Persevering in a Texas Garden

The Community Chronicle, September 2019

My first Texas veggie garden did quite well this year despite my unfamiliarity with Texas soil, Texas weather, Texas gardening peculiarities, Texas bugs, and a myriad of other things that can make or break a vegetable garden.

Even though a novice at Texas gardening, I did get enough cucumbers off the vines to make 25-30 jars of pickles. We couldn’t eat the honey-sweet cantaloupes fast enough, and even though the okra didn’t emerge in an orderly fashion I harvested enough to pickle a jar or two. The butternut squash produced a couple of dozen, though none longer than four to five inches. I’d never seen mini butternuts before. Didn’t matter that they were so small. We called the tasty things “personal-sized butternuts”. All five types of chiles loved our limestone-heavy soil, not so much the tomatoes. Well, to be fair, they tried to like our soil. The birds and a bold squirrel stole into the patch and under the netting. I caught them feasting on the tomatoes several times. At one point I harvested all the green tomatoes I could find and pickled them. I thought, ‘Hmph, I’ll show those critters who’s boss!’ But then I didn’t have any fresh ripened tomatoes at all. I had to let the next batch ripen fully and take whatever pittance the birds and squirrel left me.

The only plants and fruit they left untouched were the ground cherries. I received the seeds for free with an order of some gardening items. I really wasn’t sure what they were. Decided I’d just plant them and see what came up. And boy, did they come up. At first, I thought they were tomatillos with their delicate, papery skins and soon realized they weren’t. I googled ground cherries and discovered that they were a fruit also known as gooseberries and were quite sweet when fully ripened. Holy Cow! Were they!

Early in the season, my various beans started off well, then as it got hotter they withered. Now they are mere dead vines reminding me of my gardening inadequacy. No amount of water, or lack thereof, fertilizers, or dusting would help them along. I did manage to harvest a few pintos, limas, and a Kentucky bean or two; really, a sad showing for all the work I put into planting and nudging them along. Some I planted right into my limestone soil, and some seeds I planted into galvanized tubs filled with rich planting soil from the nursery. Didn’t seem to make any difference. I bombed at growing beans. When I told my sister she was sure that I was doing something wrong because who flunks out at growing beans? I mean, little kids in kindergarten grow beans as class projects. I’m an adult, I should be able to do this. She stopped by, looked over my garden, and concluded that indeed I did not have any bean-growing mojo. She found it strange because she can grow beans just fine and since we share the same DNA and are similar in many ways logic says that I should be able to grow beans the same as her. Not so. I was not blessed with the bean-growing gene.

Even though there were more failures in the veggie patch than I care to admit, there were just as many successes. Let me rephrase that – they weren’t failures, they were lessons learned on what not to do next year.

This winter we’re going to build a raised bed and on the ground level, remove the weeds that seem to be rooted ten feet down, followed by a layer of cardboard and newspaper like my neighbor does (I really should have taken his advice) to keep out the weeds. Then we will shovel in nice compost and fresh, clean dirt bereft of any weeds or weed seeds. Are you seeing a pattern here? Weeds were my nemesis this summer. Before any vegetable seeds or plants go in we will install a drip watering system, something we should have done this year. And we will build a trellis on one side for the cucumbers and a trellis on the other side for the cantaloupes, something we did accidentally this year that worked brilliantly. Then, I’ll sit back, consider what to plant, and imagine my veggie garden looking like the front of a gardening magazine. Bliss. One can dream, right?