Friday, May 28, 2010

Full Flower Moon

I'm going to call this moon by its Native American name, the flower moon, rather than the English name of milk moon, mainly because of these Black-Eyed Susans coming up under the elms in my back yard. Finally, some of that shade wildflower mix I planted is starting to pay off!

That's not the only thing that's blooming. My fence apparently came with Unexpected Bonus Morning Glories. When I took this picture today's blooms were just started to close back up. They're pretty earlier in the morning. I like how my yard was neglected for a while before we moved in and then I'm getting all these surprises coming up. (Except for the Bermuda grass. Still hate the Bermuda grass.)

Here's a wide shot of the Scarlet Runner Beans, because they're now well over my head. Sorry about the glare, it's a sunny day. They're still blooming a lot but not many pods. I hope it's not too hot for them already. They're growing up some bamboo stalks I, um, borrowed from the neighbor behind me that has bamboo growing into the alley. The stalks die every year and new ones come up, so I sorta helped myself to some of the dead stalks, tying them to the chain link fence for extra bean support. Soon I will be able to get that giant.

The regular beans are just starting to reach the top of the chain link fence. I have bamboo poles ready for them, but I don't think they get as tall as the runner beans.

Also in bloom is the squash. Under the squash jungle you can see a little yellow crookneck starting to grow. Won't be long before that baby is ready for the grill.

The cushaw squash vines are getting a bit huge. Lots of Bermuda grass coming up in the paths that I haven't put landscape fabric over yet, but these squash vines may be tough enough not to care.

I'm still waiting for my first ripe tomato, but it looks like I've got a contender! It's one of the Hawkins Plum tomatoes, and I've got lots more green ones on my plants. This is a family heirloom I got from a GardenWeb member (so it's not commercially available), and so far it's one of my best performing varieties, at least as far as how vigorous the plants are. The tomatoes are nice and big too, much bigger than Roma tomatoes from the store. But the real test is if they make good sauce. All my other tomato varieties are covered with green fruit but none have started to ripen yet, not even the small-fruited ones (Yellow Pear and Black Cherry).

The tomatillos are blooming and setting fruit as well. I hope that three plants will be enough for canning some salsa verde. Tomatillos are prolific, but I was planning on having more plants than three.

At least they're doing better than the peppers. I am having a horrible pepper year. Through a combination of late frosts, April heatwaves, snails, and cutworms, out of the several varieties I started from seed only a few stragglers have survived. My CSA farmer gave me three Jimmy Nardello plants and one has already been cutwormed! I never had a problem with cutworms before, so I didn't do any of those things you're supposed to do to protect from them. The eggplants fared abou the same, but I planted less of them, so now there are no survivors. I guess there's always next year, and for this year I will have to rely on my CSA and the farmer's market for peppers and eggplants.

I even resorted to buying a dozen jalapeno plants from Home Depot so I'll at least have something. They're sharing a bed with the Hawkins tomatoes. Only 8 of them have survived, but those look like they're going to make it.

If you'll recall, I was also having a lot of okra problems, but now I've finally got some big plants growing. I'd still like to have more, though. Maybe I'll put them in a different bed. As you can see here, I added watermelons (the viney things with the deeply lobed leaves) around the okra plants to hopefully act as a living mulch and help them along. Maybe later I can add black-eyed peas as some sort of African variant of the three sisters method.

Along the back fence I've got pickling cucumbers (seen here), luffa gourds, Charantais melons, and Malabar spinach planted. Most of them aren't very far along, as you can see here. There's a lot of dayflowers coming up along the fence as well, but they're a native wildflower and don't seem to hurt anything. The Malabar spinach is not related to true spinach, but is supposed to be an ornamental vine with edible leaves that likes hot weather, which is good since most greens don't do well in hot weather.

The Swiss chard's still fine though. I thought it should have bolted by now, but it's still going. I got a bit sick of it and haven't harvested any more in a while. In the middle of it you can see the Broadleaf Czech garlic that's about ready to harvest. I pulled up one earlier this week, but it looked like they needed a few more days.

