June 7, 2006

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The ornamental demonstration garden at the Texas A&M University Agricultural System Research and Extension Center at Overton. (Texas Cooperative Service photo by Robert Burns)

  Annual Overton Horticulture Field Day serves $250 million industry

By Robert Burns
Texas Agricultural Extension

On June 27, East Texas nursery growers, greenhouse managers and gardening enthusiasts can view field tests of more than 600 ornamental plant varieties at the annual Overton Horticultural Field Day.

This year's field day will include more than 100 vinca entries, about 20 varieties of ornamental peppers, 60 trailing petunia varieties and 30 verbenas, said Dr. Brent Pemberton, research horticulturist with the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station.

Other bedding plant varieties tested begonias, portulaca, zinnias, geraniums and ageratum. Also, New Guinea Impatiens, a bedding plant usually grown in the shade, will be tested for performance in sunny gardens.

As in past trials, many vegetatively propagated crops (started from cuttings), such as callibrachoas, pentas, coleus, angelonia and verbena, will be included.

Along with the New Guinea impatiens, highlights will be the many varieties of trailing petunias both from seed and cuttings. These plants promise to be more heat tolerant than standard varieties, an important factor in East Texas, Pemberton said.

The field day, a showcase of the East Texas bedding plant trials, was founded by Pemberton in 1994.

He began the trials in response to the need of the Texas bedding plant industry and gardening interests, Pemberton said. The industry and consumers needed to know which varieties were adapted to East Texas conditions. Prior to the trials, there was little information available to greenhouse growers and the bedding plant industry overall as to whether any particular bedding plant variety was suited to East Texas climate and soils.

From fewer than 100 varieties tested in 1994, the trials have grown to be the most comprehensive bedding plant trials in Texas, Pemberton said. The Overton trials have also been expanded to sister trials at the Dallas Arboretum, which will have its own bedding plant field day on June 28. The trials are also replicated at the Texas A&M University System Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Dallas.

Trials are needed at both Overton and Dallas because many bedding plants are sensitive to changes in conditions that occur in areas only 150 miles apart, Pemberton said. But some varieties perform well at all three sites. Plants that have performed well at the Overton center and the Dallas sites are designated as "North Texas Winner Circle plants."

These winners will be highlighted at both field days.

Bedding plants are a significant part of the billion-dollar ornamental plant industry spanning both rural and urban Texas. Most bedding plant nurseries are in rural counties, but the majority of retail sales are in urban areas. Last year, wholesale gate receipts totaled more than $250 million for the four East Texas counties of Cherokee, Van Zandt, Smith and Henderson alone, Pemberton said. Statewide, the nursery/greenhouse industry accounts for nearly 9 percent of all agricultural production, with total wholesale receipts of $1.2 billion, he said.

Though primarily intended for gardening enthusiasts, professional growers and landscapers, both field days at both locations are open to the public.

Registration for the Overton field day will begin at 8:30 a.m. at the Texas A&M University System's Agricultural and Research Center's "North Farm" site. Registration and the barbecue lunch will be free.

The Overton center is located 1 mile from downtown Overton on State Highway 3053.

Coming from south of Overton, take State Highway 135 into town. At Overton's single stop light, take a left, go across the railroad tracks and turn right immediately after the Brookshire's Supermarket. Look for the large white sign on the right side of the road identifying the Overton center. The North Farm site is about 5 miles north on Texas Highway 3053. The colorful bedding plant plots should be visible from the highway. Placards will direct attendees to parking.

Coming from the north, take the Texas Highway 3053 exit from Interstate 20. Look for signs about 4 miles south of Texas Highway 31.

Maps and more detailed driving instructions to the center can be found on the Internet at overton.tamu.edu/maps.htm.

