Late Fall Vegetables by Byron Chitwood



After our hot summers, we are all looking forward for a change to a cool fall.  With this cooler weather coming on, now is the time to plan for late fall vegetables in our garden plots.  The first ones that come to mind are turnips and beets.  Both of these vegetables are prized for both their greens and roots.  Both can be planted from mid- August through the end of September.  After cleanup of the spaces allocated for the two vegetables, till and rake the soil until it is level and clods are suitably pulverized.  Turnip seeds are usually mixed with powdered soil or fertilizer and broadcast over the area that has been selected.  Some folks plant them in rows and I have tried both methods and both work well.  After the seed mixture has been broadcast, lightly rake the soil with the back of a rake and water in the seeds.  Within a week, the seeds should germinate and sprout.  Some thinning might be required after they have sprouted.


Beets should be planted in rows at a depth of a half or more inch with spacing of 2 inches and rows about 16 inches apart.  They take longer than turnips but should sprout within two weeks.


Mustard greens can be planted like turnips or beets but should be thinned to a much less dense stand than either turnips or beets.  If the weather is good and the soil is moist enough, mustard greens will sprout in less than a week.


Collards, kale, cabbages, Brussels sprouts, Broccoli, cauliflower and chard are greens or vegetables that need to be in the ground during the month of August.  All of these can be started from seeds and will have time to mature before the first killing frost.  However, they can all stand temperatures below freezing provide it doesn’t get to cold and the cold remains for days on end.  If the winter is not too severe, collards, kale and chard can survive the winter and will be productive in the very early spring before any other vegetable comes up.  Sometimes, mustard greens have survived a mild winter.


My favorite vegetable to plant for a fall garden is green beans.  There are several varieties that do well and maybe more, but I prefer contenders and as a second choice, Italian sometimes known as Roma flat green beans.  In a taste test with 18 Master Gardeners, the Romas scored the highest.  Regardless of which one they like the best, I never have any trouble giving away my surplus.


There are many other vegetables that can be planted for a late fall harvest.  These include tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, squash and potatoes.  They all do well and yields sometimes exceed spring harvest.  The exception is potatoes.  They almost always yield about a third of what you could expect in the spring.


The last thing to plant is garlic in October.  It will not be mature until the following June.


Fall Tomatoes by Byron Chitwood

It might sound like it is too early to plant fall tomatoes, especially when the ones that were planted in the spring are at the height of their production.  However, if fall tomatoes are expected to mature before the frost gets them, they should be planted now or very soon.  Unfortunately, not many transplants are available this time of the year, but if you are lucky enough to find some, buy and plant them as soon as possible. They will require more care than the ones that were planted in the spring but the results will be well worth it.

Some folks manage to keep their spring tomato plants alive until fall with good results but I have never been able to do so with the exception of a few improved cherry tomato plants.  If you have some fairly healthy spring tomato plants, you might try keeping them alive and if so, can expect them to produce tomatoes before that first killing frost.  Another trick is to bend some of the limbs on these plants down to the ground and bury them in a shallow trench without detaching them from the mother plant.  These limbs will develop their own root system.  When they are firmly rooted, detach from the parent plant and you have developed a clone. 

Another way to start tomatoes is to cut some of the healthy main shoots from the spring planted bushes and plant them in either a pot full of potting soil.  Keep these pots in a cool place with the soil being moistened and the cuttings will eventually develop roots and can be transplanted to the garden.  You can also plant the cuttings directly into the garden and with luck, they will develop roots and grow.  If your soil is a tight gumbo or clay, it would be very helpful to dig holes about four to six inches in diameter and fill with potting soil before planting the cuttings directly into the garden.  Do all this in advance of making the cuttings and then when you do take the cuttings, speed of getting them into the soil or potting mixture is of essence.  One of our florist friends advised to do this within 20 minutes since the cuttings will start to scab over just as soon as they have been cut from the parent bush.

