November 29, 2006

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A drought simulator built by the Texas A&M University System's Irrigation Technology Center in San Antonio will test turfgrass' ability to survive and recuperate from drought. This photograph taken last summer shows turfgrass plots that have been subjected to 26 days of drought. (Photo courtesy of the Irrigation Technology Center) 
  New drought simulator aids turfgrass researchers

By Edith A. Chenault
Texas Cooperative Extention

Tests with a new drought simulator in southern San Antonio will help determine the toughest turfgrass in Texas. The 5,000-square-foot simulator built by the Texas A&M University System's Irrigation Technology Center will help test turfgrass' ability to survive and recuperate from drought.

After the structure was completed in July, a 60-day "drought" on 25 varieties of turfgrass began, said Dr. Guy Fipps, Texas Cooperative Extension irrigation specialist.

Research plots are located on either end of the structure, and a galvanized metal roof is positioned in the middle. When rain falls, the roof automatically moves to shield the plots being tested under drought conditions. Thirty minutes after the rain stops, the roof moves back, Fipps said.

Information like this is needed, Fipps said, because much of the state frequently goes without rain for six to eight weeks in the summer. Also, landscapes account for an average of 40 percent of the municipal water usage, he said. Agriculture uses more than 60 percent of all the water used in the state.

"Texas does not have enough water to meet future needs," he said. "Irrigation is the biggest user."

The simulator is one of only two in Texas, he said. The other is used by U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers at the Bushland Agricultural Research Service center to test crop water needs. Only a few drought simulators are in operation in the U.S., Fipps said.

But the San Antonio version has some unique features, he said. The simulator takes only two minutes to cover the plots and is one of the fastest in the nation. And Irrigation Technology Center personnel are working to cut that time to 30 seconds.

The simulator also has a low profile 4 feet off of the ground to give it stability in wind storms, he said.

Besides, Fipps said, "I think it's the coolest-looking," The others (in the U.S.) are basically a metal building on rails. This is one of the largest and fastest."

Wayne LaPor, professor emeritus in the department of agricultural and biological engineering at Texas A&M University, designed the drive and pulley system of the simulator. Dr. Chris Braden, Irrigation Technology Center associate, was in charge of construction.

The trials are under the direction of Fipps and Dr. David Chalmers, Texas Cooperative Extension turfgrass specialist.

Common warm-season grasses such as Bermuda, zoysia and St. Augustine are being tested in 200 plots, each 4 feet by 4 feet, and being compared to buffalo grass.

When the simulated drought was completed, the grasses went into a recovery phase. In that phase, the plots received rainfall and were irrigated according to TexasET data. The TexasET (evapotranspiration) network and Web site ( helps users determine the irrigation needs of landscapes and crops. A second set of plots were planted in October and will be put under drought conditions next summer.

The results from the first year of the two-year drought study will be available in a couple of months, Fipps said.

Funding to construct the simulator was provided by the San Antonio Water System and the Rio Grande Basin Initiative. The turfgrass study is sponsored by the San Antonio Water System and the Turfgrass Producers Association.

The simulator "is the first of which we hope the Irrigation Technology Center will have to address irrigation water needs in Texas," Fipps said.


Christmas gifts from the herb garden

By Michael Bettler
Lucia's Garden

The fine thing about having an herb garden is that you can harvest all year and create garden gifts all year. There is always something to be done in the garden and always something to be done in the kitchen. Seasonal gifts in December are gifts that can be remembered long after the season is over.

One gift that you can make inexpensively is herbal vinegars and herbal oils to be given as presents "From My Garden to Your Kitchen."

Making fine herbal vinegars is not that much a problem to make. Buy natural flavored vinegars: white wine vinegar, champagne vinegar, clear apple cider vinegar, rice wine vinegar, and red wine vinegar. These vinegars are softer and you taste more of the herb in these vinegars. (The 5% and 10% "White" vinegars can be too acidic or sharp as the final product.) Don't buy more than you want to give away. The 16. oz vinegar bottles are the perfect gift size.

Go to your grocery store and buy any of the above listed vinegars in quantities of five bottles, all the same or mixed. When you get home, put all the bottles in warm water to soak off the labels. Search in the fridge, under the cabinets or in the pantry for an open bottle of vinegar you are using.

There are three parts of any commercial screw-on vinegar bottle lid: the child-proofed plastic seal, the metal screw-on lid, the plastic seal in the top of the lid, and a plastic "shaker-pour" spout. Strip off the plastic seal and discard. Unscrew the metal lid and set aside the lid. Pry out the "shaker-pour" spout out and discard.

