There’s a Fungus Among Us

A little over a week ago, I went to my Mom-in-law’s high-rise apartment for supper. The fact that I was there turned into a opportunity to be helpful and I was immediately dragged out to diagnose a troubled plant. The three daughter-in-laws pot-scaped her balcony for Mother’s Day and there was trouble in paradise. One of the plants we’d chosen for her, a beautiful bi-color mandevilla, had developed spotty leaves and was losing them at a great rate, despite regular watering. Since I am hopeless at diagnosing plant illnesses, I suggested that she take a leaf to the local nursery and see what they made of it.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have done that. It cost her over forty dollars for the diagnosis of fungus. Well, not for the diagnosis, but for the bottle of chemical “treatment” they sold her. We’re both a little frustrated about that. But, while she’s away, I may try this home remedy I discovered using Baking Soda as a Fungicide. If’ I’ve cured Mr. Mandevilla by the time she gets back, she can return the expensive bottle and call me a genius. (In the Apple sense of the word.)

Cornell Plantations, a wonderful resource for gardeners, has done further research on this. I had the privilege of visiting their facility this week while visiting my brother in Ithaca, NY. Cornell’s researchers (AKA Dr. R. Kenneth Horst and many others) did some extensive studies on the use of Baking Soda for treatment of funguses on plants and discovered that yes, if combined with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil can be quite effective. Without the additive to help the spray stick to the leaves, all you get is burn which is not exactly what I have in mind when I want to impress my favorite Mom-in-law.

Organic Gardening published a wonderful article on rose care written by Annie O’Neill on their website. She shared what she calls the Cornell Mix Fungal Spray:

Fungal infections. Spray compost tea on both sides of the foliage. Always remove any diseased plant material immediately. Spray with Cornell Mix Fungal Spray:

1 tablespoon baking soda A few drops horticultural oil or Ivory soap

1 gallon water

Combine the ingredients in a gallon jug and fill a spray bottle with the mix. Spray susceptible plants every five days.

I go up to check on Mom’s flowers on Wednesday, Cornell spray in hand. Wish me luck!


Seeds for Pakistan

By now everyone knows that Pakistan was recently hit by floods which have affected an estimated 62,000 square miles of land, including some of the most productive agricultural land in that country. The farmers in the region lost seed, mature plantings and orchards, and precious planting time.

Yet all is not lost. Floodwaters, once they recede, will leave behind rich new topsoil in which seed will thrive. So although many of the crops once planted there are in ruins, there is hope for the future. Pakistani farmers will need aid from outside the country. Most do not have reserves with which to rebuild. Remarkably, aid from Western countries has been slow in coming to this hard-hit region. We have an opportunity to give directly to family farmers who can then plant, tend, harvest and feed themselves and their neighbors, bringing some measure of self-sustenance and stability back into their lives.

Through Kitchen Gardens International, there is a member-driven initiative to donate seed to family farmers. The following is a quote from a farmer in the affected region outlining what she feels will do well in her area and her mailing address.

Salma Kamal

Farm No 6-B,

Street 11,

Chak Shazad Farms,




If possible ,registered post would be preferable for sure and safe delivery.

Both hybrid and open pollinated will do.As long as they are viable.

Pakistan climatic zone is formed under strong influence of monsoons. The climate of Pakistan is mostly tropical except for the northwestern part where it is subtropical and dry. Following vegetables are grown here.

Carrot,Cauliflower,Cabbage,Chilies,Cucumber,Garli,Onion,Peas,Potato,Radish,Spinach,Sweet Tomato,Turnip,beet root,broccoli,Brussels sprouts,.Button mushroom,Celery,Chinese mushroom,Choongan ( Caralluma tuberculata),Clover ( Sengi),Egg plant,.Pursalane,. Arum.,.(Colocaria esculenta).,Bitter gourd ,Okra, French Bean,Fennel-bulb,Globe Artichoke,pumpkin,Shallot Green,snake gourd.,snake beans.,Water melon,sweet potatoes.

