currently in Austin

the show

Growing Olive Trees

air date: October 31, 2013

What’s really in your olive oil? Meet John Gambini from Texas Hill Country Olive Company, who grows organic olive trees and presses pure oil. On tour in Dripping Springs, Carla Jean Oldenkamp grows organic good eats for all, including the chickens in her Zen Hen House. Daphne flavors things up with homegrown dill. Plus, find out why your xeric plants rotted in recent rains. John divides nursery chard transplants for more “yums” for the bucks.

Episode Segments

On Tour

Oldenkamp Zen Hen House & Organic Garden

Fresh eggs from humanely-raised chickens and organic produce prompted Carla Jean Oldenkamp’s Zen Hen House and square foot gardens. Along the way, she found meditative tranquility.

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Question of the Week

Why are my xeric plants rotting after the rain?

After recent rains, some of our xeric plants like senna, artemisia, and yuccas—among many others–fell over, split apart, or just flat rotted.

Drought tolerant plants are the choice these days, since they can withstand our lengthy periods of little rainfall with low supplemental water.

But this situation offers me the opportunity to talk a little about the key to success with drought tolerant species, and that’s soil.  If you live in an area with heavy clay soil, and many of us do, low-water-use plants will struggle when we actually have rainfall.

Many of these species are native to desert regions, where the soil is very porous.  So in their native environment, even if it rains, the soil doesn’t hold water for long.  But that’s not true of our clay soil, which holds water for a very long time.

And if desert species, which are adapted to very dry conditions, stay wet for too long, they will rot and fall over.  Artemisia, Senna, Cassia, Agaves, and Yuccas are just a few of the plants that suffered in the recent deluge that brought almost 13” of rain to Central Austin.  That’s just too much water for most desert species to handle.

If you can, build berms or raised areas in the garden for desert, drought-tolerant species.  And use very sandy, porous soil to amend those planting beds.  Raising the roots out of the heavy clay soil helps to keep them a little drier.

It’s a great idea to move to more heat and drought tolerant species, but we need to understand how to change the entire landscape to better mimic the natural environment of these plants.  Building berms and swales, to channel the water away from certain areas of the garden and into others, will go a long ways towards insuring the success of low-water use species.

One viewer asked if he could pull his Senna back up, tie it together and get it to recover.  Sadly, no, this won’t work.

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Plant of the Week



Dill is an easy cool season herb to grow. Along with its tasty leaves and seeds for our recipes, it's a pretty plant to mingle with flowers, vegetables and other herbs. With its feathery bright green foliage and lovely upside-down-umbrella shaped inflorescence, dill makes a striking addition to any area of the garden. Although many people plant dill in fall, it can succumb to winter freezes if temps drop below 25_. At our Travis County Extension demonstration beds, we plant it after the last freeze date. You can plant from transplants or seeds. If planting from seed, just lightly scratch into the soil, since they are so small. Dill is an annual that thrives in well-drained soil with lots of organic matter. It will bolt and flower when hot weather comes our way. The flowers that signify bolting attract many beneficial insects to the garden. And, since it's a larval plant for Swallowtail butterflies, don't kill the caterpillars that enjoy it, too. Plant extras so you and wildlife can enjoy. Dill grows very quickly and may tend to fall over, especially if exposed to windy conditions or if planted in too much shade. So be sure to give it at least 6 hours of sun and plant in a protected spot. To harvest the seeds for cooking, cut the entire flower stalk just as the seeds begin to ripen, and then allow the stalk to dry. You can also use dill leaves in pickling, soups, and other savory dishes. Harvest fresh leaves and use them immediately, since the flavor is lost fairly quickly. Cutting your dill to use in the kitchen will actually invigorate it, causing it to branch and grow and produce more leaves and flowers for harvest.