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Previously in Patti's Garden

Patti on the farmJune 24, 2006

Happy Summer to one and all! It's my favorite time of year. The air is rich with the aroma of flowers, the sky is deep blue and berries are ripening in their beds.

The garden beds are all lush with new growth from both perennials and transplants, but the best news is that the whole farm has been transformed into a playground for ridiculously funny baby birds.

We have many long rows of berries that are trellised with tall locust wood poles, and tomatoes supported by more wooden stakes. Blueberries and currants grow under wooden frames draped with netting. Between stakes and posts and poles and the three dozen or so trees that make up our little orchard, baby birds have an endless variety of perches to choose from. They fly from branch to post to pole to stake to post again practicing their takeoffs and landings. (The first are usually pretty comical.) Some siblings play together. The grackle family all traipse around together pecking like chickens and teasing eachother, and the three young cardinal females are as inseparable as a trio of teenage girls. The rose-breasted grosbeak family must include at least four young birds who have great fun spinning the gazebo-shaped feeder as they land on it. It's clear that they're playing with eachother and not simply landing there to eat. A mother downy woodpecker gets a beakful of seeds and hops up to a higher branch where her daughter is waiting. Mum opens a seed and feeds the little one, over, and over, and over again. (She's a devoted mother, telling her daughter, "You stay away from that feeder! I don't care what the other young birds are doing! You stay here in the tree in the crook of that branch where it's nice and safe and I'll bring the seeds to you!") The robin family has some especially bold young boys who don't mind pecking for worms and bugs in the garden and yard not 15 feet away from us.

We've kept the feeders stocked with sunflower seeds all spring rather than taking them in as we usually do. We don't worry about bears because we've fenced in most of the farm, and certainly the beehives, off by themselves on top of the hill, would be a greater attraction than birdseed anyway. (The hives are now protected by an fence that Will, the beekeeper, put up.) All over this part of New England, trees are being defoliated by caterpillars, but not here. I think that our incredible population of birds is really helping keep down the caterpillar pests. It probably sounds crazy for a fruit grower to be encouraging wild birds to stay in her garden, but beyond their beauty, I truly believe that they are helping us grow our berries and fruits here. Sure, they're eating some of the ripening strawberries right now as I write this, but they won't eat so many as to wipe me out. (In some years I do have to resort to netting the strawberries but this year there are plenty for all of us.) We do, of course, net the blueberries and currants and sometimes, the raspberries.

Strawberries

Harvest started late but the berries are lovely. I've managed to stay ahead of the rain showers and have picked about 30 pounds so far. Our Sparkles are just about the smallest berry variety - tiny, but bursting with flavor. In our preserve, they hold their shape which is why you get chunks of berry in each spoonful.

Disaster, Narrowly Averted

Well, it was actually a true disaster but I've regrouped and all looks good. I realized, too late, that a compost-based "professional potting mix" that I had used to pot-up my tomatoes and peppers must have been somehow tainted. For years and years (since about 1974) I've made up my own growing mixes. After decades of mixing compost, vermiculite, perlite, sand, peat, etc. I decided about four years ago to switch to the ready-made mixes since there were some that were now approved for organic growers. This spring I used a product that I have used before with good results. This year, however, I began to notice that tomatoes weren't growing about a week after potting them up. I attributed it to the rain. A week later the peppers (potted up a week behind the tomatoes) weren't growing either. I fertilized both. Still no growth. I tried to figure out what was wrong. Too much water? Too little sun? I thought that perhaps they'd improve out of the greenhouse. Then I thought "if I just get them planted maybe they'll grow out of whatever it is that's holding them back." Very few did. I probably lost around 700 tomatoes and peppers. When I tipped the pots to check on the roots I could see that they hadn't grown at all since they were potted up. The plants that survived put out new roots into the garden soil at the stem-root collar.

The good news is that our best friends are also farmers. In the world of tomatoes, no one grows more varieties of exceptional plants than Dancing Bear Tom Ashley. This year we'll have a true test of heirloom tomato sauce varieties, and I can save the seeds of the best for making our pizza sauce. We're growing the famous long Italian San Marzano, another Italian variety that is pear-shaped - very like those that Ralph's Sicilian grandmother grew and preserved (and saved seeds from), a Ukrainian plum variety (in honor of Lara), a nice long, thin, sausage-shaped variety called "Devil", the American heirloom "Amish Paste", and a dozen or so survivors of my planting of Polish Linguisa, a very rich, nearly seedless variety. I also have about 6 survivors of my favorite all around variety "Enchantment" and a collection of a dozen classic tomatoes from my mum including "Sungold", "Brandywine, " "Rutgers" and "Celebrity". In all, I'm sure we now have enough with a couple hundred plants.

We lost all our chiles, so Tom also saved the day with Kung Pao chile peppers, Jalapenos, and Italia sweet peppers. Our own sweet peppers did the best job of outgrowing the tainted soil and I feel secure that we'll have enough peppers for Mad Hatter's Pepper Preserve and JazzBerry Raspberry Salsa.

