Instant Summer

After a record-breaking (or was it back-breaking) winter, we ushered in the summer solstice with almost two feet of snow in some parts of Colorado. Days later, it topped 80 degrees in Cortez. Instant summer? This wet and cool spring moved me into magical thinking as a gardener. My spring greens and peas were fantastic. The garlic is hitting new heights. Obviously, weed control would be the theme of the summer, but pests seemed to be non-existent and the extra moisture and cool weather made for some beautiful vegetable starts. Some of us even believed we had escaped the scourge of the cedar gnats.

And then summer arrived.

My tender snow pea pods changed into tough field peas overnight. The radishes went from spicy to surly in hours. My row of salad greens grew to colossal size and my contribution to any event involving food continues to be salad. I can freeze the spinach and peas, but I haven’t found a preservation option for salad greens. Reality also set in on the need for pest control. As I surveyed another limp potato plant, while scratching the gnat bite on my ear lobe, I realized that the plant was limp because it was no longer connected to its roots. The pocket gopher had arrived! My vernal rose-colored glasses made me believe that the ground was too wet and heavy for underground pests this year. So, I dusted off my gopher traps and started the annual battle with my subterranean “friends.” I have tried to ignore the grasshoppers in hopes that my investment last year in Nolo Bait and the birds nesting on or near my house would keep the population under control. So far so good, if you don’t look to closely.

This up-and-down weather has made planting impossible. My approach to planting is a matter of timing by trying to pick a weather window when the ground is warm and workable, and there is a forecast of moisture in the next few days. I just realized that I never planted any beans. I usually rely on the bean fields around me to signal bean planting time. This year I missed the memo. And now it is July and I don’t have any beans in the ground. What kind of self-respecting Dolores County gardener does not have any beans in the ground before the Pick ‘n’ Hoe celebration? I suppose I could try a late crop in the hoop house and use them as soil builder.

It looks to be a good fruit year. The apricots and cherries are loaded, though I imagine we will lose some to birds and squirrels. The apple and peach trees are all-or-nothing depending on the variety and when they chose to bloom. The rhubarb plants are now officially a hedge and I am going to need a chainsaw to harvest them. I have decided to treat rhubarb as an ornamental rather than food plant this year. I also laid off squash as I am still recovering from (and eating) the whale-sized fruit from last year. I expect berries and wild foods will be excellent this summer. Although like the domestic fruit trees, if they bloomed before a snowstorm the extra moisture could be for naught. I’ve heard reports of wild mushrooms already. Morels are expected this time of year, but giant puffballs, that’s a first for me.

Given my uneven planting and pest control, I’m wondering what the harvest will be this year. From what I have seen so far at the farmers market, my experience is not unique. Some growers are loaded with salad greens; others had success with early carrots, but not both. That’s the thing about gardening. Just when you think you are a gardening rock star; a pocket gopher brings you down to earth. Working with the dirt, weather, and “friends” that Mother Nature provides, we endeavor to grow something tasty. Luckily for me, there is good back up in the local gardening community and farmers markets. It’s going to be hard to show my face at the next neighborhood potluck without a bean dish in hand. Perhaps I can hide my meager offering under a rhubarb leaf. Here’s to all the intrepid gardeners out there. It looks to be a season of trade. Rhubarb, anyone?

Carolyn Dunmire is an award-winning writer who cooks and gardens in Cahone, Colo.

From Carolyn Dunmire.