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Previously in Patti's Garden

January 26, 2005

Happy New Year one and all!

It's snowing here again in New's sooo beautiful. We have another 6" or so on top of the weekend's 14" on top of what we already had for a total coverage of about 3'. Ralph is clearing out the drive using the bucket of his tractor ("Darwin") to put the snow where he wants it. This whole snow business is a lot more fun for me than for him. I get in a couple of hours of cross-country skiing almost every day - he gets stuck with snow removal chores.

Thanks once again to all of our customers! We had a very busy mail-order season both via phone and this website. Thanks to all of our holiday customers, we were able to write checks to our three favorite local animal shelters (Pioneer Valley in Greenfield, MA, Windham County in Brattleboro, VT, and Monadnock here in NH) and Kitty Angels - the terrific kitty rescue organization. We tallied our sales (including shipping and packaging) and divided 10% of that total between the 4 organizations. When we learned of the needs of a local group who rescues Greyhound racers, we just had to help them out too. All of these organizations do such important work, and given the poor economy, their needs (as with all charitable organizations right now) are great. We only wish, as ever, that we could do more.

January is a crazy month for me. All throughout the growing season and the harvest and holiday seasons I have more work than I can get done every single day. I plan my time and calculate my resources and work like a beaver to get everything done when it should be done. January is my month off. It's my month to relax and read novels and ski with Rosie. It's completely open which makes me crazy. Whatever I am doing, I think I should be doing something else.

There's the old biological imperative for mammals - clean the burrow. It's cold, you're stuck inside, clean the burrow. Levels of dust that were fine in December make me nuts in January. I clean out closets, bureaus, desks, file cabinets. I want to throw away everything. Ralph and Peter built me another beautiful bookcase - 7' tall, 4' wide with double glass doors - it took me two days to rearrange books from the other three bookcases so that they were organized sensibly. Now there's a whole shelf for field guides; cooking books and gardening books are separated and the top shelves of the two major bookcases reflect my duality (or is it my schizophrenia??) - one is science - animal behavior, entomology, plant science, botany, etc., the other science fiction and fantasy.

While I'm cleaning, I think I should really be reading. If I'm reading, I think I should be skiing. While skiing, I think I should really be working on this newsletter, or organizing last year's receipts for taxes, or rewriting text for our catalogue and website, or redesigning our labels, or creating recipes, or ordering seeds, or....

I haven't ordered seeds yet, but I've been having fun reading the catalogues. I know from the tremendous popularity of Mad Hatter's Pepper Preserve that we'll need even more sweet Italian peppers this year. I haven't decided, though, if I'll just stick with Giant Macaroni (the clear winner of last year's variety trials) or if I'll try some others too. We're also going to bring back a hot red (Hot Portugual) which we used to grow to replace the jalapenos. Since our old favorite Giant Jalapeno was discontinued by Johnny's, we've yet to find a jalapeno that dependably ripens to red here and we really like to make the pepper preserve (and also JazzBerry) with red peppers because the color is so much more appealing.

We felt that we hit the jackpot with our tomato planting last year and will certainly grow Enchantment (our very favorite) and will also probably repeat San Marzano and Polish linguisa. Last year we had an avalanche of tomatoes and we still have cases of tomato sauce, Herb & Garlic Pizza Sauce, and a freezer full of tomatoes that I've been enjoying cooking down on the woodstove this month. One of the reasons for the tomato success last year was that we followed Roger's advice and wove a trellis for the tomatoes rather than simply stake and cage as we had before. Lara the Swiss puppet-maker (our right-hand woman!) had a wonderful time weaving the plants and the success of the system was really due to her work. When I look at the photos I took in September of the tomato garden the bounty still amazes me. I'll write more about this technique next July to explain it to any interested readers in a timely fashion.

