One need not check the calendar to see that summer is rapidly coming to an end. My garden tells me all I need to know and from the looks of things the glory days are about over. I may have planted a tad early but already my beans and squash have gone by. My three raised beds of strawberries have quit producing fruit and my tomatoes are on their last legs, yellowing and fading almost by the minute. There will be stragglers, of course, but time is running out in the backyard vegetable department.
There is still hope for the sunflowers, which have grown tall and strong but only a few of the dwarf variety have produced flowers. My marigolds are also showing their happy faces every day and should do well into October. The other plants and flowers around the yard are doing well but it’s only because I cheat by watering them daily (sometimes twice a day). The wild, natural foliage is not doing so well due to the drought conditions we’ve experienced this summer. Already the field and pasture grasses are dry and yellowed, parched from a huge rainfall deficit, and now that we’re losing minutes of daylight things are noticeably evolving into that autumn aura that comes quickly on the heels of August.
I’ve spent the last week roaming the woods in search of places to set bear baits and found plenty of potential sites, but I have noticed a change “out there” as well. For example, all spring I was besieged by ticks, often bringing four or five home with me every day. Lately I have not encountered the first tick, not even while spending hours in the brush picking blueberries and raspberries. I have not sprayed for ticks and we certainly have not had any extreme weather conditions (other than heat, which would seem to be more amenable to ticks), but for all intents and purposes they are gone. When I first mowed my lawn in mid-April I covered up and hosed myself down with tick spray yet still found some clinging to my shirt sleeves when I came indoors, but now I wear lighter outfits and no DEET – and no ticks!
This does not mean all the annoying bugs are gone. In fact, it seems that the hordes of blood-sucking pests simply overlap their territories, starting with ticks and then changing to black flies, mosquitoes, deer flies and moose flies. Right now the deer flies are the scourge of every gardener. They seem to lay in wait in the grass and bushes, hoping for a victim to wander by. I can’t get but three steps off the porch before I’m assailed by a squadron of the persistent pests. In fact, I see them waiting for me on the side view mirrors of my car, which makes getting the mail or bringing in groceries a real challenge. These vicious critters are expert at landing on an ear lobe, eyebrow or cheekbone without a sound or sign, other than the fierce, burning sensation of a successful bite. I thwart them by laying a bandanna over my head and under my hat. They can’t seem to find their way in so I can mow or pick beans without a fight. I had thought about buying one of those nifty fishing hats that have a sun curtain around the back but I could buy 50 bandannas for the same price!
It may now be safe to mention the fact that I have not encountered a single hornet’s nest all summer. I attack them with a vengeance in April when they first start coming around to build nests under my eaves and below the deck, but this year I have not found any in the wood shed, in my stone walls or even in the many ancient cemeteries I manage during the summer. Last year I found nests full of white-faced hornets in all those and many other places, but for some reason they are not an issue. I would like to think they’ve gone into extinction but that would be wishful thinking. Hornets encased in amber have been recovered that date back to the dinosaur days. I have a feeling they will be back next year.
One discouraging August sign I’ve observed is the relative scarcity of wild turkey poults in this area. I know of only one brood that’s been making the rounds of open fields in my area, and those chicks are about a foot tall and well on their way. But, there are two groups of hens totaling a dozen birds that visit my yard twice a day and not one of them is accompanied by a chick. Most years I’ll have three or four hens with eight to a dozen chick in tow, but for some reason this year has not been very productive. This is odd considering that it had been so warm and dry all spring, which should mean excellent nesting success. When it comes to wildlife it’s much easier to come up with questions rather than answers. Is there a connection between dry weather and low numbers of hornets and turkeys? Some biology student will surely seek a grant to find out!
I have a feeling my gardening season is going to come to an end in the very near future. I purposely grow vegetables that ripen early and abundantly so I can get them harvested, processed and in the freezer before I need to get busy with bear, moose and goose hunting. It seems odd to be saying so but in just a few weeks those hunting seasons will open and yet most of my sunflowers have yet to bloom.
As usual, one season overlaps another before we’re quite ready for it. This week I was running out the door with a bucket of bear bait and returning with a pail full of yellow beans for the freezer; when one seasonal enterprise fizzles out another picks up speed. I hate to see the garden go but I definitely won’t miss those pesky deer flies