July 8, 2007
This has been a summer right out of the Camelot legends - picture perfect days, wondrously beautiful clear blue skies, hot (but not too hot), low humidity (until just now) and rains generally falling at night. What a blessing after last summer's trials! All of our transplants are growing with spectacular vigor and the fruits are ripening nicely.
It looks like very hot and humid weather with thunderstorms is forecast for the first Newton Farmers' Market on Tuesday (7/10), so it is UNLIKELY that I will go this week. Please feel free to phone or email if you're ever heading to a market or show looking for me and bad weather is forecast. (Although I encourage you to visit the markets even when I'm not there!)
Before we get to the crop report, it's time for our annual message about Japanese Beetles. These little buggers are emerging now, and will continue emerging through the month and into early August. I've already picked a couple dozen off of the raspberries and plums, and will check these plants daily in July. The reason? Even though the beetles only lay an egg or two each day, they can live for 4-6 weeks! This means at least a month of devouring all our favorite plants (well, the raspberries and plums!) as well as laying eggs for the next season's generation. They're reproductively mature almost as soon as they emerge and immediately seek out host plants for both feeding and mating. Now is the time to get them, folks! We've been vigilant about catching these buggers (we patrol the long beds every day armed with buckets of soapy water; the beetles are very easy to catch up to about noon - after that they're a lot flightier and faster) and our efforts have paid off - we have no where near the population pressure we once had.
Even though we're picking from a smaller planting this year, our yields have been excellent due to the perfect weather and our use of bird netting to foil our feathered friends. (The day I we covered the strawberries, the catbirds complained loudly, then hightailed it off to the reddening currants - we responded by covering the currants and the birds are complaining even more.) Sparkle is a tiny gem of a berry, not much grown by commercial farmers who don't want to be bothered by a berry whose small size means it takes many, many more berries to fill a basket, and lots more hulling to fill a kettle. I don't mind though, because these tiny jewels are bursting with flavor that makes them unsurpassed for jam. The extra time spent picking them and hulling them is a joy to me - the very best exercise and delightful aromatherapy.
The trees are loaded! The porcupine is back!!! We've been battling this marauder for a couple of weeks now and so far, things are still looking good. Ralph has actually built cages around each Damson Plum by setting stakes around the trees and draping bird netting around them (7' high, and with lots of extra netting at the ground to trip up the trouble-maker). He's also set lights in the bigger trees and a motion-detecting light in the younger orchard. We're playing the radio out the window all night long to further unnerve this pesky critter who loves nothing more than to climb into our Damsons and feast upon all their young branches and new growth. The kaolin clay (potter's clay used in making porcelain) that Ralph sprays on the trees to thwart the dastardly Plum Curculio (a snout-nosed weevil) also seems to deter the porcupine somewhat. Porcky has shown no interest in the non-Damson plums nor the peaches or pears, all of which also are bearing fruits this year.
Our Rosie Red Currants are ripening nicely under their bird netting (it seems as though everything is under netting this year!) and should be ready for picking this week. Long stems hang low with tiny berries that look like strings of ruby-red pearls. Our new planting of red and black currants is thriving thanks to rainfall that has been timed perfectly for them.
Elderflowers are appearing on all of last year's bushes now. Big, beautiful blossoms of white abound, and even though I'm eager to try elderflower fritters and such, I'll hold off until this year's planting flowers next summer. I want to see these lovely flowers transformed into fruits so we can start putting them up. We made a small trial batch of Elderberry Preserve last summer and loved its magical flavor and color.
There's more fruit out there than I expected after last year's amazing crop. Ralph has kept them trained to the fence and kept the rows clear of new shoots to facilitate picking. I'm sure that there will still be blood shed in the cause, but maybe not as much as usual.....Big berries are swelling nicely - picking should begin by the end of the month.
Loaded, loaded, loaded! As soon as I have a minute, (well, really about four hours) I need to get the weeds pulled in there so we can get the bird netting over them. (Really, we should just buy stock in the bird netting company.....)
We've just begun picking from what looks to be a great crop. However, we're just picking from about half the area of past seasons, having removed three 125' long rows of older raspberries (plantings circa 1989 - those we replaced with new currants, elderberries and strawberries). The rain that's falling as I write this is perfectly timed to help all that ripening fruit.
