Jennifer Villegas planted her first garden at the beginning of the pandemic. She really dug in.
“This was a bid for me to retain a little bit of sanity,” she said.
Three people in her home are at high-risk for catching COVID-19, so the family is taking social distancing seriously. The garden started as something for Villegas to do with her grandparents. It became overwhelming for them, but Villegas found solace in the soil.
“The news has me down? Go get in the dirt. The kids are on my nerves? Go get in the dirt. If I’m sad because I’m sick of these four walls? Go get in the dirt,” she said. “There’s blue sky and there’s fresh air.”
Planting seeds, pulling weeds, watering. Villegas said it’s all cathartic in a time when she feels like she has very little control.
Then summer came.
Lubbock experienced a record heat wave this month. Temperatures climbed to over 100 degrees for 11 days in a row, tying for the second longest streak in the city’s history. The National Weather Service in Lubbock reports temperatures peaked on July 14 at 111 degrees. The streak broke on Sunday when it was only 96.
Villegas noticed her plants seemed parched early in the month.
“I started to notice that they were turning,” she said. “The leaves were curling, and that’s usually heat and water.”
But the extreme heat did them in.
“The squash were the first to go,” Villegas said. “I even had a squash, a little baby squash, growing. I was so sad when those plants left me.”
Villegas made a shade for her peppers, hoping they’d pull through. But they’re also scorched.
“I’m pretty sure my jalapeno plant is toast,” she said, able to laugh about it, but still a bit defeated. “I don’t think she’s going to make it.”
Vikram Baliga, a horticulturist at Texas Tech, has gotten a lot of questions recently as people have picked up gardening and landscaping to pass the many hours spent at home during the pandemic.
“Why are all of my plants on fire? Why is everything dead?” he joked, before saying that most people just want to know where to begin.
Baliga advised amateur gardeners to start small. Pick a project that can be done in an afternoon.
On the dry and hot South Plains, Baliga said peppers and squash usually fruit well. Tomatoes, a go-to garden staple for first-timers, don’t do well in heat over 95 degrees, he said. Tomato plants will grow well in the heat but won’t produce fruit.
Baliga said to water thoroughly, soaking the soil. Vegetables probably need to be watered daily, other plants less frequently. Pick a place where plants will get morning sun and afternoon shade.
Now’s the time to get fall plants ready. Baliga said start seeds inside now, transfer them outside by the end of August and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
“You get all of September and usually pretty much all of October where your plants will fruit,” Baliga said. “In general, we’re not going to see a freeze until we’re into November.”
Villegas is optimistic and will try again when the temperatures cool to the 70s and 80s typical for a Lubbock fall.
“I’m trying to put my mind at ease by thinking ‘Well, it’s OK.’ I’ve got this really great soil that I’ve started and I can just go ahead and start eyeballing and starting some seedlings inside in this nasty heat for some fall crops.”