach at the Zoo :

We had a great crop of Malabar Spinach last summer from the Green Life Education Garden, and it lasted into winter.  It was a great source of “Novel” greens for our primates that can get bored eating the same greens on the market.  Novel foods are rotated into the diets to provide nutrition and enrichment.  The diets we produce at the Animal Nutrition Center for over 2000 animals every day are tailor made for 400 plus species at the Dallas Zoo.        We substituted the Malabar Spinach into our Mixed Greens Salad which is shredded for birds, mammals, and reptiles throughout the zoo, and our full time Nutritionist evaluated it as an appropriate substitute for spinach or greens for our primates like chimpanzees, gorillas, and monkeys.  Having more variety of greens to offer these sometimes picky eaters is a great way to provide enrichment for their daily routine.  Malabar Spinach was grown not only for its nutritional value, but it provided natural stimulation when our Western Lowland Gorillas striped the leaves from the vine when served.  It continued to grow much further into the fall and winter as well.  We ended up serving the last of the harvest still entwined onto the bamboo trellis it was grown on.  Great vegetable.  We look forward to growing more again.”

So…. if you want to grow a spinach substitute and a plant favored by both man and beast, try growing Malabar Spinach. You may discover you like it.





Starla’s Garden Adventures #2

Well, Summer has arrived and things are heating up.   This is  garden2.0 in my raised beds .  The radishes and carrots were eradicated on Mothers Day, and now, a month later considerations of “what next” crosses my mind.

The last vestiges of the Fall garden,1.0 are waning. The onions , still in the ground have not become very bulbous, but the green tops will make a nice addition to a summer salad– the kale needs to come out but hasn’t quite made the trip  – And then there is the dill – It  has reached to the sky and given us a beautiful show of  delicate green but now it is very sad looking, with brown clumps of dill seeds hanging on the  umbels.

dill Starla

Yes, it is time to come out– it’s in the way of my path, it’s ugly and it must go …But wait,– hold on,  after making the decision to remove,  but before I yanked it out,  I spy not one, but 2 caterpillars munching on the dill seeds while enjoying the morning sun!   This plant must stay, at least a few days longer to house the honored guests.   So much for a neat and tidy garden right now – Maybe garden 3.0.

The Honored Guest: A Black Swallowtail Caterpillar on Dill

The Honored Guest:
A Black Swallowtail Caterpillar on Dill

Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and beans, are putting on new growth and blossoms  The tomatoes are surviving  — I wouldn’t say thriving, but they are not dead and gone  — I even get a few golden and red gems that never seem to make it back to the house.

The cucumbers were planted sinfully late, but are climbing up the wrought iron fence and acting like they want to perform. I must remember to water regularly, but with a trip planned, not sure how that is going to go.  But I continue, learning with each step and misstep, and enjoying the journey.

Thus continues the saga of this little garden that brings me joy in the most unexpected ways.




Leading TAMU Plant Pathologist to Explain Rose Rosette Disease

Are your roses exhibiting odd, thorny, or twisted growth? They probably are infected with Rose Rosette Disease (RRD), a virus that has forced the removal of thousands of roses in the Dallas area. Learn what you can do to help prevent the spread of the disease at a talk by one of the leading RRD researchers, Dr. Kevin Ong, Texas A&M University associate professor and director of the Texas Plant Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at TAMU.

The free talk will explain RRD symptoms, control, and removal of infected roses and is set for noon to 1 pm, Tuesday June 21st at the Fellowship Hall of Midway Hills Christian Church, 11001 Midway Road, Dallas.

A rose trial aimed at identifying roses that are resistant to RRD was recently installed at the Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills, a project of the Dallas County Master Gardeners. The DCMG volunteers are trained by TAMU AgriLife Extension Service to distribute horticultural information to the public.

Visitors are welcome to tour the Raincatcher’s Garden and the rose trial located at Midway Hills Christian Church. Reservations are not necessary. For more details, contact Elizabeth Wilkinson,

Read up on Rose Rosette Disease here.

