Tuesday, April 4, 2017

How To Grow Traditional 3 Sisters Garden

We have lived upon this land from days beyond history’s record, far past any living memory, deep into the time of legend. The story of my people and the story of this place are one single story. We are always joined together ~ Pueblo Elder

The legends of corn can easily be told by the Native American Indians. They knew how to grow it and how to achieve sustainability from it through hundreds of generations.
Actually all corn is Indian Corn and not just the pretty colored corns you see around the holidays.  It is native to America and Mexico and there were once around 250 different varieties of native corn.
Most have since become lost and extinct. It is said to have originated from the Mexican areas more than 7,000 years ago and thought to have been cultivated from wild grasses.
The Native American people were the original agriculturist in our country. They understood what worked best naturally.
They gave the utmost respect to the soil and water and knew that one must always give back to the earth what one takes from it.
It’s quite apparent that a great deal of the settlers that came to this country never acquired the same respect for the land and its inhabitants. It certainly still shows itself today in the way that big farms have reduced themselves to farming with poisonous chemicals and genetic engineering that is causing a staggering loss of diversity and natural life to the critical point of extinction.
Even today, if one would listen to the wisdom given by the Native American Indians, they would learn so much about gardening and farming.
There is a Native American by the name of Buffalo Bird Woman of the Hidatsa Indian Tribe who has given a detailed account of how her family sustained themselves with their garden. (ca. 1839 – 1932) I love going to her writings for reference as well as the inspiration she seems to give me.

What has stuck with me the most I think is that the closer we get to the original heirloom native varieties of seed the more success there is for the harvest. This is one of the reasons it is so important to protect heirloom seeds.

I sought after a Native Texas Dent Corn variety that happens to be  near extinction. It was important to find the perfect variety that would serve the same needs for my own family that the Indians had for theirs.
The Native Americans grew their corn to dry it during harvest so it would last them throughout the winter months. They would grind it into cornmeal to eat as well as crack it for feeding their livestock during harsh winter weather.

The beans the Indians grew was for the purpose of having dry beans. Dry beans were easy to harvest and put away for winter storage.
The beans we chose was a Native American Cornfield Bean that grew well over the top of the corn. The pods dried on the vines and we picked and shelled them for our pantry as well.

The timing was perfect as our beans were ready for harvest at the same time as the corn. The beans had benefited from the corn by using its stalks to climb on. They in turn benefited the corn by adding nitrogen back into the soil that helps feed the corn.

The squashes they grew were varieties that would store well throughout the winter months.
It also was grown on the outside of the mounds the corn and beans were growing in. The squash would in turn provide a natural living mulch and ground cover for the corn and beans as it stretches across the ground.

The squash in turn enjoyed the protection from the harsh hot summer sun growing beneath the corn and beans.
It’s a remarkable combination of companions that fit each other so very perfectly.

We switched from growing pumpkins with the corn crop and turned to a heirloom variety of Butternut Squash. With the Butternut we had no problems with the troublesome squash borers that injure and kill the pumpkins so easily in our area.
The Butternut Squash was ready for harvest near the same time as the corn and beans. The flesh is sweet and rich orange and wonderful in many dishes.
I’ve seen many gardeners have lack of success at trying to grow the Three Sisters Way. I’ve had previous failures as well.
The lesson’s that I learned is you must grow it just like the Native Americans did. That doesn’t mean growing it in rows. You have a more abundant harvest and stronger stalks when it is grown on mounds or circles. It’s a natural support system for the trio.
There is also less problems with timing and harvest when you grow for drying purposes. Sweet Corn or Pole Beans that must be eaten fresh interrupts the entire process and is difficult to harvest. If you want to imagine trying to pick sweet corn or green beans while pushing your way through a tangled web of vines and trying to tip toe over squash vines then you’ll understand.
It’s odd how we have so much more success when we notice the little details  that end up making all the difference in the world. It’s easy to see why protecting our heirloom varieties from cross contamination and extinction is so critical.  What a beautiful and perfect tradition that must live on. This is to the hope of our future generations.

Happy Gardening!


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Poor Man Rich Man Canna Lilies Of The South

Sometimes you just never know the hidden treasures that can be found in what is considered a lowly poor man's plant to be found in many southern landscapes.

This is one plant that a person can dig up and toss out and it won't die. I know, because before I discovered its value I did a whole lot of tossing.

When you really get your eyes opened to the simpler aspects of what is considered valuable for growing a healthy organic garden ecosystem, you begin to notice the obvious more often. For some of us it takes a little longer to see it. A perfect example of this is me.

The most important thing every garden needs first and foremost is healthy thriving soil. Every time I dug up the Cannas Rhizomes I noticed what a beautiful texture the soil was where they were growing.

In the Houston and surrounding areas we are prone to have a whole lot of hard clay soil and more time than not you hit clay very quickly once you dig your shovel in the ground. This is very true on our existing property. It can be very hard to work and takes an enormous amount of organic matter to make a simple garden bed. 

Luckily there are many plants and trees that will tolerate a certain amount of clay soil. The problems are that with clay soil you ultimately have very poor drainage and root systems. They get bound up with no place to go because the ground it to hard..Basically one is trying to grow in muck when it's wet and stone when it is dry.

What the rhizomes of Cannas contain is very high levels of starch enzymes. What these enzymes do for the soil is create soil aeration that reduces soil compaction. In other words the soil becomes a soft loose loam that is perfect for growing most garden vegetables, herbs and flowers.

What you will find throughout our garden is clumps of Cannas growing here and there. You will see flowers blooming brightly of either yellow or orange. Other common colors for Cannas are red or white as well. 

In each clump beneath the soil are starch filled enzymes amending the soil structure naturally and healthy micro-organisms teaming in the soft loam.

The Canna areas are also harboring my Anole Lizards, Toads, Garden snakes and spiders that create the perfect habitat for them. These beneficial preditors will protect my garden from harmful pests.

 This simply is not the end of the story for the rich man's Cannas. By harvesting their leaves and adding them to your compost pile, the plants extracts are working to help break down your compost heap faster that most other plants will do. 

This is a perfect scenario for the winter compost pile. Because the extracts are causing natural aeration it is aiding in heating the compost up. By keeping your compost nice and hot in the winter months you will be multiplying the healthy micro-organisms that keep the compost alive.

So to sum this story up, not only do I never ever toss them out, I cherish them and nurture them and promote their growth everywhere I possibly can!

It is a good time to move them around this month as they are just beginning to sprout.

Place them in new areas where future plans are to be made for new garden beds. Your soil will get a head start to health and in the end you will not need to purchase or add quite as much organic matter.

Happy Gardening!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Willow Tea: Natures Help For Permaculture Gardeners

Most gardeners familiar with root growth hormone and stimulators know that they can easily be purchased at most garden centers. I myself learned to propagate cuttings using them many years ago. The problem with them is that they are synthetic chemicals.
For those of you not familiar with the use of root growth hormones, they are used basically to speed up the process for new root growth. Newly propagated cuttings can also be easily infected by bacteria and fungi until they become mature enough to contain a protective property called salicylic acid.
This is where Willow Tea comes into the picture. It was something well known to our Native American brothers and sisters. The Salicylates are found in abundance in the young new growth and inner bark of the Willow Tree. Not only will it work for your propagating projects in the garden, but the Native Americans understood the Willows medicinal properties as well.
Some tribes used both the bark and the root. It was the most commonly used method for treatment of fevers and headaches brewed as a tea. Amazingly enough, this was actually the precursor to our modern day aspirin. Physicians in European countries actually prescribed willow bark for pain and inflammation.
Salicylic acid is also approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a topical treatment for warts and calluses. It is also included in many non-prescription medications to treat bunions and corns, and some over the counter acne remedies.
According to our very own Texas Native Foraging expert, Merriwether, a tea made from chopped up twigs and inner bark is an emergency food and eaten raw or dried and ground into flour. He also states that the inner bark of the Willow contains carbohydrates.

