Friday, June 17, 2011

The Firefly Moon

I have seen a few fireflies lately, but not many. Don't know if it's the drought, or the fact that I haven't gone on enough evening walks lately.

We're still in exceptional drought. Here's the most recent drought map I've been able to find. I'm in that dark maroon part.

This is the worst drought in 40-50 years (depending one what source). I haven't had any rain since that last one I posted about. I've been running the soaker hoses almost every day, and last month's water bill was SHOCKING. I think I might have to just let some of my garden die. Some of it already has, despite my best efforts, but I feel kind of bad about deliberately "cutting off life support" to any of my plant babies. On the other hand, it's becoming very unlikely that some things will yield any sort of decent harvest, so it doesn't make sense to keep spending hundreds of dollars on water to keep them barely alive.

I've already let the Jimmy T okra go. It was still only about a foot high and yielding only a few very tough pods. I have more seeds of that one, so I might give it another chance next year. Not sure who else to let shrivel up and crumble to dust next, but I'm thinking the bush beans.

Now I'm regretting planting all of my bean seeds this year. I figured they needed to be renewed, and never thought I'd get no harvest from any of them. It looks like all my varieties of Phaseolus vulgaris and Phaseolus acutifolius are just going to shrivel up and die if they haven't already. Yes, the even tepary beans have their limits, apparently. I think it only rained on them once in their lives, which is even less than what they'd be getting in their native Sonoran Desert. At least in Sonora they have a rainy season in the spring.

I regret not holding back some of my Calypso and October beans and just planting them all. I had a good harvest of them in 2008, so I saved 100 seeds each of them. I planted all of those seeds this year, and that means I don't have those varieties anymore. The Calypso beans totally died. The October beans seemed at first like they would give me at least a few seeds to replant last year, but this morning I opened up some of their dried pods, only to find shriveled up little beans inside them that didn't get a chance to fully form. Bummer.

The only member of the genus that's still hanging on is Phaseolus lunatus, my Jackson Wonder bush lima beans. I wasn't even that into them; I got them in an online trade without even asking for them. I've never grown lima beans before, but amazingly enough they're still green and even have a couple of pods on them. They're shown on the right of the picture above, behind the shriveled up Dragon Tongue beans in the foreground.

The Vigna species are doing a bit better. I planted Red Noodle Yardlong Beans, Monkey Tail Cowpeas, and Mt. Pima Yori Muni Blackeyed Peas, and they're all still green and alive. No pods yet, but just being green and alive puts them way ahead most of the plants in my garden right now.

The pole beans are mostly still alive, but besides the yardlong beans, they're looking bad and some individuals are starting to die off. So far I have harvested three Cherokee Trail of Tears beans and three Blue Coco beans. Yes, I mean three individual seeds from each. Can't do much with that.

 After the beans, I may have to give up on the sweet potatoes. If I understand the info gained from this very helpful website about sweet potatoes, the plants decide fairly early on in their lives which of their roots will swell up to become fleshy edible potatoes, and which will stay regular roots. If the plants are stressed during this critical period, they will grow fewer potatoes, even if things improve later in the season.

Even though I had a fairly decent harvest last year, this year my poor sweet potatoes have a lot of things going against them. One thing you see here is how many WEEDS got going in their plot. (Well, it's actually grass, but the definition of "weed" I go by is "any plant somewhere I don't want it to be" so in this case the grass is weeds.) I admit I'm not the best at keeping up with weeding, and when we had that one rainstorm last time, the grass in the sweet potato bed just went nuts, and then I got a bit busy with work, and the next thing I know I can hardly see the sweet potato plants under there. I tried pulling out some grass now, but grass is hard to pull out, and I ended up pulling out some of my sweet potato plants along with it (they came out much more easily than the grass!).

Another problem is I was dumb and planted the sweet potatoes in the sand. As I've mentioned before, part of my garden has a big layer of sand over it because there used to be an above ground pool there. The common opinion around here is that our soil sucks because it's clay, and you should add sand to "lighten it up", so I thought the sand was actually a good thing, especially for root crops like sweet potatoes. Well, with the drought I have noticed a BIG difference between the plants in the sandy parts and the clay parts. The plants in the clay are doing much better. I think this busts that myth. Clay holds water and nutrients much better than sand. Clay good. Sand bad.

