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More Seed Starting Tips

Gail Cook has been a Master Gardener since 2003. She has worked at The Raincatcher’s Garden for many years and now has a new job with us. She is planting herb, flower and vegetable seeds. It’s a perfect job for her; she a nurturer. 

Gail, I heard you are doing a wonderful job with seed starting for the edible landscape. In December, I had the privilege of hearing from Jim about his seed starting methods.
I was wondering what equipment you use. Seed starting mats? Grow lights?Any tips you want to give our blog readers about seed starting. Do you mind letting me know of the potting mix you use? Do you purchase or make your own?

Hi Ann, How nice to hear from you!

Honestly, I’m in one of my happy places starting seeds and, with everyone’s help, we’re doing well with the seedlings. I don’t even have a back yard these days, just a long narrow brick patio with a bit of sun and a small utility deck with a 4-shelf zip-up greenhouse.

I have one warming mat and it does speed things up. To save time ( I can plant 72 seeds in minutes this way)and space, I’ve been starting most seeds in 72-count plug trays from amazon in clearance and seed starting mix from Walmart. There are 300 plugs germinating on my upstairs bathroom counter now. Then I pot them up in 4” pots right after germination.

I’m still working on mixing potting soil with perlite and/or vermiculite to get a lightweight soil because I haven’t found a brand I love yet. Northaven Gardens has a recommendation in a recent email that I plan to try when I can look it up. Some seeds go straight to the greenhouse once planted, depending on weather. It can be tricky to keep the soil at the just right level of moisture but we haven’t had a problem with damping off, even though they stay fairly wet with almost daily misting.

I’m also experimenting with diluted organic liquid  fertilizer after the 2nd set of leaves appear to get them to transplant size as quickly as possible. This requires patience. 

 The Raincatcher’s greenhouse is a huge help during colder weather, as are the other edible garden volunteers who check on the seedlings. I’ll come back to you on soil mixes. Don’t hesitate to remind me. Busy time at work just kicked in, another reason I enjoy the seeds.

Best, Gail

Gail Cook bringing borage seedlings to the Raincatcher’s greenhouse.

Gail writes again:

A couple more tips: Peat moss can be difficult to moisten so add water to the seed starting mix before filling pots. A bucket and your trowel are useful for mixing. 

When using a heat mat indoors or a greenhouse on warm days, monitor closely, preferably twice a day. The soil dries out very quickly and seedlings will fail to germinate or grow. Seedlings should be removed immediately from the heat map as they germinate, as they no longer need the warmer temperatures.

Gail’s Greenhouse

 

This little greenhouse is from Tuesday Morning  and is on it’s 4th winter. It is in a protected area and doesn’t get much direct sun. There are a few patches over tiny holes but it still works. I’ll probably buy another next year.

 My husband has started referring to the seedlings as our children because they are taking up so much of my time.                                                        

 

 

 

 

If you are feeling overwhelmed with all the information and purchase recommendations, Gail suggests starting with easy lettuce and greens for the first season. Simple can be better for beginners. Have fun!

Thank you, Gail.

Ann Lamb

 

Seed Starting Indoors

Jim Dempsey has been starting seeds indoors at Jim and Martha’s house for about 25 years.  Martha indulgently clears space, putting away her craft tables, so Jim can have room for this project every year. He grows tomatoes and peppers and several varieties of flowers from seed to get ahead of Mother Nature and have sturdy seedlings ready to transplant into the spring garden before it gets too hot.

And there’s also the issue of variety. Jim says you’ve never seen so many choices. He likes to order tomato seeds from Tomato Growers and flower seeds from Park Seed and Burpee. Along with Celebrity tomatoes, he selects a few heirloom tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and seeds of early varieties( those that mature within 52 days). Last year one of his successful selections, a yellow pear tomato, was so productive; he just got tired of picking them.

Jim with knitting needle for planting seeds, and journal and plant containers

Materials Needed:

Journal: Jim suggests keeping a journal so you have some idea of what works.  For instance, He realized he was starting seed too early and has now set his start date as February 1st for seeds for the spring garden.

