July 30, 2005
Raspberry Heaven here at Cheshire Garden this summer. We've
been picking every two days and have taken off more than
165 pints and are still a week away from peak - I think we
may pick between 500-600 pints of summer berries this year!
The weather has been hot and humid and we've been dodging
thunderstorms but have been lucky to have the fruit cleanly
picked every time the rain has fallen. Our crackerjack picking
crew includes the Amazing Azure - nursing student and yoga
teacher extraordinaire, Nina - a PhD student at UMass, former
basketball star and North Dakotan farm girl, and Erica -
a student of photography and ecology - standing in for Lara
who's vacationing in Canada. I'm so lucky to have people
who love it here just as I do and who never complain about
heat, humidity or mosquitos. We've also had tremendous help
from Joe who, along with helping Ralph take down our old
house, has been mowing and weed-whacking and trimming and
doing all kinds of jobs - just about anything that needs
to be done - so that these gardens look as beautiful this
year as ever in their existence. So beautiful, in fact, that
I mentioned to Ralph that we should really be "Open" here
at the farm this summer - but of course, if we did that,
we'd never get any real work done.
Right now I need to apologize to all my farmers' market
customers for my absence lately. I've missed the last three
Greenfield and last two Newton markets. Long-time readers
know that my relationship to my raspberries borders on obsessive
love, and I simply can't be away if I think they're vulnerable.
The unpredictability of the thunderstorms this summer has
meant that whenever rain is forecast, I stay home and pick.
Two years ago I once experimented with letting three days
pass between picking (ideal when temps are in the 80's).
Rain that was predicted for the next day came early and I
lost scores of pints of berries. It broke my heart to pick
and toss all the ruined berries. So, friends, although it
sounds incongruous to say so, I couldn't come to market because
I have sooo many berries to pick.
Another obsession that rears its head this time of year
is my battle with japanese beetles. These pests of raspberries
and plums emerge throughout the month of July and live for
1-1/2 months! They're not especially fecund, laying only
an egg or two each day, but they are so long lived that each
beetle can cause tremendous devastation. Once I understood
just how long each individual lived, I took it as a personal
challenge to catch as many as I could. As an old entomologist,
I have less fear of insects than most folks, but I even remember
the satisfaction of beetle-picking from my Mum's berries
when I was a little girl and even a teenager. This year I
found the first beetle on the last day of June and got out
my buckets of soapy water. I put a bucket in each of the
raspberry rows and in the middle of the Damson Plum orchard
(they don't bother our pears or peaches!) and another near
the house. I spent a couple of hours every day or so collecting
beetles into the buckets - usually picking a couple hundred
each time. Guess what? As of today (July 27) the beetles
are largely absent!!!! OK, we still have them...we'll never
get them all, but the collecting has made a tremendous impact.
I like the approach of personally battling the insects that
plague us. I look them in their compound eyes and say, "HA!" All
of those commercial growers, spraying pesticides on their
berries from their tractors never get that personal confrontation
with the enemy - and oowww I hate to think of any poor berry
with pesticide on it - ick!. My berry-picking-pals have taken
up the gauntlet and are getting pretty good at capturing
beetles, but, as Azure advised, if I ever hire a Buddhist
helper, I can't expect her to join in the beetle battle.
Tomatoes are ripening already thanks to the hot weather.
Unfortunately, they also show sure signs of Early Blight,
not surprising given all the hard rain we've had. I didn't
rotate the tomatoes out of the bed where, last year, they
put on an incredible show. The hard rain splashes disease
organisms onto the lower leaves, thereby infecting the plant.
Disease is rarely a problem for us (because hard rain is
rare for us) so I ignored Roger's recommendations to put
down plastic in the tomatoes (shielding the plant from the
soil). I should have listened - the man has an almost encyclopedic
knowledge of horticulture and his recommendations for the
trellis system of staking tomatoes simplified our lives and
yielded the best crop in memory. Next year, plastic. This
year, an adequate tomato harvest but no bumper crop.
