December 30, 2009

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Community garden breaks ground to stimulate Edcouch-Elsa’s economy

By Rod Santa Ana
Texas AgriLife Extension Service

An aide to U.S. Rep. Ruben Hinojosa said it hit him hard when he realized small acreage vegetable producers in the Lower Rio Grande Valley were traveling to farmers markets in San Antonio and Corpus Christi to sell their goods.

“We produce lots of commercial vegetables in this area, but we have very few community gardens here and even fewer farmers markets,” said Salomon Torres, district director at Hinojosa’s office in McAllen.

“I realized we’re missing out on a great opportunity to create business and to sell healthy produce to the people who live here,” he said.

Torres began calling experts. Among them, he contacted Texas AgriLife Extension Service to learn all he could about helping gardeners and other entrepreneurs help themselves.

“I got lots of encouraging information. In fact, nobody could give me a good reason why we couldn’t do this,” he said.

The result was a groundbreaking ceremony Dec. 5 at the Mercado Gardens in the small community of Edcouch.

The event kicked off construction of the first of five phases of what Torres said will eventually grow to a six-acre complex of raised planting beds, row farming, walking trails, fountains, seating areas, a farmers market and other facilities.

AgriLife Extension provided Torres and other organizers with a list of produce that can be grown in raised beds and classes on basic gardening.

“They are off to a great start,” said Dr. Ruben Saldana, AgriLife Extension’s district administrator in Weslaco. “In other cities like Austin and San Francisco, there are as many community gardens as there are city parks. There’s no reason we can’t do that here and Mercado Gardens is proving that.”

Torres said the concept of Mercado Gardens is both primitive and revolutionary.

“Primitive because there’s nothing more basic than planting a seed in the soil,” he said. “And revolutionary because this will be one of only three community gardens in the area.”

The other two, he said, are located in McAllen and Edinburg.

“We’re starting off small with 15 raised planting beds right now,” he said. “But I’m confident that we’ll secure federal, private and foundation funds next year to continue construction and expand.”

Torres said the final phase of construction will include a youth education center and a natural habitat for bird and butterfly watching.

The Mercado Gardens are located behind the newly constructed Mercado Delta, a Spanish-style facility completed in February where entrepreneurs, farmers, artisans and craftsmen can sell their goods, arts and crafts. It also serves as a community center for weddings and other social events.

Torres said that under Hinojosa's leadership, Mercado Delta was constructed with a $3.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration.

With an additional $600,000 in matching funds, the Delta Region Revitalization Corporation was able to buy the land from local farmers, commission the architectural designs, construct the facilities and retain operational funds for five years.

“The idea is to push business development for this area that is economically and geographically isolated, so to speak, from the rest of the Rio Grande Valley,” he said. “Mercado Delta serves as a weekend venue for trade shows, vendors from Mexico, arts and crafts sales and soon, a farmers market.”

Construction included a large canopy under which farmers can sell their goods directly from their pickup trucks, Torres said.

“We’ve received tremendous support from the immediate area,” Torres said, “but we’re also getting support from nearby communities. Among the first gardeners will a local juvenile detention center, the Delta 4-H Club, an adult daycare center and the University of Texas at Pan American."

Support also came from the City of McAllen, the Hidalgo County Irrigation District No. 9, and the City of Edcouch.

"AEP-Texas donated $2000, the Delta board contributed $2,500 and Halff Associates provided pro bono design services. The outpouring of support has been overwhelming,” Torres said.

With technical assistance from AgriLife Extension, Rio Farms (a private agricultural research farm in Monte Alto) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service in Weslaco, Torres said the first farmers market should be held in mid-January.

“We’ve got a list of produce that can be planted now and harvested in just six weeks, so we’ll start with that,” he said. “We expect to have vendors selling from what’s produced in the original 15 raised beds, plus vendors who produce on their own properties.” the “full-blown” farmers market he envisions for Mercado Gardens will become a reality by 2011.

Clymer Meadow Preserve: Nature preserve, surrounding lands protect last remnants of vanishing blackland prairie

By Clay Carrington
The Nature Conservancy

Spanning more than one thousand acres in north central Texas, Clymer Meadow Preserve contains some of the last, best remnants of the Blackland Prairie, part of an incredibly fertile grassland system that once stretched north as far as Manitoba, Canada. Because of the prairie’s rich soil, more than 99 percent has been cultivated for agriculture and development, making it one of the most-endangered large ecosystems in North America.

Named for pioneer Jim Clymer, who bought the first tracts in the 1850s, Clymer Meadow serves as a center for study of the Blackland Prairie and the region is an effective example of large-scale conservation done in concert with neighboring landowners. The preserve lies within a larger conservation area that includes properties under conservation easements, as well as lands managed by other private owners.