Steps For Making Homemade Willow Tea

For Root Growth Hormone
NOTE: While The White Willow Species has been the predominant Willow used, many other varieties of Willow Tree, including our Texas native “Black Willow” contain the Salicylates. There are also many other plants and species in the Salix Family.  Just to name a few would be, Wintergreen, Poplar, Black Cohosh Root and Sweet Birch Tree bark.
♦  First, begin by taking cutting from the young new growth of your Willow Tree. The shoots should have yellow and green stems. Don’t use the limbs with gray and brown bark. It is said that the best time to take your cuttings is in early spring when the Willows have the most new growth.
♦  Another wonderful reason for making your own root hormone is not buying the processed plastic container sold at the garden centers. Re-using large glass containers like the old pickle jar in the photo works really well for making the tea. I simply fill it with cold water.
♦  Strip the leaves off of each shoot and cut the stems in little pieces about 1 inch each. I filled the pickle jar about 1/4 of the way with the cuttings and then filled the container up with water. They need to steep for about 3 to 4 weeks before it is ready. For quicker processing you can boil a pot of water and then steep the cuttings like you would to brew tea. Then you can use it within 24 hours after brewing.
♦  When your Willow has been brewed properly, strain the liquid from the jar and put the cuttings in the compost pile. I like to pour off my brew straight into my watering can and keep it in the greenhouse and potting shed. All that is left to do is water my new cuttings and growing medium with the Willow Tea. If you are doing cuttings in a glass of water instead of soil, try using your new homemade root growth hormone for healthier and quicker results.
What a beautiful way to care for the earth and your garden by avoiding the use of chemicals. There is no waste by the reusable glass containers. It is quick and easy to make your own and everything goes back into the earth naturally.
Happy Gardening!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

How To Attract Ladybugs To Your Garden

The best way to protect your garden in spring is to attract ladybugs as early as possible. By planting various wildflowers and herbs in the fall you get a head start in spring. They will be the first to bloom to allure the ladybug. 

The favorite blooms that will attract the ladybugs are the ones with tiny white clusters of flowers. 

I usually plant tons of Cilantro in and around my garden. Cilantro is easy to grow and will be the first to bloom hoards of white clusters.  

Other plants that work wonders are things like Sweet Allysum, Yarrow and Dill. 

The ladybugs will then fly to flowers like Marigolds, Zinnias and Cosmos. They will lay many eggs along the way and soon you will find them in many stages throughout your garden. 

The next thing you will discover is the ladybugs moving in on various garden crops and feasting on aphids throughout the season.

It is important to know the life cycles of your beneficial insects. That way you can best recognize them and not mistake them for a pest.

The Ladybugs lay tiny white eggs under the foliage of different plants. Usually they lay a cluster of 10 to 15 eggs. As soon as the larvae begins to hatch out they look for aphids to eat. 

In the larvae stage the ladybugs are said to look like tiny alligators and can be various colors depending on its variety.

 From the larvae stage the ladybug goes into its pupa stage before it emerges into a lovely ladybug. I found this ladybug chart fascinating to get a look at some of the different types of ladybugs in the adult stages.

You may be surprised to learn that the ladybug is not always red with black spots. There are literally thousands of different types of ladybugs in all kinds of colors around the world. 

Many have spots while others have none and some actually have stripes. Their colors range from orange to red, to pink, yellow, green and even black. 

Although they all benefit the garden, it is said that the ladybug called hippodamia convergens is the best one. They will make your garden home for a very long time and eat thousands of aphids. You can recognize this ladybug by two white slash marks above her wings.

It is true that the Lady Beetle is also well known as the Ladybug. They are indeed blessings from above when dwelling in the natural garden. They feast upon your aphid pests so that no pesticides are ever needed. They have also been known to eat various scale and mites that may infest your garden as well.

