Sniff and snort. Wheezing and sneezing. Hay fever season hit our farm so hard this year that we thought about renaming it Phlegm Farm. Allergies are no fun when you are working outside. This does not mean that the plant pollen that causes hay fever cannot also end up inside your home or office. But when you’re where its kernels blow, you’re no longer a target.
The pollen season begins with trees in the spring, when their flowers emerge, followed by grass pollen in early summer. Worst of all is the weed season, which begins in midsummer and lasts until cool weather, when most plants have finished flowering and have laid their seeds. Weeds are there sooner, but it’s when they bloom that misery steps in.
A number of plants with wind-blown pollen are common allergens, but ragweed is one of the most troublesome. It is everywhere and its flowers are loaded with pollen. It is not a showy plant; its floral spikes are greenish in color. In fact, the plant most often blamed for its misdeeds is the goldenrod, which blooms at the same time. People spot goldenrod’s gorgeous, bright yellow plumes and blame it for their itchy rash and runny nose. But goldenrod is pollinated more by insects than by wind and is not a major culprit.
How can you find relief? Seeing a doctor and having your hay fever diagnosed can rule out or signal other health problems, but usually when you have hay fever every August, you just know it. âRead the daily pollen count in the newspaper and if it’s high, stay indoorsâ is a common piece of advice. Stay indoors? Look out the window and see more weeds growing? No thanks.
Removing the weeds won’t solve the whole problem, as ragweed pollen can allegedly travel hundreds of miles. But it will help to a certain extent, and weeding is a job that needs to be done anyway. The more you let it go, the less pleasant it will be, on a hot late summer day, to wade through a garden full of tall flowering grasses to pull out. (You’ll begin to recognize which ones make you sneeze the most.) Try to catch them when they’re small and before they flower. They are as bad for your crops as they are for you.
Some gardeners take antihistamines, but I never thought that the weird, groggy sensations they often produce go very well with enjoying the outdoors or doing active work.
Instead, savor the days when it just rained and the pollen has gummed up and settled in a bit. When he starts flying again, wear pants and shirts with plenty of pockets and fill them with tissues. Then participate in your hoeing, gathering, or whatever else you decide to do. Concentrate on your hands and you will pay less attention to your nose. Occasionally splash cold water on your itchy eyes. (A drop of Traditor in each of them can also help.) Next, choose a bunch of goldenrod for the table. There are over 100 species of this magnificent native plant, all more beautiful than disturbing.
Barbara Damrosch’s latest book is “The Four Seasons Farm Gardener’s Cookbook”.