You can also plant tomatoes from seeds.  No doubt you have some tomato seeds in your hoard or maybe they are still available at your favorite nursery.  Buy several varieties for diversification since some varieties will do better than others.  Follow the directions for planting the seeds.  They can be started in pots indoors or sowed directly into the garden soil.  Some stores sell their apples or other fruits in clear plastic containers.  These make excellent little hot houses for germinating seeds when planted directly in the garden.  After they sprout, uncover them.  It will help to build a shade to protect these seedlings from the afternoon hot summer sun.  If you have plenty of garden space, try some or all of these methods for starting fall tomatoes.

Just before the first killing frost, pick all your green tomatoes and store them indoors out of the cold.  You will be eating tomatoes as they ripen through the Christmas Holidays.  At the Christmas dinner table with those ripened tomatoes, you can say “the old pro has done it again”! 


Late Spring Gardening by Byron Chitwood

This spring has been a wet one, so much so that gardeners were unable to get in some vegetables such as lettuce and spinach.  Also late to get planted were the Cole family including broccoli, cabbage and kale.  They are still for sale in your favorite nursery or do it yourself stores so if you have not planted them yet, go ahead and give it a try.  I planted some of these earlier but for some reason, the broccoli bolted and flowered real early.  The cabbage and cauliflower looks alright.  Maybe those few hot days mad the broccoli think it was time to set seeds.

My red potatoes are looking fine but the Yukon Gold ones have not even sprouted yet.  I hope they didn’t rot in the ground due to the early rains that we received.

Although there is still some time left to plant the following, hurry every chance you get: southern peas such as cream peas, black eyed peas and purple hulls.  All these are of the legume family and if nothing else, will put some nitrogen in your soil as well as serve as a cover crop.  However, they will probably bear a good crop of peas.  Harvest them when the seeds in the pods have swollen to their maxim but have not yet started to dry.  They are excellent eating and easy to hull if harvested at just the right time.  Also, after you have hulled more than what you want to cook immediately, freeze some in freezer bags for the winter time when very little else is available in your garden.  I put about a cup of water per quart of peas in the freezer bag and squeeze all the air out of the bag before sealing.  Then dry off the outside of the bag to keep the individual bags from freezing together in the freezer.  It is too late to plant English peas.  They should have been planted in late February.

Other crops that can still be planted are green beans, Lima beans, cantaloupe, corn, cucumbers, egg plants, mustard greens, okra, peppers of all kinds, pumpkins, squash and watermelons.  I am running a test on which is the most productive: contender or Italian (flat) green beans.  So far, the contenders have germinated almost 100 percent but the Italian ones are struggling to even sprout.  Maybe it is because I used seeds that were purchased last fall.  However, I did keep them in the refrigerator over the winter and have never had any trouble with green bean seeds that were stored this way.  I’ll keep the readers of these articles posted on the results of this test but so far my conclusions are that you can’t go wrong with contenders.

It is a little early yet but fall tomato seeds need to be started between June 1 and June 20.  Purchase some seeds of your favorite varieties while they are still available and store them in the refrigerator until then.  Fall is my favorite time to garden in this area, but that will be discussed in a later article.


Early Spring Gardens by Stephanie Suesan Smith, Ph.D.

The first week of February is time to plant early vegetables in Hunt County.  Even with all the weird weather we have had this year, you should give it a try.

First, be sure and prepare your bed to receive the seeds and plants it is about to cradle.  Till it to a depth of twelve inches either mechanically or by hand.  Spread three inches of compost on the tilled area and mix it in with the soil well.  The compost not only fertilizes your land, it helps with drainage and to keep soil from becoming compacted.

Most of the root crops are planted from seed.  The seed packet will tell you how deep to bury them so they germinate best.  Gardeners in this area usually plant turnips, beets, radishes, and carrots for their early garden.  The more adventurous also plant rutabaga and parsnip.

Other vegetables planted from seed this time of the year are sugar snap peas, English peas, Swiss chard, and rhubarb, kale, lettuce, and other greens.

Transplants include most of the familiar cole crops, including cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower.  Brussels sprouts do better in the fall garden as it gets too hot for them too soon to make much of a harvest in the spring.

