Blackberries & Apples: Something New & Something Tried-and-True

Our first Fruit Tree Sale at the Farmers Market is just 10 days away! Learn about the varieties we will have available and plan your trip with our daily blog posts. Be sure to arrive early to the sale because our stock is very limited this time of year. 
Today, we're learning about blackberries and apples.
BlackberriesPrime Arkansas is a brand new variety of blackberry. Unlike other varieties, the Prime Arkansas will bear fruit on first and second year growth. The fruit itself is large and abundant, much like the Tupi variety. Additionally, Prime Arkansas is very disease resistant. 
Apples: There are few apple varieties that taste good and grow well in the Gulf Coast area, but we have found them. At the sale on March 8th, we will offer a 2N1 apple tree that features two such varieties grafted onto one tree!
The first variety is the Anna apple. The Anna apple ripens in early June and bears large, sweet, crisp yellow apples with a red blush. It requires just 200 chill hours. 
The second variety is the Dorsett apple. The Dorsett apple ripens in mid to late June and bears a Golden Delicious style apple with a slight pink blush. It requires only 100 to 200 chill hours.

Why multi-variety trees? 2N1, 3N1, 4N1 etc. trees offer all of the advantages of having multiple varieties on a single healthy root-stock. Cross pollination between each variety increases production of a diverse selection of fruits while taking up less space and requiring the care for only one tree. Multi-variety trees are a great option for homeowners with limited yard space.  

NOTE: This is the LAST SALE at which we will have apples available.
Why buy local? The fruit trees that we sell at our sales are grafted onto root stock that do well in our unique soil conditions and that are acclimated to the environment of the Gulf Coast Region. Before you buy a fruit tree anywhere, always ask to make sure that it is right for your area. 


Asclepias Tubersosa, Native Milkweed

The Asclepias tuberosa, a native milkweed, is the Garden Club of America’s “2014 Plant of the Year.”  This plant will be awarded the Montine McDaniel Freeman Medal on May 9, 2014 at the GCA Annual Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Each year the medal is awarded to a native plant “that is under-utilized but worthy of preservation, propagation and promotion.”  A committee of nationally renowned horticulturists and experts in the nursery trade make the selection from the plants nominated by GCA members.

    (photo left by Carolyn Fannon and right by Thomas Muller)

The Asclepias tuberosa, a native to Texas and much of the United States, is a bushy perennial prized for the beauty of its large clusters of bright-orange flowers. The brilliant, long living flowers are a great addition to any landscape. Once established in a well drained, sunny location, it is long lived – around 20 years. The nectar attracts a wide variety of butterflies and countless beneficial insects and pollinators. However, its greatest value is serving as the larval host plant to the endangered monarch butterfly that migrates throughout much of the United States as it travels from Mexico to Canada each year. This plant is a perfect example of why some plants are critical to our landscapes well beyond their ornate qualities. People might confuse this plant with the tropical milkweed, A. curassavica, which is easy to propagate and commonly sold in most nurseries. 

Asclepias tuberose is at risk of extinction in some areas of the country although it grows in a wide variety of soils, thrives in less than ideal conditions, has a long bloom period, and does not spread aggressively or contain the milky sap of most milkweeds.  With raised public awareness of the environmental benefits and culture requirements, it is hoped that this trend can be reversed.

Propagation of this long taprooted plant can be a challenge since it does not do well in containers and the fresh seeds require a period of cool, damp stratification.  Packets of seeds can be found in stores and are widely available through mail order. You can sow seed in the fall or spring, but they need a season of cold weather before they will produce blooms.

Dr. Malcolm Vidrine, the author of The Cajun Prairie, shared his propagation techniques:

I do have suggestions for growing milkweeds in general based upon my experience in Louisiana.

1.)    Grow plants from wild or healthy stock collected as close to your location as possible--the typical mantra of less than 50 miles in radius is too far in my experience.

