Snow Gardening

Is this the last blast of winter?  Maybe….it seems like it’s all coming at once.  But I do remember that in 2010 we had a freeze in April.

Caution is the watch word for early spring gardening in North Texas.  Be flexible, and be ready  to haul out the covers for plants that were just placed in the ground. snow garden

Looking at my garden tubs, I’m thankful I didn’t have enough time to plant collards, radishes and more lettuce just yet.

The garlic is also weathering the snow well. They’re in the square tub.  I’ll check to see how the bulbs are forming when the snow melts.

But look at the chard in the picture below (well, it’s hard to tell because it’s under all that snow!)…it’ll come back strong when it warms up a bit.  Chard is durable and I’ve found it’s a perennial – hardy perennial.  The downside, is that as it gets older and harvesting takes the outer leaves, the inner ones become smaller and smaller.  But they are tender and tasty!  Note that the green onions (those wisps at the front) are doing well, too.snow chard


The chickens are well suited for the cold – they have feathers and down, and I’ve tarped the north and most of the west side of the run so that no snow gets into their habitat.  I just keep them busy with scratch and some cracked corn (extra carbohydrate to help them keep warm).

snow chickens

Next week will warm a bit.  I’ll write more about what I’m planting next week – and if you’re in the Dallas Design District, stop by for my Straw Bale Gardening class at Trinity Haymarket (March 7, 10 am – free).

Until then, stay warm.

Straw Bale Gardening Class Postponed

Due to weather, we’re postponing the Straw Bale Gardening Class until next Saturday (March 7).  The weather is deteriorating, it’s not supposed to be above freezing today and freezing rain expected tomorrow.  Not good for driving.  We don’t want folks risking life and limb to attend the class.  Stay warm and off the roads as much as possible.

Gardening with Children and School Gardens

Gardening with children can be so rewarding.  Not only can it be a time for quality interaction, but it can serve as a stepping stone to learning about a plant’s needs, bugs, weeds and patience.

For instance, all plants need soil, water, nutrients (these are plant vitamins – like compost, worm poop, fertilizer), sun and temperature (cold season vs. warm season).  Then there are the bugs – the bad ones that eat the plants or damage them, and the good ones that pollinate the plants or eat the bad bugs.

In addition, the child learns what weeds are and why they take food away from the plant and must be removed.  But not all “weeds” are bad – some, like dandelions, have deep roots and help bring nutrients from deep in the soil up so the other plants can use them.   Weeds are just plants that are in the wrong place.

In gardening, a child learns patience.  My father once said, “You can hurry people, but you can’t hurry a plant.”  And that is so true!  There are some ways to speed things up a bit, but a seed is not going to sprout and grow to fruiting maturity in a week.  Besides, it’s exciting to go out each day and see what how the plants have grown, and to watch as a tomato slowly ripens to picking maturity.

Rainbow garden

There’s even such a thing as a rainbow garden – there are so many vegetables that are available in colors.  A child could help you pick out and plant seeds for purple or white carrots, black or pink tomatoes, blue or orange bell peppers, or even purple cauliflower.  The garden doesn’t have to be all green – it can vibrate with color!


rainbow carrots 2

Does your child’s school have a garden?  School gardens provide a wealth of learning and teaching opportunities.  There are now a wealth of curricula available online for teachers (and parents) to access.  One site that comes readily to mind is  . The Edible School Yard Project was started by Alice Waters (of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California) a decade or so ago.  I could get lost on the site, with all the lesson plans, searchable under a number of variables, and constantly being added by teachers under an open source program.

Here’s a look at one school garden I visited recently – the 3rd and 4th graders were harvesting broccoli and they had cabbage heading out beautifully.

Moss Haven cabbages

Another curriculum that is becoming available soon is from SlowFood USA ( ) The Slow Food National School Garden Program is developing curricula for elementary through high school. The curriculum can be accessed online as it becomes available.  Further, some assistance for starting up and maintaining school gardens is available through a grant from Chipotle. Contact your local Slow Food chapter ( ) for more information – or you can email me (I’m working on the Garden Committee for SlowFood Dallas) at .

Compost Those Leaves!

Now is the time to gather the leaves for your compost pile – I see bags and bags on the streets, and they will be picked up and gone to the landfill and not available until next year!  You need those leaves for mulch for your plants as well as compost.  AND, if you start your compost pile now, you should have rich, rich black compost with which to mulch your spring garden!

My friend Melanie, a Master Composter, will be teaching a class on composting at Trinity Haymarket (1715 Market Center Blvd in the Design District in Dallas) on Saturday, February 21, at 10 am.  It’s free and she is a great teacher.

In addition, Trinity Haymarket is taking orders for worms (for vermicomposting) as well as worm castings (Wow! do plants love those!) for delivery on February 21.  The worm products are from Texas Worm Ranch, owned and run by Heather Rinaldi. Located in Garland, she also has some dynamite classes for gardeners.

If there is one thing that is most important for the garden, it’s COMPOST!  And it doesn’t need to cost anything. You just use the materials you have around the house.  Compost happens when carbon and nitrogen-based materials are broken down by bacteria and fungi and become rich, black soil.

You can see compost when you go to a forest, and dig down a bit into the ground under foot.  It has happened slowly, as leaves and other matter have been deposited and then moistened with rains and decomposed.  It’s a natural process. Compost bins simple

All that you need is a place to start a pile – you can make it simple, like the photo which shows my friends’ wire bins, or you can buy a really nice aerating compost cage or a compost tumbler.  It just depends on how much time you have (do you want compost really quickly, or can you wait a few months?).

What goes into compost?  The rule of thumb is 3 parts brown to 1 part green.  As you build the pile, you should water it down – not wet as in dripping, but moist like a wet sponge.  It will help the little microbes get going better.  A dry pile doesn’t work or heat up very well.  And if you want compost in about a month or so, then you have to turn it and make sure everything is moist as you turn it.

There’s a list of the browns and greens below as a guide for you.

Browns (these are carbon sources) 

cardboard (shredded is best)

wood ash (but not much)

dead, woody plants (chipped/shredded trees, brush)

leaves – dry, yellow or brown

grass – brown only



dryer lint, vacuum cleaner waste

paper or wood products –(e.g., shredded newspaper, magazines if not too much slick paper)

natural fibers – cotton (100%), wool, silk


Greens (these are nitrogen sources)

grass clippings


fresh green leaves


kitchen scraps – no meat

coffee grounds/tea bags – make sure filters are biodegradable


Items NOT to add: 

Animal products (e.g., meat, cheese) – they can introduce disease and unwanted bacteria as well as attract critters to your pile.

Diseased plants – these can pass diseases to your garden through the compost. The only way to do away with diseases (and weed seeds) is to make sure your compost pile heats up.

Sawdust and wood shavings are okay, as long as they do not include things like bois d’arc, or cedar because these tend not to decompose easily, nor do they encourage micro-organisms.

The Smaller the Better

When putting items on the compost pile, think smaller – break or shred or chop larger items so that there is more surface area for the microbes to act upon.  The bigger the pieces of material, the longer they take to break down.

When you turn your pile, break up any clumps that you find.

Turn Your Pile Often

This keeps things moving and aerates. It also lets you see how the pile is working. An aerated pile heats up with the microbial activity.  And you’ll know when it’s done because it will be crumbly black and rich, and smell earthy. pelicans

Just a side note, while I was out visiting my friends in East Texas, not only did I notice their great, simple compost bins, but I also watched the pelicans who inhabit their little lake, taking advantage of the plentiful fish.  It was a pleasant, peaceful time.  I sometimes forget about the wonderful places in this great state of Texas!