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Tag Archives: Dallas County Master Gardeners

We Are Serious About Homegrown Tomatoes!

Every year at Raincatcher’s Garden we have had a bumper crop of tomatoes.  Not so last year. Not enough water and too much fertilizer caused the problem. Well, we are not going to duplicate that this year.

Jeff Raska, our horticulture program assistant, has put the “R” back in our Research, Education, and Demo title. We are embarking on tomato trials with the goal of higher and better tomato production. Jeff reminds us that his tomato plants at his home produce 40 pounds of tomatoes per plant. Ok, Jeff! Game on!

Fertilization Comparison Study 2018

Week 1-March 20, 2018

Celebrity Tomatoes


  • Prepare three raised beds and plant two tomato plants in each. Fertilize each bed with a different fertilizer (compost, organic, chemical) following label directions.
  • Each fertilizer is slow release and requires re-application every eight weeks.
  • Each Tuesday, measure the plant heights and weigh and record any tomatoes that are harvested.

    Syann dutifully measuring tomato plants last year. She has agreed to help with our 2018 study.


Bed #9- Compost

Week 1 – 1 Tbsp Epsom salts, 1 cup Miracle-Gro Compost (1-0-0)

Week 2 – Plant tomatoes

Week 8 – 1 cup  Miracle-Gro Compost (1-0-0)

Week 16 – 1 cup Miracle-Gro Compost (1-0-0)

Bed #1- Organic Fertilizer

Week 1 – 1 Tbsp Epsom salts, 1 Tbsp Miracle-Gro Blood Meal (12-0-0), 2 Tbsp Dr Earth (4-6-3)

Week 2 – Plant tomatoes

Week 8 – 1 Tbsp Miracle-Gro Bone Meal (6-9-0), 2 Tbsp Dr Earth (4-6-3)

Week 16 – 1 Tbsp Miracle-Gro Bone Meal (6-9-0), 2 Tbsp Dr Earth (4-6-3)

Bed  #2- Chemical Fertilizer

Week 1 – 1 Tbsp Epsom salts, 1 Tbsp Vigoro, Tomato & Vegetable (12-10-5)

Week 2 – Plant tomatoes

Week 8 – 1 Tbsp Vigoro,Bold Flowers (15-30-15)

Week 16 – 1 Tbsp Vigoro, Bold Flowers (15-30-15)


Celebrity tomatoes characteristics: All-American Winner Selection, 7 oz, determinate, harvest 70 days. Tom Wilten calls Celebrity the preeminent mid-sized tomato.


Fertlization Comparison study write up by Jim Dempsey.

Picture by Starla Willis

Ann Lamb

Read up on tomatoes by using our search box. We have recipes, growing tips, and advice to produce tons of tomatoes.



A Winter’s Wonder, Lonicera fragrantissima

Just when you need it the most, Lonicera fragrantissima, also known as Winter Honeysuckle bursts on the scene with its powerful scent and dainty little creamy flowers.

The blooms provide pollen and nectar to bees who are foraging on a winter’s day.

When you plan your garden, get used to including other’s needs, especially our pollinators.  Winter can be a bleak time for overwintering butterflies and bees.

Dr. William Welch suggests planting Winter Honeysuckle by a gate so when you brush by it you can enjoy the scent.  It can be grown in partial shade or full sun.  For a look at it in full sun, click here.

If you arrive early at the next *Texas Discovery Garden sale,  you might be able to take home your own small start of this fast growing fragrant bush.

Ann Lamb

*Texas Discovery Garden Sale-April 6-8, 2018

More info about Lonicera fragrantissima right here on Dallas Garden Buzz!



Those @#$%&! Butterflies

Though curses aren’t usually the words usually associated with seeing beautiful butterflies soaring around your garden, if you are a home vegetable gardener or part of a community garden that donates produce to food pantries, there is one butterfly that you may dislike.

Large Cabbage White Butterfly on Cabbage

No, it is not the butterflies whose larval host plants are dill, parsley and fennel.  Many people who have butterfly gardens purposely grow extras of these plants as host plants for the butterfly larva. By following the rule “one for me, and one for the birds and butterflies.” you can have your share and the butterflies/caterpillars can have theirs.   However for vegetable gardeners, the sight of pretty white butterflies flitting around members of the brassica family (ex- kale, cabbage, mustard, turnips, etc) can mean only one thing:  an invasion of hungry larva caterpillars that will soon damage their crops.

Large Cabbage White Butterfly Larvae, note larvae color is green not pink as this photo shows

Cabbage white butterflies, also known by butterfly-lovers as “summer snowflakes,” are found in two sizes, the Small Cabbage White Butterfly (Pieris rapae) and the Large Cabbage White Butterfly (Pieris brassicae.)  The small cabbage white butterfly, though still considered an agricultural pest, is not as voracious a feeder as the Large Cabbage White Butterfly and will be the focus of this article.

The Small Cabbage White Butterfly is found throughout Europe, Asia and North Africa.  It was accidentally introduced to Quebec around 1860 and spread rapidly throughout North America.  By 1898 it had spread to Hawaii and by 1929 to New Zealand.  Often, one of the first butterflies to appear in the spring, it lays eggs on the underside of a leaf.  The eggs are laid singly and are yellow making them difficult to spot.  The eggs hatch after about five to fourteen days and then the damage to members of the mustard family begins.  Using their powerful mandibles, the larva munch holes in the leaves.  Sometimes they will even eat into the heart of a cabbage, leaving a shell in its place.  The larva then pupate, to start the whole cycle again.

Cabbage Damage Due to White Butterfly Larvae

Thankfully there are safe biological and barrier controls for this pest butterfly.  In the mid 19th century the Australian government introduced parasitic wasps to control the damage produced by both species of butterflies.  However this approach is only suitable for large commercial growers.  There are other insects however that can help.  These include ladybird beetles, lacewings, and some species of insect-eating birds.  A physical control might include covering the plants with mosquito netting or other barriers.  Be sure to secure all the edges.

Perhaps the easiest organic method of control is to use Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), a naturally occurring bacteria that kills a caterpillar but leaves beneficial insects unharmed.  When the caterpillar eats a treated leaf, it will get an upset stomach, stop eating, and die within four days.  Just be sure not to apply it in wet weather as the spray will wash off.

By using Bt or other methods of control, you should be able to “have your cabbage and eat it too.”

Carolyn Bush








Trimming Vitex

Hopefully, you have taken a moment to watch Evelyn  explain what our Vitex tree needed. Click here for the video if you missed it.

Vitex tree in need of a trim.
Here’s the before picture.

The dormant season is the recommended time for pruning, but sometimes your work force, needs, and timing come together in other seasons.  Evelyn  and Susan, experienced gardeners, took our large, unruly bush and gave it a comely shape.

Here’s the result:

Vitex tree after pruning

Read more about Vitex trees here and in Dallas you can see these trees growing outside the Nasher Museum in downtown Dallas and at the Dallas Arboretum.

Ann Lamb

Picture and video by Starla Willis

Pruning by Susan Swinson and Evelyn Womble




Tagging Monarchs at Raincatcher’s

Monarch Butterfly Sipping Milkweed, Note the Tag

With a woosh of her net, Master Naturalist, Ellen Guiling, has captured another Monarch butterfly to be tagged and then sent on its migratory journey.

As per the Monarch Watch website: tagging information helps answer questions about the geographic origins of monarchs, the timing and pace of the migration, mortality during migration, the effects of wind and weather, and changes in geographic distribution of monarchs. Each year the information is collected and can be viewed at

You may remember Starla found a tagged Monarch from Kansas who visited our garden in 2015.

We have many butterflies visiting The Raincatcher’s Garden and the reason goes back to the careful planning and planting of host and nectar plants for many different types of butterflies. Review the butterfly plant list in our Raincatcher’s Resources on the right of our front page and enjoy the delights of your own butterfly garden.