Dr. Leonard Pike, widely known as the developer of Texas 1015 onions and maroon Beta Sweet carrots, has retired from Texas A&M University and the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station. (Photos courtesy of Leonard Pike)

  Recently retired Texas maroon carrot breeder doesn't plan to "veg out"

By Kathleen Phillips
Ag N More News Service

In late May 1958, Ish Stivers pulled his car up to the Pike home near rural Hot Springs, Ark. The high school agriculture teacher loaded his newly graduated student, Leonard Pike, and drove him to Southern State College in Magnolia.

"I guess he saw something in me and encouraged me to go to college. No one in my family ever had gone beyond high school," Pike recalls.

That kernel of insight and bushel of help from an interested teacher yielded 1015 onions, maroon Beta Sweet carrots, the world's first pickling cucumber for machine harvesting, and more recently, a link to medical scientists via the development of vegetables for improved health. All told, the Arkansas high school boy named Leonard Pike would develop 14 varieties of onions, carrots and cucumbers that to date have drawn billions of dollars for vegetable growers and the Texas economy.

Pike, who recently retired as a Texas A&M University horticulture professor and Texas Agricultural Experiment Station vegetable breeder, talks of his career with humble amazement. After Stivers, Pike recalls, nurturing teachers at the junior college encouraged him to the University of Arkansas for a bachelor's degree, then professors urged him on to a master's degree after which professors again pointed him toward a doctorate.

But given a choice of potential agriculture degrees to pursue, Pike recalls, vegetable production had not come to his mind in high school.

"I might have thought I would have chosen animal science," Pike said. "My father was the greens keeper at the Hot Springs Golf and Country Club, and my mother worked full time keeping the house and her garden. I tended to the garden not because I liked it but because I had to."

Yet one notion remained in his mind: Despite the family's meager lifestyle not getting indoor plumbing until he was 7 years old, for example the garden helped him and his siblings feel blessed to have abundant, healthful food.

Urged on by horticulture professors, Pike focused on breeding genetically improved onions, carrots and cucumbers while a doctoral student at Michigan State University. By the time he graduated in 1967, several job offers were waiting, among them a position as assistant professor and vegetable breeder at Texas A&M. Again, it was the advice of his major professor that made his decision.

"He said Texas had a lot of opportunities waiting," Pike said. "And I have had a great career here."

Cucumbers, he said, are what got him hired at Texas A&M.

"I started the cucumber program here and set the goal of developing a variety that could be mechanically harvested," he said. "Otherwise, you have to pick cucumbers every other day."

In the 1960s, common commercially grown pickling cucumbers did not ripen simultaneously because both male and female flowers were present on the plants. The female flowers would become fertilized at different times, depending on the presence of male flowers, and thus develop fruit in different stages.

Pike successfully bred a cucumber variety later dubbed Triple Cross in which the flower is hermaphrodite, or containing both male and female parts, and thus fertilization and fruit development is uniform throughout the field.

"Cucumbers became a very important crop in Texas, as a result," Pike said, noting that Pickle Packers International funded his continued breeding work for almost 30 years.

In 2005, Texas processing pickle growers earned about $8.4 million on 8,000 acres that yielded almost 35,880 tons, according to the Texas Agricultural Statistics Service.

Cucumber achievements led other vegetable growers to seek Pike's work. Next came the onion growers.

"Otha Brand and (the late) Wayne Showers called me to talk about onions, and I asked them what the problem was," Pike said of the beginning of his onion breeding program. Brand and Showers were well-known vegetable growers in the Rio Grande Valley.

The problems were inconsistent yields and pink root disease, Pike said. On the surface, the resolution might have been simply to rotate fields when planting so as to not provide a source for the root disease and thus eliminate it.

But the two Rio Grande Valley growers went for more. They asked for better varieties, a request that ultimately would produce the famous 1015, Pike said.

"I had several varieties that were released the same year, and I wanted to name them something that would help farmers remember when to plant them to get staggered harvests," he explained. "If I named them something like Bill, Joe and Dan, that doesn't tell the farmers when to plant. So, I called them 10-15 for Oct. 15, 10-25 for Oct. 25, 11-05 for Nov. 5, and farmers could understand that."

