RSS Feed

Category Archives: Uncategorized

Raincatcher’s Welcomes The Pierian Club of Dallas

After waiting for over a year and a half to resume monthly meetings, The Pierian Club of Dallas chose Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills for their first event. The much anticipated gathering was filled with hugs, laughter and smiles of happiness on the faces of those who attended. We were thrilled to welcome them to learn about our approach to gardening in North Texas and to enjoy a garden-themed lunch prepared by our “Friends of the Garden” volunteer culinary team. 

The story of The Pierian Club is very fascinating. It began in 1888 and has continued to evolve for over 133 years. The purpose of the club is to increase knowledge. Their motto states, “A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep or taste not the Pierian Spring. Their shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again.” In Greek Mythology, it was believed that drinking from the Pierian Spring would bring you knowledge and inspiration.

With a focus on seasonally fresh herbs and vegetables from our edible gardens, we treated them to a flavor-filled menu that stirred the senses. A brief explanation of how the menu was developed includes comments about several carefully chosen items. 

The Pierian Study Club

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

A couple of vases hold yellow flowers

Description automatically generated with low confidence

Lunch Menu

“Finger Sandwich Trio” 

Pimento Cheese topped with a Raincatcher’s Pickle

Cranberry Curry Chicken Salad with Orange Blossom Honey

Sliced Radishes on Salad Burnet Spread Dusted with Fresh Fennel Pollen

Marinated Vegetables with French Tarragon and Anise Hyssop Blossoms

Grilled Figs topped with a Dollop of Mascarpone Cheese, Drizzled with Orange Blossom Honey and Fresh Thyme 

Iced Tea Flavored with Garden Fresh Lemon Verbena

Our finger sandwich trio included the following:

1. A tribute to Martha Stewart’s favorite sandwich…buttered white bread topped with thinly sliced radishes sprinkled with salt. Taking inspiration from herbs growing in our garden, we substituted a spread made with whipped cream cheese, freshly snipped salad burnet leaves and onion chives. Radishes were added next, sprinkled with sea salt and then lightly dusted with delicate fennel fronds. Each sandwich was topped with a thinly sliced Armenian cucumber brought in from the garden.

2. Pimento Cheese. This recipe is a favorite from a recently closed restaurant in Fredericksburg, Texas…The Peach Tree Tea Room. While the original recipe calls for jalapeno juice, we omitted it, as requested, for this event. Each sandwich was topped with a pickle made by one of our volunteers. Pickles were made from the variety, ‘Homemade Pickles,’ currently growing in our garden. 

3. Cranberry Curry Chicken Salad with Orange Blossom Honey. We love using this special honey from Savannah Bee and available locally at Central Market. It adds just the right amount of sweetness to the earthy flavor of curry.

Marinated Vegetables were embellished with fresh-picked French tarragon from our edible landscape. Served in individual clear glass flowerpots, they made a colorful addition to the menu with pretty purple anise hyssop blossoms scattered over the top.

Dessert was on the lighter side. Fig leaves from the garden cradled two figs halves that were lightly grilled and topped with a dollop of mascarpone cheese and a drizzle of Orange Blossom Honey. Tiny lemon-flavored thyme leaves added that fresh from the garden effect that rounded out the meal.

Following lunch, a short program introducing the Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills was presented by Dallas County Master Gardener, Lisa Centala. Master Gardener volunteers then joined Lisa and our guests for a delightful tour of the demonstration gardens. With their newly acquired horticultural knowledge, members of the study group left inspired and feeling as if they had been refreshed by drinking from the Pierian Spring. 

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Fall Peas, Please

As each new season approaches gardeners are on the receiving end of a barrage of enticing offers and promises of easy-to-grow lush plantings for our gardens.  The results are not usually as promised.  However, this article from a seed company has some useful information about growing peas.  It includes descriptions of three types of peas; snow, shelling, and snap.  It also has a helpful explanation of how to use the days to maturity and average first freeze dates to calculate ideal dates for planting. 

