A Guide to Nature, Gardening, Food and Foraging in Summer.
Summer is here, and with it the peak of the light evenings we were craving all winter. The long days languorously stretch out before us, inviting warm evenings filled with BBQs, time spent lying on grassy lawns and responding to the call of the coast with it’s lapping waves and cones of icecream.
While spring was a season of activity and growth, summer asks for a slower pace, time to stop and appreciate the beauty of nature, the abundance of fresh food to eat and to grab as many minutes outside as we possibly can.
Midsummer, a celebration of the light of this season arrives on the 24th June and with it celebrates the longest day of the year, the 21st June aka the summer solstice. This day is often celebrated around the world with bonfires and dancing. This time calls for practising gratitude for the abundance in our lives as well getting outside and enjoying the beauty of summer and the simple pleasure of feeling the sun on our skin.
Summer rounds out with Lammas at the beginning of August. Another ancient festival this time centred around the first harvests, in particular the ripening wheat. There are fairs across Ireland that still celebrate Lammas or Lughnasadh, perhaps the most famous being the Puck Fair where a wild billy goat is walked through the town of Killorglin in County Kerry and crowned King Puck by a young school girl. Very bizarre!!
What to eat in Summer
With these long days comes a burst of growth in the veg plot and so Finally the hunger gap is over! Seemingly overnight there is plenty of delicious new veg and leafy greens to enjoy from our own gardens or from the farmers market.
One of my favourite things to do in summer is to walk around the garden picking the odd radish and fat pea pod to snack on as I go.
Globe artichokes, Beetroot, broad beans, carrots, cauliflower, french beans, kohl rabi, lettuce, pack choi, tomatoes, radish peas, as well as summer berries such as gooseberries, strawberries, blackcurrants, cherries and blueberries are all good to eat now.
In the herb garden there’s plenty to pick as well, mint is thriving, as is verbena, fennel, dill, lemon balm, lavender and more! This is when I love to make herbal infused sugars, such as lavender sugar that I can then use in baking for our farm cafe. Its a great way to capture some of those delicious flavours of summer.
Some of my favourite things to cook in summer are salads. With such a variety of young produce to chose from I can pick many types of leaves, slice a radish or two, chop up a cucumber as well as adding in artichoke hearts, herbs, mange tout, peas, roasted beetroot and finishing with a flourish of calendula flowers. Served with a good French dressing with a decent kick of garlic it really sums up the season on a plate.
In our farm cafe we often serve up a poly tunnel platter which includes fresh salad but also quick summer pickles, local cheese and charcuterie as well as garden tabbuloleh rich with chopped herbs and fresh tomatoes. Again this is the kind of food I really enjoy in summer, it’s so fresh and vibrant as well as light enough for warmer days.
Summer is also a lovely time to make some refreshing drinks. Lemonade is an easy recipe to master as is cordials. After the elderflower I love to make meadowsweet cordial which is equally tasty and fragrant. Cocktails and mocktails infused with garden herbs and flowers are another delicious summery treat. There’s a gorgeous book by Lottie Muir with tons of wonderful recipes for wild drinks that I highly recommend! We’ve been making infused iced coffees, with wild foraged syrups such as lilac and rose.
What to do in garden in Summer
So what about the Summer garden? Well, after a busy spring of sowing, transplanting and tending to new growth, summer asks for a slower pace. Summer is the time to enjoy all that hard work and to revel in the beauty of all those gorgeous blooms as well as the fresh produce that should be ready throughout summer. There’s none of the urgency of autumn’s intense harvest and a fraction of the sowing demanded by Spring, summer is a happy medium where the gardener can potter around the garden, cutting flowers and nibbling on peas.
Of course there are always jobs to do should you seek them and throughout June, July and August the lawn can always be mowed, the garden beds watered and flowers deadheaded. Other jobs include sowing any autumn veg and planting out winter brassicas, pruning early flowering shrubs and finished rambling roses. Bulbs are also worth thinking about and July is the perfect time to plant out autumn flowering bulbs and to start thinking about what bulbs you would like to order in a couple of months time for the Spring.
In my own garden I have been enjoying the edible flowers that are blooming in my raised beds and containers. I have gone a little Ott this year with mint, and have quite the collection! I have apple mint, eau de cologne, moroccan, chocolate peppermint and also basil mint growing by my backdoor for easy picking. The Moroccan mint is particularly good for tea while the eau de cologne is for body scrubs and baths.
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What to see in nature in Summer
Summer here on the farm is a beautiful place to be, after a really harsh winter thanks to our northern and coastal situation, suddenly nature takes over and the trees are in full leaf, The hedgerows are frothy with blossom, the lawns dotted with daisies and the polytunnels bursting at the seams with fresh produce. The mornings are light and filled with birdsong and the evenings balmy and accompanied with the coo of pigeons and distinctive call of the cuckoo.
My daily walks are punctuated with many stops to admire all of what nature offers at this time of year. The wild meadows are now full of orchids, thistles, knapweed and rosebay willowherb and I love to spend some time figuring out all the wild flowers that are now growing and also foraging too! In summer look out for these wild edibles; pineapple weed, lime blossom, chickweed, bilberry, meadowsweet, fat hen, yarrow, wild strawberry, rose, clover, mallow, seaweed, elderflower and watermint to name a few.
For those interested in insects, There are plenty of bees about enjoying the abundant blossom, as well as colourful butterflies too, look out for the common blues, meadow browns and orange and tan gatekeeper. There are many dragonflies to spot by the rivers and ponds, as well as the beautiful turquoise damselfly.
Fledlings are leaving there nests for the first time now and you can sometimes see them on the ground-this doesn’t mean they have fallen out of their nests, but rather they are learning to fly and the adult birds are usually nearby so don’t worry or interfere.
As summer draws to a close in August, you’ll hear the chirp of crickets and grasshoppers amongst the hedgerows and the blackberries begin to ripen.