Monday, April 25, 2011

The Grackle Moon (belated)

Ok, I know this is a week late, but better late than never. I need to keep my moonly record going of my garden. Even if it's kind of depressing because of this horrible drought we're in.

But there are grackles. In Phoenix Moon Grove's Texas-centric moon naming scheme, the last full moon was the Grackle Moon, in honor of the male Great-tailed Grackles strutting their stuff for the females. A lot of people don't like grackles, but in my usual tradition of finding admirable qualities in critters most people hate, I think grackles are kind of cool in a way, with their iridescent black feathers and strange calls.

Though, I personally think of grackles more in the winter, when large flocks of them gather in the parking lots of malls just in time for Christmas shopping. But I suppose naming a spring moon after them when it's their mating season is fine too.

However, the bigger nature-related story happening this month is the severe drought and widespread wildfires in Texas. First we had that hard freeze in February, which killed (and therefore, dried out) a bunch of plants, and then in April we're having weather more typical of July. Not a good combination. I'm trying to water my garden every day just to keep things alive, but many of the newly-sprouted plants are shriveling up and dying despite my best efforts. I can tell already that 2011 is not going to be a good year for a lot of my crops.

One thing that's helped is I got a couple of bales of straw from my fiance's father to use for mulch. It came too late for a few things, but I'm working on spreading it on now, and have got about a third of my garden done so far.
Here are a couple of watermelons just sprouted. I had several more than just started germinating, but dried out too much and died.
Here's the only two Tromboncino squashes I've managed to get going so far. I planted the rest of my seeds, so I hope at least a few more manage to come up. Last year, my squash grew out into the yard, so this year I planted my Tromboncino squash and watermelons in the yard to begin with, right next to the garden. It's not like any grass is growing!
I also planted some yellow crookneck squash, but despite spraying neem oil, three of the six I had already have borers anyway. Maybe I didn't spray them often enough. You can clearly see in this picture which plants are still hanging on and which ones are probably goners. The squash vine borers came really early this year, maybe because of the early onset of summer heat. They're not supposed to show up until May, which would have given my poor squash plants a little more time to grow before they had to fend them off.
I've got all my sweet potatoes planted so far, and they're hanging in there. It wouldn't surprise me if I didn't get a very impressive crop this year, though.
The most disappointing thing is the garlic. Last year I had such a great garlic harvest, but this year is a completely different story. In this picture, elephant garlic is to the right, and Chet's Italian Red is the shriveled up stuff on the left. That was my best garlic last year, and this year I'm afraid I'm might not get any to survive, let alone give a good harvest. Really, I planted 14 varieties this year, and I'm afraid I might completely lose some varieties. The hard freeze and then early onset of summer heat is just killing them, no matter what I do.

And I was afraid I planted too much garlic last fall!
The pole beans are doing OK so far. I'm surprised that out of the three varieties I planted, Cherokee Trail of Tears, Blue Coco, and Turkey's Craw, that Blue Coco is doing the best. It's already starting to flower.
I'm still losing peppers and eggplants, and I didn't even have very many to begin with. Habanero and Fish all died, and of the varieties I have left, I only have one or two plants of each.
These are some cucumbers wilting in the heat. I hope the straw helps, and wasn't put down too late. Cucumbers seem to be more sensitive to extreme heat than other members of their family.
The bush beans are also just barely hanging on. A lot of them just didn't sprout at all, or started to sprout, but got too dried out and died. It just got too hot too fast. It's supposed to be in the 80's this time of year at most. Mature plants with deep root systems would probably be OK, but not these little baby guys.
Here's my ONE lonely melon. After the first batch I planted all dried up except this one, I used up the rest of my seeds replanting. I hope some of them come up and make it.
I might as well give up on the turnips, and maybe the beets and carrots too. The radishes and cilantro are already starting to bolt.
Speaking of bolting, the escarole (to the right) has pretty blue flowers, which I didn't expect. I thought it would look like lettuce flowers, which are fluffy, white dandelion type things. To the right you can see my poor fava beans, which may also be a total loss. Like with the garlic, I think that hard freeze hurt them, and then they didn't have time to recover before it got so hot and dry. It's so disappointing too, because they were looking so good all through the winter.
The leeks are also bolting before they even managed to get very big. I've eaten a couple of them, but they never got anywhere near as big as the ones at the store. Again, I think it just got too hot too fast for them, so they skipped that "getting fatter" part and went straight to the "making seed" part. I'm not sure if I should let them go to seed or pull them up.
There are a few bright spots of hope (if you grow enough things, then there's always SOMETHING that survives). The tomatillos seem to be doing pretty well.
The tomatoes are also doing surprisingly well. I've even got fruits forming on some of them! This here is a Cherokee Purple. I guess I planted them early enough so they had time to get established before the heat set in. Now the heat just seems to be making them set fruit faster.
I built some tomato cages out of a roll of wire. Managed to get 10 of them out of one roll, so not all my tomatoes are caged yet, but it's a start.

This is such a terrible drought, I'm wondering if this means any plants I have that make it through had better get their seeds saved, because they must be very tough plants indeed. It's like a major natural selection event.


  1. Is a drip system or soaker hose an option for you? Are you normally able to rely on rainfall for most of your water?

  2. I have a soaker hose, but it doesn't cover a lot of area. Though, thanks for reminding me about that, because I should be using it more than I do. Maybe I should get another one.

    I don't normally get to rely completely on rainfall, but this spring is especially dry, so I'm watering a lot more than normal. Spring is supposed to be our rainy season. Makes me worried what summer is going to be like.

    Yesterday it got up to about 97. I know this is Texas but it's still not supposed to be in the high 90's in April. I think the heat alone is hurting some things, like the garlic and fava beans. They're supposed to be harvested before it gets that hot, but this year they haven't had time to mature. I've been watering the garlic a lot, but I'm afraid I can't do anything about the heat.

    Then on top of that on some days the humidity is very low, and it's very windy. That actually makes the heat feel less bad for us, but it dries out plants a lot faster.

  3. Ugh, 97 already? Luckily we're still probably a month away from temperatures that high, I hope. The favas do hate that heat-- mine just started flowering and I'm impatient for them to start producing before it gets too hot for them. Learning about gardens in other regions is enlightening. Where I live we get almost no rain from May to September (and often very little in April and October) so watering is always a big part of vegetable gardening.

  4. Well, this is an unusual year. The hot, dry weather came way too early. I should have had another month too. It was sad to watch the favas, which had just started to put out pods, just shrivel up in the heat.

  5. Some more unusual plants that I have found to be really tolerant of heat:

    black eyed peas (just plant the dry ones from the grocery store!) make good hot weather green beans. They aren't quite as good as 'real' green beans and can get a bit stringy if you don't pick em fast enough but they produce all through july and august, no problemo

    amaranth: again you can get the seed from the bulk section at the grocery, it makes a nice cooked green and loves the heat

    malabar spinach: i've had a hard time getting it established,but once it does it grows awesomely

    chayote: just experimenting with it for the first time this year. so far so good. you can get them at the grocery store (hhmmmm see a pattern?) and just plant the whole thing in the ground. It's a perennial summer squash basically. The borers don't seem attracted to it, as mine is already about 5 feet up the arbor and has no eggs on it, but the pumpkins I had were covered in eggs by the first week of April.