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Category Archives: Vegetable Gardening in Dallas

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.

Tomatoes Will Break Your Heart

I will listen to anything anyone has to say about about growing tomatoes. I have a tomato app on my phone. I’ve taken meticulous notes at many a tomato class. And what I have learned through experience is that tomatoes will break your heart in a new way every year. So select your varieties carefully- heirlooms for flavor, hybrids for disease resistance – and don’t even try the gigantic beefsteak ones you remember from your youth. Too much will go wrong before they are ready. Okay, try a big flavorful heirloom but hedge your bet with Sun Golds and Early Girls.

This year in the north garden we are going to try the Florida weave trellising technique to get the vines off the ground and improve the air circulation. The tomatoes in the how-to diagrams look very well behaved. I’m anticipating an amorphous blob of vines unless we prune daily, which will become a test of faith by the middle of April.

My best tip for obtaining delicious tomatoes for your BLTs is to make friends with someone’s uncle who has been growing tomatoes for a hundred years. Then one day your friend will say her uncle died and you will say you are so sorry to hear that while thinking, “I hope it wasn’t the one who grew tomatoes.”

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018


You will manage to get some tomatoes at least this far. If your tomatoes tend to vanish in the night, harvest at the first hint of pink and ripen indoors.

Hornworms are not uncommon and will defoliate your tomatoes. If you let them live they will develop into beautiful sphinx moths. Thank you, tomatoes, for this dilemma.

More Vegetable Gardens at Raincatcher’s

The Raincatcher’s team has been busy putting in new gardens. Led by Leonard Nadalo and Beverly Allen a ridge and furrow garden was built in October with the purpose of growing food for the North Dallas Shared Ministries’ food pantry and demonstrating an alternative to raised bed gardening on our clay soil. It is aptly named The Donation Garden. One of our turf beds has also become a new veggie plot and is the home for turnips, beets, spinach and some struggling carrots.

Enjoy a look at seedlings of butter crunch lettuce, Georgia southern collards, Chinese broccoli yod fah, and purple top white glove turnips.

If all this planting is making you crave cruciferous crops, don’t delay. It is a little late to start seeds outdoors but transplants are available at garden centers. Which brings me to an important discovery: mini broccolis (thanks Beverly!) We planted Broccoli Atlantis F1 by seed in our garden.

It is called a mini because it is harvested mainly from side shoots that are smaller than what you buy in your grocery store. When you harvest the center first, side shoots branch out and can be harvested all through the winter. Other mini broccolis, such as Artwork F1, are also available as transplants at local garden centers.

The vegetable team has plans for the future that include increasing the production capacity of The Donation Garden and finding a carrot variety that can get happy in Zone 8a. 

Ann Lamb, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2005 with additional information by Beverly Allen, class of 2018

Photo of Broccoli Artwork F1 courtesy of All-America Selections 

Note: We chose Atlantis F1 for it’s shorter days to maturity (33) when compared to standard broccoli (56 or greater).

Squash Vine Borers

June 12, 2021

If you are like me, you dread the thought of pests like the squash vine borer invading your garden. Beverly sent this helpful note this afternoon with a few tips.


I have been enjoying the stunning growth of the squash “volunteers” around Raincatcher’s. Last year’s plants dropped seeds that have become this year’s squash plants.  Having a big concern about squash borers, I read up on the subject.

 It seemed necessary to check each plant daily for the sawdust colored frass (poop) that appears at the stem when the larva is present.

After a week of wondering if I would be able to identify it, eureka! The squash plant below was planted in the Sensory Garden of the Edible Landscape. It went from healthy looking to kind of unhealthy looking overnight.

The next picture shows a close-up of the frass.  I removed the diseased section of the plant and replanted the remainder of the squash plant with 3 nodes in the soil.

Extra mulch seems to be helping other squash plants evade the borer so far. Continued vigilance will help us to slow down the squash borer population at least a little bit.

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018

Many years ago at our Joe Field Location we had a lunch with every menu item made from squash starting with squash blossoms quesadillas! Links to the articles are provided below.

Squash squash and more squash

Squash recipes following our squashme event

Salad From The Garden

May 25, 2021

Thank you, Starla Willis, for the video and Beverly Allen and Sharon L. Wright for teaching us about salad gardening. It is my understanding that your lettuce varieties were planted the first week of March and may last through June.

If you are like me, and hate to see your salad garden coming to an end, make summer plans!

I hear Beverly is trying a heat resistant romaine lettuce from Johnny’s seeds called Monte Carlo. Along with using a location with part shade, she plans to harvest often and early to beat the effects of our summer heat. She also said with this cool spring, there might be time to get one more round of quick growing radish seeds such as Cherry Belle or French Breakfast planted and harvested before summer. Her favorite sandwich consists of thinly sliced radishes from the garden and arugula. Sounds good, Beverly!

More summer salad ideas-Swiss Chard and Malabar Spinach. Buy transplants from your local garden center and put them in your garden when your spring lettuce begins to bolt or turn bitter.

Ann Lamb, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2005

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018


Here’s more information from Johnny’s Seeds about heat resistant varieties. We can’t vouch for them yet, but plan to try some in our gardens. Dallas Garden Buzz readers, what do you grow for your salad bowl when the heat comes on? We would love to know.

