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Previously in Patti's Garden

July 30, 2005

Patti on the farm It's 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!

Product Notes

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 Tarragon, Lavender 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 d'Italia, Herbes 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.

Patti

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