From only one bottle of new vinegar, pour about 1/8 to 1/4 of the new vinegar into the bottle of the old vinegar you are now using.

Go out to your garden and harvest what you want of one herb or of a combination of herbs. Gather a "hand full" of herbs for the first bottle of vinegar. Bring them back whole into the kitchen and spread them out on the kitchen table or the sink counter. Do not "wash" or rinse the herbs in the sink. (If you do, you will wash away some of the herb's flavor oils in its leaves and branches and you will then have to thoroughly air-dry them before putting them in the vinegar. Water in the vinegar will cloud it.)

Inspect the herbs for the vinegars and discard any yellowed or bug kissed leaves, as well as any that seem distressed or unhealthy. (Put these leaves in your kitchen compost or discard.) Pick all the leaves off their stems or twigs. Set these into two piles do not throw away the stems and twigs. (The stems and twigs make great package decoration, twig bundles for grilling smoke, or can be put into an old teapot to be put on the stove to boil, infusing the kitchen and the whole house with the scent of a herb potpourri.)

Now pack as many of one kind of herb leaf as you can into one bottle of new vinegar, using a Chinese chopstick as a plunger, in order to get as concentrated of a flavor as possible in one bottle. When you have nearly topped off the bottle, screw the lid on tight and set it aside, labeling the bottle "Basis Vinegar" or "Rosemary Vinegar" or "Thyme Vinegar." (Use one bottle of new vinegar for each individual  herb, or pack several herbs in one bottle and call it "Bar-b-q Vinegar," "3-Herb Blend," "7-Herb Blend," or "Herbs de Provence Blend.") Lay the bottle on its side in the pantry at room temperature and forget it for about 4 weeks while Mother Nature infuses the flavor oils into the vinegar.

After the four weeks, bring your vinegar bottles out of the pantry, open them to inspect, smell and taste each one. If they "pass," go out and buy four new bottles of "unflavored" vinegar at the grocery store, soak the labels, remove the seals, open the tops and remove the "shaker-pour" spouts. Now pour off 1/4 of each bottle into an already existing bottle of vinegar and then replace what you have discarded with the new herb-flavored vinegar. Put a single herb stem in the bottle to identify it later and screw on the lids back on.

Cut lengths of ribbon for each bottle and write a note saying "From My Garden To Your Kitchen" and you now have a wonderful kitchen gift to give to a friend, for salads, marinades or when ever you need a flavored vinegar.

  Readers' Gardening Tips
"I have found the best way to save seeds is to let them dry for several days on a
paper towel," writes Diane Kornegay. "Then place them in a small zip-lock bag (like spare buttons come in on a new garment). Roll up the little bag and place in a baby food jar with a good sealing lid. Store the jar in the crisper of the refrigerator. The seeds will last for 2 to 3 years."

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...

Centuries ago, gardeners in Europe used to bury a dead sheep or cow under a tree or vine to help it grow. This was actually based on sound science since blood meal and bone meal are two of the best slow-release organic fertilizers used and recommended today.


  Upcoming Garden Events

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 through 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

The Texas Cooperative Extension will host the 45th annual Blackland income Growth Conference January 16 and 17, 2007, at the Waco Convention Center, Waco. Among the sessions of interest to gardeners are "Rainwater Harvesting for the Homeowner" led by Billy Kniffen, county extension agent, and "Controlling Weeds in Lawns, Flower Beds, and Vegetable Gardens" led by Dr. Paul Bauman, extension weed specialist. Registration begins at 8 a.m. Admission fees vary. For addition information, see

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 24 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 Greater Fort Worth Herb Society presents its 21st Annual Herb Festival May 19, 2007, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens in Fort Worth. The Festival will feature the sale of herb plants and herb-related products. There will also be a silent auction, crafts, music, demos, food and much more. Special event speakers will be Randy Weston of Weston Gardens and Mary Doebelling of Our Thyme Garden. Admission is $5 for adults. The Botanic Gardens are located at 3220 Botanic Garden Blvd Dr., Fort Worth. For more information, please visit or call (817) 966-7126.

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.

  Gardening With Guineas a staff favorite

If grasshoppers leave little in your garden but the concrete walk and you're seeking a natural solution, then Gardening With Guineas is for you. Jeannette S. Ferguson covers every aspect of gardening with guineas, including reasons for raising them, what you need to know before you buy, solving problems, building housing and much more. This is the book Texas Gardener staff turn to when caring for their guineas and is a must read for anyone considering a flock of these beneficial birds.

 $15.96 plus shipping*

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

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

  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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