We're well set on fruit here and have no plans to increase plantings of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries or blackberries this season, but we will put in several fruit trees. Our best buddy Tom Ashley (of Dancing Bear Farm) has been growing peaches for us for years, but peach trees are short-lived here in New England (especially organically grown) and he has just 3 left. He grows Reliance, a variety developed here in New Hampshire, and this year Ralph and I are planting a few ourselves. It will take several years to get a crop and hopefully we won't have any gaps. I was going to replace a couple of the Damson Plums that haven't produced yet, but decided to give them another chance. I have a very good feeling that 2005 is going to be a banner year for fruit.

We've had some cold nights this winter - it has dropped to 10 below zero half a dozen nights or so, but nothing as drastic as last year's temperatures of minus 20 that killed fruit buds on the plums, blackberries, and even some of the raspberries and blueberries. The growing season last year was perfect - we had plenty of rain and none of the fruit trees or bushes were stressed and all put on strong new growth. These factors bode well for 2005's harvest. (The snow helps too - especially to protect the blackberries which are the most vulnerable to cold temperatures.)

The day after Christmas our old furnace up and died.....well, it had been held together with a wing and a prayer by Ralph's genius for the last few years so we weren't really surprised. Luckily we have 3 wood stoves - my century-old cookstove in the kitchen, a Swedish stove in the fireplace and another in the cellar - and we have a neighbor who cuts and sells firewood. Although heating solely with wood is more work than turning up a thermostat, we remember how much we really love the smell and the quality of warmth the wood provides. (We had heated exclusively with wood for many years, only buying a furnace when Ralph turned 40.) I especially love my cookstove which is what I learned to cook on 30 years ago (omigosh, did I graduate from college 30 years ago?!?!?!). There is really no more satisfying way to cook than with wood in the winter - whether it's as simple as eggs or waffles on top of the stove or bread or roasts in the oven, and making soup is a sensory delight. We will replace the furnace in time (so we can be away from home for more than a couple of hours) but this experience has been more pleasure than hardship.

It's been several years since we've had a really good fruit harvest, and I'm wondering just how I'll get all those berries picked. It's critical that I stay in good shape through the winter because berry-picking means doing at least a thousand deep-knee bends every day (well, it feels like a thousand...) My boon companion for running in the woods is my loyal dog Rosie, who is presently laid up with a split claw on a front paw. Sooo, I've been skiing by myself because she finds that activity less interesting than woods-running. (I often ski laps and she can't understand why I keep repeating myself when there's so much else to explore. Even when we run through the woods she can't understand why I always take the same route and cross the streams at the same place every single time....She dashes back and forth, always coming back to me, pointing out short cuts and trying to get me to follow her.) For years I've done about 15 minutes of stretching every morning to stay loose, and this year I've added about 15-30 minutes of dancing to keep my knees strong - especially on days when I can't ski. After listening to pretty much nothing but classical music or jazz for 30 years, I rediscovered rock on my 50th birthday last year when my brother Scott reminded me of my favorite band from college, NRBQ. These days I stretch with Sonny Rollins, then dance away with Q - I dance like no one's watching (fortunately no one is...), and start the day full of energy and joy. I heartily recommend it to one and all!



P.S. Teddy wants all to know that he is doing just fine as he approaches his 11th birthday. He's as chubby as ever, still loving that peanut butter every chance he gets and still able to waddle up the stairs to bed every night. A newfoundland/chow/lab cross, he finds the cold weather invigorating and loves to lie outside while the snow flies and turns his brown fur white. Rosie is less enthusiastic about the cold but wants all to know that her broken claw doesn't stop her from protecting the bird feeders from squirrels and that she's the one who discovered, dug up and devoured the mole last week (probably how she hurt the claw). Auggie the golden cat is as sweet and silly as ever, still chases unseen fairies regularly and loves to cuddle with Rosie, her protector. Wildlife sightings lately have been limited to the wild turkeys (they look so ridiculous), bunnies (including a huge one - oh no, not again!), and the many, many birds who visit Ralph's feeders -titmouses, chickadees, finches, woodpeckers, juncoes, doves and cardinals.



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