July was quite an interesting month for us, and with the mild temperatures, made for great garden progress. The field benefited as well, with many grasses starting to go to seed, while some cooler-season plants continued to flower into the month. The rains have tempered off though, and a La Nina watch has been issued for the upcoming winter.
A La Nina for Texas typically means it will be warmer and drier going into the winter. Last winter (2020), we went into moderate/severe drought for our region. (You can see/compare two time frames by going to the Drought Monitor Website) The cooler season grasses struggled to grow, leading into a dry spring and low grass growth. As such, if you’re thinking of preparing for drought, now is a great time to search for deals and stock up on some hay. It’s also a good time still to set aside some pasture for the fall and winter for grazing. We have two target areas that will be used to feed going into the winter; and a third potential area. Overall, the sheep have not yet completed a second round of grazing in the field due to the high growth from the spring rains.
Sheep having a good time
This summer has turned out to be very mild for the region, very few days over 100F and most being in the upper 90s. The heavy rainfall has led the east side of the field to be quite weedy as seen below. The sheep, being rotated around, haven’t yet eaten it all down. There are some things they also tend not to like, so at the end of the day we’re helping to keep the weeds short by chopping down the tall curlycup and other less-desirable weeds. We leave it on the ground to decompose and add to the soil overtime.
Meanwhile on the west side of the field, it looks great and has a nice selection of grasses and forbs. The difference between the two is stark. When grasses and other perennials begin to dominate, it will help keep down on the less-desirable weeds; as you move across the field you can spot small patches of grass here and there in the east side, the beginnings of the next step in succession.
Though the sheep are generalists, there are some things they don’t like to eat. Below is Megingjord, one of our ram lambs (ewe lamb now on deposit-hold), the plant on him left is likely horseweed, one of several described species. The sheep tend to avoid it, not sure why but it is unpalatable to them. Also in the picture is silver nightshade, behind him, which is now putting out fruits/seed. The sheep don’t like it much either, but with the abundance of other things, are leaving both alone.
Meanwhile, it’s the end of summer almost and Komuji still hasn’t shed her last fur. It’s not held on tight and can be pulled off, but she won’t sit still long enough to help her. Barbados Blackbelly shed their fur, but sometimes like this will have residual fur stuck on them. You’ll see them in the spring rubbing their backs and sides to rid themselves of the shedding fur too. If they have a favorite spot, watch out cause they can weaken fences over time with the continuous rubbing.
Garden rotating to the fall
The garden has not left summer; the sesame plants are now putting out various pods and side branches. We planted them farther apart than last year (12 inches 2020 vs 24 inches 2021) in order to see how many side branches it would put out. Sesame doesn’t like being crowded and seems to be able to detect the presence of other sesame plants in the vicinity. Plants will do this sometimes to outgrow each other or even to leave space for one another. Closer spacing we found led to fewer pods per plant; while wider spacing seems to promote side branches. The ideal sweet spot would be close enough to get the maximum number of plants and wide enough to get the maximum number of pods.
The sorghum has moved beyond the sugar-syrup phase and into the grain maturation. We aim to keep the seeds of the biggest heads, while feeding the rest to the sheep. On average the sorghum grew between 6 ft – 8 ft tall, quite impressive. We haven’t watered them much since spring, so it has been growing well on its own. The seed spacing this year was 18 inches apart between plants and rows.
I had hoped the okra would stop growing when we decided to let half go to seed, but that was back in early July. It is still growing and hasn’t shown signs of finishing for most of the plants. A couple are in the die-down phase, but everyone else seems to want to keep chugging along. The other half of okra is still being harvested. I gave up counting how many pounds of okra we have gotten from the garden, but 18 plants seems to be more than suffice for two people. For the fall garden, planting begins in earnest in August. Winter squash, potatoes, Chinese cabbage, and rutabagas will be planted soon followed up by carrots and spinach as well as peas once temperatures cool slightly. Have a safe August and enjoy the rest of the summer!