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Tomato Talk

Me-Ann at the Ann Norton Sculpture Garden in Florida

Like a bee going from flower to flower for different types of nectar, I am flying all over gathering information from many sources about tomatoes. Last year I learned of a grower, Bobby’s Best. You can find him on instagram-Bobby’

Recently he was kind enough to share his compelling explanation of the advantages of using organic fertilizers. Remember if you feed your soil, it will feed you!

Ann Lamb, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2005

Download the video after opening the link. If any of our dear Dallas Garden Buzz readers have trouble viewing the link, please let me know.

The Three Different Types of Honeybees in a Hive

*Queen Bee – A hive contains just one queen bee who lives on average three or four years.  Her role is very specific and unwavering which is to mate and lay eggs. She is somewhat larger than the other bees and has a longer abdomen. She also has shorter wings than the others which cover about two-thirds of the length of her abdomen when folded. She has a long stinger but with fewer barbs than those of the worker bees. 

The queen only makes one flight when she leaves the hive as a virgin queen. In this time drone bees are attracted to her and mate with her during the flight, depositing several million sperm cells. That’s enough to last her lifetime. The rest of her life is spent inside the hive (unless conditions become overcrowded because of a growing population, in which case she will swarm, taking part of the colony with her). It’s just too risky outside the hive and she’s too important to the well-being of the colony. Her genetics, along with those of the drones she mated with, determine the quality and temperament of the colony as a whole.

A fertile queen bee can lay more than her own weight in eggs each day (up to 2,000 or one every 20 seconds). You might say that she is an egg laying machine. This role is vital to the continued existence of all the bees. 

Because the presence of a healthy laying queen is so essential to a colony, it’s very important for beekeepers to be able to find and recognize the queen. Often the queen is marked to make her easier to spot.

*Worker Bees – The worker bee is a non-fertile female. She cannot produce like the queen bee. She’s also the busiest bee in the hive. The worker bee takes on many different roles throughout her life. Most colonies have 30,000 to 80,000 female worker bees.

Their first role in life is as nurse bees. The first few days of a young adult worker bee is devoted to looking after the brood. Tasks include preparing brood cells and feeding larvae with a mixture of honey and pollen. After about three days

special glands on the head of the worker become active and secrete a milky substance known as royal jelly. This is a very nourishing liquid fed mostly to the larva of future queen bees and to adult queens. Other bees are only fed small amounts of royal jelly. The nurse bees are also responsible for maintaining the temperature of the brood at a steady 95°F. If the temperature drops, the bees huddle together to generate body heat, and if it gets too hot, they deposit water drops around the hive, then fan the air with their wings to cool the hive by evaporation.

Next comes the care taking role of the worker bee. This involves cleaning debris from the interior of the hive and building and repairing wax comb. This role usually lasts about one week. During this time, they may also take on guard duties at the entrance to the hive.

The final role of the worker bee is foraging. Worker bees forage for nectar, pollen, water and plant resins which bees use to make propolis (also known as bee glue, this is used to seal up gaps in the hive). Foragers make ten or more round trips each day from hive to blossoms; some are dedicated pollen foragers and others are nectar foragers.  A foraging bee visits fifty to one hundred flowers on every collection trip it makes from hive to blossoms. 

Foraging is the final phase of a worker bees’ life. Bees usually die in the field during foraging duties. The length of time they spend foraging will depend on the amount of energy they spend. If foraging sources are close to the hive, then a worker bee can go on foraging for anything between 15 and 38 days. In the winter, when activity slows down completely the worker bee can live as long as 140 days! A typical life span is about 4 to 6 months.

*Drones – Drones are the laziest bees in the colony. The only thing they have on their minds is finding a virgin queen to mate with! Their only role is to produce

These male bees are bigger in size than worker bees and have bigger compound eyes and large muscular wings. They also have no stinger. 

