A couple years back in September, late in the morning, I checked the days forecast and ecstatically prepped my bicycle for a nice local trail ride. I hurried to make the most of the day’s cooler temperatures. I loaded up my bike and popped an old cassette tape in to the deck and sang the whole way. I unloaded my bike at the park and saw a few folks joyously making their way onto the trails wearing the same kind of giddy smile I had on my face. I ran into hikers and bikers along the trail, all expressing the same glee at the beautiful day we were given to enjoy the outdoors after over a month’s worth of triple digit temps.

This morning was much like that one as I leashed the overly anxious dogs and headed out for the morning walk. When it comes to south central Texas weather, I have to remind myself that everything is relative. Native outdoor enthusiasts remember this as we pass each other on these beautiful days that are clearly gifts from God. We pass each other on the trails and giddily exclaim, “Can you believe it? The high is only ninety-five today!”

Where'd Bambi go?
Where’d Bambi go?

“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.”

-Aldo Leopold

Still lots of fall planting left to do!

Fall planting is underway! It’s not too late if you’re still looking to get some seeds in the ground. Okay, so it is late for some long-growing heat lovers like ‘maters and peppers, but don’t worry, there’s plenty other yummy things that we’re just in time for!

Baby Bush Limas 08/19/2015
Baby Bush Limas 08/19/2015
  • Lima Beans: these come in both stubby bush types and vining pole types. For fall, use the bush types. These are low-maintenance like cowpeas. I’ve planted them in some bare, unworked soil just off the sidewalk to test just how low-maintenance they can be. These are Henderson bush limas. So far, so good!
  • Snap Beans: also available in both bush types and pole types. Again, use the bush types for fall planting. I’ve tried a couple varieties. So far, Blue Lake is my favorite.
  • Broccoli and Cabbage: I’m trying myhand at these this year. I’m struggling to understand how these cool-weather veggies will be able to survive an autumn hotter than most folk’s summers, but I’m trusting the process and am prepared to be either humbled or amazed, or both! I  planted a variety named DeCicco, but there are other varieties that have been recommended by the local extension service.

    De Cicco Broccoli 08/15/2015 (Wooden skewers help to deter cats.)
    De Cicco Broccoli 08/15/2015
    (Wooden skewers help to deter cats.)
  • Cucumbers: my favorite! There are so many varieties to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start. Check out the above link for some great suggestions. There are short-vining types, like Spacemaster, that are great for containers, but even longer-vining types can be trained up a trellis to save space. If you don’t have bees around to do the pollinating for you, choose a parthenocarpic type like Sweet Success that self-pollinates, or be prepared to “help the process.”
  • Summer squash: If you’re planting in containers look for a compact
    Dirani Lebanese Squash 08/19/2015
    Dirani Lebanese Squash 08/19/2015

    variety with a bush-type habit. Those will work in something as small as a five-gallon bucket, but don’t be fooled, it will eventually pour out of the bucket anyway and keep on going!

“Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.”

-May Sarton


Black Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. Cute, but hungry!
Black Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. Cute, but hungry!

We got some much needed rain today. Guess I won’t be working in the garden this morning, but while I was out there, I spotted these little guys munching on my parsley.

Cowpeas Recipe

Moroccan cowpea stew or, Ful Gnaoua

Thought I’d share this recipe with ya’ll. I’ve made this a few times with cowpeas right out of my garden and it is fantastic! The recipe calls for dried cowpeas, but you can use them freshly shelled from the garden and save a whole lot of cooking time.

Follow this link to About Food’s Moroccan cowpea stew recipe and enjoy!

Progress in the garden

I’m not sure if I’m the only gardener who goes outside every couple of hours to see if anything’s changed in the garden. Who knows? I could have missed a tomato hiding under a leaf this morning or the beans I’ve been waiting to sprout may have made their way up out of the soil since breakfast. It’s a lot like waiting for water to boil, so sometimes even the changes that are happening subtly don’t get noticed. I have been trying to snap a few pics here and there and those have been fun to see. Here’s a few to share!

Bushsteak Tomato

Red Ripper Cowpeas

Red Burgundy Okra

Fall planting guide

Texas planting zones courtesy of Texas Agrilife Extension Service

A friend asked what we should be planting right now and I thought I would share a wonderful resource. Texas A&M Agrilife Extension puts out a great fall planting guide. I have seen and used other guides, but I’m comforted by the fact that these wonderful folks have a pretty good grasp of what the seasons actually look like in our state.

Some of the factors that go into fall planting times are the conditions needed for germination from seed, the growth and behavior of the plant in this extended period of high temperatures, and the expected number of days until plant maturity and harvest. You want to make sure that you’ve got enough time to grow your veggies before we get a cold snap. Yes, I know. I heard you giggle. It hasn’t snowed here in twenty years and temps only dip below freezing about three days out of the year, but we’d hate to have plants we’ve nurtured for months keel over in a freak freeze.

We can take the number of days to maturity on the front of the seed packet and subtract them from our average first frost date, which, in south central Texas is about Thanksgiving time. I just bought a packet of squash seeds and the front of the packet says “55 days.” So as kind of a rough estimate, I’ll subtract 55 days from our average first frost date of November 26. That gives me October 2nd. Now, we have to remember that the “55 days” is one of those “under ideal conditions” sort of things. So lets just imagine that we’re not all gardening under ideal conditions and cut ourselves some slack. Me, personally, I’m gonna add at least two weeks to that and plant my seeds no later than, lets say, September 18.

Let’s be kind to ourselves and remember that while science is super-helpful to our gardening, it is truly more of an art. So let’s be artists and find what works best for each of us, and please remember to share!

Control group

So I kinda got caught up in the whole “cowpea” moment last week and decided I was gonna put my money where my mouth is, so to speak. I mentioned that growing cowpeas was so easy it could be done on a commercial break without any hassle… so, in addition to my container planted Red Rippers and Chinese Red Noodles, I did a little guerrilla gardening. Yep, I live in an apartment community, and while my neighbors and management have been very cool about my container gardening spilling over and outside my patio, I’m not sure how they would feel about me planting vegetables in the ground amongst their landscaping. So we won’t tell them, will we?

I took just a few minutes and and hoed a shallow trough an inch or so deep. This clay soil is so dry and hard, it broke into either powder or clods. I dropped a few seeds about an inch deep and six inches apart, covered as best I could with the rock hard clumps of soil and watered in. The biggest effort I did make was to cover the newly planted seeds with a thin layer of mulch. I wanted to try to keep the soil moist, but I didn’t want to deny the future seedlings any sunlight they might need.

That was four days ago and… viola!  The little guys made it through! I’m totally stoked! I can’t wait to see how they produce compared with their pampered container counterparts. I’ll keep you posted.IMG_0340c

Did you get around to putting your cowpeas in? How are they doing?