Vegetable Gardens Require Right Varieties and Right Timing
Last week, since we talked exclusively about building the beds for our vegetable gardens, I think it's only logical that we start talking about what to plant and when to plant. That also means that this could simply be the next in a series of vegetable-specific email tips, because the amount of information that can be talked about can fill a book. By the way, please understand that in no way are the lists and dates listed below the "only" lists and dates. These are merely suggestions and should no way be interpreted that this is the gospel according to veggie gardening. Varieties change year-in and year-out. And with the fluid nature of weather in Houston, the dates and times for planting are just as fluid.
The first choice you have to make is whether to start it by seed or by transplant, or even a combination of both. In almost all cases, whether by seed or transplant, we have to cheat Mother Nature to a certain extent. What that means, is that we have to start our seeds indoors or in a greenhouse, (and that needs to be done RIGHT NOW for some veggies) since it's simply too cold to plant seeds outdoors. That way, you are creating your own transplants. Likewise, it's still too early to plant transplants, but in order to succeed with most tomatoes (yes, I know they are technically a fruit, but that's an email tip for another day), we have to put them in the ground a few weeks before the recommended dates. That's how we cheat Mother Nature. Seeds are always available, but when you plant them is critical and the variety is also just as critical.
I will have links to recommendations on what varieties to grow, and what time to plant those in the ground, but your first decisions need to be about what choice of vegetables to actually grow. So, some rules to live by first: 1. Grow what your family will actually eat. Moms like eggplant, kids don't – plain and simple. 2. If your goal is to save money, grow what costs the most at the store. Anything that costs less than a dollar a pound at the store doesn't make financial sense in a home vegetable garden. 3. Having said all that choose easy-to-grow crops for your first veggie garden, because while Brussels sprouts may be expensive at the store, they are also difficult to grow in the home garden. Likewise, peppers are easy, even if they are relatively cheap at the store as are radishes.
There are several varieties in almost every vegetable (and fruit) crop. In the seed catalogues, while every tomato looks stupendous, choosing the right variety for our area is critical to successful gardening. Below are a few links to vegetable varieties for this area. Remember choosing time-tested varieties is always the smart move as opposed to choosing the best looking picture in a catalogue. There's even a specific Tomato-only list or two.
There is way more information about vegetable gardening than I can ever include in a few email tips, so if this is a subject you would like to explore further, please let me recommend any combination of these books specific to vegetable gardening in Texas and the Gulf Coast. I've linked you to some places where you can order these books, but since some have been out of print for years, you may also be well served by visited a used book store and taking the time to search for older books on the subject. Or search for vegetable garden books on-line as well.
Year Round Vegetables, Fruits and Flowers for Metro Houston, by Dr. Bob Randall with The Urban Harvest
Commonsense Vegetable Gardening for the South by William D. Adams
Southern Kitchen Garden by Adams & Leroy
Texas Organic Vegetable Gardening by Howard Garrett
The Vegetable Gardener's Bible by Ed Smith
When to Plant
Now that we have discussed what to plant, and since we mostly talked about where to plant in last week's email tip, "when to plant" should be the next logical step. The next few links have "planting dates" for seeds and transplants (where noted) relative to the average annual last frost date. And for the Houston area that date is March 15th – give or take a week.
Where to Get Your Seeds & Transplants
Most independent nurseries and/or garden centers carry the right vegetable seeds and eventually carry certain transplants for this area. Please keep this caveat in mind, "NOT ALL SEED PACKETS WILL WORK IN HOUSTON!" Again, this goes back to the right varieties for the right area, and just because a seed packet is for sale, say at a big box store, doesn't mean that it works for this area. In fact, most seed packets sold at a national-type chain seldom work here. So, stick with local nurseries and garden centers to insure the right varieties for this area. For the area's most experienced gardeners, the best-kept secret for them is that they find their seeds and transplants at what might still be considered good old fashioned FEED STORE. And while most feed stores rarely sell plant material for landscapes, in many instances that often do a better job of stocking specific seeds and transplants for vegetable gardening.
Then, of course, there are the seed catalogues. You probably recognize the names, and the even better news is that all seed catalogues are prolific at on-line shopping too. So, here too are some links to on-line seed catalogue shopping. As noted earlier, these are not the only places you can order seeds, so if I've missed a link to a seed catalogue company that you swear by, by all means pass along that information and we can add it to a new list later this year.
Burpee Seed Co.
Totally Tomato (Exclusive for Peppers & Tomatoes)
Finally today, as an aside, please keep in mind that crop selection for the home garden should also be broken down into two distinct groups – 1. Veggies for smaller gardens like 8' x 8' and smaller or 2. Larger veggie gardens that need room to grow vines horizontally and in some cases vertically.
Smaller Garden Options:
Larger Garden/Vine Veggie Options:
Until next issue, here's to Great Gardening from the GardenLine, heard exclusively, 6-10 a.m. Saturdays and 7-10 a.m. Sundays, only on NewsRadio 740 KTRH.
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