Males are created when the queen comes across a larger drone cell, and when laying the egg, she doesn’t fertilize it. This results in the drone. At first, drone bees are fed by the nurse bees, but as they grow older, they help themselves to honey directly from the hive.

It is believed that the presence of drones in the hive is reassuring to the rest of the colony. If the queen needs replacing, the drones are ready and eager to perform the task. A bee colony consists of several hundred male drones.

The life of a drone bee is short, but sweet, lasting only about 3 months. Because drones don’t know how to forage, they sometimes die of starvation. 

Drones also make good decoys to protect the queen bee during mating flights. With only one queen, a few drones eaten by predators isn’t important. Drones are expendable. 

And, sadly, for the drones who succeed in mating with the queen the end is near. During the process of mating with the queen, the drone’s abdomen is ripped off and the bee dies. How honorable that a life is given for the good of the colony!

Types of Honey

Top to bottom: Liquid Honey, Comb Honey or Honeycomb, Chunk Honey, Crystallized or Creamed Honey and Flavored or Infused Honey

Liquid Honey is the most popular. This is the honey that is extracted from the honeycomb by spinning in a centrifuge or by relying on gravity to drain it from a honey-comb filled frame in a box-style bee house. Many beekeepers or honey connoisseurs believe this is the freshest honey as it still in it’s original state, exactly as the honeybees made it. Raw honey contains natural pollen form the blossoms and some trace minerals.

Comb Honey, Honeycomb or Section Honey is till in its original hexagonally shaped was containers produced with wax that has been excreted by bees. Some consider this to be the jewel of the the beehive. Honey in the comp is uniquely delicate and light because it still inside the was where the bees stored it. A perfect honeycomb specimen has no uncapped cell, dry holes, drips (called weepings) or damage from bruising. It should appear smooth and consistent in color. Honeycomb can be round or square.

Chunk Honey is a chunk or piece of honeycomb floating in a jar of liquid honey. In a typical honey shallow, you’ll see it is possible to cut out three pieces of honeycomb that are four inches by four inches, leaving a narrow piece left over. This “extra” piece is what is reserved for chunk honey, leaving no part of the honey frame wasted. That piece should be placed inside the jar perfectly vertical with the beeswax cells pointing up from the center foundation piece. For consuming, you can choose to either pour the liquid honey out from around the comb or scoops out a chunk of the comb itself. Preferences aside, chunk honey is like the having the best of both worlds..

Crystallized or Creamed Honey is spreadable honey with a lovely granular texture that dissolves on the tongue. It is high in glucose which causes the honey to crystallize quickly. Most honey will crystallize over time. It is still perfectly good. With a unique quality of being both smooth and rough at the same time, many prefer it in this form. Crystallized honey appears creamy and almost opaque in color.

Flavored or Infused Honey is a mild-tasting honey that has flavors steeped or infused into it to enhance its natural flavor. Some interesting added flavorings are fruit flavors, herbs, spices or essential oils. Always check to see if the honey you are purchasing is the authentic varietal or an enhanced product with additives.

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Honey Carrot Soup on the left.

Egg Salad Toast with Hot Honey Drizzle on the right.

Raincatcher’s Memories

When I go to the Raincatcher’s garden (est.2005), I am like a Grandmother visiting her grandchildren. The garden has been a blessing to me for many years.

First, I see and smell a Mexican Plum tree and remember Elizabeth Wilkinson’s plan for our garden. The plum is planted in our “under the power lines” garden where you can find trees that will not grow into power lines. In other words, they are just the right height. I give this tree a pat on the head and move on. Grandmothers like to see growth.

Mexican Plum Tree

Next I see daffodils blooming and remember this purchase from Southern Bulbs. Oh gosh Daffy Dil, I remember when you were just a baby.

I spy beautiful Redbuds and think of Eric Larner, our tree expert, and the team leader of the Citizen Foresters of Dallas. He planted these 3 Redbud trees.

And here is a close up of the Redbud. You know how Grandmothers like to get up close.

Under my feet I see bluebonnets. I have to laugh because Lisa Centala put me in charge of the wildflower meadow, but of course we know who really takes care of the flowers of the field.

Bluebonnets ready to pop!

And then there are all the newborns at the garden!

Finally, I want to tell you about two of our gardeners. I am the grandmother so I will call them my greats.

Cynthia and Mark Jones are beaming because for the first time in three years they were able to teach a class to Lakewood Elementary children called Tops & Bottoms. The class is based on the Caldecott Honor book of the same name by Janet Stevens. Lettuce and carrots were harvested from our garden for the children. The students loved tasting the vegetables and reading the book.

So hats off to my greats!

One more beauty-

A trough full of edibles, pansies and swiss chard.

The garden is in good hands. I am a mighty proud grandmother.

Ann Lamb, Dallas County Master Gardner Class of 2005

Don’t forget our tomato and pepper plant sale on Tuesday at Raincatcher’s.

Tomato and Pepper Transplants for Sale at Raincatcher’s Garden

March 11, 2023

You may not be thinking about tomatoes tonight but I am. March 15th is the frost free date for the Dallas area which means it is not likely we will have a frost after that date. However, next week we may have a few low temperature nights so you may want to wait to plant. Regardless of the date you choose to plant, you are going to want to come to our garden on Tuesday to purchase tomato and pepper plants; lovingly started and tended by Raincatcher’s volunteers. See details below. Ann

It’s time to plant!!!


The MG volunteers of Raincatchers at Midway Hills have grown several varieties of tomatoes and peppers from seed and will have them for sale.

Tuesday, March 14th, 10:00 am – 12:00 noon

Courtyard Garden

Midway Hills Christian Church

11001 Midway Rd. Dallas 75229

$2.00 per 4” pot

Cash or Check only, please

Sarah Sanders, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2006

Jackie James, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 1998

Don’t be confused-we have our big plant sale coming up May 4th and will talk it up over the next few weeks.

Wintertime Garden Artistry

February 17, 2023

“Every gardener knows under the cloak of winter lies a miracle.” Luther Burbank

So while you are waiting, please enjoy these winter scenes.

Wintertime photos from The Raincatcher‘s Garden and a few from Linda’s yard.

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

“Drops of Honey” …February Feature

Who can resist a heavenly chocolate experience on Valentine’s Day? Sweeten it up with Honey! Recipe below.

Understanding the Anatomy of a Honeybee

On October 19, 1909, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Entomology received a manuscript from Mr. R. E. Snodgrass, an agent and expert of the Bureau. It was entitled “The Anatomy of the Honeybee.” This exhaustive 150-page document was described as “embodying the results of detailed studies made by Mr. Snodgrass and should prove of value as bringing to the beekeeper reliable information concerning an insect of such great importance, and also as furnishing a sound basis in devising new and improved practical manipulations.” The brilliant work of Mr. Snodgrass is considered a valuable piece of work which has now been quoted and used continuously for over 100 years. 

In 1956, the work of Robert Snodgrass was published into book form. With over 350 pages, it is a classic work that is acclaimed as much for the author’s remarkably detailed line drawings of the various body parts and organs of his subject as his authoritative knowledge of entomology. Over the years,  it was suggested that his book should be in the library of every student of the honeybee and bee behavior. 

For the sake of brevity, and in the words of Mr. Snodgrass, here is a summary of the primary functions of the honeybee:

“It possesses mouth organs for taking up raw food, an alimentary canal to digest it, salivary glands to furnish a digestive liquid, a contractile heart to keep the blood in circulation, a respiratory system to furnish fresh oxygen and carry off waste gases, excretory organs for eliminating waste substances from the blood, a nervous system to regulate and control all the other parts, and, finally, organs to produce the reproductive elements from which new individuals are formed to take the places of those that die.”

And, just to think, this is the masterfully created tiny machine that gives us honey!

