Category Archives: Making black Gold

Making good, organic compost is easy. The benefits to you plants and soil is significant.

What’s in a name: heirlooms, hybrids and GMOs

When it comes to understanding and distinguishing the difference between heirloom plants, the lines are clear to commercial growers, but may be a bit blurry to the home gardener.

Heirloom plants

If you’re part of the baby boomer generation, your grandparents, and probably your parents grew heirloom vegetables almost exclusively. Most heirloom seeds have been handed down from generation to generation – most regions of the country. They were hand-picked by gardeners for a special trait – perhaps the specific taste of a tomato, or the hardiness of a squash plant. Some may have been developed by a university when commercial breeding of vegetables was just beginning – at least a half century ago. Some heirloom varieties are centuries old.

The most descriptive aspect of heirloom plants is that they are all open pollinated, which means they are pollinated by wind or insects and no human intervention is needed. Also, the characteristics of heirlooms tend to remain stable from one year to the next.

There seems to be general agreement among gardeners that heirloom varieties taste better than hybrids or GMOs.  However, heirlooms are known for certain inconsistencies. The harvest time may be unpredictable, and the size of the fruit can vary widely.

Some heirloom fruits and vegetables include lemon cucumbers, Mexican Sour gherkin cucumber, Pink Accordion tomato, Lebanese Bunching effplant, green nutmeg melon, Romanesco broccoli and Chiogga beet.


Since heirlooms were generally used for home consumption, Gardeners grew them for flavor. However, with increasing U.S. population after World War II, commercial growers began looking for consistencies in harvest time, size, amount of production, ship ability and color of vegetables and other plants.

Plant breeders create hybrids when they intentionally cross-pollinate two different varieties of a plant, hoping to create a new hybrid variety that contains the best traits of both parent varieties. Although hybrids are often confused with genetically modified organisms, there is a significant difference.

Of course, cross-pollination takes place naturally as well but when hybridizing, growers carefully control the pollination to make sure that the traits they are looking for occur with the offspring. Traits they may be looking for are resistance to disease, insect or fungal infections, and bigger or more uniform size. Creating the right hybrid takes many long years of experimentation and recording of traits.

The Juliet (Roma) tomato is an example of a hybrid tomato. So is Sun Gold, a yellow cherry tomato.

Sime of the good traits of hybrids are: dependability in size and color, uniformity in color and flavor, better disease resistance, higher yield and less care required.

Hybrid corn goes back centuries –  to the Mayans in Central America. Hybrids include carrots, cucumbers, melons, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage and squash.

GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms)

These are plants (or animals) whose genes have been changed using genetic engineering processes. Scientists use genetically modified organisms to produce medicines and foods.

In plants, scientists have been transferring genes for years now. Genes have been transferred within the same species, across species and even across kingdoms. GMOs are also being used in the research and production of pharmaceutical drugs, experimental medicine and, of course, in plants.

There are many GMO crops and many GMO seeds available. Some of the commercial vegetables and food we eat have been genetically modified. The idea behind GMO engineering is to produce a trait in a plant that does not occur naturally in the species.

In plants, GMO species are bred to create resistance to pests, diseases, environmental conditions. It can also help in reducing the amount of large amounts of the food product spoiling that occurs during long transportation. Genetic engineering of plants can also make them resistant to herbicides.

GMOs are not restricted to plant species. Many foodstuffs contain GMOs: baking powder, citric acid, condensed milk, glucose, glycerin, lecithin, maltodextrin, protein isolate starch, sugar, vegetable fat, and vitamins B!2 and E. If you object to consuming GOs, buy certified organic and look for the non-GMO label.

Heirloom plants are not hybrids and hybrids are not genetically modified organisms. Hybrids and heirlooms are not genetically manipulated in labs. They don’t contain foreign DNA from a species that is very different.

GMOs however, cannot exist without laboratory manipulation, Monsanto is the largest developer of plant GMOS, and are followed by several other biotech companies.

Mike Serant of Microlife discusses organic fertilizers and lawn products

Bob Dailey checks in with Mike Serant, Owner of MicroLife Fertilizer. Learn about MicroLife, why its a great product line but also the science behind it and all life.

Here’s an article from Mike’s webpage:

Only with Organics can we grow the best testing and healthiest food possible.

One major reason Americans per capita, have more diseases than any other developed country is the vast majority of our food is poor quality. We can change our destiny by buying and growing the cleanest food possible and that is with Organics.

The Law of Nutrition states; “When any organism is fed the highest nutrition possible, that organism will hit it’s optimum potential and have the least amount of problems.”