A Dallas Vegetable Garden

Starla and I have been photographing Dallas County Master Gardener’s vegetable gardens for the Dallas County Master Gardener cookbook, A Year on the Plate. We want to include photos of a few vegetable gardens because the emphasis of the cookbook is seasonal and fresh garden recipes combined with vegetable garden expertise.  Don’t worry we also promise plenty of tantalizing “foodie” type photos.

We visited Patti and her 8×8 garden this week.

Onions, Tomatoes, Herbs, Cucumber, and Flourish in Patti's Garden

Onions, Tomatoes, Herbs, Cucumber, and Melons Flourish in Patti’s Garden

Garden success starts with compost.  When Patti’s husband, Rob, rebuilt their compost bin, he chose to upgrade to Redwood.  They used 1/4 inch fine mesh screen for extra protection against critters.

If you think it looks like tomatoes are growing in their compost bin, you are correct. Sometimes compost piles are less active but warm enough to start germination.

Compost Bin Of Redwood and Small Mesh Screening

Compost Bin Of Redwood and Fine Mesh Screening

Starla and I asked Rob to be in our video, he demurred saying “No, Patti’s the garden girl.” So  let’s hear from THE GARDEN GIRL:


Video by Starla



UN Declares 2016 the Year of the Pulse

    The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the 68th United Nations’ General Assembly has declared 2016 The Year of the Pulse.   If you are wondering, as I did, why the FAO would be nominating a heartbeat throb, it is because in agricultural terms a pulse is part of the legume family.  The term itself comes from the Latin puls meaning thick soup or potage.  The term “pulse” refers only to the dried seed.  Dried peas, edible beans, chick peas and lentils are the most common forms of pulses.  However plants like green beans which are used fresh, and soybeans and peanuts which have a higher fat content, are not called “pulses.”  Here at the Raincatcher’s Garden we are growing fava beans, which if left to dry before cooking would be considered a ‘pulse.”

Chickpeas Growing in the Edible Landscape at The Raincatcher's Garden

Chickpeas Growing in the Edible Landscape at The Raincatcher’s Garden

Pulses play an important part in not only contributing to a healthy diet for both people and animals but also are a sustainable crop able to be grown with less water and are able to fix nitrogen back into the soil.  They are little super foods with big benefits!  Some of the major benefits of pulses include:

Nutrition:  Pulses are an important part of a balanced diet and have been shown to play an important role in preventing some diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.  They are high in fiber and low in fat.  They contain significant amounts of vitamins (Vitamin E) and minerals (iron, potassium, magnesium and zinc.) They also contain twice the amount of protein found in whole grain cereals such as rice, wheat, etc.  As such, the World Food Organization includes bags of pulses in their relief packages.

Pulses, especially dried peas, can also be used as feedstock.  A study in West Africa showed that animals fed cowpea hay, along with rice feed meal, during the dry season gain 95kg, compared to 62kg for animals that did not receive the cowpea fodder.

Sustainability: Like other legumes, pulses are able to fix nitrogen in the soil and have a positive impact on soil quality since they feed the soil microbes which benefits soil health. Pulses have also been shown to promote diversity in soil composition as they contain a greater and different amount of amino-acids than non-legumes. This may help plants thrive and perhaps offer greater protection from disease-causing bacteria and fungus.

Pulses also require very little water compared to other forms of protein such as animal protein. The United Nations estimates the water required to produce a kilogram of beef, pork, and chicken is 43-11 times higher than the water needed to grow pulses.

So…. Next time you are walking down the bulk produce aisle of your neighborhood grocery store, look at all the different varieties of dried legumes/pulses.   You may even want to celebrate The Year of the Pulse with a bowl of 7-Bean soup.


Revised Onion Harvesting at The Raincatcher’s Garden 2016

Onions have been harvested at the garden during the last two weeks.

They are now drying in our storage shed.

Fantastic Haul of Onions!

Fantastic Haul of Onions!

Harvest Onions when the tops begin to naturally fall over and turn brown. Dig the onions from the ground up with tops intact and to keep the bulb from being damaged. We used a garden knife or trowel to get them out of the ground carefully.  Onions that have bolted are past their prime and can be left to reseed.

As a reminder, here’s how to braid onions:

and here are notes on storing, eating, and lots of other onion thoughts in these articles: The Lowly Onion and Beginnings






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