Recycle: Tired Summer Flowers

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Did you ever think it would happen? The weather has finally turned cool in North Texas.

You are clearing out your tired summer annual plants and flowers from your home landscape beds. (Hint: “annuals” are flowers and plants that only live for one growing season vs. “perennials” that live year-round through multiple seasons).

Us Texans tend to love periwinkles, petunias, verbenas, and pentas in the summertime because they visually pop with pretty colors and they like our heat.

Now fall is here, and you want to upgrade the front of your house with cold-loving flowers like mums, snap dragons, pansies, and ornamental cabbages.

Don’t throw away those summer flowers in the trash. Compost them.

Fresh flowers are a great nitrogen source, and dried flowers and plants are a great carbon source. Together, they create an ideal composting mixture. (Remember, compost happens when you combine carbon sources, nitrogen sources, water, and air!)

Here are a few ways to compost your flowers at home:

1. Pull them up from your bed, and leave them where they are to rot. (If you’re worried that they may look messy, you can throw them to an unseen corner of your bed, or you can mulch over them). This is called sheet composting.

2. Add them to your backyard compost bin, and water them in.

3. Leave them in a walkway between your beds where you often walk, and yes – walk over them! Add some leaves and water, and continue walking over the old flowers throughout the fall and winter seasons. The flowers will eventually break down with the other organic items, and you can rake all of this material back into your beds come spring. That will add another layer of organic matter to your soil. This is a method of composting called walkway composting.

Plant: Spinach

Throughout the month of October, you can plant spinach seeds in your urban space to harvest throughout the winter. They are consider a “cool-season crop”, which means they do well in cooler temperatures.

Here are five reasons why we like to grow spinach at home:

  1. It is healthy - full of vitamins and minerals, and good fiber.

  2. It is relatively easy to grow. You can directly sow the seeds in the ground, after soaking them overnight.

  3. It will keep producing. Either snip off the larger pieces to harvest and allow new growth to come in. And/or, plant the seeds in succession (every week or two, add new seeds for new rows of growth)

  4. It is hardy. Spinach likes our Texas sun. It also can grow and thrive with freezing temps into the low 20’s.

  5. It is versatile and quick to cook at home - salads, sautéed, baked with eggs, mix in soups…

Check out this wonderful article by Skip Richter in Texas Gardener Magazine for more details on growing spinach in Texas.

Recycle: Shredded Paper

Shredded paper can be composted at home! It is a great source of carbon year-round for your compost production, as some time outdoor carbon sources can be difficult to find in the warmer months. Remember, the best ratio of carbon to nitrogen (C:N) is 30:1, which means ideally you will have a large and steady supply of browns to your greens. Shredded paper is just that, a carbon source. It also provides good structure to the soil as it breaks down.

Shred and compost your: receipts, bank statements, newspapers, envelopes, newspapers, used printer paper..

Here are some important things to keep in mind:

  1. Remove any plastic from envelopes before shredding.

  2. Avoid wax coated, glossy, or colored paper.

  3. Be sure it is mixed in thoroughly with your greens (food scraps, coffee grinds, etc.), so as to avoid clumping and thatching. It will break down faster if thoroughly mixed in.

Plant: Green Beans

Dreaming of cooler weather? We are in the last week of August, and in the throes of back-to-school for North Texas. You may be wondering what you could plant in your garden now (easily and quickly before you dive back into the AC) - perhaps even something fun and easy for your kids or grandkids to try at home. Consider growing green beans at home!

There are two basic types of ways that beans grow, in a bush format or in a climbing format (often called ‘pole’ beans). There are two very different sets of rules for growing these guys, so be sure before you plant that you decide which path you are going to take and have your growing space prepared. Check out this guide for planting tips.

Here are some reasons we love to plant and grown beans:

  1. they germinate (begin to grow) quickly, and they are low-maintenance

  2. they like sunlight and are fairly tolerant of various soil types

  3. if watered well, you can harvest a good amount of beans at home until a hard frost (they will produce during the first months of Fall here)

  4. they are healthy to eat (a good source of Vitamin C and A)

  5. they provide a fun and easy kitchen activity for kids helping to cook at home

For recommended varieties of green beans for North Texas, see this link.

Cook: Stone Fruits

It is the height of summer and we are loving the incredible variety and quality of available stone fruits in season. This year has been a particularly good one for Texas peaches... 

Did you know that you can use all parts of a peach in your home cuisine? Turn team member, Chef Mike Lawson, teaches us how to utilize all parts of this delicious summer fruit at home and turn it into a simple and delicious summer dessert.

