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Category Archives: Vegetable Gardening in Dallas

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. 

Glorious Gardening in The North Field

December 2, 2022

Joy in the garden and what to expect in your fall and winter gardens:

Our gardeners who work in the gardens pictured are called the “vegetable team.” Beverly writes-I have been thinking about the gratitude the vegetable team has for the harvests we have donated. (over 675 pounds donated) When we are trying a variety that is new to us, we taste it-often as a part of lunch before we go home from our workday. I’m grateful for that fellowship.  I’m also grateful for the gardeners who start seeds for us at their homes. 

The loofah and Zucchino Rampicante (Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds) escaped the raised beds and trellises after the worst of the summer heat was over. The loofah seeds were saved from a prior year and direct sowed. 
Aji Dulce peppers are mild and productive. They become very sweet when allowed to turn red. Our seeds were a gift and we save them from year to year.  They are becoming easier to find at some of the specialty seed outlets.

We planted small varieties of carrots such as “Little Finger” from Botanical Interests and kept the soil consistently moist until they germinated.  

Even though garden centers have turned their inventory to Christmas trees, you can still find lettuce, Swiss chard, spinach, kale, and herb transplants. Also, keep direct sowing radishes.  You may get a wonderful winter crop of vitamin packed vegetables. 

Ann Lamb and Beverly Allen, 2 Dallas County Master Gardeners

Pictures by Starla Willis, Dallas County Master Gardener-2008

Broccoli Romanesco

November 21, 2022

Grow your own garden art! Romanesco is a cole crop with characteristics of broccoli and cauliflower. It is widely grown in Italy and gaining popularity in Texas. Thanks to Romanesco, vegetable gardening is not just rewarding and nutritious it is also beautiful.

Romanesco produces thick stalks and wide, rough leaves. Leave a large space to grow this vegetable. The central head grows very large and eventually the plant can span 2 feet in diameter.

Me-Ann Lamb holding a Brocolli Romanesco from my garden in 2016

Sow seeds in a fertile location from February 1 to March 5 for a spring crop or August 20 to September 20 for a fall crop. Fall crops are ofter more sucessful as this plant thrives in cool weather. Sow seeds tinly and cover with 1/2 inch of fine soil. Keep evenly moist. Seedlings will emerge in 10-21 days. Thin to about 16 inches apart when seedlings are 1-2 inches high. Transplants are also available and much easier to grow. These plants will reach maturity in 75-100 days. To harvest, pick the enitre head before it begins to seperate.

Romanesco is a true photo opportunity. Take a close-up shot and it looks like and apple-green mountain range. The scientific name for this unusual ordering of rows is a “fractal.” Fractals can be thought of as never-ending patterns-nothing wrong with bringing math into the kitchen.

Susan Thornbury, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Photo by Starla Willis, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Searching for a Borer Resistant Squash

October 11, 2022

I have to say that the squash vine borers (SVBs) were getting me down.  After spending the summer of 2021 removing borers from the squash plants and still not seeing much of a harvest, I swore off growing squash, almost. 

The SVB larva grows inside the squash vine (often killing the plant) and then makes a cocoon that overwinters in the soil. The adult moth emerges from the cocoon in spring and lays eggs on the undersides of the squash leaves. The eggs hatch and the larvae begin destroying your plants again. 

One solution is not to have any squash handy for the adults to lay their eggs on (thus the almost swearing off). You can also interrupt this cycle by finding and removing the eggs. That is a real challenge unless you have a small number of plants and time to check every single leaf every day.

We started off the spring season with some lovely Italian cucumbers that were producing well but suddenly began to droop just like the squash had the previous summer.  It turns out that if they don’t find any squash, the borers may settle for your favorite cucumber.  It almost seems spiteful. 

I was persuaded by a team member to try growing butternut squash in late summer. Cucurbita moschata has a reputation for borer resistance.  Throwing caution to the wind, we decided to try zucchino rampicante and calabacita as well.

Despite my skepticism, we have a raised bed full of butternut squash maturing now with no sign of SVBs.

Cucurbita moschata, Butternut squash

The zucchino rampicante is in the same family and has a hard stem that I assumed the borers would not be able to breach. However, we found a few larvae in the stems and removed them. The plant now has huge beautiful leaves and vines that run about 12 feet.  It is producing two foot long fruits that weigh a pound or so. 

The calabacita (Cucurbita pepo), also known as tatume or Mexican zucchini, has a tough, thin vine and has shown few signs of distress from SVBs.  It is taking up a lot of garden space but makes up for it by being very productive. The fruit may be eaten like a thin skinned summer squash or allowed to grow into a soccer ball sized pumpkin.

Going forward I will swear off swearing off. 

