The heat of July and August in Texas can be debilitating and can leave your garden looking barren and lifeless. For some plants the only option you are left with at this point is to give in to the heat and start over again when the temperatures fall back into a reasonable range. If you want to keep a productive garden over an extremely hot summer you will want to choose plants that thrive in heat and humidity. This guide will provide you with some options for maintaining a productive garden in an extremely hot climate such as Texas.
Before we discuss which plants to grow in the heat, we should discuss some overall strategies to promote healthy growth regardless of which plants you choose to grow:
Shade is your best friend when it comes to growing a summer garden in Texas. Just as we like to sit in the shade and sip on a cold beverage, your plants will also appreciate a good amount of shade as well. Even plants that are marketed as "full sun" will do fine with lots of afternoon shade. Try to shoot for at least 6 hours of sun for these plants, especially in the early morning and afternoon. Having an area that gets dappled sunlight all day is another option as well.
If you don't have any natural shade from the trees or structures on your property, you can create shade as well. If your garden area doesn't span several acres you can purchase a shade cloth to protect the most vulnerable plants in your garden during the hottest part of the day. Shade cloth can be purchased in custom sizes and is rated by the percentage of shade it provides. I recommend using a shade cloth rated at 50% shade for most vegetables, herbs, and flowers.
The reality of the situation is that you are no doubt going to have to water your plants often in July and August - sometimes every day. The timing of watering, as well as the method of watering, are both very important to minimize water loss to evaporation. Drip irrigation is highly recommended in garden plots in order to direct the water to the exact spot that you need it without losing a majority of it to evaporation. Watering with a sprinkler or by hand is not recommended if it can be avoided. The one situation when watering by hand is okay is if you are watering pots.
The timing of watering is also very important in order to maximize the uptake of water into your plants. Watering first thing in the morning before it gets too hot is the most efficient time to water. Your plants will be able to uptake as much water as they can before the heat of the day sets in and you won't lose as much water to evaporation. If you can't water first thing in the morning the next best time to water would be in the evening when the sun has made its way down and is no longer blaring hot. Watering during the hottest part of the day should be avoided if at all possible. If this is the only time you have to water then obviously it is a better choice than killing your plants.
Mulch is an extremely important addition to the garden no matter what season it is. Mulch protects the soil, prevents erosion, slows the growth of weeds, and acts as a temperature regulator. In the heat of the summer, mulch cools the soil and locks-in moisture. In winter, mulch warms the soil and protects the roots of your plants. We use a natural wood chip mulch at Ronin Farm, which provides great coverage and will eventually break down and add beneficial structure and fungal growth to the soil. Other options for mulch include: wheat straw, well aged compost, cotton hulls, pecan shells, and clean/weed free hay. Use a thick layer, at least 4 to 5 inches, for the best results.
Vegetables, herbs, and flowers to grow in extremely hot climates
There's something very rewarding about foraging for wild fruit and bringing it home to make something delicious with it in the kitchen. When I was a kid growing up in Washington state we foraged for wild huckleberries. We made huckleberry pie, jam, ice cream - anything and everything we could make out of them. My brothers and I would head up into the mountains with our dad in search of the tasty and tart berries. Our dad would carry a rifle strapped to his back because where there are wild huckleberries there are sure to be wild bears as well. We would fill a bucket full of the fruit and then head back home to process them into tasty treats.
Here in Texas the wild mustang grape and dewberry are very similar. The great thing about these wild fruits is that they are abundant and you don't have to hike up a mountainside to compete with bears to find them. If you have property here in the Brazos Valley you have probably encountered wild mustang grapes or dewberries at some point.
The wild mustang grape (Vitis mustangensis) is native to the Southern United States and its range includes Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi. The fruit is very tart and the skin is very thick, but when you extract the juice and add sugar the flavor of the grape really shines through and makes for a delicious jelly.
To begin, harvest 3 lbs of wild mustang grapes from the vine. *Note - when foraging for wild plants you should be absolutely sure you have correctly identified the plant. There are berries that look very similar that can be toxic. Once you have your grapes harvested it's time to wash them and remove the stems.
Once the grapes are rinsed, place them in a large pot with 2 cups of water over high heat. Bring the grapes to a boil and cook for about 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and use a potato masher to mash the grapes into a pulp to remove all of the juice. Carefully strain the pulp and juice through a fine mesh strainer into a heat proof bowl. To expedite the process use the back of a spoon to extract all of the juice through the strainer.
When you have all of the juice strained the next step is to get your canning equipment all setup and ready. This recipe will make approximately 8 half-pint jars. Wash and sterilize your jars and lids and get a pot of water boiling to process the jars in. You can buy canning kits that come with all of the equipment necessary to complete the next few steps.
You will need the following equipment for this project:
8 half pint jars
8 lids and rings
Head space measuring tool
Jar tongs for placing and removing jars from boiling water
Large processing pot
You can buy kits on Amazon that include a lot of these essential tools together.
