Summer 2018 in New England has been as glorious as I can remember since moving here. With so many areas suffering the most catastrophic conditions imaginable around the globe… from heat and drought, floods and tornadoes, volcanoes and fire…. we are swaddled in comfort with enough moisture, sunshine, and pleasant temperatures that I feel almost apologetic writing about it. We had a stretch of dry weather earlier in the summer and have suffered in the past with an abundance of weather extremes but, so far… summer 2018 has made the living enjoyable for gardeners and outdoor enthusiasts. With a warming climate, all summers won’t be like this so we will savor it while it lasts.
Plants that we trickled water on for survival during a 3-year drought are now bursting with growth. Every shrub and tree and flower and vegetable in this yard is fuller, taller, and more floriferous. With these favorable conditions, we’re seeing more insects and birds and in our yard… especially the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that have proliferated wildly around here. We now have the adults and their offspring jetting through and around the garden performing acrobatic maneuvers to guard their territory.
With such movement, it’s impossible to count how many hummers are out there but there’s a way to guesstimate, according to bird banders. Count how many you see at one time and multiply that number by 6. That would mean there are about 20-25 hummingbirds coming and going and perhaps almost parting our hair when we get too close to the action. Other residents in the neighborhood feed hummingbirds so they are moving between our homes. It’s fun to see such activity and much better numbers than the total 8-10 we counted during drought years.
We have the feisty males with their bright red gorgets displaying territorial rule and their mating prowess but the feeders look to be dominated by females with the white throats. That can be deceiving. There are more females than males but the young males we are seeing have not developed their telltale ‘ruby’ throat. They look much like females until we are close enough to see faint lines or striations on their throats. Next year, they’ll display their bright gorgets.
We’re keeping the feeders spotless, making fresh nectar (1 part sugar to 4 parts water) often and just watching as the hummers are bulking up preparing for their long migration at the end of the summer. Males will leave first, followed by females and young. We will keep the feeders clean and half-full with fresh nectar after they leave because you never know when a migration straggler will venture by and need a couple of days of nourishment before continuing on.
Haven’t we gardeners learned that worms are beneficial to the earth? And they’re good for the ecosystem, right? They provide aeration and drainage in the garden. They break down plant matter and leave behind healthy castings are rich in nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. I‘ve always reburied these good little soldiers that I’ve disturbed in the garden because they’re beneficial. However, that’s not the case in the natural New England forests that surround us.
Lots of worms in our gardens
Years ago, I learned from my sister who is a curator at Historic Jamestown in Virginia that most of our earthworms in the US are non-native, the offspring of European earthworms brought by British colonists in the 1600’s. And there were no worms at all north of Pennsylvania then. Glaciers wiped them out. Our natural North American forests that have existed ‘wormless’ are now dealing with a harmful soil ecosystem due to European worms that slowly moved north over hundreds of years.
Worms have been altering the physical properties of the forest soil by devouring leaf litter causing water runoff, drier soil and poor soil chemistry. Biologists are studying the long-term effects on native undergrowth, too. Natives are disappearing and invasive plants and grasses that can survive the loss of leaf litter and dry soil are moving in.
Just as we’re digesting that European worm information, we learn about another worm invader in New England forests…. the Asian jumping worm that other garden bloggers and cooperative extensions are writing about. A voracious eater that lives in the top layer of soil, this worm devours the organic layer faster than other worms and it displaces those European worms in place. When exposed, these worms are more snake-like and wiggligy in movements. I’m watching for them in my garden in New Hampshire. We’re instructed to report any sightings to our local cooperative extension. Oh dear….
See Jumping Worm
We don’t grow many vegetables due to space constraints but in the coolness of a New England spring, leaf-lettuce is one we can depend on even in the heat of summer if we are careful. We have enjoyed the bounty of our lettuce crop for lunch and dinner for several weeks.
Lettuce is so easy to grow! We plant trays of lettuce as early as we can in as many places as we can. Some grow in full sun for cool weather picking and others grow in containers with annuals, both sunny and shady. They look pretty and we can harvest a few leaves at a time but never more than half the plant.
We planted as much as we could around the tomatoes. With dappled afternoon shade beneath the tomato plants, they’ve thrived during our current heat spell with temps in the 90’s. That’s NOT the weather lettuce likes.
Despite watering, some lettuce in full sun has begun to show signs of growing tall in the heat. So we harvested much of this lettuce before it bolted, ate a lot and shared a lot. A good amount of our organic lettuce was welcomed for tasty salads at two dinner parties we recently attended.
Some of the roots, we washed and replanted in good potting soil. They’re sending up new leaves and we hope to harvest a second crop, a first try for us. Wish us luck!
The Fourth of July, Independence Day, means different things to different people. In addition to the significance of the day and diverse interpretations, it is a holiday and a time for family and friends to gather together with a big emphasis on food.
Yesterday Google Doodle featured an interactive map with recipes for popular regional and state dishes. It stated, “The 4th of July is the USA’s most scrumptious summer celebration: a time when friends and family get together to celebrate the nation’s independence by cooking, boiling, frying, baking, grilling, or blackening their favorite regional dishes.”
The most searched recipe in New Hampshire was Apple Crisp, “a classic New England dessert.” We love apple crisp but for us that dish is one we enjoy during apple season when the juicy fruit is picked fresh from local trees. For our gathering, we chose the fruit ripening on trees now: Cherries!
I can remember a few years ago that everyone seemed to have a red, white and blue border of annuals to show their patriotism on the Fourth. Our master gardener group in Virginia planned and planted for it in our community. Even though I don’t plant one now, it was fun yesterday to spot shades of red, white and blue scattered here and there around the home.
Beyond the red, white and blue, the backyard barbecues, and fireworks, the Fourth is an opportunity to pause and reflect on what it means to be an American, an American of any color or creed in these turbulent times and what the future of our country may be. My wish is for all to have a meaningful way to celebrate the day.