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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Beach Days on the Horizon

In the last two days my rain gauge has gathered 1.6 inches of precipitation. Part of my yard feels like a giant sponge. Still I know that the weather is changing. I can feel it, the sky has a different color in the evening. Other signs are all around. Azaleas and tulips are blooming. There are some ripe strawberries showing in the rows of the local u-pick farm. It is the heart of spring on the coast, and we are likely just a few days from our first really warm weather. I knew that would be the case before I checked the long term weather forecast for the Crystal Coast. And I was pleased to find that on three of the last four days of the month, we should see our temperatures rise into the low eighties. That is the way it should be, and eighty degrees with a nice coastal breeze is just about the perfect temperature for lots of things.
The eighty degree weather will provide heat to create some growth in our centipede yards. While they have mostly turned green, they still have not hit their stride because of the lack of heat. Soon the sounds of mowers will be a regular weekly feature in the area.

With all the moisture that we have in the ground, heat will make many things besides the grass grow. I am counting on some serious heat since my tomato plants have some early blooms. For many years I have taken part in an annual tomato race with some friends to see who gets the first ripe tomato of the season. Last year I won the contest with a June 1 ripe tomato. I would like to repeat that victory, but I need some heat to make it happen. My first BLT of the season is dependent on warm temperatures.

May brings many of our early beach visitors, those folks who want to get here while the beaches are uncrowded and the rental rates are lower than in the summer season. We need those eighty degree days to start taking the chill off the beach waters. My New England friends have been known to go in our water in late April and early May. Some warming of our water will prevent them from turning blue and keep them coming back year after year.

The warming waters will also mark the first shrimp catches of the season. We have been living off of frozen shrimp for a few months now. Almost any day we will hear of some nice fresh shrimp being caught. As good as the flash frozen local shrimp are, the fresh ones are even better. I am looking forward to my first fresh shrimp cocktail of the season and perhaps a nice meal of fresh shrimp and grits.

About the same time the shrimp appear we should have some luck catching fish in the rivers and sounds. The experts are already pulling in some local fish, and soon it will be time for those of us who are not as serious about fishing to have some luck. Last year I caught the first flounder of the season on April 21. I hope to do at least as well this year.

The heat should soon deliver my favorite spring treat, local strawberries, which are already slightly overdue. In the two previous years, we were already eating fresh, delicious strawberries at this time of year. I am guessing that we will see some within the next four or five days. To me the fresh strawberries are the first real signs that we have survived winter and are actually on our way to summer. There is nothing like some fresh strawberry shortcake and a batch of strawberry freezer jam in April to remind you of why living along the coast in North Carolina is such a great idea.

As the heat sneaks up on us, it will not be long before those evening beach walks are back in fashion.

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