January 2, 2008

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Portuguese and Spanish explorers returned home with sweet potato plants, including this morning glory relative, native to South America. (Photo by William Scheick)

 

 

The garden reader:
Hardly small potatoes

By William Scheick
University of Texas at Austin

Beth Hanson (editor). Buried Treasures: Tasty Tubers of the World. Brooklyn Botanic Garden. $9.95. 119 pp.

"I dug my cellar in the side of a hill sloping to the south, where a woodchuck had formerly dug his burrow, down through sumac and blackberry roots, and the lowest stain of vegetation, six feet square by seven deep, to a fine sand where potatoes would not freeze in any winter."

These are the words of the famous naturalist Henry David Thoreau reporting on his first efforts to set personal roots close to Walden Pond.

A lifelong vegetarian, Thoreau valued the seemingly plain potato as much as did the indigenous peoples populating the distant American past.

For these early peoples there were no "small potatoes," the expression we use today to dismiss something as insignificant. They knew from experience that energy-packed potatoes, large or small, could be life-savers.

Recent research shows that at least eight wild potato species were cultivated long ago in the Lake Titicaca basin located in present-day Peru and Bolivia. In fact, evidence further suggests, the ancient cultivation of these spuds outdates the growing of primitive einkorn wheat in the Near East.

Potatoes could be hoarded to offset hard times resulting from unpredictable weather. This fact once headed the list of their value. When digging his cellar Thoreau is clearly planning ahead to keep his potatoes a source of food as well as garden starts safe from New England freezes.

But potatoes have also long been treasured for their easy culinary use. They can be eaten raw when necessary or roasted over an open fire or boiled in a pot. It is not surprising that eventually potatoes became popular in Europe after conquistadors, returning from the New World, introduced these tubers to Spain.

Not that potatoes were initially free from controversy in the Old World. The drooping purple flowers of Peruvian potatoes look like those of a notorious narcotic Eurasian plant ominously known as deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna).

The two plants are in fact closely related. Potatoes are nightshade members. So are peppers, eggplants and tomatoes, which were also at first considered dangerous in the Old World during the early 1600s.

If the seemingly lackluster potato is actually ancient treasure with a rich history, so too are there many other garden tubers far more valuable than is commonly perceived.

Unearthing that value is the largesse of Buried Treasures, a treat for gardener and chef alike a small book full of big surprises.

Take dahlias, for example. It's hard to imagine having too many of these hybrids, but let's pretend we do and now have to decide what to do with the extras we have thinned from their beds.

Eat them!

They can be boiled, roasted or baked. Buried Treasures even offers a recipe for dahlia tuber bread.

And don't compost the flowers. Instead, add them to salads. Use different colored dahlia petals to add different flavors.

Elephant ears (Colocasia esculenta) and Queensland arrowroot (Canna edulis) are also edible, the latter particularly tasty in a noodle salad.

Try growing the Colorado wild potato (Solanum jamesii), a southwestern native plant that was once a dietary staple of the Navajo and Apache.

Or enjoy the fairy spud (Claytonia virginica), another early Indian food source. The corms of this Texas wildflower taste like a radish when eaten raw and like a potato when boiled.

There are 31 plant profiles in Buried Treasures. Each profile includes the plant's history, ornamental features, propagation requirements, available edible cultivars, cooking instructions and nutritional value. Most are unfamiliar as edible plants.

Buried Treasures is beautifully designed and illustrated, a treasure trove of insight into a novel way of thinking about what to grow in our gardens.


  Gardening tips

"To make good compost you need air, moisture and warmth," writes Bobbi Walters. "Just heap leaves, clippings and kitchen waste into a pile with a concave top; water and turn occasionally and in 6 to 12 months you will have rich usable compost. Add a handful of nitrogen fertilizer to speed up the decomposition process. Good compost has an earthy smell when it is ready to use."

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...

Some think that worms can sense the approaching weather. The old saying, "deep worms, frozen winter" applies the logic that they will burrow deep when extremely cold weather is on its way to stay below frozen soil. They may also be just trying to stay one step below moles and other predators.


