What we can grow in the winter in Houston!

Two weeks ago on 20 November, I planted some more seeds in the vegetable garden. Kale, radishes, epazote, lettuce, arugula, and chard join the hefty eggplant and basil ringed with pansies. This is not remarkable in Houston, where we can plant all year long. Occasionally the lettuce needs covering. A frost cloth can speed up growth on some days in December and January, before spring comes in February and the azaleas bloom. In some ways this is our easiest season, since we can cover against frost, but in the summer can’t cool enough for the tomatoes to set fruit. There is lots of support in Houston for gardening, including Wabash Feed Store for bulk seeds by the ounce. Best of all are all the resources from Urban Harvest from their farmer’s markets to their annual fruit tree sale, to their books.

Gardening is important to me. I’ve had a vegetable garden since I lived in student housing in Austin on the banks of Town Lake. I specialize in leaves, chard, collards, basil, lettuce, the quick, easy things. I’ve gone through phases of beans, tomatoes, okra, and zucchini, but each has its problems in this squirrel and rat rich country. I can remember planting potatoes when Anna and Danny were little, and the joy of watching them root through the soil to find potatoes, a wonderful treasure hunt.

The only time we can’t get most of our lettuce from the garden is the middle of the summer. I remember a time when Philip was of the age to be left home alone for short periods, and we had left him in the summer over lunch. That evening he commented on how bitter the lettuce had become. It surprised us because in July we had long since switched to bought lettuce. Apparently he had not noticed, and so went outside and pushed through the weeds to find a remaining, bolted lettuce plant, and plucked the leaves he needed, bitter as they were. I love the idea that my children at least sometimes think of their food as coming from the garden first.

When we move to St. Louis, we’ll be going from the nearly tropical 9A growing season to 6A, warmer than my Michigan home zone of 5b, but not by much! Maybe I’ll have to become more seasonal, and start freezing, canning, and drying more.


Marigolds help with pests. Planting these little lettuces densely keeps them from bolting, though that is not much of a problem in winter.


The garden is a class and is affiliated with Urban Harvest.


Not sure who isn’t harvesting these delicious cherry tomatoes in this last week of classes.


Seedlings in my home garden.


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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