When your jars are sterilized and your processing pot is boiling, pour your grape juice back into a pot and bring to a boil. Add one package of pectin to the liquid and stir. Add all of the sugar at once and stir to incorporate. Bring the liquid back to a rolling boil and let it boil for another minute.
Remove the jelly mixture from the heat and quickly ladle the liquid through a funnel into the canning jars leaving 1/4" of head space on top of each jar. Wipe the rim of the jars to make sure there is not any jelly liquid on the rim as this can prevent the jars from sealing properly. Place a lid and a ring on each jar and tighten them. Lower the jars into your processing pot using tongs. To safely process the jelly be sure you have an inch of boiling water over the top of the jars and prevent the jars from touching each other during the process. Process the jars for 10 minutes in the boiling water.
Carefully remove the jars from the boiling water and place them on the counter on a towel to cool. You will hear a "popping" sound as the jars begin to seal properly. If any of your jars don't seal properly you can place those jars straight into the fridge or freezer to be used first.
I recently made fresh paprika powder using a food dehydrator and a spice grinder, so I quickly put the fresh powder to use to capture all of the amazing flavors at their peak. If you didn't read my blog post about making fresh pepper powder you can read it here.
Chicken paprikash is a delicious recipe that highlights the sweet and slightly spicy flavors of the hot Hungarian paprika pepper. This recipe is Hungarian in origin and is typically served with egg noodles or grains. The dish is comforting and will have you licking your plate when you are done!
To start, it is best to prep all of your ingredients first. For this recipe I purchased about 2 lbs of "bone-in" pasture raised chicken thighs from the Brazos Valley Farmers Market. You can use boneless chicken here if you prefer - breasts or thighs. I prefer dark meat chicken and I like the bone in because of the flavor the bones impart on the chicken. Season your chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. The vegetables should be prepared by cutting them into a fine dice - I used a small white onion, a large red bell pepper from the farm, four small farm tomatoes, and two cloves of garlic.
Once you have all of your ingredients prepped, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Now it's time to start cooking your aromatics in a thick oven-proof pan. I love cooking with cast iron so I used a cast iron pan for this recipe. Cast iron pans are very affordable these days and they provide even heat that is perfect for searing and braising.
Heat one tablespoon of butter with one tablespoon of oil in the pan over medium-high heat. Make sure you use oil with a high smoke point such as vegetable or canola oil. Once the oil is nice and hot, sear off the chicken (in batches if necessary) in the pan. Be sure not to crowd the pan, because you want to get a nice sear on each piece of chicken. Start with the chicken skin side down and then flip to the other side after 5 minutes, or when you have developed a nice golden brown crust. Continue cooking the chicken on the other side for another 5 minutes and then remove the chicken to a plate to rest.
Without draining the fat, next sauté the onions for 5 minutes over medium heat. Add the garlic and peppers and continue cooking for another 3 minutes. Add 1.5 tablespoons of paprika powder (homemade or store bought) and stir the vegetable mixture so the paprika begins to fry in the oil to release its flavor. Add two tablespoons of flour to the mixture and stir again to combine. Cook for 4 minutes.
Add the diced tomatoes to the pan along with 3/4 cup of broth - gently stir. Situate the chicken back into the pan with the skin side facing up. Place the pan into the oven and cook until the chicken reaches the correct temperature and the sauce has thickened.
While you wait for the chicken to cook in the oven, bring a medium pot of water to a boil on the stove. Cook 8 ounces of egg noodles in the water until they are al dente - about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the noodles and add one tablespoon of butter to them and mix to combine. I used Mrs. Millers old fashioned egg noodles. They have a great texture and are a better quality than the cheaper egg noodles.
Once the chicken reaches the correct temperature, carefully remove the pan from the oven using an oven mitt or towel. Remove the chicken to a plate and then add 1/2 cup of sour cream to the sauce and gently stir to combine.
To assemble the dish, divide the noodles evenly to four plates or coupe bowls. Place one chicken portion onto each plate on top of the noodles. Ladle the sauce evenly over the top of all four plates. Enjoy!
This season I have had really good luck growing the Leutschauer Paprika Pepper from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. This pepper is a slightly spicy Hungarian paprika that makes for an excellent dried spice that will bring a burst of flavor to your sauces or spice rubs.
To make dried peppers I recommend using a food dehydrator rather than an oven. Ovens don't typically get lower than 170 degrees, which is a little too hot for dehydrating. I was tempted to try the oven method, but the thought of running the oven with the door slightly cracked for several hours didn't seem appealing to me. I decided it was time to own a food dehydrator because there are endless things coming off the farm that I can dehydrate.
