Austin’s December Vegetable Garden by Paula Wolfel

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Hooray for Rain!

Colorful garden greens in the December Vegetable Garden

Add color to your leafy garden beds with an assortment of mustards and kales.

Gardening slows down a bit during this month.  As predicted, some of us had our first freeze a few weeks ago, as well as lots of rain!!   So hopefully all preparations were made last month for the lower temperatures, and the rain reduced irrigations needs. Make sure you continue to protect all new transplants from freeze and their first frost in the December vegetable garden.  If the temperatures fall below 28 degrees then cover your plants, securing them with soil, bricks, rocks, or pins.  In addition, make sure to keep an eye on temperatures near freezing and frost warnings for citrus trees: either cover them with frost cover or blankets, or if they are potted, move them inside.

Tool Maintenance

Now is a great time to reflect on the year and do a little tidying up around the garden shed. Go through your inventory of tools and see what needs to be repaired or sharpened. Dirty tools invite moisture, which leads to rust, so make sure everything is cleaned. I use an oily rag to give every tool a good polish which helps keep corrosion away. Even if your tools are stored outside, it’s a good idea to give them a little TLC to weather through the next few months. Here is a great guide to help you clean and sharpen your tools.

Your December Vegetable Garden Checklist

Even though the days are shorter, December usually gives us a lot of beautiful sunshine. Here are a few things to accomplish while soaking up some rays.

FERTILIZE
  • Continue to feed vegetables with fish emulsion or other water-soluble fertilizer every 2 weeks.
WATER
  • Water vegetable beds so that plantings do not dry out. Irrigate only if the soil is dry a few inches below the surface or in newly established seedbeds or transplants.
PLANTING (with frost protection)
  • Seeds:
    • Greens, cool season (all month)
    • Radishes (all month)
  • Transplants:
    • Asian Greens (all month)
    • Lettuce (all month)
    • Spinach (all month)
  • Seeds or Transplants:
    • Asian Greens (all month)
    • Lettuce (all month)
    • Spinach (all month)
SOIL
  • Use mild days to turn compost and build up mulch in the December vegetable garden.
DISEASES/PESTS TO LOOK FOR
  • Cabbage loopers, aphids, snails/slugs, and some beetles can remain active all winter. Protect plants from damage and insulate from freezing weather with a layer of row cover. This can be left on all winter. Anchor the fabric in several places with u-shaped pins, bricks, stones or sandbags. Another option is to lay 4-6 foot lengths of heavy t-posts or wooden boards along the long edge of the row. They are easy to remove if you want to lift up a section of row cover to periodically check the progress of your plants.
MAINTENANCE
  • Keep up with weeds while they are young and before they have a chance to put down roots. A sharp hoe makes quick work in vegetable beds.
  • Remove annuals that were killed or burned by frost, but don’t cut back perennials yet.
HARVEST
  • Keep your vegetable consumption high this winter as you continue to harvest Swiss chard, kale, collards and lettuce. Use a “cut and come again” strategy. You’ll be surprised how fast everything grows.
  • Cut or twist the leafy tops off of turnips, beets, radishes and carrots before storing, and don’t overlook the culinary potential of those leafy greens. They are totally edible and nutritious, especially when harvested fresh from the garden. Their flavor is transformed when chopped up and incorporated into soups, casseroles, vegetable sautés, or dips. Carrot tops make a tasty pesto for adventurous eaters.
PLANNING
  • Take some time to sit down with garden notes and graph paper or a computer app and plan your vegetable garden for next year. Place your order for the spring season while seed sources still have plenty of inventory.
  • Try to pencil out a crop rotation plan. It really does help with pest and fertility management. I use a rotation of potatoes to help break up compacted garden beds and add compost after I’ve dug up the crop.
  • Start shopping seeds for the February planting season.

Thinking Ahead: Preparation for Frost

Upside down nursery pots used for frost protection in the December vegetable garden

Use pots or buckets for protection – but remove them when it warms back up.

As a reminder from November’s articles, in preparation for freezing temperatures, make sure you mulch around all your plants and keep bare soil covered with mulch or leaves.

If a freeze is expected:

  • Water plants beforehand
  • Cover newly planted plants, and tender vegetables and landscape plants with row cover, sheets or blankets making sure to secure the fabric to the ground to prevent wind from blowing it up and to seal in heat from the ground
  • Disconnect hoses, wrap faucets, and drain sprinklers before the freezing night arrives

Additional Resources

Watch the Vegetable Gardening in Central Texas Webinar

Recommended Vegetable Varieties for Travis County

Vegetable Seed Sources

Vegetable Gardening in Austin

Plant Rotations, Successions and Intercropping

Rootknot Nematode Management

Sustainable Food Center Farmers Markets

Texas Farmers Markets

Monthly Gardening Calendar for Austin and Central Texas

About Paula Wolfel

Paula Wolfel is new to the Travis County Master Gardener program but has been gardening in Austin, Texas since 2017. She grew up in the suburbs of Chicago learning how to garden from both her father—a Sicilian vegetable and fruit tree gardener—and both her grandmothers, and then spent years in Virginia gardening. Paula loves gardening because she finds it to be a grounding force- it gets her out of her head and into the present. She loves the pride that comes with cooking a meal for her family with every ingredient coming from her garden… and then the humility she feels when she loses an entire crop because of Mother Nature. She finds gardening to be wisdom, lessons, best practices passed down generation to generation, season to season and hopes to share that with you.

