Greg's garden

Right now, Greg’s garden features broccoli, cabbage, cilantro and green onions.

I’ll be honest. Growing something to eat in Texas isn’t easy. It’s often too hot, too cold, too wet or too dry. We alternate from arctic blasts to Mexican heat waves. In addition to historic droughts like 2011, Texas holds the record for the wettest hurricane in U.S. history, the deadliest hurricane in U.S. history and the greatest 24-hour rainfall in the continental U.S.

To make matters worse, we cover a diverse range of territories in Texas, almost like completely different states fused together. We range from a cold winter climate in the north to an almost tropical one in the south. We stretch from a rainfall of around 6 inches per year in El Paso to a humid 60 inches in Beaumont. And we go from very alkaline limestone soils in the Texas Hill Country to extremely acid soils here in East Texas.

Fruits and vegetables are plagued with all sorts of insects and diseases plus hungry critters like crows, squirrels, opossums, raccoons, hogs and deer. When we finally get the soil, water and temperature conditions right, something else comes along and eats the produce for us. Why on earth do we garden here? Why would anybody garden here? And why, pray tell, would I try to convince somebody new to attempt such a risky venture?

Because it’s magic, that’s why. Thomas Jefferson once said, “No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.” Gardening is therapy, both mental and physical. It feeds the mind, body and soul. And we get to eat the fruits of our labor, even if they don’t look like the gargantuan wax covered commercial versions. There’s no substitute for the fresh, homegrown taste we harvest from our gardens. I’m currently harvesting turnips, turnip greens and mustard greens. Hard, bland, green-picked produce is on the shelf because it ships well, not because it tastes good. And what season goes by without some new disease outbreak or contamination scare linked to mass produced produce? We have control over that in our home gardens.

It’s hard to teach about growing produce to such a wide range of gardeners and non-gardeners. But I always give it my best shot. I learned to garden from my Shelby County grandfather, Rebel Eloy Emanis, and many others that cared enough to teach me. I’m forever in their debt.

Gardening in East Texas isn’t really that tough once you learn to play by the rules. It’s all about knowing what to grow and when to grow it. Right now we are smack dab in the middle of our fall gardening season, growing plants that can tolerate frosts, including broccoli, cabbage, cilantro, collards, green onions, kale, lettuce, mustard, parsley, radishes, spinach, Swiss chard and turnips. If you really want to celebrate Thanksgiving, go pick something fresh from your garden and eat it. And if you don’t have a garden, plant one. There’s an Easy Gardening publication on every vegetable we can grow on the Aggie Horticulture website under “vegetable resources.”

(Greg Grant is the Smith County horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. He is author of Texas Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, Heirloom Gardening in the South, and The Rose Rustlers. You can read his “Greg’s Ramblings” blog at arborgate.com, read his “In Greg’s Garden” in each issue of Texas Gardener magazine (texasgardener.com), and follow him on Facebook at “Greg Grant Gardens.” More science-based lawn and gardening information from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service can be found at aggieturf.tamu.edu and aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu.)

 
 

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