Hometown Gardener

Paul and Nila Dowlearn-Owners of Wichita Valley Nursery.  Paul’s recent books, “The Lazy Man’s Garden” and “Touch the Earth” are available at the Nursery, 5314 S.W. Pkwy, Wichita Fall, Texas.

Father’s Day, summer solstice, and it is raining. What a remarkable sequence of events. Am I happy?... You betcha!

The rain came across the Red River around 4 AM. I heard the thunder. I awoke again at 5:30 AM and noticed lightning almost constant in my bedroom windows that face north and east. Something big was coming!

Went outside at dawn and could see we had wet ground. I could hear thunder again. The storms were tracking just east of our house. Wichita Falls and our nursery were getting good rain while it just sprinkled at the house. That’s OK with me. The Rainmaker abides in Texoma once again. It can’t rain anywhere in these parts without hitting some of my landscapes and houses of our clients.

Summer solstice marks the longest daylight hours of the year. As the tilt of our Earth moves the highest concentration of sunlight to the most northern point we experience spring and the awakening. From today forward the tilt brings less and less sunlight to us and on this second pass we are already warmed up so we begin summer. The heat. A good rain and cooler temps is a mighty fine way to begin that season. Don’t you agree?...

My father, Leonard Paul Dowlearn always wanted a yellow rose. After a couple of failed attempts he finally got one to take off the front corner of the house. I sold that house this winter and have since regretted I did not take a cutting from that rose. The new owner has drastically cut back all the shrubs and is planning on leasing the house. I was shocked but elated to see my dad’s yellow rose was growing back. I suppose I will have to stop and beg a cutting or three from the new owner one day soon. That’s my plan anyway. Since I don’t know the real name of that rose I will call it “Sonny” which was my dad’s nickname from his siblings.

For myself I was planning on digging my first round of potatoes. Our son P.J. (aka “The Bootch”) is home with us again. We dug one nice 65 gallon pot at the nursery yesterday. That yielded over 5 lbs. of average to baking size potatoes. Very good! I have several potato patches out here at the house I’ll dig when the rain passes. This is the latest in June I have ever started digging them. Usually by the first week of June the potatoes are drying up and their tubers have reached maximum size. I like baking sized potatoes. We eat lots of potatoes at our house.

My advice to vegetable gardeners has always been to grow what you eat the most of. Experimenting with new veggies and spices is plenty fun and adds to the diversity at the table. However, in our case, potatoes are a staple so I cannot grow too many. On a good year my patches can carry us all the way through summer without having to buy any. There have been years when the harvest was meager. That is true of all agriculture.

I have discovered over the years that potatoes (and onions) will keep well if left in the ground as long as it is not given extra irrigation. Dry summers are normal around here. I do have some problems with rots and critters boring into my spuds during wetter summers. However, this is much easier than storing them in the house. Not enough room in the veggie bin of the fridge for lots of potatoes and extra space for fresh peppers, squash, etc. They don’t call me the “Lazy Man” for nothin’.

In Nature, potatoes (and onions) go dormant and remain in the ground as a storage unit for regrowth when the weather cools and fall rain begins. I often get a second harvest before first frost which sends them below ground again for the winter season. After all, when we buy new potatoes to plant next year they are in a dormant phase. We plant in January through early March even though we don’t expect to see top growth until spring arrives. Summer is just another dormant season. Mother Nature takes care of Her own.

Instead of harvesting all and planting new crops seasonally as our “normal” gardening culture dictates I looked to Nature and learned from it. This has paid dividends and saved time and money in the long run. When I dig I always put the smaller spuds back in the ground to grow in the fall provided the weather cooperates. If I find a store-bought potato making green shoots, I will take it to the ‘tater patch regardless of the time of year. All perennial plants store energy in roots, bulbs, and tubers to endure when the soil is too cold or too hot. Why would a plant called potato (or onion) be any different than a daffodil or a daisy? Think on it…

P.J. and I will spend the afternoon cooking in the back yard. We’ll call Grandpa and Uncle Dave and wish them a happy Father’s Day. The only thing missing today is Nila. She is on the mend now and hopefully she’ll be home soon. I hope all you fathers out there are doing something similar. Enjoy this day!!

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