SPRING VEGETABLE GARDENING
Spring has sprung early this year with mild winter as some of the plants thrived through
this warm winter. See the blossoms on apple trees and new greenery even on banana plants.
This sure is an indication to start spring vegetable gardening as you know summer is not far away. I get emails from new comers to Austin to learn about gardening. What they do not know is: gardening here is year around.
One has to know fall gardening for cool season plants and spring gardening for warm season plants. Being spring time you will see the basic gardening tips and suitable spring vegetables to grow in Austin in this article those who are interested in growing vegetables in their backyards.
1) Garden Size and Soil:
For beginners it is recommended to start with small size (10×10 feet). Once you build confidence by successful gardening increase the size as much as you can handle without any pain and frustration to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Regarding the soil it is better to get soil tested for its nutrient contents and pH value. Here in Austin and surrounding area soil is alkaline and rocky. Plants need at least 8-12” of healthy soils. Amend the soil by digging and adding organic matter and compost to enrich soil, improve texture and drainage. It takes 1-2 years to achieve good soil. It is recommended to amend the soil every season by adding organic material and compost.
Most of the plants require 6-8 hours of sun. Austin summer heat can be harsh on plants so partial sun for certain plants is highly desirable. Here you find lot of old oak trees in the developments. It is better to select garden plot away from big trees where by enough sun is available for plants to thrive.
3) Raised Beds:
Being lime stone rocky soil, the raised beds are an excellent choice for beginners or back yards. These are also called box gardens or square foot gardens. These can created by using stones/bricks/ cinder blocks or lumber confining the garden area filled with top soil, organic materials and compost. This way you can skip the hard work of digging out the existing grass.
Make bed size accessible for harvesting from both sides (4’ wide) 8’-12’ deep, length may vary.Raised beds provide adequate moisture and drainage. Use mulch to retain water, regulate soil temperature and control weeds.
Planting right plant at the right time is critical to successful gardening. It is not always easy. The calendar may say it is time, but the thermometer does not. The soil may be too wet or too dry. Some people use moon cycle for planting. Planting can be done by seeding directly into the soil. Due to the winter not getting enough sunny days it is wise to raise or buy plants from local nurseries to get head start as soon as spring arrives. Keep on eye the last freeze date in your area or you have to protect the plants during cold night.Plants like tomato, pepper, eggplant etc do well with planting early spring.
The beans, okra, bitter gourd, ridged gourd, corn can be directly sown into the ground after last freeze date. Soil temperature has to be above 60 degrees. The general rule is to plant the seeds 2 or 3 times as deep as the diameter of the seed. Thinning is required to provide enough space between plants. Try to visualize how much room a mature plant is going to take and have that spacing as your ultimate goal. Overcrowding may lead poor produce.
It is better to stay away from chemical fertilizers. Practice organic gardening as this helps to eliminate chemical contamination into the soil and water system. Use compost during preparing the soil and during growing season.Use organic fertilizers available now in the market. I recommend cotton seed meal as an organic fertilizer for all purpose.
Watering is essential for successful gardening. We do not get enough rain falls in Central
Texas. Regular watering of an average 1” per week is considered about right for growing plants. Rain water is preferred over city water. Rain water is neutral and produces healthy plants. We are drought prone in Austin. City of Austin promotes water conservation and gives rebate for rain water harvesting. (Ref. my earlier article on rain water harvesting). It is preferable to use drip irrigation to save water. It is better method of watering as water feeds directly to roots.
7) Control Pests and Diseases:
Do not use toxic pesticides to control bugs. Get to know the “beneficial bugs vs bad bugs” and encourage and save beneficial bugs. Practice proper sanitation in the garden by weeding frequently. Follow crop rotation and diverse planting. The neam oil and dish washing liquid soap mixed with water works well for controlling pests. Neam oil is available in local nurseries.
Avoid letting veggies getting too large or too mature. The fresher, the better.
Pick at peak and harvest frequently. If they need to be picked in advance of use they can be refrigerated in regular plastic bags for several days. If you are going to freeze or can the surplus, do it as soon as possible after harvesting.
ENJOY the home grown healthier diet
(Vegetable = vitamins, minerals and fiber)
9) Spring Season vegetables:
Tomato, Peppers, Beans, Squash, Cucumbers, Eggplants, Swiss chard,
Malabar spinach, Bitter gourd or melon, Ridged squash, Kohlrabi,
Potato, Corn, Okra, Pumpkin, Basils
10) Seek Local Advice:
Do not forget to ask questions whenever you are buying seeds or plants at local nurseries about growing in Austin area.