Put these things together, the weeds and the sand, and add in NO WATER, and the result is puny, pathetic sweet potato plants. At this time last year my sweet potato plants were already vining all over the place.

So do I keep watering them every couple of days as they hang on to life in that quick-drying sand under their choking blanket of weeds, or do I cut off life support and let them go? Is there any hope for me to have any sort of harvest from these now at this point, or am I just wasting water?

Out of the many pepper varieties I planted, I've only got two left. The best ones are the California Wonder peppers I got as excess transplants from my CSA farmer. They aren't putting out any fruit, but they're alive. Again, just being alive is doing really well for a plant in my garden this year.
This is my other pepper plant, one of the Golden Cayennes I planted. It's grown four peppers so far too! None of its sister Golden Cayennes made it, nor the Lemon Drop, Habanero, or Soroksari peppers planted. I wonder if I should save seeds from this one plant, or if saving seed from only one pepper plant will make them too inbred.
I've managed to keep my White Wonder cucumbers alive, which is a little surprising. They've even been tried to put out fruits, but the last ones were eaten by deer since they were sticking through the fence. I think I'll save seed from this cuke if I can manage it. White Wonder is supposed to be more heat tolerant than most cukes. My one Ogen melon died, and almost all my squash is dead now too (the last two don't look long for this world), so a cucurbit that's actually working on fruit is quite impressive.
The Moon and Stars Watermelon (shown above) and the luffa gourds are hanging on to life but haven't yet managed to put out any fruits. Maybe if I can just get them to stay alive long until the next rain, whenever that will be.
The tomatoes actually aren't doing too bad, which surprises me. I'm actually harvesting tomatoes! Not enough to can, but I have been eating them almost every day, and have some extra to stick in the food dehydrator. That's pretty much the only thing I've managed to get to eat from my garden so far this summer. I don't think it will last though. Tomatoes can't set fruit above the mid-90's, or so they say. The heat supposedly kills their pollen. I think what I'm harvesting are fruits that already set before it started being over 100 degrees every fracking day, and once those are gone I won't get any more. But oh man, those Cherokee Purples make the BEST BLT sandwiches! I just had one for lunch today. Mmm.
The tomatillos also go in the "at least they're alive" category. I thought I got a few fruits, but they turned out to be empty husks. And I was hoping to can a bunch of salsa verde this year! I also planted all of my tomatillo seeds, so if these don't make it, I won't get to save any seeds and will have to re-buy.
Perhaps the thing that saddens me the most is the Great Garlic Massacre of 2011. After such a wonderful heirloom garlic harvest last year, I thought for sure I would never have to buy garlic again, either for planting or for eating (except maybe for adding new varieties to my collection). And then we had the big freeze in February that stressed a bunch of them out, followed by the quick onset of heat and no rain. This spring I've just watch my garlic one by one, variety after variety, shrivel up and crumble to dust. Above is one of the few varieties that still show some green, Pskem River, but I pulled one and it doesn't even have a bulb.
The only decent garlic I got was the Elephant garlic, which isn't even a real garlic to begin with, but I don't know if that matters. Normally elephant garlic is about twice as big than regular garlic, hence the name, but these ones are only about as big as a regular head of garlic, if that. But I guess that's better than nothing.

I wish I were a more optimistic or hopeful person, in general. I tend to get really pessimistic about life a lot of the time. I know that's not a good way to be, but it's hard for me to not fall into that mode of thinking. I've spent the last couple of years being unemployed and underemployed, and it's hard for me to see how I'll ever pull myself out of this hole. Now with this drought, it seems like Nature itself is against me too, ruining the garden I've worked so hard on.

But then looking up at me are these little cuties. The fall tomatoes, eggplants, and basil are about ready to go into individual pots. Maybe the rains will come back and the drought will end and I will get a bountiful harvest again. There's just something about a seed that seems to say to me, "There's always next year." I need to listen to them more often.

Update: Oops, I just found out that we've actually been under Stage 2 water restrictions since the beginning of June. That means I should have only been watering once a week. I thought we were still in Stage 1, which limits sprinklers but not soaker hoses. Well, now I know. Under Stage 2, soaker hoses are also limited to once a week.

This actually makes me feel a little less bad. It's like it's out of my hands. The plants only have once a week water rations now, and if they can't make it on that, there's nothing I can do about it even if I wanted to.

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