This is true be it plant, animal, or human. Since the 1970’s, most American Farmers and most American food processors care more about volume than our health.

We can change all that by “Going Organic.” And by simply following Nature Law, we get excellent harvest and delicious foods that are safe. Organics programs are easier than going chemical and we feel much better about them. There is a science called Biophilia that tracks the DNA connection between plants and humans. Quite amazing to know that we are related to plants and when we take of our plants, they take care of us. A wonderful book that helps to explain this is “Your Brain on Nature” by Dr. Eva Selhub. Dr. Selhub will be coming to Houston via OHBA in January 2019. For more information head over to

It is important to note that all chemicals fertilizers provide poor nutrition to plants and hurt soil health. Soil health and plant health are directly tied together. We want a fertilizer that improves both. Also recognize that chemical fertilizers only provide up to 7 minerals, but plants need at least 52 to be healthy and the human body has 79 elements in it. When we feed plants only 7 elements, there is tremendous disconnect with what is required for good health.

Remember, ‘we are what our plants eat.’ When pants are grown with chemicals, malnourishment sets in and plants become susceptible to pest insects and disease. The chemical industry answer to this is to spray poisons on plants. That poison doesn’t go away and when we, as humans, eat malnourished foods that have poisons sprayed on them, we too, get sick. Another great note for Organics is that when plants get a full load of minerals their flavonoid metabolites are enchanted, and flavonoids are another way or saying flavor. That’s why well grown organic foods always taste better.


Danny Millikin discusses organics at The Memorial Park Conservancy

Bob Dailey sits down with Danny Millikin to talk about The Memorial Park Conservancy, Organic Gardening and much more!

Daniel is a plant health enthusiast who loves soil, soil biology, root anatomy and the way they all work together. Prior to joining the Memorial Park Conservancy staff, he served as the Lead Horticulturalist for Hermann Park Conservancy, and previously operated an organic, edible-focused landscaping company. Daniel is a ninth-generation Texan and due to his strong Texan heritage, is drawn to native Texas plants and conserving the natural setting. He has always loved Memorial Park and the nature in motion that he experiences here. He attended Stratford High School on the west side of Houston and is a Spartan to the core. Daniel enjoys spending time with his wife, their two daughters, and their rescued pets. He loves introducing beginner vegetable gardeners and native novices to new or better ways to grow their own plants. He hosts the radio show “HomeShow Garden Pros” on SportsRadio 610 every Saturday morning.

Over four million people have access to Memorial Park each year. The Park boasts 30 miles of hiking trails, winding, wooded roads, and numerous sports facilities. The Conservancy is a non-profit organization.

Read more about The Memorial Park Conservancy here

The W.I.S.E. Guys help homeowners save water and money

Bob Dailey interviews a WISE guy about the water conservation programs at and other municipal water districts.

More about The W.I.S.E. Guys

A free and fast way to have your irrigation system checked. If your irrigation system is a few years old, some sprinkler heads may have broken can break. Plants may have grown blocking spray patterns, your landscape may have changed, or the water pressure may be different from when your lawn or plant beds were installed.

That’s where The W.I.S.E. Guys come in. A free service offered by many municipal utility districts in Texas, the W.I.S.E. Guys are licensed irrigators vetted by the MUD, who will do a complete assessment of your irrigation system. If your area MUD doesn’t offer this service, encourage them to do so.

Read more about the W.I.S.E. Guys here

Interfaith’s Organic Vegetable Garden

Sarah Munday, with Interfaith of The Woodlands’ Veggie Village, at the Alden Bridge Community Garden.


Veggie Village, community donation gardens, are welcoming places where people work and learn together while providing fresh organic produce to the Interfaith Food Pantry and Senior Living Complexes. The gardens are located at the Alden Bridge Sports Park and Wendtwoods Park (in the Village of Creekside) in partnership with The Woodlands Township and many community volunteers.

Read more about Veggie Village

Backflow Preventers Important for Health, Safety Reasons

We all take the water we drink, bathe in, or prepare food with, for granted. We assume that the water will always be clean and safe to drink. There is, however, a hidden risk that many people don’t give enough attention to – backflow preventers.

Occasionally, situations take place that can impair the quality of drinking water. One common occurrence is the breaking of a private water supply line or a public water main. When something like this happens, water that is polluted or that may contain harmful contaminants can backflow into the potable system, threatening the quality of our drinking water.

