Happy Summer to one and all! It's my favorite time of year.
The air is rich with the aroma of flowers, the sky is deep
blue and berries are ripening in their beds.
The garden beds are all lush with new growth from both perennials
and transplants, but the best news is that the whole farm
has been transformed into a playground for ridiculously funny
We have many long rows of berries that are trellised with
tall locust wood poles, and tomatoes supported by more wooden
stakes. Blueberries and currants grow under wooden frames
draped with netting. Between stakes and posts and poles and
the three dozen or so trees that make up our little orchard,
baby birds have an endless variety of perches to choose from.
They fly from branch to post to pole to stake to post again
practicing their takeoffs and landings. (The first are usually
pretty comical.) Some siblings play together. The grackle
family all traipse around together pecking like chickens
and teasing eachother, and the three young cardinal females
are as inseparable as a trio of teenage girls. The rose-breasted
grosbeak family must include at least four young birds who
have great fun spinning the gazebo-shaped feeder as they
land on it. It's clear that they're playing with eachother
and not simply landing there to eat. A mother downy woodpecker
gets a beakful of seeds and hops up to a higher branch where
her daughter is waiting. Mum opens a seed and feeds the little
one, over, and over, and over again. (She's a devoted mother,
telling her daughter, "You stay away from that feeder!
I don't care what the other young birds are doing! You stay
here in the tree in the crook of that branch where it's nice
and safe and I'll bring the seeds to you!") The robin
family has some especially bold young boys who don't mind
pecking for worms and bugs in the garden and yard not 15
feet away from us.
We've kept the feeders stocked with sunflower seeds all
spring rather than taking them in as we usually do. We don't
worry about bears because we've fenced in most of the farm,
and certainly the beehives, off by themselves on top of the
hill, would be a greater attraction than birdseed anyway.
(The hives are now protected by an fence that Will, the beekeeper,
put up.) All over this part of New England, trees are being
defoliated by caterpillars, but not here. I think that our
incredible population of birds is really helping keep down
the caterpillar pests. It probably sounds crazy for a fruit
grower to be encouraging wild birds to stay in her garden,
but beyond their beauty, I truly believe that they are helping
us grow our berries and fruits here. Sure, they're eating
some of the ripening strawberries right now as I write this,
but they won't eat so many as to wipe me out. (In some years
I do have to resort to netting the strawberries but this
year there are plenty for all of us.) We do, of course, net
the blueberries and currants and sometimes, the raspberries.
Harvest started late but the berries are lovely. I've managed
to stay ahead of the rain showers and have picked about 30
pounds so far. Our Sparkles are just about the smallest berry
variety - tiny, but bursting with flavor. In our preserve,
they hold their shape which is why you get chunks of berry
in each spoonful.
Disaster, Narrowly Averted
Well, it was actually a true disaster but I've regrouped
and all looks good. I realized, too late, that a compost-based "professional
potting mix" that I had used to pot-up my tomatoes and
peppers must have been somehow tainted. For years and years
(since about 1974) I've made up my own growing mixes. After
decades of mixing compost, vermiculite, perlite, sand, peat,
etc. I decided about four years ago to switch to the ready-made
mixes since there were some that were now approved for organic
growers. This spring I used a product that I have used before
with good results. This year, however, I began to notice
that tomatoes weren't growing about a week after potting
them up. I attributed it to the rain. A week later the peppers
(potted up a week behind the tomatoes) weren't growing either.
I fertilized both. Still no growth. I tried to figure out
what was wrong. Too much water? Too little sun? I thought
that perhaps they'd improve out of the greenhouse. Then I
thought "if I just get them planted maybe they'll grow
out of whatever it is that's holding them back." Very
few did. I probably lost around 700 tomatoes and peppers.
When I tipped the pots to check on the roots I could see
that they hadn't grown at all since they were potted up.
The plants that survived put out new roots into the garden
soil at the stem-root collar.
The good news is that our best friends are also farmers.
In the world of tomatoes, no one grows more varieties of
exceptional plants than Dancing Bear Tom Ashley. This year
we'll have a true test of heirloom tomato sauce varieties,
and I can save the seeds of the best for making our pizza
sauce. We're growing the famous long Italian San Marzano,
another Italian variety that is pear-shaped - very like those
that Ralph's Sicilian grandmother grew and preserved (and
saved seeds from), a Ukrainian plum variety (in honor of
Lara), a nice long, thin, sausage-shaped variety called "Devil",
the American heirloom "Amish Paste", and a dozen
or so survivors of my planting of Polish Linguisa, a very
rich, nearly seedless variety. I also have about 6 survivors
of my favorite all around variety "Enchantment" and
a collection of a dozen classic tomatoes from my mum including "Sungold", "Brandywine, " "Rutgers" and "Celebrity".
In all, I'm sure we now have enough with a couple hundred
We lost all our chiles, so Tom also saved the day with Kung
Pao chile peppers, Jalapenos, and Italia sweet peppers. Our
own sweet peppers did the best job of outgrowing the tainted
soil and I feel secure that we'll have enough peppers for
Mad Hatter's Pepper Preserve and JazzBerry Raspberry Salsa.
