I’ll be honest. Growing something to eat in Texas isn’t easy. It’s often too hot, too cold, too wet, or too dry. We alternate from arctic blasts to Mexican heat waves. In addition to regular severe droughts like this past summer, Texas holds the record for the wettest hurricane in U.S. history, the deadliest hurricane in U.S. history, and the greatest 24-hour rainfall in the continental U.S.
To make matters worse, we cover a diverse range of territories in Texas, almost like completely different states fused together. We range from a cold winter climate in the north to an almost tropical one in the south. We stretch from a rainfall of around 6 inches per year in El Paso to a humid 60 inches in Beaumont. And we go from very alkaline limestone soils in the Texas Hill Country to extremely acid soils here in East Texas.
Fruits and vegetables are plagued with all sorts of insects and diseases plus hungry critters like crows, squirrels, opossums, raccoons, feral pigs, and deer. When we finally get the soil, water, and temperature conditions right, something else comes along and eats the produce for us. Why on earth do we garden here? Why would anybody garden here? And why, pray tell, would I try to convince somebody new to attempt such a risky venture?
Because it’s magic, that’s why. Thomas Jefferson once said, “No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.” Gardening is therapy, both mental and physical. It feeds the mind, body, and soul. And we get to eat the fruits of our labor, even if they don’t look like shiny, pristine commercial versions. There’s no substitute for the fresh home-grown taste we harvest from our gardens. And what season goes by without some new disease outbreak or contamination scare linked to mass-produced produce? We have control over that in our home gardens. I’m currently eating turnips, turnip greens, and mustard greens; and I just finished harvesting a row of cabbage.
It’s hard to teach about growing produce to such a wide range of gardeners and non-gardeners. But I always give it my best shot. I learned to garden from my Shelby County grandfather, Rebel Eloy Emanis, and many others that cared enough to teach me.
Gardening in East Texas isn’t really that tough once you learn to play by the rules. It’s all about knowing what to grow when to grow it when to feed it, and what else might want to eat it. Right now, we are in the middle of our fall gardening season, growing plants than can tolerate frosts, including broccoli, cabbage, cilantro, collards, kale, lettuce, multiplying onions, mustard, parsley, radishes, spinach, Swiss chard, and turnips. If you really want to celebrate Thanksgiving, go pick something fresh from your garden and eat it. And if you don’t have a garden, plant one. Come February it will be time to plant all the same cool-season fall crops again. There’s an Easy Gardening publication on every vegetable we can grow on the Aggie Horticulture website under “vegetable resources.”
Greg Grant is the Smith County horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. He is the author of Texas Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, Heirloom Gardening in the South, and The Rose Rustlers. You can read his “Greg’s Ramblings” blog at arborgate.com, read his “In Greg’s Garden” in each issue of Texas Gardener magazine (texasgardener.com), and follow him on Facebook at “Greg Grant Gardens.” More science-based lawn and gardening information from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service can be found at aggieturf.tamu.edu and aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu.