Christmas is behind us and a new year ahead. There is always kind of a lull between the onslaught of the upcoming January and the holiday season.
Now I’m not much for making resolutions, but I do love to take stock and make plans. And looking outside for the plans I have made are fun for me to ponder.
I have a decent sized vegetable garden that fits my family needs and my time. Yet I need to make better use of it. A gardening expert I follow said that never should you let some portion of your garden go to weeds after a crop is complete. Even if you don’t grow a true producing vegetable, you can plant any number of cover crops to build the soil and keep weeds at bay.
The area where my tomatoes were last year is in bad need of work. I let it go after finishing up last summer. Now it is an eyesore and will take a lot of work to get it back into shape.
This year, I’ll have a better plan and I’ll keep something growing in each area of the garden for as close to 12 months as possible. 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 warm summer months, my goal is to plant heat tolerant purple hull peas and okra. Lastly, as fall sets in, it will be time to plant greens and cool season crops to carry me thru to the winter.
Now an observant gardener may have noticed that the scenario above seems a little too simplistic. And right they would be.
But at the very least, it gives you an idea of where to start. Sit down and study the vegetable varieties that you desire to have in your garden. There are shorter and longer “seed to harvest” varieties of each vegetable out there.
Likewise, some plants can be let go to extend the season. I know many a gardener that will plant specific tomato varieties as soon as possible in the spring and harvest from those plants throughout our growing season into the fall.
A fun challenge for those folks is to see how long they can go on home grown tomatoes. Harvesting all the green/unripe tomatoes just before the first killing frost of winter may allow you to eat your homegrown tomatoes a couple weeks into winter.
Building my soil is another big goal I have for my garden. I suppose I could get a dump truck load of compost delivered. However I’m more of a do-it-yourself kind of guy. We have an abundance of oaks at my house. My high school aged son does a wonderful job of keeping them raked and burned. His enthusiasm for burning leaves doesn’t allow for much composting and soil building activity.
My goal is to use as much leaves as I can between sections and down the middles of my rows. This should 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.
If leaves are in short supply, I won’t hesitate to add some clean and very old hay. Clean hay means free from weed seeds. It would be foolish to bring weed seeds to your garden site that you’ve worked so hard to keep free from weeds. No amount of hoeing and pulling is worth a free bale of weed ridden hay.
Old Bermuda grass hay is by far the most desirable of old hay to use. The varieties of Bermuda grass that is used in the hay industry grows from sprigs as it does not have a viable seed. And with grass that doesn’t have a viable seed, you won’t be introducing grassy weeds into your garden.
In the rows and hills where I plant, I want to add as much composted manure as feasible for me. Years ago when I worked with the Sisters at our monastery, they would giggle and call the manure “Barnyard Gold.”
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 the 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 for natural and organic manures as fertilizer, there is a very real and present disease factor that when composted is significantly diminished.
It is a cloudy, cold, dreary day as I write this. Yet I can’t wait to put something in the ground in 2018. I think I’ll start with onions.
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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.