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  1. The meat: cut the peach in half, take out the pit. Sprinkle with a little brown sugar and roast (bake setting) in the oven on 350 degrees until softened.

  2. The skin: dehydrating the skins with a little sugar can make a delicious peach chip. You can dehydrate them in a dehydrator at 155 degrees, or use the ambient heat leftover from cooking in the oven.

  3. The pit: save the pits of your peaches and use a hammer or rolling pin to smash them in a plastic ziplock bag or parchment paper. the pits can be thrown onto your grill or in your smoker.

  4. The kernel: the kernels of stone fruits can be roasted and salted (they should be cooked and not eaten raw), and turned into a crunchy and savory snack.

Dessert Directions: Place the roasted peaches on a plate and base or top them with yogurt or cream. Sprinkle with granola or muesli. Garnish with the fruit chip. Drizzle with a little honey or peach glaze.

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Plant: Okra

Okra is an easy and nutritious vegetable to grow in your backyard. And, if you want to try and have a fall crop, now is the time to plant! (Texas A&M recommends planting at least three months before the first frost date…)

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Be sure and plant your okra in full sun and give each plant enough space. The good news is that okra doesn’t need a lot of water once it is established. Once the plant starts producing, you should harvest pods daily (if you don’t they will get too long and chewy making them rather inedible). You will be shocked at how quickly the finished pods will grow even in 24 hours. This excellent tip sheet from Texas A&M suggests specific varieties of okra (and other vegetables) suited to our area of North Texas.

Once you start harvesting okra at home, you will want to grow it every year. You will be able to cook your own home-made gumbo, okra and tomatoes, pickled okra, fried okra…(Bonus, you can harvest the seeds from 1-2 pods of this year’s garden for next year’s urban garden.) Pictured here is a particularly beautiful variety of okra we’ve tried called, “Red Burgundy”…The pods are bright red, surrounded by yellow flowers, and variegated leaves.

Cook: Corn

It is peak season for fresh summer corn from local farms! Here are several ways to be sure you are cooking and using all of the corn at home.

1.     Use the fresh kernels, uncooked. Make your own corn salsa, veggie tacos, salad bowls, or soup…Use a knife (che'f’s knife, serated knife, or paring knife) to shave off the fresh kernels into a flat bowl or plate. Save them in the fridge throughout the week and pull them out for a variety of purposes.

2.     Add water/heat and cook it. Steaming and boiling whole corn on the cob are perhaps the easiest and fastest methods for serving it fresh at dinnertime. Or, saute the kernels in a skillet with some oil and herbs.

3.     Grill it. Baste the whole corn with some oil or butter and salt and pepper.  Add some dried or fresh herbs and get creative. Grab your tongs and grill away.

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Be sure and grab fresh corn from your local farmers and the easiest way it so shop at local farmers markets. Check out this great list published on Green Source DFW.

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4.     Freeze it. Any leftovers? Remember you can put the kernels in a Ziploc and store in the freezer. Put a date on the label with a Sharpie.

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Recycle: Shells

The best soil and the best compost has a diverse and healthy blend of macro and micro nutrients in it. We’d like to take a moment to remind you that you can add shells from your everyday cooking to your compost! Seafood shells, egg shells, and nut shells..

Seafood Shells: Oysters, clams and mussels…Lobster, shrimp, crabs…(we’re getting hungry!). Yes, all of these guys can be composted in your garden. Here’s a great article from The Washington Post (“Why you should prepare a seafood dinner for your soil”) about all of the great benefits these guys add to your soil, like chitin and calcium.

Egg Shells: Egg shells from chickens and ducks are a great calcium source for your soil. We go through so many eggs during the week either for breakfast or baking. This is perhaps one of the easiest things to compost yourself at home (you can even blend them up when dried out and sprinkle on your house plants).

Nut Shells: Love nibbling on salted pistachios, or cracking pecan and walnuts - shelled peanuts with your beer? Well, guess what. These guys are an excellent source of carbon (brown stuff) for your compost. If you have been to our local Dallas Arboretum, you will notice that their raised flower beds are mulched with pecan shells.

One final note…The smaller the organic item added to your compost, the faster it will break down. So, you can add whole shells to your garden bed or compost pile, but they will break down slowly. If you want them to break down faster, put them in a bag and take a hammer to them, THEN add them to your compost or garden.

Now, get cracking. Start composting your shells!