I’ve mentioned it many times before but I’ll say it again…I LOVE our fall garden. It’s actually my favorite growing season because of the types of veggies that we grow…greens, beets, green beans, spinach, lettuces…all of the the stuff I love the most! So, we’ve been pretty excited about getting our fall garden up and going…unfortunately, the weather here in Austin is not really cooperating. Many people think that we have a long growing season here in the South. But, when it comes to vegetable gardening, it’s probably more accurate to say that we have two short growing seasons…spring and fall…separated by a scorching inferno called summer!
Last week, with thoughts of our fall garden in our heads, we visited our favorite organic nursery…The Natural Gardener. We’ve been shopping there for years and I’ve never seen the plant selection so sparse! Tables that are normally overflowing with plants and veggie transplants were mostly bare. Apparently gardeners big and small are being challenged by this Central Texas heat. So, our purchase for the garden simply consisted of compost and seeds…LOTS of seeds!
With the extreme heat and lack of rain, direct seeding plants into the garden right now is questionable. In order for seeds to germinate they need to be kept moist and within a certain temperature. This germination temperature varies by plant species, but for many of our fall crops, the optimum temperature is between 60 – 80 degrees. Right now here in Austin the temperature isn’t dipping into the 70′s until the wee hours of the morning and it’s still reaching into the high 90′s if not 100′s during the day…today’s high was 106…ugh!
When you’re battling heat and drought like we are right now seeding your plants outdoors in a shady spot and then carefully transplanting them into your garden a few weeks later often produces better results. So, that’s exactly what we did last night. We started two sets of seed trays with our favorite varieties of seeds, organic seed starter mix, and some rain water that we somehow still had in one of our rain collection barrels…I guess from the last time it rained here…sometime back in 2010.
Hopefully these little babies will grow big and strong so that they can be smoothly transplanted into our garden once the weather cools down a bit and we get some rain…that’s the plan at least.
The only other thing that we’ve been able to do at this point in the season with our garden space is amend the soil. We roughly turned over the soil…
…then we tilled 1 yard of organic compost approximately 10 inches into the soil. Of course when I say “we” what I really mean is that my sweet, hardworking, handsome, master gardening husband did all of the heavy lifting while I removed old plants and brush, took photos, provided mental support, and made the occasional run for a cold beer.
Our sweet boy Luke also got his hands dirty helping. I’ll bet he’s going to be a master gardener himself someday…or, at least appreciate his veggies.
We add compost because it improves the structure and texture of the soil enabling it to better retain nutrients, moisture, and air. Soil with good structure has a “crumbly” texture, drains well, retains some moisture, and is easy to turn over. Crumbly soil allows air to penetrate and holds moisture well but allows excess water to drain away. Tender young roots also have an easier time penetrating into soil with a crumbly texture.
Compost also adds nutrients to your soil. It contains a variety of the basic nutrients that plants require for healthy growth. In addition to the main three; nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, micronutrients are also found in compost such as manganese, copper, iron, and zinc. Micronutrients are only needed in small doses, like vitamins in our diet, but they play an important role in the plant’s ability to extract nutrients from other foods. In a commercial fertilizer micronutrients are often missing.
We needed a full yard of organic compost…but, we have a large (600 square foot) garden. If you’re garden is smaller or if you have raised beds, you won’t need a a full yard. A general rule of thumb is to to add 2 to 3 inches of compost to the top of your gardening space and then till it into the soil to fully incorporate. You’ll want to wait a couple of weeks to add seeds or transplants…this will allow the beneficial microorganisms to “do their magic”
Obviously all of this gardening chat is region/climate specific. If you’re not in this southern region, and you’re thinking about starting a garden, find a reputable organic nursery near you. A nursery that you love will provide not only plants, seeds, supplies, etc…but, it’s also a great source for gardening information specific to your growing region.