Salma has taken photos of the packages she has received and posted them online. I have a package ready to go. Will post results when I hear from Salma that it has arrived.

Be the change you wish to see in the world

— Ghandi

Slow as Molasses

Fire ants hate it. Stink bugs explode from the inside out…And yes, it hits the beneficials as well, but doesn’t linger the way the chemicals do…

What is the best secret weapon you can use against insect invasions in your garden?


The way the expert nurserywoman at RCW Nurseries in NW Houston explained it to me, insects cannot digest this particular form of sugar. As it moves through their digestive system, it gives them gas. With the hard exoskeleton, this means the critter is smushed from the inside out. Almost seems mean doesn’t it? Color me bloodthirsty, but I really don’t miss having ant bites on my hands and legs all the time.

This all sounds great — no residue in the soil from chemicals with unknown side-effects, exploding those fire ants from the inside out, but what the heck is agricultural Molassas and is there scientific proof behind the practice?

From the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, CO (US), an abstract on the use of agricultural molasses by P. Simon mentions how the lack of runoff of nitrogen-based fertilizers would benefit ground water and cut the cost of chemical fertilizers. Molasses unlocks nutrients stored within the soil itself – a idea which really appeals to me.

According to material from Hawaii’s Agricultural Research Center:

It was added to soil as a fertilizer from time to time when the price happened to be low and served to increase sugarcane yields, particularly in low potassium areas (Anon. 1939, Story 1939). It soon became apparent that molasses was providing greater benefits to the crop in addition to nutrition. During the process of decomposition, molasses appeared to reduce damage to roots caused by root parasites (Anon. 1939, Story 1939).

In other words, it works. I decided to give this a try and trotted myself down to the local garden center. (See my Nursery page on my website for great resources in the Houston area.)

Here is RCW’s recipe for Insecticide:

  • 3 Tbsp Agricultural Molassas
  • 1 Tbsp Garlic Barrier
  • 1 Tbsp any organic liquid fertilizer

– Mix into one gallon of water and spray. For hose end prayers, add multiples of the recipe and set the dial to 5 Tbsp per gallon. Controls mosquitos up to 2 wks.”

I sprayed it directly on the garden bed before planting, and will reapply as needed for pesky repeat offender insects.

Happy Gardening!

To Weed or Not To Weed

Farming Southern Spain styleWhen the summer growing season started, I was conscientious about pulling all weeds out of my brand-spanking-new garden beds. As summer wore on, and my work load grew in direct proportion to the outside temperatures, I weeded a little less and concentrated more on harvesting and building more raised beds.

I did take the time to notice that the corner of the far raised bed has a huge number of stink bugs. It also has a larger number of weeds because it’s close to the outside of the garden, but to be honest, it is mostly because it’s squash, and I didn’t feel like weeding under the prickly stems and leaves.

My tomatoes, which were right next to the stinkbuggy squash, had almost no stink bug damage. I patted myself on the back for choosing good varieties and moved on — or did until the local Texas Market Grower group began to toss this subject around in this week’s round of discussion.

The initial question was inspired by Michael Ableman’s book, Fields of Plenty. He actually proposes that we not weed, or at least not as thoroughly as I had been taught was necessary.

“Competition Control

    Every plant improves soil structure by spreading out its roots and tunneling
    through the dirt, and in a natural setting, plants interact with a number of
    beneficial microbes — particularly certain kinds of bacteria, fungi, nematodes,
    and protozoa — to get the nutrients that they need. In this symbiotic
    relationship, plants literally feed the life in the soil by excreting food for
    the bacteria and fungi through their roots. Thus, the presence of any plant is a
    boon for the overall quality of soil. And because each plant has a slightly
    different niche, having many different kinds of plants leads to imroved balance
    in soil ecology.”
    — Michael Ableman, Fields of Plenty

Many local plants bring nutrients up through their root system  from the subsoil and enrich the top soil in which we plant our crops. (Clover, for example, is a nitrogen fixing plant, so makes a great cover crop for fallow grazing fields.) The more variety in the plant population, the better variety of nutrients gets brought up to the surface soil. He goes on to say that when “weeds” or local plant variety grows to the point where they are overshadowing your crop or winning the competition for water and nutrients,  scythe or flatten them down to swing the advantage back to the crop. Thus your soil gets the benefit of the variety of plant life, and your crop gets the benefit of improved soil.