In the Edible Landscape we are interested in comparing seeds sown in the fall with spring peas.

Happy gardening. 

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018

Photo courtesy of John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seed

Texas Black Diamond Watermelons at Raincatchers’ Garden

Some people argue that watermelons are a fruit, others a vegetable, and still others that it is both!

The argument for both is that the watermelon is a fruit (the seed bearing ovary of a plant), and a vegetable (an edible plant).  Watermelon has a place with the Cucurbitaceae family, which includes cucumbers, gourds, pumpkins and different things that are traditionally known as vegetables.  Its logical name being Citrullus lanatus.  Regardless of its classification it has been a welcome addition to our Raincatchers’ garden this year.


Watermelon Patch at The Raincatcher’s Garden

Our vegetable team took over an in-ground planting bed and planted watermelon seeds earlier this spring, but they didn’t just plant any old watermelon, no they chose what has been called the “king” of the garden, Texas Black Diamond watermelons!  Texas Black Diamond watermelons are an heirloom, open-pollinated, oblong variety of watermelon, which grows on vigorous vines and produces a black-green rind. Its bright red flesh is noted for its juiciness and sweet taste, best eaten ice cold after sitting in tubs of ice for several hours!

Growing up in Oklahoma we called this variety, “Rush Springs” watermelons, since they were mostly grown around that small south central town – but they are the same variety as Texas Black Diamonds.  Rush Springs’ citizens, population about 1,300, call their town the “Watermelon Capital of the World”.  The town’s largest event, in mid August, is the annual Rush Springs Watermelon Festival, which attracts more than 20,000 people each year, who consume about 50,000 pounds of locally grown watermelons.

When my family and I lived in San Antonio it was always a big event when the Texas Black Diamond watermelons were brought into town, up from the “valley” or from Luling, TX.  Even some of the radio stations would get involved by broadcasting the locations of the make shift farmer’s markets, where the watermelon farmers would sell their prized produce off the back of their farm trucks.

One of my fondest memories involving watermelons, was taking a very long drive from Oklahoma City to Carlsbad, NM to tour the unbelievable caverns, when I was about 8 or 9 years old.  On our return leg we stopped overnight in Midland, TX for a visit with relatives.  A tremendous panhandle thunderstorm roared through the town taking down the electricity – not a problem for our gaggle of 14 kids, we still enjoyed the ice cold Texas Black Diamond watermelons and had a fun filled evening participating in a spontaneous seed-spitting contest followed by a rowdy game of tiddlywinks, using the seeds as the game pieces!  Oh what fun, but oh what a mess to clean-up in the light of the coming day!

The Texas Black Diamond Watermelons do take up a lot of valuable land and the farmers have been switching to different varieties that consume less land and produce more prodigiously.  The demand for Texas Black Diamonds is still quite strong and those that are grown hardly ever make it up into Dallas area anymore, unfortunately.

When to start growing watermelon?

Most gardeners choose to plant their seeds early in the spring so they can enjoy their ripe fruits during the hottest summer months, as watermelon needs about 90 – 120 days to fully grow, from start to finish.

Where do you plant watermelons?

Plant your watermelon seeds outside when there’s no more danger of frost. Watermelons must be planted in soil that is warm a few inches (centimeters) below the surface. You can place mulch on the soil to keep it warm.

Seeds may be planted in hills or in rows. Space watermelon plants 6 feet apart in hills. Thin to the best three plants per hill.  If planting in rows, watermelon seeds or seedlings should be seven to 10 feet apart.

How tall do watermelon plants grow?

Generally, watermelon plants will grow to a height of approximately 24 inches, and sprawl approximately 3 to 20 feet wide. The vine produces coarse, medium-green leaves, while the fruit can weigh anywhere from 10 to 50 pounds with solid dark green skin.

  Young Watermelon

When Is a Black Diamond Watermelon ready?

Calculate the age of the plant, starting with the day of planting. Black Diamond watermelons take 90 to 120 days to reach maturity, so if the plant is younger than that, the fruit is probably not ripe. 

