Posts Tagged ‘austin gardening’

Plumcot Crisp

Sunday, June 15th, 2014

A few years ago, I planted a plumcot tree in my front yard.  A plumcot is a cross between a plum and an apricot.  Two years ago I had a moderate harvest, and last year nothing.  But this year, I have an abundance of fruit that I have been eating, preserving, cooking, and giving away.

Multiple plumcots on tree

Plumcots on tree

So far, I’ve had minimal bird damage and almost no other pest damage, but I know from past experience that birds and possums can ruin the crop overnight.  So I’ve been picking the fruit when they are mostly ripe, but not fully soft, and then letting them finish ripening on the kitchen table.

bowl of harvested plumcots

Harvested Plumcots

Last weekend, I needed to bring a dish to a celebration, so I made a crisp based on Judy’s rhubarb crisp recipe.   I added cardamom, and a little more cinnamon, but otherwise the recipe is identical.


  • 6 cups pitted and quartered plumcots
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup unbleached flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom

Mix and let stand for 15 minutes


  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Place the plumcot mixture in a shallow greased baking dish.  Combine dry ingredients, add melted butter, mixing until crumbly.  Sprinkle over plumcots.  Bake at 375 for 30 minutes.

Serving of Plumcot Crisp

Plumcot Crisp

Note that when I made the crisp, the plumcots were still slightly tart.  If they had been ripe to the point of being soft, I probably could have cut back on the amount of sugar used.

Planting Onions in Austin

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014
Four by four section of garden bed planted with onion seedlings.

The 4″ by 4″ section of bed, after planting

Last weekend, my dad, Noel, visited me in Austin, so I put him to work helping me in the garden.  It was mid-January; that meant onion planting time.

To start your own onion seedlings indoors, you should do so 8-10 weeks prior to planting.  In Austin, that would have meant sowing them in October.  Since I hadn’t done that we first went to the Natural Gardener, where I picked up Southern Belle red, Bermuda white, and Texas 1015 yellow seedlings.  All three varieties are sweet onions.  I’ll usually grow at least one storage variety as well, but limited myself to the above selection this year.

I already had a 4′ by 4′ section of raised bed ready for planting.  I only had to rake it to create a smooth planting surface.  We used our BioMarker plant markers to create a spacing pattern of 5″ offset rows. You could just measure as you plant, but having the markers in place made the planting easy.

A garden bed full of BioMarkers spaced in offset rows.

We used the BioMarkers to mark 5″ offset spacing.

Then, one by one I pulled out the markers and used the CobraHead to open up a hole an inch to an inch and a half deep and dropped in the onion seedling.

CobraHead tool making a hole; onion seedling dropped into hole.

Using the CobraHead to open up a hole, then dropping in the onion seedling.

Next, I firmed the soil around each onion seedling with my hands.

Two hands pressing the soil around an onion seedling.

Firming in the onion seedling.

Finally, I watered them in with a seaweed solution to stimulate root growth. I’ll continue giving them a seaweed watering every two weeks. The onions should be ready to harvest when the tops fall over, in Austin around May.

Heavy Mulching to Defeat Bermuda Grass

Monday, January 6th, 2014

I’ve struggled to keep a corner of my garden free of Bermuda grass. The grass rhizomes keep sneaking under the drip irrigation tubes.   They infiltrate the garden bed and reduce vegetable production.  This year I decided to take that section of the garden bed out of production for the season and put it under a mulch to knock the grass back.

Raised garden bed with grasses moving in from lawn.

Bermuda and other grasses invading the garden bed.

I’ve also decided to divide my beds into 4′ x 4′ sections for planting and rotation purposes.  Since I have four 16′ beds and one 8′ bed, that gives me 18 different crop sections.

Garden pathway around raised bed covered with newspaper and logs.

Mulching the pathway with old newspapers. The newspaper will then be covered with pine straw or wood chips.

I’ve been saving old copies of our weekly newspaper for the last few months.  After removing the staples, I laid these on the garden pathway next to the grass filled section.

Four foot section of raised garden bed covered with weed barrier and logs

Weed barrier over four foot section of bed. The weed barrier will be removed to make way for a cover crop.

Then I covered the 4′ section of bed itself with a piece of weed barrier. I’m not using the weed barrier as a permanent solution to weeds.  It’s a temporary protector of the soil until I’m able to plant a crop, or in this case a cover crop.  Unlike my dad, Noel, in Wisconsin, I don’t have easy access to large quantities of leaves for mulching the garden.

Garden bed covered with weed barrier with pathways covered with pine straw

The newspaper in the pathway, now covered with pine straw.

Finally, I covered the newspaper in the pathway with pine straw.  In the past I have mulched the paths with just pine straw, but the Bermuda grass quickly grows through it. The newspaper should slow down the grass for a couple more months.

I’ve also extended the weed barrier over the next four foot sections. I’ve already prepared this section for onion planting, but they won’t be going into the ground until next week.  I can then remove the weed barrier, drop in the onions, and store the barrier for future re-use.

As the season progresses, I’ll plant the first section with a series of cover crop mixes to smother remaining grass rhizomes.


Preparing for My Fall Garden in Austin

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

I garden year round in Austin, so there is no point at which I “put the garden to bed”, as is often done in more Northern climates. I never get to start with a clean slate for the next year’s season.  At any given time in my garden I’ll have recently planted sections that are often still months away from harvest, sections in peak production, sections that are still producing but well past their peak, and sections that need to be removed.  During peak planting times, as in early September, the challenge for me is figuring out where I can fit new plantings into this patchwork while still maintaining some semblance of crop rotation.