Help Overwintering Insects by Wizzie Brown

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Provide Shelter for Overwintering Insects

If you want to help increase the survival of overwintering insects these next few months, there are some things you can do to provide them with shelter during colder times of the year.

Why Bother?

First of all, why should you provide shelter for overwintering insects? Not all insects are pests! It is estimated that less than 5% of insect species are considered pests which means the majority of insects are beneficial or just hanging around the landscape. Any of you that have heard me speak before know that I say that you can’t pigeonhole an insect as being bad or good based on what the insect is. You need to consider where the insect is located and what it is doing. Now that everyone is on board with helping insects out over the winter, let’s get into what you can do to help.

Leave the Leaves

yard showing leaves and stems left for overwintering insects

Create shelter by leaving the leaves and stems of garden plants.

The Xerces Society spearheaded a social media campaign with the “leave the leaves” slogan. Essentially, it asks people to leave the leaves that fall to the ground in the fall as overwintering habitat for various animals. I do this in my own yard- although I have live oaks and those leaves don’t drop until spring. Fortunately, my neighbor across the way has a burr oak that drops leaves in the fall and all those leaves magically blow into my yard. Leaf litter makes great habitat not only for insects but also a bunch of other ground dwelling animals. I usually rake my leaves into my beds and then mulch over top of the leaves in the late spring.

Leave the Stems

I know “leave the stems” doesn’t flow off the tongue as well as the previous slogan, but it’s of similar thought. This requires you to leave any hollow stemmed plants to allow insects that overwinter/ nest inside to have spaces that are cozy to spend the winter. I do this in my landscape as well, and if I get a letter from the HOA, I write them back with an explanation as to how I am helping native pollinators as there are numerous native bees that nest in hollow stemmed plants. Once new plant growth begins to emerge the following spring, I cut back the old stems, but I don’t throw them away just yet. I place the cut stems into a back corner of my yard for any stragglers that may be taking their time to emerge.

Bury Logs

log and branch lying on ground

Partially bury logs or branches for shelter

Partially bury a log in your yard. Do you still have logs leftover from Snowpocalypse? If so, choose one to partially bury in the yard to create a habitat for various arthropods. This is another strategy that I am using in my yard, although I think that I need to move my buried log to a location that gets better sunlight in the morning. By partially burying the log, you allow moisture in which allows it to be more habitable to a larger number of arthropods. You can have arthropods overwintering in the log, under the bark, or under the log itself.

Get an Insect House

insect hotel with cartons and sticks

Build an insect hotel with items found on your property

Create or buy an insect house. Insect houses can be as large or as small as fits your landscape and can fit any budget. I have both purchased insect houses- these are specifically native bee houses/ nurseries- and made insect houses. You can upcycle any water resistant container into an insect house by filling it with other recycled items such as toilet paper tubes, shredded paper, pine cones, twigs, leaves, bamboo, paper egg cartons, or other natural materials. Insect houses can be placed on the ground, in the crotch of tree branches, or attached to fences or other objects.

You can find more information here: https://travis-tx.tamu.edu/about-2/horticulture/our-favorite-gardening-resources-austin/#Bees

Insect-Friendly Landscape = Less Yard Work!

Providing a few simple things as overwintering areas for insects creates a more insect-friendly landscape. An additional bonus is that it’s less yard work!

For more information or help with identification, contact Wizzie Brown, Texas AgriLife Extension Service Program Specialist at 512.854.9600.

About Wizzie

Wizzie Brown
Wizzie Brown
County Extension Program Specialist – Integrated Pest Management
Email:EBrown@ag.tamu.edu

Wizzie has been with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service since 2002 and has been playing with insects since she was a toddler. She is an Extension Program Specialist with the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program. Wizzie holds a B.S. in entomology from The Ohio State University and a M.S. in entomology from Texas A&M University. The integrated pest management program provides identification, biological and management information to whomever needs help. Wizzie’s research focuses on imported fire ants, including community wide fire ant management. Wizzie also is happy to provide programs to area groups on a variety of arthropod-related topics. You can find insect and other arthropod information on Wizzie’s blog.

Leach Teaching Gardens Visit by Kay Angermann

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Entrance to the Leach Teaching Gardens

The entrance to the Leach Teaching Gardens

Texas A&M Campus-More than tailgating and football

When most folks from central Texas think about Texas A&M, they think about the days of big football rivalries, core cadets and not so funny Aggie jokes. I spent quite a few weekends at A&M with my Aggie friends in my 20’s going to bonfires, games and doing what college kids do.

greenhouses

Texas A&M horticultural school and greenhouses

I did not realize until a few recent visits how large and beautiful the Texas A&M campus is. As of 2021 it has a total undergraduate enrollment of 56,723, and the campus size is 5,200 acres. During the 2020-2021 academic year, Texas A&M University – College Station handed out 57 bachelor’s degrees in horticulture. Due to this, the school is ranked in the top 5% of all colleges and universities that offer this degree, according to College Factual. There has been an increase each year with students entering this field.

