Updated: Feb 14, 2022
by Tammy Trimmer
Spring in Texas is actually several short growing seasons in one. It generally starts with a cool period perfect for growing greens as well as many herbs, while mid-spring is more suitable for warmer weather crops like tomatoes. Late spring/early summer is the time to plant summer vegetables such as squashes, pumpkins, cucumbers and peppers. We've created a series of 9 classes that take you through each of these various "micro seasons." Each episode will focus on a different micro season as we show you what you can plant, how to grow it, and how to care for it using our time-tested organic methods.
In this article and accompanying video, you'll learn not only what you can grow in early spring as well as kinds of problems you're likely to run into along the way. At the end of this article, you'll find a list of the other episodes in the series. We hope you'll watch them all and keep coming back to us to learn more about organic gardening in North Texas.
Well, wouldn't you know, January of 2021 saw perfect gardening weather, so like many North Texans, we planted our demonstration garden with early season vegetables. No one anticipated the epic cold spell that would hit in mid-February, which caused extensive power blackouts and that damaged almost everyone's landscapes. In Cool Greens & Rockin' Roots, we begin by reviewing what survived and what didn't in our demonstration garden. Then we'll talk about making sure that our beds are in good shape to receive our new plantings. Next we'll cover what we can plant during our cool season. And we will show you easy ways to make your own seed tapes.
When Is Our "Cool Season"?
Texas weather is highly variable from year to year, which makes it difficult to offer specific planting dates. Generally, our spring cool season begins in mid to late January and continues through late March or early April. But rather than relying on the calendar, smart gardeners base their decisions on actual growing conditions such as soil temperature and air temperature. For example, lettuce seeds will germinate when the soil temperature is at 35°F, but the optimum temperature is 70-75°F. Once the soil temperature rises above 75°F, the plant will "bolt," which means it will shift it's energy from producing leaves to producing a flower. At that point it will lose its flavor and no longer be harvestable. For guidance on timing, you can download our vegetable planting calendar here, which provides "average" seed starting dates for our area.
Dealing With Freeze Damage
First let's look at what the freeze did to our own garden and what to do about it. As you can see in our accompanying video, prior to the freeze, we had already planted cabbages, kale, onions, and bok choi. We planted several types of lettuce as well. The bok choi and lettuce were heavily damaged. But you shouldn't automatically just yank the plant out and start over. For example, with the bok choi, we are going to prune off the damaged leaves because there are already new leaves coming out of the plant. So we will just clip the damaged leaves all the way back to the parent plant. The new growth should be fine and the plant should continue to grow. On the other hand any plants If you had plants that have wilted down to the ground should be taken out and replaced. If you're not sure, you can cut it off to the ground and see if it comes back. If it's too mooshy it probably has some root damage and won't regrow.
Preparing The Soil
Before you plant anything new, you need to prepare your soil. We're 100% organic, so we always use organic soils. Never use Miracle Gro or any soil products that have synthetic fertilizers in them.
We like the Mayer Raised Bed Mix. It's a mixture of a lot of different organic matters. And when you have more than one type organic matter, it just really feeds the plant better. So we started with the Mayer Raised Bed Mix. We also mixed in Mayer Rejuvenate because Rejuvenate adds all kinds of minerals and nutrients. And it just revitalizes our raised beds that we already have. It puts back all the stuff that was used up the year before. It's very important to revitalize your garden every year. Even if your garden is in the ground, you still need to replace lost nutrients. We've also incorporated some Texas Green Sand -- a mineral supplement. You can use it on your vegetable garden, you can use it on your lawn. You can use it anywhere. It adds a lot of trace minerals and nutrients that our plants need such as calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium. Third, I added Composted Cotton Burr, which just provides another layer of organic matter.
These are the kinds of soils and soil amendments that you want to put in. I just dumped bags into the raised bed and then mixed it up with a pitch fork as well as I could.
One question we are often asked is whether you need need to let your beds sit before you plant? This is really only a concern if you are using synthetic products. The ingredients in synthetic soils and fertilizers have more concentrated amounts of Nitrogen, Ammonium, Phosphates, and other chemicals, which can burn your plants, so you need to let those break down before you plant. Really, because we are using pre-composted organic matter and other naturally-sourced ingredients, it does not need to sit. You can plant the same day that you put that bed in. What we did with our raised is that we watered it for 3 or 4 days straight, so that it would settle, and then we added more to it. Because when it's dry, everything is nice and fluffy. and when you water it, it will settle and become a little more compacted. If you want to speed up that process, you can water it and then stomp on it and then, water it and stomp it a few times to hurry the process up.
The Fun Part
Once you have amended your beds, you are ready to begin planting. This is the fun part. You get to decide what to grow and whether to start your garden using vegetable starts like those we sell in our greenhouse, or whether you want to start your garden from seeds. Some plants are easier to start from seeds than others. For instance, some easy cool weather veggies are radishes, carrots, beets, and any of your lettuces and cabbages. When planting from seed, one of the things that can make it difficult is that some of them, like radish seeds, are very, very tiny so it's hard to space the seeds out evenly. You usually end up having to over plant and then go back later and thin them out. This is why many people use seed tape. Seed tape makes planting these smaller seeds easier. It's a great way to spread out your seeds so that you are not wasting them.