 

  Upcoming garden events

Galveston: Festive sights and sounds will fill Moody Gardens at the sixth annual Festival of Lights November 17 through January 5. This whimsical celebration will kick off the holiday season on November 17, with Santa Claus parachuting in to switch on the lights. Festival of Lights is celebrated Thursday through Sunday November 17 through December 16, and daily beginning December 17. Transforming its lush tropical garden setting into a winter wonderland, 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 glide across the ice at the Outdoor Ice Rink at Moody Gardens. Indoors, visitors can take pictures with Santa or even gaze upon a giant poinsettia tree. Moody Gardens will feature a variety of holiday-themed films during the Festival of Lights. Three films will be playing at the IMAX 3D theater and two films will be playing at the Ridefilm theater. The Garden Restaurant will feature a delectable holiday buffet, offered from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Group rates of $20 per person are also available for groups of 20 or more, and include admission to Festival of Lights and the holiday buffet. Admission into the Festival of Lights is $5.95, and tickets to additional attractions including the Rainforest Pyramid, holiday IMAX 3D film, holiday Ridefilm, Outdoor Ice Rink and Colonel Paddlewheel Boat, can be purchased for only $4.00 each. For more information, call Moody Gardens at (800) 582-4673 or visit www.moodygardens.org.

League City: The Kemah-Bay Area Garden Club  will hold its first meeting of the new year on Wednesday, January 9, at a temporary location to be announced later. Carl Weekly, conservationist, will speak about "Koi Ponds and Water Gardens." A light lunch will be served and the public is invited. For additional information, contact Nancy Busko, president, at (281) 332-5294.

Houston: Urban Harvest Fruit Tree Sale will be held Saturday, January 19, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. A class describing all varieties for sale, as well as providing vital information on how to plant and care for each type tree will be held January 5 and 12 (your choice), from 2 to 4 p.m. A nominal fee of $10 is charged for the class. Register for the class by calling Urban Harvest. Sale and classes at Emerson Unitarian Church, 1900 Bering Dr., Houston. For detailed information about the sale as well as about fruit trees, check the Urban Harvest website www.urbanharvest.org.

Tomball: The annual Fruit Tree Sale and Seminar presented by Heidi of Treesearch Farms will be held at The Arbor Gate, 15635 FM2920, Tomball, on Saturday, January 27. The day begins with a free seminar at 9 a.m. The sale begins at 10:30 a.m. For additional information, contact (281) 351-8851 or visit http://www.arborgate.com.

Navasota: The Grimes County Master Gardeners will hold their 2008 class beginning Tuesday, January 29 and ending on Tuesday, April 22. Classes meet from 8:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. in the Go Texan Building at the Grimes County Fairgrounds outside of Navasota. Cost for the class is $150 and applications may be picked up at the Extension Office on Judson, Martha's Bloomers and Coufal Prater. For further information contact the Extension Office at (936) 825-3495 or Julia Cosgrove at (979) 921-0538.

Tyler: The 15th annual East Texas Spring Landscape & Garden Conference will be held February 16, from 8:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. at the Tyler Rose Garden Center, 420 Rose Park Drive, Tyler. Featured speakers include Dr. Jerry Parsons, Joe Novak, Aubrey King, and Tim Lanthrum. Topics include "Texas Superstars in Your Garden," "Secrets of Successful Vegetable Gardening," "Gardening for a Lifetime," "Landscaping with Texas Native Plants," "Common Problems with Small Engines and How to Prevent Then," and "Calibrating Sprayers and Spreaders." Cost: $15, which includes lunch. For additional information, contact Keith Hansen at (903) 590-2980 or khansen@ag.tamu.edu, or visit http://EastTexasGardening.tamu.edu.

Houston: River Oaks Garden Club will host its 73rd annual Azalea Trail Friday through Sunday, March 7, 8 and 9 from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. each day. Azalea Trail, 2008, will celebrate the 51st anniversary of Miss Ima Hogg's gift of her beautiful home and gardens, Bayou Bend, to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The trail will feature four private houses and gardens, as well as Bayou Bend, Rienzi and the River Oaks Garden Club Forum of Civics Building and Gardens. Tickets for seven admissions are $15 before March 7 and $20 during the trail. Single admissions are $5. For additional information, call (713) 523-2483 or visit http://www.riveroaksgardenclub.org.

Tomball: The Arbor Gate will host its third annual Rose Festival March 8. More than 100 varieties of old and antique roses will be available, as will guest speakers and informative booths. The Arbor Gate is located at 15635 FM2920, Tomball. For additional information, contact (281) 351-8851 or visit http://www.arborgate.com.

