August, the cruelest month

August in Texas…what a month. Spring was rainy, and the early summer was cool by Texas standards. Now it’s August. It is hitting 100 most every afternoon. The awful heat affects everything on the farm, whether animal, plant, or farmer. Right now, I structure my days to avoid the heat and hang on until cooler weather comes.

The late winter and spring were much wetter than usual. I made a beautiful crop of annual forages, mostly sudangrass and pearl millet. We watched a King Kong movie and joked about how the sudangrass field might be hiding a giant monster ape. The cows got twice the grazing time out of the annuals as I expected. I entered August with the Bermuda grass knee-deep in places. I will be able to keep the cows on the Bermuda until at least the beginning of September. By that time, I hope the sudangrass will have regrown. It is not growing back at the same rate it grew at first, but it is growing. I could use some rain to perk it up.

Garden plants have the same pattern as the forages. Things grew like crazy early, the corn got eight or nine feet tall, and the pumpkins ran vines all over the place. Some of the pumpkin vines had leaves that poked up waist-high, which is impressive for a vine growing along the ground. Everything was thick and lush and green. Then came August. The corn is turning brown, and the pumpkin vines are dying back. The sweet potatoes wilt every afternoon.

The only plant that is doing well in the heat is the okra. The problem with that is….okra. I like okra best when it’s fried so long that it no longer tastes like okra. Extra crispy fried okra is good, but I can’t eat fried food at every meal. Why did I plant the stuff? My wife and two of my sons like pickled okra. The bad news is that they like store-bought pickled okra. My home-made pickles aren’t cutting it for them. But, hey, at least something is growing in the heat.

My pasture grass is not growing in the heat. The Bermuda is still green in the places where it got so tall. I can see that the part closest to the ground is no longer green. That means the roots are going dormant. Once the cows have harvested the tops, the Bermuda won’t grow any more this year. I also have a lot of acres still ungrazed covered with old-world bluestem (OWB). The OWB has faded fast in the last few weeks. OWB hates hot, dry weather. It will green up if we get some rain, though. The bluestem is what I will use as forage later in the fall when the Bermuda and the annuals are all eaten up. The forage quality is low, but it will fill bellies.

The animals are faring a little better. The cows lay up in the shade during the hottest parts of the day. If I go out in the afternoon, I can always find them under the trees in their pasture. In some fields, they have another option as well: going amphibious. Here is a photo of one of the cows cooling off. My stock ponds are not sparkling clear swimming pools, but they do the trick for a hot cow.

The pigs are following the same pattern as the cows. They have a shady barn to rest in during the day. I make sure to wet down the barn floor every couple of days so they can get a little more cooling as well. The soil on my place is not much better than sand, so it is hard to make a good hog wallow. It won’t hold water for any length of time in this heat. Wetting it down gives the pigs some relief, and they will be able to make it through. At least I don’t have to worry about how to keep my upcoming litter of piglets warm. August will take care of that for me.

Schedules also change during this heat. The cows graze morning and evening. The pigs only come out at night right now. I am working the same hours. My garden is in two sections. One section has morning shade, and the other has evening shade. I can usually work in the shady patch, and I try my best to avoid working in the extreme heat of the afternoons. I also watch myself for signs of heat stress. The first one for me is always a feeling of exertion. When doing an easy job like walking fence starts to make me get out of breath, I know it’s time to go inside. A refreshing drink and some air conditioning are the best things to recover and cool off. That’s the pattern for August. The only real break that we might get this month is a hurricane. I know those awful storms are hard on folks who live on the coast, and I don’t wish them ill. For me, hurricanes bring rain, clouds, and a break from the heat.

My favorite activity in the August heat is dreaming about the fall. I will start overseeding pastures with cool-season crops sometime in September. I need to get my seeds ordered and ready to go. I will try to time the planting to coincide with significant rain. In good years, the rain brings the cool-season plants up and going in mid-September, then extra rain to carries the farm through to the spring. Some years we don’t get it, and the seeds wait. The worst year there we got just enough rain in September to bring up the plants. The rain stopped and the mercury hit 100 for about a week in October. The little plants burned up, and I wound up spending money on hay for the winter anyway.

A poet said that April is the cruelest month, but that’s not true in Texas. April brings bluebonnets and rain and San Jacinto Day. August is the cruelest month in Texas with monotonous heat and no rainfall.

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