Signs of summer

How do we know when it’s summer? Each locale is different, but certain sights, events or smells remind us of different seasons, and summer is no exception.

For me, once I see the smoke of the wheat fields, I’m satisfied spring is behind us. In Maine, that first mess of new potatoes and the end of black fly season signaled it. In West Virginia, the openness of fields after the first hay cutting meant summer was here.

For some folks, that first tomato in the garden means summer. I always look forward to the blooming of crape myrtle and southern magnolia. Daylilies blooming in the ditches along the roadsides always bring a smile to my face.

When summer comes, cornfields explode. It seems like corn grows more than a foot a week. This year in most places it was so wet that corn wasn’t planted until much later than normal. Still, it’s summer and the corn is catching up.

Here in eastern North Carolina, summer memories always seem to wind up at the beach. We always anticipate when the water is warm enough to swim. Fishermen judge the calendar when certain species of fish can be caught.

Not all summer beach memories are sweet though. Summer also means traffic, and routes 158 and 12 can sometimes seem like parking lots.

In Maine, warming waters meant smallmouth activity increased. On a negative note, summer signified when salmon fled to deeper water and could not be caught on the surface with streamer flies.

Up there, July meant the mackerel were in, and I spent many summer days with my grandfather hauling in mackerel. We built our own smoker and smoked tons of them.

Summer is the time when most songbirds fledge. I love to watch the young bluebirds, cardinals and robins fledge. Some take to the air naturally, while others need some help. I also must dodge little killdeer running across the lawn when I’m mowing. The same goes for baby rabbits.

Summer also means thunderstorms. Sometimes they can be violent, but it’s sure nice when temperatures drop out of the stifling levels. Usually hurricanes hold off until the end of summer.

When skies darken, out come the fireflies. We used to catch them as kids and keep them in jars. In summer, the sound of whippoorwills rings through the night. My wife once told me her dad wouldn’t allow her to go barefoot until the whippoorwills called. She always listened for them intently.

For me, summer always means berry picking. Strawberries come first, then raspberries, blueberries and blackberries. Black cherries come about this time too. That is if you can beat the birds to them. Elderberries come along a little later.

Speaking of food, summer means cookouts. Walk through any neighborhood on a summer evening and enjoy the aroma of the grill. I grill often and everything imaginable. Cooking inside heats up the house and makes electric bills skyrocket.

Probably best of all, summer is the only time when I can leave the house in daylight and return home from work before dark. That’s nice.

Sunflowers are a sign of summer too. This is my daughter, the new Horticulture Extension Agent for Pasquotank County North Carolina. The picture was taken back in 2013.


Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (

About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I recently retired from teaching high school agriculture after 25 years teaching with my wife. Until recently I wrote a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper ( I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that can be purchased on Amazon in Kindle format. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone (presently out of print), a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death (this one is not yet published). In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books. I also wrote a romance novel titled Virginia. It is available on Amazon and is a different type of romance from a man's perspective.
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2 Responses to Signs of summer

  1. tonytomeo says:

    Rotting apricots smells like summer. There were always a few that were left on the ground because they were blemished or merely dropped. They did not smell unpleasant like the rotting grape scum from the wineries. Perhaps they just smelled like apricots cooking on the warm soil. In some places, the smell of rotting or cooking prunes was more prominent. By this time in summer, rotting or cooking peaches were left in a few spots around Los Gatos. It is all gone now.

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