The peas are kaput. Here's the last bit of dead vine before I pulled it up and chucked it in the compost pile. This fall I'll plant a lot more so I'll have enough to freeze. I had a good pea crop this spring, but just enough to eat fresh for a few meals. The weird weather didn't help though.

Earlier this week I also harvested the Purple Viking potatoes. They didn't do quite as bad as the Red LaSoda, but it was still a little disappointing. I ended up with 5.7 pounds, and a lot of them were split or chomped by bugs (the weigh-in was done after I washed them and threw away the ones that were too damaged to be worth saving). I'm going to go ahead and save the littlest ones for seed and try planting more this fall, but I was expecting a bit better than merely doubling the amount of potato I plant. What kind of yields are potatoes supposed to get, anyway? Well, Rio Grande is still in the ground. Maybe they'll do great.

The sweet potatoes are supposed to actually like it here, so hopefully I'll be getting more than a few pounds out of each bed for them. I've got them all planted now, all five varieties, two per bed (so one bed is half sweet potatoes and half I don't know what else yet). Aren't they pretty? They're really good looking plants. They look more like some tropical houseplant than a vegetable plant. They need a long growing season, though. I won't get to harvest them until frost, seven months from now. The good news is they'll be one of the few plants I expect to actually still be green and lush in July and August.

Finally, I leave you with a good look at one of my garden friends. I have a variety of different critters living in my yard, but a lot of them are quick and hard to photograph unless I happen to be ready with a camera at just the right time. Well, this Texas spiny lizard (Sceloporus olivaceus) was hanging out on one of my elm trees just as I was going in. I've got several of them in my yard (another one likes the oak tree in the front), and they live all over Central Texas, though they camoflauge so well on tree bark that they're often not seen (they also tend to quickly run around to the opposite side of the tree trunk when someone walks by). It's amazing that a lizard that can get up to 11 inches from nose to tail-tip can be this sneaky, but here he is giving me that look that says, "What are you looking at? Just some tree bark here. Nothing to see. Please move along." I hope he's hungry for lots of nasty garden bugs.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Garlic Harvest Begins

Finally, after a long wait, I have started harvesting garlic! My garlic was planted way back in September, so that's 8 months of waiting for good heirloom garlic, but it's finally paying off.

