The Weather Game
From wild winds and unexpected hail to the blistering heat (my God, the heat!), summers are no joke here in Southern New Mexico—and it can wreak havoc on your carefully tended garden. Mesilla farmer Leslie Clayshulte shares his best tips for beating Mother Nature at her own game.
Watch for the Wilt
While we love the more than 300 days of sunshine our beautiful region offers, the heat can get to the best of us—and our plants are no exception. Watch your garden for wilting; that’s your primary indicator of heat stress. “Excess heat will draw the moisture out of your plants,” Leslie explains. “Vegetables, fruit trees, flowers, whatever you’re raising—if they are going through periods of stress, that’s going to affect the quality and quantity of your harvest. Higher temperatures are going to require more frequent watering.”
But beware of overwatering! “Soil needs oxygen for the roots to grow, but if it becomes waterlogged, it pushes that oxygen away,” Leslie notes.
Here’s where it gets confusing. Wilting can also be a sign that your plants have too much of a good thing. So how do you tell the difference? Under watered plants will be drooping and dry, while overwatered ones will be soft and limp. Yellowing and browning are other good indicators your plants are drowning.
3 Ways to Water
From using ditches for flood irrigation to underground watering systems, the big farms in our valley use a variety of tried and true methods to keep their crops hydrated. “But when it comes to your average home gardener, most people just have a hose,” Leslie points out. Check out these three easy ways to give your garden a drink.
Sprinkler: Sprinklers are probably the most common and easiest way to water, just be cognizant of timing. “Try not to do your watering midday,” Leslie advises. “Do it in the early morning, no later than 10 am, or hold off until the evening. Sprinklers are going to have a very high evaporation rate when it’s hot and sunny. During the high heat of the day, there is going to be a big gap between the amount of water that leaves the sprinkler versus what actually hits the ground. The same is true when it’s really windy, so wait for those winds to die down.”
Drip Irrigation: You can buy a home drip irrigation kit at most local hardware stores. Most are fairly simple to set up and easily attach to an outdoor faucet or hose. The DIG Landscape Drip Watering Kit (shown here) is ideal for roses, shrubs, flowerbeds, and trees, and it covers up to 150 square feet (you can buy an expansion kit to up that to 400 square feet). The slow drip minimizes runoff and surface evaporation, making it ideal for water conservation, something we love in these parts.
Furrow Irrigation: More often than not, Leslie uses furrow irrigation for his plants. You’re probably familiar with the technique; it’s what you see driving past the cotton, chile, and other row crop fields all over the Mesilla Valley. But you don’t have to have acres of land to make this technique work for you. “No matter what size garden bed you are working with, just dig a little trench or ditch parallel to each side of your planting row,” Leslie says. “Use a good old garden hose and let the water run down the channel and submerge into the ground.”
When you’re working in the garden, cover up—especially when it seems to hot to do so. Leslie recommends protecting yourself with a wide-brimmed hat, long sleeves, and loose, cotton clothing that will allow perspiration to evaporate. And don’t forget to stay hydrated! You can even use your garden to make your drinks more enticing. Here are some of his favorite ways to add a bit of fresh-grown flavor to your refreshers.
Protect Numero Uno
Homemade Mint Tea
“I use a ½ gallon pitcher. Fill it about 1/3 full with hot, just shy of boiling water. Steep with 6 tea bags and a handful of fresh mint springs for 30 minutes. Fill the pitcher up the rest of the way with water and refrigerate until chilled.”
Peel a cucumber and cut it into chunks. Blend it on high until pureed, then add to a pitcher and fill with water. Squeeze in a lemon—“Cucumber and lemon go well together,” Leslie notes—stir it all together, and serve over ice. “Most places that serve cucumber water will just soak slices, but that doesn’t give you the full flavor effect,” he adds. “By pureeing the fruit or vegetable, you get the full impact. You can replicate this recipe with just about anything—pineapple, watermelon, pomegranate—whatever flavor you prefer.”
Lemon Verbena Water
This super simple thirst quencher takes almost zero time to make. Just fill a glass with ice, squeeze in half a lemon, and throw in a few verbena sprigs and even some mint if so desired. Fill up with water and enjoy.
Garden Gone to Hail?
The bad news: There’s not a whole lot you can do about hail. “Pray,” Leslie advises with a laugh. “It comes on unexpectedly, so there’s not much else you can do.”
The good news: In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t happen all that often in our region, and it rarely destroys the plant entirely. “I had tomatoes this year that were a couple feet high and blooming, and then that last hail storm chopped it all off,” Leslie says. “I lost the fruit, but it didn’t quite kill the plant. More often than not, a garden plant will be able to recover from hail damage. Just make sure you keep an eye on it and give it a little extra TLC.”