Ann Lamb

Pictures and video by Starla Willis



Chinese Long Beans—Green Beans for Summer—Even Here

Have you ever read or been told that green beans will produce all summer?  This is advice that must be met with a kind smile.  Bless their hearts, it’s totally untrue.   Obviously cannot be blamed for this mistake, they are just not from around here.  Anyone who gardens in North Texas knows green beans will not make it in summer’s heat.

Does that mean no more fresh beans? No, not if you plant Chinese long beans.  This delicious vegetable goes by many names: snake bean, yard long bean even asparagus bean.  A red variety called red noodle is also available.  Properly they are called Vigna Unguiculata.  As its “real name” makes clear, they are actually related to cowpeas or blackeyed peas and not ordinary garden green beans.  The important point is they grow in the heat of summer, in fact they require heat to do well.  Which wouldn’t matter if they didn’t taste good, but they do with flavor much like green beans and a touch of blacked pea.

Are you convinced? Plant the seeds as directed on the package.  It is essential to provide a sturdy support as these are vines not bushes.  Large tomato cages work well. The vines would probably like something ten feet tall to grown on but vines don’t always get what they want.  Compromise is key between you and the vines.  Give the vines plenty of room so  they can grow up and over supports but keep them within bounds so you can  pick the beans. Remember the vines will try to grab any innocent plant that gets in their way; be alert.

Trellised Vines of the Chinese Long Bean

Garden soil with compost is ideal.  Apply organic fertilizer when planting. As with any rapidly growing plant, regular watering is essential.

Once the production starts, check the vines every day. The beans grow amazingly fast and will need regular picking, pick them about twelve inches long  while they are still firm and dark green.

Chinese Long Beans, Ready to Eat!

When they are picked like this they are even good raw in salad. They are delicious prepared in many ways: simmered as green beans would be or fried as they are in many traditional Chinese recipes.

Try them and you will see for yourself!!

Susan Thornbury

Killing Nutgrass

If ever there was a villain in the garden, nutgrass would be the culprit.

It is one of the most hated weeds and very aggressive, robbing desirable plants of water and nutrition.   Nutgrass rankles my sister  so much she tells me she can see it out of the corner of her eye as she walks through her garden. Then, like any good gardener she attacks it and tries to dig up the whole plant along with the rhizomes and the tubers (also called nuts). Any tubers left behind will generate a whole new set of weeds.

Though it looks like grass, the plant is actually a sedge. The  varieties most often seen are  Cyperus esculentus (yellow nutsedge) and Cyperus rotundus (purple nutsedge).  Even our own garden has an unwanted plot of purple nutsedge in the Edible Garden area.

What should we do about this problem intruder? How can we kill nutgrass organically in a large garden area? *Kim Kirkhart has had success with her variation of the  loose landscape fabric method taught by Skip Richter, Texas AgriLife Extension  Agent for Harris County.

What’s  needed:

  • Heavy black plastic
  •  Plastic pots
  • Bricks or rocks to hold plastic in place
  • Time-this method takes several months  up to a  year

Recycled Plastic Pots

Begin by setting plastic pots in the garden area. The pots have a dual purpose. They  hold up the black tarp and also spot kill nutgrass. 3 or 4 pots are stacked together (turning them each to cover their holes).

As you can see, not all the nutgrass is under pots.  Don’t worry though, those invaders will die under the tarp, without light.

Heavy Black Plastic

Next lay the black plastic over the whole garden area on top of the pots. The pots keep the plastic elevated so emerging nutgrass shoots can not puncture through the plastic and let light in. Overlap the seams of the plastic to keep the light out.

Bricks hold the plastic in place, remember to keep the plastic lifted.

Carefully place bricks or rocks around edge of plastic and wait for the nutgrass to die.

This organic way of killing nutgrass requires patience. We started this process July 26 and plan to take off the plastic in October in time for fall gardening. We will let you know the results of our test!

Pictures  by *Kim Kirkhart, DCMGA class of 2006

Ann Lamb

Click here for Skip Richter’s article, Weed Wars.  We have used the expert advice in this article for our method of killing nutgrass organically.

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