Now, let’s take a closer look at how this happens.

“Drops of Honey” …FebruaryClipart - New HeartFeature

Honey dripping from spatula with honeybees around

What is honey and how is it made?

Scientifically speaking, honey is a complex carbohydrate composed of approximately 80 percent monosaccharides, or simple sugars, mostly fructose (levulose) and glucose (dextrose) in varying ratios depending on the nectar source. The remaining content, approximately 16-18 percent, is water. Fructose is slightly sweeter than glucose and, when it occurs in larger quantities than the glucose, can lead to rapid crystallization of the honey, 

Over twenty-five other disaccharides have been identified in honey along with oligosaccharides, including erlose, theanderose and panos. These are not naturally present in nectar but are formed during the honey ripening process.

One of the most important attributes of any honey is its water content. The average water content of most good-quality honeys is 17-18 percent. This happens because bees make it that way.

Yeast is also present in all honeys as a result of being in the environment in general. Proteins make up about twenty-five percent of honey composition with at least 19 different ones present. The proteins are mainly enzymes added by the bees during the ripening process. Invertase, the most significant enzyme is what sets honey apart from other sweeteners. 

Honey contains a few amino acids. The most important, of which, is proline. Some proline is derived from the plant source, and some added by the bees. Proline is the measure of honeys ripeness and is an important standard for judging quality and flavor profile. 

Gluconic acid is the most prominent acid found in honey. It adds flavor enhancing properties.

Honey contains a wide variety of minerals including potassium and trace elements. Worth noting, darker honeys are stronger in flavor due to their higher mineral content. Important also, is that these elements make it possible to identify different types of varietal honey. 

Finally, honey also contains over six hundred volatile organic compounds (VOC) or plant-based essential oils. Many originate from the plant and some are added by the bee. 

*Volatile organic compounds evaporate from honey when the honey is heated, therefore, heating honey compromises its delicate flavors.

In summary, let’s close with a few simple answers to the question, ‘what is honey’. 

*Honey is the essence of flowers. 

*Honey is a thick, golden liquid produced by industrious bees. 

*Honey is the result of a colony of bees working together to collect flower nectar and transform it into a high-energy source for the hive. 

*Honey is an organic, natural sugar alternative with no additives.

The A, Bee Cs of Honey Making

Honey production is a carefully orchestrated series of chemical processes including digestion, regurgitation, enzyme activity and evaporation. It is exclusively the creation of the female worker bees. Nectar, a sugary liquid, is extracted from flowers using a bee’s long tube-like tongue called a proboscis then stored in its stomach or “crop”. While sloshing around in the crop, the nectar mixes with the enzyme invertase which begins the transformation of its chemical composition and pH, making it more suitable for long-term storage. 

When a honeybee returns to the hive, it passes the nectar to another bee by regurgitating the liquid into the other bee’s mouth. This regurgitation process is repeated until the partially digested nectar is finally deposited into a honeycomb. 

Once in the comb, nectar is still a viscous liquid – nothing like the honey you use at home. To get all that extra water out of their honey, bees set to work fanning the honeycomb with their wings to speed up the process of evaporation. 

When most of the water has evaporated from the honeycomb, the bee seals the comb with a secretion of liquid from its abdomen, which eventually hardens into beeswax. Away from air and water, honey can be stored indefinitely, providing bees with the perfect food source for cold winter months.

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Honey Chocolate Cake with Chocolate-Honey Icing and/or Honey Whipped Cream


February 9, 2023

The new year brings programs that promise the new and improved you.  These sensational claims are seen everywhere; the gym, the bus stop and store fronts. They boast incredible results like guaranteed weight loss of 100 lbs. And we can’t forget the facials that will freshen the person you are right now.

It seems that for gardeners fewer promises are offered.  While you might not become a whole new gardener, it really is a good time to think about improvements, realistic improvements. And thankfully that can happen without signing a contract you might soon come to regret.   Improvement for gardeners can start today!

