July 1, 2005
Yikes! It's been so busy around here that I began a letter almost two weeks ago and never even got a chance to finish it.... Here it is, and updated.
Everything is finally planted - hoooooray! What a wonderful transplanting year it's been. The temperatures finally rose just as I began planting almost a week later than usual on June 6. The first bed to go in was the long cutting garden for market bouquets. Zinnias, cleome, scabiosa, verbena bonariensis as well as nasturtiums and rosemary went in that day and have doubled in size in less than a week.
The next day Mia and Lara joined me to help plant all the Italian peppers, and all the tomatoes as well as many of the chile peppers and more zinnias. We had so much fun it hardly seemed like work.....except for the hot humid temperatures, the mosquitos, and the way our legs turned to jelly after about the 150th deep knee bend with 500 more to go......
I continued on throughout the rest of the week planting ageratum and more chile peppers and nasturtiums and filling in around the perennial beds with later blooming annuals left over from the cutting beds. I put in some artichokes as an experiment at the top of the hill with a few sunflowers. I should have had many many sunflowers, but for a situation in the greenhouse last month.
As I have mentioned, I start many waves of plants, in case calamity strikes. This spring, I noticed really poor germination after I moved things from the grow room into the greenhouse, beginning with late waves of peppers and first waves of annual flowers like ageratum. I attributed this to the unusual cold and kept starting more waves. I don't start the large seeded plants like zinnias, sunflowers, nasturtiums and cukes and pumpkins until around May Day. It was then that I saw seed hulls from one tray piled in a neighboring tray and realized I had a critter problem. I suspected a mouse but had to laugh when I discovered who the culprit was.....A Phoebe who was nesting in the porch of our old house had realized that there was easy eating in the greenhouse. She was already used to flying through doorways to get into the old porch...the door to the nearby greenhouse door was no challenge. It's just too bad that she couldn't understand that she could have had soooo many more sunflower seeds if she'd only let me grow the plants.....She pretty much wiped out hundreds of seeds, mostly sunflowers, zinnias, pumpkins and cucumbers. I'm just glad she didn't like the basil and nasturtiums.
The last of the big plantings, the basil, went in yesterday on Saint Basil's Day. I only put in a couple hundred plants this year, down from my usual 700 or so because I plan to make fewer bottles of vinegar since I need to concentrate on our incredible fruits.
Strawberries are beginning to ripen and the plants are loaded with fruit. We grow Honeoye, a mid-season all-round tasty and reliable berry, and Sparkle, a late-season berry that is the finest for preserves. We grow two varieties just so we don't have "all our eggs in one basket" in case of a weather disaster or other calamity. When I make preserves I mix the two varieties for more complex flavor.
Blueberries are also loaded with berries - more than I have ever seen.....it's almost frightening!
And the raspberries....ah, the raspberries. Our two newest beds of Taylors are loaded and look strong and vigorous. Our three oldest beds (about 15 years old) really need to be replaced. They all have fruit but at nowhere near the density of the younger rows. They have really been valiant producers and the motherstock of all our other rows but I can see that we'll need to give the beds a rest. Our newest row is a variety we're trialling called "Killarney" that our friend Elaine has had good luck with and whose taste we've enjoyed. To my surprise, it is heavily laden for a first year. The Autumn raspberries, the Heritage, were pruned down to the ground in April and have shot up taller in this hot, humid and rainy weather than they often are in July. These beds gave us 450 pints last fall - and saved the day for us raspberry-wise last year. If they were a bit weak this year I'd understand, but they seem as strong as ever.
The super news is that the Teddy Berry blackberries are also loaded...with flowers right now but at a density that I cannot believe. I had almost given up on ever seeing anything but a light crop on these canes but this year is a dream come true. This is the year that all the work we put into building their locust wood trellises will pay off.....it should afford some degree of protection from the brutal thorns.
The Damson Plum trees managed to set some fruit in spite of the low temperatures in May. The two oldest trees and the French Damson have a good fruit load. (These are the trees under which Ralph burned fires on the coldest night.) Some of the young trees also have fruit and one is particularly loaded. We've been spraying the trees with potter's clay for about 10 days now to thwart the plum curculio - a snout nosed weevil who likes to both eat and lay eggs in plums. The clay acts as a barrier that the weevils don't like. It doesn't kill them, it just makes the fruit less attractive. (It does have the benefit of killing caterpillars, though, which dry out when exposed to the clay.) Big growers don't like using the clay because it clogs up sprayers, and washes off during rain, hence necessitating reapplication (every couple of days, this season). Since we only have a couple dozen trees, these problems pale in comparison with not getting plums at all and we always thank the unknown researcher who rediscovered this old-time farmer's technique.
June 28 update
Damson Plums continue to look good. We're done with curculio season and still have a good fruit load. I'm reminded that the clay really helps protect the fruit from disease and rots too.
Strawberries are beautiful! We've picked more than half of what we'll require for preserves, and are now deep into the small, intensely flavored Sparkles - so, so lovely.
Raspberries, Blackberries and Blueberries continue to amaze us with their fruit set.
Tomatoes have set lots of fruit already. For years and years we caged our tomatoes which was a bear of a job because each cage has three legs, and our extremely stony soil would resist placement of each one. Multiply cage legs by 100-150 plants and you can imagine the frustration. That's why we were so glad when our friends Elisabeth and Roger explained their simple technique for tomatoes. They place a stake between every other plant, then run lines of twine at regular intervals from stake to stake. The tomatoes, then, can be woven through the twine. Lara proved to be a genius at tomato weaving last year (her Waldorf mind at work, no doubt) and the result was LOTS of tomatoes of good size and excellent quality. This morning Ralph and Joe pounded in the stakes and Lara wove her web of magic and I pruned off lower leaves. The rain began in earnest as we were finishing up and I swear I can see the tomatoes growing before my eyes as I look over at that garden.
Flowers all look splendid in the rain having just been hoed yesterday. That said, I'm beginning to look upon the Phoebe who ate all the flower seeds as a friendly spirit who saved me from getting sidelined with lots of bouquet-making when I have sooooo very many berries out there......!
Garlic is making scapes (the flowering shoots) and I need to get in there and cut them, and pull some of the seed heads that have shot up from the oat straw mulch.
Peppers are bigger and more advanced then they often are 2-3 weeks later in the season. Whew! The sooner they come the sooner we can make Mad Hatter's Pepper Preserve.
Teddy has just had his summer 'do and is thriving. He got a lion-cut this time so he looks particularly silly - a big old bear with a lion's hair cut! It makes him feel sooo much better to have his body cool and he does like keeping his shaggy mane (like his favorite senator). We've moved our whole bed downstairs now to keep him company! Rosie's back to flying through the woods with me now that her pad has healed from a cut and Auggie is keeping a beady eye on the catnip which is just about ready for cutting. (She can't understand why she has to share it with all those other cats.....) The bear hasn't been back to the hives since Ralph and Will secured the area with more electric fencing. I've seen mooseprints in the nearby woods and turkeys are still common. A bluebird visited but didn't move in....the catbirds are curiously absent - perhaps Ralph's spring work on the stonewall by the pond sent them away - I can't imagine that they'll miss raspberry and blueberry season.
Speaking of Ralph, he and our friend Joe have been busy dismantling the old house and carefully recycling lots of it (next springs, chicks will have quite the henhouse, I'm sure). Add to that lots of mowing, trimming, fencing, building, trellising, and so forth and he's just as ready for bed when the sun goes down as I am. But he'd be the first to say that he spends most of his time stuffing bones with peanut-butter for old Teddy.