Be sure and mix frost tolerant flowering plants in and around your yard.  These attract bees and other pollinators to your vegetable garden and make sure your plants get pollinated.  It is very frustrating to have beautiful foliage and not a vegetable in sight because of poor pollination.

Although we have had several recent rains, it is necessary to water in both seeds and transplants.  They will need to be kept moist but not soggy so if Mother Nature doesn’t supply enough rain, you will have to step in and water them.

This year the Hunt County Fair is earlier in the year than usual.  The horticulture competition is on April 30th.  You deliver your vegetables and other items from 4pm to 6pm and judging begins at 6:30.  It only costs $2 an entry, so please enter your vegetables and support the horticulture competition this year.  Master Gardeners will be the judges and it will be a lot of fun. Hope to see you there.


Onions by Diana Sidebottom

I know you’re thinking, who gardens in January?  Well, onion lovers do, and it’s time to get onion slips in the ground.  Onions are rugged plants that can withstand some temperatures below freezing, which is good because they need to be planted 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost date.  Varieties well suited for East Texas can be purchased in small bundles of 50 -100 at this time of the year.

Plant your slips as soon as possible, but if you are unable to plant immediately, spread them out in a cool dry area.  The onion is a member of the lily family and can survive up to three weeks without being planted.

Onions require very specific conditions to produce really good results.  They need full sun and prefer a rich loose soil that is full of organic matter, but will grow reasonably well in clay soil.  They prefer a pH between 6.2 and 6.8 so test your soil and amend as necessary.  For the best growth and yield, fertilize right from the start.  Dig a 10 foot long 4” deep trench and sprinkle with ½ cup of 10-20-10 fertilizer.  Cover with 2 to 3 inches of soil and plant the transplants no more than 1” deep and at least 4” apart.  Water thoroughly after planting, and regularly thereafter.  Onions have shallow roots, so don’t let the soil become dry and cracked.

Fertilize every 2 to 3 weeks after planting.  Use ammonium sulfate (21-0-0) for alkaline soils or calcium nitrate (15.5-0-0) for acidic soils.  Water after each application.  Remember that soil test you did?  It will come in handy now!

Weeds are a problem with onions, so apply a light layer of compost mulch and weed by hand, being careful to not damage the roots or bulbs.

When the soil starts to be pushed away as the onion grows, the bulbing process has begun and you should stop fertilizing at this point.  When the tops start falling over, generally in May, stop watering and let the soil dry out before harvesting.   Pull or gently dig up the onion, brush off excess soil, and lay them in a shady spot for a week to dry.  Clip off the roots and cut the stalk about 1 to 2 inches from the bulb, and store in a cool dry place with onions not touching.  You can also store in onion net or nylon hose with knots tied between each onion.

Due to temperature fluctuations in this area, sometimes onions will send up a flower stalk know as bolting.  Onions are biennial, and if the plant is exposed to alternating cold and warm temperatures the plant becomes “confused” thinking two seasons have passed, and will prematurely bolt.  Once the plant has bolted, it doesn’t matter if you remove the flower stalk.  The bulb is completely edible; however, the storage life of the onion will be shortened, so plan to use those bulbs first.

So get those slips in the ground and prepare to be amazed in about 4 months when you are holding an onion that will rival any you have ever purchased.  As always, happy harvesting!


Potatoes and Onions by Byron Chitwood

Now is the time to start thinking about planting potatoes and onions. As of mid January, most of the sources for seed potatoes and onions were stocked up and ready to make a sale. The planting guide suggests planting onions between February 1 and the 20th. The recommendation for potatoes is February 10 and the 26th. However, these can safely be planted up until St. Patrick’s Day which is March 17. I am beginning to think Neil Sperry is right. We are at the very north end of zone 8 so we don’t have to plant on the first recommended day for zone 8 but can delay for several or more weeks.

Potatoes are one of the world’s staple foods second only after rice. There are literally thousands of varieties of potatoes. We are beginning to see more of these different varieties in the “upscale” grocery stores. My suggestion for the variety you should choose is one of the red varieties commonly referred to as “new” potatoes. Another variety that does real good in this area is Yukon Gold.

