It’s been said and said that this past Winter was brutal here in the Magical MidAtlantic. The snow came far more frequently than we’ve learned to expect and, worse, there were days, and days, and days of bitter, bitter cold. The weather kept us indoors and damaged even the plants that it didn’t kill. Every Witch I know shakes her head when asked about her rosemary: “Didn’t make it. Had to plant new.”
And Spring, when it came — and it was slow to come — lingered on longer than it often does, with cool days and cooler nights. Even after I grew brave enough to plant some of the front porch planters, I’d step out in the morning and find the sweet potato vines withered up and unhappy over how cold the air had gotten overnight. They came back, well, all but two of them, but it took them a while.
But now, here, just before Litha, we’re finally getting what I think of as some real Virginia heat. It’s already in the 80s when you wake up in the morning, even early in the morning. (The birds have been “at it,” as we say here, for several hours already.) And you have to wake up early in the morning if you’re going to get anything done outside. (Well, I have to. I’m an old woman who spends most of her days at a desk, inside an air conditioned office. You can acclimate to working outside in this weather; Landscape Guy and his crew were over yesterday and then the lawn guys were here. But they’re young, and strong, and they do it every day, and even they are happy to stop for water.) By eleven o’clock or so, the sun is intense and I need to escape to the spot on the screen porch, directly under the ceiling fan, glass of ice water with mint at hand.
I was outside before six this morning, hoeing weeds out of my wee vegetable garden. How so many weeds can fit in such a little garden is one of life’s mysteries. It’s as if my garden is a tardis for weeds. The peppers, and squash, and cardoons, and Swiss chard, and bok choy, and lettuce that I started from seeds back in March are now big plants, a few of the peppers already beginning to turn red, the pattypan squash sporting giant blossoms that make me consider: fried squash blossoms now or actual squash in a few weeks??? So far, actual squash is winning, but I could always change my mind. The mint is out of control; the basil is huge; the parslies are finally beginning to grow; and the new rosemary bushes are beginning to branch out.
And just as we say that the Winter was “brutal,” we say that the heat is “oppressive.” Once the birds settle down from their crack-of-dawn concert, the world does get quiet in this heat and it is a different kind of quiet from the frozen silence of a mid-Winter morning. On days like this, we’re always half-expecting rain; it’s how, as often as not, the world resolves all this pent-up energy, here in the MidAtlantic, by late afternoon or early evening. And it matters because, when the temperatures get this hot, if it doesn’t rain, we’ll need to go water. Plants need more water in this heat. And, so, after I had battled the weeds to a blister on my thumb, I spent a lovely half an hour watering the Empress Wu hosta and the wisteria, the sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus), the datura, the toad lilies, and the ferns. If we don’t get rain tonight, I’ll have to hook up the sprinklers and do the woodland garden and the front beds.
I love these long, hot days. I love the humidity. I love the welcome relief that even a bit of shade can provide. I rejoice in the lightning bugs and the way that what I eat has more to do with what absolutely must get picked NOW than with anything else. Today, the Swiss chard has got to be picked, so I’ll be making a recipe that my friend Ina gave to me.
Cook some pasta. Sautee chopped Swiss chard w/ some onions and garlic. Chop up some basil and the zest of a lemon or two. Drain the pasta, mix in some ricotta and the Swiss chard. Top with basil and lemon zest, as well as some red pepper flakes, if you like. Eat immediately.
What are the days just before Litha like in your landbase?