Halloween is upon us so it's almost November, and yet I'm still seeing butterflies every day. This is a change from the Tehachapi of decades past.
Yesterday I watched as a beautiful Western Tiger Swallowtail was nectar-feeding on some Jupiter's Beard flowers growing in a flowerbed planted specifically for pollinators like butterflies and bees.
Last week, I noticed a California Tortoiseshell butterfly perched on the window frame of an old French door, looking longingly at the outdoors. It was a pleasure to open the door, and watch the butterfly happily flit up into a bright blue autumn sky and disappear.
I love the natural world and observing the activities of our wildlife neighbors, from ladybugs to bats, from hummingbirds to lizards to elk, and everything in between. In recent years the time to see creatures like butterflies has expanded for a simple reason: our growing season is longer than it used to be.
A "growing season" is an old term used to describe the period between the last killing frost of spring and the first killing frost of autumn. It is during this period that almost any plant can grow.
A killing frost is typically characterized by the temperature dropping to 28 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours of more. At this cold temperature, water contained inside plant cells freezes into ice crystals and expands, rupturing the walls of the cells and ruining the plant tissue.
A killing freeze leaves many plants blackened and wilted. There are many plants that contain natural antifreeze and can withstand a killing frost, of course, but for most of them, especially the annuals, a killing frost is the end for them.
So a growing season is the time between these two frosts. In Tehachapi, our last killing frosts in spring have been typically been in late March and April, and the first killing frosts used to arrive in October or even late September. Not anymore.
In more recent years, the first killing frost hasn't arrived until November or even December, which is a huge difference. Tehachapi gardeners used to keep a close eye on the weather forecast for the nightly low, and if a freeze was expected, they'd pull up their tomato vines, still carrying lots of green tomatoes, and put them in a cellar or garage to finish ripening.
Now our killing frosts arrive so late that people don't usually bother — their tomato vines are pretty much exhausted by then, and gardeners have already had months to enjoy their tomatoes and other garden fruits and vegetables.
Killing frosts also put an end to most insects, and they get much scarcer after the first really cold, wintry night. That now happens weeks or even a couple of months later than it used to, and I now see butterflies during November days and still hear crickets during November nights.
Of course I'm looking forward to the first real rain of the season, whenever that happens, and will also enjoy a fire on a cold, cold Tehachapi night.
But for now, I'm savoring our Indian summer and still enjoying the sight of blooming flowers and butterflies.
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to email@example.com.