Monday, July 4, 2016

Liberty Garden, Central Texas, Climate Zone 8A

Declaring Independence,

This is a Project Report, the product of study, organization of theoretically ideal succession-rotation vegetable gardening, and then 3 years of my trying things out to find what really works. 

This year-round vegetable gardening program works well in central Texas. 
It incorporates gardening rules, such as: 
1) Nothing from the same family in the bed for 3 years, especially tomatoes, 
2) Nitrogen-fixing legumes precede nitrogen-hungry tomatoes, 
3) Never follow corn with onions; it ruins the onions,
4) Some overlap in a bed from season to season is fine.
5) You need mulch on growing-beds and garden-paths and drip-irrigation, for your garden to survive Texas summer. Really, you do. See image below: July 4, 2016

Here is a 3-Bed/3-Year succession/rotation garden scheme, organized by groupings, which are based on plant families, but have to include several families in a group. 
It specifically excludes corn, okra and potatoes, though you could work them into it at the expense of some tomatoes, sweet potatoes and melons. 
If you have 3 really big beds, you can do that, but the 5 bed rotation might be better, 
Corn would go with black-eyed peas. Potatoes go with tomatoes and peppers (same family, nightshades). Okra would go with melons, and the cucumbers would climb it. 
Squash goes with melons; same family, but the borer moths and squash bugs kill all my squash here.

Cool Season: Roots, Salads and Cilantro
Hot Season: Sweet Potatoes, Black-eyed Peas (proceed to 2)

Cool Season: Peas and Sweet-Peas, Brassicas (cabbage family)
Hot Season: Nightshades (tomato, peppers, eggplant), Beans [bush, pole, yard-long] Note: fudging rules with legumes in bed for 3 seasons, but it works (proceed to 3)

Cool Season: Chard, Spinach and radishes (beet family)
Hot Season: Cucumber and Melons: Squash if they'll get past the insect pests for you (proceed to 1)

Groupings, Families and Suggestions:

Roots: Carrots, Onions, Garlic and Leeks in this plan. [Plant Sept. - Jan.]
Note: Radishes are actually in the cabbage family so group with kale-and-collards.

Salads: Lettuce, Arugula, Celery, Cilantro [Plant Sept. - Jan]

Brassicas/Cabbages: Kale, Collards, Broccoli, Cabbage, Radish, Turnip, Cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts, Bok-Choy and Asian Greens [Plant Sept - Oct.]

Beet Family: Swiss Chard, Spinach, Beets [Plant Sept. - Dec.]

Gourd Family: Cucumber (climbs), Melon (sprawls), Squash of all kinds (climb and/or sprawl)  [Plant after last spring freeze, mid March]
Note: Squash-bugs and Borer-moths (look like huge wasps) kill squash in Austin.

Nightshades: (The all-important family for many) Tomatoes, Eggplant, Peppers and Potatoes [Plant after last freeze, or early March if willing to gamble a little.]

Beans: "Provider" bush beans do well here, and keep producing if you keep watering and picking beans. Good flavor for a bush bean. Blue Lake and Kentucky Wonder pole beans do well here with same treatment "Yardlong" Asian pole beans do fairly well. Some beans do better some years, and other beans do better other years, so planting variety is good.

Black-Eyed Peas are legumes, closely-related to the yardlong beans. They thrive in summer heat, having originated in Africa. Need pea-poles. Plant in April.

Amish Snap Peas are in a class of their own. I keep planting various other peas in the winter, like Snow Peas, and Dwarf Sweet Peas, and Oregon Giant Snow Peas, but the Amish Snap peas keep being the best, and I can't bag them when I pick them. They go straight to my mouth. They thrive here. Plant Sept. and Jan. Need poles or trellises.

Sweet Potatoes are sold in all the nurseries every spring. Don't buy them! They are ornamentals; not what you eat at Thanksgiving. Big disappointment! White and hard. 
Buy organic sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving and put 3 toothpicks in them in February, before Valentine's Day. Put them in a glass of water, half above, in a warm and lit window, to grow slips. Plant the slips, or the whole spud, on April Fool's Day.

That was the simple rotation. Can you use something more elaborate?

5-Bed/5-Year Succession-Rotation Garden:

Cool Season: Chard, Spinach, Salads  
Hot Season: (April 1 plant) Melons, Cucumbers, (Squash), Corn #1, July 4 plant Corn #2  (proceed to 2)

Cool Season: Amish Snap Peas (and other peas, if you want, planting in Sept. and Jan.)
Hot Season: Tomatoes, Peppers and Eggplant between last freeze and April Fool's day. Coplant Provider Bush Beans for early season yield, before tomatoes overgrow. (proceed to 3)

Cool Season: Onion (seed in Sept.) Garlic (Oct.-Nov.), Leek (seeds in Sept. or starts in Jan.)
Hot Season: Sweet Potato slips April Fool's Day will grow as Onion, Garlic and Leek are pulled and used. (proceed to 4)

Cool Season: Carrot seeds (Scarlet Nantes do well) after Sweet Potatoes pulled, and Coplant Onion seeds with carrots for mutual benefits. (Yes, Allium family 2 years in a row, but partial years, and there are other benefits, like the synergy of onion-carrot for pest resistance, and growing useful things in winter to pull as needed in spring, gradually making room for summer crops.) 
Hot Season: Black Eyes Peas, Plant in April where carrots and onions are pulled and put in stakes for them to climb. Transition is April - June. (proceed to 5)

Cool Season: Brassica Family, Kale, Collards, Broccoli, Cauliflower,, Radish, Turnip, Brussels Sprouts
Hot Season: Okra (April Fool;s Day, and each okra plant gets a 3 foot by 3 foot square of space) Coplant Provider Bush Beans for early season yield until Okra dominates in June. (proceed to 1)



  1. Thank you John! I hope to replicate your success at some point. Currently I'm limited to 1 4 x 8 foot bed in a community garden, but I hope to expand.

