Cool Summer

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.

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