Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Dog Moon

The Dog Moon is named for the Dog Days of Summer, when Sirius the Dog Star is prominent in the night sky, and it's really, really hot. It's not consistently at least 100 degree every day, if not a few degrees over.

The garden plants are looking pretty toasted out there.

I just harvested one Charentais melon that was about the size of a softball. We haven't eaten it yet, but it smells wonderful. There are two more on the vines, and a forth was doing OK until some type of bug bored into it. But I'm not growing this variety again. The seeds were given to me, but it's struggling in the heat.

The Rosa Bianca eggplants aren't doing too well either, and eggplants are supposed to like heat. The fruits get to be about tennis ball sized and then turn yellow. Aren't they supposed to be a large eggplant? I guess I should start picking them sooner, because eggplants turn bitter when they get yellow.

The mystery yellow cherry tomatoes that were supposed to be Dr. Wyche's Yellow but aren't are the only tomatoes still ripening fruits. And that's fairly typical of cherry tomatoes. They are tougher than large-fruited tomatoes.

I decided the Cherokee Purple tomatoes weren't going to produce any more fruits when it's this hot, so I pruned them back to stumps. That may have been a bit of a drastic move, but I heard that can actually help them survive the summer, and then they regrow in the fall for a second harvest before frost. The plants weren't looking so good anyway, so maybe it will be good for them to get some fresh growth.

I left one pod on each okra plant for seed saving, and now the first two or three are starting to mature and are ready to pick and get the seeds out. They need to be picked before they completely split open and the seeds spill out, but that has to be done wearing gloves because they're covered in irritating spiny hairs. The plants themselves have lost a lot of leaves. Some of them just fell off on their own (maybe because of the heat), but it looks like some got munched by deer, which surprised me.

I forgot to get a picture of the sweet potatoes in front, but they haven't really changed. They still love the heat as long as they get watered enough, and the deer are still eating anything that sticks out beyond the wire. I sprayed some "I Must Garden" brand deer repellant on them last week to see if that helps. Looking at the ingredients list, it's a mixture of rotten eggs, garlic, cinnamon oil, and peppermint oil. The peppermint and cinnamon make it smell nice to humans, but it's supposed to smell nasty to deer. I'll see if it works.

This is what's left of the cucumber vine. I got about three cucumbers off it, but now I'm letting it die. The cucumbers were getting bitter anyway.

The lima beans are the best looking beans. They quit making any more pods, but the plants are still green, which is better than the snap beans or yardlong beans.

The Tatume squash is wilting in the heat but still alive. The Black Futsu squash, on the other hand, looks completely dead. I was afraid a Japanese squash variety couldn't cut it.

Early August may be the hottest time of year, but it's also, ironically, time to start fall crops like broccoli, collards, and mustard greens. I have them right here, and they're already starting to sprout. They're being kept in the shade, and I think this year I'll use a shade cloth out in the garden when I transplant them. I'm still on a learning curve with getting fall crops to do well, because they need to be planted in such hot weather to mature in cool weather. I think the mistake I was making before was keeping them in pots too long, which I think was stunting them. This time I'll set them out earlier under a shade cloth set up over them and plenty of watering.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Dog Day Cicadas

During the hottest time of year the afternoons are full of the sound of annual cicadas, also known as Dog Day Cicadas (genus Tibicen), named after the Dog Days of Summer. Their sound is synonymous in my mind with 100 degree heat. The hotter it is, the more they sing. I always thought they sounded like a certain type of sprinkler I think are called "impact sprinklers". You know, the kind that goes around in a circle "tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat" and then goes back around the other way faster "tatatatatatatata". Our cicadas sound like that.

Nymphs spend a few years underground sucking on tree roots, until they emerge on summer nights, leaving nickel-sized holes behind in the yard. Then they climb up a tree, or wall, or car tire to molt, leaving their old exoskeletons behind. By August just about every vertical surface in the yard has cicada shells stuck to it.

Sometimes you see the adults. They're large and green, with big bug-eyes, and long transparent wings. They make a loud buzz when a mockingbird grabs one. They make a louder buzz when a cat brings one in the house and bats it around the living room. But it's rare to see the nymphs since they stay underground and emerge at night.

But the other evening, while Daniel was out watering plants after work, he brought in this to show me.

There it is, a cicada nymph in the flesh, crawling up my husband's arm. You can see its front digging legs clearly. It's a little hard to see in this picture, but he also had a long, straw-like mouth pointing down. Looks just like the shells stuck everywhere, but without the split down the back where the bug crawled out. I always thought those shells were kind of gross, but it seems somewhat less gross this way.

After showing the cicada to me, Daniel put it in a tree to let it do its thing.