Home gardening continues to grow in popularity. One of every three families does some type of home gardening, according to conservative estimates, with most gardens located in urban areas. Texas gardeners can produce tasty, nutritious vegetables year-round. To be a successful gardener you will need to follow a few basic rules and make practical decisions.
Although many urban gardeners have little choice, selecting a garden site is extremely important. The ideal garden area gets full or nearly full sunlight and has deep, well-drained, fertile soil
One of the first things you must do is decide what vegetables to grow. You will want to grow vegetables that return a good portion of nutritious food for the time and space they require. Vine crops such as watermelons, cantaloupes, winter squash and cucumbers need large amounts of space, but if you plant them near a fence or trellis you may need less space for vine crops. Plant the vegetables your family will enjoy most.
A gardener needs a plan just as an architect does. Careful planning lessens gardening work and increases the return on your labor. Long-term crops require a long growing period. Plant them where they won’t interfere with the care and harvesting of short-term crops. Plant tall-growing crops (okra, staked tomatoes, pole beans, sweet corn) on the north side of the garden where they will not shade or interfere with the growth of low-growing crops such as radishes, leaf lettuce, onions and bush beans. Group crops according to their rate of maturity so a new crop can be planted to take the place of another as soon as it is removed. When you plant a new crop, it should be totally unrelated to the crop it is replacing. This is called crop rotation. Crop rotation helps prevent the buildup of diseases and insects. For example, follow early beans with beets, squash or bell peppers.
If your garden does not receive full or nearly full sunlight, try growing leafy crops such as leaf lettuce, mustard and parsley. Table 2 lists vegetables that do well in full sunlight and those that tolerate partial shade.
Many garden sites do not have the deep, well drained, fertile soil that is ideal for growing vegetables. If yours is one of them, you will need to alter the soil to provide good drainage and aeration. If the soil is heavy clay, adding organic matter, sand or gypsum will improve it. Organic matter also improves sandy soils.
To improve clay soils, apply 1 to 2 inches of good sand and 2 to 3 inches of organic matter to the soil surface in late winter or early spring; then turn it under to mix it thoroughly with the soil. It may take several years to improve the soil’s physical condition and you’ll want to add more organic matter (in the form of composted materials, peanut hulls, rice hulls, grass clippings, etc.) periodically. Turn the soil to a depth of 8 to 10 inches—the deeper the better—each time you add organic matter. Add gypsum at the rate of 6 to 8 pounds per 100 square feet where the soil is heavy clay.
These are some tips to keep in mind before you begin with your Texas home vegetable gardening.