Grow Your Own Groceries

Wouldn’t be nice to step out of the kitchen into the backyard and harvest some fresh lettuce, tomatoes, blueberries, figs or peaches? If fresh blackberries for cobbler or red sweet, or hot, peppers for stuffing or salsa are on a future menu, stop dreaming and get to planting.

Now is time to plant or at least make preparations for growing your own groceries. Let’s start with fruits. A basic need is a sunny location with enough room. Some fruiting plants don’t take up too much space, like blueberries or blackberries, while tree fruits need more room.

If space is at a premium, consider incorporating a fruiting shrub or tree into your existing landscape beds or hedgerow. Blueberries grow to be good sized shrubs, but can also be pruned to control height and width. Besides a summer crop of fruit, blueberries have attractive blue-green foliage which turns attractive shades of orange, red and bronze in the fall.

Another space-saving technique is to grow fruits in a 2-dimensional plane. This is called espalier, where trees and vines are trained from youth on a sturdy trellis or close to a wall. Not only does this save space, but can also increase fruiting of some crops like apples and pears. This requires more attention to pruning and training, but also can result in an attractive addition to your landscape.

Some fruits need more than one variety to ensure adequate pollination and fruit set. Blueberries, apples, pears and most plums need more than variety nearby. Peaches, figs, blackberries and oriental persimmons can produce by themselves.

February is an ideal time to purchase and plant all fruiting shrubs, vines and trees, and nurseries are stocked with plants ready to plant. Planting now allows the roots to get established while the temperatures are cooler and soil moisture is adequate. While some types require little training after planting, others, like peaches, grapes and apples need annual pruning to develop a good structure that will produce and support an abundant load of fruit.

Vegetables. February is also time to plant cool season vegetable crops (ones which need to mature before the heat of summer arrives), and also time to get ready for summer vegetables. Again, look for the sunniest spot to locate your vegetable garden. Cool-season, leafy crops like spinach, lettuce, collards, mustard, onions, etc. can get by with less than all day sun. But, fruiting veggies like beans, tomatoes, peppers and squash will be most productive if given all-day sun.

What if the sunniest spot is on your patio? Then garden in containers. Raised bed gardening is a fun and convenient way to grow vegetables. My garden is mostly in large wooden boxes scrounged from industrial sites – they may not last long, but they are also free. Nearly anything can be grown in containers if they are large enough, though vigorous vining crops like watermelons and cantaloupes might be exceptions since they need lots of room to roam.

Right now you should be planting asparagus, onions, Irish potatoes, radishes, collard and mustard greens, lettuce, spinach, sugar snap peas, carrots, broccoli (plants), cabbage (plants), cauliflower (plants), Swiss chard, beets and turnips. These are short term crops and will be finished when the heat of summer arrives. Wait until mid-March to plant tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans and other frost-sensitive crops.

For more information on growing your own groceries, visit my web site (easttexasgardening.tamu.edu – note: no “www”) where I have articles on fruits and vegetables, including a planting dates chart for vegetables, plus links to fact sheets and other references on specific fruits and vegetables.

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