Several days before planting, cut your potatoes into chunks with at least one eye per piece. Let then set for a few days to scab over the cut area of the piece. Potatoes will do the best if the soil is loaded with organic matter such as shredded and partially composted leaves. Till the soil and dig trenches about five inches deep and two to three feet apart. Lay the seed potato parts in the trench about one foot apart and cover. They take about four to six weeks to sprout and a total of three months or more to reach full maturity. Some of the potatoes can be harvested when about an inch and one-half in diameter. In Sweden, these are considered the best vegetable a garden can produce.

If space is limited or you are planting a square foot garden, it is recommended that you dig the soil about five feet deep and lay four or less potatoes per one square foot area. Cover slightly and as they begin to sprout, cover the plants with a mixture of equal parts peat moss, composted material and vermiculite or pearlite. Keep doing this until the seed potatoes have been covered by about six inches of the mixture. Potatoes can be planted in containers using the same method. For fully mature potatoes, harvest after the plants have matured and turned yellow.

Plant sets about two inches deep with a spacing of about three inches and row spacing of 18 inches. When you need green onions, pull ever other one which will allow for the remaining ones to mature. For the square foot gardener, plant sixteen onion sets per square foot and harvest the same way as the row cropper. When the onion tops break over, they are ready for harvesting.

For a different treat, try my all-time favorite: clean and dice potatoes and start frying in a tablespoon of olive oil. Add chopped onions and cook until almost done. Break eggs on top of the potatoes and onions, salt and pepper the eggs and put several tablespoons of water in the skillet. Cover and steam until the eggs are done to your liking. Serve with a glass of tomato or V8 juice.


Winter Garden Clean-Up By Byron Chitwood

It is time to clean up the garden patch now that we have had some real cold weather. Start with the asparagus bed. The freezes killed the top growth of the asparagus so it is time to remove the dead ferns and get ready for the next harvest season which begins in late February or early march. First of all, the freeze was beneficial since it killed all the chiggers or red bugs. Therefore, you don’t need to worry about getting bitten by these critters. Just wade into the dead ferns and begin by cutting out the ferns that have the red berries. Be careful not to knock any of the berries off since they will invariably sprout. What sprouts are little wirey plants and they will never get any larger in diameter. Bury these ones with the berries in the mulch pile. Then cut the rest of the ferns off to ground level. Shred them and add to the mulch pile or if they are shredded fine enough, put them back on the asparagus bed as mulch. Continue by mulching the asparagus bed with compost and additional leaves that will mostly decompose in the next few months.

If you plan to plant potatoes and onions in your early spring garden, clear the area of all old growth and weeds where you plan to plant these two vegetables. Then put about 2 to 4 inches of leaves on these areas and till them under. Till to a depth of 4 to six inches. These leaves should be pretty well composted in time for planting which is about mid-February. To somewhat speed up the composting of the leaves, especially from oak trees, you might want to shred them with your rotary lawnmower. Hopefully you can get that lawnmower started. That will remind you to put a stabilizer in the fuel system of all your motorized lawn and garden equipment as well as any gasoline that you have stored in containers.

Some weeds and grasses thrive during cold weather. This is especially true of winter rye grass and henbit. It is best to not let these weeds get out of hand so keep the garden weeded during the winter. A good way to do this is to cover all the areas with about four inches of leaves. If you have done like I do and let the rest of the neighborhood rake, bag and put the leaves on the curb for trash pickup day, gather up these bags of leaves home and use the leaves for the mulching process. Salvage the bags. Cut the bags down both sides: unfold them into one layer and lay them on the soil. Put just enough soil on the bags so they don’t blow away. Most weeds and grasses will not grow under these bags plus when it is time to plant seeds, the soil will be a few degrees warmer. Just after the bags have been removed, plant seeds.

This little bit of advice if followed, will make your spring gardening much easier. You have also salvaged and recycled some plastic bags and conserved some valuable resources such as the leaves and dead plant material.


Garlic by Diana Sidebottom

Extra, Extra, Read All About It. This just in from the AP network. The clinical trial of a mouthwash containing 2.5% fresh garlic shows good antimicrobial activity for killing germs and bacteria, although the majority of the participants reported an unpleasant aftertaste and halitosis. Seriously? Garlic Mouthwash? I would like to know who funded that clinical trial to see if they have any extra money laying around for (the most ridiculous thing you can think of) trial because I’m going to sign up!

Garlic has been used as both food and medicine in many cultures for over 7 thousand years.  Its close relatives include the onion, shallot, leek, and chive. One of the best known, elephant garlic, is actually a wild leek. Garlic is hardy thru climate zones 4-9 and can be day length sensitive. There are two major subspecies, hard neck which is generally grown in cooler climates with shorter days and soft neck which prefers more equatorial temperatures and longer days.

Garlic has been domesticated for so long that it no longer produces a viable seed, so all garlic grown around the world is essentially a clone of the parent plant, known as vegetative reproduction. However, many hard neck varieties still “bolt”, which creates the emergence and eventual stiffening of garlic’s now impotent reproductive organ, the seed head (perhaps we could create GM garlic and cross it with some Cialis to help the poor little thing). Yes, it is called a scape. The thing that leaves all French chefs frothing at the mouth in spring.  A divine vegetable that we Americans have until recently thrown into the compost pile. Guilty as charged.

In zone 8, about the middle of October, plant individual cloves, 4 to 6 inches deep and approximately 6 inches apart in all directions in loose, well drained soils with a high organic material content in a sunny location. Garlic is not picky about pH levels. Garlic plants are usually very hardy and not bothered by many pests or diseases, the exception being nematodes and white rot disease.

In a few weeks your garlic will appear as if by magic and grow all winter. In the spring, if you are growing hard neck or elephant garlic, when those scapes shoot up, call moi, your new BFF, and I will pick them for you. You actually do need to remove them to focus all the garlic’s energy into bulb growth.

In May, when your garlic looks like it is dying, remember they are daylight sensitive and that is just what they do. It’s time to harvest! Get your pitch fork and dig up those beauties. If you wait until the tops die completely there is good news and bad news. The good news is you won’t have to plant garlic next year. Yes, they will stay there all summer and emerge on their own next fall. The bad news is you will lose, as in misplace, can’t find where you planted the bulbs once attached to those dying tops, thus you don’t reap your harvest. After you dig your beauties, leave the tops on and store in a cook dark dry spot. Soft neck garlic may be braided and hung for ease of storage. Select the largest bulbs to planting next year, unless you choose to purchase new every year. So start them out right and they will take care of themselves. Don’t you wish more things were like that? So as always, happy harvesting!


Not too late for fall garden by Byron Chitwood

It is not too late to plant some of the vegetables in your fall garden.  Up until the last few days, the sun has been so hot that most vegetables that were planted at the earliest recommended planting date did not germinate properly if at all.  I suffered right along with the rest of you and in some cases, I have replanted at least twice.  The only ones that I planted that seemed to thrive were mustard greens.  These seemed to do fairly well and I am looking forward to harvesting some of the outer leaves in the next few days.  Collards did come up but have not done as well as the mustard greens.  Most of the time, collards will come up thickly in a row for a few feet and then there will be blank spaces where none germinated.  Just dig some from the areas where there are too many and immediately replant in the blank spots maintaining a spacing of ten to twelve inches between plants.

Some other vegetables that that can still be planted are lettuce, radishes, spinach, onions, collards, chard and beets.  Lettuce is one of the hardest plants to grow in this climate and soil conditions.  You plant lettuce seeds and pray for a rain.  It hardly ever rains for the type we pray for which is a nice gentle rain for several days in a row but pours down and compacts the top of the soil forming a crust which is tough for the lettuce plants to pierce.  Mix plenty of organic material in the soil before planting and that will certainly help some.  I can remember as a kid, some people planted lettuce in pure sand and kept it well watered to insure proper germination.  However in Oklahoma, they never bothered with planting a fall garden except for planting turnips.  We Okies never ate the greens although we always heard they were good and “some people south of the Red River ate them”!  We also never ate beet greens, collards or any other green other than cooked spinach.  Our mothers had to convince us that spinach was good for us because “look how strong Popeye became when he ate a can of spinach”.

If you can find some onion sets, plant them anytime but don’t expect them to bulb.  Just be content with the scallions that they produce.  They just keep growing as scallions until they are as large as leeks.  If you know somebody that has multiplying onions and has an oversupply, maybe they will give a few to you for replanting in your garden.  These are great and grow all winter long.  Just be sure and control them or you will have them all over the garden.  When they bloom, cut the blooms off and toss them in the trash.  At best, put them in the compost pile and keep them turned as deep under the surface as possible until they die.

The last thing that can be safely planted in the fall garden is radishes.  This can be done until November 1.  Maybe we won’t have an early freeze and you can enjoy some fall radishes.

The Hunt County Master Gardeners will be hosting the Art of Gardening series at the newly dedicated Outdoor Learning Center on Thursday, October 16.  The subjects will be on composting garlic.  Be sure and mark this date in your calendar.  We hope to see you there.


Growing Greens by Byron Chitwood

Every year about this time, I write an article on greens.  This year is no different.  It is time to start preparing your garden soil and planting greens.  Begin by tilling the soil and removing all the sticks, stones and other debris.  Rake the level of the soil surface until it is level.  If you have a large garden plot, you might want to form 4-5 foot wide raised beds by ditching outside of the perimeter of the anticipated beds.  There are several advantages to these raised beds.  The most important one is that water will drain away from the vegetable beds.  Most greens as well as other vegetables like plenty of moisture but do not like wet and soggy ground.  Also, this width of bed makes it easy to plant rows and pull weeds without stepping on the bed surface and preventing compacting of the soil.  Most of these greens such as collards, broccoli, turnips, mustard, bok choy, kale and collards have very small seeds and do not need to be planted any deeper than ¼ inch with rows being about one foot apart.  Turnip seeds are usually broadcast into the area reserved for them.  However, they can also be planted in rows.  Chard and beets are planted with a dried portion of the beet or chard root.  After planting, hopefully just before a nice cool rain, the seeds should start to sprout within 7 to 10 days.

After the young plants are several inches tall, thin them out to a spacing of individual plants of about 4 to six inches.  Use a spacing of about a foot for broccoli.  There might be rows that have too many plants and some rows with large spaces.  Carefully dig some of the plants up and transplant to the gaps.  However, if you do not have enough plants for transplanting, reseed the gaps with some fresh seeds.  You can begin harvesting greens for the pot whenever they are about half grown.  Pull or snip a few leaves off the outside of the individual plants and within a few days, the remaining leaves will grow and fill in the blanks.  If you broadcast turnip seeds, they will probably need thinned out to make room for the roots to grow. Clean and cook the greens that were harvested during the thinning process.

Greens are one of the most nutritious vegetables that are grown in your garden.  Also, they are a tasty and welcome treat.  Some folks make a meal just comprised of greens and cornbread.  Cook the greens in a pan with some oil and canned chicken broth or meat with a little salt and throw in some chopped onions during the cooking process.

My favorite cornbread recipe is: mix a cup each of cornmeal and all purpose flour with a teaspoon of salt and 2 heaping teaspoons of baking powder.  The wet ingredients should be a cup of butter milk, two eggs, a quarter cup of oil and chopped dill, onions, celery and peppers, either hot or mild.  While all this mixing is going on, heat a cast iron skillet in a 425 degrees oven.  Mix all the dry and whipped up wet ingredients together.  Oil the cast iron skillet and pour all the batter into the skillet and cook at the same 425 degrees for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cornbread will come out relatively dry when pulled out.  Note that I did not add sugar to the cornbread ingredients.  If you want muffins, add sugar.

Remember all your friends without garden and shut-ins when harvesting greens.  Plant too many for your own consumption and you will have friends forever.