CaptureYay for rain! My plants are thrilled… that is if they haven’t blown or washed away!

We just can’t do anything in moderation here in Texas.

Prayers for those in Texas and Mexico dealing with flooding right now.

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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?

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!

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?

A Cowpea’s Chance in Texas

Long-podded cowpeas
Long-podded cowpeas

Alright, folks! If you haven’t put in those cowpeas, yet, now is the time. Yes, really, right now! Take that commercial break and jam a few cowpeas into the poorest soil in your garden, cover with soil and water in. Voila! Gardening done for the day! You and I can go back to watching the Criminal Minds marathon.

Okay, so maybe that isn’t the best way to go about planting cowpeas in the garden, but given how well these bad boys do under the Texas heat and drought conditions, it’d probably still work.

So let me tell you a bit about these cowpeas. Cowpeas make their way under quite a few aliases. They’re also called Southern peas and field peas and come in different varieties including creams and crowders. The best known cowpea is probably the black-eyed pea, but there are several others. I’ve grown pink eye purple hulls, red rippers and black crowders in my garden. Most are bush type plants that grow about three feet high, but there are a few climbers. The black crowders I planted in my patio garden grabbed onto one of my hanging planters and was looking for a way on to my neighbors’ balcony right before production halted! A different cultivar, the yardlong bean, or long-podded cowpea, grew ten-foot vines, and loads of pods. I was picking them at just over a foot long, but one did get lost under the stairwell and grew to about two feet long!

Chances are good that even black-thumb gardeners are going to have success with cowpeas. They’re pretty low maintenance. They don’t like too much water or too much fertilization. Basically, until they’re bloomin’ and fruitin’, don’t pay ‘em too much mind.

Cowpeas, like other legumes, develop a good bacteria on their roots that help them pull nitrogen right out of the air. They can also drill a tap root about eight feet deep, which helps them pull nutrients from deep in the soil and makes them incredibly drought resistant. This is the reason you don’t really need to fertilize them, and too much fertilization will just grow a lot of foliage and few beans, anyway.

Plant your cowpea seeds about an inch deep in the soil. If you bought pea and bean inoculant, sprinkle a bit of that over the seeds and cover with soil. Remember that good bacteria I was talking about earlier? Well, it will get there naturally in its own sweet time, but if you want to push things along a bit faster, this stuff will help. Whether you use the powder or let the plant do it on its own, from that point on the soil will have this good bacteria living in it and you shouldn’t have to inoculate the soil again.

Go ahead and water it in and wait for the magic to happen. In this August heat, I’d venture it would be just a few days before you see seedlings. These cowpeas are pretty tough and push through most soil like champs, but we have some serious clay in areas, so don’t let it crust over. They’ll need some light watering until they become established, but then you can pretty much ignore them until they start flowering. If you’re gardening in containers like I am, remember that our plants can’t drill a long tap root and will need more frequent watering than their terra firma counterparts. Either way, once those flowers bloom, they’ll need a little more water; and when the pea pods come in, they’ll need a little more water. Remember, cowpeas and all the other delicious goodies in our garden are, just like our bodies, made up mostly of water. So when you have stuff fruiting, don’t drown ’em, but don’t be chintzy with the water, either.

Now just stand back and let them do their thing! Cowpea pods can be eaten like snap peas when young. Leave them on a little longer and the beans will fatten up and you can use those as a fresh shell peas, or just let them dry on the vine and you’ll have a nice dry pea for storage. If you want them to keep producing, keep them picked. At some point, it will seem like they’re done producing, but they’ll get a second flush of pods. If you want to help those along, just add a wee bit of fertilizer or some compost.

I’d wish you luck, but you won’t need it. These plants love this purgatorial south central Texas weather.