Organic Gardening


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).

Tomato Seeds Started


I decided to wait to start my tomato seeds this year until after I came back from the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association conference at the beginning of February. It seems like starting them in early February makes them too big when it comes time to sell them and they need so much attention when they are growing, especially when they are tiny, I did not want to be out of town at that crucial stage. I planted them on February 16th. I made a seed starter mix from 10 parts Coconut Coir, 2 parts Pearlite, 2 parts Vermiculite, and 1 part lava sand. I used my seed flats that have trays under them to hold water. The trick is to not let them get too wet or too dry. Too wet causes fungus and the attendant fungus gnats, and too dry makes them weak and can kill them. A lady at TOFGA said you should lift up on the trays several times a day to determine the moisture level. You can tell if it is somewhat heavy that it has enough water in it. If it feels light, then you need to add water. After you do this awhile you can get the feel of it and they will be happy. I also use heated seed mats which sometimes need to be turned off during the day. To heat the greenhouse I use an oil radiator heater when needed which is typically at night. The green house can also get too hot during the day. Mine has vents at the top and bottom that fan be opened to allow heat out. When it gets really hot, I hang a large box fan from the ceiling with the door open to blow out the heat. You should try and keep the temperature between 75 and 80 degrees. Not to hot or not too cold and not too wet and not too dry is the key. I also started sweet corn in the seed flats and will put them out after the last freeze. As if anyone knows when that will be. After the seedlings get 2 sets of true leaves I will step them up into individual containers and start feeding them. The tomato varieties that I planted this year are True Gold (yellow), from Seeds of Change. From totally tomatoes I planted Indigo Rose (grown in Austin and recommended by Texas Gardener Magazine), Mexico Midget (Marble sized), Tommy Toe (Australian hybrid), Sioux (Nebraska hybrid), Copia (Yellow and Red), Black Cherry, & Umberto (pink heirloom). From my seed stock I planted Cherokee Chocolate, Genovese Costoluto, and Purple Russian. I have grown all three of these for 3 years now and saved the seed. They have all done very well. I also planted eggplant, and various pepper seeds along with sweet corn that I will put out toward the middle to the end of March. The tomatoes should be ready to sell by the end of March to benefit the Greater Dallas Organic Garden club and the White Rock East Garden tour plant sale.

Submitted by Mike Schmitt


Here's a concept that may be new to some.  It is to me. 

Info from

Keyhole Gardens: A Drought Tolerant Composting Garden

By Bev Walker (Sundownr)

May 3, 2012

A Keyhole Garden is a raised bed, lasagna garden, composting, and recycling system all rolled into one.

The design creates a garden that uses recycled materials, less water and maintenance, and can be made handicap-accessible.

Gardening picture
Whose Crazy Idea Was This?

The keyhole gardens are the brainchild of humanitarian charities and missionaries for use in impoverished countries with poor soil, bad weather, and starving people. At least one organization teaches the schoolchildren how to construct the gardens from available recycled materials and to care for the vegetables. The schools then have nutritious vegetables for lunches. The children are encouraged to build a keyhole garden at home to educate their parents, thus enabling families to feed themselves. Advisers visit with the families to trouble-shoot garden problems.

Keyhole Garden Concept

Keyhole Garden plan viewThe Keyhole Garden concept is brilliantly simple. A circular raised bed has a center compost basket that distributes nutrients to the surrounding lasagna-style garden bed. A small pie-slice section of the bed is used for easy access to the center compost basket forming the keyhole design (click the sketch on the left for larger image).

Kitchen and garden waste, along with household gray water, are added to the center basket. The soil bed layers are slightly sloped away from the center to aid water and "compost tea" distribution. As the materials decompose, soil, composting materials, and amendments are added to the bed in later growing seasons.

Keyhole Garden Benefits

  • Center compost basket provides a steady supply of plant nutrients and amendments
  • Uses less water with mulching and moisture from center basket; drought-tolerance
  • Depending on outer wall materials, soil can be warmer than traditional raised beds
  • Garden can be modified per owner's needs, like child or handicap accessibility
  • The short bed distance (from outer wall to center basket) is easy to tend
  • Gardens require a small area, a maximum of 6-1/2' (2 meters) diameter
  • Recycled material use makes the gardens inexpensive, or free, to build
  • The raised design removes threat of trampling by pets and humans
  • Saves steps by adding garden waste to the handy center compost basket
  • Keyhole Gardens can be made temporary or permanent
  • Keyhole Gardens can be an attractive feature with a good aesthetic design plan

Keyhole Garden Construction

Keyhole Garden Cross-section A-AThis is not a comprehensive how-to. If you would like detailed information to construct a Keyhole Garden, please follow the links provided at the end of this article, otherwise, refer to the Cross-section View A-A at left (click for a larger image).

The following is a list of recurring points made for the garden design to work efficiently. Use whatever materials you may have at your disposal that will allow the best result to be achieved.

    • Drainage: Rocks, broken tiles or pots, rusty cans, twigs, small branches, or old critter bones can be used for the bottom drainage layer.

    • Compost Basket: A tube, 1' to 1-1/2' (.5 meters) in diameter and tall enough to extend well above the center of the bed, can be fashioned from anything that will allow water to pass through into the surrounding bed like chicken wire, fencing, or sticks (think in terms of a woven basket). Supports to hold the basket in place, such as strong branches, boards, or rebar, and wire or strong twine to hold everything together, also, will be needed.

    • Outer Border Walls: Anything that will contain the soil could be used: stones, bricks, or blocks can be stacked into place; boards or branches could be driven into the ground; sand bags or old tires could work as well.

  • Planting Bed Fill: Use the same materials as for a lasagna garden, or compost pile, such as cardboard, paper, manure, leaves, straw, hay, old potting mix, or wood ashes, then finish the surface for planting with top soil.
    • A cleared level area no larger than 6-1/2' (2 meters) in diameter is the maximum size for a Keyhole Garden. A larger diameter bed may suffer from a lack of water near the outer wall of the bed (from the compost basket), and plants close to the center may be difficult to reach.

    • The cutout area of the keyhole should be wide enough to allow easy access to the compost basket when adding materials, removing compost, or making basket repairs if needed. Positioning the cutout on the North side of the circular garden would use the dark space of the bed that would not receive full sun, thus leaving all the sunny sides for planting.

    • All the layers added to the bed should slope downward to the outer border wall. The slope helps direct moisture from the compost basket out into the bed.

  • The outer border wall can be as high as needed for the comfort of the gardener and the amount of sourced materials. The top surface of soil should stay below the outer walls to contain rainwater and prevent the soil from running off.
Other Considerations:
    • A roof can be made to deflect excessive rain from the compost basket or to conserve compost moisture during drought.

  • Trellises could be installed to support cloches for weather protection.