Today is the last day of summer. It is sprinkling outside and I’m wearing a sweatshirt. This is not normal.

It has been mostly cloudy for the last couple weeks. And do you remember how long it took for summer weather to begin this year?

The summer season has been concentrated.

Below is how summer 2023 in a Southern California food garden has felt and looked to me. Tell me if you had similar impressions and results.


Let’s talk temperatures first. It’s typical for the beaches to have a gloomy June but at my place, twenty miles from the ocean and up in the foothills in Ramona, I can count on some days in June that are so hot that they burn my apricots.

Last year, 2022, the high temp in June was 104. We reached 102 in June of 2021. We reached 97 as early as June 3 of 2020. We reached 100 on June 10 of 2019.

This June of 2023? It didn’t even reach 90 degrees until the very last day of the month, June 30. Summer arrived late.

As a result, I heard from many gardeners that their early peaches did not sweeten up as much as usual. I don’t grow any early peaches these days, but I found that my mid-season peaches and nectarines ripened later. They tasted good but ripened about three weeks later than usual.

By the calendar, summer runs from about June 20 to September 20 each year. How were the middle months, July and August? They were near normal in terms of temperature.

Inland, we had a few heat waves each month, and they peaked at 103 or 104 at my place, enough to sunburn sensitive things like bell peppers, tomatoes, or young avocado leaves, but not enough to cause serious damage.

Near the beach, it seemed a bit cloudier than normal through July and August, but it was warm enough to grow excellent tomatoes, pumpkins, and watermelon, from what I saw in friends’ gardens there.

But abruptly in the second week of September, the whole of Southern California west of the mountains cooled down. And it hasn’t warmed up again. The sun has barely broken through the clouds on most days in the past two weeks.

On September 16 and 17, my weather station topped out at only 70 and 68. The average high temperatures for these dates are 88 and 87 degrees. The National Weather Service reported that these were daily records for a low maximum temperature at their station nearby on these dates.

In terms of temperature, summer 2023 started late, was near normal in the middle, and ended early.


There are a number of wine grape growers near me, and they do not appreciate this cool, cloudy end to summer. They prefer heat in order to build sugars in the grapes.

They also don’t appreciate the humidity that has been with us throughout the summer. Have you noticed higher humidity all summer long?

For grape growers, higher humidity means more mildew. Indeed for all of us, higher humidity means more mildew. I’ve seen slightly more mildew on tomatoes in gardens near the beach, and I’ve had slightly more mildew on my squash and pumpkins this summer.

Mildew on pumpkin leaves.

On the plus side, between the lower overall temperatures this summer and the higher humidity, I’ve been able to water a bit less compared to last summer.

Hurricane Hilary

The rainfall in August from Hurricane Hilary further helped reduce my irrigation needs. On August 20, we received a few gusts of wind that felled a few of my corn plants and 2.5 inches of rain. On the whole, it was a pleasant day of warm precipitation that was preceded by a lot of fearmongering.

Corn blown over by Hurricane Hilary storm, August 2023.

Contrast the Hurricane Hilary event with a day two summers ago, August 29, 2021. On that day there was no serious weather in the forecast for my area. But I have a distant view to the east from my house and I saw an unmistakable sign in the sky that afternoon. I have lived where thunderstorms are common. I knew what I was looking at. 

Rapidly, black clouds were upon us with rain and wind so strong that it broke a gutter off my roof, threw shade structures across my yard, and knocked down a number of trees including my 30-foot tall Chinaberry.

Toppled and torn apart Chinaberry tree, August 2021.

This reflection makes me laugh: If I had had no access to media and weather forecasts, my memories would be that in August 2021 I experienced a powerful, destructive thunderstorm. Then in August 2023, I experienced an unremarkable but steady summer rain.

What’s in store for the fall?

There’s talk of El Nino, but what relevance does El Nino have for us Southern California food gardeners? (It doesn’t mean rain.)

We usually get some Santa Ana winds in the fall, but who knows? Every season, every year has a surprise in store.

Look at what happened at this time of year in 1939:

“The spring and summer were exceptionally cool and late, there being no hot spells until September. From the 15th to the 23rd of September occurred a hot spell of longest duration and highest temperatures on record. Reversing the usual condition of heat in the interior and coolness along the coast, temperatures on this occasion were highest on the coast, reaching a maximum of 105 degrees at Long Beach and Santa Monica and above 105 at Los Angeles for eight consecutive days.  At the close of this period an unforecasted tropical storm came in from the southwest . . . on September 24th and 25th [that] gave from 1.5 inches in San Diego to 5.5 inches in Los Angeles.”

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