After searching online and reading many reviews, I decided to purchase the Nesco FD-75A Snackmaster Pro. I have used this dehydrator in the past and love the amount of space it has, as well as the adjustable thermostat for a more accurate dehydration process depending on what product you are dehydrating. The other great thing about this dehydrator is the price, which is less than $60 with free shipping if you have Amazon Prime.
This method can be used for any pepper you have on hand - I just happened to have some nice paprika peppers so I started with those. To begin, you will want to work with fresh peppers that are firm and don't have any brown spots or soft tissue. Wash your peppers thoroughly and pat dry. If you are working with larger peppers like paprika, jalapeno, or poblano, it is best to cut your peppers into thin strips so they dehydrate better. If you have small peppers like cayenne or Tabasco you can leave them whole.
Once your peppers are cut into thin strips you can arrange them on the dehydrator trays making sure they aren't touching or overlapping so they dehydrate better. The Nesco dehydrator recommends dehydrating vegetables at 135 degrees. My peppers took about 12 hours to dry at this temperature. You will want them to be be nice and crisp, rather than leathery, when you go to grind them so they grind into a nice powder.
The final step is to use a spice grinder to grind the dried peppers into a powder. I purchased a Shardor spice/coffee grinder and I am very pleased with the results. It comes with two grinding bowls, one for spices and one for coffee. If you want your peppers to be the consistency of red pepper flakes pulse the peppers a few times and check for the desired size of flakes - repeat if necessary. If you would prefer a pepper powder I recommend grinding for about 30 seconds.
That's all there is to it! It's best to keep your pepper powder in a air tight jar in a dark and cool place in the cupboard. Pepper powder should last about 6 months before it starts to lose it's freshness and flavor. Once you taste how amazing fresh pepper powder is, you won't have a hard time finding some delicious recipes to use it well before 6 months has passed.
Written by Corey Wahl
Growing Fall tomatoes in Texas can be one of the most disheartening endeavors a gardener can attempt. It's a common scenario: The blistering summer heat finally ends in September and the temperatures recede back into the 80's - sometimes all the way through November. To us optimistic gardeners this seems like the perfect time to plant out a 2nd crop of tomatoes. The tomato plants grow wonderfully and the cooler nights provide the perfect temperature for flowering and fruit set. We watch the healthy green tomatoes grow to their full potential and then we wait for the first sign of color...and we wait.....and wait. Just when the first tomatoes begin to ripen the nights begin getting cooler and cooler and suddenly the forecast shows a cold front on the horizon that will threaten the whole crop, so we start making fried green tomatoes in an attempt to gain something from all of our hard work. Sound familiar?
Growing a successful Fall tomato crop in Texas takes careful planning and an awareness of a few key factors:
Timing of planting
Fall tomatoes should be planted as transplants around the beginning of August in order for the plants to have enough time to grow to the ripening stage before it gets too late in the fall. The tricky part about this is finding transplants for sale in July. Even if you do find transplants, chances are they won't necessarily be varieties that will meet the rest of the criteria outlined below. I highly recommend starting your own transplants, which comes with its own set of challenges because this will need to be done in mid-July when it is 100+ degrees outside.
Transplants need sufficient light in order to grow healthy, strong, and bushy. The problem with trying to start seedling trays in the sun in Texas in July is that the soil will heat up to a temperature not suitable for healthy root growth. You can work around this by starting transplants in a garage or work space with LED lights (click here to read my blog about starting plants indoors). Setting up a LED grow light in a garage will allow you to get maximum light needed for healthy growth, while keeping the seedlings out of the damaging Texas sun until they have reached a healthy size. You can use fans or air conditioning to grow the seedlings in a comfortable environment (somewhere between 75 and 85 degrees would be ideal).
Determinate vs. Indeterminate
Before you purchase your seedlings, or grow them yourself with LED lights, it is essential to understand a few terms when it comes to tomatoes. The first set of terms to become familiar with is determinate vs. indeterminate. When you purchase seeds this designation should always be clearly marked on the packet or website.
Determinate tomatoes are sometimes referred to as "bush tomatoes" because they will generally grow to about 4 or 5 feet and set fruit that will ripen within a short window. They require less trellising because of their size so they can be grown with cages or stakes.
Indeterminate tomatoes, or vine tomatoes, will continue growing indefinitely throughout the season and will continuously set fruit over a long period of time until conditions become unfavorable for them to do so. These tomatoes require taller trellises and a lot more time.
Early vs. late season
The next characteristic to look for when selecting tomatoes is early vs. late season. Early season tomatoes are those that produce faster, or earlier in the season. Late season tomatoes, as you might have already guessed, take much longer to produce.
Size is another major factor when selecting a fall tomato in Texas. The larger beefsteak tomatoes take a long time to ripen on the vine and may not be the best choice when time is of the essence. Selecting medium to small slicing tomatoes, or cherry and grape tomatoes, will ensure a more successful harvest of ripe tomatoes over the course of the season.
