Friday, October 4, 2013

Fall Gardening in Central Texas: Eat Your Heart Out, Northern Friends

Most folks think that in Texas we got one long, blissful gardening season due to our mild weather. Actually, in Central Texas, we get two short ones. The beastly 100+ degree days of August and September are incompatible with life. So we plant our spring gardens in March, harvest through July, rest in August and September, and then start all over again in October. Our average date of first freeze is mid-November but those are just-kidding freezes. Fall veggies like broccoli, cabbage, radishes, and the like scoff at those cooler temps. We do get a few killing freezes in January and February but by that point our fall gardens have had 3-4 months to do something for us.

This chile pequin bush has done really well despite my neglect

Although I'm a native Texan, I started gardening in Maryland and Wisconsin so I still find that Texas gardening throws me for a loop sometimes. In those cooler northern states my gardens actually received good rain and grew in wonderful native soils. (The topsoil in Wisconsin is the stuff of dreams, people. It feels like it goes down for miles and you can double-dig beds like nobody's business. In my yard you can't dig a hole deep enough to bury a goldfish without using a pickaxe. Trust me, I know.)

Last night I was leafing through a library copy of The New Central Texas Gardener, which is not new at all and whose authors, based on their names (Cheryl Hazeltine and Barry Lovelace), probably are not either. So I was surprised when I started laughing out loud while reading the section on soils. I quote it here (pgs. 144-145) for your enjoyment and to further your understanding of Central Texas gardening conditions:

First, and always, there is the soil. It is the foundation of all gardening, especially vegetable gardening. In Central Texas we have two basic choices of soil: poor and worse. Poor soil is what one of our gardening friends calls "ten o'clock dirt": at 9:55 a.m. it is too wet and heavy to plow; at 10:05 a.m. it is dry and concrete-hard. The only time you can till it is at 10:00 a.m. It is, in short, thick black clay.

The "worse" (and these terms are relative) is caliche, which anyone but a Central Texan would call rock. Actually, much of it is rock- limestone- mixed with expansive clay. While it is only a few inches deep in some parts of the area, many gardeners find that it goes down about a half-mile in their yards.

I have caliche. Which is why I can really only garden in raised beds. But I'm going to garden the living daylights out of those raised beds. Mark my words! My next post will be about my fall garden, which I planted this week. Like a dog (all dogs), my motto is "Ever Hopeful".

The oregano that refuses to die


  1. We have caliche, too! Makes things challenging. But, my raised beds are going nuts! Suddenly lots of eggplant, tomatoes and cucumbers, and I've planted new broccoli, cauliflower, cilantro, spinach, kale & bok choy. It's my first year gardening here and I'm finding this part of the year pretty amazing.

    1. You must be west of I-35, too, then. The Great Divide. That's awesome to hear about your raised beds! That makes me hopeful about mine. And I think that maybe fall gardening is where it's at here.

  2. I love that. We have to do raised beds, too.


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