If you’ve always been a spring gardener who starts planning in January, plants in Feb (potatoes and onions) and finishing up with Okra in late summer, then you are missing out on our best time to garden in East Texas.
It’s true. We’re all tired of the heat and the idea of getting out and starting up another garden just doesn’t sit well with several folks. I know. I’ve been one of them.
But not having a garden now, you’ll miss one of our better seasons: Fall.
Our cooler fall weather is an excellent time to plant many things that are more difficult in the spring. Consider planting cabbage, kohlrabi, beets, broccoli, kale, radishes, sugar snap peas (my favorite), and the old standard varieties of greens.
We have two similar, limiting weather factors: frosts and freezes. A frost, where the temperature barely gets below 32 F, is much more tolerable by many plants in this column than a good freeze that will surely knock plants out if they are not protected.
Historically, our average first frost is early- to mid-November. Our first “freeze” (where the temperatures are expected to get below 28 F is at the very end of November. “Hard freezes” are typically described at anything below 25 F.
If you were to plant next Saturday on Sept 30, we would be relatively safe to plan on one and a half months (about 45 days) till frost.
The time from planting to harvest in a fall garden can be quite short as well. Radishes can be ready in 20 – 30 days. Collards also fit the time frame of about 3-4 weeks. Turnip tops can be ready in a month, but you’ll wait two months to harvest their roots.
Other plants I’ve not even covered include carrots, cauliflower, cilantro, English peas, garlic, kale, lettuce, mustard greens, parsley, and swiss chard.
And when the freeze does come, you can certainly protect your garden until it passes. The most economical for larger areas would be a garden row cover or fabric cover.
Pay attention to their recommendations, row covers can be so lightweight that they only keep out insect pests (another great function of them) while others can protect tender, frost-sensitive plants down to 24 F!
Yes, you can use old bed sheets if you have a truly small garden and bed sheets to sacrifice.
My coworker, Joel Redus, has been busy helping 3 schools get their fall gardens ready and planted. Bonner Elementary, Peavy Primary, and Dunbar Primary have planted an assortment of the vegetables listed above. This coming week, Joel and I will be visiting Coston Elementary to see if they can be a part of this educational effort as well.
Each school that participates may have one class or several classes that are furnished lumber and soil for raised beds. It’s in these raised beds that students get to decide what vegetables they will plant and care for until harvest. The curriculum is named “Learn, Go, Eat, & Grow”. While the gardens are growing, students get hands-on instruction on watering, weeding and harvesting with assistance from our own Angelina County Master Gardeners.
Vegetable cooking demonstrations and tasting are an additional part of Learn, Go, Eat & Grow. As a result, students will get a chance to try several vegetables in a variety of dishes.
If you know a teacher or school that wants to be a part of this curriculum, have them email Redus at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Perhaps we can learn from these kids (who absolutely love seeing their gardens grow) and start our own fall gardens.
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is email@example.com
Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.