According to Jim Eidson, manager at the Clymer Meadow Preserve, the cooperative spirit in the area has been a boon for the prairie. “The Nature Conservancy is lucky to have such great neighbors in Clymer Meadow,” he said. “Conservation—and in particular prairie restoration—is a long and difficult process, and it takes the hard work of many. Without help from our neighbors and partners, the remaining Blackland Prairie may well have vanished."

Two globally imperiled prairie plant communities are represented on the preserve: little bluestem-Indiangrass and gamagrass-switchgrass. Other important grasses include big bluestem, meadow dropseed, sideoats grama, and Canada wildrye. Wildflowers, such as rough-leaf rosinweed, purple Indian paintbrush, prairie clover and American basketflower are abundant and in bloom each spring during the annual Clymer Meadow Wildflower tour. The prairie provides habitat for a great number of seasonal bird species. Northern harriers are common through the winter months; eastern bluebirds visit the preserve in the spring; and neotropical dicksissels are abundant during the early summer months.

Clymer Meadow Preserve has been the site of more than a dozen scientific investigations ranging in scope from inventories of prairie invertebrates to noxious weed control. In addition, universities, private research organizations, and public and private primary and secondary schools have used the meadow as a teaching site.

To learn more about The Nature Conservancy’s work in Texas, including other preserves and conservation projects, visit


Gardening tips

"If you want to protect your banana from freezing temperatures and increase the likelihood of getting it to fruit," writes Brent E. Moon, "try wrapping the pseudostem (trunk) with several layers of frost cloth or burlap. Cut the cloth to the height you want to protect your banana to, wrap the trunk and tie it off with some jute or sisal twine. I use this method to protect my bananas on the coldest nights each winter and it really works. Leaves will still die but you won't have to cut your banana to the ground."

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 send you a free copy of Texas Gardener's 2010 Planning Guide & Calendar. Please send your tips of 50 words or less to the editor at: Gardening Tips.

Did You Know...

If overapplied, chemical fertilizers may make plants more susceptible to disease. The fertilizers can do this in part by killing off microorganisms that protect plants from certain diseases. Many plant diseases are controlled by antibiotic-producing bacteria or fungi that exist in the plant roots.

Upcoming garden events

Austin: "Building and Maintaining a Compost Pile" will be presented from 11 a.m. until noon, January 6, at the Demo Garden, Texas AgriLife Extension Office of Travis County, 2100 B Smith Road, Austin. This seminar will help you gain knowledge about the steps required to convert vegetable matter and other waste into compost, a desirable soil amendment. Learn about the various types of compost bins and their merits. The seminar is free and requires no reservations. It is presented by the Travis County Master Gardeners Association. For more information, visit

Kemah: "Bromeliads" will be presented by Phil and Carol Spears at the Wednesday, January 6 meeting of the Kemah-Bay Area Garden Club. The meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. at the Jimmie Walker Community Center, 800 Harris Avenue, Kemah. Light refreshments will be served. The public is invited. For additional information, contact Mary Ellen Chapman, president, at (281) 559-1912.

Kingsland: Join Master Gardener Robert Yantis for “Living with Purple Martins” and learn about our beautiful springtime visitors at a program presented by the Kingsland Garden Club on Friday, January 8 at 1:15 p.m. at the Kingsland Library, 125 W Polk St. Visit the Kingsland Garden Club Web site to be put on the reminder email list to be notified a week before these presentations:

Houston: Urban Harvest's annual fruit tree sale will take place from 8 a.m. until noon, January 9, at the Rice University Football Station Concourse, Houston. The 2009 sale featured almost 6,000 trees and berries and the organizers except even more tree for this sale. For additional information, visit

Pearland: The Harris County Master Gardener Association will present a program on fruit tress for Harris County, from 6:30 p.m. until 9 p.m. Tuesday, January 12, at Bass Pro Shops, Highway 288 at the Sam Houston Tollway, Pearland. This lecture is free and open to the public. For more information, visit

Seabrook: Dr. Paul Nester, Entomology Specialist for Harris County Extension Service, will present a program on Rasberry Crazy Ants, a new, exotic, invasive pest and species found in Houston in 2002. Dr. Nester will speak on identification, harm the ant does, and management of the ant. His presentation begins at 10 a.m., January 20, at The Meeting Room at Clear Lake Park (on the lakeside), 5001 NASA Road 1, Seabrook. For more information, visit

Houston: Urban Harvest will host "Food for Thought," a new, thought-provoking series of panel discussions on today's hot topics that support growing and eating locally. The panels will be lead by local and regional experts, are scheduled for the third Wednesday of each month, and began November 18. Each evening will begin at 7 p.m. with a brief period to socialize, then a panel discussion from 7:15 until 8:15 followed by a Q&A session until 8:45. Upcoming dates and topics are: January 20, "Living the Locavore Life," and February 17, "Tools of the Trade." For additional information, including event location, call (713) 520-7111.

