What To Grow Now Q&A

​​​​​​Questions and Answers from our July 14, 2020 Webinar on What to Grow Now​

How do we reach out to them about our plant questions to Dr. Casy?
A: Dr. Kara Casy (kara.casy@dcccd.edu) and Darciea Houston (darciealhouston@gmail.com)

Who were the local farmers you recommended?
A:  DarcieaHouston Inc - Farmer & sells soil amendments 469-506-2687
      Candygirl Chicks & Livestock - Patricia Ray - Farmer & sells veggie starts 469-855-4138
      Tree of Life - Ples Montgomery - Hydroponics & sells hydroponic veggie starts 214-533-9222

Is growing in plastic containers considered organic?
A: Food grade plastic is safe for food production. If you're interested in specific organically-certified products, here's a comprehensive list and alternatives to petroleum based plastics.

I have a vertical garden, but the containers are not as deep as the 5 gal buckets. what can I plant on my vertical garden?
A: Without much soil volume, you'll want to plant smaller vegetables that don't require as much water throughout the day. Aim for plants like herbs: Mint, thyme, parsley, cilantro, basil, even lettuce.

A: Also, consider transplanting crops into bigger pots or buckets if you actually want to grow more. Be careful, not all plants like to be transplanted. But, there are a whole host of crops that don't mind being transferred into bigger pots.

Is it same for sweet potatoes also? Sow it low and keep filling soil?
A: Sweet potatoes “could" be planted in the form of tubers, but we recommend starting them from “slips," small shoots of the tubers that have formed roots in water. They'll be transplanted similar to a pepper transplant in our example. Sweet potatoes will produce 1-2 tubers in a 5 gallon bucket, and they'll produce more in a raised bed with more soil surface area to “branch out."

What is the difference between "earlies" "Maincrops" and "lates"?
A: Classifications of leaf size equates to maturity: earlies are potatoes harvested before the main crop. Maincrops are usually the reason that you are planting. The goal being maximum weight/size to harvest that is usually scheduled. And, or, if you were to follow the planting instructions you would harvest maincrops when they have reached maturity. Lates are the crops that might have overgrown and I consider them to be a B or C Grade for farmers to sell at discounts. These crops might have bolted or were not harvested on time.

How many plants per bucket for the peppers?
A: One pepper plant per bucket. They'll use that space once they starting bearing fruit!

I planted a garden back in May with Cabbage and Zucchini Squash and Yellow Squash, Mustard Greens and Collard Greens.  White moths (I believe) are laying worms that are eating through my mustard and collard leaves.  What can I do?
A: Planting crops that are not in season will bring about dis-ease in the soil potentially and harm your crops. Mustard greens, cabbage and collards are not in season. They are winter crops and are extremely stressed out in the heat of the summer. Squash is in season and should be planted with companions in order to stay healthy and manage pests.

Can I plant any kind of pepper during this time of the year, or were you referring to a specific type of pepper?
A: Some peppers have a different length of days to maturity. I would plant the variety of pepper that you like, in this season. Our weather is unpredictable; however, our warm weather lasts a little longer than expected. I would try! Just try and see what happens. It's okay to fail; it's okay for things to die. Just do better next season if the outcome is unfavorable.

How long can we store/keep seeds?
A: If seeds are stored in optimal conditions, they can last several years. Optimal conditions for seed storage include: dark, very low humidity, cool but not freezing temperatures. Seeds placed in a ziplock bag in a refrigerator will last longer than seeds left at room temperature. Room temperature storage is much better for your seeds than storing them in the heat of a garden shed or outdoor patio.

I always failed with carrots. Can you give the soil composition like how much soil, compost etc.?
A: Carrots are sensitive to compact clay soils. If you grow them in containers with potting mix, you won't run into a problem. If you're growing them in raised beds, include as much compost and loose potting mix as you can, the deeper the soil layer, the better, at least 8 inches. I've personally been extremely successful with growing right in the clay soils that had been tilled in, composted and built for years prior to my planting. Harvesting most of the time was difficult; but, it works. In my opinion, containers in the future will yield better. I'll have less broken carrots if planted in raised beds or buckets.

