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Previously in Patti's Garden

August 9, 2004

It's another glorious day in a picture-perfect summer. I really can't remember such a splendid summer. Rain has fallen just about every week; it's just enough to keep things green and lush and relieve us of our irrigation chores.

The summer (Taylor) raspberries have been so much better than I could have imagined given all the dead canes that revealed themselves in May. So far we've picked almost 250 pints and will approach 300 - not a high number in a good year, but an outstanding number in a bad one. We've actually had three bad years in a row for summer berries (rain in 2002 and late season snow in 2001 took their toll those years) but this year is the best of the three. I've done so much picking every day that my legs are complaining and I'm wondering just how I'll manage to keep ahead of the harvest in a good year. (Sure am glad I dropped those 38 pounds last year; raspberry picking requires about 600 deep knee bends each day!)

An interesting side effect of the light crop is that the quality of the berries has been excellent. The fruit is huge, sweet, and really wonderful. The weather has been our ally this season because it's allowed each berry to be picked "at its sun-ripened peak."

During the winter I sometimes give talks to garden clubs about organic farming, and invariably am asked how I handle pest pressure. Readers of these reports know that I have much more trouble with bad weather (and my own zealous canines) than insect pests, but I did want to share information about one summer pest with you. Japanese beetles have terrific taste - they love raspberries and Damson plums, my two favorite fruits. As their population increased over the years at Cheshire Garden, I decided to investigate their life cycle. I knew that the beetles weren't tremendously fecund; females lay only 1-2 eggs/day. What blew my mind was learning that each individual lived for 1 1/2 months! When you consider how much the beetles feed during that time, coupled with egg-laying, each individual can be responsible for a tremendous amount of damage. As a kid, I had picked beetles off of my Mum's raspberries, but hadn't realized just how important this simple job really was. We began a concerted effort to hand pick the beetles about five years ago. Before picking berries, we'd each take a bucket of soapy water through the long rows of berries and remove every beetle we could. I also keep beetle buckets at the ends of the rows and in the plum orchard so whenever I'm making my rounds through the gardens and find beetles I have a bucket ready. Five years down the road, we find the beetles are far less a problem than they once were. We're still vigilant, but the pressure is decidedly less. (Beetles not only devour raspberry leaves, they eat the fruit as well, and the fruit is their preferred place for mating. They have an aggregation pheromone which means that they signal others into the area, and often much mating occurs on a single leaf or fruit. We joke that the collective noun for Japanese beetles is "an orgy of beetles" - that's entomology humor for you!)

Lara has been helping 1-2 days each week, and six year old Dante has been a big help as well. He especially likes watching the tiny tree frogs that live in the raspberry patch and also helps Ralph with the tractor work. One market day I stayed home because of rain in Boston and we caught up on the hoeing, weeding and deadheading, and brought the gardens back to August glory. Yesterday Lara's sister Mia and our old friend Jean who both worked for me eight years ago joined us picking and traded their time for some of the outstanding Enchantment tomatoes we've begun to harvest. We had such a good time! (It continually amazes me that these sophisticated Manhattan artists have fun here with me!)

Wild turkeys got into the far end of the Heritage raspberries. It's the variety I grow for autumn harvest but I had left a small portion unpruned because I prefer that variety for Raspberry Vinegar and wanted some on hand in the summer. They thrashed about and created quite a mess, and even consumed a huge mushroom I had been watching. It was a lovely cork-screw shaped fungus with scalloped edges. I had no plans to eat it myself, but I suspect that (as Joni Mitchell sang) they "saw some crazy scenes before (they) came to." Rosie the pup was quite indignant since chasing turkeys is one of her favorite pasttimes - in fact, she sees it as a primary part of her job description. Over the weekend while we were on our daily walk through the woods I heard lots of crashing. The absurd birds were trying to take flight through the trees and passed just over my head as they escaped my barking hound.

Rosie also wants to report that she caught two rabbits last week. She dutifully presented the first to Teddy, her hero, and tried to sneak the second upstairs to my bedroom to enjoy in private. Fortunately, Ralph caught her and detoured her back outdoors.

In other garden news, the peppers are doing spectacularly; all varieties of Italian, jalapeno and chile are beginning to redden. The beans and dill are ready to be transformed into Dilly Beans, but I haven't yet carved out the time to experiment. The flower beds look outstanding as the zinnias and ageratum (and everything else) are peaking.

Blueberries look good and we've begun picking some varieties. As soon as the summer raspberries slow down I'll get in there and really do some picking. The catbirds have been trying to unweave the protective netting and are sometimes sucessful. Blackberries, unfortunately, have only produced lightly, as have the Damson Plums. As I reported before, Tom's Dancing Bear Peaches produced no crop this year. As much as I hate to say so, preserves from these 3 fruits will be in short supply, so if these are your favorites, you may want to order now.

The Autumn raspberries, the Heritages (except for those that the turkeys destroyed) have never looked better. They are budding now and some have even flowered and set fruit already. I'm so excited! I think their numbers will make up for the light summer crop.

I'm still trying to make at least some vinegar each day. I've completed the Lemon Italia but still have more of each of the others to make. Since I only have July and August to produce all of these I need for a year, it always feels like crunch time now. I'm trying to be less intense and take some time to enjoy each day. And it's time to do that right now. Rosie has waited patiently for our romp through the woods so I'll lace up my boots and head out.

Enjoy August!


Maybe I was too hasty in blaming the flock of turkeys for the damage to the raspberries next to the woods.... This morning at about dawn a bear toppled over the beehives not 30 yards from the berries! Rosie and Teddy barked and howled in protest and drove the intruder away. Will the beekeeper is on his way to set things right and I suspect damage is minimal due to the dogs' intervention!



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