Annie Calovich

June 29, 2013

Gardening in the heat? No sweat

I can’t believe it when I find myself gardening in white.

I can’t believe it when I find myself gardening in white.

I don’t know why I’m so surprised. I am my father’s daughter. When I was a kid my mom would yell at my dad for gardening or doing other messy work in his good clothes. I yell at myself the same amount, but there I am, getting dirt on my white capris, not having specifically planned to get this dirty or work this hard. I guess I never do actually plan it. For some reason I love to walk into the garden all clean and in nice clothes, as if I am just going to relax there. Which, of course, I do, even when I’m working.

At the first part of every summer I also have to remind myself that it’s OK to sweat. This week we started finally getting into the nitty-gritty of it, when the heat was turned up and the sky was turned off. Flash-in-the-pan rain, lightning and thunder managed to break into the cloudless forecast earlier this week, and it provided a bit of relief — at least psychologically — when my air conditioner was out for two days.

I grew up in a house without air conditioning, and though I spent long days well refrigerated at my best friend’s house, it was the trying to sleep in the heat that I remembered now. My head was once again near the open window, trying to will a breath of nighttime air through the screen. When I did fall asleep, any unfamiliar outdoor noise woke me up.

A lack of air conditioning wears me down now, because I’m not used to it, but conditioned air also wears me down, leaving me grateful for outdoor air, no matter how hot, when I’ve been cut off from it for any length of time. Air au naturel is earthier (kind of like BO is), and it gets you reconnected to the rhythm of the outdoors. It also makes you think of those who don’t have air conditioning. There are many of them.

I’ve managed to come up with a way to water most mornings so that I don’t get dirty or sweaty. Because we should water only when plants need it, and then deeply, I don’t do in-depth watering daily. Instead, in the evening, when it’s not too hot, I fill up several watering cans. Then in the morning — which is the best time to water, because moisture doesn’t sit on the leaves all night and promote disease — I pick up the watering cans and carry them around to pots, birdbaths and any new in-ground plants that don’t have an established root system. That way, I can be dressed for work and not have to worry about dragging a hose across my nice shoes. Or working too hard. You know.

For those of you thinking about getting a rain barrel since the city of Wichita announced rebates for them, extension agent Bob Neier says he uses his rainwater at home to fill watering cans. At the Extension Center, he fills 5-gallon buckets and carries them out to water young trees that the hose can’t reach anyway. Otherwise, rain barrels can give enough pressure to send water out of a soaker hose slowly, but maybe not enough for drip irrigation.

“I think they’re quite handy,” Neier said of rain barrels. The city is offering as much as $75 toward your water bill for the purchase of a rain barrel or materials that you use to make one. Look for more information on rain barrels and irrigation controls in next Saturday’s Home & Garden section.

The night after my air conditioner was repaired, I was outside filling the watering cans, and a shelf of cloud (not to be confused with a shelf cloud) moved over the sky. Thunder rumbled in the distance, and then a glow of orange signaling sunset broke through, chasing away the hope for another unpredicted rain. I sat on the front porch and gazed into a patch of clear blue sky that opened up, the landscape still glowing orange all around me. The air conditioner was purring, and I knew the house was cool. But I had no desire to go inside.

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