Saturday, April 11, 2015

How to grow Mexican heather

If you're looking for a landscape shrub that will quickly fill in the blank spots, Mexican Heather is your girl. But be careful! Mexican Heather is on my list of plants that take over the world. It starts off small and compact and well-behaved. Given unlimited realm, however, Mexican Heather becomes an unruly mob and you'll be yanking it out of your flower bed.

That said, Mexican Heather is a great pick-me-up for a sad, barren patch of dirt. You'll love it if you confine it to one area -- say, in a small plot by your mailbox. It will fill in that spot beautifully and will be easy to contain.

Mexican Heather
Light: Full sun to partial shade
2 feet tall
Prolific bloomer
Ground cover
Loves hot and humid
Year-round bloomer in Zone 9
Flowers: purple, pink, white

Friday, April 10, 2015

How to make eye of round

I had never tried cooking eye of round, but I'm glad I did! It made a nice weekend supper, with enough left over for sandwiches. In this recipe, you rub seasonings onto a 3-pound cut, let it sit, bake at very high heat for a short time, then bake at very low heat for a few hours.
I don't mind using the old-school method when I can't find a way to print out a recipe without all the extraneous stuff on the web pages. Click here to see the recipe I followed.
This is the finished product, which I cooked to about 250 degrees F and cut with my handy electric knife. The only thing I would have done differently was to cut it thinner. If you know how to cut a roast very thinly, please leave a comment below. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

What are these holes from?

I'm a bit mystified. These holes are all over the garden and tend to be 3 to 4 inches in diameter, and pretty deep. What is making these holes? Raccoons, armadillos? New holes appear almost every day. Any way to deter? Please comment. I need help -- they're going to ruin all my work in the garden!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Pole beans up close

First crop of pole beans.
First blooms
First bean
First harvest
First "mess" of green beans. They turned out delicious
except that I let them get too big and they had the
strings of old-fashioned string beans. I learned to pick
them earlier. In cooking them, I like to keep them a bright green so they don't get mushy. I acknowledge that this picture is at an odd angle. I really don't cook on a slope. It is very flat here.

Some kind of weird fungus

Several times a year, I find a weird mushroom in my flower bed. Maybe it's a toadstool. Whichever it is, its ability to sneak in and hide in its environment holds endless fascination for me. Maybe I need to get out more.

Mystery fungus in its original form.

Mystery fungus after I have smashed it (see shoeprint). It now looks like ordinary dirt. Same color and everything. Except that now there are a whole lot of spores floating around my front yard.
So what is this fascinating fungus? There are mycologists out there who study this sort of thing. Mycology is that branch of biology concerned with the study of fungi. And we all know that the fungus is among us in more forms than merely mushrooms and toadstools. There are also truffles, molds (including the one living in my shower), lichen, yeasts, and of course, plant pathogens and medically important fungi, according to the Mycological Society of America (est. 1932). 

In identifying whether something is a mushroom or toadstool, there are several definitions floating out there in the sporosphere. One definition says that mushrooms are safe to eat and toadstools are unsafe to eat. WRONG. Either can be edible or poisonous, and you should never ever eat or even harvest a mushroom/toadstool without a trained myco-expert along to give the OK. That is my disclaimer.

The Gulf States Mycological Society has an Internet presence at . Evidently, the Gulf Coast region of the United States -- Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida -- has an "outstanding variety" of fungi and mushrooms, and a number of previously unnamed versions have been identified within the region during fungus forays and subsequent scientific papers and general enthusiasm throughout the both the professional and amateur realms of fungal study.  

According to Wikipedia, that free online encyclopedia that has 4.5 million articles and counting (and that's just in the English language), people who collect mushrooms for consumption are known as mycophagists, and the act of collecting them is known as -- get this -- mushroom hunting or simply mushrooming.

Years ago, I wrote a newspaper story about the mushroom farm in Madisonville, Texas. At that time it was Dole. Now it is Monterey Mushrooms. At the time, I walked through a dim warehouse with waist-high shelves of mushrooms growing in soil-filled boxes. When we walked out into the sunlight, the manager showed me a gargantuan pile of compost that would get up to 835 degrees F or some such thing. I thought it was silly to get excited about a compost pile. But interests change, and now I am a student of compost, always trying to improve my compost in order to improve my vegetable garden. (I admit I have a compost thermometer.)

In going back to row gardening (after doing Mittleider Method and Square Foot Gardening), I had a landscaping company bring in 7 cubic yards of mushroom compost. That's a lot of compost, people. Let's just say there was a large truck, there were five wheelbarrows lined up, and there was a man to go with each one. I had the team till the garden, then spread the compost on top, then till again. Then I had them follow a detailed plan as to how wide and high to make each row (3 feet wide and 1 foot deep), how wide to make each walkway (18 inches wide).

I can truly say that mushroom compost has made my vegetables grow wild. And the thing is, this super-compost is actually from the Madisonville mushroom farm. So you know how things have circled around for me. Lots more on gardening later.

In the meantime, can one of you hazard a guess (or actual answer) at the name of this mushroom/toadstool? I have no idea.

If you are a mushroom hunter/gatherer, please share what you know in the comment section of the Quirky Cultivator. I'm always curious.

- K

Monday, April 6, 2015

Going green sauce

Pardon me, but do I have anything green in my teeth?
The top sauce goes on a warm corn tortilla with refried black beans.  This sauce was inspired by a restaurant overlooking La Cascadas near Puerto Vallarto in Mexico. An old woman (probably my age) made fresh tortillas and black beans at one of those traditional outdoor, wood-fired stoves.

The bottom sauce is from a friend's recipe. It is really delicious
and came out well even though it was my first time
to make it. Was I ever surprised!

Sunday, April 5, 2015


"How do I grow things," I asked my friend, Beverly, a number of years ago, when I was struggling with a particularly persistent black thumb.

She told me, "Just dig a hole and plant something in it."

For me, that only holds true if I have the right plant. I've found that flowers and shrubs and vegetables and fruits that do well here on the Gulf Coast of Texas are basically those that like sunshine, rain, humidity and drought.

For that reason, Lantana is my all-time favorite flower or flowering shrub. I noticed the pink variety growing alongside woods, so I figured it would grow in my garden. And within two weeks of sticking a seedling down in a hole, that seedling had expanded its territory to half the side of my house.

I love seeing lantana in large plantings where, unlike my side garden, there is enough room, such as the ones at malls and public buildings. Landscapers in these settings tend to use the varieties of lantana that are mounders or spreaders. My favorite lantana sight is when it's spilling over a curb or landscape timber.

Up close, most lantana has tiny petals of different color combinations, such as bright pink/bright yellow/magenta, light pink/bright yellow, purple/white, or one of the originals -- bright yellow. I love the fact that when you step back, those individual colors meld into a lovely combination. If you've ever seen lantana, you'll know what I mean.

Not only are the colors fantastic, but lantana comes in various growth forms. My favorites are those that spread out low, such as the bright yellow ones. Those are great as ground covers for large areas and I have seen people using the weed whacker on them just to keep them in check. On the other hand, I have a shrubby lantana that is over 6 feet tall. This champ came back after a really hard winter. I would like to get the trailing type of lantana that is so good for containers.

Not only is it beautiful, but if you have a butterfly garden or live near the beach, lantana is for you.

I should tell you that lantana is on my list of plants that take over the world. So be sure to check the growth habit (it will be on the plant tag) before planting. You don't want it to take over your world!

Light: Full sun
Water: Moderate
Prolific bloomer
Loves hot and humid
Flowers: varied