When Are We Going to Wake Up?

Bees-deadWe are on the verge of killing the bees upon which we depend for the majority of our fruits, nuts and vegetables.  Read some of the latest bad news here: http://qz.com/107970/scientists-discover-whats-killing-the-bees-and-its-worse-than-you-thought/ 

Organic farmers and gardeners have known for many years that the spraying of pesticides, fungicides and chemical fertilizers is unwise at best and disastrous at worst.  Now we have incontrovertible evidence that the worst is at hand.  We are killing off our bee population!  Even where I live I notice how rare it is to see bees busily collecting nectar and, in the process, pollinating my vegetables.

What is driving this process?  Greed.  In spite of the long-established, well-publicized dangers of spraying bug poisons and chemicals on the food we eat and the soils we grow them in, farmers and gardeners continue to contaminate their crops in the interest of increased production.  As the piece above points out, the practice has begun to backfire.  Ultimately, we and our children are the ones who are poisoned.  In his book, The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan reveals a shocking truth about potato farmers.  Many of them refuse to eat the potatoes they grow in their highly contaminated soil.  Some of them plant separate, unpoisoned plots for their personal use!

A recent National Geographic issue reveals how the overuse of nitrogen fertilizers is causing all sorts of problems.  The mighty Mississippi drains over-fertilized farm land and creates huge dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico where marine life cannot exist.

Amazingly, tragically, we are killing our bees and other beneficial insects and even the fish in the sea!  It’s a good bet that we are also slowly killing ourselves.  When will we wake up? 

Posted in Bees, Beneficial Animals, Farming, Fertilizer, Fruit, Honeybees, Organic, Pollination, Potatoes, Spraying, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chaya Experiment

In my search for perennial vegetables I recently came across Chaya, aka “Tree Spinach.”  As I began to research this plant, I learned that it is native to the Yucatán and thrives in alkaline soil (which is the only kind I have).  Nutritionally it is a winner.  According to the National Institute of Nutrition in Mexico City, ingesting chaya will:

  • Improve blood circulation,
  • help digestion,
  • improve vision,
  • disinflame veins and hemorrhoids,
  • help lower cholesterol,
  • help reduce weight,
  • prevent coughs,
  • augment calcium in the bones,
  • decongest and disinfect the lungs,
  • prevent anemia by replacing iron in the blood,
  • improve memory and brain function and
  • combat arthritis and diabetes.
Chaya in Ground

Chaya in the Ground

The leaves must be cooked for a minimum of five minutes (some suggest up to 15 minutes) to neutralize the toxic hydrocyanic glycosides contained in the leaves.  The cooking can take place in the microwave or boiled.  They can also be fried.

Chaya in a Pot

Potted Chaya

There’s plenty of information on the internet both about growth and consumption.

In the meantime, eat your veggies.  Nonnie and Pop said so!


Posted in freeze, Gardening, Greens, Mulch, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Report from the Bermuda Front – 1

As I mentioned in my last blog, I am trying some different methods of controlling bermuda grass – my ubiquitous nemesis.  It seems that all my experiments except one are not going to work.  Apparently, nothing I plant can grow quick enough and big enough to shade out this ghastly grass.  The summer peas aren’t able to make it to the top of the grass to get their share of sunshine.  The okra looks fine but the bed it is growing in looks like some permaculture effort gone wrong…i.e., ugly.  That’s OK…we live and learn.  With apologies to Shakespeare or somebody, better to have fought and lost than never to have fought at all.  The possible exception is the swiss chard bed that I mentioned last time.

My tried and true strategy is to cover the bed for the summer withKilling Bermuda-1 something opaque.  Tarps will do the trick as will left-over banner material from my son’s sign shop.  Pictured is some ground cover material designed to allow air and water to penetrate into the soil below.  I like that better than completely depriving the soil of these elements.  If all goes well, the bermuda-infested bed will free at last and ready for planting in autumn.

In the meantime, eat your veggies…Nonnie and Pop said so!

Posted in Bermudagrass, Gardening, Okra, Soil, Sustainable Gardening, Swiss Chard (S.C.), Vegetables, Weeds | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Controlling Bermuda Grass

Like most gardeners in my region, bermuda grass is a plague.  As I have stated in previous blogs, it is a war that cannot be won.  The best one can hope for is some control.

             Control is never easy but I continue to experiment with various tactics.  Aside from digging it out (too hard!), it can be somewhat controlled if one keeps in mind that bermuda does not grow in the shade.  I have controlled it in the past by covering an infested bed with something to shut out the light such as a tarp or a water and air permeable ground cover.  If the covering is left in place for the summer months you can remove it for fall plantings.  The space can still be utilized by growing vegetables in grow bags or pots placed on top of the covering.  This technique keeps the bed somewhat free of bermuda for the following summer.  Admittedly it helps to have enough room to take a bed out of production for the summer growing season. 

