November 8, 2006

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Out with the basil and in with the cilantro...

By Michael Bettler
Lucia's Garden

It's autumn and time to think about a major change in your herb garden: out with the basil; in with the cilantro. Basil has reached peak at about Halloween and it's time to get the cilantro going. Both are annuals and should be treated as such. Don't boast about keeping basil over from last year. And don't try to grow cilantro through the summer. You're working too hard for less-than-desirable results. Mom Nature wants them as annuals.

If you haven't already put your cilantro/coriander 3" pots in the ground, do so now. Where? Between the basil plants. Get their roots established before winter comes to visit.

Step 1: Harvest all your basil about 3" to 6" above the crown of the soil, stalks and all. Be exceedingly careful to not let the leaves touch the ground or get garden dirt on them.

Step 2: Take the whole plant into the kitchen, put it on the table and leave it, go back out into the garden for the next step.

Step 3: Pull up the stalk and roots of the basil plants; crush, chop and compost or garbagize them.

Step 4: Amend the soil with a little organic fertilizer and some composted mulch, stir it up and water it in.

Step 5: Go back into the kitchen and begin to strip the basil leaves from the branches.

a) eliminate all the yellow or really bug-kissed leaves

b) save some pretty leaves for salads and immediate cooking

c) spread all the rest of the leaves out on the table, on paper towels and let them air dry for another few minutes while you prepare for

(Save the stems...air dry them, rubber band them together and save them in bundles for mid-winter "Stove Top Potpourri," made in a dedicated (neighbor's garage sale) tea kettle, boiling on the stove with all kinds of herb twigs in it, scenting the whole house when guests arrive.

(Whatever else you do, do not wash the basil brought them in "clean" from your garden [#2, above].)

Step 6: Get out your blender and your olive oil.

Step 7: Pack as many basil leaves as you can into the blender and "chop" or "course cut" for about 30 seconds, to make a mash at the bottom.

Step 8: Add a little olive oil and blend it up. Add more olive oil until you have a fine, thick paste. (Do not add salt, cheese or pine nuts unless you want to make a basil pesto. Exercise patience here.)

Step 9: When it is a thick paste, pour it into (a) ice cube trays (to make cubes) or (b) into a zip-lock bag (to keep it as a paste).

Step 10: Put it in the freezer, identifying and dating the paste on the bag. If you are making cubes, wait until they harden, pop them into a zip-lock bag, identify and date the bag and put it into the freezer.

Come mid-December or January, when you want some shrimp and pasta, take out a cube or two, or a couple of tablespoons (depending on your taste) of the paste, put them in a large pan and warm.

Put a little of the warmed basil-olive oil in a jar with some Balsamic vinegar and a little more olive oil, salt to taste, and you have a salad dressing or a vegetable dressing for asparagus, brussels sprouts, or whatever!

Cook your pasta and your shrimp. Drain the pasta, peel and de-vein the cooked shrimp. Then toss these two into the pan on the stove with the basil-olive oil mix, stir them in the pan until the shrimp and pasta are enriched by the basil-olive oil, remove to a bowl and serve hot.

Come mid-April, reverse the process, having a cilantro feast and getting the 3" potted basil plants in and on their way to summer...and autumn.


Citrus insects causing fruit drop near South Padre Island

By Rod Santa Ana III
Texas Cooperative Extension

Growers and homeowners with citrus trees are urged to be on the lookout for fruit drop caused by an insect with a sweet tooth that tends to gang up on a tree, a citrus expert said.

Insecticides are effective, but early detection is key to minimizing damage, said Dr. Mamoudou Setamou, an entomologist at the Texas A&M-Kingsville Citrus Center at Weslaco.

Setamou said while all citrus tree owners should be vigilant, damaging infestations of the leaffooted bug have been limited to the Bayview area, near South Padre Island.

"We're not sure why we're seeing higher populations only in the Bayview area, but this insect is very common in Texas," Setamou said. "It usually feeds on vegetable crops, but they start moving to citrus trees in August when fruit begins to mature. And they seem to prefer the sweeter citrus varieties such as oranges, tangerines and satsumas."