Recently Julie and I, two Longhorn fans, joined our Aggie friends for a weekend in College Station, and were treated to a field trip to West Campus where the Leach Teaching Gardens are featured. The teaching gardens are situated right next to the horticultural school and greenhouses and you will pass the impressive AgriLife Buildings at the entrance.

About Leach Gardens

Amy and Tom Leach were the lead donors of now one of the premier teaching gardens in the country. The initial phase began in 2016 and opened to the public in 2018. There are currently 21 teaching gardens and a total of 33 teaching areas to enjoy on the 7 acre development with more to come in future phases.

steel wall with butterfly silhouettes

Steel wall as a backdrop to the butterfly garden

wall of pumpkins

Fun farmers market display and photo op

irrigation in cotton

Farming and Fiber display garden complete with mock-up irrigation system

The gardens consist of bird, bee, butterfly, rose, herb, cottage, Texas Superstar, citrus, cottage, vegetable gardens and more. In addition, there are specialty heritage gardens, a farming field display (the current display is a cotton field), a farmers market photo opportunity and even a vineyard. Within the gardens you will see unique pathways, extraordinary hardscape, creeks, pavilions, outdoor classrooms, arbors, steel walls, screens and even a bird blind that all provide special focal points along the paths. There are many demonstrations for water catchment systems that are clever and intriguing. Make sure you visit the AgriLife building courtyard too. The water collection system there is pretty impressive.

water catchment along path

One of many creative water catchment areas and gardens

pink coral vine blossoms

The coral vine and milkweed in the butterfly garden was swarming with butterflies

Worth the Trip

pot person sculpture sitting on garden bench

Our new friend, “Tara” Cotta

The seven-acre area is an easy walk and is wheelchair accessible with wide crushed granite pathways and ample sitting areas and shade. I have never seen so much butterfly activity in my life and there are photo opportunities around every corner. The gardens spark great ideas and excitement for all types of gardening. I highly recommend this two hour trek to College station to explore The Leach Teaching Gardens on the A&M campus. The garden also has tours twice a week at 9:30 am. See the website for details.

Additional Resources

Our Favorite Gardening Resources for Austin and Travis County

Ornamental Plants for Austin

About Kay Angermann

East Austin Garden Fair Activities. Fun at the photo booth. Kay has been a Travis County Master Gardener since 2018. She and Julie (also a Travis County Master Gardener) have had their “Katy Bird Farm” garden featured on Central Texas Gardener.  They have two miniature donkeys, chickens, dogs, cats, and 15 different gardens on 2.7 acres. When she’s not busy on the farm, she’s out gathering vintage signs and decor for her Hipbilly business.

Austin’s November Vegetable Garden By Paula Wolfel

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Although the daytime temperatures may not indicate it, Fall has arrived for Austin’s November Vegetable Garden. It’s that goofy time of year where you are finally enjoying your summer garden and yet preparing for the first frost. According to National Weather Service, the average first frost in Austin is November 29th.

vegetables harvested

Sampling of Paula’s last fall harvest: summer pickings still in November

Thinking Ahead: Preparation for the First Frost

We know it’s coming, so make preparations now so that you aren’t scrambling at the last minute. Two things you can do right now is to mulch around all your plants and any bare soil and get your row cover ready to deploy.

Watch the weather and if a freeze is expected, do the following:

  • Water plants beforehand
  • Cover newly planted plants, and tender vegetables and landscape plants with row cover, sheets or blankets making sure to secure the fabric to the ground to prevent wind from blowing it up and to seal in heat from the ground
  • Disconnect hoses, wrap faucets, and drain sprinklers before the freezing night arrives

November Vegetable Garden Checklist

Here are some other items that you can add to your Austin’s November Vegetable Garden to-do list.

Planting

  • You can still plant seeds of the following:
    • Beets (early November)
    • Carrots (early November)
    • Fava beans (early November)
    • Greens, cool season (all month)
    • Radishes (all month)
    • Turnips (first half of the month)
  • You plant these bulbs:
    • Garlic (all month) – softneck varieties do much better in our heat
    • Shallots (all month)
  • These can be either by seeds or transplants:
    kale growing in Paula's garden

    Kale growing in November

    • Asian Greens (all month)
    • Collards (first half of the month)
    • Kale (all month)
    • Kohlrabi (early November)
    • Lettuce (all month)
    • Mustard (first half of the month)
    • Spinach (all month)
    • Swiss chard (first half)
  • If you are like me and have wildflowers in the garden to bring pollinators, now is the last chance to sow wildflower seeds for the spring.

Water

  • Hopefully it will rain more now that summer is over, but still monitor the weather and keep an eye on how healthy your plants and the soil look and feel. Each garden is different so you will need to see what works for your garden in your specific Austin microclimate. I live in the western most part of Travis County, in Hill Country. We have only inches of soil on top of limestone. My garden is exposed in full sun and I live on elevated land so we get lots of wind. So keep in mind my watering may be very different than yours. When the daily temperatures remain in 80s, I water my garden every other day-especially because I keep my tomato, eggplant, and melon plants going until the first freeze (the melons usually give up sooner). For my fall transplants and seedlings, I water every 3-days if the weather remains sunny and high 70s/ 80s, but once the temperatures fall steadily into low 70s and below, I water 1-2 a week.
  • Sign up for irrigation recommendations. I recommend the Water My Yard program for weekly watering advice that comes straight to your email inbox! Even though this free service is primarily for your lawn, it provides me with a base of how much water has come into my area within the week and I can then use that information towards my garden’s watering needs. The city of Austin does not participate in this program, so just choose the information from the next closest municipality.

Fertilizer

  • Feed vegetable plants with a water-soluble fertilizer every 2-3 weeks

Diseases and Pests

  • Aphids and cabbage loopers can still be active in November. You can hand pick them off—which I am busy doing with my kale—or use row cover to keep them from your crop.

Maintenance

  • Mulch everything! A gardener should keep beds well-mulched all year round to help keep weeds under control, conserve moisture, and maintain soil temperature. This time of year, I transition from pine straw to a shredded bark mulch because it offers better protection from the cold.
  • Make sure to keep an eye on nighttime low temperatures. Once temperatures drop consistently below 50 or reach freezing, pull any tomatoes from your summer garden that are green and ripen them inside your house on a sunny windowsill.
  • Finally, pull out any of your summer garden that has died or will no longer produce.
  • Keep on top of weeds and don’t let them set seed.

Additional Resources

Local Climate Records for Austin Texas

Watch the Vegetable Gardening in Central Texas Webinar

Recommended Vegetable Varieties for Travis County

Vegetable Seed Sources

Vegetable Gardening in Austin

Plant Rotations, Successions and Intercropping

Sustainable Food Center Farmers Markets

Texas Farmers Markets

Monthly Gardening Calendar for Austin and Central Texas

About Paula Wolfel

Paula Wolfel is new to the Travis County Master Gardener program but has been gardening in Austin, Texas since 2017. She grew up in the suburbs of Chicago learning how to garden from both her father—a Sicilian vegetable and fruit tree gardener—and both her grandmothers, and then spent years in Virginia gardening. She loves gardening because she finds it to be a grounding force- it gets her out of her head and into the present. She loves the pride that comes with cooking a meal for her family with every ingredient coming from her garden… and then the humility she feels when she loses an entire crop because of Mother Nature. She finds gardening to be wisdom, lessons, best practices passed down generation to generation, season to season and hopes to share that with you.

Last Chance for Fall Plant Cuttings

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Take Herbaceous Plant Cuttings Now

October is a great time to take plant cuttings of your favorite perennials to propagate in your greenhouse or home over the winter. Propagating your own plants now helps to preserve plants that might be lost in the upcoming freezes and is a source of free plants for spring planting.

Eight Steps for Successful Plant Propagation

Container of propagation media for plant cuttings

Coir and vermiculite are used in this propagation medium

Propagation Medium

The first thing you need is the right medium to root your cuttings in. Aeration, drainage and ability to hold moisture are all important characteristics to consider. Do NOT use potting soil. The role of the medium is to support the plant while it’s developing roots – not to actually grow the top of the plant. For this reason, coir, perlite, vermiculite, or even sand are the right materials to use. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s been sterilized to inhibit fungal disease.

Moisture

handful of propagation media that is forming moist clumps

Moist medium should clump together loosely

Proper moisture is key to getting the roots to grow from the stem cutting. Make sure to moisten the propagation mix before you use it. Be careful not to breathe any dust from your dry ingredients while you’re mixing and moistening the medium. Wear a dust mask if you have one.

Sometimes the medium (especially coir) is so dry that it may have to sit for an hour or more to absorb the water. Test the moisture level by squeezing a handful of medium in your hand. It should form a loose clump.

Take the Cuttings

plant stems laying on table being readied for propagation

Choose healthy stems that haven’t bloomed.

For best results on herbaceous plants, choose stems that haven’t flowered and are still flexible when bent. There are two types of cuttings: tip cuttings and section cuttings.

plant stems without leaves

Remove lower leaves and the excess stem below a node.

For a tip cutting, select a stem with healthy leaves at the tip. Remove the lower foliage and leave the stem with one or two bare nodes.

For stem cuttings, take two- to three-inch sections of stem that include nodes, keeping track of which end is up. Carefully remove the lower foliage to leave a section of bare stem to insert into the propagation medium.

For both methods, cut off excess stem at the lowest node. Removing this extra piece of stem helps prevent rot. I like to have at least two nodes from which roots can grow.

Rooting Hormone?

Rooting powders or gels that provide supplemental auxin (a naturally occurring hormone responsible for root development) can be used but may not be necessary. To use hormones, dip the basal end of the cutting into the hormone before sticking it in the propagation medium.

Place Cuttings into Medium

bamboo piece poking a hole in soil

Here a piece of bamboo is used to create a hole in the medium.

Use a pencil or some other tool to make a hole in the rooting media. This is especially important if you’ve dipped the cutting in rooting hormone because you don’t want to strip off the substance as you insert the cutting. Gently firm the soil around the cutting with your finger or the tool.

pot with cuttings

This 4-inch pot has a cutting positioned above each drainage hole.

I usually place more than one cutting in the tray or pot. In a four-inch pot I’ll have three or more cuttings placed around the edge. I’ve found that placing them right next to the edge above a drainage hole helps me to see when the cuttings are properly rooted.

Don’t forget your plant tags! Write the name of the plant and the date you took the cutting. These kind of records help you learn best practices for your unique set of plants and propagation methods.

Humidity

Cuttings placed in plastic bags for humidity

Use old plastic bags or bottles to maintain humidity, place in diffused light.