The milder variety might encourage people to eat more, but growers did not like the name "Texas 1015" as it was marketed the first year, Pike said.

"The onion growers had a contest amongst themselves to name the variety and came up with Texas Super Sweet," he said. "But produce buyers were already used to 1015, and they would say to the vegetable shippers, 'I don't want the Texas Super Sweets, we want the 1015.' We never could get rid of the 1015 name."

Pike said a vegetable industry study of the 1015 onion from 1983-98 showed a $1.2 billion value to the state economy, with $360 million to the farmers during that period. His work paralleled a trend toward eating more onions. The U.S. per capita consumption of onions is now about 21 pounds per year, according to the National Onion Association a 70 percent increase from 12.2 pounds per person in 1983.

He noted that some of the other onion varieties developed in his program have brought in more money, mostly from international buyers who want the more pungent types, especially in Asian countries. U.S. consumers, however, traditionally have wanted the milder type.

His work with carrots was similar. Growers requested a better variety; Pike's program delivered. One of the most notable is the Texas Gold Spike, a blight-resistant variety with a broom-handled stump that results in more weight thus more money for growers.

Texas growers now annually yield about 690 hundredweight of fresh carrots worth $20 million, and 12,400 tons of processing carrots valued at $855,000, according to the Texas Agricultural Statistics Service.

Some of Pike's vegetable breeding success came from trips overseas to collect germplasm from wild plants in their native land from South America to the former Soviet Union and Asia.

"I always thought I was going to these places to help the people there (yield better crops)," Pike said. "But I always found that I learned so much more from them."

One such foreign trip, netted Pike a graduate student Bhimu Patil, who went to great lengths to plea for a chance to work under the noted horticulturist in the United States. Patil now is following Pike's footsteps as director of the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center.

"Dr. Pike should be used as the model person in bridging the gap between agriculture and medical research," Patil said. "Because he built this center, there are six centers now in the United States all of them follow from his example."

The leaning toward improving food for health already has resulted in several variety releases, the most famous of which is the Beta Sweet carrot. Pike admits to originally focusing on the carrot because its maroon color would be novelty for Texas A&M supporters seeking a food with the school's colors. He soon learned from medical researchers that the pigment which caused the color was high in beta carotene, a source of vitamin A and offers, perhaps, some cancer prevention.

"No one really believed in it (breeding vegetables and fruits for increased health benefits) at that time," Pike said. "But medical science started showing in tests with rats that with additives from onions or carrots, there was a 40 percent reduction in cancer. I give the medical community credit for listening to us (plant breeders) that we could change vegetables to be even better."

To Pike, it was graduate students who aided his successful career, and Patil, who is trained in plant science with an established network among medical scientists, that will steer its course in "magnum leaps forward." To Patil as the new Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center director, future research based on the "farm-to-table concept and industry needs" should be somewhat easier for scientists due to Pike's cornerstone.

Pike plans to continue consulting with the vegetable industry, visit grandchildren and "take my cat for a walk every morning."

And ultimately, Pike said, he may do something not done since his youth in Hot Springs.

"Maybe when I really do retire, I'll get myself a vegetable garden," he said.


  Readers' Gardening Tips

From Amir Abraham: "A great use for coffee grinds: After letting them cool off after percolating, I put the whole pile near the roots of my roses. They seem to love it! (I also have very heavy, clay soil.)"

Have a favorite gardening tip you'd like to share? Texas Gardener's Seeds is seeking brief gardening tips from Texas Gardeners to use in future issues of the newsletter. Please send your tips of 50 words or less to the editor at: Gardening Tips.