We planted fewer than usual, about 150 plants, all heirloom sauce varieties. They're all mulched with straw and we've set the cages beside the plants and have begun weaving the twine fence we construct to hold them off of the ground. There's a lot of fruit set already and the whole crop looks very promising.
Italian, jalapenos, chilies and bell varieties look great! Again, the timely rainfall really helped get these plants going and I'm extremely pleased with how well they're growing. We put in about 350 pepper plants because the Mad Hatter's Pepper Preserve has become so popular, especially the new spicier variety
Herbs and Flowers
Our old chile pepper bed that wraps around the herb slopes is now a new herb bed where lavender, parsley (Italian flat-leafed and curly varieties), French Tarragon, rosemary, lemon verbena, Greek oregano and dill are all thriving. In the older herb beds, lavender is beginning to flower and the oregano, chocolate mint, lemon balm and thyme are begging me to cut them so that they can grow again.
IN THE KITCHEN
We've just begun making the first herbal vinegars of this season, Green Garlic, French Tarragon and Purple Ruffles Basil. They should be ready for sale by the end of the month. We're excited about some beautiful new bottles of Italian glass we've discovered and will have pictures to accompany the new vinegar page, hopefully completed by month's end.
Speaking of Vinegars, Cheshire Garden received rave reviews in a brand new cookbook, "Raising the Salad Bar" by Catherine Walthers, a food writer and chef from Martha's Vineyard. This beautiful book challenges the reader to think beyond greens in creating wonderful, healthy salads, and includes three recipes featuring our raspberry vinegar which Cathy describes as the "gold standard" of fruit vinegars. We're the only producer of fruit vinegars (to her knowledge and ours) who uses real fruit in making our vinegar, not flavoring or extracts. We've always been troubled that there are so many bad vinegars out there - expensive as well as cheap. Folks try them, then are turned off by the bad flavor and never try another. Thanks to Cathy for telling our story in this warm, witty, and inspiring cookbook.
Creatures and Critters
Barley's birthday was June 1, and his adoption day is July 14th. We'd celebrate but every day is a party for this happy dog. He swims every day, plays with Rosie, and runs around the house with me when I exercise with nrbq each morning. Rosie's life is easier now that he's older and so much calmer. Together, they keep the chipmunks out of the gardens (although the delphinium and lilies were trampled to obliteration in the dogs' attempt to protect them....). Luckily, we've kept the dogs protected from the porcupines and I'm glad that they're both under voice control when we ramble through the woods. One night in late June a half dozen or so of the neighbor's cattle got loose and are still roaming the woods. The dogs and I have found cow manure far, far from the road and I fear these bovines are long gone. We've seen no signs lately of the moose or bear and that's OK with us.
Ralph's still feeding the birds so we're still enjoying the antics of the rose-breasted grosbeaks playing on the carousel feeder as though it was a merry-go-round. An oriole has built a nest in one of the old Damson plum trees and chatters at anyone who gets too close. In another Damson that's right off the kitchen, a mother downy woodpecker grabs suet and feeds her young son. The catbirds, who think that all this fruit is grown for them, have been thwarted by our use of bird netting, but one particular individual has become something of a pet. We've named him "Dancer" for his joie de vivre. He first made us smile by jumping in and out of one of the cage we'd put around the Damson plum by the kitchen (we'd used woven wire for this tree's porcupine-protection, unlike the bird netting we'd used on the others). Then he caught on to the fact that running the flood lights out the kitchen window at night (more porcupine-protection) attracted lots of moths that would then hang out in the nearby eaves when we'd turn off the lights in the morning. These sleeping moths became easy prey for Dancer who'd hop from the deck railing to the roof, grab a moth, then hop back. He's not at all afraid of us and seems to enjoy showing us his trophies. He dances around from tree to railing to roof and looks in the window at us. I probably won't find him so endearing when we compete for raspberries......
Auggie the cat pays no attention to the birds or the chipmunks and lets the dogs take care of them. She's a cuddly little butterball and quite a perfect cat of the "do nothing" variety.
That's all for now - I've got to get to work!