Of course this all meant that we had to plant, then replant.
Although I'm usually the mad planter around here, this year
I really have to thank Lara who did the lion's share of both
planting and replanting. My knee just wasn't up to a couple
thousand deep knee bends this season and I am grateful that
her younger knees were.
...are still in full flower and have been for weeks. Fruit
set looks amazing and the buds just keep on coming. I am
overjoyed with the looks of this crop. It's our first really
big harvest from these 5 rows we planted after Teddy, our
big old newfie-mix, discovered this amazing berry in an abandoned
orchard. There wasn't a moment when I was pruning this thicket
this spring that I wasn't thinking of him
The new bed of Killarneys and the new long Taylors have
both set good crops of berries. Our old (17 year) long rows
are tremendously weak, their tops having winterkilled, probably
due to the warmth of January. All in all, it should be an
OK summer crop.
Heritages look sensational. Plants are lush and strong.
...seem to have a reasonable-sized load. Last year they
put out huge numbers of berries so I wouldn't expect a huge
crop again. I'm sure we'll have plenty, though.
Damson Plums, Pears and Peaches
Oh woe the damsons.......Lovely, lovely load of blossoms
all around, but rain, rain, rain during bloom and fruit set
meant that fruit barely had a chance to set. We do have some
fruit, but with about a 80% loss, what remained was at the
mercy of that old nemesis Plum Curculio. (The potter's clay
that we spray to deter curculio works wonderfully when you
have a high degree of fruit set, but when you have very few
fruit, the crazed curcs will brave the itchy clay to reach
the fruit.) We'll harvest some plums, I'm sure, just not
very many. Our young Seckel Pears set some fruit but I don't
think there will be much to speak of this season. The silly
peaches which are just a season old all set fruit which I
had to pluck off because they're just too young to grow fruit
...are coming in beautifully, creating a semi-circular hedge
halfway around the pond. I am so excited about these beautiful
berries. (Not this year, though!)
...are almost ready for picking! Two more weeks, I expect.
(We only have a dozen currant bushes. Ralph removed one row
of the oldest raspberries though, and we're going to add
compost and seed to buckwheat, then winter rye. Next spring
we'll plant more red currants there. The row is ~120 feet
long which should give us plenty of currants in years to
...are all doing splendidly in the rain. Basils are beautiful,
and we've already made more infused honey with the perennials
English Lavender, Lemon Verbena and Chocolate Mint.
The garlic scapes (flowering shoots) are shooting up and
are almost ready for cutting. We clip these curlicue shoots
and twist them into bottles of our Green Garlic Vinegar.
The process has the added benefit of helping the garlic bulb
increase in size.
Update, June 26
I've picked another 20 pounds of strawberries, taking advantage
of some sunny respites between rain showers. That's the good
news! The bad news is that a porcupine (of all things!!!)
climbed over the fence and has been chewing off limbs from
the Damson Plum trees! The other night, Rosie sent out a
yowl of protest, but we didn't let her out (since she's the
only dog now, we're very careful about letting her take on
the unknown). Yesterday I discovered that about half of one
of the young Damsons had been stripped of leaves and the
branches gnawed off. Today, two more trees were damaged,
although not as badly. We're experimenting with netting today,
as well as lighting the area and playing a radio tonight.
What was I thinking?!?!?
I can't believe that last winter I thought I'd be experimenting
with herbal extracts and potions this summer. Now that summer
is here I barely have an extra second and just bringing in
the berries is a full-time job! Today, Ralph and I do plan
to get to that Green Garlic Vinegar, and it should be aged
in a couple of weeks. I also made some infused honeys last
week, so Lavender Honey, Chocolate Mint Honey and Lemon Verbena
Honey are all now back in stock.
We'll be at the Greenfield Farmers' Market for another two
weeks. (We love this market, but when the berries are really
rolling in, it's hard for us to manage to go to markets three
times a week.) We'll be back in Greenfield in October. Until
then, look for us on the lovely Greenfield Town Common on
Saturdays from 8:30 - 12:30.
The Northfield Farmers' Market is a perfect little gem of
a market. Set a bit back from Route 10 in the yard of the
Trinitarian Church on beautiful Main Street Northfield (one
of the prettiest Main Streets in the country!) this little
market has beautiful produce from several area farms, including
our old buddies from Leyden - Trish and Tom from Dancing
Bear and Peter and Cecilia from Silk Purse. Jeannette Fellows
of nearby Warwick brings outstanding cheeses (Italian and
cheddars) handmade from the milk of her herd of lovely Jersey
cows as well as beef and pork from her grass-fed, lovingly
raised animals. Products from Alpacas, Llamas and goats are
also available and last week a new vendor brought farm-raised
sausage. The good folks from the church run a dandy little
snack bar and everyone is as nice as could be. This market
is less than four miles from home!
Newton Farmers' Market starts on July 11, in beautiful Cold
Spring Park on Beacon Street. I can't wait to see all our
old friends - it's just two weeks away now, but Maeve and
Bill and I have been counting down the days for months now.
Enjoy the beautiful weather!