Back to my stinkbuggy squash. I had been picking the squash and using it, and hadn’t really thought about the fact that there wasn’t a huge amount of damage from the stink bugs. Mmmmm. Maybe it’s not the squash attracting those bugs, but the weeds. Maybe these stinking bugs are so happy on my weeds that they’re leaving my crops alone. (For the most part this growing season, they did.) Maybe not weeding is a good idea. It sounds good to me. I’ll pay a lot more attention to this notion after the Fall garden gets going.

Happy Gardening!


Squash Me!

squash and cucumbers
How many is too many?

Anyone who has ever grown squash knows you need a way to dispose of this stuff. I’ve heard that you can break a friendship under the weight of gifted zucchini, but my friends are stauncher than that. The fact that they are no longer taking my calls or answering the door when I stop by means nothing — for I know that come September they will be clamoring for the spoils of my early fall harvests. Who would turn down fresh basil, lettuce, swiss chard etc. (Although you’d think they’d take the squash to stay on my good side…)

Until then, I’ve been searching for a way to make squash disappear.

If friends and family stop taking this particular offering, do I really need to eat it myself? I know from my Weight Watcher days that veggies have zero points, but…the squash out of my garden this summer is so sweet that I’m pretty darn sure I can gain weight eating it. I needed more ways to dispose of squash without hurting relationships or myself.

My first thought, prompted by the sight of a rotten summer squash in my refrigerator’s bottom drawer, was to compost all the ones I couldn’t eat right away and move on to eating the other good stuff coming out of the garden. After all, the squirrels, raccoons, and possum would benefit from all this healthy goodness. But then I realized how much effort I would be putting into feeding the local pesky wildlife and put my thinking cap back on.

I called the Food Bank. That’s right. The local food bank will take produce! Eureka!

Squash mashes down to almost nothing in the food processor. You can pulverize it and use it to thicken soups and sauces. Works! Mmm. Pretty creamy too – and less bad for me by far than a cream sauce.

I considered putting it on the next-door neighbor’s porch and run like hell. Unfortunately, they have a gun and know how to use it.

Dried ZucchiniMy favorite by far is this next one. The newest thing in my kitchen is a dehydrator. ($13 from Good Will) A whispering fan sends warm air wafting upward through thinly sliced vegetables, drying them to thin crispy goodness. I sliced up one of my more robust varieties, sprinkled a little sea salt over the pieces, spread them out on the trays and left them whirring away overnight.

Voila! Zucchini Chips. They are so tasty I may have to market them. Oh wait, perhaps I should Google it first to see if it’s Been Done. Oh well, so I’m not the first to think Zucchini would dry well. It’s still a great idea.

If you’ve got any good squash tips you want to share – feel free!

