Coast Chronicles: Summertime and the Livin' is Squishy

<I>CATE GABLE photo</I><BR>Teresa Millner dressed for summer weather. Note that the Planter Box will recycle your old pots and containers.

I notice that last Sunday's incredible afternoon of sun hasn't stopped our whining. We're back to grey days, temps barely breaking out of the 50s, misty fog becoming rain, and crankiness.

The Hawaiians have many beautifully descriptive names for rain.

Ki pu'u pu'u (kee-poo-oo poo-oo) is the fierce goose-pimple raising wind and rain of Waimea on the Big Island. The more delicate kani lehua (CAW-knee lay-WHO-ah), a Hilo rain, is the sound the rain makes as it hits the just-opening lehua blossoms of the ohia trees. (I love that the blossoms have their own name, different from the tree they bloom on.)

Perhaps we need a bigger vocabulary for Pacific coastal rain so that we can better describe the finer points of our "summer."

The weather report explained Although, now that I think about it, we do get shades of variations in KMUN weather reports, if only we can understand the minute distinctions. I called the station and talked to program director Elizabeth Menetrey about the weather situation.

"What's the deal with 'light rain, a chance of rain, light showers, mostly cloudy, or partly sunny?'" I asked.

"Well, one thing I've learned," said Menetrey, "is the difference between showers and rain. Showers are intermittent with some possible sunbreaks, and rain - well, rain is just rain - it keeps coming down, steady."

"One weather site we use is the Weather Underground []. But there's another one I like too."

She begins reading from it. "So let's see, well, Wednesday it's a chance of rain [big surprise there], and Thursday there's a 40 percent chance of precipitation."

"Or it might be a slight chance of rain or drizzle."

"Rain, drizzle, precipitation ...?" I asked, now trying to contain my amusement, "Which is worse?"

"Precipitation is the general category," Menetrey explained, "and rain and drizzle ... [pause] ... well, the thing with drizzle is that it's a low cloud cover, like overcast clouds, and you have precipitation coming out of it."

We both crack up at this point.

More weather tomorrow Menetrey admits that she reads ahead in the week and tries to find good news to report. "Normally I read today's and tomorrow's weather but if I see, for instance, mostly cloudy or, even better, partly sunny which could mean a little sun, I jump ahead and read that too."

"Basically, if I see any sun in the forecast at any point in the week I report that - I want to give a little bit of an up if I can."

She drops her weather maven tone at this point and gets down and dirty, "But this front that's been sitting on top of us for so long - I don't remember when we've had such a long cloudy period - these last two months have just sucked."

"Whenever there is just a little bit of sun, even for a few minutes, I run outside and like a flower just lift my head up to it."

Well, whatever the name of this rainy season and its ignominies (hey, Bill, this one's for you) at least the slugs love it.

They have been out dancing even during daylight hours. OK, slugs don't dance exactly but they can actually move quite fast when they're going somewhere; and my slugs are always headed to the last, most fragile plant I've put in the garden.

Not that I begrudge the slugs anything - they're just trying to make the best of it, as we all are.

Existential dilemmas In fact, my latest revelation on the path of life is the conclusion that I may not have it in me to be a gardener because I can't kill anything; and, believe me, gardening is about killing things.

Gardening is about pulling things out of the ground, shooing things away, cutting things off, making fences to keep things out, encouraging some things to eat other things, or not, and/or just down and out murder (slugs). In general, it's about always wanting it your way or the highway.

I find that I can tolerate pruning - I suppose because we can't hear plants or trees protest. And because I grew up in the Yakima Valley, I know that you must prune to have a healthy crop and a well-shaped tree.

But by the time the fruit is set, I'm even reluctant to thin - taking that five-apple cluster down to two or a threesome to one. I mean, at that point, can't you almost hear those little green apples squealing?

Edible gardens I just have to remember that the point of a garden is either beauty or functionality - or perhaps both, as was illustrated this past weekend during the first ever Edible Garden Tour.

As Sydney Stevens put it in her Oysterville Daybook (check it out at, "the garden tour was one of those intensive, mind-, soul- and heart-filling experiences. There was no way to take in all of the information and passion that was presented - not in a day, anyway.

"Each of the nine gardens was distinctive. Some were huge; some tucked into the nooks and crannies of small residential properties. Some were simple kitchen gardens. Others were on the cutting edge of experimentation - developing solar and wind power sources, experimenting with biochar systems, working toward total sustainability.

"Truly, it was an inspiring and mind-boggling experience. We came home with renewed aspirations for our own miniscule vegetable garden and with new plans for improving the recreational facilities for our chickens. Honest!"

With gusto I had the great pleasure of helping Linda Hinde in her garden on tour day. I counted 60 folks who came through in a steady stream from noon right up until five o'clock.

One of the stars of Linda's show, aside from the fabulous greenhouse, which registered nearly 100 degrees at one point, was a spectacular coal-black jalapeƱo pepper called "Gusto." As one dreadlocked visiting gardener noted, "That color would look great in a scramble or in rice."

Linda has also hand-pollinated corn, each stalk has an ear filling out. Jon DuCharme remarked, "Corn - always the sign of a gardener new to the Peninsula," although Linda's is actually working so far.

Throughout the day, there were many conversations on "what do you do about slugs?" (Linda tosses them into the chicken coop - fast food for the girls.) Or "how do you keep the deer out of the garden?" (The neighbor has big dogs.)

Some folks arrived squinting at their tiny maps (Linda's garden is on one of those "you can't get there from here" Peninsula streets) and early-bird Kathleen Sayce said, summing up the day, "The little green balloons helped and I knew a lot of the gardeners. But what was most fun was just talking about gardening all day long."

The long way home Lisa Mattfield - her garden was on the tour - writes, "Some of the people were obviously experienced gardeners, and we swapped stories about what varieties of veggies we like best; but there were more than a few who are relatively new gardeners and were looking for ideas of what grows well here and how.

"My favorite quote was a young woman who said 'that's a good idea, I'll probably steal it' (I don't remember what 'it' was), and I replied that I'd probably stolen it from somewhere myself.

"I'm getting a lot of positive feedback, we may [will!] have to do this again next year," she concludes.

One all-around favorite was the Millner family garden.

We had a pre-tour tour with Barbara and Teresa Millner, who said that the family has been gardening their 15 acres since 1965 when Ray arrived on the Peninsula for a teaching job. He wanted to start a garden but couldn't get plants locally; he brought them in from elsewhere, with a few extra to sell to pay for the trip. Thus, the Planter Box was born.

So 45 years and nine edible organic gardens later (and more folks who wrote us saying they want to be included next year) is what I'd call 100 percent chance of sun.

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