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Successful annual vegetables in Central Texas  RSS feed

 
gardener
Posts: 1870
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
226
forest garden urban
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I feel a little odd posting this, but I've been asked to post my mother's secrets to highly productive vegetable gardening in this region. Over the last 30 years she's produced very successful gardens in pure caliche (geological survey says 1/4 inch topsoil) and pure clay (pottery quality). I've discussed it with her this morning and I think I can explain the basic approach.

First of all, prepare your soil. If you're one caliche pull out a pick ax and dig a pit. Fill that pit with all the organic matter you can and mix in all the soil you can scrape together. In pure clay, stir as much organic matter as you can as deep as you can. You'll end up with a raised bed. Organic matter can be pretty much in anything, leaves, wood chips, manures, finished compost, unfinished compost ingredients, fish heads, coffee grounds, I've seen her use them all.

After you've incorporated as much organic matter as you can into your soil, add an organic mulch. Start with a smaller amount of mulch when placing seeds and seedlings. Increase the depth of the mulch as the plant grows. You are aiming for a final depth of no less than six inches and no more than twelve. It is important to keep your mulch pulled away from young plants to avoid providing a direct path for insects while they're most vunerable.


Create small insect barriers out of toilet paper rolls. Mom cuts the rolls in half (lengthwise) and lines the top with vaseline then carries them out to the garden and slips them over freshly planted or sprouted seedlings. Learn to recognize and love your bugs. Most of them are going to be harmless or beneficial insects that add to the health of your soil and plants. Some insects you might need to go out in the mornings to hand pick (leaf footed bugs, stink bugs) but these are the exception rather than the rule. Be willing to sacrifice a few plants to the insects, If they're really loving one plant, they might leave the other parts of the garden alone, or maybe they'll just be easier catch.

Watering, do it late in the evening or early in the night. Most plants literally can't pull in water as fast as they're transpiring when the temperature gets over 90. If you water at night they have the maximum amount of time to drink it in. Water slowly and deeply. If you water too fast, or too quickly the water will run out of the root zone of your plants. A slow watering seeps deeper into the soil where your plant is actually growing. It also encourages the roots to grow away from the worst stresses of fluctuating temperatures. Be careful of bed edgings you use, some will actually wick water out of your garden. When my mom uses concrete or cinder blocks she seals the outside with decorative paint (often done by her grandchildren) to reduce water loss.

Follow the planting instructions on seed packets, or seedling pots for in row spacing. Ignore instructions about about spacing between rows. Provide shelter to young plants. Heavy rains will wash them right out of the ground. Shade or cover during extreme hot or cold spells as appropriate to the plant. Make sure they're well watered before freezes.

Till/No till, After that initial deep stirring of organic matter, don't dig. Keep organic mulches on the soil and use your hands to weed and plant as much as possible. If you're loving your bugs you've kept feeding them by continually layering a variety of food for them on top of your bed. Cut old plants at the root line and leave the roots to decompose in place. Compost, or bury your compost in the bed, on top of the soil but under the mulch.

Don't be afraid to fail. Plant a variety of plants, one of them will probably excel over all others, one will fail and most will just survive with acceptable returns. It will be different plants doing any of these things on different years. There will be early and late frosts. There will be years like last year when there was hardly any sun for all the spring rains. There will be years when there's hardly any rain. Always keep trying new things. Watering techniques, plant varieties, planting times, shading strategies, plant combinations. The more things going on in your garden the more opportunities you have to have that one perfect condition or plant for the freaky weather of this year. There will always be freaky weather.

Plant at least one plant that you absolutely love. If you're really invested in it's success it's a lot easier to drag yourself into the garden when the mercury climbs.

Plant the right plants at the right time. There are actually three distinct seasons here. Many of the plants that are grown throughout the summer in a cooler climate can be grown as a spring and a fall crop here (tomatoes, squashes, peas, most greens, onions) Most of the early spring crops from colder climates can overwinter and continue to produce throughout our winter. And then there's our true summer plants which can take the full brunt of the Texas summer. If there is any time of the year when your garden is completely unproductive it will be August/September. That's the time when you should be starting seedlings for fall crops to plant at the first break in the summer heat. Start the seedling for summer plants (like tomatoes and squash) in January/February.

Rotate your crops. Try to have at least a couple of years between growing the same family of plant in the same bed.