Now that you are familiar with some of the characteristics of tomato plants, it is time to select seeds that fit some of the more favorable conditions for the fall in Texas. These characteristics will include one or all of the following: determinate, early season, and smaller size.
Equipped with this knowledge it is time to purchase seeds to start your successful fall tomato planting. I highly recommend you source your seeds from a quality supplier who clearly categorizes their seed stock with well defined characteristics. Purchasing seed from a big box store may not be the most ideal choice here.
I purchased my fall tomato seeds online from a company called Tomato Fest. Tomato Fest is run by a married couple who have been in the tomato business for almost 30 years. You can search their seed inventory using the characteristics listed above. Some varieties I have found that fit some or all of the criteria include:
I highly you suggest you browse this awesome website full of tomatoes and choose some varieties that seem fun and interesting to you. Just keep in mind some of the attributes and characteristics outlined in this post when making your selections. Good luck with your fall tomatoes.
Written by Corey Wahl
I would like to share with you one of my favorite summertime drinks that you can make utilizing the large and seedy cucumbers that would otherwise be unpleasant to eat. If you are a gardener who has grown cucumbers you know that it is very easy to miss the harvest for a few days only to come back to your plants to find massive cucumbers that are full of seeds. Instead of hanging your head low at the sight of all of the overgrown cukes, you can now celebrate - it's time to make some agua fresca!
Aguas frescas, which literally translates to "fresh water", is a popular street drink in Mexico and the U.S. My personal favorite flavors are jamaica (hibiscus) and pepino (cucumber). Cucumbers are perfect for making agua fresca because they consist mainly of water anyway, so a good portion of the liquid in this recipe comes from the cucumber to impart an amazing fresh flavor in the drink.
The secret to a well extracted agua fresca is to use a quality high-powered blender. I own a 1200-watt Ninja Intelli-sense blender that I absolutely love and use at least once a week for smoothies, soups, drinks, salsas, sauces, and much more. The Ninja is a nice affordable option if a Vitamix is a little too costly for you, but the Vitamix 5200 is also a great choice if you want maximum blending power.
Amazon has a great deal on the 1500 watt Ninja system right now, which comes with smoothie cups, a food processor, and the tall blender:
Equipped with a nice blender you are ready to make one of the most refreshing summer drinks in just a matter of minutes. The first step to this is to harvest (or purchase) cucumbers. Any cucumber will work for this, but I choose to use the large seedy cucumbers that were left on the vine a little too long. You will want to peel and chop the cucumber into small pieces and fill the blender up with about 8 or 9 cups. Add about 4 cups of water to the cucumber to fill the pitcher up the the "max liquid" line. Top it off with a 1/4 cup of lime juice and blend until nice and smooth.
Once you have blended the cucumber, water, and lime together you now have a decision to make. You can leave the pulp in the water and proceed to the next step as is, or you can strain the water for a pulp-free drink. I always strain mine and compost the pulp, but this is completely up to you. If you want a smooth and strained agua fresca then the next step is to pour the mixture from the blender into a pitcher or bowl through a fine mesh strainer. Use the back of a spoon to press the juice through the pulp and strainer, being sure to extract as much liquid as possible!
Whether strained or un-strained, the next step is to sweeten the delicious cucumber water to your liking. Cucumber and lime water is delicious by itself, but there is something magical that happens when a little bit of sweetness is added to balance out the acidity. To sweeten the water you can use honey, agave syrup, or sugar. If you are using sugar it is best to make a simple syrup first in order for it to blend into the liquid smoothly. Don't worry, simple syrup is very simple to make!
Once you have your simple syrup it is now up to you to add as much sweetness as you want to your cucumber and lime agua fresca. Personally I like to add 1/2 to 3/4 cup of simple syrup, but you can add 1/4 cup at a time and test for sweetness until you find your perfect amount. When you are happy with the sweetness it is time to chill the agua fresca, or put it over ice if you want to enjoy the deliciousness right away! Garnish with a lime wedge and a mint sprig and you are ready to kick back and enjoy the summer.
Hint: This can also be served with some bubbly to make a cucumber mimosa. Alternatively you could add gin or vodka to make a refreshing summer cocktail.
Written by Corey Wahl
Recommended products for this recipe:
There are hundreds of different fertilizers available to gardeners and not all of them are designed to do the same thing. The process of choosing an organic fertilizer can be difficult if you aren't familiar with what the analysis on the label means. First and foremost the most important step to take when building a healthy garden is to add compost to the soil, but compost alone may not be enough until you have spent several years building the soil. You can think of compost as the conditioner of the soil - it builds great soil structure and creates a healthy environment for the plant roots to become established and take up nutrients- but your plants will also need a source of more readily available nutrients for optimal growth. This is where organic fertilizers come in!
Why I choose organic fertilizers over synthetic?
