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Previously in Patti's Garden

June 18, 2004

It feels like 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 planting.

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 varieties.

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 may work.

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 slope garden.

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 of Dancing 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!


A Remembrance

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 death.

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.



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