Wow, I grew up learning all this. Didn't realize how complicated it looks when put together. I swear it's not as complicated when you actually do it. You probably already do 90 percent of this automatically already. I've tried to bold the absolute most important things. Hopefully this is clear.
 
Casie Becker
gardener
Posts: 1870
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
226
forest garden urban
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I suppose I should point out that this is the time to be planting potatoes, onions starts, lettuce, peas. If you live near Austin, look up the web page for The Natural Gardener nursery. They have a monthly calendar that suggests what crops to plant (or seedlings to start for later planting) for every month of the year.
 
master pollinator
Posts: 10367
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
373
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Thank you so much for posting this! It took me years before I learned I should just dig out a big pit and fill it with organic stuff and plant on that. But I'm a super slow learner.

A thing I have learned about "pests" - they tend to indicate plants which are not doing well, that is, they will tend to attack stressed plants first. I especially notice this with drought stress and heat stress. Once the season for cool weather plants is over, and the plant gets stressed, the bugs will move in. The stress can be very minor, but the bugs will show it. Flea beetles tell me when the temperatures are a little warm for arugula to be perfectly happy. But arugula can keep growing with a lot of flea beetle damage, so it's not a problem for me, though it would be if I were a market gardener. There are enormous numbers of pillbugs and sowbugs in my garden, but they only attack the plants if the garden gets too dry, they really prefer to hang out in some damp decaying plant material and only seem to eat baby plants as a poor second choice.

Here's that schedule: http://www.naturalgardeneraustin.com/what-to-do-in-february.html
 
Tyler Ludens
master pollinator
Posts: 10367
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Oh, I have a question! I want to try direct seeding tomatoes this year instead of putting in transplants. When do you think I should plant the seeds? Should I wait until the last frost? Though we're having very warm weather lately, we have risk of frost until the middle of April some years, though that late is rare.

 
Casie Becker
gardener
Posts: 1870
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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forest garden urban
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Funny thing, we were looking up that information just a few minutes ago. We're thinking about planting out our transplants. Average last frost in this area used to be March 15. Now it's some time in Feb. If I were playing it safe I'd probably wait till mid-March.

If you want to gamble on the weather, check your soil temp. Once the soil temperature is close to 70 it's optimal for germination. But if we get a cold snap and the seedlings get chilled under 50 degrees it will set them back. Unless they grow extremely fast it would probably be pretty easy to set up mini cloches for the seedlings in an emergency. I successfully did that with beans one year.

Not for this year, but do you know about burying the stem of tomato transplants to encourage them to grow more roots?
 
Tyler Ludens
master pollinator
Posts: 10367
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
373
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Maybe I'll plant some seeds this weekend and be ready to cover any babies that come up. The worst that can happen is the seeds rot.

 
Posts: 10
Location: Central Texas
1
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Does anyone have more tried and true tomato varieties that produce further into the Texas heat? I know the cherries tend to do better in general and am testing out quite a bit of different types myself, but my soil is only on year 1-3 on improving from caliche crud depending on the garden's area so I know there will be general improvement as the years go on.
 
Posts: 44
Location: Central Texas
9
duck goat trees
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The theme of identifying and leveraging your 'unfair advantage' in a natural business keeps coming up in podcasts and books I'm working with. The idea is to work with the strengths of your region, locality and property.  Applying this strategy to my context here in Central Texas: instead of lamenting the extreme summer conditions I can embrace the incredible opportunity of having two growing seasons in a single calendar year, and plan accordingly.

Thank you for this insight! Along with this seasonal observation the planting tips and techniques will be implemented in our gardens. There are literally years of wisdom in this thread.
 
garden master
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Location: USDA Zone 8a
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Josh Kunkel wrote:  Applying this strategy to my context here in Central Texas: instead of lamenting the extreme summer conditions I can embrace the incredible opportunity of having two growing seasons in a single calendar year, and plan accordingly.  



I agree it is best to embrace what you have.

Randie Piscitello wrote:Does anyone have more tried and true tomato varieties that produce further into the Texas heat? I know the cherries tend to do better in general and am testing out quite a bit of different types myself, but my soil is only on year 1-3 on improving from caliche crud depending on the garden's area so I know there will be general improvement as the years go on.



I am in the Hill Country, for us the Early Girl and Celebrity has worked best even when we lived in Central Tx  Here the cherry tomatoes have a tough skin that they didn't have in Central, Tx.
 
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