Your guide to a backyard garden- start preparing now!
The Houston Area is advantageously located in a growing zone that allows you to squeeze almost two full growing seasons out of the warm months! Use the Farmer’s Almanac as a guide to help plan your plantings.
Growing your own food allows for a rewarding opportunity to improve the health of your families’ meals, keep a few extra dollars in your pocket, and experience the difference in taste- homegrown tomatoes are incomparable!
Meet with the eaters in your household to determine preferences. When planning, remember to consider your space and do research to determine the size, sun requirements, and pest susceptibility of the mature plant. Remember that containers are also an option to help provide more space and separation between varieties. The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension is a great resource to research plant needs. Companion planting is a sustainable practice that may help with pest control, spacing, yields, and increase flavors! Planting basil with tomatoes deters pests, carrots and lettuce share space, lavender with peppers brings beneficial insects to pollinate flowers and create fruit.
Once you have planned out the area, it’s time to gather the seeds. Heirloom varieties allow for a yield that is unique, flavorful, and are often more resistant to negative environmental factors. Seeds that have been derived from the Japan do very well in our climate. Our favorite unique crops that do well in this area are Shishito Peppers, Rossa Di Rotonda Eggplant, Accordion Tomato, Thai Double Blue Butterfly Pea Flowers, and Mexican Sour Gherkins. Another option is planting food wastes from your own kitchen! Whatever produce that becomes over ripe on the counter, or the seeds that are cut out and discarded are great options. Repurposing the food wastes obtained from local farmer’s markets is even better as the plants are acclimated to the region and have experienced success there.
Japanese styles of farming require intentional set- up to allow for a relaxed growing season. Planting on the peaks of trenches allows for easy weeding, division of crops, and leads to the plant’s root systems developing close to the surface to absorb water easily. This method has been proven to allow gardeners to supplementally water less than 10 times in an entire year! Another thing to keep in mind is the growth habits of the plants and the need for poles, climbing fences, or a trellis.
Start seeds indoors around January in small plugs with a small amount of moist soil and access to light; water consistently. Once the seedlings have grown enough to establish some surface level roots, transplant into slightly larger pots with more soil to continue growing.
It is recommended that you begin a consistent fertilization regimen, beginning at the sight of the first green sprout on a plant. Ensure that the fertilizer you are using is safe for edible crops and be cautious of adding any dangerous elements to the soil or food that will be in your body!
Depending on the crop, plant directly in the ground about 6-9 weeks after sprouting. Make sure that tomatoes are planted deep enough to encourage a strong root system and straight stems. Once peppers reach about 6 inches, remove the top cluster of leaves. This practice is known as topping, and results in a bushier, more productive plant when compared the sparser and leggier counterpart.
As the plants mature and begin to develop fruit, ensure that pests do not harm or hinder development. Neem oil is a natural and organic solution to deter harmful pests without adding pesticides to your body.
A healthy population of pollinators leads to a high yield of fruits and vegetables! However, you may also want to pollinate by hand if possible. This is most feasible in smaller gardens. Tomatoes do well with a shake of the stem- spreading the pollen to other blossoms. Peppers need to be directly pollinated by fingers (from flower to flower) or by the use of tools (cotton swabs are perfect). Strategically planting pollinators in your garden will help in the natural process! Our favorite edible, pollinator attractors are lavender, flowering Ghana Basil, snapdragons, and stocks.
Harvest your garden’s bounty to share with friends, family, or neighbors! Excess produce can be stored frozen, properly canned, sun dried (herbs/ edible flowers/ spices), made into preserves, jams, jellies, or baked goods. You may even consider selling at a local farmer’s market!
Saving seeds from year to year is a great sustainable practice to ensure crops are well acclimated to your space and growing conditions. However, take note that if plants are not properly spaced and are cross pollinating, the resulting seed is not pure and will be a hybrid for the future generation.