I’ve come up with a few techniques to make this easier:

  • Start kohlrabi, beets, broccoli raab and Chinese broccoli indoors now in late July so that they have 4-6 weeks before transplanting to garden in September.
  • Although I consider the first two weeks of September prime planting time for most of my fall crops, I actually need to plant pole beans in late August so they have time to mature before the first fall frost.  Our average frost date is November 15, although in my part of Austin it’s usually December before the first frost.  I’ll use the same trellises that I used for my early summer tomatoes for these beans.
  • Some of the spring crops are done and ready to be pulled out.  Even though I never put the entire garden to rest at one time, I can prepare parts of the garden now and use burlap mulch to keep the soil soft and the weeds out while awaiting the better planting dates.
  • Some of my summer crops like sweet potatoes and okra will be growing right up to the frost.  I might wait until late January to re-plant these beds, but I can also start cold hardy greens like mustard and spinach indoors in late September to be planted in November.
  • I’ve gotten excellent results from direct seeding cool season greens mixes in early September.  As the fall progresses and temperatures change, different plants within the mix mature at different times.  Lettuces usually peak earlier and arugula peaks later, with mustard greens in between.

During peak planting times like early September, it would be ideal for me to drop everything else and spend two weeks exclusively in the garden.  Since that’s not an option right now, planning and preparation helps me spread the work out and still get everything in the ground.

Sun Gold Tomato in Geoff's Garden

I’m still harvesting a few sun gold tomatoes, but the rest of the tomatoes that I planted in March have finished producing and need to be removed to make way for fall pole beans.

Okra growing in Geoff's garden.

I like growing okra because it hits stride in the late summer heat when many other crops have stopped producing.  I won’t remove it until the first frost, so it overlaps with the fall garden.

Belgian Fence

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

This year CobraHead again exhibited at the Philadelphia Flower Show.  While Anneliese, Noel and I spent most of our time in our booth in the vendor section extolling the virtues of our wares to the passing public, in the evenings I would get a chance to take in the splendid display gardens.  Several truly impressed me, but I tend to spend the most time going back to the ones that inspire me to do something in my own garden.

This year The Chef’s Rooftop Garden display by Stoney Bank Nurseries did just that with its multiple espaliered fruit trees.  Here is the one that I want to copy.

Belgian Fence of Pears

Belgian Fence Espalier at Philadelphia Flower Show by Stoney Bank Nurseries

When I got back to Austin I immediately opened up Pruning by Robert Kourik.  I learned that this particular style of espalier is known as a Belgian Fence.  Kourik notes that even though some espalier styles are not optimal for encouraging fruiting, the Belgian Fence, having all branches at 45 degree angles, promotes fruiting.

I have a 12 foot section of cinder block wall that separates my porch from the front yard.  I determined that I would need 7 pear trees planted on 2 foot centers to grow a living screen in front of this wall.  I ordered one year old bare roots of Keiffer Pear trees from Bob Wells Nursery in Lindale, TX.  I met the folks at Bob Wells Nursery while doing a show in Tyler back in February.  Now, I’m going to be over a month late planting bare roots in Austin, but my travel schedule sometimes keeps me from doing everything in my garden when I should.

Belgian Fence Two

Note the distinct pruning pattern of the middle trees and the outer tree

In the above picture, note how the outer tree has a vertical central leader and then one side branch at a 45 degree angle coming off the right side approximately every two feet.  The central trees have only two central leaders each at a 45 degree angle and no side branches.  The tree on opposite end has one central leader and then one side branch on the left side every two feet.

To fill in my 12 foot space, I determined that my middle tree should also have a vertical central leader and a symmetrical pattern of branches coming out both the left and right sides every two feet.  I know it sounds confusing, but when I drew this out on graph paper it fills in the pattern perfectly.  This trick now is to get these living trees to follow my idealized pattern.

Belgian Fence Three

The crisscross pattern repeats all the way to the top

Have any of you trained your fruit trees in espalier patterns?  Please post a comment if you have.

Planting Asparagus Crowns

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

I decided to reserve the far bed in my garden for a perennial planting of asparagus and thornless blackberries.  I picked up ten asparagus crowns at The Natural Gardener earlier this week and chose UC-72, the variety that they recommend for Central Texas.  I have grown asparagus before in Wisconsin, but the planting guide that The Natural Gardener provided had some useful advice.

Trenches for asparagus planting

The prepped asparagus bed, prior to planting.

First, I prepped the beds by digging two trenches in one of my raised beds about 10″ deep. Then I added some compost.

Asparagus Crowns

The asparagus crown laid out just prior to planting.

Planted Asparagus Crown

Asparagus crown over ridge in trench.

Before putting in the crowns I made a ridge down the middle of the trench. I placed half of the roots on either side of the ridge.

After I placed the crowns I covered them back up with about two inches of soil.  This still left the height of the trench a couple of inches below the level of the bed.  As the asparagus grows I will add the rest of the soil back, bringing the trench up to the original level.

Asparagus bed after planting.

Asparagus bed after planting.

It will take three years for the plants to reach full production.  This year I can’t harvest anything, and next year I can only harvest a few of the larger shoots.  I’ll extend my drip system to keep these plants thriving through the hot Austin summer so that they can build up their root mass.