Garden Lifestyle

Summertime Musings

Summer is officially here and so is the heat. Here's what is going on in my neighborhood Maryland garden... and some gardens down south... happy July and keep on gardening!

Here is one of my favorite garden spots. I am glad I took this photo just a few days ago, since after last night's storm and having a tree fall on it, this garden does not look the same! Click on other pix to read captions and enlarge.
Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger

Woowee, it is 96 degrees in the shade here and has been the past few days–which is real hot–reaching over 100 degrees F in the city. We have been fairly dry and in need of rain. The past two weeks, we pulled/dug our allium plants: garlic, onions and shallots, which is a couple of weeks earlier than usual. We’ve been eating a lot of summer squash and cucumbers already; I harvest them when they are small and tender. When it is this hot, plants like the big zucchinis and the wild jewelweed wilt around noon and appear to be dying, then begin to look normal again after dusk.

I’ve been filling the birdbaths for the birds and wildlife–if I am parched–I know they must be. I work in the garden in the morning and then in the late afternoon/early evening. I wear a hat on my head so my brains don’t get fried; that is truly what it feels like if I am out midday in hot sun without a hat. Hydrating is most important, I drink water all day so I don’t get dehydrated. It can really knock you for a loop if you do–and make you feel dizzy or faint–so pay attention. Taking breaks in the shade is also essential.

Last night we had a storm blow through that took many of us by surprise in its ferocity. We had wind gusts that kept me jumping out of bed and lightning and pelting rain for hours. While I was glad to receive the precipitation, the cracking and crashing of trees just outside the house kept me awake most of the night. It was especially hot with all of the windows closed due to the deluge and we lost power just after dark. This morning we were fairly devastated when we went outdoors to inspect the damage.

We had more than a dozen big trees snap off and lose large limbs. They crashed onto a deck and sent table and chairs flying, broke off and turned over large potted plants and even whiskey barrels and totally wiped out my butterfly garden which was in full bloom with monardas and echinaceas. The vegetable garden had a number of huge sycamore limbs take out a number of tomato cages, crush quite a few of our chile pepper plants, and flattened two of our new scarecrows. The yard was literally and figuratively littered with branches, twigs and limbs of every size. If I picked up one branch today–I know I picked up hundreds!

We spent the entire day picking up and cleaning up. We chainsawed and dragged trees and limbs and sweated profusely–it truely was 96 degrees in the shade. First, we went for removing the trees and debris from the vegetable garden. We righted the tomato cages and pruned broken plants and then staked and tied up the pepper plants which were lying over sideways, bent and broken. After many hours of hard labor, the veg garden looked almost like it did before the storm… with a few less plants. Tomorow we will begin on the butterfly garden and chainsawing more downed trees. I think the worst part of the day was that with no electricity we had no water and felt pretty grimy, itchy and hot. We did get the generator going so that we could get water sporadically and keep the fridge and freezer from spoiling.

Which leads me to the subject of water; a most precious commodity. My friends down in Arkansas have had daytime temps between 100 and 108 degrees for the past week or more. And they haven’t had rain for almost a month! Some of my gardening cohorts have been working in the very early morning hours (I’m talking wee–like getting up at 3 or 4 a.m.) and after dusk with headlamps since it is just too darn hot to be out there in the middle of the day. Plants are dying due to the heat and lack of water.

When I visited there last month, I went to see longtime friends and gardeners Marion and Michael in Fox, Arkansas. They recently invested in two, 1000-gallon water tanks to capture rainwater so they can water their gardens. They have a yardfull of raised garden beds, a terraced garden, and this year they added a strawbale garden (more on that below). Michael built a studio up above the house with a peaked roof with rain gutters. He placed one of the tanks near the building and connected the rain gutters to the big tank. Then he ran hoses downhill to the gardens and created a gravity-fed watering system. When you turn on the hose valve, water gushes full force since it is running downhill. It is such a simple and easy thing to do–and works wonderfully–as long as it rains enough to fill up the tanks. I am hoping that they get some long-awaited rain real soon.

Back to the strawbale garden, another clever and simple way to grow veggies. Since it is so hot there, they positioned this garden in the shade. It is under tall trees and the tomatoes and zucchini and pepper plants are thriving. They arranged the straw bales, with their twine still intact, around the perimeter of the space so they are the walls. They left walkways so it could be easily reached and tended. The strawbales placed in the middle of the outer strawbale walls had their twine snipped so it was a little looser and not held tight in the middle where the plants were to go. They just reached down into the loosened straw to make a space for the root balls of the plants and placed them into the straw. Then they watered the transplants with their gravity-fed rainwater and watched them take-off and grow. The bales are at a height which allows easy access since you can sit right on them. It is virtually weed free. I love their creative and sustainable, back-to-the land gardening techniques and the simplicity of working with mother nature.

We gardeners live and work with mother nature daily. We do the best we can when there is a drought, hailstorms, wildlife and insect and infestation, devastating winds and weather. If we suffer a setback, we just get out there and do the best we can to fix it. We rejoice when we feel, dig and till our garden earth, sow seeds and transplant seedlings, when it rains, when we watch the pollinators do their dance, when we smell the earth, herbs and flowers, as we watch our gardens grow and plants mature, and when we harvest our homegrown vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruits. There is nothing more rewarding and that is why we do what we do–come rain or shine.



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