Your cuttings don’t have roots, which means they have no way to replace water lost through transpiration. Transpiration is the process in which plants release the water vapor through the leaves.

To increase humidity for the cuttings, I like to use old plastic storage bags, but you can use plastic wrap or even tops or bottoms of clear plastic bottles.  You still need ventilation to avoid disease, so don’t seal the bag. If using a plastic bottle, take off the screw top.

Light

Light can be a factor in the speed of root development. Low light levels can slow the progress of root formation. Conversely, very intense light can place too much stress on the cuttings. It’s best to find an indirect, diffused source of light. I use an east-facing sliding glass door that doesn’t get direct sunlight for my propagation area.

Temperature

For best results, maintain daytime temperatures at 70 degrees F. If you can’t, use a heat mat that will provide rootzone temperatures between 70-75 degrees F. Some people have heated propagating benches in their greenhouses for this very purpose.

How Long Does it Take?

Not all plants form roots at the same rate. It can take a few weeks to a month before new roots appear at the leaf nodes. Keep your cuttings watered during this time so that the medium stays moist. You should let them get a nice mat of roots before potting them into growing mix. I usually wait until I can see roots growing through the bottom of the tray or pot (which is why I position them above the drainage holes.) You can use a popsicle stick or butter knife to gently lift the cuttings out of the pot to check for roots after ten days or so. Don’t get discouraged unless the stem starts to rot.

Cheap Plants!

Learning how to propagate your own plants is fun and a great way to increase your plant collection without spending a lot of money. You’re also cultivating particular types or varieties that survive in your unique gardening situation. This increases your chance for success and makes your thumb even greener. Be careful though, it’s addictive. Be sure to find neighbors or friends that will take your excess inventory – or just become a plant hoarder like me.

Additional Resources

Plant Propagation information hub.

Principles of Propagation by Cuttings from Dr. Fred Davies, Department of Horticultural Sciences, Texas A&M University

For a list of plants and their preferred propagation method see Propagation of Selected Annuals and Herbaceous Perennials Used As Ornamentals from Hartmann, Hudson T, Kester, Dale E, Davies, Fred T., Geneve, Robert L.;  Hartmann and Kester’s Plant Propagation Principles and Practices; 8th Edition; Prentice Hall 2011

Biology of Plant Propagation from Hartmann, Hudson T, Kester, Dale E, Davies, Fred T., Geneve, Robert L.;  Hartmann and Kester’s Plant Propagation Principles and Practices; 8th Edition; Prentice Hall 2011

Research Publication Hub for Dr. Fred Davies, Department of Horticultural Sciences, Texas A&M University

How to Pasteurize Medium and Sterilize Containers and Tools

About Sheryl Williams

Photo of Sheryl WilliamsSheryl Williams has been a Travis County Master Gardener since 2010 and currently works as the Horticulture Program Assistant at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – Travis County. She was introduced to gardening by her mom and grandma and has been an avid vegetable gardener most of her life. Sheryl believes that there is nothing more satisfying than growing and preparing your own food. She likes gardening in Austin year round and concedes that means pulling weeds every day. She practices organic gardening principles and enjoys the challenge of outsmarting garden pests. Occasionally she loses these battles, but doesn’t mind sharing a good meal.

Where are the Birds?

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Chimney Swift migratory bird

Chimney Swift is a migratory bird that passes through Austin. Image by Zak Pohlen.

Are Migratory Bird Populations Down?

Dr. Maureen Frank, an Assistant Professor & Extension Wildlife Specialist, recently issued a wildlife update based on the several questions she’s received this fall about bird populations. Maureen reports that she’s hearing from backyard birders who have noticed their feeders are awfully quiet, and they are wondering if something is wrong.

It’s Normal for Fall to be Quiet

Fall is a pretty quiet time for birds, especially before the cold fronts arrive. The species that breed in the Austin area in the summer have already moved south. The migratory birds that normally spend the winter here haven’t come down from the north yet. Many migratory species will “ride” down on a cold front, so folks may see some increased numbers now compared to a couple weeks ago.

Fall migration is much less intense than spring migration. In the spring, migrants are rushing to stake a claim on breeding territories, and early arrivals tend to be more successful at breeding and raising young. In the fall, it’s a gradual trickle south since breeding season has already passed and it’s caused more by weather or food availability.

Probably Not Related to HPAI

Dr. Frank doesn’t believe the decreased number of birds has anything to do with the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI; “bird flu”). She says that, yes, wild birds can get avian influenza, but it doesn’t usually have the same impact as we see in the poultry industry. Audubon Texas put out a good release back in the spring when this was a concern: https://tx.audubon.org/aboutus/our-response-avian-flu-concerns.

AgriLife Extension doesn’t have recommendations per se about taking down bird feeders during an HPAI outbreak. Diseases can be transmitted at feeders though, so it’s critical to keep them clean.

Report Your Findings!

Maureen urges backyard birders to contribute their observations to science. She recommends two apps for this: iNaturalist or eBird. Both have easy entry of data so the experts can study it and see if there are actually trends or concerns. This is especially important because some backyard favorites – including hummingbirds – are experiencing severe population declines.

