Signs of Summer…family, farm, garden and nature on hot, hazy days…

Every summer, as soon as school was out, my family would pack up the old family car and drive to North Carolina to visit our grandmothers and my favorite Aunt. Rolling down the dusty driveway, I looked over the front seat trying to get a glimpse of the farmhouse and barn and my Grandmother! There she was, standing by the porch just outside the kitchen door, wearing her blue cotton dress and white apron, a dishtowel thrown over her shoulder. Jumping out of the old 1948 Packard, I ran down the dirt driveway where my Father had parked the car in front of the old white clapboard house,  I quickly hugged my sweet grandmother and then squealing with glee, headed straight for the garden while she followed behind with an old enamel bucket. She knew exactly what I wanted to do…pick some juicy red strawberries to go with her shortcakes ready to come out of the old wood stove oven that I just knew she had made. For topping the berries, Daisy had been milked earlier and her fresh cream was straining through cheesecloth into an enamel pan… soon to be whipped with the old egg beater! I picked a whole bucket full of warm strawberries

My next chore was to get the cream from the wash house and help with the beating until it became a mound of luscious, fluffy, sweet cream. It took a while and as my arm would get tired I would stop for a minute only to hear Grandmother say…”No stopping, keep beating ’till it’s done or it just won’t be fluffy enough…and not too much sugar either!”  Then I had to rinse the berries and pull off the green caps, slice them and sprinkle with a wee bit of sugar.

After a dinner of fried chicken, done in a huge black iron skillet, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, fresh green beans grandmother had picked while I worked on the strawberries…it was finally time for dessert! Of course I did have to help clean up the dishes from the table, wash them in a dishpan sitting in the huge cast iron sink that I constantly had to pump water into, rinse them in heated water in another pan and then hand them to my brother to dry and stack on the kitchen work table. It wasn’t called an island in those days! AND, we were the dishwasher! Finally ready to make dessert, Grandmother showed me how to fork split open the shortcakes, made rich with fresh churned butter, then scoop on several spoonfuls of berries, topped then with the other half of the cake, more strawberries and then finally…a huge spoonful of sweetened whipped cream…I was in heaven right there at Grandmother’s table.

The day had been long since getting up at 6:00 AM, leaving home we then had a 3 hour car ride. The rest of the day was spent picking berries, feeding the chickens and gathering eggs,  beating the cream and just running around the farm looking at all the animals and livestock and riding the ancient FORD tractor…and then family dinner,  followed by the best treat ever!

Yawning, I knew I couldn’t stay awake much longer so Grandmother started pouring the warm water she had been heating into the wash tub sitting in the kitchen so I could take a bath…running around the farm barefooted had really been fun but I was a dusty, dirty mess.  She told me firmly that I was not going to get into bed with just laundered, clean white sheets, crisp from ironing, fresh on the bed, until I had bathed, and besides…it was Saturday night! Sitting in the wash tub I rubbed her lavender soap on the dirty spots and poured warm water all over me while Grandmother used a pitcher to rinse my hair after soaping. Wrapped in a huge cotton towel, I walked to the bedroom at the back of the house to put on my pajamas and climb into the creaky old iron bed. Grandmother came in to spend a few minutes brushing out my hair before kissing me goodnight…she winked and said, “Don’t read too long under the covers, you’ll run down the flashlight battery.” How did she always know…?

Grow Your Own Berries…a burst of summer! Like so many seasonal fruit delights easily grown in home gardens, there is a very short time that berries are available…so pick often, preserve, freeze, bake and eat some daily. Nothing better on a lazy summer early evening than wandering through the garden, with a glass of wine, picking blackberries warmed by the day’s sun…fresh, sweet, fragrant and so much more tasty than those from a market.berries

Picking from your own plants is one of the joys of the summer season…if you have the time to take care of some new plants now, you’ll likely find fruit vines on sale at local garden centers. I suggest you buy a few vines, get them in the ground, water carefully until you see new growth. Then, monitor as you would your garden.

Birds also love fresh berries so if you have the problem just get some bird netting and cover your crops. Sometimes birds get trapped in netting so look for some that has small mesh. Blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries are the easiest to grow and offer crops for picking from June to early August, depending on varieties.

Tune in to birdsong…As the sun sets over the trees and the bright light of summer fades to that time between dusk and darkness, the air begins to fill with evening birdsong. Shadows have darkened, the breeze has dropped and there is a hush punctuated only with the whine of insects and a few birds chirping. The moon rises beyond the trees and the song begins. Birds use their song for several purposes…some to attract a potential mate, some calls communicate between family members and often their short alarm sounds warn of any approaching predators. I enjoy walking through the garden listening to their song and sounds, often identifying a few familiar messages.

 GARDEN NOTES…Water tomatoes in the morning at this time of year,  if you water too late in the day, wet foliage at night encourages blight. ALSO, cut/remove lower and inside leaves on tomato vines to aid ripening and encourage the plants to put their energy into fruit production.

Pick lemon verbena leaves to make a refreshing tea or water for warm summer days!

My chicks follow me everywhere I go in the garden, if I find a bug I toss it toward them and see which one can make the catch…they obviously know me as the food/feed provider even though they roam freely all day, scratching and pecking. It’s such a hoot to watch them waddle/run around the yard going after bugs and just having fun! She, on the right, is one of my beautiful Gold-laced Wyandottes.

From Holly and me, happy end of June…