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018

Shishito Peppers, Sea Salt and Papalo

If you’re growing shishito peppers in your summer garden, this recipe should be on the menu. Blackened, blistered and dipped in a creamy Greek yogurt flavored with papalo, it’s a global experience not to be missed. 

As you may have guessed, shishito peppers originated from Japan. The name “Shishito” is derived from the combination of “shishi,” “lion,” and “togarashi,” which means “chili pepper.” Take a closer and decide for yourself, “does the creased tip of the small and finger-long shape somehow resemble a ferocious lion?” 

Grrrrr…ferocious lion or tasty pepper?

After blistering your harvested peppers in a cast-iron pan, sprinkle with fine, gray sea salt from France. The history of this unique salt will inspire you to use it in many other dishes. But take note, due to its robust flavor, use only ⅓ of the amount of salt you would normally use.

(In Guerande, western France, pristine Atlantic, seawater passes through the locks of the salt marshes and rests for six months until the salt is ready to be harvested. In summer, the salt is gathered by hand using wooden tools, as it has been for centuries. The rich clay in the marshes lends a pale gray color to this salt and also adds beneficial trace minerals.) 

Next, mix up a little Greek yogurt for dipping. Its rich flavor and thick texture offers a higher concentration of protein and probiotics than traditional yogurt. Stir in some grated garlic, lime juice and zest to give it a little kick.  Chop up a few fresh papalo leaves from Mexico if you desire a cilantro-like finish. When cilantro succumbs to our summer heat papalo rises to take its place. Use it in any dish where a substitute for cilantro is needed. 

Shishito peppers have an interesting flavor profile and one that calls for a bit of caution. About one in ten peppers contains a fiery punch that dials up the heat factor. Overall, though, you can expect a sweet, typically mild spiciness that registers between 50 and 200 Scoville heat units. Their grassy, citrusy taste touched with a slight hint of smoke makes the shishito pepper’s flavor pretty unique. Not surprisingly, today they can be found as a popular appetizer on many restaurant menus. Are you ready now to take an international trip with shishitos?

Do shishito peppers “pop” when being blistered, charred, etc.? The short answer is “yes”. 
*Is there a way to prevent the “popping”? Yes, just use your handy cake tester or a toothpick. Poke a hole in each pepper before blistering to prevent popping.

Note: Now is the time to start planting peppers for a fall crop.  

One local Italian restaurant features a lovely “Little Gem Lettuce Salad” drizzled with Charred Shishito Vinaigrette. Delizioso! 

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Charred Shishito Viangrette

Blistered Shishito Peppers with Papalo Yogurt Dip

Learning is Occurring at The Raincatcher’s Garden

July 14, 2022

One of the many joys of gardening is that we are always learning. 
We study and anticipate issues as best we can but each garden and season has its own lessons to teach us.   Learning by trial and error, otherwise known as the hard way, seems inevitable.

Here we are with our lima bean harvest and I do mean bean, singular. 

This season our beans bloomed and bloomed but never got around to setting fruit. Blooms may drop due to inadequate water and bean set may also be limited by high temperatures. 

We had excellent production from our cantaloupes but the seedlings were planted a bit too closely together.  We created a wonderful resort, spa, and restaurant from the rat and squirrel perspective. The accommodations had privacy and shade with convenient access to food and water. 

When the creatures began to chew into the metal mesh vole cages that were protecting the fruit, we conceded defeat and removed the vines.  Fortunately there were only about 35 pounds of fruit left. We are giving it some time to see if it will ripen indoors. Meanwhile, we trust we have removed our support of the rodent population.

I was looking forward to trying a pepper variety that is new to us called Ashe County Pimento. The plants were loaded with immature peppers when I checked them one afternoon.  By the next morning the peppers were gone except for what appeared to be neatly diced salsa ingredients on the ground. 

Thinking that rabbits had developed a taste for peppers, we placed cages made of rabbit fencing around all of the pepper plants. The devastation continued on to the aji dulce peppers despite the cages.  The plan now is to try hardware cloth as a barrier against smaller rodents.

Our strategy for preventing the animals from taking the tomatoes (harvesting at full size and 10-30% of color) was not as successful this year as last. Judging by the half eaten unripened tomatoes scattered around the garden, the animals are saying, “No worries, we will eat them green.”

It is clear we must stay alert because other creatures are learning too!

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018

Picture by Don Heaberlin, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2021

Tomatoes In My Garden

June 14, 2022

Early Girl tomatoes ready to pick

What would we do without the advice of friends, especially Master Gardener friends.

Beverly, who volunteers in the vegetable garden at Raincatcher’s, gets the credit for my bumper crop of tomatoes this year. She talks about tomato problems as in her last blog and this one, but also gives promising advice.

