Feed the soil not just the plants
By Michelle Thompson
It’s the time of year when our gardens may be showing signs of stress due to the summer heat. For vegetables this may indicate the end of the spring growing season. Our warm Texas climate however gives us additional opportunities to restock the garden.
To prepare your garden space for fall vegetable gardening do a quick assessment of the health of your soil, especially if you had growing problems. You can check the condition of your soil with some observations. Is the soil structure dead looking with hard, difficult to break clods or can it be easily worked? Garden soil should be an ecosystem teeming with biological life such as worms, pill bugs and other insects. Your soil should have a fresh earthy smell from beneficial aerobic actinobacteria that thrive in healthy soils. A sour or foul smell comes from anerobic bacteria that thrive in oxygen depleted soil which may indicate poor drainage or infiltration, indicative to heavy clay soils. Sour smells occur in compost piles that are also too wet.
A soil test can provide more complete measurable information. County extension offices provide soil sample bags and information sheets for collecting and mailing samples to the testing laboratory.
Addition of organic matter is the single most important thing you can do to help your soil. A great source of organic matter is compost. While you can purchase compost, consider making room for a compost pile somewhere in your yard. It can be as simple as layering cut up, disease free, yard waste and dried leaves within a 4’ X 4’ pile. There are many compost bin styles available for purchase for a tidier appearance or easier mixing.
An old saying sums up our connection with soil; despite all of mankind’s achievements we owe our existence to six inches of topsoil and the fact that it rains.
Vegetables to plant in August:
Plant pole and bush beans, corn, southern peas, pumpkin seeds, small whole potatoes for seed (cut pieces tend to rot in warm soil) and pepper transplants. Start seeds of cole crops such as broccoli, cabbage, kale and cauliflower in seed trays or small containers either indoors or in a cooler shady spot outdoors for September transplanting. Okra that’s too tall can be cut back to force side shoots for fall harvest.
For complete directions on soil testing go to soiltesting.tamu.edu. Click on ‘Publications’ to link to ‘Testing Your Soil: How to Collect and Send Samples.’
Michelle Thompson is a Galveston County Master Gardener and is a member of Heritage Gardeners of Friendswood. She served as President 2018-2020.