Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Dog Days of Summer

The Dog Days of Summer...... around here, that means that the dog's inside, stretched out on the cool tile floor, basking in the chilled and dehumidified air, and we humans are outside on the porch, watching the weather.
It's hot.
It's so hot the hummingbirds are panting.....  I'm not kidding!

We were sitting on the porch the other day and a little hummer landed on the string of party lights right over my head, and he was panting! It's kinda sad to see a little guy like that with his little beak open and breathing so hard.
The hummingbirds love these flowers

As to why we were sitting on the porch in that heat.... well, we do wonder ourselves sometimes. Porch time, as we call it, is a good time to track the progress of the seedlings and succulent cuttings we are starting for future landscaping purposes. And, when you've been working out in it, in the garden or whatever, sitting in the shade of the porch, sipping something cold, watching the birds and admiring the puffy clouds and the graceful mesquite trees, it seems pretty comfortable. So it's all relative I guess. We often repeat a line from one of Jason Boland's songs..... "I guess it finally rained, it's down to 85".....  [Comal County Blue] It did cloud up and sprinkle a bit the other day and sure enough, it did cool down to 85. We just won't mention how humid it was!

As I write, at 7 AM, it's 78 degrees, with 88% humidity. It's actually the humidity that's keeping things as green as they are. It's also benefited the flowers. In the photo, Shiner looks like she's admiring the back porch flower bed... she's actually waiting for a lizard to appear so she can chase it... it's one of her favorite entertainments. I'm not sure the lizards look at it the same way.

We actually are in serious drought as is most of the southwest. The drought has meant water is becoming a critical issue. It has been in some areas for quite some time. Folks who own "lakeside" property have enjoyed canyon (rather than water) views for several years. We just got our "modified stage 3" water notice, a small step back from the stage 4 we had received earlier in the week, meaning the garden can only be watered once a week. That doesn't work well when the days top 100 degrees.

The drought situation has inspired Steve to begin work on the rain capture system he'd been planning for awhile, starting with a gray water system. That way, if we are careful, we should be able to meet the 40% reduction the aquifer management folks are hoping for. The first step was an expansion of the RV carport.

Not only does this expanded roof provide additional parking area (and hail protection) for vehicles and equipment, but the roof will collect rainwater that will flow into large tanks. The collection system is situated on the highest point on the property, so gravity takes care of getting the water out! He has tanks ordered, and as soon as they are delivered he'll start putting everything in place so we'll be ready for the first fall rains.

Most of the garden and potted things have held up pretty well, but after a month of the triple digit weather, even with our careful watering with recycled water they are beginning to turn up their toes. 'Must be time to start getting the fall garden in, as soon as things cool off by a few degrees.

Watching the weather is not only interesting, it's important in this land of boisterous thunderstorms and gulf hurricanes. Our own weather station is now online, so we can check conditions at the house no matter where we are when we are traveling.

If you follow the link above, you'll go to Weather Underground. On the left, near the top, you'll see the text I've copied below. If you don't see "Oak Meadows" under the City and time stamp, click the little down arrow you see right after "change station" and select Oak Meadows from the list. That will be set as your station every time you come back unless you change it again.
   San Marcos, TX 
    7:43 AM CDT on August 29, 2014 (GMT -0500)
    Oak Meadows | Change Station 

The summer weather has meant pacing the activities - garden and other outdoor work early, then inside to plan future projects, sew, cook, etc. Jax hasn't even been into his sand pile much, as by the time he gets here it's too hot to be out there, but we've found plenty of other activities to keep busy with.

Jax has his very own little shovel, farm hat, and wagon, and he has put them to good use, helping to sift compost (early, when it's still cool) and with other gardening chores, and there are always craft and cooking activities in the kitchen.

The Armenian cucumbers produced like crazy, so Jax helped layer them in a gallon jar with dill seed and other seasoning to make his favorite snack, dill pickles. Jax has helped harvest food from the garden too. Cherry tomatoes are his favorite... he doesn't eat them, he just likes to pick them!

We've canned a lot of black-eyed peas and other vegetables too.  We aren't usually home in the summer, and Steve's favorite black-eyed peas take a long time to grow, so we took advantage of being home this summer to grow a few, and we managed to duplicate what he remembers his grandmother canning. It took a bit of experimenting, but we did it! We also have a pretty good okra crop going. Those plants love this kind of weather!

It's been a pretty productive garden in spite of all the harassment from the insect world.
It's amazing how much damage one large caterpillar can do in one night, and we have a weird looking leaf-footed bug (so-called because of their wide flat leg and foot) that can suck the life out of a squash in minutes. The wide variety of insects has provided lots of entertainment for Jax, and an opportunity to try out all sorts of inspecting tools.

He's not brave enough to touch the insects yet, but this way he can get a good look from a distance.

The circus was in town just in time for Kendra's birthday, so we all braved the heat and headed up to Austin. What a fun day!
Jax was a bit overwhelmed of course, and Raylan doesn't have a clue what's going on yet, but we all had a good time.

It had been years since any of us had been to a circus, and the Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey is classic. They even had a lady shot out of a cannon! I'm surprised OSHA hasn't shut that down!

We haven't done much special training with Shiner lately, as she's not too lively in the heat, but we did get her hitched up the other day for a little bit of draft work. . . hauling her namesake beer!
 It's hard to believe that the fall season is already here, and just when we were getting used to being hot all the time! The forecast looks like it will begin cooling off a degree or two each week, which we all will appreciate, and it also signals the plants to start winding down.

For wildlife in the area, one of the important fall crops is the mesquite beans. They grow long, and slightly curved, and the clusters hang from the tree branches like Spanish moss. In the afternoon breeze they wave gently and the overall effect is rather graceful, much like a weeping willow. They are starting to fall now as they ripen, and the wildlife will enjoy them as food. They're rather sweet and spicy, like spiced honey, and very high in protein. 

This spring was an amazing year for cactus flowers, and the resulting fruits are just now ripening. These also provide a lot of food for wildlife.

Driving in to town, both sides of the road are lined with garnet colored fruits. Since they are so prolific this year, it seems like a good time to make a bit of syrup or jelly, so Jax will probably get in on that project too. The few I've collected so far are pretty sweet, so it would be a shame not to do something with them.

According to Steve the best thing about fall is......

We won't be attending any Duck games in person this year, but we'll catch 'em on the tube. 'Nothing wrong with a living room tailgate party! The first game is this evening. GO DUCKS!

More and bigger pictures are available in the album.