The Ephemeral Visitor

Foggy garden

The fog rolls in sometimes in the morning like a lover on your doorstep, like an old friend passing through from out of town. It can’t stay, but while it’s here, you just have to breathe it in and savor what it has to offer without trying to hold on to it too tightly. It’ll slip from your grasp if you try to hold it, vapor and dewdrops, gray air and empty space. This fog that rolls in sometimes in the morning is the combined breath of oceans and inland valleys. The heat rising from hotter places draws the air upward, leaving a vacuum behind, and the cool air over the sea is drawn in to replace it. Sometimes, even miles from the ocean, you can smell a hint of salt and seawater in the beads of fog that condense so lightly on the garden leaves. The taste of the sea like sleepy morning breath, faint and tender, traced with currents from faraway lands.

This fog is a boon to the summer garden, the ephemeral visitor that makes dry farmed tomatoes thrive even without irrigation. The leaves of plants know how to drink in the fog as well; not by sucking it from the ground with thirsty roots, but by opening and allowing it to gently enter the leaves directly through the stomata, cooling and easing drought stress. This fog is a balm to the spirit as well; as the summer approaches and the threat of heatwaves, drought, and wildfire grows, the fog is soothing, damp and calming to nerves and ecosystems alike. For those who live on the coast, this rapture may have grown stale; the coast is often swathed in fog for the summer months, a phenomenon known as “June gloom” to locals. But just a few miles up the hill, in the mountains surrounding our store in Ben Lomond, the summer morning fog is a beloved visitor, to be savored and celebrated while it is here. Fleeting, fleeting, but bound to return again and again, drawn by heat and rising and absence. Sometimes in the morning when the garden is wisped with mist and the redwoods are drinking in the fog and guttation beads the edges of kale leaves, there is nothing more to be desired in that cool and quiet moment. When the sun burns through and the clear day blazes brightly, the problems of the world come into focus again, and the work that is to be done calls clearly. That’s important too, of course, the bright light and clarity, heat and action and brilliant photosynthesis. But the morning fog seems sometimes (to us, to some) to offer a momentary pause where we can allow ourselves to open like stomata, and drink in the mingled air and water directly through our skin and spirit.

Like all blessings, the fog is a mixed bag. Too much humidity can cause issues with fungal pests, like downy and powdery mildew, or damping off. And of course, the heat is what creates the sweetness and ripeness we crave in tomatoes, melons, and stonefruit, so we want that hot yellow summer sun to shine in the vegetable garden. But the cool mornings allow the plants a bit of space to breathe before the heat comes blazing down. It’s only May, garden friends, so it may be too early to be talking about the full heat of summer. We’re not there, not yet. But even as cooler temps are predicted for this next week, it can be a comforting idea to soak in the fog that visits us, even now, before the real heat begins. Sometimes we imagine these cool moist days as a commodity, as if temperature and humidity could be banked and stored in the heart or psyche, as a hedge against future heat. A pretty fantasy, that, but somehow a comfort, too. A deep watering that soaks the deep roots, even as the sun burns through the fog and dries the topsoil.

Our friend Luke, who lives on a hidden hill at 1,000 feet in the mountains above Branciforte, offered us his thoughts on fog, community, raspberries, and and more, on our most recent Homestead Happiness show. Are you all watching this? We archive it if you can’t catch it live, but on Fridays around 5:30 pm, Jess (hi, that’s me) and Karla (she’s amazing) offer up some combined wisdom, musing, and laughter, sometimes with a recipe thrown in. This last week it was a simple cilantro and chard green sauce, ground in a mortar and pestle, with sunflower seeds, salt, and lemon. We ate it with crunchy carrots just picked from the garden, while the fog rolled in behind us, and the sun sank into the horizon, while horned goats grazed on the grass behind us, and a Jersey cow lowed in the barn. Join us next week, and remember to drop any questions you might have in the comments before or during the broadcast. Thanks again to Luke for sharing his reflections with us, and for the years of friendship and inspiration. We’ll be back soon, in another week or two when the raspberries are ripe. Purely coincidental timing, of course.

The cooler weather predicted for the next week makes for wonderful planting weather. While the summer crops do love that summer heat, the young seedlings need time to send out their roots and recover from transplant shock. That’s why we often try to plant cooler times of the day, so that the seedlings can settle in with a minimum of stress. It’s best to avoid stressing seedlings if it can be helped; though they might recover from an early wilting, their vitality is sapped by losing moisture, and they are healthier and more vigorous if they are kept happy and wwell hydrated during the growing season. Well-hydrated crops might be a tall order this season; California has just released some sobering drought predictions for the summer ahead. Plan wisely. Now more than ever, it’s important to invest in our soils and their capacity to hold moisture. Compost acts like a sponge, trapping both air and water in the structure of the soil. A deep cover of mulch is also such help in keeping the moisture held in the soil, and not evaporating off into the air. We talk about this a lot, but it bears repeating, especially in a year where we may have to curtail our water use in order to keep rivers flowing and farms producing food. This year, as we plan and install the summer garden, we are focusing on slightly fewer individual plants, grown exceptionally well. By this practice, we hope to reduce water use while still generating a bumper crop. We’ll let you know how that works out for us…

We’ve been turning the last of the fava beans into the soil, stripping the mature wide pods off before we dig them in. Today’s recipe here, for fava bean falafel, is a worthwhile labor of love to make. Nothing beats the freshness and flavor of beans that have never been dried. The vibrant green color inside the crusty exterior reminds us of the green and thriving plants that we turned into the soil to enrich the land for future generations. A recipe like this one might have been passed on for generations untold before it landed here, on this glowing page. Countless generations of fava beans have enriched table and soil alike, the largest and the healthiest seeds saved to begin the cycle again next year. As we turn the final cover crops into the soil, add compost and prep the beds for planting eggplants and peppers, we are participating in an ancient and timeless practice of mutual interdependence. Sun and water, fog and fava, soil and  sweetness and soul; such riches we cultivate here, in this small cleared space beneath tall trees.