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Posts Tagged ‘horticulture’

‘Monster’ Variety May Help Take Scare out of Home Spinach Production

South Central Texas gardeners have new leafy green to plant around Halloween

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agent for horticulture David Rodriguez said ‘monster’ spinach may help curb some fears South Central Texas gardeners have about growing spinach. (Photo: Package of Monstreaux de Viroflay spinach seed available through Botanical Interests)

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agent for horticulture David Rodriguez said ‘monster’ spinach may help curb some fears South Central Texas gardeners have about growing spinach. (Photo: Package of Monstreaux de Viroflay spinach seed available through Botanical Interests)

“Many South Central Texas gardeners are not satisfied with the homegrown lettuce they’ve tried to produce, but are timid about planting spinach because they have had a negative past experience with it,” said David Rodriguez, AgriLife Extension agent for horticulture in Bexar County.

To take the fear out of growing spinach at home, Rodriguez and retired AgriLife Extension horticulturist Dr. Jerry Parsons have been searching for an easy-to-grow spinach that’s well suited for the area, plus produces more abundantly and quickly than other varieties. They feel they have found a strong candidate in a spinach whose name itself conjures images fit for Halloween — Monstrueux de Viroflay, known more commonly as monstrous or monster spinach.

“Viroflay’s scientific name is Spinacia oleracea ‘Viroflay,’” he explained. “It’s an heirloom variety that is believed to have originated in France in the mid-19th century. It produces huge, deep green, tender leaves that are a spinach lover’s delight.”

Rodriguez said many area gardeners may have failed in their attempts to grow spinach because they planted too early or were impatient for results.

“People here who plant fall gardens in August and September and are actually harvesting fall produce before spinach planting should even be considered,” he said. “In this region, spinach should be planted around the mid-to-late October time frame. The previous lack of success due to early planting and the desire to have a faster harvest time has scared many gardeners away from one of the most nutritious and delicious salad greens in the world.”

Nutritionally speaking, Rodriguez said, spinach is the heavyweight champion of the vegetable garden.

“It has nearly twice as much protein, calcium, iron, potassium, Vitamin A, Vitamin B and B2, niacin and Vitamin C as any of the leafy greens. Plus, it’s easy to grow in this area of Texas because spinach plants thrive in alkaline soils.”

He said while monster spinach is a promising variety for the area, backyard gardening success has been achieved with other spinach varieties, including Ashley and coho, provided the crop was planted at the appropriate time and maintained properly.

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Superstar in Bloom

Lady Bird Johnson bluebonnet is ‘bluer than blue’

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A honeybee pollinates Lady Bird Johnson Royal Blue bluebonnet. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

With such deep blue flowers that it was almost named ‘Cobalt,’ the newest Texas Superstar, Lady Bird Johnson Royal Blue bluebonnet, has some other extraordinary features as well, say Texas A&M AgriLife horticulturists.

“Lady Bird Johnson Royal Blue bluebonnet is an outstanding plant,” said Dr. Larry Stein, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturist, Uvalde. “It produces awesome color. The number of blooms it sets is typically more than a traditional blue bluebonnet.”

Texas Superstar plants undergo extensive tests throughout the state by Texas A&M AgriLife Research and AgriLife Extension horticulturists, said Dr. Brent Pemberton, AgriLife Research horticulturist and chair of the Texas Superstar executive board.

To be designated a Texas Superstar, a plant must not just be beautiful but also perform well for consumers and growers throughout Texas, Pemberton said. Superstars must also be easy to propagate — which ensures the plants are not only widely available throughout Texas, but also reasonably priced.

Lady Bird Johnson bluebonnet fulfills the Texas Superstar mandate very well, Stein said. All bluebonnets trace their ancestry to a hardy winter annual native to Texas, and are commonly seen along roadsides and in uncultivated pastures throughout the state. The Lady Bird Johnson bluebonnet has the added advantage of producing as much as 40 percent more seed than traditional bluebonnets, which means it should be very easy to propagate.

The development of Lady Bird Johnson bluebonnet began with a serendipitous discovery, according to Stein, who participated in its selection.

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Springtime in Aggieland

Spring is in full bloom, so what’s a gardener to do? Among other things, s/he can get growing with three new books by Texas A&M University horticulture researchers. Their shared findings lead to better results for the garden hobbyist or commercial grower. Read the rest of this entry »