Feel the skin of the watermelon. When Black Diamond watermelons are ripe, the skin is somewhat rough.  I generally also use the “thump” method, if you get a somewhat hollow sound it generally means the watermelon is ready to be picked.

Even if you only have space for one or two Texas Black Diamond Watermelon plants, you will enjoy the results of your labor and maybe make your own memories.

Jon Maxwell, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2015

Pictures and additional input by Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018

.

A Summertime “Pop Up” Pepper Class

August 2, 2021

A pile of vegetables

Description automatically generated with low confidence

It was a sizzling hot morning with no breeze other than the gentle air provided by fans turning overhead in the shade pavilion. Our pepper class and tasting event started at 10:00am but even by then, the temperatures were already in the low 90’s. We knew it was going to be a hot one! Thankfully, those who came were seriously interested in learning more about peppers.

Highlights from the Class, Pepper Tasting and Lunch

*Peppers are in the Solanaceae family of nightshade plants as are tomatoes, Irish potatoes and eggplants. There are over 50,000 varieties of peppers. The two broad categories we discussed during the class were sweet peppers and hot peppers. 

*Peppers originated in the Mesoamerica territory which includes Central Mexico down across Central America and as far as northern Costa Rica.  In the ancient Aztec and Mayan cultures of Mexico chili peppers were prized for their fiery flavor and spicy kick. These native tribes had fully domesticated chili peppers as far back as 5,000-6,000 BC. The word “chili” can be credited to Nahuatl, the Aztec language from which many modern terms are derived.

*Christopher Columbus was one of the first Europeans to encounter the chile pepper. When eating the fruit he felt the same “burn” or “heat” as from black pepper, so he called it “pepper.” This the reason today that chile peppers are called peppers.

*Is it a fruit or a vegetable? Depends on who you are talking to. 

Botanists see it as a fruit. A botanist would use the botanical classification which is based on the plant’s physiological characteristics like the structure, function and organization of the plant. Botanically speaking, a ‘fruit’ is the seed-bearing product that grows from the ovary of a flowering plant. A nutritionist or chef would use the culinary classification system. The culinary explanation says that a ‘vegetable’ usually has a tougher texture, tastes blander and often requires cooking. A general consensus finds that peppers are both a fruit and a vegetable! 

*Thick Walled/Thin Walled 

Peppers are a flavorful addition to a wide variety of recipes. In general, thin walled peppers work well fresh in salads and sandwiches. They may also be sauteed or grilled. For example, shishito peppers may simply be tossed into a pan with olive oil and sauteed until they blister. 

Thick walled peppers are excellent for stir frying, stuffing or roasting. For easy oven roasted bell peppers, cut them into strips and place on a sheet pan with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast at 450˚F about 25 minutes or until tender.

*Understanding the Scoville Scale 

Bell peppers have zero Scoville Heat Units (SHU), jalapenos have around 5,000 and habaneros have in the neighborhood of 300,000. What does that mean? The Scoville Heat scale measures the concentration of capsaicin, the chemical compound that makes peppers hot. Wilbur Scoville, a pharmacist, invented the scale in 1912. Originally it measured the dilution needed to make the heat in an extract of a pepper undetectable to a panel of 5 people. A SHU measure of 300,000 indicates that the extract would have to be diluted 300,000 fold before the capsaicin was undetectable. 

Now High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) gives us a direct measurement of capsaicin that is more accurate than sensory methods and is reported in American Spice Trade Association (ASTA) pungency units. One ASTA pungency unit is equivalent to 15 SHU’s. The Scoville scale remains out of tradition so ASTA pungency units are multiplied by 15 to convert them to SHU’s. 

*Recommended AgriLife Varieties 

Sweet Peppers: Bell Tower, Big Bertha, California Wonder, Gypsy, Jupiter and Yolo Wonder

Hot Peppers: Hidalgo Serrano, Hungarian Wax, Jalapeno, Long Red Cayenne and TAM Mild Jalapeno

*Hottest Pepper in the World  

With a rating of 2,200,000 SHU’s, Carolina Reaper holds the record since 2017 for the world’s hottest pepper. (FYI…We aren’t growing it anywhere in the Raincatcher’s Garden).

