By Cary Sims
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Angelina County Agriculture & Natural Resources Agent
With Christmas behind us and a new year ahead, my mind is making plans for the upcoming garden. Now I’m not one for making resolutions, but I do love to take a look back and then make plans for the future.
I have a smaller-sized vegetable garden that fits what my wife and I need. But I’ve let it go. That rich soil is currently growing a fine patch of bermuda grass. A gardening expert I follow said that you should never let a portion of your garden go untended after a crop is complete. Even if you finish by late summer, you can plant any number of fall and winter cover crops to build the soil and keep unwanted weeds at bay. I let mine go during the drought last summer and fall and I am planning for a good year ahead.
Let’s run through a possible scenario for a year-round garden. Early season vegetables such as onions and potatoes will be followed by traditional spring plants such as peppers, tomatoes, and squash. As the spring plants play out in the hot, mid-summer months, my goal is to plant heat-tolerant purple hull peas and okra. Even if I don’t get all the okra harvested, I’ll have blooms to enjoy. What I should really focus on is cowpeas. Locally called by their varietal name, “purple hull peas,” these are legumes which fix nitrogen in the soil and actually improve the soil’s nitrogen levels. Lastly, as fall sets in, it will be time to plant greens and cool season crops to carry me through the winter.
Now if you think this plan is a little too simplistic, I would agree. But at the very least, this scenario gives you an idea of where to start. Sit down and study the vegetable varieties that you want to have in your garden. Even with a certain vegetable, you will find shorter and longer “seed to harvest” varieties available.
Additionally, some plants can be let go to extend the season. I know many gardeners that will plant a six-pack of tomatoes as soon as possible in the spring and harvest from those plants throughout our growing season into the fall. Others insist that replanting a second, fall tomato crop is the best option.
A fun challenge for fall tomato growers is to see how long they can harvest and consume their own tomatoes. Harvesting all the green/unripe tomatoes just before the first killing frost of winter may allow you to eat your homegrown tomatoes into the winter. On years where we’ve had a late first frost, I have known some to eat their own garden’s tomatoes on Christmas day.
Building my soil is another big goal I have for my garden. I suppose I could get a dump truckload of compost delivered, but I’m more of a do-it-yourself kind of guy. We have an abundance of oaks at my house and consequently an abundance of oak leaves. My goal is to use as many leaves as I can down the middles of my rows. This will serve two roles. First, rows covered in coarse leaves will keep mud at bay when the ground is wet. Second, the leaves in those middles should break down slowly over the growing year to be later tilled in.
In the rows and hills where I plant, I want to add as much composted manure as feasible for me. Bagged, composted manures are available at the better garden stores and make the task of adding it to the garden so much easier. If you know someone who regularly cleans out their manure from horse stalls, cattle pens, chicken coops or from under rabbit cages, you may be able to get a lot of “product” for a lot of shoveling and very little expense. Be sure to let any manures age before you add it to your soil. I’m not worried so much about it being too hot, as some would say, but of disease. As much as I’m in favor of manures as fertilizer, there is a very real and present disease factor when manures are not properly aged.
It is a sunny bright day as I write this. I can’t wait to put something in the ground in 2024. I think I’ll start with onions.