After viewing the webinar Epic Tomatoes with Joe Lamp’l and Craig LeHoullier, Beverly sent these notes:

Pick tomatoes at full size and 35% of color. This has a cool name – “breaker stage”.  It will help prevent splitting due to rain and will also help protect from all kinds of creatures.

Ripen indoors, don’t use sunny area.

Do not pinch suckers off dwarf or determinate plants.

Don’t take off all suckers on indeterminates.

Suckers are new plants. On big plants they may extend fruiting periods. They also provide shade.

Use suckers, especially on hybrids like Sun Gold, to start new plants (clone). Let root in water.


More good advice from TAMU : Why are my tomato leaves turning yellow? Nutrition, disease, physical disorders may be the culprit.

And thanks to my eldest son and grandson for watering my garden during the crucial early stages when I was out of town with a brand new grandson. Your diligence made my tomato hopes a juicy reality.

Ann Lamb, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2005

Are Tomatoes The Jerkiest/ Most Obnoxious Plant There Is?

June 12, 2022

 I have given up thinking about tomatoes in terms of their life cycle. Instead I look at it this way;  each stage is an ongoing disaster until we shut down the whole operation in July because they will no longer set fruit. 

The life of a tomato is a progression through fungal disease, wilt, blight, and infestations of mites and hornworms.  We anticipate these events and do our best to prevent them but around June you can easily find yourself, as I did, staring at hornworms the size of my index finger.  Owing to their coloring, hornworms are perfectly camouflaged until they have defoliated their habitat, i.e. our tomato plants. (We sentenced the hornworms to community service at our host organization’s preschool so the children could observe their transformation into sphinx moths.)

Don’t forget that while you are dealing with disease and pests, you must also be aware of your tomato’s changing fertilizer and watering needs.  Decrease the nitrogen when they start to bloom. Keep your tomatoes watered consistently and while doing so consult your crystal ball for the next unexpected rain that will cause them to split. 

Are tomatoes the jerkiest plant – making us work much harder than any plant should expect? Or, are they good for us in the sense that taking care of something other than ourselves is good therapy? 


The tomatoes harvested so far this year have redeemed themselves by joining the peppers in family packs donated to North Dallas Shared Ministries.

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018

We Love Interns!

May 16, 2022

Here in the north garden at Raincatcher’s we are sheet mulching 800 square feet of turf demonstration beds to create more space for growing vegetables.  It’s more work than it sounds!  Luckily, the 2022 Master Gardener interns have been ready and willing to give us that extra bit of help to complete the project. 

One Tuesday in May a great group of interns helped us clear a path large enough to get wheelbarrows through to the gate of our brand new fence. They also cut a large cover crop of fava beans down to the ground. 

This past Saturday the class mustered again and created paths through the new beds.

They also solarized the westernmost bed where it has been most difficult to convince the Bermuda grass to go away. 

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018

and thanks to Don Heaberlin, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2021


To learn more about solarizing click here.

And to learn more about becoming a Dallas County Master Gardener click here.

Plant Sale Thursday.

Vego Beds at The Raincatcher’s Garden

May 4, 2022

Hello to all our faithful readers especially vegetable growers aspiring to be homestead gardeners. We have busy replacing our worn out raised beds with Vego beds (rhymes with Lego).

Cucumber and pepper seedlings are being planted into our new beds.  black-eyed peas, okra, cucumbers, and melons can be started from seed outdoors. (Timing is good for squash seeding as well but we are taking a break from squash vine borers this year.)

Lisa and Mark unloading 1 of the 4 new Vego beds

Raincatcher’s Volunteers are using the existing soil from our veggie beds mixed with compost to fill these new beds.  Beverly suggested the hügelkultur method for those starting brand new beds.

Courtesy of the Vego website, this is a less expensive way to fill new beds.
Raincatcher’s Volunteers inspecting a Vego!
Visitors to the garden have complimented us on the basil and marigolds we have interplanted with the vegetables. We hope it will confuse the unwanted bugs.  Meanwhile, we are enjoying the blooms and the pleasant aromas of flowers and herbs. 

Ann Lamb and Beverly Allen, both Dallas County Master Gardeners!

Don’t forget:

RAINCATCHERS GARDEN AT MIDWAY HILLS

11001 Midway Road, Dallas 75229

Thursday, May 19

10:00 am  –  3:00pm

You are invited to shop our wide variety of plants grown, nurtured and donated by our fabulous volunteers at Raincatchers.  There will be annuals, perennials, tropicals, sedums, peppers and herbs as well as decorative pots, yard art and other gardening related items.  Prices start at $2 per 4” pot.  Come find that special plant or whimsical item to enhance your garden.

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