Happy Gardening!

Lovely little ladybug
sent from heaven above
please watch over my garden
and fill it up with love.
~Author Unknown

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Mexican Hot Chocolate In A Mason Jar

The kitchen gardens bountiful summer harvest of herbs are hanging about drying for winters use. The fragrances fill the air indoors as we begin to settle in on some chilly fall nights.  The aroma beckons their use in that first warm cup of homemade cocoa.  Who am I to argue with such things? It’s time to pull out the mugs and teapot.

The special blend for this cocoa stems from the history deep within the Mayan Indians and preserved among the Mexican People. Using a Mexican chocolate called Ibarra gives the cocoa a sweet touch of cinnamon. The final touch is an infusion made from the herb Mexican Mint Marigold. Also called “Texas Tarragon,”  the herb gives the cocoa the faint southern flavors of anise and licorice.

Mexican Mint Marigold comes from high within the mountainous regions of Mexico. It’s the perfect herb to grow in the southern regions where Tarragon simply won’t grow. The perennial is very drought tolerant and makes a beautiful display in our kitchen garden during the fall months. The tiny golden yellow flowers are among the last to bloom before frost still providing food to the honeybees. If harvested while the flowers remain on the stalks and hung to dry adds extra beauty to garden and herb crafts.

Simply add your cocoa to a mason jar and decorate with a sprig of Mexican Mint Marigold or your favorite mint, along with a couple sticks of cinnamon. Tie it on the mouth of the jar with a piece of jute rope or raffia. They make a simple and elegant gift to give during the holidays.

Mexican Mint Marigold (Texas Tarragon)

Mexican Cocoa


1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup powdered milk
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 cup chopped Mexican chocolate (Ibarra)

Optional: pinch of dried Mexican Mint Marigold finely crushed

I put a couple nice size teaspoons of the cocoa mix in my favorite chocolate mug and sprinkled a small pinch of Mexican Mint Marigold on top. Just pour on some hot water and enjoy the warm Mayan Indian chocolate flavor.

Happy Gardening!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

French Baguettes Infused With Rosemary

Oh my! The smell of Baguettes baking the the oven brushed with butter and fresh Rosemary is simply irresistible. 

The greatest thing about making them is that they are actually very quick and easy.

The secret to making the best Baguettes is creating lots of steam in your oven.  

I do two rises with the dough. The time will be much shorter than with regular bread dough. 


Before you begin to put together your ingredients, go ahead and take a 9X12 baking dish and fill it half way with water. Turn the oven on to 450 degrees and place your dish on the bottom rack. 

This will get the oven nice and hot and get that steam going. You can chose to make to nice size Baguettes by only dividing the dough in half with this recipe or divide the dough into 4  or even 6 pieces for breadsticks.

1 1/2 cups warm water
2 Tbs. active dry yeast
2 tsp. sugar or honey
3 1/4 cup organic unbleached flour
2 tsp. Rosemary Salt
Drizzle of Olive Oil
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
3 Tbs. unsalted butter for brushing
1 Tbs. Rosemary Salt for brushing


In a small bowl mix the warm water with the yeast and sugar.Cover with plastic wrap and a towel in a warm spot. Set the timer for 20 minutes. Your starter will become bubbly and foamy. 

In your mixing bowl combine the flour and salt. Gradually add the yeast mixture. Add a drizzle of Olive Oil. Mix with dough hook or knead by hand until dough becomes nice and smooth.

Place in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel in a warm place. Set the timer on 30 minutes to rest and rise.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide it in half. Roll out each half into a nice triangle shape and then roll your dough up lengthwise and tuck in your ends.

Place your dough on a lightly oiled baking sheet with the seam and tucks on the bottom. Cover with towels and set your timer for another 30 minutes to rest and rise. 

While you are waiting for the dough, go out to the garden and cut a sprig of Rosemary. 