             This year, I am trying something new…still keeping in mind that bermuda doesn’t like shade.  I am attempting to grow vegetables in infested beds by planting them close enough together to shade the ground.  I took my cue for this from my bed of swiss chard (see Chard 2013photo).  It grows so thick that only a few sickly clumps of bermuda survive on the edges of the bed and a few bare spots.  I’ll let you know if this turns out well.

       Another method is co-existence as I have done with the asparagus bed (see photo).  As you can see, the bermuda is thriving but the asparagus stalks grow well above the carpet of grass below.  When winter kills both the asparagus and grass tops, I will cut them down to the ground level or, preferably, burn them.  When the weather stimulates new spring growth, the spears will be easily visible for harvesting.

Asparagus 2013-2

The asparagus bed…notice the tops of the plants are far above the bermuda below.

Pea Bed 2013

Bermuda infested bed, cut back to soil level and thickly planted with zipper cream peas (a southern pea).



I don’t intend to ever give up the fight.  There must be good, organic ways to control this scourge.  I intend to find it or bust.

Posted in Asparagus, Bermudagrass, Gardening, Organic, Seasons, Swiss Chard (S.C.), Uncategorized, Vegetarian, Weeds | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Warning to Vegan Converts!

As I mentioned in my last post, I am reading (actually, listening to) Michael Pollan’s new book, Cooked.  Am I enjoying it?  Well, yes and no.  “Yes,” to the expanding of my foodview (I think this is a new word I’ve invented but not yet patented…so use it without charge) but “no” to my vegan commitment.  Halfway through the book I have learned so much about what it means to actually cook my own food. 

            We do a lot of cooking around my house.  My wife is a gourmet-quality cook.  She loves to make tried and true recipes and to try new recipes.  Alas, she is in poor health and I have taken over a lot of culinary responsibilities.  So, I was very interested in what one of my favorite authors had to say about the subject.  As with all Mr. Pollan’s books, I am enlightened, inspired and encouraged to keep the culinary faith.

            I became a vegan after doing a lot of research about what clogs up the circulatory system of Americans.  (You may know that heart attacks are the leading cause of death for those who eat the American way.)  I found that I have a lot of plaque in my veins and arteries and decided to look into ways to reverse the condition.  That led me to begin eating a no-fat (or very low fat) plant-based diet.  It is satisfying, inexpensive and delicious.  But, you see, I am a convert to this way of eating from the vein and artery-clogging omnivorous way I have eaten for 70 (seventy) years.  That means that my mouth still waters at visions of various forms of meat.  I am eating the no-fat plant-based way for health reasons only. 

            If you fall into my category, it means you retain strong memories of succulent sausages, bacon, steaks, barbeque ribs, lamb chops, roasts, etc.  After listening to the first part of Mr. Pollan’s book, I wanted nothing more than to find a whole-hog barbecue joint and chow-down.  I wanted to find me some good Texas brisket or cabrito and, fat dripping from my chin, enter into a kind of carnivore nirvana.  Be warned: Michael, a committed omnivore, will make you think twice about, well…sinning.

            I am happy to report that I have righteously remained vegan…so far.  One day at a time.  We all have to die of something but I would like to be as healthy as possible and then, when my time comes peacefully, painlessly drop dead.  At my age, departure is not too far off and I could say I prefer to leave this life with fried chicken in stomach.  But, since I am already noticing some benefits of veganism, I think I will continue with the oats, peas, beans and barley…etc.

            My garden will help.  In spite of the funky weather, I am steadily getting things planted.  I look forward to harvesting baskets of summer fruit.

Posted in Book Review, Gardening, Harvest, Humor, Research, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian | Tagged , | Leave a comment


I have begun reading Michael Pollan’s latest book, Cooked.  Mr. Pollan is an excellent writer and I have read nearly everything he has written.  This book promises to be another great read. 

My only disagreement will probably be the section which praises the consumption of meat cooked using fire.  I am endeavoring to eat nothing except plant-based foods because the research demonstrates the beneficial effects on the circulatory system.  It turns out that I have a pretty good supply of plaque in my veins which culminated in open-heart surgery over a year ago.  Yes, I do miss eggs, meat, fish and dairy but I love good circulation more. 

This doesn’t mean that Mr. Pollan is a carnivore.  “Omnivore would be more accurate.  His own book, Food Rules, suggests to eat food, not too much and mostly plants.  Any book which recommends “mostly plants” ought to be of value for us gardeners…hence this post on my West Texas Gardener blog.

If you are an omnivore, you will find this book very interesting and applicable.  I’m especially looking forward to his section on fermentation even though I avoid alcohol.  I’ll do a more thorough review when I finish it, but meantime, I believe I can safely recommend this volume to everyone who values their health.

