Hoarded Raindrops

hoarded raindrops
Summer heat, summer sweat, summer sweet. Summer smoke, summer coals, summer goals.

July sun streaming hot over the hills in the morning. Summer stone fruit hanging heavy on the branches, fragrant and tender at the peak of ripeness. The warm evenings are cooled by an icy drink, by laughter, by a sundress or flip flops, by a dip in the pool or a visit to the coast. After the long bleak stretch of 2020, and the gradual reopening of social circles and retail environments alike, there is a special poignancy to these hot summer evenings when we can gather with friends, open mouthed and laughing, shoulder to shoulder beneath the patio lights. This week’s featured recipe isn’t for every day, but it’s not so fancy that it can’t be whipped up in no time, a rustic, simple, luscious dessert to finish off a summer barbecue. We hope never again to take such humble and exquisite pleasures for granted. We lick the smoky sweetness off our fingers, savoring everything about this moment, even the stickiness, even the heat, even/especially the impermanence. The season, the moment. This life.

After the harvest is over, we will look to the orchard with an eye toward summer pruning. While we do the bulk of our fruit tree pruning in the winter, while the tree is dormant, there is an important place for summer pruning in the orchard, particularly when it comes to the stone fruit. Stone fruit, and most especially the apricots, nectarines, and cherries, are very susceptible to fungal infections, so it is best to prune them in the summer months, to allow the pruning cuts time to heal over before the rain. Summer pruning is a great time to control for height of the tree, but it does not have to be an extensive pruning in order to be effective. Just remove or cut back branches that have grown too tall, and take out any that are dead, visibly diseased, damaged, or crossing. Doing this before the harvest would be tricky, with all the young fruits dangling from their stems, so we wait until we’ve eaten, jammed, grilled, and dried all the stone fruit before we begin the process. We’ll wait until later in the summer, after apple harvest, if any of the other trees need summer pruning to control height.

As we head into the last days of July, the sun is relentless. So much sweetness comes from our nearest star, but it burns, too. Scant rainfall last winter means that the brushy hillsides as well as the rivers are drier than usual, and even the air contributes to this dryness, carrying surface moisture away from leaves and streams, snowpack and soil. We have long days yet, before the rain returns. In the meantime, we can keep an eye on our home gardens and orchards, making sure that they are sufficiently mulched to conserve moisture. We water in the evenings this time of year, after the sun has gone down, so that the plants have all of the cooler nighttime hours to soak in the moisture. This approach also ensures that all the water that beads on the leaves after watering has a chance to dissipate. Every one of those individual droplets of water can act like a magnifying glass when the direct sun hits it, so it’s crucial, in these hot days of summer, to make sure that we aren’t harming as we try to help. We have reduced water for some of the summer crops this year; the tomatoes will be smaller, perhaps, but sweeter. When we do water, we aim for deep watering that will sink into the soil deep below the surface. Though we have an irrigation system, sometimes it is better to stand out in the garden and use the hose to give a more nuanced watering to the individual areas, especially those that we use to grow annual crops, that vary in water needs from year to year. A bonus to using the hose is the hummingbirds that are attracted to the hose, buzzing and hovering in and out of the spray of droplets. If you’d never seen a hummingbird, you’d never believe they would exist, just as they are. They’re impossible, aren’t they? Smaller than several insects we have known, flying faster than the human eye can travel, generally defying gravity and other laws of physics . . . all while gleaming and flashing as brilliantly as the brightest gemstones. While we water with the hose, the other yard birds draw nearer as well, to drink the beaded water droplets off of leaves, or to chase the myriad hopping, fluttering insects that are startled into fleeing from the sudden unseasonal rain of hose water. We’re a tiny weather system, for a moment, but long after we have laid the hose aside and gone inside for the evening, the coolness and moisture will continue to percolate into the soil.

The native sages and mimulus can take the heat, even when their leaves droop at midday, and the manzanita doesn’t mind the drought at all. The many drought tolerant salvia hybrids, the rainbow of yarrow and aster, the Mediterranean lavender and rosemary, the South African Leucadendron’s, the Australian grevilia; all these are unfazed by the heat and the dry soil conditions. We give these just a passing spritz of water now and then, but no regular watering. It’s only the vegetable garden and the fruit trees that we use this precious resource for, so we soak in the rare pleasure of the act of hand watering, as if we too, had our thirsty roots questing in hot soil, and we, too, were quenched by a fine spray of hoarded raindrops.