As I’ve written about before, I follow the local six-season calendar in my work here with soil, plants, weather and climate. This blog went into a bit of a hiatus halfway through the season of firstsummer, what with the holiday season and then us actually going away for a few weeks. Around the time we returned, the middle of January, the seasons changed and it became secondsummer. I wasn’t posting at the time though so I left making a note or two about it for later. I guess now it’s later.
When you see the pretty wheels around the place explaining the local indigenous seasons, they usually mark the seasons as having all the same lengths, and mapping neatly to our twelve month calendar. In fact it’s not really like that at all, it’s just a convenient approximation that’s easy to remember. The wheels mark Bunuru, or secondsummer, as officially being February and March. More typically though, as this year, it starts around halfway through January and ends sometime in the last week of March or first week of April.
This year the start was distinctive, though as with all seasonal changes it’s slow enough that you are never quite sure you’re seen it until a week later when it’s bloody obvious in hindsight. I walked outside, and the light was different. There’s a quality to the sunlight in high summer, around midsummer, an intensity and brightness that penetrates. Secondsummer is different. The light is still bright, intense, penetrating – but somehow not the same. It’s noticeably lower in the sky from midsummer, even though it’s still very high, and there’s something else that’s hard to put your finger on. Luckily, it’s not the only sign of the change of seasons.
More obvious is the change in the pattern of the day. Birak or firstsummer is well known for having many days which heat up in the morning with an east wind, and then cool down in the afternoon when the sea breeze comes in. It’s almost like clockwork. Even when the sea breeze isn’t strong, there’s still a cooling effect so that the hottest time of the day is invariably somewhere between 11 am and 2 pm. The days are long and bright, and the nights can get warm, but midday is hotter than evening rush hour. In Bunuru or secondsummer, this changes. We lose the afternoon cooling. Noon may be warm, but it’s only just gearing up to what could be a searing several hours. Peak temperature is almost always between 3 pm and 7 pm. Coincidentally, school goes back around the start of secondsummer. All those days when it’s really hot picking up the kids? Yep. Hottest time of day. And it stays that way. There’s no cooling until the sun gets low. Thankfully the days are beginning to noticeably shorten from midsummer – another clue that secondsummer has started – so it’s not *quite* as many hours to endure as it was, but endure we still must.
Secondsummer is the season of the heatwaves, the days on end – five, seven, ten, twelve, fourteen – that are above 35 degrees, and where a day that’s only 32 degrees seems like blessed relief and maybe we can keep the house open for a little while and get some more fresh air through. What makes the season liveable is, in the end, the nights. At the start of the season the nights don’t drop below 20 degrees, and might stay as high as 30 overnight on the worst nights. We watch the weather forecasts with our fingers crossed for a 23 minimum, knowing that that still means most of the night will be at 26 degrees. I get up early in the morning before dawn and air the house with the coolest air we will get, then close up again at sunrise as the temperature starts climbing – sometimes five, six degrees in an hour. But secondsummer is the season of cooling nights. While the days remain warm, they are shortening and the sun has less hours to flood us with heat energy. Slowly the earth lets go of the excess heat energy it’s been storing. The nights become cooler, they drop below 20 for the first time in a few months, then again, and again. The heatwaves continue to mark time, week on, week off, but slowly they lose their power too and peak between 35 and 40 degrees instead of over 40. And between the hot days the nights afford gradually more and more relief, I open the house earlier and earlier. Sometimes I’d wake at 2 am, check the temperature graphs and open up. Eventually, near the end of the season, we get days where we don’t have to close up at all.
In my growing zones, there’s not much to do during secondsummer. Except water. There is rarely any rain in this season – perhaps a summer storm, but not every year. So watering happens with regularity. Even the unirrigated zones get an occasional watering – my aim is to have them get a long deep watering once a month during the summer (for me “summer” means firstsummer and secondsummer together). This year I was well enough set up that I could do once a fortnight at the start of the season, but by the end of the season things had dried enough that I was watering them once a week. I have plans to adjust the setup to try and make it so that the watering once a month is enough – too often and the plants struggle more than if I hadn’t watered them. But it didn’t quite work this year.
The one thing I did do this year in secondsummer was start seedlings. I even planted the redbud bed, slightly early because it meant I had to begin watering more frequently sooner than I would otherwise. If you have the water to use, the second half of secondsummer is a good time to get planting. The warmth drives seed germination and seedlings well, and you can get them well established during autumn all ready for winter cropping. I had some trouble with the seedlings so now sadly the vegie bed that would have had my winter vegies is mostly bare. But you get that some years, and it’ll be getting a spring planting instead. I did get the purple king beans growing, and the kids and I have been happily picking those and snacking on them for the last couple of weeks.