Burnet: The Highland Lakes Master Gardener Association will sponsor the 10th Annual Hill Country Lawn and Garden Show, March 22, from 9:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the Burnet Community Center on E. Jackson in downtown Burnet. The show features garden-related vendors, a children's booth, a raffle, and seminars. Admission is free. For more information, visit http://hillcountrylgshow.com or call Paula Montandon, Show Chairman, at (830) 693-0163.

Galveston: Moody Gardens and the International Oleander Society will host the Earth Day and Oleander Festival at Moody Gardens on Galveston Island April 26-27. The Oleander Festival is an annual event dating back to 1921 that honors the beautiful flower and educates guests about the history of the oleander on Galveston Island and throughout the world. Area plant societies, clubs, and vendors are invited to set up booth space to display and sell their plants. There will be a floral design competition were professional, amateur and child participants can display their work to be judged. Earth Day celebration activities by Moody Gardens and its community partners will include arts and crafts, entertainment and presentations great for the whole family. "We are pleased to bring these two events together here at Moody Gardens in Galveston," said John Zendt, General Manager of Moody Gardens. "We are excited about promoting the environmental conservation missions of both Moody Gardens and the International Oleander Society and inviting the public to have some fun while learning about global and local environmental issues." Admission to the Earth Day and Oleander Festival is free to the public. For more information, call Moody Gardens at (800) 582-4673.

Kilgore: Northeast Texas Organic Gardeners meets at 1 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month at a new eco-farm in Kilgore. If there is enough interest, we will also start a Sunday afternoon monthly meeting. For more information, call Carole Ramke at (903) 986-9475.

Allen: The Allen Garden Club meets on the first Thursday of each month at 7:30 p.m. at the little blue-gray house located at 102 N. Allen Dr., Allen. For more information, visit www.allengardenclub.org.

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

Friendswood: The Second Tuesday of each month the Harris County Precinct 2 Master Gardeners hold a free evening educational program for the public, called the Green Thumb Series, at Southeast Church of Christ, 2400 W Bay Area Blvd., Friendswood, about 1 mile west of I-45 and Baybrook Mall. For more information visit http://hcmgap2.tamu.edu or call (281) 991-8437.

Rockport: The Rockport Herb & Rose Study Group, founded in March 2003, meets the second Wednesday of each month, with the exceptions of June and July, to discuss all aspects of using and growing herbs, including historical uses and tips for successful propagation and cultivation, meets at 619 N. Live Oak Street, Room 14, Rockport at 10 a.m. Sometimes they take field trips and have cooking demonstrations in different locations. For more information, contact Linda (361) 729-6037, Ruth (361) 729-8923 or Cindy (979) 562-2153 or visit www.rockportherbs.com.

San Antonio: The San Antonio Herb Society meets at 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month at the San Antonio Garden Center, 3310 N. New Braunfels (corner of Funston & N. New Braunfels). For more information on programs, visit www.sanantonioherbs.org.

Dallas: The Rainbow Garden Club of North Texas meets the second Sunday of each month at 2 p.m. Everyone is welcome. Meetings are held at member's homes and garden centers around the area. For more information, visit www.RainbowGardenClub.com.

Denton: The Denton Organic Society, a group devoted to sharing information and educating the public regarding organic principles, meets the third Wednesday of each month (except July, August and December) at the Denton Senior Center, 509 N. Bell Avenue. Meetings are free and open to the public. Meetings begin at 7:00 p.m. and are preceded by a social at 6:30. For more information, call (940) 382-8551.

Seguin: The Guadalupe County Master Gardeners meets the third Thursday of each month at the Texas Cooperative Extension Bldg. at 210 E. Live Oak at 7 p.m.  For more information, phone (830) 379-1972 or visit www.guadalupecountymastergardeners.org.

Fort Worth: The Organic Garden Club of Forth Worth meets at 7 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of each month except July and December at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens main building. Refreshments are served. For more information, call (817) 274-8460.

Dallas: 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) 824-2448 or visit www.dogc.org.

Arlington: 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.


  Go wild over Wildflowers of Texas  

Written by Geyata Ajilvsgi, this classic by one of the pioneers in the discovery of native Texas plants has been completely revised and expanded to feature 482 species of native Texas wildflowers. It includes full-color photographs, botanical descriptions and special notes for each plant listed.

 $21.30 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 January 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
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