By Bob Dailey, Master Gardener
If your vegetable garden is like mine, just about everything is crispy right about now. My tomatoes stopped producing as soon as the temperature hit 95F and stayed there or above. Everything except those darn cherry tomatoes. We’re still picking those. We’ve given them away to neighbors and friends, made covered (and ate) tons of pasta covered with delicious, herb and garlic-filled tomato sauce; eaten gazpacho (which I love), eaten them sliced and on sandwiches, in salads, in stews and off the vine.
Pole and string beans are long gone, and the vines have been sent to compost heaven. Cucumbers and squash are done as well, and the weekend will see the dry plants follow their bean neighbors.
What IS still producing though is eggplant, and peppers. We had eggplant parmesan one night recently for dinner (and of course used the cherry tomatoes to make the sauce). An old saying used to be that corn should be “knee-high by the Fourth of July.” I didn’t plant any corn, but my okra is knee high, and we should be harvesting soon.
The record heat and low humidity has just about destroyed all my perennials. I’m sure that many of you are having the same problem. I’ll be putting another pickup load of mulch on my front gardens. That’s my suggestion to you as well. As I wrote last month, mulch not only hides a multitude of sins, but also keeps the soil at a more constant temperature, protects roots, keeps moisture in the soil and discourages weeds. And good, organic mulch will also decompose over time, adding more nutrients to the soil.
And of course, water your annuals and perennials. Even though it’s hot every summer in Montgomery County (and in the rest of Texas), we’ve usually had high humidity. However, this summer to date, our humidity has been extremely low – as in desert low. And that means that soil moisture evaporates much more rapidly. It also means that plants take in much less water.
The same thing can be said of lawns. The trick with lawns is to give them enough water to survive the heat but not so much as to drown the microbes and larger organisms helping your plants get the nutrients they need. Use the cycle and soak method. That means, if you’re watering each zone for 20 minutes, water each zone for 10 minutes. When the last zone is watered, run each zone again for 10 minutes. This will allow time for the water from the first cycle to soak into the soil. When you run the system the second time, gravity, adhesion and capillary action are put into play, and the water sinks deeper into the soil.
Extra tip: Roll a small ice pack into a bandana and tie it around your neck. When it melts, put another one in. It helps keep one from overheating. Also drink a lot of cold liquid when working outside and take plenty of breaks.