*Our Favorite 2021 Selection Growing at Raincatcher’s 

2021 Grower’s Choice: Jimmy Nardello

We just adore this curvy little pepper with waxy skin and a sweet flavor. Jimmy Nardellos’ parents immigrated to the United States from Southern Italy in 1887 and brought their beloved pepper seeds with them to their new hometown of Naugatuck, Connecticut. Before his death in 1983 Jimmy donated the seeds to a seed preservation organization. Since then, this delicious chili pepper plant is known as the Jimmy Nardello pepper worldwide.

*Growing Peppers 

Pepper plants like warm weather. Plant in heavier, well drained soil. Direct sow seeds or move transplants outside late April to mid-May. Give them at least 6 hours of sunlight each day.

Water plants enough to keep them from wilting. Harvest peppers as they mature as this will make the yield greater. Store in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks. Do not wash before storing. Peppers can be frozen.

For more information on growing peppers go to: https://agrilifeextension.tamu.edu/library/gardening/peppers/

A Delightful Pepper Themed Lunch Menu

Griddled Quesadillas with Mexican Three Cheese Blend, Baby Spinach and Sauteed Peppers-

We layered the tortillas with Mexican Three Cheese Blend, Baby Spinach and Sautéed Peppers. Neil Bolich cooked them on a griddle over heat onsite. We topped them with a dollop of  Jalapeno Pepper Jelly from our Raincatcher’s Jam and Jelly Team and a Hot Chili Pepper.

Mexican Fruit Cups Drizzled with a Squeeze of Fresh Lime and Sprinkled with Tajin

Jalapeno Shortbread Cookies Dipped in Ghirardelli Chocolate

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018

The Edible Landscape and North Vegetable Garden theme for 2022 is still four months away from being revealed. Here is the August clue.  This very important person is known for calling agriculture “the crown of all the other sciences” as it required knowledge in many other sciences like botany and chemistry. Have you guessed it yet? If not, check back in September for yet another insightful clue

Summertime

July 23, 2021

“Summertime is always the best of what might be.”

—Charles Bowden

When you think of summer, think of The Raincatcher’s Garden!

Cool off in the shade of Japanese Maples in our courtyard.

Drink in the beauty of this Crinum. We think it is a variety called ‘Super Ellen‘ described as a monster super hero crinum!

“Chill out” by thinking of our rain garden’s purpose. Hint, it nature’s best response to summertime downpours.

Quench your thirst for the unexpected with iron cross oxalis.

Like a hummingbird be refreshed by Turk’s Cap.

Dallas County Master Gardeners welcome visitors. If you would like to come to our garden at 11001 Midway Road while we are working, come Tuesday mornings. For a planned visit, leave a note in our comment section.

Ann Lamb

Pictures by Starla Willis


Sign up for our Taste the Heat Pepper event. The educational class and lunch will be at our garden on Wednesday, July 28th. Deadline to sign up is Sunday.

https://www.signupgenius.com/go/805084eafad22a4fc1-pepper

The Edible Landscape Kaleidoscope Garden

Kaleidoscope Garden Glass Ball to be Placed in the New Garden Area

July 16, 2021

The history of a much-loved children’s toy takes us back to Great Britain in July of 1817. British patent no. 4136 “for a new Optical Instrument called “The Kaleidoscope” for exhibiting and creating beautiful “Forms and Patterns of great use in all the ornamental Arts” had just been granted to its inventor Sir David Brewster. 

The name is derived from the Greek words kalos (“beautiful”) eidos (“form”) and skipein (“to view”). Interestingly, kaleidoscope roughly translates to beautiful form watcher. From the Brewster Society we discovered this lovely explanation of its purpose. “Kaleidoscopes are portals of remembrance that open onto the familiar, yet unexpected. Allowing the eye to marvel, the mind to explore and the heart to leap, the mirrored tubes of magic have developed into a significant new art form.”