Garlic, though, is incredible! Joe dug it all for us earlier
this week and we were amazed at crate after crate of huge
bulbs he brought in. Since we're taking down the old house
(the place where we dried garlic and herbs) we needed a place
to put it all. Since we've been sleeping in the living room
to keep old Teddy Bear downstairs, our bedroom was vacant.
Now it's full of garlic - how funny to come upstairs and
be overwhelmed with the aroma.
Catnip is the other thing in our old bedroom. We've always
grown catnip here - even before I joined Ralph here in 1986
he grew it behind an old barn where one of our tomato beds
is now. When Rita, the cat whose face graces our label, was
getting quite old (she lived to be 20), I dug lots of catnip
and moved it to many places near the house so it was convenient
for her. Now, it grows just everywhere and I picked cartload
after cartload (I wait for it to flower - the cats REALLY
like the buds). We laid sheets down on the floor and put
down the catnip to pre-dry before I take it off the stalks
and dry it on screens. Auggie, our very sweet, very fluffy
golden girl has taken up residency in the center of the nip
and is as happy as a kitty can be.
Blueberries are ready for picking. Netting is up but those
crafty catbirds have discovered a way in that we have yet
to detect. Each time we liberate one from the blueberry bed
it lands in the raspberries to increase our consternation.
Last evening while we were delighting in watching our air
force of dragonflies pluck mosquitos out of the air, we also
saw the catbirds, robins and even finches darting in and
out of the raspberries enjoying the sweet fruit. I can't
fault them for their good taste, and suspect that we have
enough to share with them this season. They really seem to
enjoy the fruit as much as I do....
Plums are hanging on for the most part. We lost lots in
the heavy rain earlier this month, but those left behind
are growing well. Tom reports that he has peaches this year
in Leyden so we should have some Dancing Bear Peach Preserve
again in September.
Blackberries have set fewer fruits than it appeared earlier
but I'm confident that we'll have enough. I'm not sure why
more fruit didn't set - these Teddy Berries are, of course,
really an unknown variety so it could be that they're just
not optimally suited to our land.
Good news for all the fans of Mad Hatter's Pepper Preserve
- Peppers are exploding! The Italias are beginning to redden
already and there are many chilies of many kinds that we're
variety trialling this year. With luck we'll have it back
in stock by the end of August.
The herbs are thriving everywhere and it's time for me to
wrap this up and make some French
Tarragon Vinegar. Teddy is in deep sleep under the house
- it's the way he gets through these hot, humid days; Rosie
is outside waiting for me to do something exciting (but I
think it's too hot for a romp through the woods) and Auggie
is sleeping in the catnip. Lazy summer day today - tomorrow
- more raspberries!
As I was making the French Tarragon Vinegar I realized
it was high time to alert you to changes to our vinegar lines.
The high quality, organic white wine vinegar which we've
been using for more than a decade is no longer available
to us. Last season we bought two barrels of excellent organic
red wine vinegar from the same company and are slowly switching
vinegars. This new vinegar will go well with some of our
flavors, like everybody's favorite, Blenda
d'Italia, but there are other herbs, most notably French
Tarragon, whose delicate flavor competes with the fruity,
more assertive red wine vinegar. I've reserved the last of
the white wine vinegar for French
Flower, and Lemon
Italia Vinegars. After this they'll be available in red
wine vinegar only by special request. In tall (375 ml) bottles
we'll offer Blenda
de Provence and Queen
of Hearts Raspberry Vinegars. In the petite (190 ml)
bottles we'll offer Purple
Ruffles Basil, Rosemary and Raspberry.
PS: July 29 - Raspberry count is now over 200 pints and
we're still not at midway! Teddy turns 11 1/2 today - who
would have thought!?!?!? The weather is splendid - the glorious
days of high summer.