Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mid-Summer Notes from the Village Wise Woman Garden

Lughnassadh, the first harvest, is upon us and, at this mid-point of Summer, there are many changes in the Village Wise Woman’s Gardens.  Some of these changes are glorious and colorful and others are disheartening and saddening.  Some, in fact, leave me questioning my skills as a gardener.  I keep reminding myself that a garden is a constant work in progress, that there will always be some failure involved, whether it is by my own making or by the garden’s making.  I can plan everything out, get the soil just right, do everything organically, have some fleeting moments of success and then – BANG! – a plant just withers up and dies for reasons beyond my control.  Yes, it’s very sad but it happens.  All I can do is try again.

The Summer has not been kind here.  In fact, it’s been brutal, with the majority of days since the Summer Solstice averaging in the upper 90’s.  Factoring in the humidity, many days have felt well over 100 degrees.  We are not used to this here in the Northeast.  Sure, we have suffered through our share of heatwaves but to have one after another after another come over us is an entirely different story.  We have had some rain, usually with violent thunderstorms, but it offers little relief to my plants in the gardens.  I have spent countless hours walking the gardens to check who is in trouble, who needs extra water, who needs some shading, trimming, pruning, weeding, mulching and talking.  When I pull out the hose, each plants seems to yell out, “Me first!  Oh, please, me first!”

The vegetables seem to be in constant need these days.  At first, everything thrived.  We had a couple issues with pests.  Some were picked off by hand and others were handled with an organic insecticidal soap.  By late June and early July, there were an abundance of cherry and Roma tomatoes, the broccoli was being harvested every week, the first eggplant was plucked from its stem, peppers were growing larger every day, and several cucumbers were beginning to show themselves.  The brussel sprouts however were slow to begin and any squash that appeared quickly disappeared due to a pesky squirrel or two.  As we now head into the first days of August, the tomatoes have taken a turn for the worst.  It is as if they have completed their growing season, withering day by day.  My poor cucumber vine has not grown a bit since late June.  Any cucumber that began shriveled up in a day or two and not one has revealed itself since.  I’m not sure what is causing the problem.  They have the right amount of sunshine, plenty of water, but not too much, and the soil is just right.  Other vegetables like the eggplants and peppers are doing very well in the same area.  It makes no sense.  I have spent many a night laying awake in bed searching my brain for answers but have none.

The rest of the gardens seem relatively unscathed by whatever condition has plagued parts of my vegetable garden.  My rosemary plants, which I began growing last year and over-wintered indoors, have nearly tripled in size.  The basil is full and fragrant and its scent catches the nose of most passersby.  I have let the marjoram go to flower because the bees and butterflies seem to love the blooms.  My lemon verbena grows taller with each day.  My first attempt at growing Roman chamomile has been a success, with little white and yellow flowers beginning to pop up here and there.  The cilantro was abundant this year and I shared this with my 23-year old nephew who loves to use this in his cooking.  In the early days of July, it was growing so fast that I couldn’t keep up with it.  It bolted which allowed me to harvest coriander for use throughout the coming year.  I planted a variety of sages this year and have just begun to harvest these, some for freezing and some for drying.  I’ll use them this year for cooking and smudgesticks.

As for the flowers and shrubs, all is well there too.  The butterfly bush, given to me by a gardening friend as just a small 12-inch tall leaved branch, now has three branches, is about 3-feet high and has begun to show beautiful purple flowers.  The hollies, given to me by that same friend as 6-inch high seedlings, are now beginning to look like the start of bushes.  My beloved Burkwood’s Broom, which I feared for earlier this year, has rebounded after some careful pruning and, although I did not think it was possible, has grown taller and fuller.  The pruned branches are still drying for broom-making this Autumn.  The tiger lilies flowered brightly throughout late May and early June and now are showing new green leaves as they so often do after the blooms are gone.  The Black-Eyed Susans, Nasturtiums, Purple Coneflowers and the Japanese Honeysuckle are a continuous delight.  I am still awaiting blooms on the Bee Balm and the Moonflowers which I hope occurs any day now.

With all the sweet fragrances and bright colors of the yard, many new visitors have arrived, especially at the itea virginica shrub.  Each year when it blooms with cones of little white flowers, it begins to hum with activity.  Several varieties of bees and wasps show up out of nowhere to partake in unity of its nectar.  Most notable of these is what I have identified as a blue mud dauber, a black iridescent wasp that I have only seen when this shrub is in bloom every Summer.  And, in a frightening moment just this past weekend that sent me running for the backdoor, we had a cicada killer drop by for a visit.  If you have never seen a cicada killer, consider yourself lucky.  It’s about 2-3 inches long with a huge yellow and black bulbous abdomen and makes a buzzing sound that you will not forget.  Although I cannot make peace with this creature, I know he or she serves its purpose in the world so I have agreed to respect it for that reason…but at a distance!

Of course, our regulars are constantly in and out of the gardens.  The different birds, the squirrels, countless butterflies, Mr. Groundhog, a raccoon,  some chipmunks, a hawk or two, and the occasional stray cat come and go daily for food or water.  In another surprising visit – well, not really a visit – a blue heron flew overhead a couple weeks ago as I was on my way out, probably on its way to one of the many creeks in the area.  I have never seen a blue heron near my home before!  I marveled at this sight and thanked the Goddess for this chance encounter.  I am still working on trying to bring hummingbirds to the garden and am determined to make that happen eventually.

So that is the update from the Village Wise Woman’s Gardens.  I thank Mother Earth for the successes I have had so far in the gardens and for the lessons I am to learn through this growing season.  As I write this, I am in the midst of preparations for the Full Moon/ Lughnassadh celebration tomorrow evening and am about to harvest herbs for drying and for decorating the Lughnassadh altar.  I wish all of you a blessed Lughnassadh and send you bright August Full Moon blessings!

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