About Maureen Frank


Dr. Maureen Frank is an Assistant Professor & Extension Wildlife Specialist for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. She provides support to AgriLife Extension county agents and participates in program development, result demonstrations and agent training. She also develops educational materials related to wildlife and conducts applied research projects to address area wildlife management issues. Frank has a Ph.D in wildlife biology from the wildland resources department at Utah State University in Logan, Utah, and a bachelor’s degree in wildlife and fisheries sciences from Texas A&M University, College Station. You can reach Dr. Frank at mgfrank@tamu.edu or by phone at 830-988-6145.

Additional Resources

Austin Area Birding Sites

Audubon Texas

Best Ornamental Grasses for Birds

Birdbaths from Recycled Materials

Gossamer Winged Butterflies by Wizzie Brown

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Gossamer winged butterflies, family Lycaenidae, are the second largest family of butterflies after Nymphalidae. There are over 6,000 species in the world with over 100 species in North America.

Characteristics of Gossamer Winged Butterflies

Adults are small, usually under 5 cm, brightly colored, and often metallic. Many species will have tails on the hindwing. The larvae are flattened and slug-like and have a gland that releases a sugary substance similar to honeydew that is used to “bribe” ants for protection. Lycaenindae is split into 7 subfamiles, 3 of which are not found within the U.S.- Aphnaeinae, Portiinae, and Curetinae.

Lycaeinae Family – the Coppers

Family Lycaeinae, the coppers, are found in northern and western U.S., are small in size with a brilliant coppery orange on the upper surface of their wings. These butterflies aren’t seen too much within the state, but can be found in more northern regions.

Theclinae Family – the Hairstreaks

male hairstreak butterfly on leaf

Male hairstreak butterflies will defend territory around their perch areas.

The hairstreaks, family Theclinae, are common throughout the state. They get their name from the “hairlike” lines crossing on under surface of the wings. Most hairstreaks have slender tails on their hindwings. The tails on the hindwing have eyespots, making it look like a false head to help the butterfly evade predators. Tropical species sport bright colors, unlike Texas butterflies which are mostly gray or brown. The patterns of lines and spots on the underside of the wings are used for identification. Hairstreaks are fast flying and tend to dart around erratically. Males will defend territory around their perch areas.

Miletinae Family – the Harvesters

Family Miletinae, the harvesters, has one species, Feniseca tarquinius, found in North America and Texas. The butterfly is orange with brownish-black borders and spots on the upperside of the wings. The underside of the wings are pale orangish-brown with dark brown spots with whitish rings. This butterfly’s caterpillar is carnivorous, feeding on wooly aphids. Adults eat honeydew from aphids as well as fluids from tree sap, carrion, and dung.

Polyommatinae Family – the Blues

The blues, family Polyommatinae, get their name from the blue upperwings of many of the males. Females are more brownish with wide, dark borders and blue towards the body. You can confirm the species identify by the pattern of spots on the underwings. Blues flight is more fluttery, but they are able to dart away when needed. Males often gather at mud puddles and wet sand to get moisture, salts, and amino acids.

For more information or help with identification, contact Wizzie Brown, Texas AgriLife Extension Service Program Specialist at 512.854.9600.

About Wizzie

Wizzie Brown
Wizzie Brown
County Extension Program Specialist – Integrated Pest Management
Email:EBrown@ag.tamu.edu

Wizzie has been with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service since 2002 and has been playing with insects since she was a toddler. She is an Extension Program Specialist with the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program. Wizzie holds a B.S. in entomology from The Ohio State University and a M.S. in entomology from Texas A&M University. The integrated pest management program provides identification, biological and management information to whomever needs help. Wizzie’s research focuses on imported fire ants, including community wide fire ant management. Wizzie also is happy to provide programs to area groups on a variety of arthropod-related topics. You can find insect and other arthropod information on Wizzie’s blog.

Vegetable Gardening in October

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Enjoy Cool October Vegetable Gardening

Garlic is a good crop for vegetable gardening in October

California Softneck Garlic is a recommended variety.

For a while there I was afraid the summer heat was never going to end. Thankfully we have dipped below 100 and (be still my beating heart) are having morning temps in the 60’s. That means I’m back out in the garden in earnest and trying to salvage my heat-stressed plantings. You too can take advantage of our cooler weather and plant brassicas, root crops, greens, and garlic.

Try Garlic This Year

Garlic makes a great addition to any garden as long as you pick the right variety for the time of year you plan to harvest. I plant very early varieties to make sure that I get a good harvest in mid May. Usually May is our rainiest month, and in my heavy clay soil, the garlic heads will rot if I don’t get them out of the ground. For the rest of you with better soil, you’ll want to plant cloves this month and harvest no later than June.

Some online garlic sources are starting to sell out, but your local nursery may still have seed garlic in stock. You can plant them in a row, a raised bed, or even in your landscape.

Prepare a planting area in full sun and add 3-4” layer of well-decomposed compost to help improve soil structure. Garlic likes to grow in fertile free-draining conditions. Plant the cloves 1-2 inches deep, 6” apart, with the pointy side up. Water regularly throughout the winter and fertilize every 2-3 weeks with fish emulsion, blood meal, or other high nitrogen fertilizer. Full sun and high fertility are needed to produce large bulbs. Cultivate lightly to eliminate competition from weeds being careful to not damage garlic’s shallow roots.

Two Categories of Garlic

There are two categories of garlic: hardneck and softneck.  I’ve had much better luck with softneck garlic because it’s better suited to our mild winters. Varieties to look for include California Early, Lorz, Inchelium Red, Creole Red, Cuban Purple, and Texas Rose. Hardneck is the type that forms a flower stalk or scape as it matures. It grows best in colder climates but you might have some success growing it in Central Texas if you refrigerate it a few weeks before planting. Hardneck varieties include Purple Stripe, Music, Ajo Rojo and Metichi.

There are hundreds of garlic varieties and every year I experiment with at least one new variety. When you find one that works for you, make sure to write down the name for next year.

October Vegetable Garden Checklist

If garlic isn’t your thing, here are some other items in your October vegetable garden checklist:

Fertilizer

  • Fertilize garden vegetables with a water-soluble fertilizer or fish emulsion every 1-2 weeks. You want to give plants every opportunity to grow before our first freeze hits in late November or early December

Water and Irrigation

  • It is so dry! Stay on top of soil moisture by using a hand trowel. Dig down to a six-inch depth and use your hand to feel for a soil dampness. A moisture meter is useful if you have one.
  • Newly planted seeds and transplants will need extra water to get established. Water more frequently until seeds and transplants put out new leaves. Right now that might mean every day.

Planting

Collards

  • Plant garlic any time from mid-October thru early December.
  • Start planting lettuce and spinach as the temperatures begin to cool; a little shade above the plants will help with establishment if warm weather lingers. Look for nursery transplants or plant seed directly in the garden.
  • Cool-season herbs planted now, including cilantro, dill, chives, fennel, parsley and sage, will add zest to meals throughout the winter. Plan to let them flower in the spring to attract beneficial insects.
  • Plant cover crops in fallow areas to improve the condition of the soil. Cool-season options include Elbon rye, clover, Austrian winter peas and hairy vetch. Elbon rye is also a good rotation crop if you have nematode issues. It forms thick root mats that nematodes invade but can’t reproduce in, thus reducing the population in the planting area. Elbon rye is also called “cereal rye” and most independent nurseries in Austin sell it. Make sure you are buying the rye grain, not ryegrass.

Diseases and/or Pests to Look For

Cabbage loopers and other caterpillars can damage fall vegetable crops

Inspect plants regularly for caterpillars that can severely damage leaves of brasssica crops. Row cover or netting can be used to protect plants from moths that lay the eggs.

  • Keep an eye out for fall pests such as caterpillars, aphids and harlequin bugs. Look for and destroy eggs. Handpick caterpillars. Use a strong spray of water to dislodge aphids from plants.
  • Use row cover over brassica crops to keep the moths and butterflies from laying eggs on the foliage.

Maintenance

  • Weeds love fall weather as much as vegetables. Keep them in check by regular pulling, hoeing and mulching. An extra bonus is that many weeds can be chopped up and added as a green to the compost pile.

Harvest

  • Sweet potatoes are generally harvested this month as their growth begins to slow down. Cut back on irrigation 2-3 weeks before you plan to harvest so soil is dry. Dig carefully to avoid bruising, brush the dirt off and place in a dry, shady location to cure for 5-10 days before storing or eating. Keep pests like squirrels and rats from helping themselves by covering the drying rack with chicken wire and/or netting.
  • Harvest winter squash and pumpkins when the rind is hard. Use pruners to cut from the vine, leaving 1-2 inches of stem attached. Be careful not to nick or scratch the skin as this could invite decay should you decide to store them.

Additional Resources

Watch the Vegetable Gardening in Central Texas Webinar

Recommended Vegetable Varieties for Travis County

Vegetable Seed Sources

Vegetable Gardening in Austin

Plant Rotations, Successions and Intercropping

Sustainable Food Center Farmers Markets

Texas Farmers Markets

Monthly Gardening Calendar for Austin and Central Texas

About Sheryl Williams

Photo of Sheryl WilliamsSheryl Williams has been a Travis County Master Gardener since 2010 and currently works as the Horticulture Program Assistant at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – Travis County. She was introduced to gardening by her mom and grandma and has been an avid vegetable gardener most of her life. Sheryl believes that there is nothing more satisfying than growing and preparing your own food. She likes gardening in Austin year round and concedes that means pulling weeds every day. She practices organic gardening principles and enjoys the challenge of outsmarting garden pests. Occasionally she loses these battles, but doesn’t mind sharing a good meal.

Floodwater Mosquitoes by Wizzie Brown

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MosquitoAll Abuzz About Mosquitoes

If you’ve been outside lately, you have most likely noticed the giant mosquitoes that seem to want to pick people up and carry them off. With recent weather conditions, floodwater mosquitoes have emerged in large numbers.

Floodwater mosquitoes lay their eggs above the water line in ponds, ditches, pastures, or other places where water collects. The eggs can remain in dry areas and when these areas are flooded the eggs hatch, leading to swarms of hungry mosquitoes. These mosquitoes are larger than mosquitoes we are used to around our homes and can swarm in high numbers.

While floodwater mosquitoes won’t last forever, other mosquitoes called container breeding mosquitoes emerge when floodwaters begin to recede. Many of these species are ones that we are used to seeing around our homes.