Understanding the Label Analysis
The first thing you will want to look at when choosing an organic fertilizer is the label analysis. The analysis will always include the big three macronutrients: N-P-K
Nitrogen (N): Nitrogen is usually the most limiting nutrient in any soil as it is used by plants for lush green growth and is the nutrient that leaches most easily. Nitrogen is critical for all plants, but is most critical for plants where dark green leafy growth is the main goal: turf, salad greens, onions, cabbage, herbs, etc
Phosphorus (P): Phosphorus is used by plants for healthy root development and flower/fruit development. Having plenty of available phosphorus is beneficial to all plants, but especially those that you want to flower and/or produce fruits.
Potassium (K): Potassium is critical to overall plant health as it serves many functions related to the plants ability to deal with stress. Potassium ions help regulate water balance and the opening and closing of the stomata, which are both crucial for drought tolerance and overall plant turgidity. Potassium also plays a key role in nutrient uptake and protein synthesis.
Percentages: The percentages on the label refer to the percentage of nutrient by weight. For example, if the percentage of of Nitrogen is 4% like in the label above, this means there are 4lbs of nitrogen in every 100lbs of the fertilizer.
Other Macronutrients and Soil pH
The big three nutrients (N-P-K) are definitely the main components of any plant nutrition regimen, but they only make up a part of overall plant health. There are several other macronutrients that are essential to plant health as well. Most of these macronutrients are found naturally in a healthy garden soil, but sometimes their availability is limited because of soil pH. Adding compost to your soil is the best way to regulate and buffer soil pH.
Sulfur: Helps with the development of enzymes, vitamins, amino acids, and chlorophyll.
Calcium: Important for cell wall structure and transport of other nutrients
Magnesium: Essential for photosynthesis and chlorophyll production
Availability of plant nutrients at different pH levels:
As you can see from this chart, even though your soil may have the essential nutrients needed for plant growth sometimes the nutrients aren't available to your plants depending on your soils pH. The best way to regulate this, as mentioned above, is to add compost to your soil at the beginning of each season. Compost helps to regulate and buffer pH in the soil.
If you are curious what the pH of your soil is you can purchase pH monitors to see exactly where your soil is at. They range in price and efficacy, but I have provided a couple examples here:
In addition to the macronutrients, there are several trace elements needed for good plant growth. If your soil has a good balance of organic compost and fertilizers, you will rarely run into deficiencies with these nutrients in your garden, except for maybe iron (which is usually caused by a pH imbalance not an iron deficiency). The micronutrients include:
boron (B), chlorine (Cl), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo), and zinc (Zn)
These trace minerals are more important when starting seedlings or growing plants in containers and can be supplied by using a good all around liquid fertilizer. More on this later!
Granular fertilizers are applied to the soil at the time of planting, and can be added to the base of established plants if they need a boost mid-way through the season. The benefits of granular fertilizers are as follows:
Remember when I said there are hundreds of fertilizers to choose from? Well really there is one brand you should become familiar with, because basically there is one brand that will provide everything you need in the garden: MicroLife!
MicroLife brand fertilizer is made in Texas (go local!) and is the pinnacle of organic fertilizers. I use MicroLife products on the farm and there really is no need for anything else because they are formulated with an incredible amount of beneficial ingredients for plant health. I swear I do not work for MicroLife and am not endorsed by them, I just know a good product when I find one.
For starters, MicrolLife offers two all-purpose fertilizers for general garden use for all plants. If you want a safe and effective product start with one of these two:
MicroLife also offers a large line of liquid fertilizers to use in the greenhouse and garden. The benefits of liquid fertilizers are as follows:
MicroLife offers a handful of different liquid fertilizers and soil boosters, but the top 3 that I utilize the most frequently are:
I have been using MicroLife products for a couple years now and I have been nothing but impressed with all that they have to offer. In addition to the Maco and Micro nutrients that are available in these formulas, MicroLife is also formulated with billions of beneficial fungi, bacteria, amino acids, plant hormones, and so much more! Healthy plants are strong and resilient, so if you want to get the most out of your garden you need to feed the soil and plants so they can grow to their full potential. All of those nutrients will feed you, in turn, when you harvest the large nutrient dense fruits and vegetables.
There are full-length books written about plant nutrition, so please feel free to contact me with any questions as this has been a very brief introduction to the topic. If you have more in-depth questions about specific nutrients or how to apply organic fertilizers, I would love to help!
Written by Corey Wahl
Related products for applying organic fertilizers
One thing you will hear me preach over and over is the fact that the soil is the single most important aspect to any healthy garden. Everything starts in the soil. It's alive and crawling with billions of organisms, including bacteria, fungi, and insects. Some of those organisms benefit your plants immensely, some of them are detrimental. The key to a successful garden is not to eliminate the detrimental organisms all together, but to manage their impact by promoting the beneficial ones.
