Beans, Okra Fight the Texas Heat

By Carol Ann Sayle
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Photo by Carol Ann Sayle

Larry said, "Just don't look at 'em!" But gazing out the kitchen door, I could see them anyway. The newest crop of haricot vert green beans, leaves dark in the hot sun. The darkness preceding death, perhaps. They'd had irrigation water, but what can stand out in the middle of the field and take this horridly hot afternoon sun? Not much.

Near evening, 95 degrees, I ventured out to turn water off of some crops and on for some crops, but I couldn't bring myself to look at the beans. Seeing the young okra, with its limbs hanging straight down, and its leaves shading its stalks was enough of a downer. Tomorrow, I promised the okra--which apparently had gone deaf with the heat, for it made no reply--tomorrow you'll get the water, and a nice straw mulch. To the eye, however, even with those remedies, tomorrow afternoon the okra will look just as sad.

Although the okra and the other crops look ravaged in this record-breaking-June heat, each morning tells the real story.

Water has to be rationed here. Our shallow bottom-land well is able to dole out moisture to only a tenth of the crops each day. Then through the night the well pump keeps working, transferring water from the aquifer to the rain-water tank where we bank it for use the next day. The tank holds 2,500 gallons of water, and that and the results of the day's continuing slow recharge is all we have for the crops' daily thirst.

Although the okra and the other crops look ravaged in this record-breaking-June heat (100 to 107 degrees daily the past few weeks and no rain for the last two months), each morning tells the real story. If the plants are desperate for water, dying even, their leaves will still be touching the ground, but if there is any ground water, it will rise during the night, and the roots, then the stems, will take it up and transport it through the leaves (plumping them upward in the process) and unfortunately transpire it into the atmosphere. This is the natural cycle of course, and the atmosphere is supposed to reciprocate by returning moisture to the soil through rain...

Somehow that part of the bargain is withheld. It seems it will be "afternoon" for months now... And to my moaning, Larry replies, "We may as well look towards fall." Always optimistic about the future, he's sure we'll get rain then.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/06/beans-okra-fight-the-texas-heat/20296/