Gardeners' Dirt: Experiments for fall vegetable garden
By Chip Stelpflug - Victoria County Master GardenerEdited by Charla Borchers Leon
Sept. 13, 2012 at 4:13 a.m.
Gardening in Texas, and especially Victoria County, sets us apart from most other counties - and Texas climates, for that matter. At least that is my experience in my garden in Inez.
If you like to garden or want to start, then Victoria County vegetable lovers are in the right place.
Living in and close to Victoria provides extended growing intervals in spring and fall alike. It is not uncommon to extend a healthy vine of spring butternut squash well into September.
In fact, my butternut squash didn't get the memo that it should have died out two months ago. But there it is, blooming, and providing my neighbors with weekly fruit. I have long since tired of twice-a-week squash, but my friends still welcome it.
Hopefully, you fall garden aficionados have already set in motion your planning, preparation and planting - the three essential P's of any successful garden start. The season and time of year once again arrives when we begin planning for the holidays and what goes in our fall gardens.
My planning, preparation and planting in the spring and summer have carried forward into some early fall vegetables.
I tried several new approaches and expanded others with mixed, but unusually good results.
My experiments • Hay bale gardening
Probably the most fun and surprising harvesting results I have had come from experiments in my garden with hay bale gardening. The result was an incredible harvest of Roma tomatoes, basil, and at this printing, still growing and setting fruit, my hardy butternut squash plants.
I read about this gardening technique and had the room, so I thought, what is there to lose? If it did not work out I would have an abundant supply of top cover compost from the bale of hay.
Well, the result was an overwhelming success story. See the 'before' pictures of how I planted veggies in enriched soil placed in the hay bale - followed by the 'after' successful plantings.
Another experiment I tried with success is container gardening. Size and volume of the container used is proportionate to the crop, but this method can provide abundant harvest in a limited space. This type of gardening will benefit almost any beginner who has at least one friend to help you move your prized tomato plant before the freeze kills it.
Container sizes can vary. For example, you can have a three-gallon pot for peppers, and five-gallon to 30-gallon barrels or troughs for tomatoes. The 30-gallon will support a tomato cage and without a doubt, use a support cage. It not only benefits the plants' branches and fruit, but also harvesting, pruning and watering are easier.
Square foot technique
This is another experiment I attempted. Yes, absolutely you can grow an enormous amount of vegetables in a small area.
So much, in fact, that not only do you discourage weeds, but you can also have such a dense growth it camouflages ready-to-pick fruit. So, again, this is a wise technique, but keep in mind the mature size of your plantings and be able to get to them without having to machete into your own garden because of overgrowth.
If there was one additional benefit overgrowth and overproduction provided, I befriended many new neighbors - and had so much plant growth I feed my composter. So, make the most of these advantages in the garden.
As many experiments I have tried, this one has (hands down) been the best low-cost and easy-to-install single item I have in my garden.
With drip irrigation and a battery operated timer, I no longer see my labor suffer in the way of stress dehydration and wilt on those prior occasions when I could not be there to water.
I can positively announce the largest one item responsible for my garden's enormous, bountiful results has been drip irrigation.
Not only is it automatic, but I have eliminated any potential of plant dehydration - and with it eliminated, low production by stress as a result of this one step.
If the plant avoids stress-related injury, that same plant will flourish and cycle as God intended. And it does.
Hopefully, you are ready to tackle your fall garden project with a few new ideas. Go out and talk gardening with one of the many locals; call a Master Gardener for advice; shop at your local farmers market; and ask questions about those topics still in question. Visit a nursery and ask for advice about any particular tomato, onion, broccoli, carrot and lettuce you can pick up - and plant in your patch this fall.
If you hurry, you can still manage a pumpkin patch.
And if you are a true Texas gardener, share your harvest with your family and friends.
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.