2009-04-23 / Community News

From the Archives

Jim Gober The Big Lump Gardener

Q. I would like to build some garden beds with either railroad timbers or treated wood but I don't know if they are safe for vegetable gardening?

A. The creosote in railroad ties will not be taken up by the roots of the plants, according to recent scientific data. However, creosote can vaporize and the fumes can be taken in by the plants. This can stunt or weaken them. Therefore, plant only ornamentals near the creosote treated wood, and keep them at least 6 inches or so from the edge.

Over the last few years wood treated with chromated copper arsenate, or CCA, has become very popular for garden furniture and planting beds. The studies done by our government show that it is safe to use for building raised beds and planter boxes, but should not be used as a surface for food preparation. Since the preservative contains copper and arsenic, most organic farmers are not using the wood for planting containers of any kind. If you want to play it completely safe, I recommend using untreated wood and plan on replacing every few years. Painting it with a water based paint will help it last a little longer. You can use treated lumber and put ornamentals near the edge and your vegetables in the center away from the treated wood. Try lining containers with plastic. Also, there is a product that looks like lumber, but is actually recycled plastic that may be acceptable as a wood substitute.

Q. Can I grow an almond tree in this part of Texas?

A. Almonds don't do well in most parts of Texas. Although they have a low chilling requirement, they come into bloom too early and usually get caught in a late freeze.

Q. When do I prune my blackberry bushes?

A. After you harvest the last of the fruit, cut any canes that had fruit on them to the ground. They will never produce fruit again. The newer non-producing shoots can be cut back to 3-4 feet to encourage side-branching and keep the plants more compact.

Q. I've had a loquat tree for several years and no fruit. Do they need a pollinator?

A. Like most fruit trees, a loquat will perform much better if you plant another one within 50 feet. The loquat tree is cold tolerant, generally care free and fruit is delicious.

Q. I finally planted lettuce this year and I was disappointed. I've never tasted anything so bitter. How do I grow lettuce around here?

A. The most important thing is to plant at the right time of year. Once daytime temperatures get above 90 you can expect lettuce to taste bitter. Plant your starts in late October or in late February. Seed can be scattered on the surface of a prepared bed and lightly covered in early October and early February. Thin to 6 inches apart for the biggest heads, or just eat it as it grows. Although lettuce looks delicate, it can handle a light freeze. It's great to grow in an unheated greenhouse as long as you can vent it on a warm winter day. Lettuce likes rich moist garden soil. If the soil is too wet, the lettuce will rot, so keep it well drained. An organic fertilizer applied during bed preparation will go a long way toward making your salads the talk of the town. Be sure to let a few plants bolt, or flower and go to seed, so you can collect seeds for the next planting season. Varieties that I like are romaine, butter crunch, red sails and black-seeded Simpson, although there are hundreds of varieties to try. Look for a type that is bolt resistant.

Jim Gober is a florist who grows flowers for his unique floral designs. You can reach Jim at 512 446 LUMP or jim@biglump.com Visit www.biglump.com.

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