Let me introduce to you one of the most important beneficial organisms living in your soil, the nematode. Nematodes are microscopic non-segmented round worms that flourish in moist soils that contain sufficient food sources in the form of insects, plants, and animals. That's right, not all nematodes are beneficial to gardening, some of them actually do damage to plant roots. Luckily there are beneficial ones that will actually parasitize the bad ones.
Chances are you probably already have beneficial nematodes living in your garden right now. They are working hard to devour grubs and overwintering insects as you read this. Unfortunately they can't keep the levels of those pests down enough to prevent them from doing damage to your garden. The good news is that you can actually introduce millions of them to your garden with minimal effort!
Purchasing beneficial nematodes for your garden
I sprayed nematodes on Ronin Farm this year for the first time. I purchased them from Arbico Organics, which is a great company that specializes in all things organic and biological. I decided to get their triple threat package in order to cover all my bases. This package comes with three species of beneficial nematodes and is advertised to control over 80 different pests!
NemAttack, Sc - Armyworm (Pseudaletia unipuncta), Artichoke Plume Moth, Bagworm, Beet Armyworm (Spodoptera exigua (Hubner)), Black Cutworm (Agrotis ipsilon (Hufnagel)), Black Vine Weevil (Otiorhynchus sulcatus), Bluegrass Weevil, Caterpillars, Cockroaches (American, Asian, German), Codling Moth (Cydia pomonella), Corn Earworm, Cotton Bollworm, Cranberry Girdler, Cucumber Beetle, Cutworm (Agrotis, Amathes, Peridroma, Prodenia spp), Fall Armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda), Flea Larvae, Fly Larvae, Fruit Flies (Drasophylla), Greater Peach Tree Borer (Synanthedon exitiosa), Lesser Peach Tree Borer (Synanthedon pictipes), Large Pine Weevil, Leafminers, Mint Flea Beetle, Mint Root Borer, Mole Crickets, Navel Orangeworm, Strawberry Root Weevil (Otiorhynchus ovatus), Tobacco Budworm, Webworms, Wireworm, Wood Borers
NemAttack, Sf - Beet Armyworm, Black Cutworm, Cabbage Maggot, Codling Moth, Corn Earworm, Cucumber Beetle, Fruit Flies (Drasophylla), Fungus Gnats (Bradysia impatiens), Onion Maggots, Pill Worm, Raspberry Crown Borer, Root Maggots, Sclarids, Shore Flies, Subterranean Termites, Sweet Potato Weevil, Thrips (Franklinothrips sp), Ticks, Tobacco Cutworm
NemaSeek, Hb - Ants (Queen), Asparagus Beetle (Crioceris asparagi; Crioceris duodecimpunctata), Bagworm, Banana Moth, Banana Weevil, Berry Root Weevil, Billbug, Black Vine Weevil, Borers (Iris, Tree, Vine), Carrot Weevil (Listronotus oregonensis), Chafers (European, Masked), Citrus Root Weevil, Colorado Potato Beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata), Corn Rootworm, Cranberry Root Weevil, Cucumber Beetle (Spotted) (Diabrotica undecimpunctata howardi), Flea Beetles, Fleas (Adults), Gall Midges, Grape Root Borer, Grubs, Humpbacked Flies, Japanese Beetle (Popillia japonica Newman), Leafminers, May/June Bugs (Phyllophaga sp.), Root Weevils, Scarabs, Sugarcane Stalk Borer, Sweet Potato Weevil, Ticks
They have specific species you can purchase individually as well. For example, if you are interested in reducing the number of fleas in your lawn you can purchase just the NemAttack for this specific pest.
Visit Arbico Organics to purchase beneficial nematodes: https://www.arbico-organics.com
Applying nematodes to your soil
Applying nematodes is super easy and can be done with a fertilizer injector or backpack sprayer. I decided to buy a hozon fertilizer injector because I will also use it to apply liquid organic fertilizer to the garden so I can use it for multiple purposes.
I mixed the powder from the triple threat package with water in a 5 gallon bucket. You don't need to mix it with a specific amount of water, you just need to make sure you cover the specific area based on how much is specified on the package. I purchased the 10 million count which covers 3,200 sq feet. Each garden space I was spraying it on was about 1,000 sq ft so I divided the powder into thirds and mixed up three different 5 gallon bucket solutions - one for each garden area I was spraying.
The hozon fertilizer injector will inject 1 part of your solution with 15 parts of water automatically. I was able to water each 1,000 sq foot section easily with each 5 gallon bucket of solution without coming close to running out. This allowed me to get a good soil drench, which is crucial to ensuring the nematodes have a nice moist soil to get established in.
And that's all there is to it! Once they are applied to the soil they go to work immediately on parasitizing and devouring your soil pests.
