I'll continue hoping you guys get rain. It seems like when Austin is getting decent amounts of rain, a day or two later, Madison does as well. I never realized how closely the weather for these two cities was related before...
Austin can get rain without us getting rain...most of our rain here is spotty: torrential downpours a mile or less across, with nothing between that and the next one.
Point. Tho Madison does not seem to get much rain that didn't swing through Texas and up the Mississippi... It's a weather pattern I hadn't realized existed.
That's what this area looks like in August.
Everybody's garden looks like that sometimes...we just get there sooner, and miss the good early to midsummer growing season. It's tricky--the weather pattern changes the past few years have meant warm dry winters and freezes *late*--what used to be mid-spring and late-spring.
Our winters seem to be getting later too. I remember doing the "You know you're from the Northeast of..." trick of wearing a Halloween costume over a winter jacket, but twice in the past 3 years I've been able to drive with the windows open within a week of Christmas. (And I'm really cold-sensitive!)
We're in Cibolo, and we've been bouncing on and off water restrictions for the past year. Right now, we can only water lawns on Thursdays. We've been thinking about planting a small vegetable garden because our daughter has expressed interest in it. I'm not sure how the project will go as I think that I have a black thumb rather than a green one.
Maybe she has a green one in spite of you...I find vegetables easier than lawns or flowers--I think maybe the seed developers have really worked to ensure that vegetable seeds *want* to grow (though you'd be putting out plants, not seeds, this time of year--and really--wait for a fall garden.) Depending on your soil, you can probably put in typical spring stuff in mid-to-late September for sure, and get some kind of crop before midwinter, and the true winter crops for us Texans--radishes, lettuce, spinach, onions, turnips, celery, carrots, parsley, peas--can go in up to Dec-January. IMO, small is good, and contained some way (raised beds, containers) is good, too. If it's small and close to the back door/kitchen door, you (or your daughter) are more likely to check it daily, which really is the thing--I did best with my San Antonio garden because it was in a small yard and right there, handy.
We bought all seeds except for a tomato kit. So we should wait until September to plant seeds then? We have a little topsoil (very little as the developer was stingy), and it is over the standard limestone in the Greater San Antonio area. We live not too far from Natural Bridge Caverns if you're familiar with the area. We bought some extra topsoil to put down. The developer gave us enough soil so that the lawns they planted would grow. The grass is a little over a year old.
Is there anything that we can plant now (plants or seeds)? I really am not a gardener at all. I have horrible allergies to everything green even though I've always loved trees and flowers. My daughter is very much interested in science, and if I can encourage her in that, I will. Unlike most kids her age, she loves vegetables and wants to pick them. If you can point me to any books or websites that will help, I'd appreciate it. I thought it was just a function of following the seed packet and planting during the time they say.
Seed packet info is for "standard" conditions, which south-central Texas isn't. If you have a library with some good gardening books, check out the Wasowski books on gardening with natives. These are excellent for learning how soil, climate, and plant needs are interrelated and can serve as an introduction to ecology. One of the best of theirs for that purpose is _Native Texas Plants: Gardening Region by Region_, but all the Wasowski books (Sally's, Andy's, and their jointly authored books) are good.
For effective vegetable gardening, you need more soil than a developer will give you. As a science experiment, your daughter could use the same seeds planted in the developer-deposited soil, and in containers of the same diameter but different depths of soil...what depth brings seedlings to the best height and most vigor, given the same regimen of nutrients and water? For a kid whose main interest is science, it's always possible to find useful experiments using either native or cultivated plants.
Our experience, gardening in the San Antonio area (but a very different setting than yours) was that 12 inches of good soil was a good amount for vegetables...and difficult to obtain without raised beds. We had once tried gardening on our landlord's land, on a limestone hill just south of Austin...there just was not enough soil to sustain root growth as the plants grew. They don't seem to mind some rocks in the soil, but they won't grow well in minimal soil.
Container gardening (which is "raised beds" in miniature) works for people who live on rock. Plant your tomatoes (and anything else) in pots (ideally clay-sided as they stay cooler than plastic pots, unless you wrap the plastic pots in burlap or another insulating substance.) For seeds, in summer in that area, you're pretty much limited to beans, squash, and okra. This late, squash borers will be a problem, so the plants must be constantly checked for infestations (and expect to lose some.) For flowers, try zinnias, or put in lantana (lantana lives through both freeze and drought with no help--it's a native. Just remember the plants are toxic if consumed, including the pretty black berries.) Mexican oregano (shrubby thing, pretty purple and white flowers), firecracker bush (red-orange flowers that attract hummingbirds and butterflies), Turks' cap
(red flowers that attract the same), can be planted now...you'd buy them at a nursery. Both like some shade and look good under trees or close to a house. There are heat-tolerant/drought-tolerant herbs (sage, rosemary, etc) that grow well in central Texas and are useful in cooking. Mint grows, if you can provide a moist, shaded place for it (in fact, we used to grow multiple varieties, like apple mint, chocolate mint...) There should be interest groups of vegetable gardeners (I'd pick the organic gardening groups, esp. with a child doing the gardening) in your area; there were some when we lived in San Antonio.
I'll have to head to the library and look for the book(s) you mentioned this weekend. I'm certain my daughter will be excited about seeing how the plants grow in topsoil versus limestone. My guess is that the topsoil that we have is about three to six inches deep; I doubt that it is twelve inches deep. We planted a little oak in the backyard (I think it is a live oak, but I'm not sure), and it is thriving nicely. I believe we picked up some beans and okra seeds, so we'll be pretty good to go. I'll have to mention the herbs to my husband, he's the cook in the family, but he's often commented on wanting fresh herbs to cook with.
We've only recently had the opportunity to plant a garden and everything has been hectic prior to this time. I have a neighbor who is a gardener although I think she concentrates on flowers/plants. She might know of some local gardening groups. Even if the garden doesn't work out, my daughter will learn more about plants (and so will I). I should be able to put more time into this summer with the kids out of school, but it'll have to take second place to my writing (which takes second place to the kids).
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, I know your writing keeps you very busy.
The native oaks that grow in limestone country do very well--they can extend their rootlets into the cracks of the rock and don't need deep soil. In fact, many native plants do fine in hill country rock and thin soil (the reason to plant them--and native grasses instead of the usual lawn grass. And they use lots less water.) It's the veggies--developed in deeper-soil country--that suffer. Thin soil dries out quickly in our heat. If your rock happens to be the impervious kind, it's really difficult to water enough to keep the plants going, without drowning them because the water doesn't soak down.
I just ate the first bean off our bean plants!! Crunchy green bean, eaten raw because you just can't help it with the first beans. (In a week, I'll be much less excited--we'll have all the beans we can eat.)
I had written a reply to this message, but LJ ate it. The oak we planted is probably a live oak as it was from an acorn from one of my dad's trees (he lives about a mile away). What are native grasses to South/Central Texas?
I think we may start off with green beans; we all like to eat them, and I remember my family used to grow them just a little bit south of where I live now. They also had a lot of success with okra and tomatoes. We also had some pecan, peach, and pear trees. The peaches were decimated one year by bore worms, and the pear didn't produce very often. The pecans flourished, but I'm not into nuts. They stopped growing veggies though when I grew older (middle school age) I know some of my dad's neighbors have had a lot of success with limes and grapefruits.