Learning to Garden and Grow Old in South Central Texas
by Sandra Hall, Hondo Garden Club
I grew up and spent most of my adult life in the midwest (Indiana and Ohio) where seasons and climate were very different. The gardens of my childhood and early adult life were large and mainly geared toward raising fresh produce for summer consumption and for canned and frozen vegetables for the rest of the year. The most important flowers in the yard were early spring bulbs, for they were the harbingers of spring.
When I retired from teaching at age fifty-eight, I expanded my interest in gardening because I had more time. It took a long time to stop feeling guilty about being outside in the early spring at ten o’clock in the morning enjoying the fresh air. I honed my planting skills so that I knew when to plant to avoid a killing frost but have the earliest possible harvest.
Then, at age sixty-two, my daughter’s family invited me to move closer to them in Hondo, Texas. Since I had no family left in Ohio, I took advantage of the empty lot next door to them and built a house. I got to plan my gardening space from scratch. The land had been used for growing cotton, and the soil was in pretty poor condition.
I decided to put in four 4’ x 8’ raised beds using old railroad ties filling them with good compost. The beds were finished in early June, so I promptly filled them with everything from lettuce to tomatoes using my Ohio knowledge. That was my first lesson in dealing with summer heat. Disaster!! Over the years, I have come to realize that here in Hondo you treat June, July, and August like midwesterners treat December, January, and February ……. stay inside and climatize your own space.
I have learned that when summer heat begins to abate, that is the beginning of the most delightful time in the garden. I love fall and winter gardening. That is the time for the most amazing salad greens and soup ingredients. The herbs that grow perennially are always available. In September-October, I begin thinking about lettuce, spinach, beets, kale, swiss chard, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Once these get started there is something fresh for supper every night. If the weather cooperates with only very light freezes, these things carry through to spring. If not, I start again in January and February replanting those plus onions and pea pods. Later in March come the tomatoes and cucumbers. Only the peppers and okra like to wait for the warm.
My yard and garden are a certified wildlife habitat. I welcome all native critters. I grow enough for all of us. However, being in town, I don’t have to deal with the deer, armadillos, and others that some of you have to contend with that take more than their share. I do go after the fire ants, for they are invaders. I am an organic gardener. It is interesting to watch the “good guys” go after the “bad guys”.
Over the years the railroad ties decayed enough that they needed to be replaced. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis over thirty years ago when I was forty-nine, and my body is showing more decrepitude as each year passes. It is harder and harder to get close to the ground. Over the past five years, I have redesigned my raised beds to varying heights (9”, 12”, 15”, 20”, 24”) so that I can sit on a low stool and deal with plants of varying heights. In each bed of vegetable plants I also intersperse different annual flower plants to attract different pollinators and bad bug predators. I am always in the company of bees, wasps and lizards. They know I am the one that fills the birdbath with water, so we are friends.
My constant companion in the garden is my service dog, Margie. She likes my company and is always there to pull me up off of the stool. I plan to be gardening well into the next decade.