After three days I dug around in the garden where I sprayed to see if I could find any evidence that they were working. To my surprise I found a white grub that was limp and discolored, which was exactly what I was hoping to find based on my research.
I am very pleased with the results of this experiment. With a price tag of $80 to cover 3,000 square feet of garden space twice a year, I think it is a great investment when you consider how many different pests this will help to control. The best part is that this process is not harmful to any beneficial insects including earthworms, lady beetles, or honey bees! (Unlike some organic pesticides) I will definitely add this to my IPM practices each season.
If you have any questions about the technicalities, or about nematodes in general, please feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.
Written by Corey Wahl
Director of Farm Operations
Ronin Farm in Bryan, Texas
Valentine's Day has come and gone and for me that only means one thing, it's time to plant potatoes! Okay, so I guess it means two things because it's also the day to shower my girlfriend with love and affection, but only after those potatoes are planted! I intended to publish this blog post much sooner, but Valentine's Day is also a very busy weekend for the farm and the restaurant and we have all been working extra hard to execute exceptional service for such an important occasion.
Choosing quality seed potatoes to start
The first step to planting potatoes in Texas is to source high quality seed potatoes. Seed potatoes are just like the potatoes you would see at the store, except they are usually certified to be disease free and they aren't sprayed with growth inhibitors. Planting certified disease free potatoes is important so you don't introduce something to your garden soil that will cause problems down the road. I usually buy my potatoes at Producer's Co-op in Bryan, or if I am looking for some more interesting varieties I will order them from PotatoGarden.com because they usually ship them at the correct time of the year. Some websites offer great varieties, but they seem to ship them way too late for those of us in Texas.
Preparing your seed potatoes for planting
Once you have acquired your seed potatoes the next step is to prepare them for planting. This involves cutting them into smaller pieces and allowing them to cure, or suberize, to protect them from rotting in the ground.
The trick to cutting the potatoes is to use a very sharp knife that is sterilized before use. The general rule of thumb I use is to leave the really small ones whole (about the size of a golf ball), cut the medium ones in half (the ones that are the size of a lemon), and cut the largest ones into quarters (the ones that are the size of an orange). You just want to make sure that each piece has at least two "eyes" on it when you are done cutting them. Once the the potatoes are cut they should be placed cut side up in a cool spot with good ventilation for at least 4 to 5 days, or until they develop a nice thick callus layer on the cut side.
Planting potatoes in the garden
There are a few different methods for planting potatoes in the ground. One of the most common methods is to plant them in a furrow and then mound up soil around the plants as they grow. I was taught to plant potatoes a little differently from a grower at Texas A&M, and it has always worked for me, so I continue to use this method each year. This method is to plant them extra deep in the beginning and cover them with soil once and be done with it. In order to do this you will need well-cultivated soil with good drainage. I recommend working in a few inches of well-aged compost into your beds to prepare the soil ahead of time.
Planting date: Mid-February to Mid-March
Plant spacing: ~12" between each seed piece
Planting depth: 10 to 12"
In this demonstration plot I dug down about 8" and planted the seed pieces with the eyes facing upward. Usually I would plant them a little deeper, 10" to 12", but I added an extra 2 to 3" of compost to the top of the row at the very end to make up for this.
After all the potatoes were placed into their holes, I used a rake to cover them up with soil. As I covered them with the soil I also added MicroLife Organic Granular Fertilizer to the soil at the recommended rate on the bag. Potatoes are heavy feeders and will perform better with good nutrition, which is provided by a great all-around fertilizer like MicroLife.
Once the potatoes were covered with topsoil, I added a 3 inch layer of well-aged compost over the row to increase the depth of the potatoes to that ideal 10 to 12" range.
Over the years I have found that potatoes need minimal irrigation for the most part in Texas. The spring rains that we receive are usually sufficient to produce good potatoes. There are specific times where you will want to make sure the plants do not dry out too much or else you will run into problems with misshapen or split potatoes. When the plant begins to flower this is a sign that the plant is going into it's bulking phase. This is the time when you want to make sure your plant is receiving a couple inches of water per week so it has sufficient water to form the tubers. Inconsistency with watering during this period can lead to deformed tubers.
Once the plants begin to start yellowing this is a sign that they are shutting down and the tubers are almost fully developed. The soil will still need to remain slightly moist during this period in order to preserve the integrity of the tuber, but watering can be reduced significantly.
If you plan to store the potatoes for a long time you can let the tops of the plants die back all the way and reduce watering completely for a couple weeks. This will cure the potatoes underground before you dig them up for storage.
You can harvest potatoes at different times depending on what size and texture you are looking for.
New Potatoes - New potatoes are the delicious, tender, and thin-skinned potatoes that are formed right after the plant starts flowering. Once your potato plants begin to flower you can carefully dig down with a soil fork and harvest some or all of the immature potatoes from under the plant. These potatoes won't store well because of their thin skin, but they are delicious if you plan to eat them within a week or so.
