Gardens for Humanity: Signs of Summer
The month of May ushered in a new cycle in the garden. It began as a remnant of spring, and ended as an announcement of summer. Early May can be a precarious time for tender buds on fruit trees as cold fronts with chill winds still pay a visit.
Seasoned gardeners watch the native plants for assurance that there is no longer a danger of frost and that warm weather crops can be planted. The budding leaves on mesquite trees assure us that summer is on its way. The yuccas faithfully wave their lily-like flowers like a local flag on Memorial Day. Cacti show off their budding summer fruits as iridescent bouquets of flowers.
By June, our fall-winter garden is finishing, and many perennial flowers are in full glory. This is the time for flowering, and even winter veggies are bolting, making flowers and seeds for their next cycle. Salad greens, as well as cilantro, hardy kales, collards, arugula, and others in the cabbage family shoot up flowering stalks joining in the rich display.
Bumblebees, honeybees, butterflies, and native bees are more active, with so much more food – an abundant floral feast! With the emerging of insects in warmer weather, and wildflowers going to seed, lizards, snakes, and birds are once again populating our gardens, singing and building nests.
In our garden it is time to harvest garlic and onions. Edible cover crops of winter peas and fava beans are ripe for harvest. Spring bulbs have finished their show of color, but roses, wildflowers, and flowering shrubs lend magnificent color and fragrance. Artichoke buds are emerging with the promise of an addition to a June meal. Fruit on our trees are swelling. We can watch vigorous new growth daily – so much energy exploding especially after our wet winter and spring!
These signs are constants even in a time when our weather seems increasingly unpredictable. There were days in May that seemed like monsoon season, with hot, humid days and afternoon thundershowers. However, May and June are typically hot and dry before the July monsoons arrive.
So June gardening takes into account both the opportunities and threats to our young garden starts. The warmer nighttime temperatures are auspicious for planting and nurturing warm-weather crops such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, and beans. However, hot, dry days require more watering and sometimes shading of young plants. There are also more insect predators, so protection extends to those threats. In our garden habitat, integrated pest management includes all critters that make it their home, so we do not have to use toxic pesticides.
Since June is typically the driest month, the “to do” list for June involves preparing a water-wise garden that keeps our plants alive. First, a soil rich in organic matter absorbs and conserves water without becoming waterlogged, and it feeds the plants naturally. So building rich soil is the first step. Parallel to that is to apply deep mulch that reduces evaporation and shades the soil while increasing the beneficial microorganisms. This may involve composting and saving leaves to recycle in your garden. Then, a dependable irrigation system that meets the needs of different plant zones is essential until the monsoon rains arrive, and can be adapted to different weather conditions.
Gardens for Humanity is scheduling a series of workshops that teach many strategies for gardening in our region. To find out more about our workshops visit GardensForHumanity.org
Richard Sidy is president of Gardens for Humanity, a founding member of the Sustainability Alliance and a member of the Verde Valley Food Policy Council. To reach him, email president@ gardensforhumanity.org .