Monday, June 1, 2009

Heat and Drought Plant Update

While most of the rest of the country is considering building arks because of the torrential rains, in this one little corner of Florida, I can count the total hours of rain since January on one hand.
So here's our update in light of the current high temps and low precipitation...

Doing well: The volunteer calabaza plant. We lost a lot of developing fruits to something that appeared to have cut them right from the stem at an early stage, but there have been continual flowers, even to this day. The vines have gone nuts -- each at about ten plus feet in length and counting. We're letting them trail around and through the 5 gallon buckets of small seedlings, sort of as a nurse plant to provide some semi-shade. Yesterday, Jack counted 7 surviving fruits still plumping up in various stages of development, and we're testing putting some of those many plastic bucket lids under them -- one under each fruit to keep it from lying directly on the ground. I don't know if this is wise or foolish, but we want to see if it thwarts anything that might be trying to come upwards from the ground to devour the young pumpkins/squash.

We also have had success in harvesting batches of the young leaves and slicing them chiffonade-fashion and cooking them as greens. How does this plant handle the heat? It's one of the few that is growing like crazy despite the heat. It wilts badly in the middle of the day, and by the end of the day is perky again. We do water it daily. It seems to be stronger than the Bermuda, and though it doesn't choke out the Bermuda, it towers over it and still goes strong.

So, all in all, the calabaza is a keeper for the far.

The snap beans: What started off with a bang is hating the drought and extreme heat. I'll have to take pictures, but we do not have irrigation set up to water the snap bean patch daily, and we're under heavy water restrictions and fines in our area due to the drought. So they're mature and even have flowers and small beans on them, but the heat and lack of daily watering have taken their toll. We probably will have no harvest for these this summer by the looks of things. This is a real disappointment after such a great start. We'll have to plant these later in the year when the temps are better regulated and hopefully when we get some steady rains.

The purple hull peas (cowpeas): They're amazing. Planted at the same time as the snaps, and even at later dates for some of the rows, they're heads and shoulders bigger than the snap bean plants, are a vigorous deep green, and are as hardy as all get-out. They've taken the same limited waterings as the snaps, but utilized the water better and really managed to handle the drought amazingly. There are no flowers on them yet, so we're not sure we planted at the right time of year (will they set flowers so they can produce?)...but they're lush and we've tested the leaves at the young stage for cooking greens, and they are simply delicious! We'll see if they produce a crop of cowpeas or not...if so, we have another winner. If we had livestock, it would be a double winner, cowpeas or no, because it's evident the plants are lush enough to use as fodder or to dry for hay.

There are only a few other plants we have growing just now that seem to be heat and drought-hardy. These are :
1. The moringa seedlings
2. Papaya seedlings
3. Malangas
4. Yerba Buena (in part shade)
5. Thai jujube tree
6. The baby guava trees
7. Two small lime and one lemon tree starts.
8. Cranberry hibiscus (edible)...let's see if they make it...
9. The okra
10. The gardenias
11. The brush cherry. No pests seen on this at all, and it survived all the freezes.

The two small fig trees in pots are surviving this year due to our clustering the containers of trees together (not with the citrus, though), and they have a lot of fruit developing now.

We went ahead and put the citrus in the ground's too stressful keeping them contained and not knowing what our final timeframe for relocation is. So in the ground they went, and seem to be doing well even having been transplanted during this weather. We keep them well watered. The key limes, however, were wimpy in the pots and still look wan after transplanting, so we're not really sure how they'll end up doing.

We were hoping to have some actual food being harvested by now from some of our efforts, namely the snap beans. The ones in pots produced a few, but are stressed from the heat. The ones in the bean patch I already commented on above, and it looks like the harvest will be negligible.

A lot of Floridians skip the summer as far as growing things, for these very reasons...heat and drought. Or depending on location, heat and monsoon :) When we visited the ECHO test gardens, they have plants growing smack in the middle of the hottest summer months, and we have yet to test many of those. Tepary beans, madagascar beans, and winged beans are some that come to mind. We actually have many of these sitting ready for planting, but we haven't started them yet.