2.)   Seed collected can be stored in the refrigerator in dry paper until 6 weeks prior to planting (I do this for Mardi Gras celebration). Remove seed and cold moist stratify (cms) seed in damp sand for 6 weeks in the refrigerator prior to planting. When you remove the seed from cms and add water, the viable seed float--making them easy to remove with a spoon and plant in good potting soil (This is my Easter entertainment). Plant in protected area indoors for highest survival rate--seedlings appear as early as in one week. With the appearance of the true leaves (ca. 3 weeks), move the plants into much larger containers (I move them to 5-10 gallon pots with plenty of room for roots to develop) and grow them for one year. In the winter, you can move the plants to any suitable location. You can even divide the roots into pieces ca. 2 inches in length and multiply your plants. Be prepared to lose up to 50% of your plants due to a variety of stresses in moving them from one location to another.

3.)   I have 15 year old Asclepias tuberosa that can be dug up and propagated by root divisions as above. I have good luck rooting cuttings in early spring. So if there is a mature plant in your area, you can monitor it for seed or make spring cuttings for rooting (remove nearly all the leaves and any flower buds and bury ca. 3 inches into the soil) or dig a portion of its root system and grow plants from the root cuttings.

The combination of beauty, hardiness and environmental value make this a perennial plant that gardeners and naturalists across the country can grow with pleasure and satisfaction knowing they are helping not only the monarch butterfly population, but the beneficial insects and the countless birds and wildlife that depend on these insects for food. 

by Doris Durbin Heard

The Garden Club of Houston



The Growing Plant Song

This is the song that we sang about Plant Parts at the Children's Gardening Series on Sunday, February 9th. Sing it in your classroom or at home, it's fun!

What is Aquaponics?

Aquaponics is a method for growing food that combines aquaculture (the raising of aquatic animals) and hydroponics (growing plants in water). When practiced correctly, it is an entirely sustainable method that requires very little, if any, inputs. 

This is how it works: Fish, primarily tilapia in our area, are raised in a tank. Their waste products go through a passive filtration system that turns their waste, ammonia, into a useable product, nitrate. Meanwhile, the plants are placed in holes within a sort of floatable raft that lie ontop of 6 to 12 inches of water. The nitrate cycles with the water and feeds the plants. The left over water goes back into the fish tank and the whole process starts all over again. Farmers can harvest both the plants and the fish. 

Aquaponics is normally done in a controlled environment or greenhouse. It is perceived as having the benefits of hydroponics--no bugs and no pesticides--but unlike hydroponics is entirely sustainable because it does not require synthetic materials to provide nutrients for the plants. 

If you are interested in learning more, Urban Harvest has taught an Aquaponics class for the past two years in the Fall. Check our class schedule early next Fall for more information. Also, see our earlier blog entry about the Sustainable Harvesters

TAPE Recognizes Youth Education with a 2014 Crystal Award

[Austin, Texas] The Texas Association of Partners in Education (TAPE) is pleased to announce that Urban Harvest has been chosen as a recipient of the prestigious TAPE Crystal Award in the Partnership Program Service Learning category. This award distinguishes Urban Harvest as a leader in developing innovative educational partnerships. The Houston Independent School District Strategic Partnerships Department nominated Urban Harvest for the award.

Urban Harvest will also be featured in the 6th edition of TAPE's signature publication, Soaring to New Heights in Education: Powerful Partnership Practices in Texas, sponsored by Chevron.

TAPE provides leadership and expertise for schools, families, businesses and communities to build partnerships that enhance student success. By identifying award-winning partnerships, we are able to share best practices that positively impact student outcomes. 

UHI Executive Director, Sandy Wicoff, and Youth Education Director, Carol Burton, along with other award recipents were recognized at the TAPE Awards Luncheon and Annual Meeting on Tuesday, January 28, 2014 at the Austin Convention Center during the Texas Association of School Administrators' (TASA) 2013 Midwinter Conference.

"We have received local partnership awards in the past but to be recognized statewide is quite an honor," noted Burton. "This is an accumulation of our past ten years of teaching students how to grow their own food. We really owe this award to all of our garden educators, past and present."

Congratulations to all of our Garden Educators, past & present!

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