When searching for a more illustrious and descriptive name for our underused Forest Garden bed Beverly Allen, Master Gardener Class of 2018, thoughtfully tossed out the idea of a Kaleidoscope Garden. After spending over an hour discussing the possibility of embracing not only the concept but the practical approach to its design and functionality, we agreed that it would be an exciting project. Here is Beverly’s description of how she views our new garden bed through the lens of the natural world.

“The idea of light diffused through the overhanging oak branches brought to mind a kaleidoscope. We realized this was a good opportunity to use color and pattern to engage the mind and senses. It is challenging to find a variety of edible plants that will look and perform well in a setting that transitions from morning sun on the east end to bright afternoon sun on the west end with deep shade in the middle.

 Planning a themed garden is captivating. Stay tuned as we consider the possibilities of such plants as tulips, peonies, lilac, elderberry and a surprise herb we are hoping to feature.”

-Beverly Allen

And so, our newly named Kaleidoscope Garden has been introduced. It will remain as is during the heat of July and August. Moving into September and cooler fall temperatures, watch for an explosion of color and patterns to appear within its borders. We hope you will experience its childlike wonder.

Corning Ware and Cornflower’s

July 11, 2021 

A picture containing tree, flower, plant, tableware

Description automatically generated

If you are a baby boomer like me, this is probably a familiar dish. Chances are you might have received similar pieces as wedding gifts during the late 60’s – 70’s. I certainly did. And for the early part of our marriage, corning ware was used often in my kitchen. But I never gave much thought to the blue floral design embossed on the side until we started growing bachelor’s buttons at Raincatcher’s in the edible landscape cottage garden.

A quick google search led me to a fascinating story dating back to the time of Napoleon. As Queen Louise of Prussia was being pursued by Napoleon’s army, she sought protection for her children by concealing them in a field of cornflowers. In order to distract them and keep them quiet, she made wreaths from the flowers. In 1871, the year of Germany’s unification, Wilhelm, son of Queen Louise, honored his mother when he made the cornflower the symbol of unity. Later, the cornflower became the National flower of Germany. 

The name “bachelor’s button” refers to a time when single men with an interest in a specific woman wore them on the lapel of their jacket. If the flower faded too quickly, it was a sign that a woman’s interest in him was not mutual.  Additionally, English maidens wore the cornflower as a sign they were eligible for marriage. If the girl concealed the cornflower under her apron, she had her choice of bachelors.

So, why then, did Joseph Baum, an artist at the Charles Brunelle Advertising Agency in Hartford, Connecticut, choose to feature the cornflower as Corning Ware’s trademark design in 1958? That part of the story seems to have been lost but an endearing answer might be found in the flower’s symbolism. Today, the cornflower symbolizes remembrance, anticipation, fertility, wealth, prosperity, love and the future. Could it be that he was suggesting we should use our lovely corning ware dishes for favorite family recipes that would transcend time? If so, I’m thrilled to still have one of those memorable vintage dishes in my kitchen. And, that adorable blue cornflower emblem on the dish has a new and special meaning for me.

Tips for Growing Cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus)

*To get the most blooms and sturdier stems, plant in a location that receives full sun. (At Raincatcher’s, our cornflowers get a little afternoon shade.)

*If soil is predominantly clay or is sandy, mix in some organic material. We add compost yearly.

*Place plants at least 7 inches apart. Mature growth height is around 15-30 inches. 

*Deadhead plants regularly to prolong their flowering periods. For taller species, staking may be necessary. We’ve had ongoing issues with them falling over so all plants are now supported with bamboo stakes.

*Mulch around plants with bark to keep soil moist and to prevent the root system from getting too much sun. 

*Regular watering will keep the plants healthier.

*Cornflowers make excellent cut flowers and attract bees, butterflies and other pollinating and beneficial insects.