College Station: "Get Your Earth-Kind Garden Growing" will be presented by Dr. David Reed, Dr. William Welch, Sharon Banister and Brazos County Master Gardeners, from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m., Saturday, January 23, in the Senior Circle Room, College Station Medical Center, 1651 Rock Prairie Road, College Station. The seminar includes a hands-on propagation workshop. $25 per person. Preregistration is preferred. For additional information, visit

Marble Falls: The Highland Lakes Master Gardeners will present a free Green Thumb public program "All About Hill Country Roses" with Master Gardener Sheryl Yantis, where you can learn about choosing roses, soil preparation, planting and pruning tips for beautiful low maintenance roses in the Hill Country, at the Marble Falls Library, 10:30 a.m., Saturday, January 23. For additional information, visit:

New Braunfels: Comal Master Gardeners are now accepting applications for their Spring 2010 Training Class beginning January 27 and ending May 12. Applications are currently on the Comal Master Gardener Web site at: Applications will be accepted until December 15; however, the class is limited to 30 people and applications are accepted in the order they are received. The class usually fills to capacity, so early registration is important. The class meets each Wednesday afternoon from 1:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. beginning January 27. The cost of the 16-week course is $150 and includes the Master Gardener Handbook published by Texas A&M, propagation supplies, and all other materials. The $150 is payable on the first class day in January. Topics covered in the class include Plant Growth and Development; Compost, Soils, Irrigation, and Fertilizers; Roses; Annuals, Perennials, and Bulbs; Organic Vegetable Gardening; Landscape Trees; Propagation; Fruit and Nut Production; Wildscapes and Native Plants; Pests and Diseases; Xeriscapes; Turf Grass; Home Landscapes and more. Speakers include professors from the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, Texas A&M System; Texas State University faculty and retired professors, specialists in the gardening field, and Master Gardener specialists. For additional information, call (830) 620-3440 or email Classes are held at the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, 325 Resource Drive, New Braunfels.

Buchanan Dam: Master Gardener Robert Yantis will present "Living with Purple Martins" at a free Green Thumb program as part of the Lakeshore Library Speakers Series, at 2:30 p.m., Tuesday, February 9, at the Library located 7346 Hwy 261, 3.6 miles past the intersection with RM 1431 in Buchanan Dam.

Houston: The River Oaks Garden Club will host the 75th Anniversary Azalea Trail. March 5, 6, and 7. Azalea Trail features tours of four private homes and three well-known historic sites: Bayou Bend, Rienzi and River Oaks Garden Club Forum of Civics Building and Gardens. Tickets for seven admissions: $15 before March 1, $20 during the event, or $5 per location. For additional information, visit or call (713) 523-2483.


Rockport: The Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardeners meets at 9 a.m. the first Tuesday of each month at the AgriLife Extension Office - Aransas County, 611 E. Mimosa, Rockport. For additional information, e-mail or call (361) 790-0103.

Kilgore: Northeast Texas Organic Gardeners meets at 10 a.m. on the first Wednesday of each month at Wildwood Eco-Farm in Kilgore. For more information, call Carole Ramke at (903) 986-9475.

Allen: The Allen Garden Club meets at 7 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month, February through December, at the Allen Heritage Center, 100 E. Main St., Allen. For more information, visit

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

Pearland: 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 Bass Pro Shop, Highway 288 at Sam Houston Tollway, Pearland. For more information visit or call (281) 991-8437.

Schertz: The Guadalupe County (Schertz/Seguin) Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas (NPSOT) meets the second Tuesday of each month except July and August at the library, 798 Schertz Parkway, Shertz. A plant exchange and meet-and-greet begins at 6:30 p.m. followed by a program at 7 p.m. For additional information or an application to join NPSOT, contact

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

Beaumont: The Jefferson County Master Gardeners meet at 7 p.m. the second Thursday of each month at the AgriLife Extension Office, 1225 Pearl Street, Suite 200, Beaumont. For more information, call (409) 835-8461.

Brownwood: Brown County Master Gardeners Association meets the second Thursday of each month, from Noon to 1 p.m., at the Brown County AgriLife Extension Office, 605 Fisk, Brownwood. For additional information, call Freda Day (325) 643-1077, or Mary Engle (325) 784-8453.

Georgetown: The Williamson County Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas meets from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. the second Thursday of each month at the Georgetown Public Library, 402 W. 8th Street. Georgetown. For additional information, contract Billye Adams at (512) 863-9636 or visit

Orange: The Orange County Master Gardeners meet at the Salvation Army in Orange on the second Thursday of each month. A covered-dish dinner at 6:30 p.m. is followed by a speaker and business meeting at 7 p.m.