There are those potatoes grow bags, would you use 7-gallon bag to grow like tomatoes?
A: If you've had success with the grow bags, that's great. Bags can loose a lot of water in the heat of a Texas summer. Since tomatoes are particularly sensitive and need a lot of water, you may want to proceed with caution, knowing they'll need more frequent watering.

For those new in planting vegetables ... which one of these courses would you recommend?
A: Horticulture, AGRI 1415. If you're interested in a Continuing Education option, ask Dr. Casy for help getting enrolled in the CE section. Her email is kara.casy@dcccd.edu.

Please send the name of that Nursery!
A: Candygirl Chicks & Livestock - Patricia Ray - Farmer & sells veggie starts 469-855-4138. Find her at Farmers Markets.

Multiple questions! Is there a general fertilizer to use for all my home pots? Is there fertilizer I should be using for carrots? They aren't getting big.
A: Ask your local nursery for a general-purpose organic fertilizer.  If the size of the plant is stunted, it may be a lack of nitrogen. Fish emulsion is a good organic source of nitrogen for plants experiencing nitrogen deficiency.

How do you know when to and how much to harvest on lettuces?
A: Harvest lettuce before it “bolts," sending up a tall main stem with tiny flowers. In the heat, lettuce leaves will begin to taste bitter and wilt easily. Harvest individual leaves once they reach their full size (ie: when you don't see them changing in size for a couple of days). Lettuce prefers cool temperatures and can manage a light frost, so wait to plant more lettuce until  Sept 1-Sept 30.

Is the tomato cage only for tomatoes?
A: No, it gets its name from tomatoes, but you can use it to trellis or add support for multiple plants in your raised bed or container garden.

Are there specific tomato varieties that are better for this area?
A: I grow most varieties with success in Texas. Roma, Jasper, heirloom varieties, evergreens and mortgage to name a few successes. There are some Texas Star varieties that are recommended by Master Gardeners.

What about Brassicas?  I have trouble with Brussel sprouts but have grown cauliflower and broccoli before.
A: Yes, you can plant 1-2 cauliflower or broccoli per 5-gallon container. Transplant them from mid-August through late September.

Most of the herbs I planted outside are burning in the heat. What should I do?
A: Depending on the plant, it could be the end of their spring growing season (ie: cilantro, parsley), so you'll simply replant in a couple of weeks when the weather begins to cool down. If it's a sage, thyme, rosemary, or basil plant, try watering more frequently and providing a little shade.

What can you add to your soil to help grow your plants?
A: Organic compost, vermicompost, compost tea, organic fertilizers. I, Darciea Houston, sell soil amendments because I find that most of my clients have large nutrient needs that seem to be minimal within organic fertilizers that are available. I use an array of natural products in combination with local compost to draw radiation away from your produce and that also adds a larger nutrient-dense availability for the plants to absorb. Different people have different nutrient dietary needs, unknown to them. One size doesn't fit all!

Why should the seed be planted vs transplanting the young plant?
A: Some plants don't transplant well, because it damages their root systems. While the plant may survive the transplant, you won't get as high of yield from your stressed plants.

Is it too late to plant summer squash?
A: No, it's not too late! Plant summer squash Aug 1-30.

What soil do you recommend for container gardening?
A: Organic potting soil or potting mix with an organic fertilizer.

What are good soil amendments for regular gardening?
A: Organic compost, vermicompost, compost tea, organic fertilizers.

I have planted tomato seeds by end of March and my plants have grown tall and flowering but are not producing fruits, any suggestions please?
A: If the volume of soil is less than 5 gallons, try watering more frequently and move it to a sunnier location.