Happy gardening,


What Really Bugs Me

Feeling a tad frustrated with my WIP, not able to keep the characters in line and make the scene I was working on actually work, I abandoned my desk for the garden yesterday.
I keep milkweed growing in a variety of spots so that any stray Monarchs can stop awhile at the Butterfly Cafe, sip some nector, then lay their eggs before moving along. I keep the plant for what it offers the Butterflies, but sometimes it attracts less entertaining insects. Snapped this photo while I was walking out my scene trouble.
I had worried day and night about this guy killing the Milkweed — or worse, traveling across the driveway to the kitchen garden where it would wreck havoc on my tomatoes. Turns out it can be easily identified as a common Milkweed Bug.
Big sigh of relief later, I went out to the tomatoes to tell them the good news. This reminded me to do Stink Bug duty, so I trooped over to the volunteer squash vine that popped up in my new veggie row, a gift from last Thanksgiving’s decorations resurrection via the compost. Curiously, the stink bugs have only showed up in any numbers on that volunteer vine, not the tender baby Eight Ball and Zuccini I’d nurtured from seed. Having them concentrated on the volunteer vine made it much easier to control them.
“Hey, Stinky, look at at this plant! Ignore the human-loved goodness over there!” Gloves; smush! Presto, no more bugs! Using this neat bit of garden misdirection, I have managed to harvest a bumper crop of tomatoes, peppers and squash with minimal damage from the stinkers.
Misdirection? Mmmmm. Eureka! Proving once again that gardening is good for what ails you, that little walk through my gardens allowed my mind to relax enough to come up with a solution to the troublesome scene.
Happy gardening!

Hurry Up and Wait

How many of us set goals, and then race through our days striving to reach those goals so that we can set newer, better goals toward which we can strive?

I used to be very goal oriented. I truly thought I could accomplish anything, 1 – 2 – 3. Next!
Then life showed me how it really goes. Moved to Texas. Married. Had children. I was 30 before I finished my first book, 40 before I completed my Master Gardner certification, and 50 before I had the time to put in my first honest-to-gosh kitchen garden.
Gardening has taught me a new outlook on life. I have to wait for everything. Wait for the seed catalogs to be posted. Wait to make up my mind what kind of vegetables to plant. Wait for the seed to come in the mail. Wait for the seeds to sprout. Wait for the seedlings to be robust enough to plant outside. Wait for the plant to fruit. Wait for morning to come so I can pick the vegetables and fruit at just the peak of flavor…then wait all day for my husband to get home so that we can cook dinner together. (Getting a few weeds and new pages for the work-in-progress out of the way while I wait…Blogging occasionally when volunteer duties allow.)
Philosophy of the second half of my life: Wait to hurry rather than hurry up and wait.

Where Art Thou, Free Water from the Sky?

The temps here in southern Texas have reached the high 90’s and we know Summer is upon us. I confess I don’t enjoy this part of our weather. In addition, the humidity is high, although not as high as it might be — no rain for four weeks helps in that respect. The garden, however, needs water. So I’ve rigged up a water catchment system off the barn roof. Thus far I can catch 100 gallons per one inch of rainfall in the spare horse trough I have placed under one of the four downspouts. In addition, I have a 50 gallon barrel under the eves of the house. I use three gallon cat litter jugs to empty as much of the water between rainfalls. This makes me feel very good about the water I’m using on the garden. Let happy, however, about the amount of busy work involved in this. I had explored a water catchment system over a year ago, but never got it built. I can see that time — and my tricky shoulder — demands that I get to this project.

Here are the links to the plans…hope to have pictures sooner rather than later. For those who don’t feel like exploring a 500 gallon system, look at this system which is a bit more attainable.
Happy Gardening!

Alien Tomatoes

This week I am planting the last of my spring tomatoes. I found an amazing variety of tomato — the Vorlon. This variety is named for an alien species in one of my all-time favorite Science Fiction shows, Babylon-5. Can’t help but wonder what would happen if I planted them next to the Vulcans? (Or, as my good friend,Deb Adams, suggested — put the Vorlon tomatoes next to the Carbons and see if we don’t get Shadows.)

My next chore will be to assess the compost and turn the heck out of it because I will need to top off the beds currently planted in onions and garlic and get summer cover crop seed planted before the high heat takes over.

Just finished a combined business trip to the University of Central Florida’s Inaugural Book Festival and visit with my Florida cousins. What a wonderful time for a trip to the sunshine state! Glorious weather, beautiful beaches, and long talks with people who have known me since birth. Can’t imagine a nicer way to spend a weekend.

Happy gardening!