Donna Nickerson and her mother, Melba Wesley, preparing their garden for Fall, 2020.

Do you prepare a Fall Garden? I’ve wanted a one for as long as I can remember. In the past, I’ve attempted a garden many times, to no avail. Until this spring. My garden turned out to be an unexpected gift during this pandemic.

But the success I had with my garden was from the tremendous amount of information and support I received from Donna Nickerson, owner of Da’Shack Farmers Market in Waco, Texas. Nickerson learned her gardening skills and techniques from her mother, Melba Wesley, who is originally from the Philippines.

“There is no such thing as a master gardener in the Philippines. Either you garden or you don’t eat,” Nickerson shared. “My mom and I are not master gardeners, and haven’t had any formal education as far as gardening in the United States, but we know how to garden. A lot of the techniques we use are Filipino techniques. And we learn from different gardeners and exchange different ideas and techniques.”

I visited Nickerson at Da’Shack in February, asked questions, and shared my gardening struggles. She encouraged me, assured me that all gardeners have failures, and told me not to give up. I left with confidence, several lettuce and herb plants, and a bag of her compost. Once March came, along with the global pandemic, she had to close Da’Shack for the season. But she made herself available via social media and email for questions people had regarding their gardens. And let me tell you, I contacted Nickerson often. I even sent photos of my garden, so she could see what issues I was experiencing.

My spring garden was incredible! I even had three bonus tomato plants and a green pepper plant pop up, which I attribute to Nickerson’s compost. I call it magic compost. She had told me I may get things I didn’t plant, and sure enough, it happened. I felt so empowered and supported by having her available to answer questions and troubleshoot problems. But that’s what Nickerson wants to provide through Da’Shack. “We want to teach, educate, and help people that want to learn how to grow, whether you are a beginner or experienced gardener. We’ve had master gardeners come here and learn. This (market) is not our bread and butter. This is our love, so we want to share it.”

I enjoyed gardening so much I wanted to try my hand at a fall garden. But can you have a fall garden in Texas? I knew exactly who to ask. Nickerson graciously allowed me to meet with her and get the scoop on fall gardening. She was just starting preparation on her beds. “It doesn’t look pretty right now, because this is prep,” Nickerson said, along with a chuckle. “There is a misconception that when it’s cold outside you can’t grow anything, and that’s not true.” But preparation is what will pay off. And one of the most important parts of any garden is the soil. “Soil content is the key. If your soil is good, no problem. Be sure to save all your leaves and use them in the bottom of your beds. The leaves break down and fertilize your garden. Also, buy good quality plants,” recommended Nickerson.

How do you make sure your soil is ready? “Provide it with clippings, leaves, any organic compost, and cheap topsoil. This will provide nutrients for your garden over the long haul. Some people use manure. I don’t use it, because I don’t know what they feed the animals,” said Nickerson. And if you’re like me and haven’t even prepped your garden for fall yet, Nickerson said as long as you have something in the ground by the end of September, it will be fine.

“The best plants for fall are leafy green vegetables and herbs,” said Nickerson. “Things like kale, lettuce, greens, kohlrabi, and artichokes. You can even plant onions, sweet potatoes, and squash. These leafy greens and herbs are what we need during this season to build our immune systems up. And they’ll grow through November, December, January, and February.” She also recommends planting non-GMO seeds and plants. This ensures you won’t have all your plants ready for harvest at the same time. While you’re eating from your garden, you’ll still have something growing to provide food later on.

And you don’t need raised beds to have a garden. If space is an issue, you can use pots. “Grow what you can. Even if it’s just starting with some perennials, herbs, and lettuce,” encouraged Nickerson. Although Da’Shack Farmers Market is closed until March 2021, Nickerson is available to help and answer questions. Da’Shack also offers group tours and will host gardening classes in the spring. You can find Da’Shack Farmers Market on Facebook and Instagram. You’ll find pictures, videos, and additional information about upcoming classes, so be sure to follow them.

Get out there and start your fall garden!

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Camille Wilder moved to Waco from Fort Worth in 2017, and figures after living in Texas for over 20 years and marrying a native, she can officially be called a Texan. She's been married to her dream guy, Chris, for over 18 years and is blessed with three amazing kids: a bonus son, Addison, bonus daughter, Alexandra and her sweet son, Harrison. In her spare time, Camille enjoys yoga, hanging out with her family, trying out new recipes, baking goodies and sharing them with friends and eating lots of chips and queso, which she believes could totally be considered a food group.