Catnip Confusion

Why does my catnip (nepeta cataria) smell like low-grade lemon balm? To add to my confusion, they look nearly alike.

I’ve discovered that the various catnip plants growing around my yard smell different.

For example, the potted plants I picked up at a nursery have a faint skunk-like odor, which intensifies when dried.

Store bought catnip smells faintly skunk-like

On the other hand, seed grown catnip have a faint minty-citrusy scent. I’ve observed that the minty scent intensifies in catnip grown in-ground versus container-grown catnip. Or maybe I’m just imagining it.

Catnip started in a grow bag

I had forgotten I had dumped some potting soil laced with catnip seed in my flower bed and the seedlings emerged between the perennials, well protected by its taller neighbors. Catnip is supposedly a mint relative, but I can’t attest to its invasiveness. I am waiting to see if this colony will survive the winter and spread during the warm seasons.

A side-by-side comparison displays how catnip can be easily confused for lemon balm: look for the fine hairs on catnip leaves and the golden hue on lemon balm leaves. Here’s an article enumerating the differences.

Regardless of the smell, my cats still react the same way to the skunk-odor catnip and the mint-scented catnip. Here’s Conan going after the mint-scented variety.

It’s not difficult for the cats to distinguish between catnip and lemon balm. The cats have a habit of destroying catnip plants whenever they are in reach, so identification is easy usually in the aftermath. As a result, I have elevated the potted catnip plants and take cuttings to hand out to the catkids.

A takeaway from all this is to label your seeds and cuttings!

Vegetable Guides

I was always an ornamental plant grower and landscaper for all the time I’ve tended gardens in Texas. Somehow I’ve always felt that growing vegetables in the harsh climate required too much effort and resources for a family of two trying to hold down full time jobs and paying the bills. Any vegetable that I’ve dropped into the ground usually involved some kind of plant that could endure the grueling Texas heat. This usually meant peppers of all varieties, a potato or two, and maybe something from the onion/garlic family. I know tomatoes are said to do well in our summers, but I don’t like eating tomatoes. Of course, when I can manage to irrigate them properly, I’m always growing herbs…I tend to have a lot of success growing warm season herbs such as rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme and basils.

With the state of the world in 2020, I’ve had the opportunity to work from home and sharpen my growing skills. I’m happy to report that mostly everything I’ve grown from seed this year has survived with the attention given them. I have lost very little in terms of new and existing outdoor/landscape plants as well.

With achievement under my belt, I’ve set out to grow some cole crops (vegetables I’ve always wanted to grow and eat) starting the fall/winter season. I anticipate starting in the cooler climate will guarantee me some vegetable harvests by next year, especially growing broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and Asian cabbages.

I’ve done my research by this list of resources to help plan with vegetable growing in my zone for this season.

Seed/Plant Local Resources:

Online seed/plant companies:

Blogs and channels I follow:

I recently learned of a work perk offered for free through my job. I recently signed up for online courses with Start Organic. I’ve been attending webinars hosted by the Start Organic team to learn about urban organic vegetable gardening. If your workplace/company offers this educational course to its employees, it’s well worth participating in if you’re interested in learning to start organic gardening.

Overwintering Peppers

I’m giving it another go this year. The candy cane peppers I purchased and planted out earlier this year failed to start from collected seed. They were great producers despite beneficial neglect, i.e. overshadowed by neighboring melons and tomato plants. So I dug them up and potted them in grow bags for storage in the garage over winter.

Candy Cane peppers pruned heavily and ready for overwintering
Last Candy Cane Pepper Harvest

I also got around to potting up some ornamental peppers that I started from seed early winter. They eked out a meager existence in 4″ starter pots all spring and summer-long until they moved into bigger digs, got a healthy shot of fertilizer, and sat outside during the hot days of fall. So now I’m faced with a surplus of pepper starts that I’ll also be overwintering.

We’ve been doing the nightly dance of shuffling pepper plants in and out of the house to take advantage of this mild fall weather. There’ve been a few nights when temperatures dipped below 40, but lately daytime temps have stayed relatively stable in the 70s.

It will only be a matter of weeks before winter chill comes on and our official frost date here in North Texas begins.

Nasturtiums! November Seed Starting Adventures

Nasturtium seeds: Alaska, Jewel and Black Velvet
I’m bound and determined to grow nasturtiums this year. I had some old packets of Alaska Variegated, but turns out they were too old to germinate. So I picked up several packets at Calloway’s and online from Amazon. While seed shopping I also picked up Spinach and Lettuce seeds, along with bunching onions, chives, marigolds and coneflower seeds. I’m also looking forward to my order from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds, consisting of baby bok and Chinese broccoli, coming soon! As it turns out, my last seed starting venture left me with a lot of unsprouted soil blocks: arugula, spinach, bok choy, and various types of basil. Cleaning out the old seeds from my collection turned out to be a simple matter of dumping packets into wet paper towels and storing them in plastic zip lock bags. No surprise here…well except for a single spinach seed that germinated. It just wasn’t worth the effort to keep it. I also started another flat of soil blocks. The Parris Cos lettuce germinated within a few days. I’m hoping that the basils germinate. I also broke out the fenugreek seeds and sowed them in a pot. I purchased these seeds from Amazon pantry a few years ago, which sold them as spices. But whole fenugreek can also grown from these spice seeds. Even as sprouts, they are very fragrant. If this batch of soil blocks fails to produce any basil, I may have to run them all through the paper towel method. I’m still hopeful I’ll get some to germinate. Stay tuned.

Soil block adventures

Thanks to Prime Day, I picked up a soil blocker. I’m on my way to seed starting and cultivating plants in soil blocks.

This meant also making my own seed starting mix, something that I’ve been wanting to do ever since pandemic gardening switched into full gear. I came up with my own DIY mix with media I was able to collect locally.

  • 1 part perlite
  • 1 part organic raised garden soil (Miracle Gro)
  • 1 part organic compost
  • 1-2 handfuls of organic plant food (Espoma Garden Tone)

I used a 1 gallon ice cream plastic container to bucket out my portions into a seed tray and began mixing away.

Realizing that mixing this media in a shallow tray would result in a mess and lots of wastage, I made sure to create a 2nd batch in a stainless steel full size steam pan. We were previously experimenting with high sided steam pans to double as litter trays, but decided it was impractical to keep lidless trays with dogs roaming about looking for “kitty treats”.

Those high sides made it easy to contain the soil mix that turns to slush once you add water. Then it’s just a matter of finding the right jig/dance with the soil blocker to pack the slushy mix and eject the molded blocks.

I forgot to measure the amount of water added to the mix. I was mainly trying to go by feel…so some of my extruded blocks ended up a little crumblier than the next batch. So it’s trial and error for now until I come up with a system that I’m satisfied with and produces the desired results: mainly healthy seedlings.

By the 3rd day, radish, lettuce and kohlrabi seedlings popped up. Success!