Leaffooted bugs get their name from the fact that their hind legs are shaped like citrus leaves. They are easy to spot, he said. The mature insect is brownish in color, about an inch long and has a white stripe across its back. It has a long snout that probes through the peel to feed on the meat of the fruit until it drops.

"The first symptom is discoloration," Setamou said. "You'll see black spots on the peel. Since these insects inject an enzyme into the fruit, it leaves fruit with a rotten taste and inedible, so they affect both yield and quality."

Because the leaffooted bugs tend to congregate in a localized area, a tree's crop can be destroyed in a short period of time. That's why tree owners need to act fast when they start noticing fruit drop, Setamou said. If an owner waits until half a tree's fruit has dropped, the other half has likely already suffered irreparable damage.

"When you see the first few fruit drop, call Texas Cooperative Extension for advice from a county agent," Setamou said. "Then follow their advice and label directions in the use of Sevin and other insecticide products that can be used, depending on whether you're a homeowner or a grower. But the important thing is to take action as soon as you see fruit drop."

Because of their aggregate behavior, Setamou said leaffooted bug infestations can be limited to only one tree in an orchard or dooryard, but control measures must be taken to keep them from spreading.

"If they're detected early, they're easy to control," he said. "In the case of an orchard, it's not necessary to spray the whole orchard, only those trees that are affected."

Because the heat of the day tends to disperse their populations, insecticidal treatments for leaffooted bugs should be done during the cooler times of the day, either early morning or late evening, Setamou said.

For more information, contact an Extension agent.

  Extension offers reduced-cost soil test for eight Greater Houston counties

By Lorri Jones
Texas Cooperative Extension

Texas Cooperative Extension kicked off the Southeast Texas Soil Sample Testing Campaign this month in Hardin, Harris, Jefferson, Liberty, Orange, Montgomery, Polk and San Jacinto counties.

Through Dec. 1, residents in these counties can submit soil samples from properties used for agricultural purposes at a reduced cost of $6. The normal cost is $10. Samples for residential gardening or commercial landscaping are not eligible under the campaign.

"Some landowners live in the Greater Houston area where they work during the week, but have agricultural acreage in an adjoining county," said Wayne Thompson, Extension agent for agriculture in Harris County. "As long as the person submitting the samples is a resident of one of these counties, their soil samples can be from any land used for agricultural purposes."

Extension offers soil testing as a regular service through Texas A&M University System's Soil, Water and Forage Testing Laboratory. Thompson said. Extension conducts the testing campaign to promote the practice of soil testing as a way to improve agricultural producers' accuracy in fertilization practices, based on soil sample results.

To download instructions for testing from the Web, residents in the selected counties can visit, or call Thompson at 281-855-5600 for more information.


The lighter side of gardening...
Gnome on the range

By Michael Bracken

When my wife told me that my concrete garden gnomes were revolting, I thought she meant she didn't like their appearance. I didn't realize until I went to the garage later that afternoon that they'd set up a perimeter defense and were seeking to control the higher ground.

With the wire legs from my once bountiful flock of lawn flamingos (see "Why my face is red but my tomatoes aren't"), they had also erected a wildlife barrier in another part of the backyard, creating an enclosed area for gnomes on the range but where the deer and the antelope could no longer play.

I tried to reason with my once complacent gnomes, but I was outnumbered and according to my wife outwitted by a group of creatures whose mental capacity should have been thick-as-a-brick. The gnomes accused me of stifling their natural tendency to roam by keeping them in the garage where the only thing garden-like was the dirt I kicked off my boots each time I entered.

I tried to pin the blame on my wife, the only person I knew who could turn a lump of clay and a stick into a pecan tree. After she made me remove my F-150 from the front yard because she claimed creating a raised bed didn't mean putting my truck up on blocks, she insisted that I remove the gnomes. She told me that one garden gnome might bring good luck but that 96 identical gnomes distinguished only by the patterns of Weed Wacker scars on their legs constituted an obsession. I claimed it just meant I had mastered eBay.