  2. Hi John,

    That's a great garden plan you've laid out. And for those who want to see an alternative future, there's this:

    Over the past couple of years, we've been getting more and more hot-house/greenhouse produce at our local stores. Lettuce, tomatoes and peppers especially. I know of one local company that is doing a thriving business with energy intensive warehouse grown lettuces which local restaurants can't get enough of. Oh, yeah. I'm in Central Oregon where we are in what is considered a sub-arctic climate. And there-in lies a difference from Central Texas.

    While I admire John's garden immensely, it has to be stated that taking suburban back yards and intensively converting them to productive gardens is probably not going to be the answer in 2050 with nine billion "useless eaters" on the planet.

    My answer, fewer mouths to feed, seems to be anathema to the species at large. In the meantime, we're likely to see lots of interesting experiments in how to feed ourselves.

    Here's an interesting thought: "The US spends more than $600 billion a year on war while 15 million of its children go hungry."

    1. I think vertical farming only works with a lot of mirrors to get sun on all the beds. There's only so much solar energy in a beam of sunshine, and that's what does the work of photosynthesis. "Photosynthetic ceiling" is the term for that limit. The amount of energy embedded in structures like that is vast, and can only be considered in fossil-fuel-world, right?

    2. John,

      With vertical farming, the producer is relying on artificial lighting for about 100% of the photosynthesis. If you do a Google search on the topic you'll see that pink LED lights are the modern standard of the industry. It's about as artificial as it gets, but I can attest that the produce this method produces is very tasty as long as the producer is scrupulous about maintaining nutrient levels. These urban gardens are alwasys going to be energy intensive, but you might note that the Virtual Capitalist graphic perhaps unrealistically states that the building can be a net producer of energy if enough solar, wind or other exotic energy production technologies are applied. I have my doubts about this optimistic scenario, what with the Second Law of Thermodynamics being what it is.

  3. Hi Darshan,
    I'd love to let you harvest everything that ripens each day, and run the drip-system, while you do, when we're visiting our daughter at grad-school in Rochester, 8/2 - 8/10/16.
    That probably won't work for you, though. It's a world of difference when you live with your garden.
    I hope you are able do that soon.

  4. keep reading this & thinking and planning. someday. and, sooner rather than later, i've decided.

  5. Thinking of implementing the Jeavons system - have you any experience there? By the way I enjoy your odd comment on The Automatic Earth. I'm here in central victoria Australia

  6. Jeavons advocates deeply digging and amending beds to optimize the environment for the crops. This idea has been widely used. I really dug out truckloads of stones and dug deep to work in organic amendments into the dense clay, for the first 2 years. These days, with the soil ecosystem established, I cut the crops off at soil level at end of season, letting the roots, worms and microbes build healthy soil. The waves of different plants in different years and seasons all do work with their roots, some digging deeper, some wider, but all adding organic matter and opening up the microstructure.

  7. Hi John - just ran across your post at Cassandra's Legacy. Been in and out of gardening for years in Ann Arbor and Austin. Retired now and living up in the Domain for awhile. Did the country thing on 5 acres outside of Driftwood - chickens, gardens, black soldier fly grubs, tea brewer, etc. for ten years. How different than Michigan. Had a hobby business for a couple of years distributing Garden Towers. Here's a few pictures on that.

    Hope to make your acquaintance one of these days. I've met some really fantastic growers around Austin over the years and you look like you're really nailing it in your back yard. Best regards, John Fry

    1. Nice pictures at that link, John. The white kline-bottle sort of planters look like a great idea for herbs. I can't tell what they are made from. They look sort of like the blue food grade plastic barrels, but not blue, and with that tube up the middle.
      I'm in NW Austin, very near Jollyville. I don't seem to be able to contact you other than this blog.

  8. Awesome straight to the point lay out for gardening. I'll begin this soon and keep you posted on things. Thanks for your help and great gardening layout.

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  13. Hey John ! That's a great garden plan you've laid out. I hope to see more update on such DIY project.

    1. Thanks Alice,

      I have put in a similar garden at People's Community Clinic, where I work, and a bigger one a couple of hours south, in the coastal plains, and I stay fairly busy tending them, working, blogging, bike commuting, etc.

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  15. John, I always knew you had it in you. Great Job! In my younger days, in the late 50, I too partially lived from my garden.

    1. It's nice in the gardens I tend. I get good food , too. I bet you can do something in Vegas, but you will need drip watering on a timer and mulch.

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