How to Make Your Own Seed Tape
To make your own seed tape, all you need is a roll of crape paper or a length of toilet paper and some corn starch or flour. Both are biodegradable and break down very quickly in the soil and don't inhibit seed germination. Measure out how long you want your piece of tape to be. Then you want to mix up a slurry using corn starch or flower. Combine 1 tablespoon of corn starch to one tablespoon of water and mix it until it is the consistency of glue.
Take the corn starch and put a little dot of it about every few inches along the tape. For example, if you want your carrots to be 6 inches apart, every 6 inches put a dot of corn starch on the tape. Then fold the tape over and let it dry. If you're not ready to plant that day, you can just roll it up and put it aside. When you are ready to go out and plant, you can just lay your tape down on the soil it then cover it lightly. How deep you should plant it will depend on what you are planting. For example, some seeds need to be planting 1/4 inch deep while others only need to be lightly covered. Doing it this way takes all the thinning out of it.
This is a great project for kids, too. They will have a lot of fun making seed tapes and planting their seeds. And it's all organic.
Succession planting is something every gardener should at least consider at planting time. Succession planting is the process of spacing out your plantings over a period of time so that you don't end up with too much of a good thing. For example, if you plant all of your carrots at once, they will all be ready to harvest at about the same time, which can mean that you will have more carrots than you can use and a lot of your harvest may go to waste. If you instead stagger your planting dates by a couple of weeks or so, your carrots will mature at different times so that you can spread out your harvest over a longer period and continue to enjoy them without wasting any.
When planting from seed, your seed packet should include information such as how many days it will take for the seeds to emerge from the ground and how long it will take to reach full maturity. You can use these details to help you determine how many days or weeks you should wait between succession plantings. For example, radishes and carrots both emerge in about 7 to 10 days. But radishes mature in 21 days while carrots take much longer to develop.
Materials For Build A Raised Bed
What kind of materials can you use to build your raised bed? The answer is that you can use just about anything that will hold the soil. Let your imagination be your guide. You do not have to use wood. Ours is built from cinderblocks. I've seen some really cute cinderblock raised gardens. One of the reasons I like them is that they have openings, so you can actually take and grow your herbs and stuff them in the little pockets. Or you can use them to companion plant your marigolds to keep spider mites and stuff away. I like to re-use whatever I can find. And you can do some really good things.
My son and daughter-in-law use tractor tires. They got a bunch of used tractor tires and they did their gardens in the tractor tires and it worked great. So it's just what you want to do and how you want it to look. So have fun with it. That's the biggest thing is we're all stuck at home. I think it's brought us back to nature. And it's brought us back to enjoying our world. You should create whatever you want -- not what other people think it should be. So I'm not going to tell you you have to use cedar, or you have to use cinderblock. Use what you've got. There are some cute ideas out there. Try looking on Pinterest. They've got some darling ideas out there.
One of the other things that I want to show you is, as you can see, I re-used some of our 5- gallon growing pots. We've all bought plants and then had the growing pots left over and we don't know what to do with them. Instead of throwing them away, you can re-use them. I've put soil in them and my store owner actually has bamboo growing in her backyard and so she cut me bamboo canes. Our teepee is made out of bamboo canes and re-used pots .
And this is a really fun thing to do with your kids. It also saves a lot of space. You're not using your space up with your raised beds or your garden because it's going to go up. I'm going to do both peas and bean. Your peas are going to stop producing about the time that your green beans are starting to produce. All of your peas prefer the cooler season and when it starts getting warm, they stop producing. So after they start growing and get up, you're going to have this wonderful little secluded area. And then the peas will grow to where it's really simple to harvest. Instead of being on the ground trying to pull all of the peas, you've got them up in the air and you can just harvest them as you're standing there.
Tepees also work great for other vining type vegetables like cucumbers and squashes. You could even do, say, cantaloupe as long as you provided support for the weight. Once the cantaloupe gets up there and it starts getting a little heavier, you have to support it with something. It doesn't have to be fancy. You can us nylon pantyhose or the little grape bags that you get from the store -- anything like that you can put around the fruit and then tie it to the tepee. That way the weight doesn't make the fruit fall off.
It does take two people to put it up because one person has to actually be holding all of these together. All I did was take my string and tie it to the first pole. And you can see I went around and around but before I started going around and around, I weaved in and out and in and out. And then we tied really, really tight here. And then I went down and you can see the string go down. This is just to enable all of the peas and beans to have something else to climb onto besides the pole. But it's really easy to take the string, once you do this, just go around and then go to the next pole. I left a little opening so any of the kids that come to visit can come in and get a bean. You don't have to use grower's twine, either, you can use cotton string or even yarn.
One key secret to successful vegetable gardening is consistent watering. All of our veggies need consistent with our watering. If they dry out and then get watered and dry out, you're not going to have the production that you would have if it has consistent watering. So make sure that you get on a really good watering schedule. You also have to watch mother nature because she like to over water for us sometimes. But consistency in watering has a lot to do with fruit and veggie production. That, and they do not like compacted soil.
There are a variety of reasons for companion planting. Sometimes it's done to improve flavor -- like planting basil next to your tomatoes. Garlic helps prevent fungal diseases from developing on your roses. And you always want to make sure that you're attracting plenty of pollinators. So what makes good companion plants besides marigolds? Really, anything that attracts a bee. I like to use African Blue Basil, but any Basil works great. Another good herb is Borage. The bees really love that one too. It has the most beautiful true-blue blossoms. And there aren't a whole lot of true blue flowers. You also want to invite in other wildlife, such as geckos and lizards to help control pests. Remember, we all have our place in the food chain.