When I moved to CNY 30 or so years ago, every gardening year was predictable in terms of the weather, frost dates and dependability of crops. About 12 years ago, it began changing to a point where how I garden, yields of harvest and tried and true techniques are no longer effective. This old dog needs to learn some new tricks fast!
My gardening season has been extended almost a full month on both ends--sounds good--but that benefit has brought less rain in general, though too much rain at the wrong times--most notably, when my corn is tassling and cukes/squash are blooming, cutting the pollination rate. The rains we do get set up the perfect conditions for potato and tomato blight. The Japanese beetles have settled in on my roses, grapes and various other crops. Having grown up in Maryland, one of my favorite things about upstate NY was its lack of those nasty beetles and several other garden pests. The only saving grace is that I already know how to deal with them, but doing so takes up a lot of the time I used to spend on garden maintenance---just making everything look nice. I haven't invited anyone to see my gardens this year. Where I used to can enough pickles and tomato sauce and freeze enough peas/beans/corn for a whole year, I now barely get enough to eat. This year, though, has been particularly challenging.
A very early spring encouraged many to plant early...succumbing to the gardener's worst affliction of hope over reality. I did not plant early, but I am no better off as it became very dry right after our traditional planting dates, causing uneven seed germination. It is a conundrum when you are not rewarded for following the rules or for being bold and trying something new. As I drive around and ask other gardeners about their experience this year, I see stunted plants (crops and even weeds are blooming while still very small--). What this means is less food production--for the same amount of work and seed money and less herbal medicine made. I used to be able to gather herbs sometimes several times during a season. Lately, however, I have had several occasions where I decided not to harvest wild or cultivated herbs as I could tell the plants were not vigorous and needed to be left to recoup....not to mention the quality of their medicinal value would have been greatly depleted.
What to do? I may finally have to wrap my head around buying seeds meant for warmer climates with longer seasons, to adjust planting dates by a week or two, to use more row covers to offset new pests and ill timed rain......or maybe, give in and move to Alaska like my husband wants to do!
I try to be positive...so here are some of the benefits of this very hot and dry year.......The lack of need for grass mowing is always welcome, but this summer, I have been gifted with a tremendous amount of Prunella (Heal All) growing in my lawn. As its name suggests, this wild herb can be added to many teas/formulas to improve general health. The dandelions also seem to thrive, which allows me to have constant salad greens and roots for so many different health problems and as a coffee substitute. When it is really hot and humid, I become too sluggish to be productive, so I sit and read about other people's gardens (speaking of sluggish....that has been the biggest benefit of the dry weather--hardly any slugs anywhere!!). So, I have caught up on my unread pile of books and stacks of magazines. Best of all, I REALLY appreciate the few plants that do look beautiful. As I sit on my front porch---in the shade, I marvel at how gorgeous Black Cohosh is and my yucca put up a wonderous bloom stalk that lasted 3 weeks since there was no rain. I harvested my garlic the other day and it too is a nicer crop than usual. My grandson, who could care less about vegetable yields and the heat, has had a blast just going around collecting wildflowers to dry for his "collection". So, maybe my biggest adjustment to this new, unpredictable world of gardening will be to reclaim my inner child and revel in the moment. Maybe that can be harvest enough.