Archive for August 2010

Summer Fruit

August 22, 2010

July through September in the city is rotting fruit season. While the heat exacerbates the foul city smells of the alleys and underpasses downtown, it elevates the  the sharp sweet scent of cherries, plums and finally apples crushed against the concrete sidewalks and asphalt streets. When August is really hot the tang of fermentation rides desultory evening breezes.

Birds and animals play with the fruit, nibbling off bits, but leave the bulk of it to fall to the ground to mold in the shade or metamorphose to hard desiccated lumps in the sun.

One day after I returned from a walk with the dog, sticky fruit pulp smeared on my shoes and my hand slobbbered from pulling a rotting piece of fruit from the dog’s mouth, I took a stroll around the yard searching for native fruit.

The oregon grape, covered with clusters of blue-black fruit just a few weeks ago, had been picked clean. Using a small branch shed by the cherry tree during the last wind storm, I pushed back the lower branches of the prickly leaved plant to be sure. The ground was barren of fruit.

The serviceberry in the back was similarly bereft of fruit on the branches and the ground beneath. Poking through the thick mat of woodland strawberries beneath the cherry tree I discovered bits of dried out cherry but not one sign of a strawberry.

The only native plant with fruit is the snowberry. Those white orbs are new and will remain until deep in the winter when they will be eaten once all the other berries are gone. The huckleberries have yet to flower being one of the harvest time fruits.

If you want to consume native fruit, you need to pick the berries as soon as they ripen. Non-natives are easier. It’s not that the wildlife doesn’t eat other fruit but at least in my yard they go for the native stuff first. This summer I was able to harvest and eat all the blueberries on the bush I planted last summer. I never did manage to get a ripe serviceberry for myself.

Throughout the neighborhood garden beds sprout all manner of netting. Apples and pears wear little socks. People construct all manner of fence and barrier to guard their produce from animals. It seems so much simpler to provide them with native food of their own. Maybe someday the pea patches will be surrounded by hedgerows instead of barriers.


Cool Summer

August 8, 2010

Last summer at this time I was writing the Crispy reports. The days were scorching by any standard, the nights still sticky and uncomfortable. It was a repeat of the summer before and by mid-July the garden dirt was hard, the edges of leaves brown and curling.

In contrast, today I wore a sweatshirt to walk the dog in the early morning. Now it’s early afternoon and a blanket of grey, half fog, half cloud muffles the sound of the Blue Angels flying off to the southeast. The weather report is for rain.

Despite its reputation in other parts of the country for unceasing rain, the Pacific Northwest is typically dry the later part of the summer. It may be gloomy, it may even feel like rain, but if you go to bed counting on an overnight rain to water your garden you are likely to wake to thirsty plants.

Over the past few years there has been a surge in interest in urban farming. It’s been blamed on the economy. I doubt there would be the same fervor had the past few summers had more typical weather. The unseasonable sun and heat favored so many of the agricultural imports. This year stalls at the Farmer’s markets have fewer tables, some farmers didn’t show up until mid-summer. There are more beets, fewer haricots verts and strawberries.

My own yard tells a similar story. The honeybees produced almost no honey early in the season. Like so many hives in the city they swarmed instead. Only now that there have been some sunny afternoons are they producing. The strawberry pot yielded only enough fruit for the dog and I to have a small appetizer before breakfast after a walk one morning. In the vegetable beds, only the hardy greens are doing really well.

The native plants tell a different story. The serviceberry bore more fruit this year than any other. Birds still pick through the tangle of native strawberry, ignoring the cherries above for the tiny red fruits hidden beneath serrated leaves below.  On the zoo grounds rich balls of berries on the Oregon Grape are mistaken for blueberries by children. At the ends of the native rose branches, hips are already forming and the snowberry continues to produce a constant supply of nectar flowers for the hummingbirds and bees.

While the early vegetables and fruits suffered, the perennials which come in later are doing better this year. Without the early drought and heat we experienced last summer flowers are coming in more lushly. Since I don’t do supplemental water until is is really necessary those blooms suffered last summer. This summer the shasta daisies are as tall as I am. Newly planted dahlias and gladiolas produced spectacular large flowers on healthy green plants.

Year after year, no matter which type of summer we have, I can count on the native plants to thrive with minimal support.