This garden was an experiment in many ways. First, we have never grown a winter garden. Second, since we missed the regular planting times for a late summer garden this ended up being a autumn/fall garden. Now we do not have much of a fall in southeast Texas. It’s more of a relaxed summer. The days are still long and warm late into the year, and we have an extended growing season because of it. Also, instead of cutting the garden short when winter arrived, I let most things continue to grow to see how well they could keep up. Next year we will likely have an early summer, late summer, and winter garden.
Generally you would start your late summer garden in June or July. We didn’t start ours until the first week of September.
This time around we used 4 rows instead of 5. We had plenty of space for 5, but with the larger plants like squash and zucchini, we wanted the plants to have plenty of support for their base. In the past we have had problems with plants getting to heavy and breaking the stem open near ground level. This problem is a real issue with allowing bugs to get inside the plant directly. I have lost plants to these bugs a couple times, but there is a treatment for them. Either way, it is better to avoid a future issue all together if you can.
We started off with 3 butter crest lettuce and 2 broccoli from our local hardware store. The 3 butternut squash in the back we started from seeds and they all happen to be heirlooms. We ended up never planting anything on the third row. All of the plants are in the 4-6″ tall range in the picture below. The days are long and warm. The garden is a happy place to be.
After 10 days outside in the ground, the butternut squash has begun to climb. It is always impressive how quickly some of these plants can sprout up. For reference, the squares on the panel are 6″x6″.
You can also see here how much the broccoli grew in 10 days. They rapidly grew over a foot in height and many times their size in overall growth in this short time. It is hard to tell in the picture, but the broccoli’s are all crawling south. They are moving towards the sun as the days continue to get shorter.
In the picture below, the lettuce should have been harvested. I let these go to see how long it would take to get them to flower or even to seed. Eventually all three were fed to the chickens. We did however save a few of the choice bites for ourselves to enjoy. When the lettuce started to flower, the leaves tasted incredibly bitter very fast. Other leafy greens did not taste so bitter so quickly to me in the past.
You can see in the picture below that there are several butternut squash hanging from the vines on the trellis. This was several days before a major cold front. When the front arrived, the plants survived but were damaged. The main vine that was growing up the trellis for all three was frozen during the overnight frost. All three plants never fully recovered and were all three fed to the chickens also.
I have grown butternut squash late into the year before and was successful. But during those times the whole plant was at ground level and was safe from the frost. I will not use the trellis for the fall garden next time.
It is November 1st and last night was Halloween. We always give our pumpkins to our chickens after Halloween, but this year we got a couple extra ones from some friends. Pumpkins are very good for the chickens, they are loaded with vitamins A, B, C, and Zinc. Even the seeds are packed with vitamin E. So next year make sure to save all the seeds and guts for the coop, that goes for any left over from making pies as well!
These are our 3 surviving butternut squash. The rest of the plants were pulled up and recycled into the coop. The 2 in the back are ripe but still a little fresh. The one in the front will need to ripen on the counter for a little bit longer.
We decided to add 2 more raised beds to the garden. They will not be planted until the spring, but I wanted to dirt to rest. It is mainly made up of chicken coop compost in this picture. A couple weeks later I added dirt and potting soil to them both and tilled it all together. I want to make sure the compost has time to settle before we plant so we do not burn up the roots in the spring garden.
One of our big beautiful broccoli heads. This is the first year I ever grew broccoli and I was very impressed. I gave it little to no care to see how hardy it would be and these things are tough!! I never covered it from any storms or seasonal morning frost. I never even covered it during a several day downpour that never got above the mid 40’s. That kind of care has killed lesser plants, but not this broccoli.
We ate a couple of the heads and even some of the large leafs and their stocks. It was all very good, extra sweet on bitter cold mornings. The large greens can be cooked like spinach or kale and are a treat themselves.
You can see in the picture below that this head was almost to flower. But that is not the reason I had pulled it. You can also see that the chickens had done a number on the lower half of the plant while they were out grazing. I decided that since they seemed to like the broccoli so much they could have the whole thing. I pulled an entire plant and gave it to them. It lasted about 2 days due to its size, but the even ate the main stock.
After months of neglect, the last surviving broccoli has finally gone to flower. With the arrival of flowers, the head itself taste more bland and bitter. We had gotten 3 heads off of this plant so far. This is likely why the current head looks so drawn out and not a tight bunch like normally seen. With it being a known favorite of the hens, you can imagine where the plant went. I like to spoil the birds when I can and little treats help keep egg production high. But this entire plant is edible for us and could provide several meals if used properly.
A close up of the head and flowers before they get fed to the chickens.
The blank slate. Sitting in waiting for the spring time to arrive and for the planting of the next cycle. We usually start our seeds around valentines day to get a good start of the early planting of the spring garden.