June 18, 2004
It feels like rain....at least I hope it does. Everything
is (finally!) planted (and some things, replanted). I've
hoed, and fertilized, and now I'm waiting and praying for
rain. All in all, it's been a good transplanting season.
We've had rain at least once a week and have augmented with
soaker hose, sprinkler hose and sprinklers where needed.
I guess I put in somewhere between 2,000 -2,500 transplants
this season, accomplishing most of this task by myself, but
with some help from Lara on the last day. Since my 50-year-old
legs were getting a bit stiff after so much up-and-down squatting
and kneeling, her work was greatly appreciated. Lara came
to work for us eight years ago when she was living nearby,
having answered an ad I'd posted at the food coop for help
picking strawberries. Sporting dreadlocks, nose ring and
multiple piercings, clad in harem clothes and driving a flashy
Toyota with NY plates, she began work on the spot. I figured
she'd last about an hour but was surprised by how well she
worked and amazed that she could squish striped cucumber
beetles with her bare hands just like I do. She stayed the
whole summer and never ceased to amaze me with her work ethic.
Even after moving 25 miles away, and becoming the mother
of Dante (now almost seven), she continues to help me when
she can, usually once every week or so during the summer.
She can do everything I can do, and often better (though
it pains me to admit it.....). She really made my day when
she admitted that her legs, too, were pretty stiff after
The cutting garden (for bouquets) went in first...ageratum,
cosmos, gypsophilia, and zinnias, and they've all doubled
in size and the ageratum are even budding. Tomatoes went
in next, about 130 this year which is down a bit. The main
variety was Enchantment, our favorite indeterminate paste-type
tomato, and we also are trialling Polish Linguisa and a San
Marzano called "Redorta" - both also indeterminate
In the pepper bed I planted "Giant Marconi", a
hybrid Italian pepper, "Corno di Toro" the Italian
standard heirloom, and "Italia" - the cultivar
of corno di toro that Johnny's Seed Company carries. I planted
about 250-300 of these peppers - they really are outstanding
with flavor that far surpasses any bell type I've ever tried.
We use these in our JazzBerry
Raspberry Salsa, but we may experiment with Pepper Jelly
this summer. Many folks have asked us to make a pepper jelly
over the years and I've always resisted because I couldn't
find a recipe that doesn't use pectin or lots of sugar, but
Ralph came up with an idea (that I won't divulge!) that just
We're also trialling three varieties of jalapeno this year.
Johnny's stopped carrying our favorite variety a couple of
years ago so we're comparing three that sound good - Concho,
Jalapa and one from Park's Seed simply called "hot jalapeno."
The hottest peppers of all are habaneros, and we grow them
for our Chile
Pepper Mustard. This year we're growing our regular Johnny's
variety "Caribbean Red" and also trying one from
Tomato Growers Supply called "Congo Trinidad" which
is already proving itself to be an exceptionally sturdy plant.
Now, if it can produce a crop in NH, we'll really have something.
We just learned a trick for drying habaneros, so if we have
a bountiful crop, we may be able to offer some for those
of you who are real hot fans.
Our standard chile peppers, "Super Chile" and "Super
Cayenne" went in their usual place on the first terrace
below the herb slope. These two varieties are so prolific,
so hardy, and so damn good there's no need to seek out another.
They're the ones that go into the Aceto Diablo Chile Pepper
Vinegar and we should have that back in stock again by the
first of September. (They made plenty of fruit last year
too; I just never got enough of the vinegar made because
I fell ill. We do have tons of dried peppers though!)
Diabolical bunnies have eaten many of the peppers already,
and I've replanted about 60. I think they've stopped eating
them because I haven't seen damage recently. This is lucky
for them because I made up a gallon of habanero juice to
spray on the plants for protection. If I catch them again
though, I'll use the pepper spray and those bunnies will
be feasting elsewhere!
I also planted hundreds of basil plants for the various
vinegars, as well as lots more flowers both for cutting and
bedding. The new tarragon is doing very well and I've cut
it twice already and made Tarragon Vinegar. The little lavender
and rosemary nursery is filled and they're growing well.