Containers and seed tray

Seed Starting Mix: Jim uses Miracle-Gro potting soil which contains fertilizer. You can mix your own potting soil with a 50-50 combination of fine sphagnum peat moss and vermiculite and fertilize with  fertilizer diluted to 1/2 strength.

Seeds

Plastic wrap or plastic cover

Plant Labels-Always label your pots as you plant the seeds

Grow Light

Heated Seed Mat-Jim did not use a seed mat until 4 years ago when Dorothy, another Master Gardener, gave hers to him. He says it helps his tomato and pepper seeds germinate.

Getting Started:

Fill the cells or pots with moist germinating mix to about an inch below the top.  The soil mix should be moist not soggy.

Jim uses one of Martha’s knitting needles to make the holes for the seeds. Follow seed package directions for planting depth. He uses the blunt end of the knitting needle to tamp the seed down. Seed to soil contact is important.

He suggests one seed per cell when using fresh seeds. 3 seeds per cell for older seeds.

Cover the seed tray or flat with saran wrap or a plastic cover. This keeps the soil mix from drying out. Check it every day and add water to the plant tray from the bottom if the soil begins to change color which means it needs water.

Place the seed tray near a bright, sunny window and/or use a grow light.

The grow light should be placed close to the top of the cover or plastic wrap.

Jim’s seed flats with grow lights

It usually takes 7-10 days for the seeds to germinate. Take the plastic wrap off when the seedlings emerge.

Seeds germinate at varying temperatures.  Plan to use a seedling heat mat if needed.

Seedling Heat Mat

Transplant seedlings into 4 inch pots when you have your first two sets of true leaves.

Before placing your new seedlings in the garden they must be hardened off. Start by putting the new plants outside for a few hours in the shade. Then let them stay outside overnight and then for a few nights. The night temperature should be in the 50° range.


Thank you, Jim, for giving us your time tested instructions and personal tips for starting seeds indoors. You have inspired me to start tomatoes on my window sill!

In the next few days, Gail Cook who is starting seeds for the edible landscape will share with us.

Ann Lamb

Blood Orange Cake with Cardamom and Sugared Rosemary

Have you “sugared” your rosemary this year?

Neither had I. Until we went to our nephew’s wedding last weekend in Tucson, Arizona, sugaring rosemary wasn’t on my list of things to accomplish for the new year. But then, everything changed.

The morning of his wedding was one of those sun-drenched, crystal clear days so typical of winter in southern Arizona. It was a wonderful day to be outdoors. After a mid-morning breakfast, we took a short drive to see the charming 1929 casita he and his bride-to-be had purchased only a few weeks prior to the wedding. Driving down a tree lined, winding road we caught a glimpse of the property.

As is common in the desert, his one-half acre yard was missing the lush lawn and greenery that is found in Dallas. Instead, pebbles and stones provided the foundation for a lovely display of cactus and willows. Citrus trees dotted the landscape with their yellow, orange and lime green polka dot affect. Walking along the enchanting pathways, we felt the serenity and peacefulness of this quaint desert setting.

But it was the blood orange trees that called my name. They were putting on a spectacular show with colorful hues of red and orange. Branches were drooping with the weight of a plentiful crop. It was time for harvesting and I was ready to take on the task. With clippers in hand and a 6’ 4” husband by my side, we harvested our way through every blood orange tree on the property. It was a delightful experience.

 

 

 

Once back in Dallas, and thanks to a sister who drove out for the wedding then delivered our blood oranges a few days later, we are enjoying our bushel basket full of my favorite citrus fruit.

Linda and the blood orange tree.

Art harvesting blood oranges.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anxious to try a recipe that I stumbled across right before Christmas, our Arizona trip gave me the main ingredient; blood oranges. After a little experimenting, I finally settled on the combination of two similar recipes and prepared Blood Orange and Cardamom Cake for my husband’s birthday this weekend. If you’ve never made a blood orange cake accented with the fragrance of ground cardamom, be prepared for a flavorful and moist treat.

Linda’s Blood Orange Cake with Cardamon and Sugared Rosemary

*Note: Many local groceries are currently hosting citrus-fests, etc. Now is a good time to use those sassy little blood oranges in your favorite recipe. Or, search the internet for a blood orange cake recipe. There are some fun ones to choose from. Just don’t forget the “sugared rosemary” for a nice Texas finish!