Backflow is generally caused by changes in water pressure. For instance, if a water main breaks or a fire hydrant is activated for fire suppression, pressure goes down and this can cause water to flow opposite of the direction it was meant to travel. That means if your irrigation system is connected to your house piping – soil, fecal bacteria and other contaminants that have entered the irrigation heads and piping can “backflow” into your home drinking water, and perhaps into the public water system.

Here’s a true event reported by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality:              While mixing a batch of pesticide, a worker pushed a garden hose into the tank until it touched the bottom. Nearby, city utility workers opened a flush valve, releasing a large flow of water from a water main. Where the worker was mixing the pesticide, the water pressure dropped, and the flow in the hose reversed. Water and pesticides flowed from the pesticide tank back through the hose and into the water lines of the residence.

Fortunately, the worker mixing the pesticide realized the danger and alerted the utility workers, who closed the flush valve before the contamination reached the city’s distribution line. Still, good water and time were wasted.

The solution to this risk is to have a backflow preventer installed. TCEQ requires homeowners with irrigation systems and most commercial buildings to have one. Regular tests and inspections insure that your household plumbing and the public supply is protected.

In addition, residents should install backflow devices on hoses that are used for drip irrigation or hose head sprinklers. The same opposite flow can occur if there is a drop in pressure. These hose backflow preventers are simple, inexpensive devices that provide the same protection.

Cicada Killers More Frightening than Dangerous

The insect is big.  The body can be two inches long, and the extended wingspan three to four inches long.  It can be terrifying as it zips around the yard, dipping this way and that looking for its prey, looking for all the world like a giant, angry hornet.

The insect is large, but fortunately, not angry.

Frightening Appearance

The insect is the Eastern cicada killer (Sphecius speciosus) and it is really not interested in anything other than cicadas, no matter how frightening it looks.  In fact, although the female does have a stinger, the cicada killer is not aggressive.  The wasp’s venom is reportedly somewhat painful.  However, the female will usually ignore humans and other animals unless she is stepped on or handled roughly.  The venom’s use is to subdue cicadas.

Males Are Harmless

Male cicada killers are very aggressive, but since they do not possess a stinger, their aggression amounts to dive bombing an intruder.  The males also seem to have very poor eyesight.  Add their need for corrective lenses with their aggressiveness, and the result is a very belligerent, pesky but ultimately harmless drone.  Males have a sharp spine on the abdomen and may try to jab with the tip, but it is a useless gesture.

Laying Eggs on Cicadas

Female cicada killers burrow holes into soil.  The burrow may be up to 10 inches deep.  After she digs a hole, the female will begin to hunt for cicadas.  Once she finds one, she stings it and then carries it to her burrow.  She drags the cicada into the hole and lays an egg on it.  The living, but paralyzed cicada will provide food for the newly hatched larva.  To see cicada killers in action, go to this link,

Well-Drained Soil

Cicada killers drill burrows in sandy, well-drained soil exposed to sunlight.  Their preference is to dig the burrows along the edges of sidewalks, along driveways and along the sides of ditches.  The insect’s burrow can be recognized by a U-shaped mound of very fine soil around the ½-inch burrow.  Although they can infest a lawn, they prefer to build their nests in locations where there is little or no vegetation.

Life Cycle

The female will lay male eggs on single cicadas.  Since the female is significantly larger than the male, female eggs are usually given two or three cicadas to consume during their larval stages.  Eggs will hatch in two or three days.  The larvae will feed on the cicada for a week or more, spin a cocoon and overwinter in the burrow.

Once emerged, the females will mate, spend several weeks creating burrows and eating (mostly flower nectar) until they begin hunting for cicadas.  Cicada killers only have one generation per year.

Hunting Cicadas

A female cicada killer is relentless in her search for cicadas.  Once she has found one, she stings it, taking it back to the burrow.


Unless the population of cicada killers is immense and bothersome, it may be a wise option to simply ignore them.  In addition, as is often the case with insects, there are generally fewer cicada killers around than cicadas.  Nature tends to seek a balance.

Although there are insecticides that work, cheap tennis or badminton rackets also work really well.  Use insecticides with discretion and sparingly, if at all.  Spraying into burrows also contaminates the soil, and kills beneficial insects.  Whatever is used, it is difficult to eliminate a population of cicada killers.  Applying the old tenet of “live and let live” could be a potential (and really the best) solution.

For more information about gardening-related topics, contact the Montgomery County Master Gardeners hotline at 936-539-7824 from 8 AM to noon and 1 PM to 5 PM Monday through Friday, or visit the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension office at 9020 Airport Rd, Conroe, TX 77303.  Visit the Master Gardener website for upcoming programs and plant sales at