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

“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.

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?

To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves.