August 2, 2013

Long Summer Days

This has been an awful summer for New England gardeners.  It wouldn’t stop raining in June and three weeks of July were blisteringly hot and dry.  Much of what we first planted in our vegetable garden never germinated and the blooms of many of our perennials were dramatically truncated first by rain, then by heat.  Only the weeds flourished.
It has taken until now for some semblance of horticultural equilibrium to be restored.  Only a third of our first square of corn broke the earth’s surface but our second square has ripened nicely and the third is already tasseling.  Our green bean harvest was awful and our lettuce bolted too quickly (leaving us the humiliating necessity of making our July salads with store-bought lettuce) but our beets are luscious, our zucchini is firm and sweet, and hundreds of tomatoes are growing plump.  There will be chard until the first frost.
This is the inner and outer sidewalk beds as they
looked on August 1.  Double-click for a full-screen image.
Around our home, the Orienpet and rubrum lilies as well as the rudbeckia and helleniums have exploded.  The clethra shrubs are heavy with their bottle-brush flowers and the phlox stands tall and proud.  White and purple Stoke’s asters and yellow coreopsis and corydalis are spreading into every empty space.  The hydrangeas are voluptuous.  Ferns have run amok.
Gardening is about being patient and rolling with what nature gives you.  We replanted our corn not once but twice and kept our green beans under row covers until what was underneath bulged against the fabric (the bulge turned out to be mostly weeds and the bean beetles managed to sneak their way into the crop despite our best efforts).  But we are now enjoying four ears of corn a day; a pace that seemed destined to last into September.
Nature has also held some surprises in reserve.  Our astilbe is usually a June and early July event.  This week, there are still an abundance of purple plumes.  An unusually large number of hostas in their glory at the beginning of August.  With all these blooms, the bees and butterflies are having a field day. 
Tomatoes are ripening
daily.  These are about
two weeks from picking.
After two lean months, this August appears to be shaping up as one of excess. It is almost too much, really.  The late crop of lettuce and spinach has already sprouted and will be pickable by mid-month.  We will soon have more tomatoes than we can possibly eat or process and so our local food cupboard will be the beneficiary of our excess. The flowers in bloom today are built to last through both heat and heavy rains that define this month. 
Most of our annuals are in containers. They were planted in May and early June and, through the incessant rains of June they suffered; stunted and sullen.  Then came July and they grew rangy.  In the past two weeks they have been trimmed and shaped and now, finally, they are fulfilling their promise.
Finally, there are the ‘winter’ crops – winter squash, principally, but spinach, kale, carrots, turnips and beets as well. The winter squash vines are still relatively modest – a product of too much rainfall and too little sun, but they have taken off in the last two weeks.  As quickly as we pull out spent corn stalks, the squash vines claim the empty space.   Last September, we picked dozens of huge Butternut squash that filled several wheelbarrows. Stored in our cool, dry basement, they were a tasty reminder of summer until April.
All this bounty will all be over too soon. The New England flower gardening season is effectively over shortly after Labor Day because, here at 45 degrees north latitude, the daylight starts to shrink at an alarming rate.  Perennials turn their attention to putting food into their roots to provide the 2014 season’s display.  Because frosts appear with impunity in September, any evening could be the final one for tender annuals.

So, I intend to enjoy this excess of August.  It’s the payoff month for New England gardeners. 

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