Category Archives: Drought

One More ‘Return from Death’ Story, Basil This Time

I let basil growing in my smallest raised bed dry out during the heat of the summer.  The box didn’t have much organic matter in the soil, just mostly sand.  As such, nothing in that bed grew very well.  OK, the plants dried out, leaves dropped off and all that was left was the stems.   A week of rain came.  The basil recovered.  You can see the brown stems and green shoots growing out from 2 sides of the old branch.  Look at all those beautiful green leaves – they went into several batches of basil pesto.  Follow up the branch with the orange circles, and you can see the brown dried seed head.  All these beautiful green leaves are new from what I thought were dead plants.

basil regrowth

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Stunted Squash Plants

This spring, with the new garden not being finished on time, I planted my crops at least a month late, and some plants, like this zucchini, were planted weeks later.    The zucchini that I planted ‘only’ a month late grew into very large, healthy plants.  This even later zuch, along with all the yellow summer squash that I planted even later, never fully grew.   Interestingly, all of these super-late squash were stunted.   This 8 Ball did grow big enough to produce at least one fruit.  Look at all of those male bloom on this plant.

yellow edges on squash leaves

I am totally fascinated with these late plantings being stunted.  They just never grew big enough before the extreme heat and drought arrived.   This is a hybrid 8 Ball zucchini from Twilley seeds, usually a very strong and large plant.

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Overview of Garden, July 10, 2013

This is an overview pic of the garden. I had to build raised beds because the soil is hard red clay. I knew that the raised beds would be an issue in this heat – the soil is literally cooked with the heat that passes thru the 1×6″ side walls that are 12″ high.  The day time temps have been in the upper 90s to low 100s.

overview july 10

I mulch the soil surface with inches of dried leaves in an attempt to hold in the soil moisture, but I still have to water every 3 days or so.  The sandy soil still dries crusty hard, even under the leaf cover.  I have to put much more organic matter this fall and next spring.  I know that it will take several years to get an acceptable quality soil in these beds.

The beds are on the east side of tall trees.  As such, they get the rising sun after it clears the trees in the front of the house and mostly full sun until mid-late afternoon when the sun is beyond the western tree line.  This means that the garden gets maybe 7 to 8 hours of full sun.  That is enough sun with out beating the squash and cuke leaves to death with the hot afternoon sun.  This is the best that I could do with what I had to work with.  Total full sun would have been too much.

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A Pitiful Partial Harvest Of Winter Squash

Originally published late summer 2011

Here is a sample of 4 different squash.  The green one in the back ground is Butternut Rugoso Violino Gloria (c. moschata).  The larger one to the left might be a deformed Long Island Cheese (C. moschata).  The medium tan squash in the front middle is probably an Upper Ground Sweet Potato (c. moschata). They are scattered around the remains of the garden – the vines are 20 to 30 feet.  The tiny tan squash is the good, faithful Waltham Buttenut (c. moschata).  Always prolific.  I forgot to put a Seminole pumpkin in here.  It is also c. moschata. I have more squash to pick as I start to clear out the dying vines – just waiting for most of them to turn tan – indication that they are mature enough to be picked and keep for a few months.

Partial harvest of  winter squash

Seminole pumpkin was the most hardy of the 6 varieties of cucurbit moschata that I grew this season. The Long of Naples never produced fruit, neither did the Sucrine du Berry.  The Long Island Cheese may have produced that one fruit.  I only got one Rogosa Violina Gioria – and it might not have been mature enough to keep.  Texas just isn’t the place for most of these winter squash.  I think that I got several Upper Ground Sweet Potato squash – I see what I think are several of them.  I have several seminole pumpkin squash also.  Waltham Butternut has always been the best producer – probably because the vines are not too long and the fruit is small.  Just can’t get those large, beautiful squash out of this horrid, hot, droughty Texas weather.  Next year I am going to focus on Waltham Butternut and Seminole pumpkin.  Instead of playing with exotic squash, I am going for production.

It IS true that c. moschata is more resistant to squash bugs and immune to the evil squash vine borer.  I have seen very few squash bugs on the c. moschata.  The solid stems are of course immune to the borer.  Summer squash take the brunt of the hit from these 2 unwanted pests.  The squash bug is a stink bug with a hard shell and even birds don’t want to mess with them.  Their main predator is the gardener!!

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Drought And 100 Degree Temps Kill A Garden Quickly

Originally published late Summer 2011

Looking at my bright, green and bushy garden pics of mid July, and comparing to these pics is heart breaking.  For most of the 3 weeks since my last garden pics, we have been DRY and HOT.  The porch temperature is always at least 105 in the afternoons.  The Greenhouse temp is 120.  The sun is beating down on my winter squash and tomatoes day after day.  After 3 weeks of this, the garden is dead.  Water was not a fatal issue – they got enough gray water, although there was some wilting in the afternoon.  The unrelenting 100+ temps killed the garden.  The peppers are all that are still producing, although a couple of red beans seem to be re-sprouting near their bast and there are a handful of baby red beans.  Most of the longer red beans dried out before they matured enough to pick.

