April 16, 2008
We're just back from a beautiful walk up and over the top of the mountain on this glorious spring day! Things are finally warming up, and the snow is finally gone from everywhere but the woods on the northern slope of the mountain. The spring peepers arrived late last week and we enjoy their songs, especially during the nights. The owls were getting lonely - being the only nighttime music-makers for so many weeks.
Fat boy robins are strutting and playing in the garden beds; girls can't be far behind. Phoebes are nesting by the back porch, right on schedule, and in the woods, turkeys and grouse are flushed by the dogs on almost every hike.
Last week a young bear got into the bird feeders so they've had to come down. Luckily, he didn't visit the beehives. Will, the beekeeper, has had the hives heavily fortified with electric fencing since a bear wreaked havoc with the hives two years ago gobbling up bees and grubs with the tasty honey.
IN THE HERB GARDENS, I've carefully pulled away old, dead tissue to reveal tiny shoots of tarragon, thyme, oregano and lovage. Lavender and sage are starting to green up, and I've already picked chives several times to perk up my favorite spring food, eggs. Our friend Ricky provides us with wonderful eggs whenever his chickens are laying, but dark winter is pretty bleak in chicken-land. (In turn, Ricky and his girls get all the leftover goodies from our preserve-making.) Chickens fed such good food themselves yield eggs whose yolks are deep sunset-golden. I love good eggs anytime, but in spring, when they are once again abundant, I can make a meal of eggs and herbs almost every night.
IN THE GROW ROOM, all kinds of peppers and tomatoes are growing well. As usual, I'm trialling some new varieties along with my old favorites. Corno di Toro, Carmen, Giant Marconi and Italia peppers all go into our Mad Hatter's Pepper Preserve, along with jalapenos like El Jefe and Jalapa. Margherita tomato is supposed to be ideal for pizzas, so we're trying it along with old favorites Anna Russian, Polish Linguisa, Red Devil and San Marzano for our Tomatoes Rustica.
Ralph took down our old greenhouse from where it has stood for 15 years, and is rebuilding it just below our house. This should be up and ready by early May when I'll move the seedlings out of the grow room and into the greenhouse for potting up into 4" pots.
Since we've planted so much of our land into fruit, we're actually running out of garden space for other vegetables. As I placed my seed orders, I had to repeatedly edit out vegetables that I wanted to grow, but just couldn't imagine where I'd put them. Luckily, since I spend most of the summer at farmers' markets, I can always find excellent vegetables grown by my friends and neighbors. Soo, I'll let others grow the melons and squashes, beans and peas, potatoes, parsnips, carrots and beets, and I'll revel in my berries.
IN THE GARDEN BEDS, garlic is up - amazingly since Barley has trampled those beds ever since the cloves went in on Halloween. It's now time to give it a sprinkling of Pro-Grow (an excellent organic fertilizer blend from Vermont), and then mulch around the shoots with straw.
It's really too soon to tell what's going to happen with fruit this year, but here's a run-down.
STRAWBERRIES are starting to green up. I've raked the mulch out of the older bed which I suspect will produce lots of small berries. They're time-consuming to pick, but the tiniest berries make the best preserves. The new bed looks very strong and I think that we should have a bountiful strawberry year. (Barring a late-season frost or hail storm at ripening time, etc.) The good thing about these two beds is their proximity to our house. Whenever we plant strawberries on the far reaches of the land, bunnies and chipmunks feast to their hearts' contentl. Rosie and Barley really protect these two nearby beds from the marauders. Of course, we'll net both beds before the fruit begins to turn pink or the birds will get most of it.
BLUEBERRIES were nibbled by bunnies quite a bit this winter. I haven't been in the beds to prune and weed yet so I'm not sure just how much damage was done. Blueberries tend to be alternate-bearing, and since 2007 was a banner year, I expect that yields will be down anyway.
RASPBERRIES were also nibbled by bunnies, especially the summer-bearing Taylors and Killarneys, and especially in the two new long rows. I'm still in the process of pruning and thinning these. The older rows look good as does the perpendicular row near the orchard so we'll probably be OK. Elisha, Lara and Joe pruned out all the old Autumn-bearing Heritages and raked out the grassy weeds so those two very long beds look excellent.
BLACKBERRIES look very good, and since winter temperatures never got as low as -10, I have big hopes for these tremendous fruits. Ralph and Joe have already pruned out all of last year's old wood and begun weaving the unruly canes into the fence. (The poor guys have scars on hands, arms and faces to show for their work - no amount of protective equipment is ever enough against blackberries.) We have three huge piles of old blackberries and raspberries waiting to be burned in a springtime bonfire.
DAMSON PLUMS made it through the winter unscathed by porcupines, which are now becoming active again. Ralph and Ricky cut down many trees in the overgrown fields between the farm and the woods which seemed to be the conduit through which the porcupines found the orchard. We hope that this discourages their advances. Two wet summers resulted in a fair amount of the disease known as "Black Knot of Plums" - a condition that doesn't kill the trees outright but does cause decline and eventual death. The only organic treatment is to cut out all the knots and burn them. It's important that the pruning be done before temperatures reach into the 50's (especially if rainy) and we were really lucky that Ralph, Elisha and Joe managed to get all the black knot pruned out in the nick of time. The French Damson (Renee) was the most infected, but Joe the monkey-man climbed ladder and tree to cut out every knot. (This is especially time-consuming because for best results, you should dip the pruning shears or saw in alcohol after every cut.)
PEACHES AND PEARS all look good so far (the buds are swelling) but only time will tell if they escape the hazards of the growing season to make it to harvest.
ELDERBERRIES, RED AND BLACK CURRANTS all look good too. Buds are swelling and my fingers are crossed.
IN THE KITCHEN we've been steadily making preserves, mustards, JazzBerry Raspberry Salsa, and the fruit vinegars, all from fruit we carefully froze as soon as we picked it. We're in good shape for the early markets beginning in May.
That's all for now - I've got to get back outside!