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Previously in Patti's Garden

Patti on the farmMay 19, 2006

Well, we got the rain...... And plenty of it. Fortunately our sandy soil drains well so we rarely have to worry about plants washing out. The weeds, of course, look just great - we have knee-high dandilions, and plantain and mullein leaves the size of dinner plates.

In the greenhouse the tomatoes and peppers are longing to see the sun. They're fine, just small and stout....waiting for the sun's warmth and brightness to grow. All the annual flowers are up - Soraya, Lemon Queen and Teddy Bear sunflowers, my favorite zinnias and five kinds of nasturtiums, as well as ageratum, scabiosa, calendula and cosmos. The basils have shown their color but have barely cracked the surface and ventured out of the soil, waiting, like the peppers, for a brighter and warmer day. If there's a letup in the showers today I'll transplant some of the verbena into our entry garden and move some delphinium and gloriosa daisies around in there.

I think every strawberry we transplanted has taken hold and they're leafing out beautifully in the steady rain. We just put in about 225 plants this year, mostly Sparkles, my favorite for preserves. The 2004 planting, which we'll harvest for the second year in June, came back beautifully. The beds are full of healthy plants that are just beginning to blossom now.

Our new elderberry planting is lovely - a crescent shaped bed that half-circles our lower pond. I'm really looking forward to experiment with making elderberry preserves - I also know full well that the birds will identify this planting as their own and that I'll be competing with the master berry-pickers when it comes to harvest.

Speaking of birds and fruit, they'll be happier than ever next month when the sweet cherries ripen. I've never seen as many as are on our two trees, an Ulster and an Emperor Francis. I gave up hope of ever recovering more than a handful of cherries long ago, ceding the whole harvest to the birds. We cover the blueberry and red currant plantings with netting to thwart the birds but there's no way to cover 30' cherry trees.

The currants are blossoming and some have even set fruit already. The blueberries are still coming out slowly. They seem pretty sparse to me. Last year was such a heavy harvest that it may be that this is an off year for them. We'll have to see.

The oldest of the summer bearing raspberries look weaker than I would have expected after such a mild winter - but they are 17 years old after all.....We've gone back and forth on taking out this planting and have now decided to take out the lowest row this year so we can begin the process of building it back up for use in a future year. (These three old rows are 120' long each so removing the old canes is a big job and we can really only handle one row at a time.)

Three years ago we removed our original raspberry rows and reconfigured the top of the slope. The new plantings there look excellent so I'm confident we'll have plenty of berries for summer picking, just not a wild year like last year.

The Autumn bearing Heritage berries (who get pruned completely to the ground) are shooting up new growth with great vigor in the rain. My main job here will be to ensure that weeds don't get a foothold. Stinging nettles and lambsquarters both threaten but bindweed could pull down everything in this ten year-old planting.

The Damson Plums all blossomed to some degree this season and I'm confident that we'll see fruit even though pollination had to have been diminished by the cloudy, rainy weather that discourages bee flight. The French Damson ("Renee") appears to be loaded with fruit yet again and I don't see how she does it. Perched on the point, facing southwest, and with borer damage to her trunk that makes it look as though she'd dancing, she put on beautiful crop of dark blue plums last year. I would expect her to simply withdraw and produce foliage this year but she was covered with so many blossoms I'm sure she'll carry a fruit load again this season. The two oldest "Shropshire Damsons" also appear to have set a fair amount of fruit, and many of the younger, "Blue Damsons" as well.

All but one of the three and four year old Seckel Pears have set fruit so I hope I have some to experiment with. (I did pick pears last year, but couldn't do much with just six...)

The Teddy Berry Blackberries are still filling out, but I think I can predict a crop this year. It looks like buds are beginning to form on canes in most of the rows. These guys have bedeviled me since we planted them - an unidentified variety that we had discovered in an abandoned orchard about 30 miles from here. Although they produce heavily in their original habitat, they have been weak here, probably because our site is appreciably colder. Since this past winter was more typical for Virginia than New Hampshire, I am hopeful.

I had a fascinating interaction when I was pruning the blackberries. This is a tough job because of the dastardly thorns but I was happily working away, thinking of my dear Teddy as I was pruning the berries he had discovered when two very fat garter snakes came toward me. I was surprised because they usually run away from me and I waved my red loppers at them to send them back. They kept coming at me so rather than argue I picked up an armload of cane prunings and carried them away to the burn pile. As I returned to my work, two more fat garter snakes came at me from the same direction (or the first two, again?) then another, then another, then another. All in all, seven fat garter snakes crossed my path in about ten minutes (or maybe five, if the first pair returned, then turned around again). I'd ask a psychic what it all means but I'm kind of afraid to find out.

Oh, the Birds!

Gainesborough the bluebird is back, although I don't know where the family is nesting. Rose-breasted grosbeaks are having a fine time spinning around on the gazebo-shaped feeder. Orchard orioles and a Baltimore oriole are all around and the towhees are visiting. Red-winged blackbirds also visit often and of course, the robins and cardinals and chickadees, titmouses, and finches are all around. In the woods the thrushes thrill us with their calling. The phoebes that kept Teddy company on his last nights are nesting atop a vent on the porch. (We've stopped using that entrance.) Another phoebe family is residing in one of Ralph's temporary buildings housing the building materials salvaged from the old house removal.

The new three-acre pond built for us by the beavers attracts more ducks than we've ever had here and even a great blue heron has stopped by. Our larger pond is filled with frogs and polliwogs (isn't that a great word!?!?!) and all the accompanying insects that flourish in ponds. I was mesmerized watching it all yesterday during a sunny break. The pond surface sparkled with insect life and I saw my first dragonfly of the year - "old clubtail" we call him.......

In the Woods

"Pride goeth before the fall".......Well, I didn't actually fall off the ridge.....but scampering down the steep slope all winter long did wreak havoc on my knee. When I lost 40 pounds three years ago I mistakenly thought I had lost 40 years as well. I didn't realize that even though I felt like a spunky twelve-year-old again flying through the woods, my knees were appreciably older. Something crackled, snapped and popped and everything shifted to the left and I've been trying to heal now since February. Consequently, my woods walks are shorter because the steep slopes are especially difficult. Rosie and I still walk everyday and she manages to flush turkeys and birds regularly but I haven't been deep enough into the woods to see signs of wilder animals. The trail at the school in Northfield makes a good workout for us because it's not as rugged and she finds the sniffs of other canines intriguing.

May 23

The rain stopped and I've begun to recapture the perennial beds from the weeds. Ralph has been catching up on the mowing which makes the birds sooo happy as legions of insects take flight. I still can't imagine planting next weekend - Memorial Day - but maybe things will warm up between then and now.

Rosie has sat patiently with me as I finished this letter but I sense that she's getting anxious to stretch her legs and so am I. She's had some visits from doggie friends Emma and Dark Star which were fun, and had a great time playing with Riley Bear at Dancing Bear Farm. Both Rose and Auggie the Kitty are missing the old boy who was such a part of their lives. We're not quite ready yet to look for a big baby boy pup to join the family, but pretty soon. Until then, I've got a ton of planting to do!

Patti (and Ralph!)



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