We're down to one vehicle now, to share between two commutes and separate jobs however possible. This is a recent development, and a challenge. We're also down to fewer gardening hours with the changing work schedules, and very sporadic watering. One emphasis at the moment is to get all our present plants situated well, either in-ground, sited for better heat endurance, or some cleanup of the tired experimental subjects we've been playing with but are not thriving.

We need to be growing more actual food. We're not set up with some of the things we need, and so we're still in the semi-experimental stages. Which drives me crazy when I just want some tomatoes and peppers. But it's where we are presently. I suppose learning what does NOT work for us is helping us in the long run.

I do have to say that the eighty degree temps were pretty enjoyable until the mercury rose to the nineties. I'm not a happy outdoor person in the mid and high nineties, no matter how much some want to romanticize gardening. But seeing some plants thrive despite the oven-like temps still does my heart good.

The coffee trees are probably a wash...they look really bad since those freezes and have never bounced back.

I have a fanciful notion of trying to find some wild plum seedlings...I've always loved the way the air smells when plums are ripe and fallen on the ground.

That's all for now...I feel like I have nothing exciting to report. It's hot....HOT. And so very dry. It's at this point all nostalgia for living without AC vanishes entirely (y'know, those fancies of living in the log cabin with only a wood stove??), and I kiss my thermostat. My job requires me to work in unairconditioned environs, and after my shift I'm entirely physically wrung out. The range is 86-94 degrees at night where I work, and after that shift, I feel like I've been wrung out like a wet washrag.

Oh yeah...and I love ice. It's my affordable luxury. I pour myself some tea or water, and watch the icy tears of condensation weep down the glass...and I sigh happily as my garden bakes and we all pray for rain...again.

Officially, or not, summer's here with a vengeance.


Sue said...

Sorry to hear about your drought and heat. I wish I could take a little of that heat from you. I had 27 degrees yesterday morning.

I'm interested in the different varieties you grow down there...are there "native" vegetables that can take the temps better? I mean varieties of standard veggies like beans, but adapted specifically to your climes?

Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

In the opposite corner of the country, we're equally dry. Every weekend of May was sunny and dry, totally unprecidented in this area! Things are doing well now, but everything will get crispy pretty fast if we don't get some rain this month. Thankfully, the heat has been bearable - only in the 80s (hot for here).

Robbyn said...

Sue, that's a good question, and one we're trying to answer. We visited a global test farm about an hour away and they trial native foods and plants from this general climate but not limited to this area...many of theirs are native to Africa or Asia in similar climates and aren't always typically what we'd consider a crop here. Those fascinate us, and we're slowly trying one or two at a time...we simply don't have time yet to try more and don't want to kill them with neglect. Also we're following some blogs of Florida gardeners to see what they're doing. We have a long way to go in our learning curve, and with some of the things going on with our jobs and schedules, the garden HAS to be low maintenance.

Michelle, wow...isn't it strange not getting much rain and seeing how much flooding there is elsewhere in the country? Even two counties above us have excessive rains, but somehow it skipped us! Here's praying for you guys to get some, and us, too :)

tina f. said...

We're kind of in the same boat as you, experiencing high heat and precious little water. I recently bought some moringa seeds and was wondering... did you plant yours from seeds or buy seedlings? If from seeds how long did they take to germinate? I put half in peat pellets and am saving the other half. It's only been a few days but I'm impatient.

Robbyn said...

Oh Tina! :) You're going to be so happy with the moringas! We put ours into potting mix in 5 gallon buckets and I'm not sure what the germination rate was, but they have been hardy as stink! (a good thing, ha :)) Those little guys came up in a relatively short time, though I'd have to ask Jack the exact numbers of days, and if you keep them watered reasonably, they just really take the heat well. We clustered our buckets together and they have occasional partial shade from the overzealous calabaza vine that grows all through that area, but no worries...they can really take the temps :) Please let me know how yours do...we got ours from ECHO and can give you the link if your germination isn't quite what you'd hoped