Of course this all meant that we had to plant, then replant. Although I'm usually the mad planter around here, this year I really have to thank Lara who did the lion's share of both planting and replanting. My knee just wasn't up to a couple thousand deep knee bends this season and I am grateful that her younger knees were.

TeddyBerry Blackberries

...are still in full flower and have been for weeks. Fruit set looks amazing and the buds just keep on coming. I am overjoyed with the looks of this crop. It's our first really big harvest from these 5 rows we planted after Teddy, our big old newfie-mix, discovered this amazing berry in an abandoned orchard. There wasn't a moment when I was pruning this thicket this spring that I wasn't thinking of him

Summer Raspberries

The new bed of Killarneys and the new long Taylors have both set good crops of berries. Our old (17 year) long rows are tremendously weak, their tops having winterkilled, probably due to the warmth of January. All in all, it should be an OK summer crop.

Autumn Raspberries

Heritages look sensational. Plants are lush and strong.

Blueberries

...seem to have a reasonable-sized load. Last year they put out huge numbers of berries so I wouldn't expect a huge crop again. I'm sure we'll have plenty, though.

Damson Plums, Pears and Peaches

Oh woe the damsons.......Lovely, lovely load of blossoms all around, but rain, rain, rain during bloom and fruit set meant that fruit barely had a chance to set. We do have some fruit, but with about a 80% loss, what remained was at the mercy of that old nemesis Plum Curculio. (The potter's clay that we spray to deter curculio works wonderfully when you have a high degree of fruit set, but when you have very few fruit, the crazed curcs will brave the itchy clay to reach the fruit.) We'll harvest some plums, I'm sure, just not very many. Our young Seckel Pears set some fruit but I don't think there will be much to speak of this season. The silly peaches which are just a season old all set fruit which I had to pluck off because they're just too young to grow fruit right now.

Elderberries

...are coming in beautifully, creating a semi-circular hedge halfway around the pond. I am so excited about these beautiful berries. (Not this year, though!)

Currants

...are almost ready for picking! Two more weeks, I expect. (We only have a dozen currant bushes. Ralph removed one row of the oldest raspberries though, and we're going to add compost and seed to buckwheat, then winter rye. Next spring we'll plant more red currants there. The row is ~120 feet long which should give us plenty of currants in years to come.)

Herbs

...are all doing splendidly in the rain. Basils are beautiful, and we've already made more infused honey with the perennials English Lavender, Lemon Verbena and Chocolate Mint.

Garlic

The garlic scapes (flowering shoots) are shooting up and are almost ready for cutting. We clip these curlicue shoots and twist them into bottles of our Green Garlic Vinegar. The process has the added benefit of helping the garlic bulb increase in size.

Update, June 26

I've picked another 20 pounds of strawberries, taking advantage of some sunny respites between rain showers. That's the good news! The bad news is that a porcupine (of all things!!!) climbed over the fence and has been chewing off limbs from the Damson Plum trees! The other night, Rosie sent out a yowl of protest, but we didn't let her out (since she's the only dog now, we're very careful about letting her take on the unknown). Yesterday I discovered that about half of one of the young Damsons had been stripped of leaves and the branches gnawed off. Today, two more trees were damaged, although not as badly. We're experimenting with netting today, as well as lighting the area and playing a radio tonight. Poor plums!

What was I thinking?!?!?

I can't believe that last winter I thought I'd be experimenting with herbal extracts and potions this summer. Now that summer is here I barely have an extra second and just bringing in the berries is a full-time job! Today, Ralph and I do plan to get to that Green Garlic Vinegar, and it should be aged in a couple of weeks. I also made some infused honeys last week, so Lavender Honey, Chocolate Mint Honey and Lemon Verbena Honey are all now back in stock.

Farmers' Markets

We'll be at the Greenfield Farmers' Market for another two weeks. (We love this market, but when the berries are really rolling in, it's hard for us to manage to go to markets three times a week.) We'll be back in Greenfield in October. Until then, look for us on the lovely Greenfield Town Common on Saturdays from 8:30 - 12:30.

The Northfield Farmers' Market is a perfect little gem of a market. Set a bit back from Route 10 in the yard of the Trinitarian Church on beautiful Main Street Northfield (one of the prettiest Main Streets in the country!) this little market has beautiful produce from several area farms, including our old buddies from Leyden - Trish and Tom from Dancing Bear and Peter and Cecilia from Silk Purse. Jeannette Fellows of nearby Warwick brings outstanding cheeses (Italian and cheddars) handmade from the milk of her herd of lovely Jersey cows as well as beef and pork from her grass-fed, lovingly raised animals. Products from Alpacas, Llamas and goats are also available and last week a new vendor brought farm-raised sausage. The good folks from the church run a dandy little snack bar and everyone is as nice as could be. This market is less than four miles from home!

Newton Farmers' Market starts on July 11, in beautiful Cold Spring Park on Beacon Street. I can't wait to see all our old friends - it's just two weeks away now, but Maeve and Bill and I have been counting down the days for months now.

Enjoy the beautiful weather!

Love,

Patti (and Ralph!)

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