Aji Dulce – Paco’s Peppers

April 29, 2021

This article is about my friend Paco.  We met on a pickleball court 5 or 6 years ago and have been good friends ever since.  The first time I stepped into his backyard, I discovered we had something other than pickleball in common – gardening!  Paco is from Puerto Rico and he has turned his backyard into a tropical paradise.  Last year at a summer pool party, I noticed a pepper plant with small, wrinkly looking red and green peppers.  He explained that he collected the seeds from peppers he got in Puerto Rico because it is an important ingredient for sofrito.  I left the party with a baggie full of seeds.

The Aji Dulce peppers (Capsicum Chinese) are small, sweet peppers.  They have the shape and size of a habanera pepper but without the heat.  They start out light to dark green and eventually turn red and orange if left on the plant to mature.  Aji Dulce is used to season dishes in Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Cuba.  My research found that in Puerto Rico, it is most commonly used in sofrito (which translates to stir fry or sauté in English).  It is a perennial in the tropics but is an annual here.  

With the seeds Paco gave me last year, we have been able to start a number of these pepper plants for the Raincatcher’s Garden annual plant sale which will be held at the garden on Thursday, May 13th.  I am looking forward to growing a couple of these plants myself this summer and will be looking up sofrito recipes once I get a good crop going!  

This plant goes by several names.  In Puerto Rico it is know as aji dulce, ajicito or ajies.  In the Dominican Rebuplic it is called aji gustoso and in Cuba it is aji cachucha. To me, this plant will always and simply be referred to as Paco’s peppers!  

Jackie James

Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 1993 

We will be posting more details on this blog about the May 13th plant sale in the near future.  

Let Us Enjoy Lettuce…A Healthy Start to 2021

January 2, 2021

When planning the fall design for the Statuary bed in our edible landscape, lettuce was our first choice. We imagined rows of fluffy green lettuce heads sitting next to pops of purple in each of the four wedges. After searching through various seed catalogues, we narrowed it down to our favorite selections. 

Flashy Trout Back Lettuce

Flashy Trout Back was the preferred choice for a speckled green lettuce. This variety is an heirloom European lettuce dating back to the 1700’s. It is a cutting romaine type with a sweet, nutty taste and leaves lavishly splashed with wine-red speckles and streaks. During the past few months, we’ve enjoyed watching the “speckles” darken from red to maroon as the lettuce matures. Enjoy its vertical shape for wraps, fajitas, sandwiches, and cut up in salads.

Salanova Lettuce

We chose Salanova for a purple/red punch of color. This lettuce is a full-sized variety with a unique core that, when removed with one cut, separates and is ready for use. It is favored by chefs and home cooks for its full flavor and texture, small size, dense head and long storage life. Salanova pairs well with Dijon mustard, yogurt, radish, cucumber, mint, bean sprouts, tomatoes, spring onions, red onions, garlic, anchovies, fish, duck breast, prawns, poultry and new potatoes. The leaves will keep up to five days when stored in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. 

Tango Lettuce

In the raised swing set frame beds, we choose Tango, a lettuce classic. Deeply lobed, pointed leaves with curled margins are the signature of this variety. Uniform, attractive plants form tight, erect rosettes. Lettuce stalks of this variety have a delicious, tangy flavor, firm yet tender and crisp. Ideal for salads.

For harvesting all three lettuce varieties we made the decision to follow the “cut and come again method. Using a sharp knife, a horizontal cut is made across the bottom of each lettuce head about 1 ½ inches within an inch of their base. Different varieties will have different growth rates, but a general rule of thumb is that new lettuce leaves will be ready to harvest again about two weeks after cutting. We are hoping to get three or more cuttings from each head. 

During the month of December all three lettuce varieties were harvested weekly. Everyone who took fresh lettuce home agreed that the taste was far superior to what comes from the grocery. Sometime around the middle of January we hope to start our second “cutting”. Then, in March we will be introducing a new Monticello “lost lettuce”. Stay tuned!

One special way to enjoy all three lettuce varieties is to combine them in a salad bowl mix. For extra color and flavor, I like adding dried cranberries, mandarin oranges and toasted walnuts. Tossed with Orange Walnut Vinaigrette from P. Allen Smith, it may become a favorite fresh salad this year.

 

Linda Alexander

Orange Walnut Vinaigrette Recipe


Special fresh lettuce and herb offer from the Edible Garden at Raincatcher’s:

Tuesday, January 5th we will be harvesting lettuce and herbs and would like to share. Drive by the back of our Edible Landscape and we will fill your bag (bring your own bag) with fresh produce from our garden.  Line up at 10:00 am.

Please stay in your car and let us harvest for you. This offer is being made to Dallas Garden Buzz friends and we will give away lettuce and herbs until we run out. The herbs that are available are:

Salad Burnet
Rosemary
Thyme (Lemon and Odena’s Kitchen)
French Sorrel
Bloody Sorrel (smaller leaves are a nice addition to fresh salads)
Italian Parsley
Oregano
Marjoram
Spearmint
Calendula Flowers (limited amount)
Winter Savory (limited amount to use in soups and stews)
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