  Upcoming Garden Events

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, 4801 La Crosse Avenue, Austin, is offering a rare opportunity to explore a cave on its site on Saturday, June 10, 8:30 a.m. to noon. Hike to a hidden sinkhole and discover the secrets of the Edwards Aquifer. Participants will don real spelunking gear and explore the Wildflower Cave, so they must be prepared to get muddy. $25 members, $35 non-members. Registration includes one adult and one child (ages 10-13). For more information, phone (512) 292-4200.

The Arlington Organic Garden Club will host its 11th Organic Garden Show from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, June 10, at Bob Duncan Center, 2800 S. Center St. at Vandergriff Park, Arlington. The show will feature lots of plants, organic products and information. Admission and parking are free. For more information, call (817) 483-7746.

The Wichita County Master Gardeners will host "Thru the Garden Gate Tour" from 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., Saturday, June 10. This tour will take you thru seven of Wichita County's Master Gardeners' own private gardens. Five of the gardens are in Wichita Falls and two are located in Burkburnett. Tickets are $5.00 for adults and $1.00 for children and can be purchased at the County Extension Office at 600 Scott, Suite 200. This tour is a wonderful opportunity to get some great ideas on what you can put into your own garden area. The Master Gardeners will also be available to discuss gardening with you and answer any questions that you may have.

Blanco will host its second annual Lavender Festival, June 10 and 11 in Blanco. Blanco is a small town of 1,500 nestled in the middle of the Texas Hill Country. This fun-filled weekend will include free tours of Blanco's nine lavender farms as well as a lavender market on the ground of the historic old courthouse. The festival coincides with the lavender bloom period which will continue for several weeks after the event. For more information, call (830) 833-5101 or visit www.blancolavenderfestival.com.

The Bexar Land Trust is hosting three meetings in June to introduce the public to the idea of establishing community gardens in San Antonio: Tuesday, June 20, 6:00 p.m. at Guadalupe Community Center, 1801 W. Durango; Wednesday, June 21, 6:00 p.m. at Presa Community Center, 3721 S. Presa; and Thursday, June 22, 6:30 p.m. at YMCA, 1213 Iowa. The gardens will be neighborhood-based, open to the public and maintained by a co-op of interested parties from the area. The purpose of these initial meetings is to inform interested members of the community about different kinds of community gardens such as flower, vegetable, meditation, therapeutic, children's, passive recreation, and playgrounds. It is an opportunity for the Bexar Land Trust to meet members of the community who have an interest in seeing a park in their neighborhood. They can then begin to identify locations within the various neighborhoods that would be appropriate for a community garden. For more information about this event or the Bexar Land Trust, please call (210) 222-8430.

The Texas Bamboo Society will host the 14th Annual Texas Bamboo Festival at Zilker Botanical Garden, Austin on Saturday and Sunday, August 26 through 27, from 10 a.m. through 6 p.m. Darrel DeBoer, will present a program entitled "Bamboo Architecture Around the World." The festival will also feature bamboo plants, crafts, musical instruments, poles, presentations, demonstrations and educational information about bamboo. Admission is free and parking is $3. For more information visit, www.bamboocentral.net or call (512) 929-9565.

The Herb Association of Texas and the Antique Rose Emporium will host A Celebration of the Herbal Harvest: A focus on Culinary Herbs, September 22 through 23, San Antonio. The event will include a road trip, cooking classes, herbal refreshments, lectures and a vendor fair featuring locally grown herbs and related products. To register or for more information, contact Beth Patterson at (830) 257-6732 or e-mail info@texasherbs.org.

The Garden Conservancy will host a tour of five private gardens in Dallas, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., September 23. The tour is self-guided. The conservancy will also sponsor similar tours in Galveston, October 14 and Austin, October 21. Admission to each garden is $5, no reservations required, rain or shine. For more information, visit www.gardenconservancy.org/opendays.html or call toll-free (888) 842-2442.