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

College Station: The A&M Garden Club meets on the second Friday of each month during the school year at 9:30 a.m. at the Senior Circle Rooms, College Station Professional Building II, 1651 Rock Prairie Road, College Station. Expert speakers, plant sharing, and federated club projects help members learn about gardening in the Brazos Valley, floral design, conservation topics, and more. For more information, visit

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

Cleburne: The Johnson County Master Gardener Association meets at 6 p.m. on the third Monday of each month. The public is invited to attend. There is an educational program each month preceding the business meeting. For information on topics call (817) 556-6370 or visit

Sugar Land: The Sugar Land Garden Club meets on the third Tuesday of each month, September through November and January through April at 10 a.m. at the Sugar Land Community Center, 226 Matlage Way, Sugar Land. The club hosts a different speaker each month. For more information, visit

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 p.m. and are preceded by a social at 6:30. For more information, call (940) 382-8551.

Glen Rose: The Somervell County Master Gardeners meet at 10 a.m., the third Wednesday of each month at the Somervell County AgriLife Extension office, 1405 Texas Drive, Glen Rose. Visitors are welcome. For more information, call (254) 897-2809 or visit

Granbury: The Lake Granbury Master Gardeners meet at 1 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month at the Hood County Annex 1, 1410 West Pearl Street, Granbury. The public is invited to attend. There is an educational program each month preceding the business meeting. For information on topics call (817) 579-3280 or visit

Seabrook: The Harris County Precinct 2 Master Gardeners hold an educational program at 10 a.m. on the third Wednesday of each month at The Meeting Room at Clear Lake Park (on the Lakeside), 5001 NASA Road 1, Seabrook. The programs are free and open to the public. For more information, visit

Houston: The Native Plant Society of Texas — Houston (NPSOT-H) meets at 7 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month except for October (4th Thursday) and December (2nd Thursday). Location varies. For locations, for more information on programs, and for information about native plants for Houston, visit

Rosenberg: The Fort Bend Master Gardeners meet at 7:15 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month except December at the Bud O’Shieles Community Center located at 1330 Band Road, Rosenberg. For more information, call (281) 341-7068 or visit

Seguin: The Guadalupe County Master Gardeners meets at 7 p.m. the third Thursday of each month,  except December, at the Texas AgriLife Extension Bldg. at 210 E. Live Oak, Seguin. An educational program preceeds the business meeting. The public is invited to attend. For topic or other information, call (830) 379-1972 or visit

Edna: The Jackson County Master Gardeners present their "Come Grown With Us" seminars on the fourth Tuesday of each month, January through October, beginning at 7 p.m. at 411 N. Wells, Edna. The seminars are free, open to the public and offer 2 CEU hours to Master Gardeners or others requiring them. For additional information, contact the Jackson County Extension Office at (361) 782-3312.

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

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. To ensure inclusion in this column, please provide complete details at least three weeks prior to the event.

Texas Wildscapes:
Gardening for Wildlife

By Kelly Conrad Bender

NEW EDITION of the popular Texas Parks & Wildlife book, now with fully searchable DVD containing all the plant and animal information you need to customize your backyard habitat.

Whether you have an apartment balcony or a multi-acre ranch, the Texas Wildscapes program provides the tools you need to make a home for all the animals that will thrive in the native habitat you create.

In Texas Wildscapes, Kelly Conrad Bender identifies the kinds of animals you can expect when you give them their three basic needs: food, water, and shelter. She then provides guidelines for designing and planting your yard or garden to best provide these requirements for the many birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates the environment will attract.

$31.88 includes tax and shipping

Order online with credit card at or call toll-free 1-800-727-9020.

Visa, MasterCard and Discover accepted.

Wish you'd saved them?

Are you missing an important issue of Texas Gardener? Or, perhaps, just tired of thumbing through stacks of back issues looking for the tips and techniques you need to make your garden grow? These new CDs provide easy access to all six issues of
volume 20 (November/December 2000 through September/October 2001),
volume 21
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volume 22
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volume 23
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volume 24 (November/December 2004 through September/October 2005),
volume 25 (November/December 2005 through September/October 2006),
volume 26 (November/December 2006 through September/October 2007),
volume 27 (November/December 2007 through September/October 2008) and
volume 28 (November/December 2008 through September/October 2009)*.

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Doug Welsh's Texas Garden Almanac

Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac is a giant monthly calendar for the entire state — a practical, information-packed, month-by-month guide for gardeners and "yardeners." This book provides everything you need to know about flowers and garden design; trees, shrubs, and vines; lawns; vegetable, herb, and fruit gardening; and soil, mulch, water, pests, and plant care. It will help you to create beautiful, productive, healthy gardens and have fun doing it.

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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!)

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Texas Gardener’s Seeds
is published weekly. © Suntex Communications, Inc. 2009. 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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