The answer to both of these questions is our Texas seasonality! If you were not born and raised in Texas, you are probably most familiar with the seasons of the east coast and the midwest: plant in April and May, have fruiting crops come into season in June and July, and harvest the latest fall crops in September and October before the frost hits and it all starts over again the next April. This version of seasonality that is based on a more northern latitude definitely shapes national food media’s notions of what “seasonal” eating means.
But here in Texas, we have a wildly other relatiy than those farming in the north. Our planting seasons are so completely different. Instead of one, longer window, we have two very short mini-seasons where young plants can survive without being scorched by a hard frost or burned by the sun and high summer temps. Farming in Texas is a wild game of 4-dimensional Tetris. We have very brief planting windows, bordered by very extreme temperatures, which makes everything dramatic and just a little more difficult than I wish it would be :-)
In Central Texas, our “spring” season really begins in mid-February, despite the fact that your calendar doesn't claim the spring starts until March 20th. As you probably remember, our last severe frost this year was at the end of January. Although we are expecting a few more mild frosts through mid-March, we expect that most of the sub-20 degree weather (which kills baby plants) is be behind us. For that reason, we have started to plant crops like broccoli, cabbage, radishes, lettuces, and other cold-hardy vegetables that can stand up to the last touches of frost we anticipate.
Believe it or not, we are only 2 to 3 weeks away from planting our first successions of warm-season crops like zucchini, cucumbers, and tomatoes, and for a few glorious weeks of unparalleled abundance, some of the cool-season crop and warm-season crop availability will overlap. By the end of May, however, crops like cabbage and broccoli which are currently in the ground will need to be out of the ground. By May, they just can’t stand up to the heat. Even tomatoes stop producing fruit in July due to the extreme heat. We have to harvest all of our “winter squash” like acorn and butternut in June before the hot sun burns up the hardy, but not that hardy, vines. The only crops that are tough enough to really make it through the summer in Central Texas are long beans, peppers, okra, and some melons. When the most extreme summer heat starts to dissapate around September, we farmers are gifted another brief (fall) planting season when we can transplant crops like cabbage, cauliflower, and collards into the fields. If all goes well, these crops have just enough time to grow to maturity before December and January’s hard frosts.
Summary: Texas has two short main growing seasons instead of 1 long main season. Whereas most farmers in the Northeast take off during the winter months when snow covers the ground, we Texas farmers (can) have a bit of reprieve in summer’s hottest months before fall planting mania starts again. (We can also decide to grunt it out during the summer and fill our fields with okra and peppers…but that’s another story.) See the chart below for a forecast of when our new spring veggies are set to arrive. We’re excited and hope you are too!
Thanks for reading!