Garden Thyme: Growing Your Own Food

There is nothing tastier than homegrown fruits and veggies. Most people think that they are unable to grow their own food but it is easier than you think. As a matter of fact, home food production is now the fastest growing segment of the gardening industry with young people leading this trend.

Last month we talked about fruit trees. Remember, get your fruit trees planted before the end of March, preferably by the end of February. This month we will start focusing on vegetables. Next month we will talk more about veggies and touch on herbs.

How Much Room do I Need?

If you have room for a 12” pot you have enough room for a vegetable garden, however most people will allocate much more room for their bounty. We have customers that have started growing their vegetables in large plastic pots because of the ease of weeding and picking. Growing in pots will also help you control soil moisture because of improved drainage. For those that prefer growing in the ground, they will grow their edibles in raised beds as small as 2’x4’ to plots as large as 2 acres. The most important thing is to have a location that gets plenty of sunlight with good organic soil and drainage. Over the past several years with our increased rainfall, we have had many of our customers fail with their gardens because of poor drainage.

Soil Preparation

The proper soil is paramount to a successful vegetable garden. A good vegetable garden requires soil that has good drainage, has a good amount of organic matter, with proper PH and the right balance of fertilizer. For those of you that have struggled with a vegetable garden in the past, I recommend having a lab like the one at Texas A&M perform a basic soil sample analysis. These tests are inexpensive and can end up saving you a lot of money in unnecessary fertilizer and other amendments as well as time and money in plants that won’t grow or produce. If you go by the Agrilife Extension Office, over by the Montgomery County Airport, they have the soil sample kits.

Varieties of Vegetables

We can grow many of the veggies you see in the grocery stores here without much trouble. These plants can be planted by seed or starts in small pots. The most common spring veggies we sell as 4” starts are tomatoes followed by peppers then squash and cucumbers. We also sell strawberries and some melons. You will find the largest selection of vegetable starts in the area in our vegetable greenhouse.

When to Plant Spring Veggies

Because of our usually mild climate, we can plant tomatoes as early as mid February with vigilance and readily available protection. Seeds can be started indoors in small pots and moved outdoors once the weather has changed. Seeds planted outdoors need to be planted at the right time to assure good germination.

We have those gardeners that always want to be the first in the neighborhood to have tomatoes and will come in as early as the first of February for their plants. They are brave souls. As a rule, by the end of April most people are done planting their spring gardens.

If you go to our website, www.growersoutletinwillis.com and click on Edibles on the Home Page it will take you to our edible section which has some good information on what and when to plant.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes are by far the most popular plant for home gardeners. They are easy to grow and will produce the most bang for your buck. They range in size from the sweet million that will only grow to about 3/8 inch in diameter to something like the Beefsteak, which can get to be a pound or more.

Heirloom tomatoes have become all the rage lately. Heirlooms are the predecessors of our modern day tomatoes and many people claim that the heirloom tomatoes are better for you and have much better taste. That may be the case but I can tell you that modern hybrid varieties resist common diseases much better than most of the heirlooms.

Peppers

The second most popular vegetable plants we sell are peppers. Whether you like mild or hot, there is a variety for you. All peppers grow well here and take our heat well. I have seen and heard of peppers lasting through the winter and getting woody stalks on them and continue to produce peppers year after year. However, new tender peppers are one of the wimpiest plants I have ever seen. They are grown in warm greenhouses in the early spring and do not have the ability to take cold windy weather that we might occasionally see before it finally turns warm.

Cucurbits

Cucurbits are plants such as cucumbers, squash, watermelon, cantaloupe, and pumpkins. The plants in this group are easy to grow and are heavy producers. As you probably know these plants will need much more space to grow because of their aggressive spreading nature. Plants in the squash family will produce a large crop then fizzle out. Because of this many people will plant at least one more crop after the first one if they want to keep getting squash later in the summer. Most people buy the squash and cucumbers as starts whereas the watermelons, cantaloupes and pumpkins are planted by seeds.

Other Vegetable Plants

If you go to our website www.growersoutletinwillis.com and go to our Edibles page there is a great amount of information available on what and when to plant in Montgomery County.

Pollination

Pollination is one of the most important elements of fruit and vegetable production. The biggest part of pollination is the presence of bees. As bees go from flower to flower they carry with them the essence of life. Pollination is also accomplished by wind but the efficiency is far less superior than with bees. It is possible to pollinate mechanically but it is a painstaking process using an artist brush going from flower to flower. If you have had trouble getting a good harvest from your plants in the past and the plants are healthy and flowering, pay attention to the number of bees flying around your plants. This could be the problem.

Things to do in February

*It is important to resist the temptation to heavily prune plants with major freeze damage until after the threat of a heavy freeze. If you feel compelled to trim some of the ugliness from your plants, just give them a tidy haircut. If you trim down into green wood, STOP. Green wood exposed to hard freezes can sometimes cause fatal damage to tender plants.

*Get your bare root fruit trees planted before it starts warming up.

*Amend your vegetable gardens with well composted organic material, such as our leaf mold compost, worm castings, or soil conditioner if you prefer, use some mushroom compost.

*Put down Nitro Phos Barricade pre-emergent weed killer to get a jump on those weeds that normally start popping up early in the spring or as an organic alternative you could use some corn gluten meal.

*Prune Crape Myrtles anytime in February. At a minimum, remove last year’s seedpods. A good rule of thumb; do not prune anything bigger than a pencil.

*Valentines Day is rose pruning day. Prune back hybrid tea and floribunda roses not shorter than 18 inches in height. Make all cuts ¼ to ½ inch above the outward facing buds. DO NOT PRUNE climbing or antique roses until after their bloom cycle. Knock Out roses can be pruned to 6-8” above the soil line if you want to keep them shorter and bushier. After pruning, fertilize with a good rose food like Nelson’s Color Star, Microlife organic fertilizer or Nitro Phos Rose fertilizer.

*Broadleaf weeds can be controlled now with a product like Bonide Weed Beater Ultra.

*Spray plants like hollies, hawthorns, camellias, magnolias, and other waxy leaf plants for scale. Recently we have seen an outbreak of scale on crape myrtles. Those should be sprayed as well at this time. The scale on crape myrtles is noticeable by the black sooty mold on the bark that may or may not have white patches on it. Come in to get our spray schedule to help control this problematic and persistent pest.

*Feed cool season annuals one more time.

*Prune peaches and plums

*If you didn’t already do so in January, prune and fertilize shrubs and small trees except for azaleas and camellias. Those need to be trimmed and fertilized after they bloom.

*It is not uncommon for azaleas to lose a lot of leaves this time of year. Don’t Panic.

*Now is the time to fertilize your pecans with a fertilizer formulated for pecans.

For great gardening products and information, come by the Growers Outlet and visit with any member of our team to get the help you need or go to our website at WWW.growersoutletinwillis.com. We have the products and knowledge to help you have the prettiest yard on the block.