How to Reduce Populations

While floodwater mosquitoes species can be difficult to predict and manage, as they can fly up to 5 miles for a blood meal, container breeding mosquito problems can be reduced. Eliminate all sources of standing water. Containers such as watering cans, buckets and bottles can turn into mosquito breeding grounds. Water should be drained from birdbaths, gutters, flowerpots and pet dishes at least once a week. Children’s wading pools should be emptied of water at least once a week and stored so they cannot collect water when not in use. Tree holes should be filled in with sand, mortar, expanding foam, or drained after each rain. Leaky faucets and pipes located outside should be repaired. Fill in low lying areas in the lawn with topsoil or sand or install a French drain.

Areas that cannot be drained, such as ponds or large rain collection systems, can be stocked with mosquito fish that eat mosquito larvae. Dunks can also be used in these areas. Dunks are a small, donut-shaped product that contains Bacillus thuringiensis var. israeliensis. The donut disrupts the life cycle of the mosquito and is non-toxic to humans, amphibians and fish.

When outside, wear loose-fitting, light colored clothing with long sleeves & long pants. Repellants containing active ingredients such as DEET, Picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus can be effective to keep mosquitoes from biting when activities cannot be rescheduled.

For more information or help with identification, contact Wizzie Brown, Texas AgriLife Extension Service Program Specialist at 512.854.9600.

About Wizzie

Wizzie Brown

Wizzie Brown
County Extension Program Specialist – Integrated Pest Management
Email:EBrown@ag.tamu.edu

Wizzie has been with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service since 2002 and has been playing with insects since she was a toddler. She is an Extension Program Specialist with the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program. Wizzie holds a B.S. in entomology from The Ohio State University and a M.S. in entomology from Texas A&M University. The integrated pest management program provides identification, biological and management information to whomever needs help. Wizzie’s research focuses on imported fire ants, including community wide fire ant management. Wizzie also is happy to provide programs to area groups on a variety of arthropod-related topics. You can find insect and other arthropod information on Wizzie’s blog.

7 Summertime Hacks for Backyard Chickens by Susan Wozniak

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Heat Stress in Chickens Can Be Serious

Avoid heat stress in chickens by providing cement watering facilities

A cool water birdbath is a favorite place for hens to hydrate

This summer we have experienced record-high temperatures which causes heat stress in chickens. Although chickens are adaptable to weather changes, they usually perform at their best around 75° Fahrenheit and below, according to research at North Carolina State University Poultry Science Extension. Consistently high summer temperatures causing heat stress in chickens can halt their egg-laying or even lead to death. Although chickens will pant like dogs to dissipate heat, it’s important for the flock owner to provide cooling options for backyard birds.

Help Chickens Beat the Heat with 7 Summertime Hacks

Here are seven ways to help your flock during hot days:

  1. Provide Multiple Water Sources for Hydration.  Always have fresh water available for your chickens. The water will help regulate the chickens’ body temperature, keeping them cool. A raised cement bird feeder in the shade provides an insulated source of cool water and is a favorite place for the hens to congregate and stay cool.
  2. Mist Water Around the Coop to Dissipate Heat. Spraying around the coop and the roof can result in evaporative cooling for your chickens. You can also create small pools of water for the chickens to wade in and keep cool.
  3. Use Ice Blocks. Fill a large metal bowl or similar container with water and place it in the freezer. In the afternoon, turn it upside down to cool off the water in a bird bath.
  4. Feed Frozen Treats for Cooling. In addition to layer feed, add fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables. Avoid treats such as corn and scratch, which require longer digestion processes and thus create more body heat.
  5. Offer Shade for Chickens. Install a shade awning from roofing material or shade cloth. If your chickens roam freely make sure there are shady trees, shrubs, or other areas of refuge. Inexpensive “found” items such as leftover weed block fabric placed on top of chicken wire and sprawling potted plants (like bougainvillea) can provide excellent sources of shade. In extreme heat, any small difference helps.

    Chickens using a bougainvillea for shade

    Sprawling plants can provide excellent sources of shade

  6. Pay Close Attention to Broody Hens. Some hens go broody in the summer and simply won’t budge from the nest box in the heat. My solution has been to physically remove the broody hens from the coup a couple of times a day to ensure they take a break and hydrate and eat. They seem to be in a hormonal trance but will respond to my efforts, actively drinking and eating when I step in to provide mid-day relief in the heat.
  7. Use your Phone Alarm to Put the Chickens to Bed at Dusk. Adjusting your alarm to account for longer days and changing dusk times sensitizes us to shifts in lengths of days. Try to let chickens out in the morning at sunrise at a somewhat consistent time. Consistency is key.

Additional Resources

The Small Laying Flock from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

Managing extreme summer temps with backyard chickens from The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension

Poultry Housing from University of Kentucky Poultry Extension

Hot Weather Management of Poultry from North Carolina State University Poultry Science Extension

Travis County Agriculture and Natural Resources

About Susan Wozniak

Susan holding a chicken

Susan has been a Master Gardener since 2008 and has specialist training in composting and propagation. She is animal-obsessed and has been playing with animals in her backyard since early childhood. Known as “Austin’s dog whisperer,” she is often found training large groups of dogs in Zilker Park. She has trained a pack of six large dogs to protect her free-ranging backyard chicken flock. Susan holds a BBA in Business from Southern Methodist University and a JD from St. Mary’s University.