Nearing mid-July and it’s already transition time. My early-bearing strawberries have already gone by and the wild blueberries are just a few days from being ready to pick and freeze. In my area the black flies have fizzled but the deer flies are coming into their own – major nuisances we would gladly do without but this is Maine, so what choice do we have?
My early crops of spinach, radishes and turnips have gone by but the tomatoes are just now coming in, with beans and squash showing flowers. I have a couple of rose bushes (red and yellow) that are about done blooming for the year. There are still a few blossoms on them but they are smaller and less colorful with little fragrance. I rescued a few lilacs from a neighbor who had them for nearly 20 years but never got them to flower, and they seem to be doing well in their new, more fertile location. It will be interesting to see how they do in the coming years.
It hasn’t been terribly hot or humid of late, although one can certainly work up a sweat while working in the garden or while mowing the lawn. I try to do my weeding at first light and then wait till the sun has gone behind the trees before I start mowing. This makes both projects much less of a chore, although about an hour of each is all I can stand in one session.
In my spare time I work on some of the local ancient cemeteries, mostly weed-whacking but occasionally cutting brush, cleaning headstones or re-setting fallen stones. This week I was halfway into a stone-setting session when I realized I was up to my elbows in poison ivy, a common threat any time in July but particularly in old cemeteries that have not seen a mower or weed-eater in years. I finished the job, rushed home, took a long, hot, soapy shower and then another, but I still found a couple of spots on my arms where the dreaded poison ivy rash had started to form. I pat-dried the angry red spots and then applied Neosporin, and was surprised to find that the stuff actually works! A small amount of redness remained two days later but it was obvious that the ointment was winning. I don’t know that it’s any great mystery that Neosporin may be a cure for poison ivy but it was a surprise to me. It’s all I had on hand and the affected areas were small enough to warrant a field test. Anyway, for what it’s worth . . .
Normally, of course, I don’t go too far into the greenery without a long-sleeved shirt, everything tucked in, gloves and a neck covering, with plenty of insect repellent applied anywhere that skin may show. Despite all this I still endure a few bug bites and invariably end up with a few ticks tagging along but, like wet feet and sunburn, I figure that’s all part and parcel of being outdoors. There’s a point where “protection from the elements” becomes more uncomfortable and unwieldy than it’s worth, but that’s up to the individual to decide. I see folks going out to the mailbox dressed like Haz Mat agents, but if that makes them feel any better protected I’m all for it. Having been a woods roamer for 60 years or so I accept a few bites, scratches, nicks, cuts and abrasions during my excursions (as well as wet feet!) and there’s really no way to avoid these minor calamities. Truth be told, I prefer to take my chances with “nature” rather than bundle up in stifling layers and end up covered in sweat as the trade-off.
Mid-July is where we begin the long, slow transition from summer into fall, and while there are plenty of hot days ahead it’s likely that the early mornings and evenings will be quite cool and comfortable moving forward. Believe me, there are some areas of the country there hot and humid is a commonality all the way into October, and I mean temperatures in the 90s with dripping, oppressive dew points – night and day. I’ll take Maine’s generally cooler, drier air any day.
Things may have been a tad too dry this year thus far, however. I keep a couple of bird baths going in the front and back yards so the doves, blue jays, finches and others can enjoy a cool drink when they need it, but this year has been such a dry one that I’ve found raccoons, deer, opossums, squirrels and various other critters using the free watering troughs as well. Not long ago I heard a clunking sound late at night and flipped on the light to see two gray foxes perched on the concrete bowl, both sipping water as fast as they could. Right behind them stood a trio of whitetails that were obviously waiting their turn. I usually fill my watering stations at the end of the day and was beginning to wonder where all the water had been going. Not to birds or baths, that’s for sure.
Other than weeding, watering and monitoring production there isn’t much to do in the garden right now. My daily inspections show that there will be good crop of vegetables and fruit when the time comes, but for now there’s not much else I can do but watch and wait. I don’t consider myself a serious farmer, more a hobbyist and a lazy one at that, but I’m happy when something I plant grows and thrives, and I’m thrilled when I end up with the occasional tomato, squash or cucumber as a result. From a mass-production point of view I’m sure I’m doing it all wrong but because the farmer and consumer are one and the same I can find little to complain about. I grow a few of the things I like best and there is always enough left over to give away to deserving, appreciative friends. Can’t ask for much more than that!