Weird and Wonderful: The Weather

I know it’s a sin to relish the weather in these globally catastrophic times, but really, it’s been great. Ignoring the tick problem, the hardiness zone misadventure, and the annoying increase in wind intensity (El Ninos included), I’d say we’re experiencing paradise.

I’m sure we all have little anecdotes about this year’s weather effects. My own has to do with my yearly grapple with the organic orchard. Organic orcharding is an exercise in futility for the most part. The best part of any farming endeavor is when you taste the food right off the vine, the way nature intended it, and when it’s at its absolute best. The discerning orchardist waits until the very last minute to harvest, knowing the flavor will be at its peak then and although it can often ripen after picking, it will be sweeter if left on the vine to do so. With fruit (I’m talking the fruit we think of as fruit: peaches, berries, etc., not the fruit we call vegetables like tomatoes and corn) this is a difficult proposition. The sweeter the fruit, the more attractive it is to the moths, caterpillars, butterflies, bees, flies, and birds. The longer you leave it up, the more damage it’s going to sustain. So you try to get out there at the very moment of peakhood, but you’ll never beat the pest. The pest has incredible chemical sensory apparati and you only have a schedule. If it’s on your schedule to pick, you’ll pick, but the moths will come the moment they smell the fruit. Doesn’t matter what they’re doing at the time: mating, pupating, sleeping, molting, hiding from the mantids, they will come running on the first waft of sucrose-laden air.

This year I think we had budburst in January. This is usually a bad sign. The last frost date is May 15th. Bud bursting before a heavy frost can ruin an entire crop. So while it’s nice to see the trees turn pink for Valentine’s Day, it’s a bad sign. This year, though, the buds burst early and the frost stayed light. We had an incredible abundance of fruit and everything was about a month early. I think we totally screwed the flies. They came out yawning and sheepishly rubbing their compound eyes a week too late. We’d been and gone with a full fruit locker by that time.

Usually canning time is a time of sorrow for me. About half the fruit is wormy and the other half fungusy. I weep and gnash. One year I stopped after a single quart, threw my paring knife at the wall and started bawling about not having any talent for canning. I simply could not go on and resolved to give up the whole fruit tree idea and stick to asparagus and potatoes. My therapist reminded me that I don’t make a living from farming and that gardening is a pleasure and I should be glad that I have an activity that gets me out and why don’t I just get over it. Think of the starving children in China etc. You know the drill: pat phrases to get me back on track. It worked for another year and it’s never been quite as bad as that one time. But it’s never been very good either. But that’s how it is in organic fruit production. I’m talking the kind of fruit that bruises if you look cross-eyed at it—peaches. Easily-bruised fruit is like easily-bruised people: high maintenance but generally worth it. And let me tell you, after nine years of failure, this one year has made the whole goll-durned experiment worth it.

Actually it’s been getting better each year. It may be me that’s getting better at it, but the warm weather definitely helped. I didn’t come across a single bug at canning time. The only problem I had was that there was so much fruit to be picked, I didn’t get around to canning until half had over ripened. The horses were glad for that, though. Don’t they just love me now. Come running when they see me heading over to the feed bucket with my little white pomace pail.

The point is, when life gives you lemons, you’re supposed to make lemonade. So the weather sucks, so we’re burning ourselves up in the greenhouse effect. So what I say. If that’s what it takes to bring out this fantastic harvest I’m all for it. Bring on the See-Oh-tu.

Of course next year this could all go to you know what, but for now: eat a peach!

Sue Lange
Sue Lange’s bookshelf at Book View Cafe




Weird and Wonderful: The Weather — 9 Comments

  1. I kept thinking about a song written some years back by Don Sanders, a Houston singer-songwriter, called “Bruised Fruit.” Here are a couple of lines I remember:

    “Bruised fruit. I’ve got my mushy spots.
    You could use me in a jam
    And let your tongue uncover what a flavor I am.”

    As for weather: It’s hot as hell outside here (triple digits in the afternoons and not cooling off at night), but all my plants are so happy as long as I water them every morning. We’ve had a great year here in Austin for the green things — the right amount of rain and lots of sun. Maybe even those hard freezes (for Austin) last winter were useful for everything except a few of the tropicals. I’ve been walking through my neighborhood regularly since January, watching the greenery ebb and flow and generally enjoying the hard work other people put into their yards.

  2. Feel free to bring fruit in September!
    What I object to is the way things have got more extreme — record snowfalls in winter, record heat in July. Hello, how about some averaging?

  3. I’m about to run out into 90+ weather for errands before we hit triple digits and oh-my-ghod humidity. But my other break today will be cutting up peaches to freeze for the next cobbler! Even with a lot of cold this spring, the Fredericksburg peaches have been lovely in flavor!

    I envy those fruit trees. A bit discouraging, knowing that it may take nine years for a good crop — but it sure puts us closer to our ancestors, who lived from harvest to harvest.

  4. We had a mild winter, and long wet spring, followed by wild swings between blistering hot and record cold.

    Our fruit and berry crops were late but full of flavor for the longer ripening period. I just wish I was closer to the organic farmers markets to feast more regularly. But up here on the mountain our soil is too much volcanic sand and the light is blocked by high ridges and taller trees.

    I envy you the peaches.

  5. This spring — well, I said to a co-worker you know what they say about New England weather, and actually, he hadn’t — so I told: if you don’t like it, wait five minutes. And it was never more true — temperature up, temperature down, bright sunny days, thunderous storms. . . I turned my air conditioning on. Somewhat later, I turned my heat back on.

    Summer’s been dry. There was a stretch when the lawn was dun yellow, all of it. Now there are more green stretches than dun, and the dun has green splotches at least.

  6. 97 degrees today. At 6pm. In San Francisco. Where we have had (hitherto) the coldest summer on record. The sound you hear is my head exploding. Even the dog is too hot to play.

  7. Temperature is all a matter of perspective. The forecast for today in Austin is for 97, too, and my reaction is “Thank God the heat wave broke.” (It’s been over 100 every day for the past couple of weeks.) If the forecast can be trusted, it might actually not get out of the 80s on Sunday, which would be bliss.

    But I know 97 is ghastly in San Francisco, where folks don’t have air conditioning because they don’t need it most of the time. Me, I only go out for my daily walk (early) and to get to the car; otherwise I’m inside in air conditioned comfort.

  8. It’s not perspective, it’s antifreeze in the blood. My heat tolerance rises every summer. (Partly, to be sure, because I don’t crank the air conditioning.)

    And then there’s humidity and wind. A still, muggy 70’s is worse than a windy, reasonably dry 90’s.

  9. I agree with Mary about still and muggy — I find summer in DC and Houston much more unpleasant than summer in Austin, even if it’s hotter in Austin.

    But above 100, it’s all just harsh.