The Lonely Potato: Texas Gardening 101

Coming from the Motherland of Canada, this northerner was super pumped for Texas gardening. Dreams of southern peppers, okra and watermelon danced like the Sugar Plum fairy in my head. You see, from where I come from, we have a very short gardening season. We Canadians would rush out to the greenhouses at the end of May with reckless abandon and spend an entire paycheck on flowers, seeds, shrubs. The long winter was over and it was time to enjoy the mere five months of no snow. We were GARDENING!

Once the cottages were built last year and business was rolling, it was time to build the mother of all gardens. Landscaping fabric by the tonne was purchased, a 8 foot deer fence needed to be erected, I needed to learn how to pound “T posts,” the best dirt a girl could find was dumped on the driveway and then painstakingly moved, and garden boxes were built. Joy and elation filled my heart. The guests who arrived at the bed and breakfast would eat the finest of fresh vegetables, potatoes would be harvested by the wheelbarrow full, flowers would wave gently in the summer breeze.

Epic failure. I blamed it all on the lack of rain. There was nothing to show for my efforts. It was so dry and so hot. No amount of water could help that sad garden.

Fast forward to this spring. OH I was ready! I had combed the seed catalogues during the February winter ice storm. With absolute glee I raked, and broke dirt clumps. A netting was put over top to distract the birds, a primitive trellis was built for the peas and beans. I walked around the greenhouse, bought just the perfect seeds, two kinds of potatoes, several kinds of onions, lettuce, and herbs. Flowers to attract the butterflies. It was the middle of April. I was on time.

A dirty little secret… once a northerner moves south there is a certain amount of arrogance that is construed when talking to folks back in the Motherland… Oh still snow we say? Ya its 87 here today. I am in my GARDEN… sorry you are still in your snow suit.

We shouldn’t do that.

Something ate the okra and onions. All the potatoes are dead but one. The beets and swiss chard never did make it pass a full centimetre. The carrots peaked their green shoots through the dirt and stopped. The flowers are… A work in progress? There are corn stalks… bean stalks… but nowhere near for Jack to find the giant, there is rosemary. I guess I could cook a chicken.The strawberry plant still looks like it did two months ago. There was a wee feed of peas for three meals, and I see no evidence of a watermelon or me sitting under a tree spitting seeds gloating of my garden success. The lettuce came and went. Tomatoes? Well I have had three…there are also some flowering of a zucchini plant, but nary a zucchini.

So. It’s the end of May. What can I blame this failure on? Too much rain? Is that where we are? Not enough sun? Too many cloudy days? Did I plant too early? Squirrels? Is this a drainage problem? And why don’t bugs die here in Texas?

I am not giving up. I have to grow potatoes. I will be the laughing stock of my home province if there are no potatoes for the fall. When I went back to Alberta last month I may have brought a garlic bulb back with me….and it has to produce garlic or what was the point of hiding a garlic in my make up bag and smuggling it through the country like a drug mule?

While failure at this point is still not an option, somewhere in the recesses of my mind I see a master vintner wine making kit in my future. Ferment some things. Have some 5 gallon buckets… Grow a few grapes. Maybe gin. Nothing speaks of success like a moonshine still.

Colleen McCullough is the owner of The Virginia May Bed and Breakfast at Eagle Mountain Lake. Visit the website here.

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