State of the Herbs Address

7 pm, north Texas, late July, 107 degrees in the shade, (Too hot in the shade…). Is there a oasis in all this heat? Yep, but it’s still mighty hot – If you don’t move too much, you don’t sweat too much.

Several friends with nice gardens all say the same thing – “It’s so hot, I don’t even want to go out to water…”

Job #1 is balancing water use, remaining responsible given our drought conditions, and the cost thereof, of course – We’re on a city water supply, so it does indeed cost ya. We’ve given up watering the grass out front; the back has none to speak of, it’s all planted in one form or another, the lion’s share of which is veggies and herbs. Our priorities are keeping our foundation moist enough to avoid cracking, then the gardens next, catch as catch can.

So is this possible? Can you grow stuff in heat like this? This question’s not solely pertinent to north Texas, of course. A look at the national weather map today shows 70’s in some coastal and mountain areas, but 80s, 90s and 100+s predominate across the whole shebang. Our forecast for the next week shows projected temps of 105 to 109 for seven days straight…

The answer is yes, but it takes work. We don’t broadcast water anything, no sprinklers, just careful hand watering. We could probably do better with a drip system, but here, anyway, we have to move things from time to time, if they’re not thriving in any given micro-climate – Yes, moving from one small bed to another six feet away can make a difference, for a myriad of reasons.

Monica works her butt off to juggle all this; thank God she has the persistence, expertise and will to do it! Many folks I talk to here and elsewhere ask, “How do you guys still have stuff thriving? Ours has died, even though we watered.” The answer is soil, soil and more soil – We’ve brought literally tons of it to our growing spaces. The so-called ‘top soil’ we had here when we moved in was maybe an inch deep and crap quality. M has built up fantastic beds, tailored to what they grow, (i.e., the chile beds have more lava sand, etc). She also rotates beds, allowing one to lie fallow, in a miniature version of smart farming. One of the larger beds is covered with compost and growing nothing, recovering its potency for the next season.

Here you can see the fallow bed, which is actually about 8′ x 6′ – The cukes have over run it somewhat, but the bed is covered in compost and then she’s stored her spare pots on top of that.

So far, herbs are hanging in there. The cilantro has gone to seed and died, which is fine – We let it do so, then cut the dried stuff and separate the coriander seeds from the chaff. We’ll save some seeds for replanting, (Almost not necessary, as this stuff will come back given a fraction of a chance), and bottling the rest for use. We’ll most dry these, but some will go into infused oils and vinegars as well.

Other than that, we’re moving our herb and spice preserving up in the calendar, rather than letting anything else die. Meal planning and prep shifts a bit also, to take advantage of the soft-stemmed herbs that just don’t dry all that well, Parsley, garlic chive, dill, etc. The Dill and Parsley went first, and although the dried version are a shadow of the real thing in potency and flavor, they still beat the pants off of 90% of what you find in stores, so dry them we do!

Here’s what things look like in general:

The chiles are pretty robust, as you can see – Constant watering causes a micro version of what happens in big fields, water pulling soil away from the plant bases, so she actively mounds them back up periodically.

This small bed held Tabasco chiles, beets and carrots, but the heat is simply too much for those crops. M has transplanted the chiles and abandoned the others, covering the bed with compost awaiting a (Hopefully) cooler fall.

Here are the transplanted Tabascos, much happier than they were, along side tomatoes. M chose varieties that bear small fruit, to allow for less water demand and less stress on the plants; they’re bearing steadily and holding up fine – so far, so good.

Mint is a beast – You don’t grow it, you subdue it… The basil likes this southern exposure under the house eaves and is thriving.

Umm, do ya think these cukes are happy, or what? Insane is more like it… We planted Armenian and Lemon cukes. Both have done, ah, fine, as the second pic confirms. Their water use proves to be just to high to justify, though, so we’ve picked them clean and will let them go fallow.

This beast, which M literally tripped over, shows what I mean – 24″ long, 5.5″ diameter, and 6.5 pound Armenian, with some lemons beside that. We’ve had beacoup salads, Tzatziki, and everything else we can think of, and of course, the neighbors are all supplied as well – Not as ubiquitous and zucchini, but durn close!

Forge on, stay cool, and pray for rain!

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