Late January in the Texas Garden

Have you ever stopped to buy plants on the way to a funeral?  Well, I can now say that I have.  A couple of days ago we were in Waco for a funeral.  On the way to the burial we passed Brazos Feed and I could see that they had a new shipment of transplants out front.  Now I am not sure of the protocol for such an opportunity so I asked my wife if it would be disrespectful to swing in and pick up a few things that my Brenham sources did not yet have.  She told me stopping would not be disrespectful but being late would.  So, with her blessing (and a strict admonishment to make it quick) I pulled in and grabbed 18 broccoli plants, 6 cabbage, 6 cauliflower and a bunch of Yellow Granex (Vidalia) onion sets.

If you can find brassica transplants there is still time to plant them and get a crop done in time to replant the row in beans or Southern peas.

If you can find brassica transplants there is still time to plant them and get a crop done in time to replant the row in beans or Southern peas.

January is a busy time for those of us in Zones 7 through 9.  Right now is the perfect time to replant all of the brassicas you love (Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, collard greens and mustards).  If you put out your brassica transplants now they will be ready for harvest just in time for you to plant your beans and Southern Peas in late March or early April.  Plant your transplants about a foot a part and make sure they receive nice, even moisture.  Dry soil will stunt their development.  Since brassicas are almost all “greens” they love nitrogen.  Feed monthly with the highest nitrogen organic you can find.  I like Sweet Green (11% N) but have been unable to find it.  I am using MicroLife Ultimate (8-4-6).  Not as high in nitrogen as I like but it is a very good balanced product.


MicroLife Ultimate is a very nice pelleted organic fertilizer that is high in nitrogen (8-4-6)

January is also about as late as I like to wait before planting my onion sets.  I usually plant my onions in November or December but I forgot to order them from Dixondale this year.  Because of this, I had to wait until now for the feed stores to get in their sets.  It is not too late to grow big, sweet onions though.  Just make sure to keep the rows weed free and side dress with an organic fertilizer once a month.  Onions have a very small root mass so they need lots of fertilizer and regular water.


If you haven’t planted your onions do it now! The longer you wait to plant the smaller your harvested bulbs will be.

Asparagus is my favorite thing to eat from my garden.  If you have never planted any now is the time (check out my article on planting here).  If you already have an established asparagus bed side dress it now with a high nitrogen fertilizer to ensure lots of shoots in the spring.  I love having fresh asparagus for Easter dinner and since Easter is late this year we should have plenty.

Now is also a great time to plant potatoes. My favorites are Red LaSoda and Kennebec. However, there are over 800 varieties of potatoes so they are great plants to experiment with.

Now is also a great time to plant potatoes. My favorites are Red LaSoda and Kennebec. However, there are over 800 varieties of potatoes so they are great plants to experiment with.

And don’t forget the potatoes!  January is a great time to plant them in our part of Texas.  Right now I have my red LaSodas and my Kennebecs cut up and curing on the dining room table.  Some people like to dust their cut seed potatoes with sulfur to prevent rot.  I don’t do this and I have not had a problem.  However, it is a good idea if your soil does not drain well.  Potatoes are the only thing that don’t need a lot of nitrogen right now.  High nitrogen encourage the potatoes to grow stems and leaves.  Dig a deep furrow (a foot or so) place your potato pieces in the bottom of the row and then back fill with compost.  If you plant deep enough you will not need to “hill” the plants as they grow and the compost will provide enough nutrients to ensure a great harvest.

We are getting some spectacular sunsets right now. My wife Sally captured this one the other evening.

We are getting some spectacular sunsets right now. My wife Sally captured this one the other evening.

I share my posts on The Simple Homestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by and check out all the amazing things these gardeners and homesteaders are doing!

Tip of the Week – Week 3 in the Zone 9 Garden

There are two things that really need to be done in January in the lower two thirds of our state–starting tomato, pepper and egg plant seeds for transplant and planting asparagus.  It is also time to start pruning fruit trees, grapes and perennial ornamentals that have been killed by the freeze.


I don’t want to sound like a nag, but this week is THE PERFECT TIME to plant your tomato seeds.  You can also start your pepper and eggplant seeds too.  Eggplant will germinate much like the tomato seeds but be prepared to give you pepper seeds a little extra time to sprout.

Besides tomatoes, asparagus is my absolute favorite vegetable to grow and eat.  Plant year old crowns now.  My favorite is the heirloom “Mary Washington”.  However, I have had much luck with many varieties of the “Jersey” series.  For more information on planting asparagus check out my post “Growing Asparagus”.