Linda Alexander

To Make Sugared Rosemary:
Dip fresh rosemary sprigs into a cup with water. Drip off excess and set on a parchment lined baking sheet. Generously sprinkle the wet rosemary sprigs with sugar, flip them over and repeat. Allow to dry for about an hour or more.

If you would like the blood orange cake recipe, please let us know in the comment section.

Giant Red Mustard, Ornamental and Edible

The Dallas Arboretum chose Giant Red Mustard as a signature plant this year. It’s an ideal choice because it fits in with the aesthetics of the garden and the mantra of the Arboretum’s edible landscape, called A Tasteful Place. You see, Giant Red Mustard is an ornamental edible mustard.

The  maroon leaves blended perfectly with plantings of lorapetalum and palms, pansies and cardoon at the entrance to the Arboretum.

All over the grounds, pots were planted with the mustard as an accent. This planting below was especially beautiful with the sabal palm fronds framing it and the frilly chartreuse leaves of Mustard “Mizuna” at the base.

In the Arboretum’s edible garden, a long lane of mustard led your eye to the Dallas skyline. Do you see some of our downtown buildings in the distance?

It wouldn’t have been right to taste the leaves while strolling through the Arboretum; but now that I have bought some of these plants for my garden, I can vouch for their spicy taste.

Here is what Park Seeds says about this Giant Red Mustard:

“At last, a Mustard Green so showy it just may do for this nutritious family what Bright Lights did for Swiss Chard — put it in every garden and on every table of gardeners who love bold colors and fresh flavor in their veggies! Red Giant is a brilliant maroon with deep green midribs, so showy you may just have to plant two crops — one in the veggie patch and one along the walkway or in your annual border!

These leaves are slightly textured for a better bite and good holding power. The flavor is zesty and full, with a good bite that you just can’t find in store-bought mustard greens. Imagine Red Giant flanking your Pansies and cheery Mums in the fall garden, or nestling beside bold Ornamental Cabbage and Kale. Or put it in bright containers for an unforgettable patio or porch display!

And because you pick this mustard leaf by leaf for eating (instead of uprooting the entire plant, as you do for head lettuce), you can enjoy the fine display of color for many weeks! Frost just improves the flavor and color.

Sow seed outdoors in early spring or, for fall crops, 6 to 8 weeks before first fall frost. Space seedlings 1 to 2 inches apart in rows 15 inches apart.”

Giant Red Mustard will be in my garden next year. Will it be in yours?

Ann Lamb

Read about Raincatcher’s edible landscape:

Edible Landscaping, Here’s What You Plant

Orphaned No More-Our Incredible Edible Landscape Project

Learning To Plant Outside The Lines

and don’t forget to plan a trip to the Arboretum for Dallas Blooms February 29-April 12, 2020.

Tornado Damage to Trees in Dallas

Tornadoes ripped through Dallas, October 20, 2019. What a loss for our city when you count property destroyed and trees uprooted or damaged.

 

Many of our beautiful trees were destroyed.

Eric Larner, Dallas County Master Gardener and Citizen Forester and Steve Houser, also a Dallas County Master Gardener and President    of Arborilogical Services discuss what happened and what to expect in the paragraphs below. They also remind us-we have a lot of tree planting ahead!

Eric, do you have anything you would like to tell the readers of our blog about trees after the tornado?

Have there been any estimates of the loss in terms of trees? I wonder what percentage of our tree canopy in Dallas was destroyed?
 
 
What recommendations would you give?
 
 
Maybe we should have a class so people could come ask questions and see our tree selection.
 
Ann Lamb

From Eric Larner-Great questions – Of course, the damage a tornado (100+mph winds) against ANY tree is almost always 100% fatal to the survival of the tree no matter the size of the tree. But tornados take weird and strange paths(i.e. total destruction on one side of the street and very little damage on the other side).

I would refer you to Steve Houser on estimates of destruction to the city’s overall tree canopy. I do know that to replace the benefits of one very LARGE tree( 40-50” caliper) takes 150+ 3” trees planted and that would take around 25+ years to achieve. So you see, we will need to plant a lot of trees in our city.

