30 June 2009

The 2009 heat wave — déjà vu...

We are having what passes for very hot weather here in Saint-Aignan. Our high temperatures are above 85ºF/29ºC, and our lows are in the high 60s F/high teens C. It's very warm, and in fact, very pleasant unless you go out into the glaring sunlight. Depending on where you live, you might not think that kind of weather is very hot, but for us it is. It all depends on what you're used to.

This morning's low: 19ºC. Today's predicted high: 31ºC. That's basically 70º and 90ºF.

In 2007 and 2008, our summer weather was rainy and cool — I almost said "chilly." Yesterday morning I walked Callie at 7:15 a.m. and it was warm and gorgeous out in the vineyard, even that early. The ground is dusty dry and the grass is parched. I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt. Callie got stung by a bee (she's fine). It's pretty warm when insects are active that early in the morning here.

7:00 a.m. in the vineyard on June 29

The most pleasant thing about this weather is that we can sit out on the front terrace in shorts and T-shirts until very late at night. In fact, the sun doesn't go down until about 10:00 p.m., and total darkness doesn't fall until 11:00. By then there are bats swooping through the air around our house, gorging themselves on insects. We are located at a very northern latitude — north of Quebec City, for example, and Duluth, Minnesota — that explains the late sunsets.

We haven't had any measurable rain since June 13. That's amazing. This is a temperate climate, with frequent rains and moderate temperatures. You wouldn't know it right now. We're having a heatwave. Our weather seems to be coming from the Sahara.

Bugs being active at 7:30 a.m.

The garden is growing great. Weeds took hold, however, under the sweet corn and lima beans that we planted from seed back in May, and rain earlier in June only encouraged them. Yesterday morning, I spent a couple of hours on my hands an knees out in the garden, pulling deep-rooted grasses and other invasive plants that had started to crowd out our garden plants. I had to dress in long pants and a long-sleeve shirt to avoid being eaten alive by bugs.

Roses in our yard, with bright sun before 8:00 in the morning

I swatted gnats and flies the whole time, sweated until my clothes were soaked and my glasses were dripping perspiration, and wondered if it was really worth it. I ended up with bug bites on my face and ears! Only good crops of corn and lima beans later this summer will make me feel better about all the trouble and effort. And I didn't finish, so I'll have to go and do more weed-pulling this morning.

This cactus plant that CHM brought us from America
is loving the current hot spell.

All the doors and windows in the house, with the exception of those facing west into the afternoon sun, are wide open all day now. It was 28ºC, or 82ºF+, in the house yesterday afternoon, but there was a breeze. At 6:00 this the morning, we opened everything wide again to let in as much cool air as possible.

Early on a June morning on the paved route touristique
through the Touraine vineyards, a mile from our house

This weather is starting to remind me of the summer of 2003, when we first arrived in Saint-Aignan. It was hotter than hell that summer. We had been living in the San Francisco Bay Area for nearly 18 years — most of that time in San Francisco itself. If you know S.F., you know that there is basically no summer weather there. It's foggy, windy, and cool in June, July, and August. We weren't used to heat.

The neighbor's roses are looking especially good right now.

In the great French dog days — La Canicule — of 2003, at some points we thought we might not survive. It was 90 to 100ºF every day for weeks on end in July and August. The ground and all the vegetation was parched. The house didn't ever get a chance to cool down. Many older people died, all around northern France, of heat exhaustion. Not many houses have air conditioning here. I hope our weather moderates just a little for the rest of the summer of 2009.


  1. We're getting our own small heat wave here in the UK, but Aberdeen still has foggy mornings to moderate the temperatures. The BBC suggests not to open the windows to let the cool in, but instead to close the windows and draw the drapes to keep the heat out. Something to think about.

  2. Hi Keir, yes, people here who live in the older houses, which have thick stone walls and are built close to the ground, open their windows and doors early in the morning to get the benefit of the cool air, and then close windows, doors, and shutters to keep the heat out and the cool air in before the day heats up. The disadvantage is that they live not only in the cool but also in the dark.

    A house like ours doesn't lend itself to that system. We live one floor up off the ground, and our walls are not thick. The house inevitably heats up because the sun beats down on it. It's exposed on the south and west. So we just keep everything wide open and try to enjoy the heat. Usually it doesn't last very long.