The gnomes refused to hear my protests. They forced me into the garage, turned on the grow lights that had decimated my flamingos and stared at me until I broke down like year-old compost. Finally, after hours of stone-faced silence, I acceded to their demand for freedom.

I rounded up all of my garden gnomes, including a few advance scouts that had infiltrated surrounding yards despite my neighbors' virulent protests, and carefully packed them in a large wooden crate.

Then I shipped my former garage companions to a small town in Alaska, where I hoped they would be happy. After all, there's no place like Nome.

  Readers' Gardening Tips

"When you find a mess of grass burrs that have matured and don't know what to do,   ask your quilter for her scrapes of fabric and batting," suggests Frances Robertson. "Put those on the grass burrs, get a rake, and move the fabric back and forth over the grass burrs. They will stick to the fabric. Then pick them up and burn them, fabric and all."

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. If we publish your tip in Seeds, we will seed you a free Texas Gardener T-shirt. Here's a chance to get published and be a garden stylist as well! Please send your tips of 50 words or less to the editor at: Gardening Tips.

  Did you know...

When it comes to pollinating sunflowers, the sunflower leafcutting bee does a better job than the more common domesticated honey bee, according to Vincent J. Tepedino, an entomologist with the agricultural research service. This is because the leafcutting bees spread out evenly among the sunflowers rather than just visiting nearby plants.


  Upcoming Garden Events

The Texas Gourd Society will hold its 11th annual "Show and Tell" at the Waco Convention Center, Waco, November 11 and 12 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. The two-day show will include gourd artists, seminars, demonstrations and much more. Admission is $5 for adults; children under 12 free. For more information, visit

Festive sights and sounds will fill Moody Gardens, Galveston, at the fifth annual Festival of Lights November 18 through January 6. This entertainment-filled celebration will kick off the holiday season on November 18, with Santa Claus parachuting in to switch on the lights. Transforming its lush garden setting into a winter menagerie of lights, Moody Gardens will be adorned with more than a million twinkling lights and dozens of light displays. In addition to experiencing the lights, guests can also strap on a pair of skates and slide across the ice at the Outdoor Ice Rink or listen to holiday music performed by area bands. Indoors, visitors can take pictures with Santa or see the giant poinsettia tree. Moody Gardens will show a variety of holiday-themed films during the Festival of Lights. Several special holiday packages are also available for groups of 30 or more that can include luxury bus transportation, event admission and the holiday buffet. Special Festival of Lights packages are also available at the Moody Gardens Hotel November 18-January 6. For more information, please call (800) 582-4673 or visit

Arbor Gate will hold its 10th Annual Christmas Open House Saturday, December 2 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at 15635 FM 2920, Tomball. Expect lots of food, friends, music and more. Admission is free. Call (281) 351-8851 for more information or visit them on-line at

Each year, for the last several years, John Panzarella has had a citrus tasting and open house at his home, 404 Forest Drive, Lake Jackson. The next open house will be Saturday, December 9, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Everyone is invited to taste citrus and see fruit trees. Panzarella has approximately 200 different varieties of citrus, 50 percent to 70 percent fruiting, plus several varieties of persimmon, sapote, guava, pawpaw, loquat, pomegranate, avocado, papaya, fig, peach, passion fruit, mango, and pecan trees growing in his backyard. There will be approximately 50 to 60 varieties of citrus to taste. Come taste the citrus, and see the 3rd largest citrus collection in the state of Texas and the largest collection north of the Texas Rio Grand Valley. Come see and taste the giant Panzarella orange and the giant Panzarella cluster lemon. See grapefruit, tangerines and oranges all growing on the same tree. Admission is free. Call (979) 297-2120 or e-mail for a new date if extreme bad weather is predicted, or if you have other questions.