A neighborhood class talking about medium – large shade trees  would probably focus on alternative choices to red oaks and live oaks in the metroplex.

Eric Larner

From Steve Houser-As Eric noted, the damage often follow unusual paths.  We had a storm in late June with 70 MPH winds that damaged properties in south Richardson all the way to downtown Dallas.  One of the ten recent tornados contained over 140 MPH winds that took out houses and most (or all) of the trees on a property.  Many huge Oaks were blown over and those that survived often had extensive damage.

Eric’s notes  are accurate calculations regarding how long it takes to replace the biomass (or foliage) of one large tree.  Although it replaces the biomass in 25 years, it does not replace a cool and old tree for around 100 years.

If you consider the losses from both the events noted above, a guess at the loss in canopy cover would be between 4 to 5%.  Although it does not sound extensive, it was easily over 100,000 trees lost or damaged.

Trees lost or damaged included up to 90% of the canopy coverage in specific areas with 140 MPH winds and less in areas with 60-100 MPH winds.

We have handouts on recommended species.  As Eric noted, Raincatcher’s Garden is a great demonstration garden for some of the choices.

  • It is always best to check with a consulting arborist and ask for a full assessment of all trees.  Keep in mind that it may take some time to get them out but they can help to detect trees that can fail structurally in the future and determine the best course of action for a damaged tree.
  • DCMG`s have already been taught about cabling/bracing, reducing end weight on long limbs and determining weak forks in trees, to help reduce future damage or losses.
  • If a tree lost 20-30% of its foliage, it may be salvageable and recover.
  • If a tree lost 40-60% of its foliage, it will never look the same again but may have a chance to survive.
  • If a tree lost 70-100% of its foliage, most arborists recommend removal and replacement.  However, if the primary branching structure is not severely damaged, they will not look good but some of them can be saved.  Some folks may leave the tree for a year or two to see if it grows back and how it looks.  In some cases, another tree or two will be planted nearby and to possibly replace the damaged tree at later date.

Steve Houser

The Raincatcher’s Garden will host a tree class in early 2020.

As Eric said, it will be about tree selection, and also care of trees.

We will announce the date of the class in January, 2020.

To read some of our previous material about tree care, click on the links below.

Pick a New Landscape Tree

Ornamental Trees for Texas

Berms and Tree Planting at Raincatcher’s

When and Why to Plant Trees

Thank you, Eric and Steve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Propagation Primer with Master Gardener, Paula Spletter

Scented geraniums in the Edible Landscape before the freeze.

Our five pelargonium beds (scented geraniums) were beautiful. Brushing up against them or gently rubbing a leaf between your fingers, fragrant scents of everything from roses to peach and chocolate mint filled the air. But the weather forecast had prepared us. Below freezing temperatures were only days away and it was time to carefully dig them up for winter protection in our greenhouse.

Propagation class in session.

Paula Spletter to the rescue! Under her helpful guidance, each plant received a severe pruning leaving only one third of the plant intact for its winter location. Then the fun began. Over 200 stem cuttings were taken and repotted in preparation for a spring class at Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills. Here are Paula’s basic tips for propagating scented geraniums:

Paula Spletter showing us the perfect stem cutting.

  1. Start with a healthy, well-hydrated “mother” plant.
  2. Cut tip-end stems just below two nodes. Each cutting should be about 2” to 3” long.
  3. Cut stems with a sharp, clean paring knife. Make a straight cut across (not at an angle) the stem.
  4. Use a dowel stick or the handle end of the knife to make a hole in the potting soil. (This will help to protect the fragile meristem when inserting.)
  5. Cuttings should be placed into a pot filled with a mixture of loose potting soil and compost.
  6. Label every pot. Sometimes things get accidently moved around and what looks like an old-fashioned rose scented geranium might instead be peach scented.
  7. Water lightly. Monitor the soil while cuttings are in the greenhouse. Pay careful attention to conditions that could affect the health of the plants:

*Temperature in the greenhouse should be 45˚ or higher. A heater is recommended for anything below this number.

*Soil should stay evenly moist; never too wet or completely dried out.

*Extremes in heat, cold, overwatering or underwatering could cause problems with mealy bugs or a fungus. Pay attention and adjust accordingly.

Scented geranium cuttings in our greenhouse labeled and ready for winter.

Watch for an announcement about our 2020 late spring/early summer class on the joys of growing scented geraniums in your garden. A tasting menu will inspire you to get started!

Linda Alexander

Pumpkins on Parade

Pumpkins and Sweet Potatoes

Two harvest-season jewels that have become an intrinsic part of classic autumn fare.

“For pottage and puddings and custards and pies,

Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies,

We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,

If it were not for pumpkins, we should be undoon”.

This Pilgrim Verse from sometime around 1633 was the introduction to our pumpkin segment of the ‘Grow and Graze’ program last Tuesday. Seems that our Pilgrim forefathers were just as enchanted with pumpkins as we are today. Susan Thornbury helped us to understand the history and fascination with this much-loved fruit/vegetable.

*The early colonists ate pumpkins because they were available and they badly needed food.

*Pumpkins are Cucurbits, just like cucumbers and summer squash. They need warm soil, plenty of sunshine and regular watering. Additionally, they tend to be large plants that need room to grow.

*Timing is important when it comes to growing pumpkins. Many varieties take 100 days to mature. But even more important is soil temperature. Pumpkins want soil that is warm, but seeds will not come up if the soil is too hot. For our climate, that means the end of May to the first part of June is the ideal time to plant pumpkin seeds. It is advantageous to plant seeds since they sprout easily when their requirements are met.

*Pumpkins will perform best when planted in one to two feet of loose fertile soil with plenty of compost added to the mix. Raised beds are a preferred way to grow pumpkins in our area.

*Squash vine borers can be devasting to a pumpkin crop. Usually appearing in springtime, prevention is the best way to deal with the problem. Check under the leaves often for egg clusters. If found, smash them. Insecticidal soap can be used for prevention but use caution as it can be harmful to bees which are essential for pollinating the flowers.

*When selecting a pumpkin for outdoor decorating look for one that is blemish free with no soft spots or damage to the rind. A bit of stem looks nice and may help the pumpkin to last longer.

*For cooking, select a small 2 to 3-pound pie pumpkin. If purchasing canned pumpkin, look for the cans that say 100% pure pumpkin. Libby pumpkin is made from a variety that the company developed called Dickinson.

Autumn Bisque 

Ingredients

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

2 tablespoons butter, divided

1 ½ cups chopped onion

1 tablespoon minced garlic

¾ cup chopped carrots

¼ cup chopped celery

4 cups chicken broth, divided

2 cups sliced mushrooms

1 cup chopped leeks

3 cups fresh or canned pumpkin puree

1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 ½ teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme

Garnish: toasted pumpkin seeds 

Directions

In a large stockpot over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter. Add the onion, garlic, carrots, and celery and cook for 8 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.

Add 2 cups chicken broth and simmer for 3 minutes; remove from heat and cool for 15 minutes. Pour the broth mixture into a food processor or blender, and blend until smooth; set aside.

In the same stockpot over medium heat, heat the remaining olive oil and butter. Add the mushrooms and leeks and cook for 6 minutes or until mushrooms begin to brown.

Add the remaining broth, vegetable-broth puree, pumpkin, coconut milk and red pepper flakes; simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Stir in the salt, lemon juice and thyme; simmer for 10 minutes. Garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds, if desired.  

Yield: Makes 6 servings

Black-Eyed Pea-And-Sweet Potato Salad

Ingredients

2 medium-size sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 purple onion, quartered and thinly sliced

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried thyme

½ teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon ground coriander

⅓ cup lime juice

½ cup mango chutney

3 (15.8-ounce) cans black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained

½ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

Directions

Bring potato and water to cover to a boil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook 15 minutes or until potato is tender. Drain and set potato aside.

Sauté onion in hot oil in saucepan over medium heat 4 minutes or until tender. Add garlic and next 4 ingredients. Cook, stirring constantly, 1 to 2 minutes.

Stir together lime juice and chutney in a large bowl; add potato, onion mixture, peas and remaining ingredients, tossing gently to coat. Cover and chill at least 1 hour.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Linda Alexander

 

 

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