  3. The bugs are biting here, too! It was in the mid 90s here last week, but it is quite nice this week which means just a little warmer than your weather. The air conditioning helps.

    You'll be glad you pulled those weeds when you harvest your veggies.

  4. Good work on all that weeding. I hate weeding. Hate it. I can picture you with that sweat dripping down your face on your glasses...ugh.:) More power to you for doing it! The results will be worth it.

    If it's any encouragement, our ridiculous heat wave broke the night before last, and now we've got 40% less humidity and some lovely temperatures, so maybe they'll inch your way! Tonight will be a lovely night, and we're going to a concert in a park. That's a nice summer thing to do.


  5. We're cooling off here after a very hot weekend. I'm grateful that in California we don't have quite the bug issues that it sounds like you have.

    I guess weeding is the price you pay for a beautiful garden and bountiful crops. Your greens look so abundant and healthy, so all the work you're doing is paying off!

  6. It's absolutely boiling here in Brighton on the south coast of the UK. My pupils are very scratchy in class because they're too hot and don't want to do very much. Funny to think that a roof has been fitted to the centre court at Wimbledon....not a drop of rain. Weeding is not as bad as ironing but the trick with both is to keep on doing a little bit at a time. Your crops look wonderful.

  7. I too hope it cools down! I am going in "the valley" today (Van Nuys) where it is going to be 96 F.
    I think it is supposed to be 104 F in Woodland Hills/Northridge.
    Ken, I can send you from France my "Southern Sierra" (July 2009, Vol 6 No 7) [from the Sierra club]
    or maybe you can Google it. On Page 7 there is a great article "It's easy to grow vegetables the no-dig way". If you are interested that is, but basically there is no need to dig, soil preparation, weeding... It's called the lasagna method with layer of newspapers, leaves, hay, compost. Add worms, moisture is retained more efficiently under all the mulch... Fascinating article and worth a try.

  8. Bill in (the balmy south of) NH30 June, 2009 17:48

    It's nice to see a rare reference to Duluth, my home town. We used to say that summer was when you had to watch out for patches of bare ground while sledding.

  9. We actually had Spring here in Mississippi this year instead of Winter straight inot Summer. We also recieved alot of rain until about a month ago. Now it is dry and 100 dergrees farenheit with no rain in sight. My plants are not happy and sunburn is a major problem this year.

  10. Hi Ken, It's hot here too (30° to 32°C), although I only realize how hot it really is when I get into my car to drive home. Luckily our office buiding comes with an underground parking area, so the car is still cool when I leave. But it can get pretty warm and sticky once I'm on my way (My car doesn't have airco).

    I admire your determination to weed the garden in these difficult conditions ... especailly with all the biting and stinging bugs around. Martine

  11. Ken, if you don't have shutters or thick walls, open the window but hang a wet sheet in front, with the bottom dangling into a bowl of water to keep it damp. Instant, low-energy, ecologically sound air conditioning :)

    We do keep our shutters closed during the day; once the sun is off the front of the house we can open them a crack to let in little beams of sunlight, before opening everything up once the air outside is cooler than the air inside (it never was in 2003 though!). Once you let an old stone-built house heat up, it's difficult to cool it down again.

  12. Hi Ken,
    I see that must people have given you the standard sane advice. We have found that if you hose the outer walls of the house in the evening, there is a kind of air conditioning effect inside. The cool water draws the heat.
    We close the shutters and window on the sunny side and as the day progresses, open up the east-facing side and shut the west. We do maintain a breeze.
    Good luck. I think I saw t-storms heading your way before they hit the Paris region later today or tomorrow.

  13. Bill in NH, I've never had the pleasure of sojourning in Duluth, but I enjoyed your comment ("We used to say that summer was when you had to watch out for patches of bare ground while sledding.") When I lived in Illinois, I used to say you knew it was spring when it started to rain sideways.

    Ellen and Veronica, thanks for the cooling advice. We do a lot of those things. We have shutters and mostly double-glazed windows. But now the temperatures are moderating. It hasn't been anything like 2003... yet.


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