I’ve been reading a barnyard vignette collection set on a small southern Ontario farm. The author is a hobby farming woman much like me, except sheep are her passion not chickens. I can relate to most of her adventures and predicaments, but not what she says about July. She claims that July is a calm, quiet time. A time of nothing-much-to-do on the farm after the rush of spring and before the fall harvest.
I don’t know what planet her farm is on, because around here in July, we’re canning and freezing and drying and jam making like crazy, afraid to slow down lest we stumble and be engulfed in a rising tide of produce.
My resident gardener is mowing and hoeing and watering and serving manure tea and hunting slugs and voles. I am tending the year’s chicken population boom; layers and grow-outs, broodies and their families and the freezer camp boys. The work involved is not insignificant. The boys in particular require extra care to fit them for their life’s purpose, to grace my winter table.
Here in our west coast muddy valley we can eat from the garden year round. “Vegetable delivery!” sings out my resident gardener as she dumps yet another armful on the kitchen counter.
Production really starts building in April and May with rhubarb, peas, chives, kale, chard, arugula, lettuce; then strawberries, garlic scapes, raspberries and garlic in June, and now blue berries, tomatoes, tomatillos, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, cucumber and new this year…cucamelons (nut-sized striped melons tasting of mildly spicy cucumber).
We eat as much as we can fresh and prepare the mounds of surplus as quick as we can for the freezer, the dehydrator, the canner or the big sauce pot as required.
We’re watching the figs like a hawk and looking forward to much more deliciousness to come, carrots, grapes, peaches, apples, celery, beets, parsnips, cabbage, onions, leeks, to name a few. Our taste buds are happy, sampling July’s cornucopia, and our fingers busy preserving it.
Oh and the herbs! Cut in the morning for maximum potency, spread on stainless mesh racks and dried thoroughly in the spare room’s light summer air. Then tipped into my wide red fruit bowl, clean and empty at this time of year (because fruit flies). A gift from a young man who knows I love bright dishes, my fruit bowl is perfect for cleaning dried herbs. It offers enough elbow room that I can pull brittle leaves from stems without losing any to the floor, and then scoop them into jars with none left behind.
In July I like to lay in enough fresh lavender, oregano, sage, thyme, mint, cilantro, rosemary etc. to last through until next year’s growth starts. They are all at the peak of perfection right now, and the weather perfect for preserving them.
I empty my spice drawer bottles and refill them with fresh, saving the discards to sprinkle in my hens’ nest boxes. Herbs help to discourage bugs and I think the hens enjoy them too.
The rest of this year’s herbal bounty goes into a cool dark cupboard for now. It’s summer time, and the living is easy. So I’ll keep on wandering outside and collecting what I need for dinner, until I can’t any more. Then I shall crack open my jars, and all winter long, strew July’s savoury scents into rich soups, bubbling stews and homegrown coq a vin.