Jill Severn's Gardening Column

What an odd year it's been


What an odd year it’s been. First there was the long, cold, wet spring that lasted well into June. Then came an unusually dry and sunny summer, with the repeated but brief heat waves, though none, thank heaven, reaching 109 degrees as it did last year.

It was odd east of the mountains, too. The chilly spring kept bees from pollinating many peaches, cherries, apricots and plums when the trees bloomed. That led to smaller, later harvests.  The peach harvest is expected to be down by half.

The bees were late to show up for work here, too, so some people have plum trees with no plums, while others who have later flowering varieties are just fine. And a couple of trailside apple trees are so loaded with fruit their branches may break. Those trees must be late bloomers too.

In April, many of us had trouble getting seeds to come up. Green beans sprouted slowly even after a second planting. When they finally got going, they bloomed for a month before a single blossom produced a bean. Now they’ve made up for lost time; everyone on my block has had enough of them.

Tomato plants also dawdled until mid-July. If you have more than two ripe tomatoes right now, I envy you.

A banner year -- for ants

Things are a little weird in the insect world too. It’s a banner year for ants – especially the tiniest ones, known as sugar ants. That name includes several species, and it’s challenging to tell them apart. The ones at my house this year are tinier than I’ve ever seen.

Their leaders have led armies into the kitchen, the bathtub, and now into the hummingbird feeder.

The hummingbird feeder invasion was quite a feat. First those teeny tiny ants climbed up the house – unseen, under the siding. Then they marched, head first, straight down the chain that holds the hanging feeder. In their eagerness to slurp up the sugar water, some drowned in it. I think the flaw in their strategy – aside from the drownings – is that they can’t seem to figure out how to get down. But maybe I just haven’t watched long enough. Or maybe they have ant parachutes too small to see with the naked eye.

But the hummingbirds don’t like the ants at all. They hover near the feeder, turn their beaks away, and buzz off.

So I went looking for ant repellant.

The nursery had no suggestions, only poisons.

Looking at what’s on the nursery shelves was alarming. One product is called “Decimate.” Another is called “Kill-Zall.” So much for harmony with nature.

The most enterprising death-dealing  product – which had nothing to do with ants – is called “20% Vinegar Weed Killer.” Vinegar is its only active ingredient. It costs $29.99. That’s got to be quite a profit margin.

(Faithful readers may recall reading advice a few months ago to use vinegar and water in a spray bottle to kill weeds in paths and sidewalk cracks, though not in your garden.)

But I digress.

Our local conditions may be odd this year, but odd is not the same as horrible.

In large areas of our earth, the weather has brought suffering and disaster. Countless square miles have already burned on several continents. Lakes, rivers and reservoirs are at historic lows. In some places, crops wither in the fields. In other places, catastrophic floods have swept away thousands of people.

And while others are dealing with death and hardship, we just had a long, cool, wet spring and an extra-long, extra-sunny summer. We should count our blessings.

A few weeks ago, I met someone whose family recently moved here to escape the heat and smoke of California. They researched long-range climate forecasts for various places and chose Olympia. Others are sure to follow their example. We have no idea how many, or how soon. But we know those who’ve come are very glad to be here.

Our odd year has been unsettling. But thinking about it in the larger context of the fires, droughts, storms and floods afflicting so much of the earth takes our breath away.

We can’t turn away from the climate emergency that confronts our species. We need to do everything we can to stop its advance.

But sometimes we also need to focus on our inconsequential little local challenges – like unripe tomatoes and matching wits with ants – just to keep our sanity.

Now that’s really odd.

Jill Severn writes from her home in Olympia, where she grows vegetables, flowers and a small flock of chickens. She loves conversation among gardeners. Start one by emailing her at  jill@theJOLTnews.com


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  • sunshine39

    Glad to know others are seeing the ant invasion.

    You can make an ant moat with cup hooks, a cork, and a lid (see how on youtube) Really works.

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