P.S. Some of my readers may know that I am also a professional woodcarver.  I carved the sign that forms the masthead of this blog.  I also publish a blog that features my work at whitcarv. wordpress.com. The sign on the masthead is pine but I usually carve mesquite, walnut, mahogany and other hardwoods. Let me know if you would like a brochure.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

State of the Garden Message — Spring 2013

Wouldn’t you know it?!  I waited around to set out my tomato plants and, lo and behold, I probably didn’t wait long enough.  Another freeze is forecast in the next 24 to 48 hours…in MAY!  It probably won’t be a hard freeze but we’ll see how they fare. 

After dealing with health and some other issues (mine and my wife’s) the garden (and this blog) has suffered neglect.  In the long haul that won’t hurt anything but it is a dismal sight to look at beds that I have nurtured and cared for covered with weeds and being taken over by the dreaded bermuda grass.  Not to worry…I will reclaim the beds with weeds and smother the bermuda with tarps for a year. 

Growing now are the tomatoes I mentioned (I bought four kinds of “heirloom” tomatoes in hopes that one or more of them will survive our hot, dry summer), thyme, oregano, basil, swiss chard and asparagus.  I plan to plant yellow squash, eggplant, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, okra and maybe another tomato that seems bred to set fruit in the heat.

I usually start tomatoes and eggplant indoors in late January but, due to the above mentioned difficulties, I am buying sets this year.

I intend to eventually restart my chicken flock but not until the domestic scene improves.  Since I turned vegan, I will sell, barter or give away the eggs.  Their wonderful manure I will use in the garden.  The chicken yard seems mighty desolate and lonely and I am eager to get started.

Posted in Bermudagrass, Chickens, Eggs, Fertilizer, freeze, Heirlooms, Okra, Seasons, Seedlings, Spring, Squash, Starting Seeds, Sweet Potatoes, Swiss Chard (S.C.), Tomatoes, Uncategorized, Vegan, Vegetables, Weather | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In the Summer Garden Now

Moving from east to west: figs, yellow crookneck squash, swiss chard, tomatoes, a couple of cucumber plants, zipper cream peas, okra, asparagus and a lonely young pomegranate.

About the middle of August we begin preparing bedding plants for the fall and winter garden.

Having moved to a plant-based diet, we are out of the egg business.  We will probably start with chicks next time.  Even though we don’t eat eggs anymore we like the manure.  We will give the eggs to our omnivore friends.

Posted in Crucifers, Gardening, Okra, Seasons, Squash, Swiss Chard (S.C.), Tomatoes, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Enough Protein?

We hope you enjoyed this Bizarro comic! You can share it on Facebook by clicking on the image.  You can learn more about Bizarro comics by visiting the Bizarro Comic website.

Posted in Gardening, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

From Committed Carnivore to Voracious Vegan

I mentioned in an earlier post that, because of my heart surgery and, since I had not been successful in finding someone to work the garden at my direction, I wouldn’t try to put in vegetables this summer.  I would just concentrate on trying to keep perennials alive.    But, providentially, my good friend, Gene Shelton, found me.  For “grazing rights” he agreed to take over until I was back to full strength.  He would weed and plant and I would take care of setting up the drip irrigation.  This has worked out very well and we now have yellow crook neck squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, radishes and peas…all doing very well.  We already had swiss chard and asparagus growing.

Since Gene is an East Texas child, he planted a lot of things that felt the West Texas heat and prudently refused to come up.  We will try some of them again as the weather grows a little cooler.

The vegetable garden has become a lot more important since I became a vegetarian (actually a “no-fat vegan”).  I expect the garden will become my primary source of food.  In the meantime the produce department of the grocery stores has become the most important section.

We are fortunate also to have two sources of organically grown vegetables in Abilene and a three-times-weekly farmer’s market (mostly offering non-organic produce).

Why did I become a vegetarian?  Well, it certainly was not because killing animals and eating their meat disgusts me.  It was not because I came to the conclusion that eating only vegetables would save the planet.  My mouth still waters at the thought of fried eggs, bacon, sausage, steak, pork ribs, fish, seafood, fried chicken, chicken-fried steak, barbeque and meat in general.  I love all kinds of cheese and other dairy products.  No one could love those delicacies more than me.  It took some powerful scientific facts to shift me from a carnivore to a herbivore.

If I had the power, I would command everyone to immediately read two books: Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D. and The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, PhD and Thomas M. Campbell II, M.D.  The China Study is billed as “The most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted.”  It is informative, disturbing and hopeful.  I say, without reservation, it can save your life.  In addition I would require everyone to watch the videos Forks over Knives and PlaneatAfter that, if you still want to eat meat and dairy, that’s your choice.  My goal is to educate.  If, in that process, you are converted then praise the Lord!


Posted in Dry Weather Gardening, Eggs, Farming, Gardening, Hot Weather Gardening, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian, Weather | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments