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Digging in the Dirt: Autumn Gardening Tips & The Green Corn Project

by evh on October 15, 2013

A visit to The Natural Gardner is a MUST during these early fall days (check first this week for opening times due to the rain). Not only are they loaded with high-quality, organic, and native plants for your garden but it’s also a place of inspiration and encouragement in one of the most peaceful settings around town. Walk through the colorful butterfly garden, check out the keep-Austin-rock-in’ guitar garden, visit with the chickens, donkeys and goats, and enjoy a relaxing swing by the babbling creek – It’s family-friendly and well worth the drive.

When it comes to gardening, I still consider myself an intermediate one. I have had some great successes along with a few failures over the the years, but I am still learning (and think I will be for a long time) the ropes of Texas gardening. Gardening can be therapeutic for many but also a form of creativity and education for some, and this brings to mind the talented and highly regarded Carla Crownover of Austin Urban Gardens. Carla is extremely active in the Austin urban farming community and her passion for the Green Corn Project – “Feeding Austin One Garden at a Time” – is beyond praiseworthy. I managed to catch up with this oh-so-busy and always gracious lady to get some great gardening tips and to learn more about this year’s Green Corn Project.

If I were just starting to get into the world of Texas gardening, what would you recommend to plant for the beginner gardener – one that doesn’t have a lot of time but wants to contribute to their own meals? Where should they start? 

For a new gardener, in Spring and Fall, I would start with herbs first, all of which can be grown in pots.  That’s how I got started, with one wee basil plant on a condo balcony.

What if I am an intermediate gardener with a fairly good sized garden –– what should I be planting right now?

For an intermediate gardener, since it’s Fall now, I recommend seeding for all types of lettuces, arugula, mizuna, carrots, radishes, parsnips and purchasing transplants of cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli.  All are easy to grow, although the carrots and radishes likely will require thinning. I also seed for broccoli, for a continuous supply.  You don’t want to harvest all of your broccoli at once.

What if I’ve been gardening for years but want to try something new or unique to grow – any recommendations? 

If you have been gardening for years, you might try some of the Asian vegetables from Kitazawa Seed Company (available at The Natural Gardener.)  I also recommend using the Slow Food Ark of Taste (www.slowfoodfoundation.com) as a resource for heritage vegetables that may not show up at your local seed packet display.  Some of these varietals may be more difficult to grow than the basics, but biodiversity is important in the home garden as it is in large scale production.

What’s your favorite thing to grow and why? 

My favorite thing to grow is onions.  I order my onion starts from Dixondale Farm in Carrizo Springs every November, and get them in the ground early.  I plant over 100 onions every Fall, usually 1015s, White Bermuda and Red Creole.  The require soil that is fairly loose, and little else.  They are cold tolerant to our winter lows, and don’t have to be covered, although I cover them if it threatens to get below 30, just out of an abundance of caution.  This Spring I harvested the largest onions I’d ever grown, and with proper storage, they last for months and months.  I’m still eating onions today. Potatoes are really fun too, because they grow so far from the seed potato, digging them up is a bit like a treasure hunt.  And once you’ve had a fresh potato, you’ll never want a store bought one again.

What’s the most unusual thing that you’ve found that grows in Texas or Austin? And how did you come across it?

After shopping at the farmer’s markets for 10 or so years, the varieties that local farmers and gardeners are growing have increased and expanded 100%.  Popcorn is something I couldn’t find 4 years ago, and now several farmers are growing it.  The most unusual thing, husk cherries.  A friend thought she had purchased tomatillos, and they turned out to be husk cherries.  I had never heard of them.

Tell us a bit about the Green Corn Project. How did you become involved with it? 

Green Corn Project (www.greencornproject.org) is a 501(c)3 organization whose mission is to get folks eating healthy, organic produce, by installing vegetable gardens at homes, schools, churches, shelters etc.  We install gardens where people might not have the means or ability to do it themselves, plant them in Spring and Fall and continue refurbishing and planting each one for 2 years.  We leave them with the tools they need to become self-reliant gardeners as well.  We have seed planting workshops, garden maintenance workshops and dig-in leader training workshops.  We are an all volunteer organization, funded mostly by our Fall Festival.  The Fall Festival had been one of my favorite foodie events of the year, for about 5 years, which is how I came to be involved.  I joined the Green Corn Board last year.  This year will be our annual Festival’s 15th year, and the lineup of restaurants, silent auction items and live music is amazing.  We try to keep it affordable, with advance tickets at $35, and $40 at the door.  It is October 27th, from noon to 4:00 this year.

For tickets and more information visit: The Green Corn Project 2013 Fall Festival and to learn more about Carla Crownover visit Austin Urban Gardens.

A BIG thank you to Carla Crownover ~ for all you do for the community and for your helpful tips and gardening advice! xo

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