Dealing with a Rainy Summer

It has been a rainy summer so far in Wisconsin. Thank goodness it hasn’t been the kind that sees lots of flooding, as we had in 2008 when the entire town flooded out and I was locked in the house for days at a time. No, this has been a lighter, steady sort of rainy summer. It has rained often enough that the young lad mowing my lawn has had to work hard just to find days to do it and sometimes needs to come back another day because it starts raining right in the middle of cutting the grass. However, the things that tell you most that this has been a really rainy summer are the mushrooms and the mosquitoes.

The mushrooms are interesting because they’re growing all over the place and are of such diversity that they’re simply fun to look at. I’ll often wander around in the early morning hours looking at mushrooms before the dogs get out there and rip them up (yes, Reese and Shelby can get quite frisky during their morning game of Frisbee). If I knew a bit more about mushrooms, this would be a year to stock the freezer. As it is, I’m only positive enough about button, morel, and puffball mushrooms to pick them for eating (and even then I’m extremely careful).

The mosquitoes are a bit more of a problem. There have been notices on the radio that many of them carry West Nile Virus, a disease I’d prefer not to get. So, I’ve stocked up on the usual remedies and make sure I spray myself before I go out to work in the flower beds or gardens. I’ve also been reading articles such as, “10 Signs You May Have West Nile Virus” so that I know what to look for.

The rains have had some interesting effects (other than the mushrooms) in my salad garden. The cherry tomatoes are already to the top of their cages and they’re producing blooms like crazy. At some point I’m going to be eating cherry tomatoes a bit more often than I might like. My plan is to collect enough up that I can dry them for later use. Dehydration is always a good way to preserve food for later use. Likewise, my green peppers are getting quite large. In fact, I picked my first green pepper (a tad small) the other day. The extra rain hasn’t seemed to affect the taste or quality of the peppers so far.

What I do worry about is my herbs. So far they’re growing like crazy, but I’m concerned that they won’t dry well and that they’ll lack some of the oils that they normally do. I tried some lime mint in tea the other day and it seemed a bit weak. The rest of the summer will determine just how the herbs do. I know they’ll definitely be usable, but it may require more of them to get the same effects as normal. Fortunately, none of the herbs seems to be rotting or having other problems so far.

Did I mention that the weeds absolutely love the rain too? It seems as if I can’t pick them fast enough and the nearly constant rain causes them to grow quite large, quite fast. Fortunately, I’ve been able to keep up well with everything except my personal garden, which is a little weedier than I’d like at the moment. Let me know your thoughts about rainy summers at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

A Really Wet Spring

It doesn’t seem possible that I was complaining about drought last year, but I did (see Unexpected Drought Consequences for details). Our spring has been incredibly wet with rain coming every other day (or, more often, several days in a row). It has been so wet that even trying to cut the grass has been a chore. I finally resorted to using a hand mower and a weed whacker to do the job—the garden tractor was hopeless, it either lost traction and got stuck or the deck would become filled with grass and refuse to do anything more. At least we’re not flooding (yet).

Our main concern at the moment is that the garden still isn’t planted. Yes, it has gotten quite late and some items wouldn’t have a chance of producing anything at this point, but many other items will still produce something for us. The problem is trying to till the garden to loosen the soil. The other day I took out my spade to see how things were progressing. The soil in one part of the garden simply stuck together as a mud ball. Digging in another part showed water in the bottom of the hole. Obviously, any attempt to use the tiller will be futile until the garden dries out a little.

At least one reader has heard of our predicament (possibly being in the same state himself) and chided me about my comments regarding global warming. I stand by what I have said in the past—global warming is a reality. Global warming doesn’t necessarily mean things will be hot (although, the global average temperature is increasing a small amount each year). What it means is that we’ll see more extremes in weather, such as this year’s really cool and wet spring.

