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WELCOME TO DALLAS GARDEN BUZZ

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.

A Musical Squash for the Edible Garden

Have you wanted to grow squash in your vegetable garden but find that your plants are plagued by squash vine borers before you can harvest even one squash?  Or maybe you are looking for a variety of squash that can be used both as a summer or winter squash?  Or perhaps you would just like to try growing an unusual squash that would be an exotic addition to any edible landscape.  If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then next summer you might want to grow Tromboncino Rampicante or Italian Edible Squash.

This squash goes by several common names: zucchetta rampicante, climbing zucchini, climbing crookneck, trombolino d’albenga, trombetta and serpentine squash.  It hails from the city of Albenga on the Italian Riviera where it is used in gnocchi and ravioli. Though most squash are in the species Cucurbita pepo, Tromboncino is a cultivar of Cucurbita moschata, which also includes butternut squash. Since its stem is not as hollow as C. pepo, it is more resistant to squash vine borers.  Even squash bugs and powdery mildew do not appear to affect it as readily.  Plus its name “Rampicante” gives away one of its other characteristics.  It grows “rampantly,” with vines often exceeding 15 feet in length.  These long stems, particularly if grown along the ground rather than on a trellis, can root at the nodes, thus giving the plant an even better chance to beat squash vine borers and other insects and diseases.

Some people compare the mild taste of a young Tromboncino to a zucchini.   If left to mature as a long-lasting winter squash, it is more like a watery butternut squash and it keeps very well.  If harvested at about 12 or up to 36 inches, the long neck makes perfectly round slices as opposed to other varieties of squash which have a less uniform shape.  Another advantage to the long neck is that there are no seeds in it. The bulb, which contains the seeds, can be stuffed with a variety of fillings.

squash-blog

Tromboncino is very easy to grow and likes our hot Dallas weather.  It can be started from seed in late spring, once the ground warms up.  A strong fence or arbor is recommended, especially if you want long, straight squash.  Even on a four foot fence, the Tromboncino pictured in this article started to bow once it touched the soil.  Tromboncino grown on the ground however tend to look less like trombones and more like French Horns, with many twists and curves.  Some people have said that the hardened curved winter squash make great legs for a Halloween spider; while the long straight Tromboncino squash make cute “weiner dogs.”  Because Tromboncino are so prolific, there are many recipes for how to cook with both the squash and the male flowers on the web.

So, if you want to make your garden sing, next year give Tromboncino Rampicante a try.  Just be sure however to give it a lot of room or you may find, like one of the commenters on the web, that he had “…really enjoyed seeing the plants take off and cover the compost heap where I planted it to give plenty of nutrients. I figured since pumpkins have done well as volunteers there that this squash would too, and this one did. Two plants covered the heap and would have covered my SUV, too, if the carport hadn’t shaded them too much.”

Carolyn

 

 

Pomegranates at The Raincatcher’s Garden

The orchard was one of the first things planned when we started up at Raincatcher’s garden of Midway Hills.   Six different trees were chosen and then planted in  January 2015.  Most of these were purchased, but the pomegranate was brought over from our previous location. One of the things about planning and planting an orchard is to realize that it usually takes 3 years for the trees to bear fruit.  So we planted, pruned, and then waited.   The first season was as expected – we could see the growth pattern of the different trees, but there was no fruit.

Our Very Own Pom Transplant

Our Very Own Pom Transplant

The winter came, and the trees lost their leaves and once again we waited till early February – and we pruned according to the type of tree – pears wrap around and grow vertically, while plums and peaches are pruned to a bowl type shape.

The last 2, persimmon and pomegranate, are more shrub-like and were not touched by the pruners.   They were about 2-3 feet tall at this time.

By March new growth was appearing and the effects of pruning was taking shape — a few blossoms appeared on the plums and peaches, but fruit did not follow. The pomegranate, however, was a different story – it began to grow, — and then blossoms appeared in March and April with this beautiful orange bud which then became a flower – the bees came to pollinate ,  and then fruit started to form.  The shrub is now over 5 feet tall and is laden with beautiful orangey pomegranates  -Yes  it’s only the second year, but we will have pomegranates in the late Fall.

Pomegranate Flowers Followed by Fruit

Pomegranate Flowers Followed by Fruit

Pomegranates are ready to harvest about 6 months after the flowers appear, so come later October or November our pomegranates will be ready. They should be the size of an orange and the color will vary from yellow to bright red.     We are looking forward to  celebrating this harvest by making some pomegranate jelly !

Pomegranates Ripening!

Pomegranates Ripening!

Starla

Orchard beginnings here.

Gardening By The Yard

2016 FALL GARDENING SERIES

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.

Carolyn

 

 

 

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.

Starla

 

 

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, mwilkin1@swbell.net

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

Ann

 

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