YOUR 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.

So, out with the old and in with the new… As far as agriculture is concerned, 2019 was a very good year. While our neighbors up north were drowning in rain. we wound up with one of the better springs we’ve had in a long time. This setup actually began last winter about this same time. The Rainmaker blessed us with above average rainfall.

With all that winter moisture in place, spring started off wet and mild then stayed wet and mild through June. All gardening endeavors saw good success rates. Especially vegetable gardening. We enjoyed a nice long run in what I call the “sweet spot” (daytime high temps between 80 and 95(f). Veteran gardeners and novices alike raked in tons of warm season veg.

Not to be intentionally negative but I found myself reminding some of those beginners that things are not always this easy in Texoma. For sure, the super duper fertilizers they were using likely did help boost the yields, but the real deal was in fact, the weather itself. I managed my best potato harvest ever just using compost and mulch. Can we expect another wet and mild spring again this year? Who knows?… I’m gonna say maybe.

Summer came and things did dry out as we expect. However, we did not see those relentless 105 to 110(f) daytime highs for weeks on end. Again, I attribute this to having had all that wonderful rain the first half of 2019. We saw an increase in afternoon t’storms in late August and it looked as if we were headed into a nice fall season. Alas, some planted their wheat early, but it turned hot and dry again in mid-September. That attempt did not work out.

October began with some record-breaking cold air with perhaps one of the earliest hard freezes ever. Some of our more pessimistic gardeners began predicting a long cold winter ahead. However, most local wheat farmers went ahead and planted late and that attempt did work although the crop is still rather puny. I long to see those herds of yearlings out on the wheat fields. Not yet...

Despite the earlier pessimism, we ended this year with a nice stretch of mild temps. Last week’s rain was right on time with healthy amounts for all in Texoma. Perfect! The long-range prediction for winter 2020 is for the mild temperatures to hold at least through January into February. OK by me…

Christmas day was nice and warm, so I did a walk on the south side of our small acreage. I took my trusty long handled shovel and a full pocket of pecans and some bur oak acorns. I’d punch a small hole and drop the nuts then cover and step on it. Couldn’t help thinking how so many folks think tree planting is hard work. This was too easy for them. They don’t call me “The Lazy Man” for nothin’.

If the nuts sprout and the rain falls right, I may not ever be obliged to irrigate them. I have changed my tactics on this over the years. Instead of planting where I might want the tree, I was looking for low spots where the water would collect after a rain. This was easy enough to spot checking the lay of the land. It just so happens that fallen leaves would tend to collect in those same spots. Food for the tree!

I recall I once had several nice pecan trees out front that shaded my west facing picture window. I mulched and irrigated these trees for near 30 years. Then the 2011 drought started their decline. By 2013 they were all dead. All that effort resulted in some nice firewood. Meanwhile I had observed many times that native stands of pecan trees are found in flood plains and low places as opposed to higher ground. It matters not to me at this point whether I get much needed shade on the house. What matters most now is the tree may get in that good spot and live beyond my lifetime without my help. I still have some Eve’s necklace (sophora affinis), some native mesquite and western soapberry (sapindus saponaria var. Drummondi) plus one cedar elm (ulmus crassifolia) that survived the drought out front where the pecans were.

There is an old saying, “You can only grow what the land will allow.” Many if not most of the failures we see in home landscaping stem (pun intended) from the fact that we are growing what we want instead of what Nature provides. Hard lesson, but I am now a believer.

Science is based on mathematics and averages. So, I once averaged out our yearly average rainfall and found that it comes to about ½” per week or a bit over 2” per month. If that happened, we would likely stay green all year. Timely rain actually matters more than amounts. Instead the reality is we cycle between flood and drought. Too much or too little. 2019 was definitely above average rainfall but there were still those pesky dry spells. Hope you put up some of last year’s produce… Just in case. Still picking up pecans. Thank God for modern day freezers.

January is typically a slow month regardless of what business you are in but a great time for shopping. Onions and ‘taters will be in soon. Enjoy this warm spell. Happy New Year to us all!

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