I lost more than half of our lavender this year, but think
I'll have enough for both vinegar and mustard. Next year
I'll plant the babies that are in the nursery into the empty
spaces in the long (125') beds on the hillside. We had a
few (~30) lavender plants in the nursery this year which
Azure and I planted to replace what we'd lost from the herb
Ralph has been keeping the Damson Plum trees covered with
Kaolin clay to repell the plum curculios and protect from
caterpillars. Only one tree, the French Damson, is really
loaded so this year's harvest will be light. The other trees
all have some fruit though, a definite improvement over 2002.
I've heard from growers and horticulturists alike that there
may be no peaches in either NH or western MA, so I'll be
surprised if Tom has any peaches. I still have a good supply
Bear Peach Preserve, but if that's your favorite, you
might want to order soon.
The blackberries look as woebegon as I had expected, with
about 95% of last year's canes dead. However, I did scout
out the site from which our root cuttings came (an abandoned
orchard about 30 miles away) and they look pretty good so
I have a good feeling about our Blackberry
Preserves. (Another of nature's jokes on Patti is that
the woods are loaded with blackberries which flowered merrily
and are now setting fruit. Unfortunately, that fruit is tiny
and exceedingly seedy so it's not really an option.)
The raspberries, my favorite fruit, are better than the
blackberries. Loss looks to be about 50% in the three main
beds, but only about 10% in the row we call the "perpendicular
row" which is a little higher in elevation. The new
row at the top looks good but since this is only its first
year picking will be light. The Autumn crop of Heritages
looks fantastic! The canes are tall already and very strong.
Hopefully, they'll help pull us through to the 2005 season.
When we reconfigured the top rows last year we were unable
to plant strawberries in a timely manner (by early May) so
we don't have those this year. Fortunately, Tom does and
we'll be picking his Sparkles (the best variety for preserves).
Our new planting of Sparkles looks terrific. This is the
first time since 1978 that I haven't had my own strawberries
though, and it feels very strange. I know I'll never not
plant them again...even if it means I only put in a few and
have to fight the chipmunks for every one.
The blueberries look outstanding (whew!). They made it through
the cold winter unscathed, blossomed freely and were pollinated
vigorously by the indefatiguable bumblebees. I have one more
weeding session in there then we'll get the frame up and
the netting over them.
Also outstanding is the garlic. Once again it's almost as
big as me (OK, I know that's not as impressive as it sounds)
and the stiffneck varieties are beginning to produce the
scape (flowering shoot). That's what we use to make the Green
Garlic Vinegar and I'll be getting to that shortly.
Hmmm...the only other new planting is a long row of green
beans and dill for - you guessed it - dilly beans. My mum
has made dilly beans for years - they're sooo good! - and
since we had some extra space, I thought I'd give them a
try. So far, so good.
I guess that's the news from the garden for now!
Those of you who know me either personally or through these
letters, know that I spent 10 years studying the behavior
of insects in the apple orchard ecosystem. My mentor, my
boss, and my dear friend Ron Prokopy died this spring just
after apple blossom time. Ron was such a force of nature
that, to me, it would have been easier to believe that the
world had stopped spinning than that he would die an untimely
To call him "a gifted researcher" would be an
understatement. He was a pioneer in Integrated Pest Management.
He came up with the idea of hanging sticky red spheres in
apple trees (bigger, rounder and redder than apples) to catch
apple maggot flies. Organic growers could use the traps alone
in small orchards; big growers could use them to monitor
the population of flies and spray only when absolutely needed.
Because of Ron's work, TONS of pesticides have not been applied
in orchards all over Massachusetts, New England and the world.
I had studied animal behavior (and lots of plant & soil
science and botany) as an undergraduate at UMass, but had
never thought much about insect behavior and host-finding
until I met Ron. He profoundly altered the lens through which
I view the world, if not my whole consciousness. Certainly,
I owe a great part of who I am today to him.