Frozen in Thyme


Something is not right. The cold, wet weather seems to have frozen my garden in time.

It’s not that the garden looks bad, it looks exactly like it did before the first freeze hit, and the day I planted it. I have Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli and onions that have not grown an inch. My Bok Choy and radish seeds sprouted, tiny leaves just peeking out of the soil, and stopped growing. The weather has been wintry; we haven’t seen the sun in weeks, but I have winter crops in the ground. Shouldn’t they be rejoicing, growing and thriving as the “polar vortex” pushes through Houston?

It’s time to review. My elevated garden has been lined with plastic so it will hold water. I have poked several holes in the plastic three inches off the ground as an outlet for excess water. The bed has several layers of filling: about a foot of small rock, sand, some fill dirt and about 15 inches of Miracle-Gro garden soil on top. I was suppose to mix the Miracle-Gro soil with native soil at a 50/50 ratio. I didn’t have that much native soil, so it’s 80% Miracle-Gro. I begin to think this is my issue. At the same time, I wonder if the garden is set to explode when the sun finally comes out.

As I look for holes in my plan I realize I’m missing one key ingredient, knowledge. I have absolutely no knowledge or experience in growing vegetables. My thirst for results pushed my expectations straight to the “reap” and I’m beginning to feel their was something wrong in my “sow.” My schedule has not allowed me to visit Wabash on Saturdays, and when I finally get there the knowledgeable plant waterer is nowhere to be found. I start buying books on Texas gardening and examine their content. Texas is a big state. We have desert ecosystems out west and wetlands in the southeast. Texans can be snowed in in Dallas, hot and dry in Laredo, mild and misty in Corpus Christi and perfectly comfortable in Austin- all on the same day. I start to question why I’m reading about rose gardens in Tyler. I need to read about growing broccoli in my backyard. At Buchanan’s Native Plant Store in the Heights I find a piece of work by Bob Randall, Ph.D. I spend $40 on Year Round Vegetables, Fruits and Flowers for Metro Houston, 12th Edition.

It’s a stretch to call it a book. The spiral bound pages look like they came straight off of an office copier. Pictures are grainy, the writing is suspect and it’s exactly what I’ve been looking for. Dr Randall understands the giant body of water just south of town influences our weather. He doesn’t write about Texas, he gives planting instructions for north of FM 1960, west of Hwy 6, and perfect for me, Montrose. Dr. Bob is an ecological anthropologist, and writes like one. I can’t really understand ecological anthropology, but quickly learn how to use his book. The first section I grasp is the Planting Calendar. Virtually every veggie you can plant in Houston is listed along with the ideal planting date. My first batch of crops went in the ground around February first. Looking through the planting calendar I see the Brussels sprouts and cauliflower were suppose to be planted in October; they aren’t growing and likely will never grow in February. However, my other crops should be thriving. I turn to the “how to” section where he gives specific individual growing instructions and learn my broccoli is hungry; they need 1/4 cup of organic plant food every two weeks. I have fed them nothing. I head back to Wabash to buy some MicroLife.

Two identical plants: one fertilized, one not.

Two identical plants: one fertilized, one not.

The results are instantaneous; visible growth within days. I have five broccoli plants, but only fertilize four. The fertilized plants suddenly dwarf the other. After a couple weeks, I look around the little farm and realize I’m starving my crops and begin feeding every single plant.

I’ve wasted six weeks of growing time and will probably lose my first harvest, but learned some valuable lessons. Lowe’s sold me cauliflower and Brussels sprouts in February; I no longer expect plants to grow just because they are available at the store. I worried my 80% Miricle-Gro garden soil would harm or burn my tender young plants. I now realize there was no miracle in my Miracle-Gro; in fact, there was no grow. I am fertilizing weekly.

It seems to be working. I’ve added two tomato plants and eight varieties of peppers; all  have fruit. I replanted radishes and Bok Choy and see growth; most of my corn is popping up in rows. I’m not out of the woods yet. Now that we are well into March and the sun is shining, I see shadows cover my plot most of the day. It’s time to call the tree trimmers.

Serrano Peppers

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