Where to start?  Well of course it’s a personal thing that will be a bit different for each gardener but here a few suggestions.

First It all starts with being there—in the garden.  Plan to make your garden time a part of as many days as possible.  And make the time count.  When you are in the garden really be there. 

Remember the old saying:  “The best fertilizer for the garden is found in the footsteps of the gardener.” 

Use a little time to observe closely.  See what is there. Look for insects and other creatures that have a home because of your garden. Amazing! Appreciate what is happening now.  Yes, for sure we have to plant and weed and clean but also just enjoy what is.  It is so easy to forget this in the need to make the next moment better.  The best plans and actions will just follow when we carefully observe.

The Raincatcher’s Garden, a garden worth observing!

So lets plan to enjoy the garden more by being in it and carefully observing.

Yet another old saying comes to mind “ Reduce Reuse Recycle.’ 

Thinking before buying is so important.  First think if you can divide current plants and use what you already have. 

Try a new propagation technique.  Cuttings don’t always work but amazingly they often do.  Instructions are just a ‘click away.’ You can often share with a friend, and in return they share back.  You not only have a new plant but a happy memory.

Evelyn Womble sharing Hardy Amaryllisa happy memory for alot of us!

Containers look trendy with small divisions of grasses paired with ground covers. You might even consider a sedum that creeps over the sides.

Naturally we all want to buy just something to support local plant sales  Do be sure you have a place for the plant. No doubt you have seen pots filled with very dead plants by the curb waiting for the landfill. Poor things never even got planted.  Never do that!

The Raincatcher’s plant sale, full of repurposed pots and pass-along plants is a great sale to support! Don’t forget to put May 4th on your calendar.

Think carefully, as well, before buying products.  Obviously no toxic chemicals and remember peat is completely non sustainable.  Try coir based product. Speak up at the shop and ask nicely for what you want and explain why.  It can make a difference. Let’s try to be more aware, to spend as much time in the garden as we can and try to be responsible with resources.  

What is the next step ?

Sharing of course!  We know every garden can make a difference in supporting people and creatures—so why don’t more people have one?  Well, that is a question we can’t really answer but we can try to inspire and even assist those that do show an interest.   Take time to show neighbors around your garden and answer questions.  If you “plant the seed”  maybe it will grow and they will start a garden and then maybe they will share. And well maybe you yourself will have started something really valuable. 

Its all too easy to get discouraged with the situations around us but in practical terms gardeners can make a difference; first for themselves then the little patch of the world we care for and then others.

So, let’s start by making just a few improvements in ourselves and we will make it the best gardening year ever.

Susan Thornbury, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Pictures by Starla Willis, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2011

Let the Buzzing Begin!

January 31, 2023

Honey dripping from spatula with honeybees around

Happy 2023 and welcome to the beginning of a 12-month adventure
featuring honey and honeybees.

Along the way, we’re going to learn
some very beneficial facts about bees, honey and honey production.
Join the “buzz” each month for a closer look into the fascinating world
of honeybees. Discover secrets of the colony that will leave you amazed
at how efficiently these tiny insects perform their specific duties within a brief, but highly productive, lifespan.

Follow the wisdom from our monthly “Drops of Honey” for incredibly
interesting information. Learn the story of honey and how it is made.
You will quickly discover that the honeybee is truly a brilliant creature.

The Appeal of Honey

Throughout the history of mankind, honey has been celebrated by every generation, tribe and culture. Dating back to 2100 B.C. where it was mentioned in Sumerian and Babylonian cuneiform writings, the Hittite codes and the sacred writing of India and Egypt, honey is a subject with universal appeal. Its magical properties and versatility are treasured by people groups across the globe.

Over the next twelve months, our journey into the world of “honey”
promises to give us a growing admiration for the source of this golden gift
from nature: the honeybee. Hopefully, our understanding of the role each
tiny bee plays in the process of honey production will inspire us to be more
appreciative, and protective, of these fascinating creatures.
So, let’s get busy learning what all the “buzz” is about!

An adventure into the world of honey wouldn’t be complete without some favorite recipes using it as a key ingredient. Our first recipe featuring honey is a staple of Southern cruise: Honey and Herb Cathead Biscuits (many years ago in the Deep South, biscuits were so large they were described as being the size of a cat’s head). So, let’s jump right in and enjoy the taste of these flaky, tender and delicious gems drizzled with the superstar flavor of Sourwood honey. Top your biscuit with a small piece of honeycomb and freshly chopped thyme for a heavenly finish.

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Seed Starting 2023 and Save the Date for our Plant Sale

February 1, 2023

Real gardeners are not letting grass grow under their feet; they are busy starting seeds. By starting seed indoors you can extend a plant’s growing season, scoop up new and varied varieties of seed rather than depending on garden center transplants, and maybe even save money. Packages of seeds are so much less expensive than transplants.

The Master Gardeners at Raincatchers Garden have seed starting operations in their homes.

This is Joe Armitage, Class of 2019, and his set up with LED lights. He started Tasmanian Chocolate and VR Moscow tomato seeds on 1/10/23.

Jackie James has a simple set up in her sunny window for seed starting and uses reading lamps to provide extra light.She enjoys up cycling take home containers. They work just as well as store bought trays with humidity domes for germination.Pimento peppers planted January 14th are already sprouting.

Peppers in production are:

Mad Hatter, Purple Jalapeno, Lemon Spice Jalapeno, Orange Spice Jalapeno, Aji Amarillo, Hot Hungarian Banana Pepper, Cherry Bomb, Pimento, Shishito, Fish Pepper, Hot Pops Purple Ornamental, Santos Orange Ornamental, Wicked Purple Ornamental. 

Sheila Kostleny has started pepper seeds for the North garden at Rainctcher’s and our plant sale. Sweet Jimmy Nardello, Northstar Hybrid, Gypsy Hybird, Habanada and Early Jalapeno are in production.  

As seen on the bottom rack, Sheila is trying paper towel germination for Marconi Sweet pepper, Tam Jalaepeno and Rainbow Blend Lunchbox Peppers.

Jim Dempsey uses a grow light with three trays and each tray holds two 72 count seed trays. He planted the peppers around January 18 and plans to start tomatoes in the next few days. Next he will plant flower seeds.

Jim has a total of 175 peppers in this tray.

These seedlings will be potted up and planted at The Raincatcher’s Garden in the spring. Many varieties will also be sold at our plant sale in May.

Ann Lamb, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2005, with input from Beverly Allen


The Garden In January As We Wait for Spring

January 26, 2023

A quote from Southern Bulbs has captured my thoughts:

“Spring starts the day after Christmas.”

Working with our veggie team at Raincatcher’s last Monday, January 16th, spring was definitely in the air and now we have had over an inch of rain to further encourage our spring longings.

We sat at tables under our education pavilion planting tomato seeds with dreams of epic tomatoes. For a list of tomato varities we are seeding, see below.

Elephant garlic planted in November, to be harvested in June, was examined.

We considered the carrots that took a hit during the December low temperatures but have rebounded.

Last year the Raincatcher’s Garden delivered 700 pounds of fresh vegetables and fruit to North Dallas Shared Ministries Food Pantry. The goal for 2023 is 1,000 pounds of harvest. With the dedication of this band of Master Gardeners and expert leadership, I am sure they will succeed.

Ann Lamb, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2005


Tomato varieties and place purchased are as below. 

Johnny’s Selected Seeds – Hybrid Cherry BHN-968, Early Girl, Five Star Grape, Tasmanian Chocolate and Juliet.

John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds – Cherry Falls.

Botanical Interests – Patio Choice Yellow. 

Tomato Growers Supply Company – Red Robin and Wild Cherry. 

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