ArtScape, September 23 and 24, 9 a.m. to 5. p.m., is the Dallas Arboretum's first ever fine art show and sale. The two-day art fair is a family-oriented event that will kick off the Dallas Blooms Autumn festival. ArtScape will feature artists from around the country, the Tour de Fleurs race, the Ultimate Tree Houses exhibit, entertainment and many exciting classes. ArtScape will complement Ultimate Tree Houses, a juried exhibit of 12 tree houses that will be on display throughout the garden. In addition, this year's event will kick off with Tour de Fleurs a 10k, 5k and 1 mile fun run. What a great way to start the weekend! For additional information please email jijams@dallasarboretum.org.

The Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardeners will sponsor a Hidden Garden Tour, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., September 30, at Rockport. Enjoy touring Rockport and some of the area's private gardens plus Green Acres Demonstration gardens. Bus tours will be available for $15 per person and tickets must be purchased ahead. Self-guided tours are $10 per person. A plant sale will occur at Green Acres on the day of the tour. The tour will begin at Green Acres Demonstration gardens, located at the Aransas County Extension Office (611 E. Mimosa behind Monroe's Furniture on Hwy 35).

The Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardeners will sponsor the annual Hidden Garden Tour September 30 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Rockport. Enjoy touring Rockport and the surrounding area and tour some of the area's private gardens plus Green Acres Demonstration gardens. Bus tours will be available for $15 and tickets must be purchased ahead. Self-guided tours are $10. A plant sale will occur at Green Acres on the day of the tour. Green Acres Demonstration gardens, located at the Aransas County Extension Office (611 E. Mimosa behind Monroe's Furniture on Hwy 35) is the start of the tour on September 30. Maps and additional tour information for the Hidden Garden Tour can be obtained by contacting the Aransas County Extension Office at (361) 790-0103.

The Garland Organic Club meets the first Sunday of each month in the little red school house at 1651 Wall St., Garland. All interested gardeners are invited to attend. For more information, call (972) 864-1934 or (800) 864-4445.

The Johnson County Herb Society will hold its Herbal Thymes Show and Symposium, October 28 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Cleburne Senior Center, Cleburne. The event will feature speakers, demonstrations herb plants and related products. For more information, contact Esther Chambliss at (817) 263-9322 or visit www.cleburnearea.info/herbies/.

The San Antonio chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas will host the groups' annual symposium Convergence and Diversity: Native Plants of South Central Texas, October 19 through 22, San Antonio. The symposium will feature guided tours to natural areas, seminars on native plants and a special program on cooking with native plants. For more information, contact (210) 733-0034, (830) 997-9272 or visit www.npsot.org.

  Plants For Texas an excellent resource

In Howard Garrett's Plants For Texas, the author introduces readers to more than 500 Texas plants trees, shrubs, flowers, vines, grasses, vegetables, fruits, weeds and cover crops along with complete instructions for planting and maintaining each of them. This is a must-have book for any serious Texas gardener.

 $42.65 plus shipping* (Hardback)


$23.43 plus shipping* (Paperback)

Order by calling 1-800-727-9020 or order on-line.

 *Mention Texas Gardener's Seeds when ordering by phone during the month of June and we'll waive shipping charges. (Discover, MasterCard and Visa accepted.)

  Two hats are better than one!

Let your friends and neighbors know that you are proud to be a Texas Gardener with this top-quality cap. Heavy construction, six-panel, pro-style brushed cotton twill, low-profile khaki with dark green bill and logo. Buy one cap and received a second at no additional charge.

 $17.07 (includes shipping!)

Order by calling 1-800-727-9020. Not available through on-line bookstore.

(Discover, MasterCard and Visa accepted.)


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Texas Gardener's Seeds
is published weekly. Suntex Communications, Inc. 2006. All rights reserved. You may forward this publication to your friends and colleagues if it is sent in its entirety. No individual part of this newsletter may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher.

Publisher: Chris S. Corby Editor: Michael Bracken

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