Having never seriously grown garlic before (besides half-heartedly planting some store cloves and not getting much out of them), I was unsure which varieties to plant, so I ordered the garlic sampler from Seed Savers Exchange.
I recieved the following varieties.
  • Bogatyr - Originally from Moscow. Beautifully marbled brown or purple striped cloves. Good storage qualities. Consistently one of the largest garlics grown at Heritage Farm
  • Broadleaf Czech - Nice big tan cloves with a hint of red. Cooked flavor is very nice, described as mild and full flavored. When raw the flavor is hot to very hot.
  • Chet's Italian Red - Highly productive and adaptable strain. Heirloom variety found growing wild in an abandoned garden along the roadside. A good garlic for eating raw, because the flavor is not too strong.
  • Chrysalis Purple - Dependable variety with large heads and easy-to-peel cloves, excellent flavor. One of the hardiest varieties we offer. Holds well in the field during harvest.
  • Elephant - Not a true garlic, but actually is a type of leek. Huge cloves, and much milder flavor than regular garlic.
  • Georgian Fire - Obtained from eastern Germany. Described by chefs as a truly “white hot” garlic. Raw taste is strong with a nice hotness that is not at all unpleasant. Great for salsa and salads.
  • German Extra Hardy - Vigorous grower with long roots that enable it to overwinter without heaving out of the ground. Outside skin is ivory-white, but the clove skin is dark red. Strong raw flavor, high sugar content, one of the very best for roasting.
  • Pskem River - Originally from the Pskem River Valley in Uzbekistan. Beautiful purple striped cloves, full flavor.
  • Persian Star - This variety was collected in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Pleasant flavor with a mild spicy zing. Good all-purpose variety that produces reliable yields year-after-year.
  • Tochliavri - From the village in the Republic of Georgia where Chester Aaron’s father was born. Original stock obtained from Dr. Peter Hanelt at Gatersleben in eastern Germany. The standard by which all other garlic flavor should be judged.
That's a LOT of garlic, but I use a lot of garlic, and I wanted a good variety so I can see which ones do well in my climate. I've been told that softnecks do better in the south than hardnecks, but I would like to have some of both. Supposedly hardnecks have better flavor, but that may just be hype since the garlic you buy at the store is almost always a softneck variety called California White. Hardnecks may seem special due to being less common.
Timing of garlic harvest seems tricky. If you pull them too early, the bulb will not have divided into cloves yet, and you'll get a solid bulb like an onion. Too late, and the cloves fall apart. I've gotten garlic in my CSA bag that was harvested either too early or too late, so I know what these look like. They're still usable, but not ideal.
The problem is judging what stage your garlic is at underground by looking at what's going on above ground. On top of that it can vary depending on your garlic variety. First I read that garlic is ready to harvest when 1/4 to 3/4 of the leaves are dead. That's a pretty big range! Chet's Italian Red seemed to be the earliest garlic I have. Its leaves started dying before any of the others. I pulled one up when it was 1/4 dead, and a bulb had hardly begun to form.
After that, I was more careful, trying to gently dig around the garlic to take a peek at the bulbs without actually pulling them up. Finally I also found tips that softnecks are ready when the tops start to flop over, and you should squeeze the stalks to check them. If they're spongy feeling they're ready, if they're still hard they need more time. Of course spongy vs. hard turned out to be relative.
Finally this past Thursday I couldn't wait any longer, and dug Chet's up.

Looks like I did well. The tops are about half dead, the stalks were spongy and starting to fall over, and when I dug them up, I could see individually defined cloves bulging out, with the outer skin still in tact, just like the garlic at the store. As you can see, they're pretty dirty, since we recently got rain, so my clay soil is still a bit sticky. Garlic varieties vary on how many cloves they get per bulb, and I got two bulbs of each variety, so I ended up with vastly different numbers of plants per variety. Chet's had the most, so I ended up with 25 bulbs total! A couple of them are puny, but most were about average sized, and I got two or three monster-huge ones. Those are going to be saved to re-plant this fall.

Now comes the curing stage.

For now, I tied the tops to clothes hangers and hung them up on hooks in the garage. (And now the garage smells like garlic. No vampires here!) They're supposed to be allowed to dry out for two or three weeks, depending on the humidity (which has been high around here lately). I left all the dirt on so it can dry out and will be easy to rub off later. I'm not supposed to wash them with water, since that will make them take much longer to cure. The outer skin of the bulbs is supposed to dry out and form a protective cover for the cloves inside. Once it's dried out and cleaned up, maybe I can try braiding it.

The softnecks are certainly maturing faster than the hardnecks. The leaves have always been much bigger on the softnecks as well. I wonder if it's always that way, or if it's because my hardnecks are having a hard time. It looks like Broadleaf Czech is about ready to harvest next, and then the last softneck, Tochliavri, after that. The Elephant garlic, besides being really, really big, is acting more like a hardneck. My other hardnecks are just now putting out scapes.

Here's a nice bunch of scapes from German Extra Hardy. I let the Pskem River scapes get too big, so they were tough and fibrous when I tried to eat them. They need to be harvested before they uncurl. Then they're still nice and tender. Bogatyr is just starting to have scapes poking out, so I'm going to let them get a little longer before harvesting them.

Everything seems to be going well, and I like having a staggered harvest like this. The hardneck bulbs are taking longer to mature, but they're making up for it by giving me some scapes first. Bascially I'm in garlic heaven right now! I'll try to post more pictures of the different varieties once they're all harvested and cleaned. When I recieved my garlic sampler way back in September, I was amazed at the variety of shapes and colors garlic can be, from ugly bumpy irregular Chet's Italian Red, to beautiful purple striped Pskem River. This is why I find heirloom vegetables to be so interesting

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

On Daniel's most recent day off we took a daytrip to Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, northwest of Austin.

We remembered to bring binoculars and water, which was GOOD, but we forgot to bring walking sticks and a camera, which was BAD.

Especially the camera. I reeaaally wish I had brought a camera. Sorry, readers. I am totally kicking myself about that.

It took about an hour and half to get there from San Marcos, taking us out to some really pretty country around Lago Vista. I hadn't been out there before, but WOW. This is the kind of country that makes me really resent people who think Texas is some kind of barren wasteland.

Since it was a weekday, there was nobody at the wildlife refuge. Really, I think maybe we passed one car. There was one USFWS vehicle parked by the toilets at the entrance. That's it. I've never been to a national wildlife refuge before (well, there was that one grad school trip to Aransas Wildlife Refuge to see the whooping cranes, but I wasn't paying much attention to the logistics), so I guess I expected it to be more like going to a national park, with some kind of visitor center and entrance fees and human beings of some kind of greet you, but no, just a parking lot, composting toilets, and an information kiosk with trail maps. Other than that, we were on our own, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

We were at the "Warber Vista" area of the refuge, with the trails that go through old growth Ashe juniper (aka the much-maligned "mountain cedar") mixed with oaks (shin, Texas red, and live to be exact) that is prime nesting habitat of the federally endangered Golden-Cheeked Warbler. We could already hear the warblers singing in the distance at the observation deck near the parking lot. I had never heard one before, but Daniel works at the only state park (last I heard) that has GCW's nesting in it, so he knew what they sounded like. The brochure at the wildlife refuge described their song as "Please, please your teacher," which we both thought was lame and maybe even a little kinky. (Oh, in case you didn't know, putting words to a bird's song is a common thing for birdwatchers to do to help you remember it.) I much prefer Daniel's version, that the birds are actually singing "La Cucaracha", especially since it helps you remember not just the rhythm, but the melody as well. You can listen to their song here. The La Cucaracha version is the Type A song, and the one we hear most often. We did hear Type B as well, but we haven't thought up a good way to remember that one yet (suggestions are welcome).

Having already accomplished Daniel's goal of making sure I "get to hear golden-cheeked warblers before they go extinct", we started the hike into the canyon. The trails here are rated as "moderate", but I was very grateful for the shade provided by the majestic junipers. I've been on much more difficult hikes than this (but a walking stick would have helped). Good thing I wore my good boots. I guess lack of shade bothers me more than rough terrain, so I found the hike quite easy, aside from some slippery spots caused by recent rains.

Early into the hike, we passed by a karst limestone outcrop, and out slid a Giant Centipede! This is when I started kicking myself for not bringing a camera, as the centipede crawled all over the rock face, poking into every nook and cranny for goodies (and if you know what the limestone around here looks like, you know there's a LOT of nooks and crannies for centipede goodies to be hiding). We felt we were a fairly safe distance from the venomous creature, and it was so preoccupied with its search that we watched it for a long time, until it crawled back into a crack and out of view. I knew we had giant centipedes but had never seen one in the wild before. Another first!

Further on down we heard more warblers, but all of them were just out of view. I resigned myself to the fact that I probably wouldn't actually see one, and was just happy to hear them. We pressed on, and finally Daniel spots a warbler way up in a tree ahead of us. I pull out my binoculars to get a better look, but it swooped away before I got a good focus. A little while later, another one whooshed by. Darn it! Birds are so fast like that. Daniel's already familiar with what golden-cheeks look like, but if I was on my own and didn't know what was supposed to be there, I wouldn't have been able to tell anything more than that they were probably warblers of some sort. The brochure said that Black-and-white Warblers are also here, and I mistook a golden-cheek or two for a black-and-white, but Daniel assured me they were golden-cheeks. The rest of the GCW's body is black and white, so without seeing the gold, I was playing it safe and assuming them to be the more common warbler species. However, one important distinction is that black-and-whites act differently than golden-cheeks. The former has a habit of crawling up and down branches and trunks of trees similar to a nuthatch. These warblers weren't doing that, so I believe Daniel was right. (Getting familiar with how different species of birds move and act is also a really helpful skill for a birdwatcher to have, especially for those situations where the lighting might make hard to see colors and markings very well.)

Ok, so not only did I get to hear them sing, but I got some brief glimpses of golden-cheeks flitting through the treetops, AND I got to watch a giant centipede for a while. I was happy then.

But there was more to come. Later, practically right in front of my face, I saw a warbler that I couldn't identify. I pointed it out to Daniel, and he was stumped too. It was rather dull for a warbler, and I noticed it was kind of scruffy-looking, and acting a bit clumsy clambering around on the tree branches. Before my mind could really click with what I was seeing, and adult GCW holding a big fat green caterpillar in its beak swooped down and shoved the caterpillar in the mouth of the bird I had been watching. Oh my GOSH, it was a fledgling warbler!


Looking around, we realized that we had strolled right in the middle of a family of warblers! We had been hearing this strange, chirpy call, and realized it was the babies begging for food. On the other side of the trail were two more fledglings clumsily hopping through the trees, while the two parents frantically collected more green caterpillars to shove in their mouths. I pointed out to Daniel how the babies were fuzzy looking, clumsy, and fluttered their wings, all indicators that they're fledglings that have just left the nest and not adult birds. Well, you know, that and the adult birds shoving food in their faces. I really should have known what the baby was when I first saw it, but I guess seeing fledgling golden-cheeks seemed too good to be true, so I was afraid to say it until it was undeniable.

I did, incidentally, see a Black-and-white warbler pass by as well, as we stayed in that spot to watch the GCW family. I also saw another adult warbler that I couldn't identify. All I could see was a solid yellow belly, which neither golden-cheeks nor black-and-whites have. I didn't get a good look at the dorsal side.

Another way to tell a fledgling is that they're kind of stupid. Well, ok, more like they're inexperienced, so they'll get a lot closer to you than an adult bird. That's why these guys would get right in front of our faces (Argh! Why didn't I bring a camera?), and when we'd have a baby right there in front of us, Mom or Dad would swoop down close as if to check us out. It felt like we could reach out and touch them, but we just stood quietly on the trail trying not to scare them. Finally, after I don't know how long, they started moving off. Maybe Mom and Dad had some kind of method to herd the kids away from these questionable mammals standing there staring at them.

After they moved on, we did too, and there was less excitement for the rest of the hike, though we did see some very pretty scenery, interesting native plants, and more common birds. We even heard one of the most majestic sounds in nature, a red-tailed hawk scream (a sound awesome enough that in the movies they make all birds of prey sound like red tailed hawks, even those squeaky bald eagles). We also saw a few more golden cheeked warblers. The finale was seeing one grab a green caterpillar about the side of its head and try bashing it to death against a branch. Ambitious little guy (or maybe he just had some really hungry mouths to feed and wanted to get it over with quickly). No more fledglings were seen. Perhaps the word had got out that nosy humans were in the vicinity and it would be best to call the kids away from the trail.

All in all, it was an amazing experience, and I hope it wasn't a completely "you had to be there" type thing. We didn't even see all of what is open to the public. The other side of the refuge is where they have the Black-capped Vireo habitat, our other federally endangered songbird. I was too tired and hungry to go on another hike after that, so we saved that for another day. I'll remember my camera next time!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Disappointed in Red LaSoda

I had already decided I would not grow Red LaSoda potatoes again. Compared to the other two potato varieties I tried this year, Purple Viking and Rio Grande Russet, RLS grew sickly looking plants, half of which died shortly after they started to grow. The late March freeze may have had something to do with that, but PV and RGR recovered from that just fine, turning their 4'x8' potato patches into lush jungles, while RLS just had a few scraggly plants sticking out here and there with a lot of bare spots.

Now my potatoes are starting to die as the weather turns hot. This is only the second time I've grown potatoes, and the first time was years ago, so I'm still learning here, but I've been told that to harvest fully mature potatoes you wait until the tops are completely dead.

However, I decided that since I wasn't going to save this variety to grow next year anyway, I would sacrifice the Red LaSodas to become the delicacy known as "new potatoes".

Now, I don't know about your mom, but my mom always called any small, waxy potato, especially the red ones, "new potatoes". It was only later I found out that true new potatoes are actually the immature form of any sort of potato. You dig them up before the plant has died to get delicious little baby potatoes. So I probably have never actually had new potatoes. A new first for me from the garden this year, along with garlic scapes!

Of course, right when I decided I would dig up my patch of Red LaSodas, it rained. A lot. I'm not complaining since we really needed it, but it's funny how this always seems to happen at an inconvenient time. At least my rain barrel is full again.

Today it's cleared up, so I braved the steamy atmosphere created by the sun beating down on the wet earth, and started digging.

I started at the really sparse side and dug towards the not quite as sparse side, but it soon became clear I wasn't going to get much. Also, I've never seen so may grubs! What's with all the grubs? Was it all the compost I added? I hope they aren't doing damage. When I stopped to get my digging fork, a mockingbird swooped down and snatched one. I hope now that I'm done they're out there getting the rest.

And here's my harvest! I bought three pounds of each variety and they each got a 4'x8' patch to grow in (cut the seed potatoes into 32 pieces so each got one square foot of space). Washed the potatoes off and stuck them on the scale, and you know what it read? 2.95 lbs. So basically I would have been better off eating the seed potatoes directly!

At least they're pretty. I plan to make them into Creamed New Potatoes and Peas with all these peas I've been getting as well. Apparently this is some sort of popular, classic dish, but probably more for Yankees, because I've never had it. This is not really potato OR pea growing country. I cheat by planting them super early, in January or February, and then they're harvested and dead by May. In fact, my peas are almost kaput. The vines are almost completely brown now, but I've still got 2-3 pounds of peas in the fridge. I'm going to have to plant a lot more next season so I'll have extra to freeze.

I've got higher hopes for my other potatoes. In the foreground here are the Rio Grande Russets, and behind them are the Purple Vikings. A weird thing is that they seem to die from the middle of the patch out to the edges. I don't know if you can tell from the picture, but there's a lot more going on, at least above ground, than there was with the Red LaSodas. I hope that translates to more below ground as well. These I will let completely die before harvesting for maximum potato maturity. Supposedly they keep better that way, but it also allows them to get as big as possible, because these plants are transferring the life out of the leaves and into the tubers. That process isn't completely done until the plants are completely dead.
I think I'll put sweet potatoes in where the red potatoes came out. I hope their namesake roots make better use of all that compost and sand I dug into the bed than the red potatoes did.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Unseasonably Hot Weather

This past week has been pretty rough for the garden. It hasn't rained since mid-April, and we've had temperatures in the mid-90's every day for this week. This is about ten degrees hotter than average for this time of year.

In July, mid-90's aren't bad, but in early May, the cold-weather plants are still present (peas, onions, potatoes, etc.) and getting heat stressed sooner than normal, and the warm weather plants are still mostly babies, with smaller root systems, so they dry out much more quickly.

I'm struggling to keep my newly planted okra, beans, peppers, eggplants, and cucumbers alive. I'm out of rain barrel water, so have been using the soaker hose. That'll make my water bill much higher this month. Still, there have been casualties. I'm down to only about six okra plants, two eggplants, two sweet peppers, three anchos, and three chile de arbols. That's less than half of what I started with. I still have time to plant more okra, but it's too late for more peppers or eggplant. I'm also down to only three cucumbers out of ten, and one luffa gourd out of six. I think I will plant some more okra, gourds, and cucumbers in pots under the lights in the garage, not to keep them warm, but to keep them wet enough to germinate and grow a bit before putting them out under the broiler.

The tomatoes are doing ok. I've started finding little baby tomato fruits on them. I also found a bunch of eaten leaves. Hornworms! At least, I assumed that's what they were. I didn't find any of the 5 inch monsters, but I did find some much smaller caterpillars that may be one of their earlier instars. I went ahead and sprayed all my tomato plants with Bt, an organic insecticide that only kills caterpillars and doesn't harm any other forms of life (at least, that's what I'm told).

Speaking of caterpillars, something is also eating my parsley, dill, and cilantro in the herb garden in the front yard. I'm going to leave those alone, because I have a feeling those are being eaten by parsley worms, which are the larvae of the black swallowtail butterfly. Besides, all those plants are bolting now anyway, now that its so hot. I would like to collect seeds from those plants, but the leaves probably don't taste good now anyway, so I'm letting the caterpillars have them.

About the only plant that seems completely unfazed by the heat is the Chihuahua Landrace Cushaw Squash I got from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. They say they got these seeds in the Chihuahuan desert in northern Mexico, which is the same desert that covers Trans-Pecos Texas and parts of southern New Mexico. I've visited this desert several times, and figured if this squash is from there, it should have no problem with summers in the Hill Country. So far I seem to be correct, with it growing away happily with all other plants looking a bit singed, at least.

I'm afraid this weather may be only a taste of things to come. Last summer was one of the hottest and driest on record, with hardly a drop of rain and temperatures getting up to 110+. The summer before that wasn't much better. I remember something on TV I saw with a climate change scientist talking about how, "we need to stop thinking of this as a drought, but just how it is going to be from now on," referring to places that are forecast to become drier in the coming decades. That sounds like a smart attitude to have, so I'm researching the gardening techniques of the desert southwest and hunting down varieties, like this cushaw squash, that are adapted to hot and dry conditions. If the Pueblo Indians could do it, without soaker hoses even, then so can I.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Sounds of Summer Nights

It's May Day, which is more or less the beginning of summer for me. While spring is marked by the blooming of wildflowers, summer I associate more with sounds. Not that I didn't appreciate the profusion of Indian Blanket replacing the bluebonnets along the sides of the trail during our evening walk through Prospect Park last night, but what I really noticed were the sounds of nocturnal creatures who have turned their minds towards love as the nights warm.

Of course, one hardly ever actually sees the performer, but I hunted down some pictures for you along with the sounds so you can put a face with it.

Hiking down the trail, we were surrounded by the tiny little peeps of Cliff Chirping Frogs who perch in limestone cracks and crevices in the Hill Country.

Hiking towards the ponds, we started to hear the much larger, and louder Southern Leopard Frogs. They sound much louder in person than they do in that recording. They almost sound like they're chuckling at us!

Soon the frogs were joined by some avian accompaniment.

I'm actually really excited to hear one of my favorite summer nighttime sounds, the haunting song of the Chuck Will's Widow. These strange-looking birds are close cousins of the Whip-Poor-Will, but while their better known relatives migrate further north before settling down to breed, Chuck-Will's-Widows spend their summers right here.

Finally, what's nighttime without owls? On the way home, walking through our neighborhood, we were delighted to hear the cutest owl we have.

Eastern Screech Owls make kind of an eerie sound as well. I remember trying to go to sleep on several camping trips, sweating on top of my sleeping bag, listening to dueling screech owls calling across the forest.

So there you have it, the sounds of summer have arrived. The only thing that's left are the cicadas, and they don't show up until things get REALLY hot. Maybe there's a reason why the best summer singers are also nocturnal.