Storage potatoes - Storage potatoes are the mature potatoes that are dug up after the plant reaches the end of its life cycle. When the plant is finished storing starch in the tubers it will begin to turn yellow and wither. Once the plant dies completely you can dig up your fully mature potatoes. This can be accomplished by using a shovel or potato fork. Carefully dig underneath the plant from a good distance, because the tubers can grow outward as well as downward. You don't want to dig straight underneath the plant or else you may damage some of the tubers.
Once your potatoes have been dug, keep the soil on them and store them somewhere cool (50 to 60 degrees) for a week or two until the skins cure and harden. If you plan to store some of them long-term, the ideal temperature is 40 degrees and you will want to maintain 90% humidity. No matter how you store your potatoes, the most important thing is to keep them out of direct sunlight or else they will develop a toxic green pigment and will no longer be edible.
Growing potatoes in grow bags if you don't have a garden
For those of you who don't have a garden you can grow potatoes in grow bags on your patio or porch if it receives enough sunlight. There are potato grow bags you can purchase that are specifically made for growing potatoes, or you can buy some felt pots like the ones I have pictured below. The idea is to roll down the sides of the pot and plant the potatoes near the bottom of the bag. Once the plant starts to grow you can roll up the sides of the pot and fill in the bag with soil. Keep doing this until you reach the top and the plant is growing up above the top of the bag. I started a couple bags as an experiment because I have never done this before, and I will post a full blog post about it when I am done to let you know what I think about the process.
You will want to use most of the same methods as above for watering, fertilizing, and harvesting. Harvesting is much easier with this method though because you can just carefully dump the bag onto a tarp when you are ready to harvest.
If you have any questions about growing potatoes in your garden please feel free to send me a message, I would love to hear from you!
Recommended products for growing potatoes:
Written by Corey Wahl
Director of Farm Operations
Ronin Farm in Bryan, Texas
One thing that I love about farming is that it is extremely dynamic. No season is exactly like the last season, and I am always looking ahead to the new season even before the current season ends. Recently while I was plotting new strategies for the farm in my head I decided to look for some new inspiration. I found just the inspiration I was looking for when I discovered the Instagram page of a gardener in England named Charles Dowding.
Charles is an author, instructor, and advocate for the no-dig method of gardening. His approach is to build upward on top of the soil, rather than till or flip the soil at the beginning of the season. I was intrigued when I started to read his online content and book. Rather than pull the weeds in the garden plot, or till up the soil to start anew, his approach calls for cardboard and a hefty amount of compost. A light bulb came on in my head as I excitedly envisioned the perfect spot to test out this method on the farm.
Last Fall I plowed a new section of the farm and formed several rows for planting. The season got away from me and these rows ended up turning into a weedy mess, as you can see in these photos:
In the past I would have cut my losses and re-tilled the rows to get rid of the weeds and start with a fresh plot. The problem with tilling too much is that it disturbs the soil structure and every time you disturb the soil you uncover more weed seeds, which just exacerbates the problem. So I turned to my new source of inspiration and decided to leave the rows exactly as they were, but instead of pulling the weeds the farm crew and I smothered them with cardboard:
I would like to point out that this method probably works best if you are dealing with annual weeds, not perennial weeds like Bermuda grass or nut sedge. Those weeds are aggressive and will eventually work their way through the cardboard barrier.
Once the cardboard was applied to the rows it was time to cover the cardboard with a nice thick layer of compost. The type and quality of compost is very important here. You will want to work with a well-aged compost because you will be planting directly into it. Fresh manure or mushroom compost won't work here because the plants won't be able to tolerate it. If you would like to use mushroom compost it will need to be aged until it is not hot anymore.
Once the compost was applied to the rows we filled-in the walkways with oak leaves and/or hay. I wouldn't normally recommend using hay in the field because it can be full of weed seeds and chemicals, but we have a source of some really clean hay so I was okay with using it here. We also applied a layer of hay on top of the compost to prevent it from eroding in the rain while we wait for warmer weather. Our plan is to let these rows sit and smother the weeds for at least a month before we plant our warm season crops directly into the compost in March. The cardboard will become wet and fragile from rain and/or irrigation, which will allow the roots of the plants to eventually break through into the soil below.
The cardboard and thick layer of compost will kill the weeds below and turn them into even more organic matter for the soil. Your plots should be relatively weed free for the season, but a few grasses might sneak through.
I highly recommend checking out Charles' books (featured above) for some great inspiration from a well-trusted gardener. This method can be used on field plots like we did at Ronin Farm, or you could apply this method to flat ground or bordered raised beds. However you choose to utilize this method it is sure to build great soil in your garden and allow you to spend less time pulling weeds.
Written by Corey Wahl, Director of Farm Operations at Ronin Farm in Bryan, TX