Dried up tomatoes

Those castor plants are tough. (In tropicalareas they grow into trees). They always survive the droughts. Below, these winter squash are dying. The leaves are being cooked day after day, although this part of the garden is in partial shade for part of the day.

Dried up squash on the cattle panels

I have a few Seminole Pumpkin winter squash (c. moschata). This one is still green, some in the background have already turned brown – the customary color for butternuts. I am thinking that next Spring, Seminole Pumpkin and Waltham Butternut are going to be my choice for winter squash. Look at those leaves – 2 weeks ago they were supple and vibrand, now they are cooked, crusty and dying.

Seminole pumpkin squash

Here is a broader shot of the garden – squash, watermelons (both in the foreground) and tomatoes (rear center) are all dried up. I circled a watermelon – they aren’t mature enough to pick, but the vines are dead. (Actually, the spider mites killed the watermelons). In the foreground I circled a maturing okra pod – I let them mature for seeds.

Squash, watermelons and tomatoes dried up

Chinese long red beans are resilient. They have been almost killed by the heat, but some plants are trying to put out new leaves near the bottoms. Also, ants and their aphids are hard on these beans. It is a constant battle

Long red beans dried up

Not a good summer for self sufficiency and vegetable gardening. Oh, if I only still lived a few hundred miles north!!!!

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Rattlesnake Pole Beans

Originally published Summer 2011

I have found that rattlesnake pole beans seem to thrive the best in my garden environment.  They grow the fastest and mature the fastest.  I usually grow them for dry beans.  The pod has purple streaks running it’s length, so it doesn’t have the edible appeal that a plain old green bean does. They grow fast and produce prolifically.  When the summer drought hits, they slow down, but still grow.  When we get an occasional heavy summer rain, they go into another growth spurt.

Rattlesnake pole beans

I just love these pole beans. And, since beans are self-pollinating, you don’t have to worry about those pretty little lavender flowers crossing with any other beans in the garden.

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Not A Good Season For Cabbage

Originally published Summer of 2011

I had over 3 dozen beautiful baby cabbages flourishing this past February.  They should have resulted in about 3 dozen heads of cabbage to stir fry this spring with the garden harvest of squash, onions, long red beans, peppers and what ever else I find growing to toss in the stir fry.  But not this year.  This ‘global warming’ has devastated my winter garden for the past 2 winters.  We have had unusual cold snaps – where the day’s high doesn’t get above freezing for almost a week, then a week into the 60s for daily highs, then back below freezing again.  And again.  The last cold snap of days on end with a high at or below freezing wiped out most of my cabbage. These 2 heads are the only ones, out of over 3 dozen, that came anywhere
close to maturing.  When I cut into the large one I found that it was not a good solid head – but it still stir fried up OK, along with the first zuke, squash, peppers and onions – all from the garden.

Last 2 cabbage heads

This was the last cabbage plant.

Last cabbage plant

Cabbage has always been able to take a good freeze, but these past 2 winters, and especially this past winter, was just too much. Ugg, I’m going to have to use store-bought cabbage.  I am planning to make a hoop house for one of my raised beds this winter.  I will need lots of 2′ sections of rebar, about 8′ sections of 1/4″ white pvc pipe and a big sheet of clear, thick plastic.

(Pay no attention to the deadly wilt of my squash and cuke leaves – I have vegetable gardening watering ‘issues’ to deal with.)

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Survivor Okra

Originally published Summer of 2011

This strip of okra has had a rough life.  While planted in fertile soil, something(s) has/have been systematically killing the seedlings.  I originally started over a dozen seedlings.  I carefully planted them along this edge of the garden fence.  They were cut down – probably initially by cutworms – replanted, and killed again.  I now have 3 good sized plants that i think will make it, and this poor, abused, struggling okra:

Okra survivor

Look at those gouges in the stem! Something chomped half of the stem in several places. The scars have hardened over and the eaten leaves are growing back. This little sapling is a survivor! Maybe
grasshoppers chomped the leaves, but the stem?? What eats half of a tough plant stem? These 3 okra plants, plus the survivor, are the remaining okra. Since I had so many seeds saved from last year, I began just sticking them in the ground every few inches along the fence. They sprouted, and were slowly cut down. One night 2 sprouts were cut down. I think 2 are still there. Even wrapping a toilet paper tube around them as a cutworm collar didn’t help some of them. Cutworm, grasshoppers,pillbugs, small white quarter-inch worms, something sure likes okra. Fortunately I don’t – or I would be upset at the devastation. I grow it because I think it is a pretty plant. It has such a pretty flower. I have so many okra seeds because I allow so many of the pods to harden and mature the seed.

Remaining okra along the fence

You’ll notice the wilted pepper and morning glory leaves – as a vegetable gardener, I have watering ‘issues’ to deal with (these issues don’t seem to concern those watering lawn grass).  It regularly gets 90 to 100 degrees here in June, and usually with no rain, although this year we have had a couple of small rain showers.  I have to heavily mulch – leaves around the plants and old hay between rows. I’m sure the mulch helps hide pests, but it is necessary for moisture conservation.

Being able to and knowing how to grow some of your own food is a very important character trait. We are a sad people in America today – nothing like the strong people who moved westward and settled this country. These okra plants are stronger than many people today.

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