Paul and Nila Dowlearn-Owners of Wichita Valley Nursery. Paul’s recent books, “The Lazy Man’s Garden” and “Touch the Earth” are available at the Nursery, 5314 S.W. Pkwy, Wichita Fall, Texas.

The warm season vegetable harvest is now history. On Facebook I saw many “last pick” photos of gobs of tomatoes, peppers, and some nice fat eggplants. Kept in a warm location and spread out so as not to touch these members of the nightshade family will continue to ripen. Sadly, they will not grow anymore, but for us it is salsa time. For others it is chow-chow, fried green tomatoes, or perhaps all three.

Sad to see it all come to an early end. I was really hoping the killer freezes would hold another two or three weeks. Imagine what could have been if the weather average of mid-November first freeze would have come true. Such is the reality of Texoma weather.

Some of my more pessimistic gardening friends are now predicting a very long and colder winter now. Makes sense given the past two weeks of below average temps and record lows. However, it could just as easily be an early cold snap. Always the optimist, I am holding for a warm spell before winter actually commences third week of December. The long range forecast still agrees with my view. After all it is still fall. Isn’t it?

At least we are seeing some rainfall now. The wheat fields are still looking pretty skinny but improving. More rain and seasonal normal temps should fix that. We hope…

Vegetable gardening is and always will be intensive. We generally need some soil improvement. The weather is your best friend and worst enemy. When the weather is good, and the veggies make there is always something out there from the two legged to the six-legged creatures poised to beat you to the harvest.

We’ve been working (on the nice days) out on Three Way Road at the Hoskins Ranch/Farm. Up on a high ridge they are blessed with sandy loam topsoil over parts of the property. The kind of soil most of us wished we had to work with. Even so, their new beds they recently prepared got plenty of trucked in soil for what is destined to be cut flowers. You just can’t get it too rich for growing hybrid flowers and veggies. I often feel like a man with a split personality bouncing back and forth between intensive gardening and xeriscaping. The landscaping we are getting paid for will be xeriscaped with native and heirloom plants. The soil we are using was not trucked in and every bit comes from the existing soil on the property. I know there is plenty of weed and grass seeds in that soil. Weed pulling will be a problem the first few seasons but their soil is plenty rich enough for what we will be planting soon.

Growing warm season veg is pretty tough but using local coreopsis, coneflowers, etc., with shrubs from the Hill Country and/or West Texas is by comparison much easier. Lucky for me, my clients have some experience in this, so they understand the value of native landscaping. They will spend their valuable free time working on the veggies and cut flowers.

Your average homeowner needs to gain a better understanding of this difference between gardening cultures. I’ve actually been considering writing a new book or booklet and use “Everything is not a Tomato” as the title. For many folks, all gardening is equated to growing tomatoes or some tropical oddity that has no chance without a lot of help given our Texoma climate and soils. The result is far too many decide that ornamental landscaping is just as hard, so they console themselves to mowing grass as being the easy way out.

It simply is not true. Mother Nature has provided us with thousands of plants. Many of those are pleasing to the eye, provide food and shelter for beneficial wildlife and basically grow themselves with little or no effort. However, we do have to learn a bit about these gifts from Nature and make it our goal to use these plants rather than what’s on sale or looks good at the point of sale down at your local garden center. I find it ironic that most of the plants we find offered are not even native to the United States, let alone Texas… Or Texoma!

Saturday, I had Josh take some pictures of plants at the nursery that are still in bloom despite the cold temperatures that killed our tomatoes. There were a dozen pictures he posted on my Facebook page. He did not photograph everything but got enough to show proof. All were not local natives, there is a rose in there and we spotted another type of rose blooming out on the fence line. The bees and butterflies were working those plants. Fall blooming plants are especially important to these creatures and our local native species that typically bloom during fall have certainly seen these early cold spells happen many times. They take it in stride.

Meanwhile, our bumper crop of pecans is falling daily as the wind blows. No doubt the squirrels are gonna be fat and healthy this winter. This may be the best harvest of my career so far. Lovin’ it… Ya’ll come see us.

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