The talking head who appears for twenty-second sound bites between events in the live telecasts of the Rio Olympics has been warning us: the summer’s next heat wave starts tomorrow. I wonder how previous generations of farmers survived these seasons. While our 106-year old house has covered front porches, thick stone walls, and many windows downstairs, it seems that once that old stone heats up, the thermal mass conserves the heat quite well. Too bad the reverse is true in winter, when it gets cold in December and stays that way until April.
The last “heat wave” lasted nearly three weeks, and was accompanied by a conspicuous lack of rain in our portion of the county. We struggled to get enough water to the food gardens (the flower gardens and lawns were left to brown). The creeks dried up and a frog moved into temporary housing in the stock tank. The squash vines wilted. I filled water buckets with ice and set up extra fans in the barn. We put up a shade tent in the barnyard with a wading pool underneath for the alpacas to dunk their feet and tummies. The more experienced hens knew to hide in the barn or dig into the cool ground under the coral bells to find some relief, but the new pullets and their cockerel needed reminders to get out of the coop during the day to avoid self-roasting. t did finally rain, and the “blocking pattern” detailed by the talking heads moved through the county, and summer became bearable again.
So, as I brace for another week of heat, when it stays hot in the house even at night, allow me to share some ideas on staying cool during the dog days of summer when you don’t have central air conditioning (a relic left behind in suburbia). First, get up really early to bake, can, and prepare meals that can be reheated in the microwave later in the day. Why not start those bread and butter pickles at 5:30 am? Second, if you don’t already harvest your vegetables in the morning to help preserve their freshness, do it now, before those juicy cukes wither in the hundred-degree afternoon. The same goes for watering the plants. Third, get those extra buckets of fresh-from-the-well cool water to your animals before the dew has left the grass. They can’t say thank you, but they appreciate it. Similarly, pasture the animals early and bring them in at lunch time if their areas don’t have much shade. Plan to reserve other chores for late in the day, after you have eaten another cold salad for dinner, when the sun will be lower in the sky.
Most importantly, get back into the house for a midday siesta. Crank up the a/c in the bedroom, take a cool shower, log onto your streaming video provider of choice, fold all that laundry and make the beds while binge-watching Downton Abbey.
Finally, take a lesson in temperature regulation from your cat. He knows what he’s doing.