Farm to Table – Food and Flora Spring Gardens

Written by Kay Boothe

November 11, 2021

By Brittany Glazner McBrayer

Gardening. It holds different reactions and emotions for most people. You either love it and look forward to it, or you claim to have a black thumb and steer clear completely. My mom and aunt grow beautiful plants – my mom lovingly refers to weeding her flower beds as “dirt therapy.” However, I never did overly well with house/apartment plants post-college, so I told myself I had a black thumb and gave up on growing things altogether. Isn’t it interesting that we can be so quick to convince ourselves of what we can’t do? Fast-forward to me leaving the apartment life, married and our first child being two years old, and as can be expected and imagined, my life had significantly slowed down. And while I’m a far cry from being a super “crunchy “mom like so many friends of mine whom I admire, I started at least being a bit more conscious of what we put into our bodies – especially into our sweet angel baby girl. I decided to give it another shot, and even though I totally over-romanticized what kind of experience it would be between Everlee and me, I ended up surprising myself and everyone else, and growing a beautiful, thriving spring and summer garden.

For me personally, there were so many parts of gardening I enjoyed that totally took me by surprise. My mom was onto something: an hour pulling weeds has a soothing effect that is deeply therapeutic. Something about putting my hands into the soil, nurturing something from a seed into a seedling, and finally into a thriving adult plant that bears fruit or vegetables to feed my family was incredibly satisfying. When I became a mom, it seems like my “nurture” section of my heart and mind were activated so to speak, and this is another outlet by which to watch something grow and thrive by my hand. With so many forms of entertainment centered around technology these days, it does wonders for our hearts to connect back to nature and something as basic as planting something in the ground and watching it grow. And of course, I can’t ignore that it also allows a few moments to be productive and do something soothing while my babies play outside. For last year’s garden, I decided to germinate some of my own seedlings and plant them in my garden, because I had heard and read the plants would end up being healthier and stronger if this was done vs buy seedlings from a store/nursery. It also created space to show my two babies the process of planting, and the anticipation of watching the seeds germinate and grow into seedlings. They actually helped this year without too much of a disaster!

If planting a garden seems daunting, we’ve asked some of the best growers of Texas flowers, pecans, fruits, and vegetables to share their best advice to would-be gardeners, and maybe they will even impart some wisdom into some old pro’s.

We started by taking a trip to the beautiful pine forests of Kennard, TX, to visit with Larry Bruce Gardens. They have been known in the local community for years of being a provider of the best and freshest produce around, grown right there in their own gardens. Over a decade ago, they decided to start a farm-to-table restaurant that has become well-known all over East Texas and beyond for it’s fresh produce, jellies/jams, pickled veggies, and delicious entrees. After sitting down and having a good long chat overlooking his freshly-planted gardens (due to the February snow/ice storm, everything is late!), these are the most important takeaways about growing, and growing vegetables in particular:

  1. Figure out your soil. Find out what zone you’re in and obtain a growing guide from your county extension office. This is also a place to get soil sample bags and send your soil off to a college with an agricultural department and they will give an analysis on what your soil needs. Adding compost/compost tea, fertilizer, and adding earthworms into your garden are also always good ideas for your soil and plants. They specifically added three different types of earthworms to their soil that would go to three different depths and work their magic!
  2. Prep your garden plot!
  3. Find a sunny spot that gets full sun most of the day.
  4. Get weeds out. There are many different methods for this – all ranging from your preference of chemical use in the garden and desired level of effort. A few methods are round-up (when prepping soil – not after planting), tarping (putting an opaque tarp over your garden spot and allowing the weeds to die naturally from lack of water and sunlight, then removing the soil down to the dept of the weeds roots, or simply tilling the soil and removing all visible weeds and rocks.
  5. Find a good tiller!
  6. Choose what to plant. He is a big supporter of heirloom seeds. They do not germinate as well rate-wise, but the seeds that do germinate you can plant and then harvest the seeds for the next growing season. His easiest vegetables to grow are zucchini and straight-necked yellow squash, zipper cream peas, spineless okra, beefsteak tomatoes, and sweet corn.

 

Our next conversation was with the lovely Georgia Monroe of Basecamp Farms in Navasota, TX. Georgia is a San Angelo native who ended up in Central Texas, and grows some of the most beautiful flowers in the state! This year will be their fourth growing season, and she is working hard to make it a successful one, in spite of the crazy winter weather 2021 dealt Texas residents this year! She manages to grow 40 different types of flowers over the 12-month growing period! Originally a nurse, Georgia discovered her love of growing things (especially flowers!) throughout her adult life, and when they purchased land in Navasota, TX, the full-time flower growing began. They operate in the wholesale and retail flower markets, and began their adorable (and successful!) on-the-farm flower shop as a COVID pivot in their business strategy. They also host events in their brand-new event center, have pick-your-own events as supply allows, offer wedding floral design, allow photo shoots on their beautiful property, and give tours and field trips by reservation.

Her all-time favorite flowers to grow are Dahlias – even though they’re tricky to grow and not common in Texas! Her favorite summer flowers to grow are sunflowers (look for pollenless branching varieties), zinnias, cosmos, marigolds, and Celosia’s. A few tips from this flower master:

  1. Some of her favorite Texas landscaping plants are Pride of Barbedos, Blue Plumbago, Mexican Honeysuckle, Yellow Lantanas, Turks Cap, Salvia – Coccinea Coral Nymph, Greggs Mist – great for (Monarch Butterflies), Butterfly Weed, and Purple Coneflower
  2. For perennial beds, cut back in February and apply compost and wood chip mulch around the base of plants.
  3. An excellent source for wildflower seeds (great for pollinators!) is wildseedfarms.com

 

When thinking of fruit gardening tips – if you have lived in Texas for more than a minute, Cooper Farms should spring to your mind. Cooper Farms, located in Fairfield, Texas, has some of the very best peaches in Texas – in fact, dare we say, the South.

Tim and Kathy Cooper started the farm with just five acres in 1983. Flash forward to today, the farm has grown to over 300 acres and now even includes 1200 pecan trees. They have popup locations in Conroe, Huntsville, and Waco during the season and it is well worth the trip to one of these cities. However, at least once a year, you have to make the pilgrimage to the small-town of Fairfield, right off I-45, for their life-changing homemade peach ice cream, browse their homemade baked goods and jams while you walk around eating a peach that was likely picked that very morning.

The current owner, Brady Johnson, began working at the farm when he was just 16 years old. Like something out of a country song, he fell in love with the farmer’s daughter Elizabeth, and they took over operations in 2010, and run the business together.

We asked Brady for his top three gardening tips for growing peach trees at your home, and after chatting with him, even this black-thumb gardening girl feels confident I could have a nice little peach tree of my own! Mr. Johnson’s passion for what he does is contagious, which is why we think his peaches are just a little sweeter than the rest – there is an entire family pouring their love and joy into them.

  1. Pick a variety that will thrive within the chill zone requirements of your home. This means, the zone you live in experiences a certain number of hours a year below 45 degrees. For example, Fairfield has 800 hours a year below 45 degrees and therefore have tree varieties that thrive within those requirements. They would not ever grow a tree that needed 1000 hours below 45.
  2. Keep them pruned! As soon as the peaches have bloomed, and they are about the size of your thumb, knock off peaches to keep them six inches apart. We know we know – all those potential jars of peaches lost – but this allows the peaches to be sweeter and larger come harvest time!
  3. Decide if you want clingstone vs. freestone peaches. This basically indicates when in the season you would like to harvest your peaches. Freestone peaches are great for cobblers and snacking, and are harvested in the second part of the season. Clingstone peaches are harvested in the first half of the season and best for commercial use, canning and other types of preserving.

We hope these tricks of the trade by some of the best helps you uphold a beautiful Texas/southern tradition, and will help play a part in your flourishing gardens this year and for many years to come!

 

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