Buried in berries? It’s a good thing.

June’s record-setting rainfall did not do much good for many of the garden plants. The roses have brown spots on the leaves from fungus, the prickly pear cacti rotted in place, the hardy hibiscus proved it was not and the apple trees lost most of their blossoms and some of their leaves during a rainfall that came down hard enough it sounded like hail hitting the roof. Once the rain tapered back to normal amounts and the temperature warmed up, the raspberries kicked into high gear. Now that August is here, the berry harvest is ending soon, probably by early next week. Thus far, there are ten pints picked, easily three pints lost due to drop offs, raccoons and birds, and probably two more pints ripening on the canes. It has been a very good year for raspberries and the lack of Japanese beetles helped quite a bit, too. The blackberries were disappointing with less than a handful for the total harvest while last year’s harvest was almost two pints. I managed to give a friend a pint of raspberries and received a pint of homemade tapioca pudding in return. That was a great trade, so I am trying it again!

Lucy and I enjoyed raspberries, even though I did most of the picking. I rarely suffered mosquito bites and barely reacted to them. Once I lost weight, I became attractive to mosquitoes, which are the only females that find me attractive. Lucy would have a quarter-sized welt from a single mosquito bite. The raspberry patch is next to the air conditioner, so I would put a large fan on top of the air conditioner when we were picking berries to keep the mosquitoes mostly at bay. The fan also helped on the oppressively humid days the Twin Cities sometimes gets in the summer. Fortunately, the mosquito population dramatically thinned out when the water in standing pools and puddles dried up. I can pick a pint or two of berries without needing a transfusion afterwards. It has been less humid, a bit cooler than normal, and there has usually been a breeze when I have picked this season.

Gardening teaches us that there are still many things outside of our control. The weather doesn’t cooperate, an insect or bird infestation wipes out a crop, winter kill decimating supposedly hardy plants, growing conditions are unfavorable and so on. Patience and perseverance are part of a gardener’s mantra along with some (OK, many) words unfit for a family friendly publication. A bumper crop of raspberries makes up for a shortfall of apples. The spot occupied by a dead clematis becomes the new home for a yucca. Tree branches removed either by the wind or by a chain saw become wood chips for composting and mulching. Acceptance of things beyond one’s control helps with coping and rebuilding.

The end of berry season is also brings an awareness that the days are noticeably shorter as summer slowly glides into autumn. Cicada, cricket, toad and tree frog sounds mix in with the bird songs. Juvenile birds feed alongside their parents. Monarch, sulphur, cabbage white, zebra swallowtail and mourning cloak butterflies float from flower to flower looking for a meal. Twinkling fireflies are always a bonus when watching this part of the world wind down for the evening. Fewer mosquitoes and other flying pests means a more enjoyable time around a bonfire or sitting out on a deck with friends. Being in touch with nature helps with stress reduction, even if the garden is just a couple of potted plants on an apartment balcony.

Take a few minutes to get in touch with nature, preferably with your special someone (chasing a lawn mower does not count). Enjoy the sights, sounds and smells, especially if you are not on a path frequented by geese. Treat yourself to a handful of freshly picked berries if they are available and your diet allows them. Most importantly, give your special someone a meaningful hug and enjoy that closeness. A hug is the best stress reliever of all.

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