Getting the Dirt

After transporting some heavy blocks for the garden, my brother Jaime's old Chevy pickup got stuck in the mud out back. I fetched a shovel, and asked Jaime, a geologist, "How far down to the bedrock, to get traction?"

His reply: "30,000 feet."

Basically, Houston floats on several miles of sediment and slowly-sinking mud. On top is hard clay that's ideal for growing sugarcane and rice, but little else. For proper drainage, raised beds and containers are the way to go.

After a friend extracted Jaime's truck with his Land Cruiser, I stacked the blocks in a rectangular perimeter two blocks high, as crops only need four to six inches of raised soil.

At Lowe's, bags of brand-name soil mix are $8 each, $10 for organic, but I refused to pay that much, because, well, it's dirt. So I bought Texas-made Garden Plus topsoil for $1.23 per bag, adding a bag of Black Kow manure and a cheap bag of humus for every five bags of topsoil. Finally, I bought one bag of peat moss to mix in overall.

The warm-season fruits and veggies I've planted: green beans, sweet corn, red bell peppers, hot peppers, cucumbers, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, ginger and strawberries. Cantaloupes need sandy soil and bees, so I'll forgo them for an agua fresca de melon at La Mexicana.

Other common crops you can spring-plant in Houston if you wish: asparagus, lima beans, sweet potatoes, squashes (zucchini), pumpkins, melons, okra, tomatillos, eggplants and black-eyed peas.

I'll also have an assortment of herbs, grown in containers.


  • Most fruits and vegetables need lots of direct sun, six hours or more. Morning sun is best.
  • Rows should run east to west, for best exposure, and tall plants go on the north so they won't shade the shorter ones.
  • If there is any part of a tree above your garden, tree roots will invade it.
  • Be realistic about the size of your garden, and visit every day.
  • Children are potential varmints.
  • Go easy on hose-watering, as city water is chlorinated.
  • Stick rows of twigs in the dirt parallel to rows of seeds until they sprout, so the damn neighbor kitty won't fancy your garden a litterbox.

What are you planting this year?

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John Kiely
Contact: John Kiely