Get out a small saucepan and put in the 3 Tbsp. butter, kosher salt and with scissors cut tiny snips of the Rosemary sprig. Turn the burner on low for the butter to melt.

With a very sharp knife make a slash down the length of each baguette. I do not slash the breadsticks. 

Brush with the melted butter mixture and place in your hot steamy oven. Set the times for 7 minutes. 

Take out the the oven and brush again using up the rest of the butter. Place back in the oven for 8 minutes to finish baking.

Take out of the oven and cool on wire racks.


Have even more fun and whip up some of your favorite herbal butters to serve with your Baguettes. 

They also make wonderful gifts to give to family and friends. 

Happy Gardening!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Texas Pecan Yeast Bread

Texas Pecan Yeast Bread

This bread makes wonderful toast and sandwiches with a lot of variations. It's really delicious with a little homemade jam or honey on top. 

You can add a bit of cinnamon and nice big organic golden raisins to sweeten it up a bit. I just happened to hit the mother load on pecans this season and love them in bread. 

You'll enjoy this recipe because it's a pretty basic one that can be altered in many ways by combining different grains, seeds and even home milled legumes.

 I also use different organic oils as well, such as Sunflower, Sesame, Olive and Canola. The trick is to not add in all your flour at the beginning so you can adjust for the added in grains and such. 

The dough should always be sticky but not to the point of sticking to your fingers where it can't be kneaded well. Makes 2 loaves. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.


1 1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup dark brown sugar (can substitute with local raw honey or organic raw sugar)
1/3 cup unsalted butter (can substitute with an oil)
5 1/2 to 6 cups unbleached bread flour (can substitute one cup for fresh milled wheat, bran or legumes)
1 cup organic whole oats
1 cup finely crushed pecans
1 tsp. sea salt
4 tsp. active dry yeast
2 nice large eggs from the hen house or cage free


Take the water, brown sugar and butter and put in a small glass bowl for the microwave. Heat about a minute and stir, then heat one more minute. Leave it to stay warm in the microwave while you prepare the other ingredients. (Optional: if you want to add raisins let them heat in the microwave in this bowl. It helps them swell a bit and makes a little raisin juice that's yummy)

You will need the dough hook and mixing bowl for this part. 

First put in the one cup of oats. Next add 5 cups of flour (Remember, that you can substitute one of the 5 cups for another milled grain like wheat or legume) add salt and yeast. I use a hand wire whisk and whisk it all together, then place the bowl on the stand with the dough hook. (If your adding cinnamon or any other seeds or spices this is the place to do it.) 

Take your small bowl out of the microwave and test it to be sure it's not hotter than luke warm and the butter and sugar is stirred well and melted. Pour the wet mixture in with your dry ingredients. Mix about a minute with the dough hook on speed two and turn it back off. 

Add the two eggs and turn it back on the second speed. When the dough becomes well combined and begins to pull away from the hook, check it with your finger to see how sticky it is. I will usually add 1/4 more flour here and then test it again. 

If it still feels to sticky I will add one more 1/4 cup. Pour it out of the bowl and knead the dough for a minute or so to make sure everything is worked in well. Lightly oil another big bowl and put the dough in, turning the ball around in the bowl to lightly oil the whole thing. Cover with plastic wrap or a cotton towel and set it in a warm place to rise. Usually about an hour until it is double in bulk.

Next, pour the raised dough onto a lightly floured surface. Pat it out and divide the dough in half. Roll each half into a loaf and place in the slightly oiled loaf pans with the seam side down. Tuck under your ends a bit. I take a small bit of milk and brush the tops and pat on oats or seeds. 

Again, cover with plastic wrap or a towel in a warm place to allow to rise double in size. Bake for about 20 to 30 minutes on 400. You will know when the bread is done by tapping it on the bottom of the loaf. If it sounds a bit hallow it is complete. Cool on a wire rack.

This is another variation using Home Milled Brown Lentils and Golden Flax Seed

Happy Gardening!!