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Previously in Patti's Garden

Patti on the farmSeptember 26, 2008

A soft but steady rain is keeping me from my real work today - so I'm using the newfound time to look back at the season and give you an update. Picking those berries, putting them up...picking those berries, putting them up....picking those berries, putting them up.......really, that is pretty much the whole story......"Harvest trumps all" is my mantra for the summer. When faced day after day with more tasks than I can possibly complete, I tell myself, "Harvest trumps all." It means, that even if a farmers' market is scheduled, even if a bed is screaming "weed me, weed me!," even if I'm out of everything in the pantry, even if I haven't written a newsletter for four months, harvest trumps all. There's nothing more important than picking that berry that is ready today. Because tomorrow it won't be the same.

Relentless rain in July and early August played havoc with everything from currants to raspberries to tomatoes. Even with very careful picking, yields of our beloved raspberries were way down. Luckily, we had picked a fair number of Killarneys and some Taylors before the deluge, and managed to take off some more lovely Taylors at the end of the season. In all we got in about 350 pints, about 200 short of last year. I know we'll have Raspberry Preserve through the holidays, but will probably run out by Spring.

Red currants also suffered by ripening just as the rains began. We'll try to get these put up by mid-October and expect they'll be sold out by the holidays. Black currants did a bit better. I haven't had a spare minute to begin experimenting with Black Currant Preserves though!

Our new trial tomato "Margherita," a determinate paste variety was outstanding under the difficult circumstances. Elisha and her girls even won first prize at the Guilford fair with some they grew in their garden from our starts. The heirloom paste and sausage tomatoes, "Polish Linguisa", "Opalka", "Jersey Red Devil", " Gilbertie" all did pretty well against the challenges of steady rain. They all split somewhat, but managed to ripen well regardless. The heirloom round and oxheart tomatoes, however, all split and died early, Anna Russian being the strongest of the lot. The biggest surprise with the tomatoes was that they came so very early (and then petered out quickly). We were picking by late July and needed to start making Tomatoes Rustica in early August.

We picked the garlic during a dry spell in early August and hung it to dry in the garden shed. It's intense, and wonderful.

Blackberries, ripening just after the month of rain, thrived! Those thorny canes produced and produced and produced some more. We'd pick off 80 pints, turn around, and pick off another 80 pints. They were huge this year - as big as your thumb - and possessed of so many layers of flavor - sweet and juicy and spicy and winey and peppery - all at once. We have five rows of blackberries, each about 100' long with a trellis of ironwood posts reining in the unruly canes. Ralph and Joe had worked hard to keep the canes woven into the trellis and Ralph kept the grass between the rows well mown, so that picking was as easy as you could hope for (given the inch long thorns). The top wire is set at about 6', and the canes grow twice as long, so they arch over the rows, often meeting overhead in the center of the row. Berries hang down from above and the view framed by the canes is lovely. A mama and papa cardinal raised their family in the blackberries this summer in a safely sited nest. We saw a couple of cedar waxwings scouting in the blackberries for their flock and quickly picked off the ripe fruit before they got the idea to call in the rest of the gang. (A small family of cardinals is most welcome - a flock of waxwings could clean us out.)

Blueberries also clearly benefited from the rain (and the bird netting!) It had looked pretty grim in there given the winter feeding by bunnies, but I''m very happy with the quality and quantity of fruit the plants have yielded. It's lucky that we have late-ripening varieties - I know lots of farmers lost the July blues to the rains that took the raspberries.

Peaches' timing was perfect - ripening just as the summer sun finally came out to stay in mid-August. The rain gave them good size, and the sun ensured that the flavor was sweet and wonderful. Our peach preserve is called "Dancing Bear" after our dear friend Tom's farm. Tom gave us the first peaches that we put up - he'd been growing his peaches organically for years, demonstrating to me, the old entomologist, that it was, indeed, doable. We've been growing peaches for about five years now, and still also getting peaches from Tom's old trees. This summer the last Dancing Bear peach tree split under its load - I think it must be about 25 years old now - a venerable testament to Tom's vision (and his good compost).

Damson Plums escaped the ravaging porcupine for the second year now - hip, hip hooray!!!! The yield again is low due to the devastation from the prickly rat in past years, the trees having been viciously pruned in a most unhealthy way. The French Damson (Renee) produced the most fruit, almost half of the total yield. The venerable Shropshire Damsons who lost a third of their limbs made a valiant effort to put out some fruit, and the younger Blue Damsons did the same, mostly on very high branches. We need to do lots of pruning this winter on these trees. Last winter, it wasn't clear how deep the damage went with many of the limbs, and by the time the trees leafed out in the spring, I didn't want to prune out the dead branches for fear of signalling to the porcupines in the woods that there were plum trees nearby. (I know that insects respond to summer pruning cuts - I didn't want to take a chance that porcupines did too.)

Elderberries continue to bring joy! They are so very lovely with their huge, lacy, umbrella-shaped flowers, so graceful as they bend with the load of the dark-blue berries. On Asha's 11th birthday we celebrated by making our own version of elderflower fritters. Instead of deep-frying though, we melted a little butter and olive oil in a skillet and dipped the flowers in a light batter and cooked them like flower-filled pancakes, then sprinked them with a little powdered sugar....mmmmm. I never experimented with elderflower cordial or syrup as I had hoped....the summer just got away from me!

We've put up many elderberries now and will begin making Barley's Elderberry Preserve as soon as the rain stops! (We've been out of this for months and I can't wait for the first jar!)

Peppers have been outstanding too. We've made lots of Mad Hatter's Pepper Preserve and are selling it just about as fast as we can make it.

We just picked the first pears and Cortland apples - experiments with pear preserve will begin (soon, I hope) and the apples will join the elderberries.

Rosie the hound, Barley the retriever, Auggie the golden kitty and Ralph, the guy who makes everything possible, are all well. The dogs and I traipse through the woods almost every day, and Rosie certainly lets me know if too many days have passed without our special adventures. They routinely scare turkeys and other birds, and we've come across signs of the moose (yes, droppings) but haven't seen the big-headed guy himself lately. The abundance of rain has kept the trees from turning much color yet but some leaves have fallen, opening up the view a bit. A grape landed on my head the other day, reminding me to check on our new planting. I hadn't been up to that terrace for quite some time, but managed to find all but two of the 25 vines. I actually can't conceive of how I'd manage to bring in another crop this year!

And that's the trials and triumphs of the summer season. Some successes, some disappointments, but all in all, more fruit that I can handle which is quite a blessing!


Patti (and Ralph!)

P.S. Rosie reminds me that without her vigilance, chipmunks, squirrels, bunnies and mice would steal all our produce, and she's right.  We couldn't do it without her!  Barley, on the other hand, is happy to sit on the chaise lounge and watch her (and he's the only one who gets to sit down.....)



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