My compost has some segmented "bugs" now, they look like short worms. I didn't know if that was good or bad, so I used this compost w/ these bugs in my veggie buckets yesterday. Is this bad?  Will the worm bugs eat my plant (okra)?
A: It's difficult to say without seeing photos of the insect. Please send a picture to kara.casy@dcccd.edu. Some insects will damage the plant but not kill it. Okra is a hardy plant, so it may be able to withstand the damage and still produce.

What's the best way to save your seeds?
A: One the seeds are dry, optimal conditions for seed storage include: dark, very low humidity, cool but not freezing temperatures. Seeds placed in a ziplock bag in a refrigerator will last longer than seeds left at room temperature. Room temperature storage is much better for your seeds than storing them in the heat of a garden shed or outdoor patio.

Will lemongrass grow in bucket last to the next season if I keep the bucket in my garage or somewhere where it doesn't freeze?
A: Yes, as long as it doesn't freeze lemongrass will live through to the next season.

Am I doomed if I have a lot of squirrels in my back yard?
A: Not necessarily, but it does mean it will be very difficult to grow (or in this case harvest) fruits like tomatoes.

I have start planting indoors and have had several gnats around the house that are bothersome. How do I prevent this? And also get rid of the current gnats?
A: Decrease the amount of water, put the plants in a sunnier location if possible, and dust the top of the soil with diatomaceous earth. Sounds like overwatering. Pay attention to the type of pots used for each plant and look into the plant needs. How much water is recommended for each crop? They will all vary.

If you're growing seeds indoors does it matter if you're using plastic or cardboard egg carton? Do we need to make holes in the plastic one?
A: Cardboard egg cartons work best because they allow for more air to circulate in the soil. Paper towel rolls filled with soil work well, too.

Is there a general fertilizer to use for all my home plants?
A: Ask your local nursery for a general-purpose organic fertilizer formulated for vegetables. Be sure to mention if you're growing tomatoes or melons because they require so much extra calcium.

I planted carrots early May and they're only about 2-3inches last time I picked one. Do I need to give them more time or does it need fertilizer?
A: It sounds like they need both, depending on the depth of your soil. Look for an organic nitrogen-rich fertilizer like fish emulsion. If your soil layer is mostly clay, they may need a thicker layer of soil and compost when you plant this fall (or next spring).

I heard if the veggies that you buy at the grocery store are irradiated, that you cannot replant them. Is that true?
A: Ionizing radiation kills pathogens (ie: some bacteria and molds) on the foods, but shouldn't affect the fruit itself. Here's a link to read more about food irradiationAlthough I am not an educator, professionally, I disagree. I think any unnatural process affects and effects the body and earth. Yes, at the most basic level, I do believe if you do not have access to seeds you should use the grocery store food to either practice with and or to recreate what you are already purchasing.

I have a new, big, raised planter and have been successful planting tomatoes and peppers, but there are bugs eating the leaves, any recommendations?
A: Do you have basil planted with the tomatoes? Look into companion planting and crop rotation. Did you plant these same plants or a similar family member within this soil prior to this season? Crop rotation is gold and to maintain health and pest control you must companion plant to make sure that the pests are deterred.

What is the best way to rid of weeds in volume?
A: Spray the weeds you want to kill with a mixture of this natural herbicide: 1 gallon of 20% vinegar, 4 tablespoons orange oil, 2 tablespoons dish soap.

How do you go about trying to maintain plants when you are going to be gone for a week or more?
A: Depending on the crop. Plan for your crops like you would plan for your kids or an animal. Have someone come to water twice a day, depending on your crops. You can place upside-down water bottles of water to help by each plant. Just remember, plants are alive. They know when you are not present. They can feel, hear and understand when their​ caregiver isn't present. It is very possible that your plants could be dependant upon your voice. There are so many factors. And, a week is a long time. In the future, I would plan to start my garden after a vacation or trip as a result of not being able to maintain the garden you might literally stress the plants out even if someone else tries to maintain them. If you fail or everything dies, make sure to have a plan to start a new fall garden.