Fall Garden Adventures in the Summer
As we’ve gotten settled in at the new homestead, one of my first goals was to get a garden established. Texans are blessed with a long growing season, and the Fall garden usually does as well as a Spring garden. Days are warm, sun is abundant, and the first frost is really late in the year. Even more exciting was the dirt I have here at the homestead. I have over an acre of dark brown sandy loam. Beautiful dirt in the eyes of anyone wanting to grow things. I couldn’t wait to start getting my vegetables in the ground. After checking for proper planting dates, I put seeds in the ground before we had a functioning kitchen or the dining room table set up. I’m not sure Sarah agreed with my priorities, but she’s very tolerant of my craziness.
I opted to start small and work with an area on the south side of the house. There was dirt that had recently been worked into a water control feature to keep run-off from running up to the house. It was already loose, so I didn’t have to really break any ground. I dug through my seed packets to see what was date appropriate. Early August is perfect for a variety of squash. Yellow Crookneck, Butternut, and Black Beauty Zucchini all got the stamp of approval and went in the ground. The girls really wanted some pumpkins for the Fall, so I obliged and planted five little mounds of two varieties of them. Tomato and Pepper transplants were also due, so a trip to the local nursery netted a few of each. Some heirloom and a couple of hybrid tomatoes, a couple of Bells and a couple of Serrano plants went in the ground next. I raked up a lot of dried grass clippings from the field to act as a temporary mulch and set out on a routine of watering to offset the hot, dry weather.
At first, everything was going perfectly. The transplants took off without many signs of transplant shock. Within a few days, I had little baby squash and pumpkins emerging for their first taste of air and sunlight. In another few days, they all started putting on their big kid leaves. I was one excited gardener! I was already planning on how much we would eat fresh, how much we could can, and how much would be a goodwill gesture to the new neighbors. Never count your chickens before they hatch!!
In my excitement, I overlooked a major part of the Texas ecology. Late summer is hot and dry. Anything that isn’t irrigated starts to die, including all the grass. That wipes out the primary food source of a plague. So much a plague, that it is literally of biblical proportions. Grasshoppers by the thousands start looking for new sources of food. My garden turned into a buffet. I’ve learned that grasshoppers had preferences. They prefer summer squash over everything else. Once that was gone, they decided on winter squash. Then they set their sights on pumpkins. Sorry girls, no pumpkins to carve for Halloween!
(One of the culprits actively engaged on the carcass of a squash plant)
I thought the grasshoppers were content there. Turns out I’m not that lucky. Did you know that grasshoppers will eat pepper plants?? I do now! The only thing they don’t seem to ravenously destroy are tomato plants. For now at least.
Even after having my heart ripped out and consumed by evil, ugly, jumping insects, I’m not one to accept defeat. So if the grasshoppers don’t care for tomatoes, I certainly do! All that real estate left vacant by my my poor, defenseless squash plants will soon be occupied again. We just picked up several varieties of tomato plants. As the sun starts to set tonight the planting will begin. I’ll be going from 6 tomato plants to 16. By God, if tomatoes are the only thing I can grow, then I’ll grow a lot of them!!
Once it cools down a little, I’m hoping the grasshopper invasion will lighten up a little bit. I should still have time to get cool weather plants established before it gets too cold.
So far, the Fall garden has been a harsh lesson but I’m determined to get something to produce. At least I can walk away with more knowledge. Learning from mistakes might hurt a little, but it makes that hurt sting a little less when we can garner information to make the next attempt a little easier. Now that I know the evil that lurks in the Texas summer, I’m planning defensive measures. If I have to build a grasshopper screen for next year, I have a year to plan it. Grasshoppers are jumpy little things (pun intended!), so I’m going to mess with their heads. I’m going to try putting several mylar pinwheels out to spin in the breeze and throw crazy reflections all over the place. Bird feeders will be going up all over the place to draw in some natural predators. The grasshoppers have won this battle, but the war has only begun!
Stay tuned for other (Mis)Adventures on the new homestead. Sarah and I are talking about soapmaking, so if we pull it off without chemical burns we’ll work out a how-to tutorial. If we end up with caustic burns, we’ll post up some home remedies for chemical burns!
*No grasshoppers were harmed in the making of the article. Yet.