Today marks the beginning of my 48th year of gardening on the east side of Sonntag Hill, elevation 2,650 feet. Beginning in a summer heat wave in 1977, my enthusiasm far outweighed the high temperatures in the days following my arrival.
But then, of course, I was also almost four decades younger! I could garden from dawn to dark during the longest days of the year without tiring. Each year I have tried to spend as much time as possible gardening in the week following June 28 to recapture the spirit of that mood.
This year I have had more time to garden than in the previous few years. The gardens are mature, the edges still a bit wild.
My focus and priority list have changed little since 1977. Soil preparation and maintenance of fertility are of paramount importance. Peace of mind, which seems to be a natural outcome of time spent outdoors, is also at the top of each monthly gardening activity list.
The edible garden has been the No. 1 garden to attend to all these years. Now the awareness of habitat for beneficials is integrally connected to the garden where I gather food for myself, family and friends.
This month the honeybees are everywhere. Lavender, alliums and germanders are among the most active arenas. The cilantro now going to seed in the vegetable garden is habitat for the smaller native bees. This week I observed a native bumblebee taking a quick turn through these delicate flowers.
Once again, 30 percent shadecloth protects the edible greens from our intense summer sun. Since these vegetables do not flower, I can cover them totally. I fully expect the exposed lettuce at the end of the bed to be eaten by the resident quail.
Peppers are also shaded, but only on the top, protecting from midday overhead sun. Small cages surround each plant, providing a support for the shade. Sides are not covered to allow bees to reach each flower, ensuring pollination. I am already picking peppers.
So far this summer I have not shaded the tomatoes. Each year is different. They have been growing vigorously. A heavy mulch of straw protects the soil and holds the moisture.
At this stage, all the vegetables are mulched. A three- to four-inch layer of decomposed straw has been added around the larger vegetables. Young rapini seedlings and heat-resistant lettuce (“Red Cross” from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and “Rhapsody” from Renee’s Seeds) are lightly mulched because they are so small.
In the next six weeks I will be doing succession sowing of seeds. Small amounts of greens, with attention to the most heat-resistant, will keep a continuous supply growing into fall. Dill and cilantro are sown every few weeks.
Summer squash and green beans will be sown again in early July, the squash because the young vigorous squash plants will come into production as the older plants from seed sown in May begin to tire. The green beans are more productive on mild summer days. For those of you gardening at a lower elevation, consider sowing a later crop in the next few weeks to harvest in September rather than in the heat of the summer. Often during heat waves, beans will stop flowering.
In the ornamental landscape, which also provides habitat for the beneficial wildlife and for me, my favorite plant this time of the year is the linden (Tilia cordata) with its intricate and fragrant flowers. It is a summer delight working in its shade to label each treasure propagated by students.
Gardening as much as possible keeps me healthy, physically and mentally. The joy of lingering outside in the cooler hours of the evening at this time of the year brings a peace of mind that never lessens as the years pass. Like the soil I have been tending, the vitality of my life grows richer with each passing year.
Carolyn has gardened organically in Nevada County since 1977. She will be teaching a propagation class in her garden from 8 to 11 a.m. today. To enroll, call 272-4362. She is the author of the award-winning “The Seasoned Gardener, 5 decades of sustainable and practical garden wisdom”, and two volumes of “Deer in My Garden” (deer-resistant plants), available locally.