The San Antonio Botanical Garden, 555 Funston, will host "Coffee Day," Saturday, January 13, 2007, 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Just in time for the crisp wintry air, this annual family day event features coffee tastings and other exotic treats. Coffee Day is a celebration of tropical plants for edible pleasure and medicinal purposes, derived from the jungle. Admission to the garden: $6 adults, $3 children 3-13, $4 students, military and senior citizens. Admission to the event is included with admission to the garden. For more information, contact (210) 829-5100 or visit

Harris County Master Gardener Fruit Tree Sale & Symposium will be held Saturday, January 13, 2007 at the Harris County Extension Office, 3033 Bear Creek Dr. Houston. Preview 8 a.m.; workshops 8 a.m. until 2 p.m.; sale 9 a.m. until 2 p.m.; lecture and demonstration topics and times TBA. For more information, call (281) 855-5600 or visit

Urban Harvest will host its annual fruit tree sale Saturday, January 20, 2007, 9:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. at Emerson Unitarian Church, 1900 Bering Drive, Houston (West of Loop 610 between San Felipe and Westheimer). A pre-sale talk discussing the fruit trees available at the sale begins at 8:00 a.m. and continues until 9:20 a.m. There will be a large selection of citrus trees, as well as trees that produce peaches, plums, apples, pears, figs, pecans, grapes, blackberries, persimmons, and more. For more information on fruit varieties and directions to the sale, check the Urban Harvest website beginning in December.

The Texas Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association will present the 6th annual Texas Conference on Organic Production Systems, "The Local Food Revolution: Bringing Texas Home" January 27 through 27, 2007 in Mesquite. Speakers include Fred Kirschenmann, Distinguished Fellow from the Leopold Center and Jessica Prentice, chef, educator and author of Full Moon Feast. Included among the activities will be farm tours, a new farmers workshop, and an organic home gardening workshop. For additional information, call (877) 326-5175 or visit

The San Antonio Botanical Garden, 555 Funston, will host "Chocolate Day," Saturday, February 10, 2007, 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Activities include chocolate tastings, chocolate mint plant giveaway, exotic fruits tastings, and children's crafts. Admission to the garden: $6 adults, $3 children 3-13, $4 students, military and senior citizens. Admission to the event is included with admission to the garden. For more information, contact (210) 829-5100 or visit

The Highland Lakes Master Gardener Association will sponsor the Ninth Annual Hill Country Lawn & Garden Show March 31, 2007, at the Lakeside Pavilion in Marble Falls. It is open 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free Admission and seminars. It features garden related vendors, demonstrations, a children's booth, raffle and seminars by Malcolm Beck, Bill Luedecke and the Antique Rose Emporium. For more information go to or call (325) 388-8849.

The San Antonio Botanical Garden, 555 Funston, will host a Spring Plant Sale, Saturday, March 31, 2007, 9 a.m. until sold out. Purchase healthy, hardy plants suitable for the San Antonio environment and get expert advice from SABG volunteers, many of whom are Master Gardeners. Admission to the garden: $6 adults, $3 children 3-13, $4 students, military and senior citizens. Admission to the event is included with admission to the garden. For more information, contact (210) 829-5100 or visit

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.

Austin Organic Gardeners meet at 7:00 p.m. on the second Monday of each month at the Zilker Botanical Gardens in Austin. For more information, visit

The Dallas Organic Garden Club meets at 6:45 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of each month at the Fretz Park Recreation Center, located at the corner of Hillcrest and Beltline Road in Dallas. For more information, call (214) 676-4326 or visit

The Arlington Organic Garden Club meets from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. on the last Thursday of each month (except November and December) at the Bob Duncan Center, 2800 S. Center Street, Arlington. For more information, contact David at (817) 483-7746.

If you would like your organization's events included in "Upcoming Garden Events," please contact us at Garden Events.

  Texas Gardening The Natural Way is the complete guide to organic gardening in Texas

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$37.31 plus shipping*

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

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  Fiber Row Cover valuable year-round

Grow-Web encourages plant growth and development, and also provides protection from insects, birds, diseases and frosts. It is also air and water permeable and allows for ventilation. Grow-Web provides excellent protection to seedlings when applied directly to the seedbed.

 $30.64 per 12.3' x 32.8' roll (includes shipping!)

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

(Discover, MasterCard and Visa accepted.)


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.

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