It is trying very hard to be autumn here in south central Texas. We have lovely, cool mornings and warm days here right now. Highs are in the low nineties and when the humidity drops, even that is easily bearable. Who knows? In a couple of weeks, the low may drop below 65°F and we can all break out that one sweater we own.
There are changes going on in the garden. The marigolds have had it. The basil is trying to bolt. I’m easily getting two and three okra a day off my one Red Burgundy plant. The drop in temps have revived the peppers and vining tomatoes, and they have begun to flower once again.
Some things have been given new life. Others are done for the season. Some, like the yard-long beans, just keep going and going. The marigolds interplanted with the tomatoes back in March just up and quit on me recently, but I was able to save some seed. I can’t seem to remember what kind they were or if they were a hybrid or not. I guess I will find out next spring. That was easy to do because they called it quits on their own terms. The determinate tomatoes are another story. The cooler weather has caused them to begin to flower again, but none of them seem to set. A quick run on the math tells me that, if they were to set, they may not have time to mature. This is “thinning” at its worst. Do I hang on to the tomato plant with hopes and prayer, or do I yank the thing and make room for something new?
While I go back and forth about that, I went ahead and yanked the runner beans that never really caught on to make room for carrots and radishes. I’m still waiting for evidence of the parsley seed I planted in place of the marigolds, and I’m jammin’ radish seeds anywhere I can find a wee bit of space. I’m trying my hand at collards, kale, and cabbage. The seedlings are looking good and growing well and it looks like I may just have some success with the broccoli I planted.
Right now, I’m just trying to pace myself. I want to just plant everything all at once, but I know if I’m not careful, I may end up eating radishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a week. I have a new fondness for the crisp sweetness of a homegrown radish, but I don’t want to ruin that, so I have to reign myself in. What is making that even more difficult right now is a big box full of seed packets a neighbor gave me. She said she had been admiring my little container garden from afar and when she finally caught me out there watering, she explained that she, too, loved to garden, but was pursuing a graduate degree and didn’t have the time. I can’t wait to show her which of her little seeds have become seedlings now. Hopefully, I’ll have some nice cabbage and lettuce to share with her soon… and carrots and broccoli and radishes!
So the armadillo who was rumored to have made a buffet from the cowpeas planted in my guerrilla garden turned out to just be a rumor. I started to doubt it myself when I saw the perfectly round-shaped, little holes in the mulch, too. Whatever’s getting in there has got tiny little hands that dig, not scratch. This morning, I got my answer: a family of skunks. The dog went for them and I immediately flashed back to the skunk incident of ’08. (Where on earth did I leave that large bottle of peroxide?) The dog was lucky, but the cowpea control group, less so. Probably less than half survived. I’d even reseeded after the first raid, but then something started eating the tender little seedlings from the soil line up. Those few plants that did survive seem to be doing just fine. Now if I can just keep my dog from trampling them when she investigates the rustling leaves along the back fence, they might just produce.
Summer’s just a tough time for my garden. The intense heat causes leaves to wilt midday. The containers require, at the very least, once daily watering. In the case of tomatoes and peppers, sometimes twice daily to ward off the types of soil moisture fluctuations that cause blossom end rot. That brought up another issue I’m still investigating: when all the leaves on my peppers went from deep green to pale yellow. Too much water? Too little water? Too much crappy, chlorinated municipal water? Nitrogen deficiency? Micro nutrient deficiency? Probably a combination.
None of this is helped by the infestations that have begun. Things were really going well there for a while. I had birds and little anole lizards, and ladybugs, and paper wasps protecting my garden. We even have a few neighborhood cats patrolling the grounds. There seems to be a rodent problem on the opposite side of the property. Not here!
And then it happened… first the mosquitoes, then the aphids, then something lopped off the tops of my cabbage and broccoli seedlings. If I get my hands on the lousy vermin that ate the only two tomatoes that August produced, we are going to have a nice, short, and succinct come-to-Jesus meetin’!
Summer’s tough. Maybe I got a wee bit too confident because I was getting a lot better at spring planting. It’s not all bad, though. I’ve got some okra and a nice early tomato plant that I nursed all the way up from seed this summer. I am torn, though. A nice, typically mild winter will make it fun to grow all sorts of cool weather crops, but I can’t help but wish for a freakishly hard winter freeze. I can’t imagine I’ll be too heart-broken to let all them skeeters, fleas, flies and other nasty pests die in frozen soil. I know, chances are the skeeters and I will both be wearing shorts and a light sweater come Christmas Eve, but a girl can dream, can’t she?
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!”
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!
- 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.
- 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
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!