May 3, 2005
It's been pretty cool and damp since I last wrote and the developing of fruit buds has slowed considerably. It's a good thing too...we wouldn't want to risk fruit set being disrupted by a freeze or frost.
The plum treees have swollen buds that look like popcorn just before popping; the cortland apple is at pink and one of the newer pears is slowly opening. The sweet cherries are approaching full bloom and since we always lose all the cherries to the birds, I don't mind too much if frost nips the buds. The cherries are far too tall to net against the birds and we really don't mind handing the harvest over to them. (Now, I feel completely different about my raspberries....)
On this small farm, birds and mammals cause me far more grief than insects ever have. We currently have netting over our French tarragon and parsley because big grey bunny (well, most likely his progeny) were devouring the shoots as soon as they appeared. In the strawberry bed, we now have floating row cover protecting the plants from both the bunnies and offering a couple of degrees of warmth. We've learned that the row cover actually contributes to higher yields of fruit. We'll leave it on until flowers have formed so that the bees and other pollinators can do their work, and recover the bed with netting to protect the plants from the critters. The new strawberry bed is surrounded by a fence which keeps big creatures out, but gives the birds a great place to hang out while they watch for ripening berries. The biggest pests of the berries themselves are the chattering chipmunks. In past years they've tunneled beneath the netting to enter the bed and grab fruits then run away to safety. When I told this to Azure (one of our crew of beautiful berry pickers) she exclaimed, "oohh, you mean that the chipmunk actually steals the berry and runs away with it in its paws?!?!?...that is sooo cute!" I had to admit that she's right and I love her for reminding me.
Our beehives have been visited twice by the local bear since my last writing too. According to Will, the beekeeper, the queen is missing and several frames were destroyed. Apparently new queens are in short supply so we're hoping that what remains of the hive is strong enough to make a new one and that she can sucessfully mate and get on with the business of building the hive. We've surrounded the hives with electric fence and now shine a floodlight toward the hives and play the radio throughout the night. (I'm not sure how to program the radio to provide most offense to the bear...perhaps right-wing talk radio - that sure makes me sick.)
The other wildlife news is huge to Rosie. My loyal hound has taken to leaving me on our daily walks through the woods. She doesn't go off her own, but rather returns here because of the big changes that are happening down by the stream. The beavers have returned! When Ralph first came here thirty years ago, beavers had flooded the lowest part of the farm by damming up our stream at the neighboring farm. Our former neighbor blew up the dam, (well, yes, he was an idiot), and we hadn't seen beavers for decades. We first attributed the rising waters to the heavy rains and snow we've had over the last few years, then noticed the newly fallen trees and beginnings of a lodge about a month ago. By now the beaver construction project is well under way with many trees felled and debarked. It is simply astonishing how much work they've accomplished in so short a time (kind of makes me feel like a slacker...). I completely understand that this could pose a problem some time in the future, but for now I am happy they're here and full of admiration for their industry. Rosie, of course, thinks that the presence of these large mammals is beyond interesting and is on top of every splash and crash. The lowland area is quite a bit below our lower pond which is below our fields so I can't see flooding to be any problem for us in the near future. From our bedroom, you can see the wetlands shimmer in the sun. Shrubby pussy willows look like little islands in the water. This is where Rosie watches for beaver activity when she's in the house. Otherwise, she's keeping an eye out from the top terrace where she can fly down the slope and bark up a storm if she needs to. And our daily walks are far less interesting than her beaver reconnaissance activity. I can almost hear her as she turns back from the stream, "but Mom, but Mom, there are BEAVERS here, do you get it, Mom? BEAVERS! HERE!" Apparently clueless, I continue on my walk and we meet up when I return by the pond.
In the greenhouse, I've potted up the first couple of waves of seedlings. The cold, damp weather took its toll on some of the first sweet peppers who are especially sensitive. Not surprisingly, it was the heirloom varieties "corno di toro" and "Italian sweet" that were hardest hit. The hybrid Giant Marconi and northern bred "Italia" fared better. As I reminded myself, this is why I start seeds in waves and I'm not too worried about the early losses. I start hundreds more seeds than I need. The tomatoes are doing fine, and lots of the flowers have sprouted up. Some critter, probably a mouse, has been scratching around the flowers in the greenhouse. I don't know if he or she is eating the seeds or the sprouts but I do know something is going on out there. Auggie couldn't care less about investigating the greenhouse, but there is a feral cat in the area that might help out. I have plenty of flower seeds and can replant. If anyone goes after the pepper or tomato plants, our friends Elaine and Tom grow both of these so I have back-up plants available in case of emergency.
Ralph's big project this spring (in addition to preparing all the beds for my planting!) is to take down our old house. When he bought this property, it had a tiny house on it where we lived for several years while we scrimped and saved while he built the house we now live in. After we moved, we turned the old house into storage for our freezers, tractor, tools, etc. Now, it's time to take it down and rebuild something smaller and more efficient (and better looking). Originally, we had thought of letting the fire department burn it down for training (done fairly commonly in the country) but realized that the environmental implications of the burning were pretty nasty, so Ralph and a friend are taking it down by hand and recycling and salvaging what they can. It's a lot slower and a lot more expensive this way, but it is, or course, the right thing to do. He and Joe are beginning today, and we're all very excited.
I still have perennials to move around and some fertilizer to apply, but it's been so cold and windy lately that I've been working most often in the greenhouse. In fact, that's where I need to go now so I'll feel that I'm actually getting something accomplished today. Rosie's sleeping by my side but she'll join me in the greenhouse while I work.