When planting, spread the roots of asparagus crowns over a mound of compost


Now that we have had a freeze, it is time to trim back some of our perennials.  Clumping grasses can be cut back to about ten inches.  If your grass clumps did not bloom this year consider dividing them in February.  Salvias can be cut back to half of their size.  Root Beer plant (Hoja Santo) can be cut to the ground.


Cut clumping grasses back to 10 to 12 inches


January and February are the best times to plant bare root fruit trees.  Plant them at the depth they were grown.  Determine this depth by noticing where the color changes at the top of the roots and the bottom of the trunk.

January is also a good time to prune fruit trees and grapes in the lower two thirds of our state.

****Be sure to check out my friend Bart’s blog (Our Garden View) for more great tips for the Central and South Central garden!

This post has been shared on the HomeAcre Hop.  Be sure to stop by the hop.  Tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!


January is good time to prune fruit trees. Definitely do a little research before you start cutting.

Start your tillers!!!!

Even though you did not see it on the calendar, last weekend was the end of winter for the Zone 9 gardener.  Ok, I realize that by making that declaration in print I am probably dooming us to a late season freeze.  However, according to historical statistics, Feb. 15 marked the last day that we could realistically expect a freeze in Zone 9B.  Because of this I am now suffering from a severe case of garden fever.  Last weekend, to celebrate the end of winter, I planted 2 -33′ rows of potatoes (Yukon Gold, Kennebec, Red LaSoda).  I also cleaned out the potager in preparation of the flowers and herbs that will be planted there in the next few weeks.

Now is the perfect time to plant all barassicas like broccoli and cauliflower

Now is the perfect time to plant all barassicas like broccoli and cauliflower

Because of our mild climate, we can now plant everything but the most cold sensitive plants.  If you want to have fresh cole crops on your spring table (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts) you need to get them in the garden soon.  The blue leafed cole crops in the brassica family can be safely planted from transplant anytime between now and March 15.

It's not too late to plant root crops like carrots and beets from seed

It’s not too late to plant root crops like carrots and beets from seed

It is also a great time to put out seeds of lettuce, spinach, collards, chard, mustard greens, beets, turnips, radishes and carrots.  All of these are fast growers and they are very easy to grow from seed.  Since they prefer temps below 80, this is probably the last chance you have to grow them until next fall.

Wait until early March to plant your green beans

Wait until early March to plant your green beans

In the next couple of weeks I will be planting my green beans.  I grow “Contender” but there are several other varieties out there that do very well in our area (see Patty’s recommendations in the sidebar).  Green beans are a little cold sensitive so I always hedge my bets and plant them a little later (around March 1).

Now is the perfect time to plant asparagus and artichoke crowns

Now is the perfect time to plant asparagus and artichoke crowns

Late February into early March is also a great time to put out the two perrinial vegetables that do well in our area – asparagus and artichoke.  Both of these are grown from roots called “crowns”.  They take a little more work and a little more care than our single season vegetables, but they are well worth the effort.

A redbud in full bloom is a great reminder that spring really is here again

A redbud in full bloom is a great reminder that spring really is here again

The past two sunny weekends have induced in me a very bad case of gardening fever.  As I write this, every muscle in body aches from the gardening I forced it to endure last weekend.  And that’s fine!  My achy body means that winter is finally over and the 2013 gardening season has begun.  Gentlemen (and ladies), start your tillers!

Growing Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis )

Asparagus is an extremely long lived perennial.  A friend of a friend has a bed that has been producing for 36 years!  Now that is an extremely long time but it is not uncommon to find beds that have been in production for over 20 years.  Asparagus is tough, reliable, attractive and a joy to eat. So, if I am going to grow it, I am going to have to make a long term commitment to it.

I have never grown asparagus before.  But since my wife and I love it so, we have decided now is the time to get started.  Like most of you, if I don’t know how to grow something I do research.  I have been reading about how to grow asparagus for over year.  However, all of the research in the world is no substitute for having an actual expert to talk with.  I am lucky enough to be very close friends with an outstanding asparagus expert and grower.

(WARNING!  The next three paragraphs contain EXTREME nostalgia. If you are not interested in tales of high school romance and rebellion, feel free to skip to the growing section )

Bobby Mitchell and I have been friends for more years than either of us thought we would live.  We became friends in Junior High and have stayed in touch ever since.  In high school, I had a 1955 Chevy Pick Up.  Every time Bobby got in that truck, something broke.  When we were 15, Bobby convinced the head varsity cheerleader (she was a senior and he was a sophomore) to go “parking” with him.   The problem was, he had neither car nor license.  Somehow he talked me into driving them out in the country and then sitting on the tail gate while he and the cheerleader “made out” in the cab.  For some reason, this sounded like really big fun so I agreed.

