Organic Gardening



by Marshall Hinsley

Aritcle reprinted with permission from the author and CultureMap Dallas.

If not for my garden failure of 2011, when most of Texas was gripped by a record-breaking heat wave, this year's garden would have been my worst yet. Several setbacks left me overextended in my farming venture, and professional commitments seemed to occupy my time just when I needed to be planting, weeding or watering. Yet except for avocados, lemons and a few other fruits that can't be grown in areas that are prone to frost, I've bought nothing from the produce section. The fruit of my labor continues to make up half or more of my dinner plate each night. I've succeeded in harvesting all I need to eat, even while I fail at keeping most of my crops thriving. My raised bed garden and row crops have a momentum that just keeps going. My crops may look weedy and tattered, but they're hanging in there, yielding just what I need, when I need it, despite neglect. The tenacity of my crops is a result of using certain products effectively, versus the scams and old wives' tales that make their rounds in gardening forums. My father and I have amended the soil and repelled pests over the last seven years with products we buy by the pallet, which has given us insight into what's effective and what's a waste of money. Here's our list of go-to products: For the soil The health of a plant is almost wholly dependent on the soil, which should be loose, spongy and full of composted leaves, kitchen scraps, grass clippings and last year's garden plants. Conscientiously produced worm castings are a valuable asset to garden soil because they can restore microbial populations that convert compounds into forms more readily absorbed by plants. Beyond compost, I amend the soil with my dirty seven soil amendments that add nutrients and make the soil more hospitable to plants. To that list I've recently added a mineral supplement called Azomite. Plants need only about 16 elements, but humans need more. I add minerals to the soil to improve the potential nutritional content of my harvest. For some plants such as potatoes, I follow the old practice of adding sulfur to the soil where I plant the crop. Sulfur acidifies the soil, and most of Texas' blackland prairie has an abundance of calcium carbonate.

For Pest Control

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This is taken from the book Southern Herb Growing by Madalene Hill and Gwen Barclay, 1992.
Madalene Hill was the founder of Hilltop Herb farm which now is retreat and resturant. 

Salad Burnet, Poterium sanguisorba
    An evergreen growing 12 to 18 inches high when flowering, salad burnet is easily grown from seed.  Happiest in full sun, this delightful plant is tidy in its hummock-like growth and is at its best in a deep South winter.  The dark green leaves impart a delicate cucumber flavor to the winter salad.  In hot weather the leaves become tough and taste of watermelon.  It is a good plant for both border and accent.
    A common name for burnet in Germany is pimpernel, and in France pimprenelle.  While it has a strange, small button-like flower with pale red, fringy petals, it scarcely qualifies for it's other common name, "scarlet pimpernel."  Great burnet (Sanguisorba major or S. officinalis) does qualify, with its tall, burgundy, berrylike blossoms.  Found growing in botanical gardens of eastern Europe and Russia, it is a spectacular plant with large leaves and 3-5 foot bloom stalks.
    Salad burnet was formerly classified as Sanguisorba minor from the Latin sanguis (blood) and sorbere (to stop).  It has a styptic quality, and the plant was used long ago to staunch the flow of blood.  Its new assignment to the genus Poterium (Greek- poterion- drinking cup) relates to its early use in beverages. 
      The color of burnet's small flowers is more intense on the side that gets the most sun (south or south east) - hence it was call a compass plant.  It grows wild over most of Europe.
    As with borage, the cucumber flavor is derived from the oils in the leaves of burnet.  The plant tastes like cucumber in the cool fall and spring months.  In the dead of winter, it remains evergreen but does not have much flavor, and the leaves are inclined to be tough.
    To use burnet leaves in a salad, simply cut a handful of small leaves from the center, and chop or cut them into salad greens.  Burnet grows from a crown, and new growth after shearing is very rapid.
    An excellent vinegar can be made with leaves for salads and dressing, giving a hint of cucumber flavor.  Cover the leaves and tender stems with a good quality white wine or cider vinegar, and let stand in a dark space for several weeks.

    Use burnet with asparagus, celery, beans and mushrooms.  It is great in potato salad and can be used generously in soups. 

Used with permission. From Southern Herb Growing by Madelene Hill and Gwen Barclay (Shearer Publishing).