Planning a Spring Food Garden

By Claudia Alarcón     

All gardeners, experienced or otherwise, tell stories of success and failure. Gardening is less an exact science and more a process of trial and error. But that shouldn’t stop you from planting a food garden. With a little planning ahead, you should be able to grow herbs, vegetables and fruit in your backyard or containers, and winter is the perfect time to plan and revitalize.

Though my family contains just two adults, I’ve learned that our four 10x10-foot plots can produce more than enough produce for a family of four, with two beds each planted in seasonal vegetables and perennial and annual herbs. We make the most of this relatively small space by gardening intensively and relying on drip irrigation to conserve water and provide moisture.

Here’s our plan:

First, we harvest and preserve the last of the late summer vegetables and herbs—peppers, eggplants, tomatoes and basil.

Cool weather herbs such as cilantro, dill and arugula should thrive through the season, but it’s time to cut the lemongrass back to one or two inches from the ground, using the stalks for stir-fries and spicy Thai soups, and the leaves for the Mexican tea known as té limón. I also cut down the hoja santa—perfect for making mole verde (see edibleaustin.com for my recipe). Make sure to mulch these tender perennials.

Next, we improve the soil with lots of good compost, and trace minerals in the form of Texas greensand—decomposed granite and seaweed. Then we plant our winter crops—one bed for greens, the other for veggies, plenty of which can be sown in succession throughout the cold months.

Our greens bed often includes one seed packet each of mesclun, spinach, Asian veggies and whatever new exotic thing strikes our fancy. Nearby, we plant peas, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and radishes, plus beets and turnips, which also provide tasty greens. Most garden stores sell some veggies in starter six-packs, and one six-pack per row should be enough. The rest can be planted from seed sown in rows or as “patches” broadcasted liberally over a small section of the plot. As the seedlings emerge, thin to prevent overcrowding. If you don’t, you’ll end up with deformed, underdeveloped produce.

Last but not least, remember to start warm-season veggie seeds in January and February. But most important of all—whether you succeed or fail—enjoy feeding yourself and your family from a food garden!

Resources: Seeds of Change: seedsofchange.com • Central Texas Gardener: klru.org/ctg/

Click here for Arugula-Spinach Pesto Recipe