As with anything, I try to find the positives. I reported on one of those positives recently, our woods produced a bumper crop of mushrooms. Those mushrooms sell for $25.00 a pound if you can obtain them directly from someone who picks them. Morels are in high demand because they’re delicious. If you pick mushrooms to help augment your income, this is your year. We simply enjoyed them in some wonderful meat dishes, which is a treat considering we usually make do with the canned variety.

However, for us the biggest plus is that we’re going to be buried in fruit. The apples, cherries, plums, and pears have all produced bountifully this year. The trees are literally packed with fruit. I imagine that I’ll need to trim some of it off to keep the branches from breaking—an incredibly rare event. It has only happened once before in the 18 years we have lived here. So, for us, this year is the year we pack the larder with good fruit to eat, despite the fact that our garden will produce dismally.

Of course, we really do want a garden. At this point, my only option is to go out there and dig it up by hand and then smooth it over with a garden rake. I’ll this task right alongside of mowing the lawn using the weed whacker. We’re talking some heavy duty hours of some incredibly dirty work. Well, someone has to do it. At least I’m getting my exercise, which will help improve my health.

So how is your spring going and what do you expect from your garden this summer? Are your fruit trees literally bursting with fruit as mine are? Let me know what is happening with your orchard and garden at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Bounty and Beauty in the Woods

Anyone who knows me knows that I spend a lot of time in the woods. There is always something to see there, even in the dead of winter. In reality, there is quite a lot to see that you’ll never find unless you know where to look. Some hidden items bespeak the bounty of the woods, while others tell of the beauty you can encounter there.

Recently I went up into the woods to look for morel mushrooms. Our damp, cool spring seems to have produced a bumper crop of them. In fact, normally I find just a few, but this year we ended up with a bowl full of them. What surprised me most what the size of these mushrooms, they were a lot larger than usual. Here are a few of the larger ones I found:

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Fortunately, size doesn’t diminish the wonderful taste of these mushrooms; you just get more of a good thing. Rebecca fixed them up with a roast, which was absolutely delicious. The mushroom season is extended this year and I hope to find a few remaining morels on a venture into the woods today (weather permitting, of course).

Sometimes beauty is also hidden. While wandering through the woods, I noted our may apples (sometimes spelled as mayapple, without the space) are up for the year. When you walk through the woods, you see a nondescript bit of vegetation that is slightly reminiscent of palm trees when viewed closely. Some plants have one leaf (first year) and some two leaves (second year). The second year plants will produce a beautiful blossom (just one). I picked one for my lovely bride to enjoy as shown here:

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The single flower has an extremely light, but pleasant smell. The may apple is actually a useful plant, but most people haven’t even heard of it. The leaves, when boiled, produce a natural insecticide that you can spray on a variety of plants. The insecticide washes off cleanly with the next rain. You can also dip seeds in it to prevent a variety of problems.

The native Americans used the may apple root as a medication. It’s used as a laxative and also a purgative. In fact, it may surprise you to find that some modern medications, such as podophyllin, also rely on the may apple.

There is some discussion about the fruit because most people have no clue as to when to pick and eat it. The fruit must ripen on the plant or else you’ll get poisoned (not enough to die, but you’ll wish you had). It has a subtly lemon taste and is absolutely delicious. Most sites tell you not to eat the seeds, which is good advice. The seeds won’t make you sick, but they do tend to have a laxative effect when you eat enough of them.

This is also the season for springtime flowers. While the may apple might be a little on the self-conscious side, most flowers are quite showy. This year we’ve been blessed with an abundance of cranesbill geranium as shown here.

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Most of these patches are relatively large and the flowers are knee deep (sometimes deeper). Our moist, cool spring seems to have brought out more than the usual number of these delightful flowers and it’s hard to go very far without seeing a patch of them. They do spring up each year, but this year’s display is astounding. The eye catching beauty of this group of flowers hides the may apples and other plants that are also part of the picture.

The woods tends to hide things from the casual visitor and the presence of showy displays tends to make discrete displays even harder to find. In order to see both the bounty and the beauty, you must look—really look—to see all that resides within. Let me know about your latest experience in the woods at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.