Veggie gardening for beginners.

The sizzling days of summer are here and thoughts of Fall are our only glimpse of hope when temperatures soar to triple digits. Texans are a hardy bunch and, well, Texas gardeners are a different breed ... resilient, persistent, if not darn right crazy at times. Where most folks are thinking of hibernating in the ac till late September, Texas gardeners are outside tilling their spring/summer garden under to prepare the fall garden.

Yes, we have two planting seasons in southeast Texas and if you start early enough, with a late frost, we can get in a corn crop. There are many new folks coming into the area and wanting to plant a veggie garden for the first time. The following, is a very simple version that anyone can follow, at fairly low cost, so that, they too......can join the ranks of “Texas gardeners”. Let’s call it veggie gardening for beginners.

Pick your site: The site needs 8 hours of direct sunlight a day, with good drainage, and preferably a southern or western exposure. An early frost will zap a garden facing north with no protection from north winds with just 30 minutes of temps at 34 degrees.

Size: 10’x15’ or basically any size you choose, that you can and will maintain. If planting in containers, 12” pots and long, rectangular window box style containers are great for apartment balcony spaces. With 100 sq’ - 150sq’ of garden space, we need to plan accordingly. Plan on each plant using either a 12”x12”, 24”x24” or 36”x36” footprint in the garden, so.....we choose our desired varieties carefully .. or enlarge the size of the garden.

What dirt do we add? First question, “what do you have”? Sandy loam is a great base to begin building a garden. Heavy clay soil will need to be amended. We could write an entire volume of books on soil amendments and what is needed where, but for today, let this be your rule of thumb. Add 2” of an aged compost to a “row” garden once a year.

This comes in many forms: enriched topsoil, gardeners mix, landscape mix, black humus, soil conditioner....to name a few. Do not use potting soil and especially do not us a miracle gro mix for row planting. Cost is a factor and it is not the best fertilizer on the market.....but like coca cola, has a fabulous marketing program! Are you buying your soil in bags or bulk? Unless you are buying 4 yards or more, you do no save in bulk due to the delivery charge.....or most places will load bulk on your trailer and save the delivery fee. Keep this formula in mind. 1 yard = 324 sq’ @ 1” of depth, so....with a 150 sq’ garden, 1 yard of soil will give you 2.2” of depth. If your buying by bag: 12.5 bags of 2 cb’= 1 yard, or 9 bags of 3 cb’ = 1 yard. Your favorite garden center can help you determine, how much and of what, by taking in a a handful of soil taken a few inches below the surface, in the area you plan to use. If they can’t, you are shopping in the wrong place.

Now what do we do – Dump the lightest soil first and add the heavier soil last, this helps in the mixing. A small garden tiller will save time and your back but a garden shovel and rake work just as well. The term “turning the soil”, literally means digging into the soil and bringing up a shovel full of dirt, and turning it over, going in a linear row, every shovel width (about 10”-12”). Ok a lot of you are laughing, but not everyone knows this. Remember your first time behind the wheel of the car.....everyone starts someplace.

What do I plant? What do you like? A good, starter garden generally consist of starter plants in a 4” or qrt size containers and a few varieties of seed. You can google starter gardens and 100’s of layouts and varieties show up. When asked this question, we always find out what their favorite 6-8 veggies are....sometimes less if were doing big surface crops like watermelons or corn. Tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, beans, squash, potato’s, cucumbers, kale, herbs, green onions, are super easy and should be planted in August for a harvest in October. Cool weather veggies, like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts should not be planted until mid to late September – they will bolt with the heat and require replanting.

Apartment dwellers, can easily, accomplish the same with a bit of engenuity, placement and planning, from your favorite garden center. The railing on a balcony, makes a perfect trellis for growing green beans or squash, a 7 gallon grower pot is perfect for growing tomato’s, peppers, lettuce, and herbs, etc.

Seed versus Starter plants – Starter plants give you a 6 week jump on seeds, but many veggies are only available in seed, due to their rapid growth: radishes and beans for instance.

Care and Maintenance – Veggies require care and will require water 3-4x a week during the growing season and fertilize every 30 days, with a balanced fertilizer for vegetables. Fertilome make a good fast release 7-22-8.

How much does this cost?

2 yards enriched topsoil @ 35.00 each, 1 shovel – 28.99, gloves 6.99, seeds – 25.00, starter plants – 5@ 1.99, 4 lb bag of fertilome tomato and veggie food – 8.99 = $154.97 to start. Can you spend more ... the sky is the limit, but the basics of farming have stayed the same for the past 5000 years. Plant a seed, water and fertilize it, it will grow and yield a crop.

Why would anyone want to do all that for a tomato? – Because you can, it’s fun, and you can produce your own “clean” food for yourself and family. It is easy, and the satisfaction of creating and watching something grow will get you hooked for life. Us old timers, guarantee it ... so the next time you see Crazy gardeners out in 100 degree weather.....gardening.....you will be thinking, “oh, time to get started”.

Happy Gardening.

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