We have entered those dog-days of summer. In South Texas the people of the land call it La Canicula. Old timers used to say it was the time when the land was poisoned. Nothing would grow. The grass withers and turns brown. During the day the heat reaches temperatures that are almost impossible to endure. Like the deer and javelina, the coyotes and jaguarundi, the people stay in the shade during the day and venture out only near sunset often working into the night—always careful, of course, to watch for rattlesnakes. We’ve not had too many encounters with rattlers this summer. I walked up on a four foot rattlesnake the other evening as I was entering my work shed. We get careless sometimes. I had my mind on other things and had the snake not buzzed and raised its head to strike I would’ve probably stepped on it. We were feeding the dogs the other day and they were acting skittish and then we heard the distinctive buzzing a few feet away. This time it was a big six-footer coiled under a bush at the edge of the back porch. But having lived my life in the Brushlands I am as used to rattlesnakes as any city dweller is to fire hydrants and honking horns.
Our watermelons are looking good as are the cantaloupe. We keep them watered and growing in partial shade otherwise they’ll die on the vine in short order. But the real joy for me is watching my bottle gourds grow because this year I plan to make not only bird houses but cups and bowls and a coffee maker too. I’ve written about my gourds before. Growing conditions in Deep South Texas are not like what you’ll read about on other Internet sources. Most people advise you to grow gourds in full sun and for the most part to just leave them alone. I tried that years ago and found that what may serve folks well in other areas spells disaster where mid-day summer heat can reach as high as 110 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact last week we were under a heat advisory and when I checked the thermometer on the front porch it read 108°.
So I grow my gourds in the shade and make sure they’re watered at least three times a week. I placed an old step ladder in one area to allow the vines to climb and a discarded bed spring in another area for the same purpose. The vines climbed the ladder and old springs and then crawled into the mesquite trees where in a few weeks they enveloped the trees adding even more shade to the ground. The large, ultra-green leaves provide a deep shade to our “front yard” and that brings in scores of birds where we have watering stations and grain feeders. Surrounding the trees is a dense belt of granjeno/brasil woods called “motts” in these parts. So the birds have a protective zone that predators do not enter. Our bobwhite quail have been abundant this year, at least around the house. We don’t shoot anything because the birds are part of our family. City folks drop by now and then and the first thing they want to do is kill something. “Can I come over here next quail season and shoot?” they’ll ask. I’m tempted to reach into my wallet and give them twenty bucks and then say, “Go buy a few chickens at the grocery store. These quail aren’t for sale.” A fellow was telling me that on a nearby ranch the owners raise quail in long pens where they are fed and cared for. The pens are only a few feet high so when the quail flush they can’t go very high but instead must fly away at a height of about ten feet and straight away. So then when quail season arrives they release these pen-raised quail and the dudes from town show up with their scatterguns and then go “quail hunting.” When they flush a covey the quail (trained to fly no more than ten feet high and always in a straight line) do as they have been taught and the “hunters” shoot (hopefully it won’t be some moron who shoots his hunting partner in the face; but we won’t go into that here)…and then the quail fall and a dog retrieves them and everybody is happy. But enough of that lest I get too carried away with how hunting has lost its honor in too many places and has become nothing more than business.
When my gourds are ready and the stems start to turn brown I’ll pick them and wash them in a mild bleach solution and then allow them to dry in a cool and well ventilated area. Then in a few months I’m going to make bowls and cups and a coffee maker and some bird houses. I’ll show those of you who are into woods craft (bushcraft) how to make a coffee maker from a bottle gourd. We’ll share a cup of java.