*Cornflower seeds are easy to harvest. When the seeds are ripe, the seedpods open up. Once this happens, extract the seeds for next year.

*Enjoy the vibrant blue flowers in salads, raw or cooked. Their sweet to spicy flavor will remind you of cloves. 

A bit of trivia: 

Bachelor Buttons were the favorite flower of President John Kennedy. His son John John wore one at his wedding to honor his father.

And, it has been reported that the most valuable blue sapphires are called Cornflower blue, having a medium-dark violet-blue tone.

Cornflowers Growing in the Edible Landscape Cottage Garden

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

July 4th Garden Party

July 4, 2021

Watering Can Filled With Flowers From Our Gardens

Volunteers from the Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills gathered in a shady area of the edible landscape Tuesday for an early July 4th ‘Garden Party’ celebration. A refreshing summer rain the night before brought in a light summer breeze that cooled the air as the line formed for lunch. It was the first time in over a year and a half that we had officially been together for any type of event. 

Friendly conversations, laughter and happy faces reminded us of how much we enjoy spending time celebrating life’s simple pleasures. The fragrant smell of fresh basil lifted our spirits as we savored some of our favorite picnic foods. Summer’s bounty satisfied all who attended.

Following lunch, volunteers were asked to listen as three short quotes were read which hinted at the ‘presidential-type’ garden theme for 2022. Stay tuned over the next few months for clues.

FYI…Here’s the first clue.  

“No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.”

If you can guess who spoke these words, then you’re getting close to the knowing the theme.

The big reveal will be sometime in December! For now…Happy 4th of July to Everyone!

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008


Our Crowd Pleasing 4th of July Menu

Lunch To Celebrate!

Jalapeño-Pimento Cheese Spread

Peach, Watermelon and Tomato Salad with Fresh Basil and Mint

Old-Fashioned Blackberry Cobbler topped with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Strawberry Basil Lemonade 

Squash Vine Borer Part II

June 29, 2021

Master Gardeners share information which is one of the perks about becoming a Master Gardener. Beverly wrote this email to me recently and knowing how devastating it is to have your squash plants devoured by pests like the squash vine borer, I wanted to send this on to you.


Ann, it may be too much information in more ways than one but do you think readers would like a follow up on the squash borers?  I read advice to slice the affected stem to remove borer larvae and did that for the first time today. Sharon Law Wright and I were picking blackberries and checking on the plants in the north garden today and noticed frass on the kuri squash. The stem had a large opening. We opened it further with sharp secateurs and found the borer easily. One squash plant that I replanted in the Edible Landscape after removing borer damage has survived. We did the same thing with the otherwise healthy kuri squash today. 

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018

Plan Ahead-Easy To Grow Late Summer and Fall Gardening

June 9, 2021

Planning your garden can be panic inducing. What do I plant? Do I start from seed or transplant? I like squash but so do squash borers (a lot)!


When planning our gardens we keep the basics in mind like irrigation plans, soil, light, and available space. But what to plant and when?


You might find it helpful to start with some tasty and easy to grow plants. 
Here are some plants with minimal requirements other than regular watering starting with okra as early as July.

Okra, seed outdoors in July or August. Harvest the pods every two or three days. Slice in half lengthwise, toss in olive oil, and roast in the oven at 425֯ F for 15 minutes or so. 

 

Swiss Chard, seed outdoors mid-August to late September.  It grows in hot and cold weather and usually can be harvested all year.  Remove stems and sauté as you would spinach.

 

Radishes, seed outdoors late September to mid-November.  Many varieties take only 25 days until ready for harvest. The French Breakfast variety was a favorite with the vegetable team this year.  Serve thinly sliced on buttered bread or a whole wheat tortilla. 

Artichokes (perennial!), plant transplants in mid-October.  We get many compliments on the beauty of the artichokes in the Edible Landscape at The Raincatcher’s Garden. You may harvest the globes or allow them to develop into an eye catching and exotic looking flower. 

Happy gardening!

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018

%d bloggers like this: