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.

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