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Previously in Patti's Garden

March 2, 2005

Ralph is outside moving the most recent foot of snow to have fallen this winter. It really is beautiful! The sun is trying to break through the grey clouds and every once in a while some snow blows off the branches of a big old tree and shimmers as it catches the sunlight on its way down.

It snowed pretty hard all day long yesterday, and Rosie and I took an abbreviated walk at the end of the day (she's the one who wanted to call it quits...!) I love the way snow lets you see shapes of nature and the landscape so very differently. Yesterday I noticed that the sumacs which grow in the space between the farm and the woods, when covered in snow, perfectly mirror the branching of deer antlers. I walk past these bushes every day and pay them no mind at all (except for the August days when their flowers are open and buzzing with bees, or when their berries and leaves turned brillliant red in Autumn) and had never noticed their beauty in the snow. I dismissed them as brushy weeds to hurry past on my way into the pine woods.

Once in the woods, we typically follow our brook as it curves into crescents and S shapes, oxbows and eddies, to an old path on neighbors' land. We typically make a loop through the woods which takes us hopping over several streams and brooks, and up and down very steep terrain. In fact it's much too steep to take my cross-country skiis anywhere in the nearby woods - the path is very narrow - winding between big rocks and bigger trees.

My Valentine's Day present from Ralph, though, has changed my life. New snowshoes - built for women! I've had a pair of old, modified bear-paw showshoes for 30 years or so. The last time I used them much was in 2001 when Rosie was a pup and it was a very snowy year and we needed to get out into the woods everyday to burn off her excessive energy. Unfortunately, I'm soooo small that walking in them wasn't very natural, and my feet would slip out of the leather bindings as they would stretch in the snow. Not so with these new shoes! They're made of aluminium and light as a feather, and very small so that I can walk as easily as I can barefoot. They also have great teeth to dig into the hillside as I scramble up. Using my cross country ski poles helps me balance my weight and catch myself in case I come down clumsily on a stone or branch hidden in the snow. The poles also help me cross the widening streams since I can reach out and put them into the stream, then swing myself over to the other side.

I do still ski every chance I get - either in a neighbor's field or on a trail at a nearby prep school, but the snowshoes make it easy to have fun with Rosie right here, every day, and from a dog's point of view, checking out the action and activity at home is all-important.

And although it's easy to dismiss March as just bleak and muddy, the landscape as the snow melts and reveals shapes of stones and walls, brooks and rivulets is ever changing, in a subdued palette of blues, greys and browns and evergreen.

Since our organic certification renewal is March 1, February was my month to order seeds and organize the garden beds for the new season. It's always a most pleasant way to spend many cold, snowy days and I don't really mind the paperwork because it helps me make decisions. Since our friends Kathy and Peter won't be doing the Newton Farmers' Market this year, we'll put in lots more flowers for bouquets. We're also trialling yet more tomatoes and peppers.

Our pepper preserve was a total knockout winner last season, and we'll still grow the Italia peppers from Johnny's which we consider the standard for flavor and earliness. The giant marconis have proven the winner for yield and also have excellent flavor, and we're adding three other Italian peppers to trial along with these two. Since we now need peppers for both JazzBerry Salsa and Pepper Preserve, I don't think five varieties is too many to trial. We're also trying out about five varieties of chile peppers (as well as our regular super chile and super cayenne) to find the right chile for the preserves. We used to grow a jalapeno that would ripen to red in our climate, but that's no longer available. The three jalapenos we grew last summer did not turn red soon enough for us (or we'd still have some pepper preserve!) so we're experimenting with new varieties. The jalapeno advantage is that they have thick walls, and therefore a lot of tissue for preserves. Many of the chilies that reliably turn red have thin walls - therefore less tissue for preserves - but more heat. It's clear that we'll have more experiments to do blending the chilies with the Italian peppers next August, but I feel that the master recipe we created last fall doesn't need much tweaking. I am really pleased that we used just red peppers for the preserve - I think the color is simply gorgeous.

You'd think that after our extraordinary tomato year that I'd just keep last year's three splendid varieties, but we're growing another four kinds of tomatoes too. The Enchantment has the richest, most complex flavor - sweet yet lightly acidic and juicy; Polish Linguisa and San Marzano are rich and dense and thicken in sauce beautifully. All three are indeterminate, meaning that they produce throughout the long harvest season. I'm trialling determinate varieties, those that are shorter and produce all their tomatoes at once. I think it's wise to grow both kinds because if disaster strikes, one type may be less affected than the other. Also, since seed companies withdraw varieties all the time, it's good to know what else is available.

In other wintery news, the tremendous snow cover is our best friend for protecting our beloved berries - raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries and even currants. When the snow was highest and crusty, we took advantage of the natural ladder and pruned the fruit trees. For both Ralph and I, this is a heartbreaking experience - he especially feels the pain of each cut - so we're not the world's best pruners - keeping cuts to the bare minimum. Since Damson Plums are so tiny (the plums, not the trees), they don't break branches the way apples and peaches can and the trees don't need the severe pruning that the others do. I'm just learning about our Seckel Pears and simply made a couple of cuts to encourage branching. I don't expect pears this coming season, but I do expect all the other fruit to be sensational. We're overdue for a good fruit year and this winter season has been simply perfect. Now if we can just avoid a frost after bloom....or rain during bloom....or hail anytime....or drought....

We celebrated Teddy's 11th birthday on February 28 with a turkey pie. Since he gets just about whatever he wants whenever he wants it, the day wasn't all that special to him but it sure was to us. After all, he's a newfie-lab-chow who weighs about 150 pounds and we didn't really expect to see him live this long. He's all heart and lots of laughs and starts every day by singing as he yawns. (He made noisy yawns as a pup which always got me laughing and now sings as he yawns every time.) Since Ralph is concerned that Ted might fall on the stairs, we now unfold a futon on the livingroom floor every night so the whole family can sleep together. Crazy? well, yes, I guess maybe so.....

Rosie just awakened from napping on the bed beside me and is trying to herd me downstairs and out the door for our daily adventure. I guess it's time to go.




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