The quarterback and the cheerleader did a great job of steaming up the windows of my 55.  I enjoyed my first “dip” of Copenhagen snuff (which turned out to be a really bad thing in hindsight) while they enjoyed each other.  Since my dad worked the 3 to 11 shift I knew that if we got home before 11:30 no one would be the wiser.  So at about 11:00 I broke them up. Once we defogged the windows we headed home.  Everything was going great.  We had won the football game, Bobby had “scored” and I picked up a really bad habit.  The night could not have been better.

When you are 15 you don’t yet have the maturity to understand that when things are going this good, something has to go wrong.  After dropping the cheerleader off we headed home.  It was about 11:15 and we were only five minutes from home when the drive shaft literally fell out of the bottom of my truck!  Needless to say the rest of the night was almost as memorable as the first part of the evening had been.  My dad was not the least bit impressed with our performance that evening.  In fact, he was so unimpressed that I didn’t get to drive my truck for a month.  However, it was worth it.  This was the first of many, many memorable experiences that Bobby and I shared in that old pick up.


Growing Asparagus – I visited Bobby last summer and was very impressed with his 70’ row of asparagus.  When I told him I wanted to grow my own he was happy to share his experience with me.

Bobby recommends planting year old crowns.  Since it takes three years to get asparagus from seed, these older roots allow you to enjoy asparagus in year two.  To plant them, dig an 8″ to 12″ round hole (or trench) that is about 8” to 10” deep in full sun.  Place your plants about a foot apart.  Put two or three inches of high grade compost in the bottom of the hole.  The compost should be slightly mounded in the center.  Spread the roots of the crown out over the mound like an octopus.  Once the roots are in place, cover lightly with compost and gently water in.  Research has shown that if you plant asparagus too deep, your yields will be reduced so try and keep the crowns no more than 6″ below the soil level.

Keep the roots damp and in a few days the first little shoot will appear.  As that sprout grows, slowly add soil and compost to the hole.  Be careful not to completely cover it up.  In the first year you can expect each crown to produce 2 to 5 sprouts.  These early sprouts are small and delicate.  Bobby recommends letting 3 sprouts grow above soil level before completely filling in around them. You may also want to stake these young shoots to make sure the wind doesn’t break them off.  Once these three sprouts are a few inches above the soil line you can finish back filling the hole with a soil/compost mixture.  Asparagus is a heavy feeder so do not scrimp on the compost.  Tamp the soil in firmly to support your young sprouts.


A great picture that clearly shows how I prepared my beds and planted the crowns.

The first year the stalks will be pretty puny looking.  Continuously weed your beds and apply about an inch of water per week.  By the second year you will get a 3′ to 4′ tall plant with very attractive fern like foliage.  Asparagus foliage is so thick that it shades out most of the weeds in the second year.  In the first year, you can expect your roots to produce two to five shoots.  In the second year that number will double.  This is when you can begin to do a light harvest.  By year three you can expect to have 25 to 30 sprouts per root system.  After year two  let the first couple of sprouts of the season grow up and grow foliage.  You can start picking shoots after that. Once the mature plants start producing, the spears come pretty quickly.  If you wait too long to cut don’t worry.  Just let the stalk produce foliage.  There will still be plenty of stalks to pick

The first spears of the year in Bobby’s garden. Photo by Bobby Mitchell

Asparagus start producing in early spring and can be harvested for four to six weeks.  Do not over harvest.  Make sure and leave enough canes to make a large, healthy plant.  The foliage will feed the roots, which will in turn, store the food to put into shoot development next year.  Once you stop harvesting, “mulch” or top dress your plants with three to six inches of compost.  Top dress again in the fall.  The foliage will last until first frost.  You can prune throughout the year to control height.  Once a frost hits them, cut the foliage off at the ground and apply more compost.

A mature asparagus plant produces about ½ pound of asparagus per year.  If you like it as much as we do, four to five plants per person should be adequate.  There are several varieties of asparagus that do very well for us here.  I am planting some New Jersey sterile (all male hybrids) and Mary Washington (a popular heirloom variety).  The Jersey hybrids produce large, flavorful spears and will not spread.  Mary Washington produces yellow flowers and red berries.  The spears are very tasty.  However, it spreads so you will have to do more “weeding” with this variety than you will with the all male hybrids.