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Previously in Patti's Garden

Patti on the farmJune 22, 2009

Happy Soggy Summer!

It seems like it's been raining a little every day this past month, ideal conditions for all the vegetables, herbs and flowers we've transplanted; not the best conditions for fruits, though.

We waited until May 31 to transplant the tender tomatoes and peppers. Lara and Elisha and her daughters Asha and Juniper all helped to make quick work of putting in hundreds of seedlings. Two days later, on June 2, the morning brought frost everywhere - even up to the gardens around the house itself. Luckily, early rising-Ralph had set out hoses leading to all the long beds and walked up and down the rows spraying water to keep the plants protected. His effort paid off because only the tops of a couple plants were frost-scorched in spite of the ice that formed even on the van's windshield that morning.

I just got back from a walk through the mist checking out everything - here's a brief rundown:

Strawberries don't like all the rain. As luck would have it though, we plant about 2/3 of our bed to "Sparkle" strawberries, a variety that we believe makes the very best preserves (and we've been growing strawberries since 1978...). Sparkles come at the end of the strawberry season so the incessant rain has had negligible effect on them. Honeoye, a mid-season variety, makes up the other third of the bed. This year, a frost on May 19 took out the earliest of the honeoyes, so we had already lost the fruits that we would be losing now because of the rain. This is all a convoluted way of saying that things still look pretty good strawberry-wise. We've had some dry and even sunny afternoons when we've picked some good fruit, and more sun is forecast. (Even today the winds have picked up, sending away this morning's mist and maybe allowing me to do some picking later this afternoon.)

Blueberries look terrific! The plants are loaded with fruits. Ralph and Rich have set new posts for the frame to support netting to protect the berries from the birds and have just to finish the ridge line and drape the netting. The adjacent planting of another new 20 blueberries loves all the rain and is quite lush.

Raspberries also look terrific. Killarneys have fruit that's just a couple weeks from ripening and Taylors (our favorites!) are setting fruit now. Hard-working bumblebees have been out all month, rain or shine, doing their pollination thing. The honeybees are more particular about when they venture out......We are nearly out of Queen of Hearts Raspberry Preserve, and can't wait to begin picking our favorite berries once again. After all, it's because we so revere raspberries that we got into this whole crazy business.

Red Currants and Black Currants are both beginning to change color and we'll probably begin picking them around the second week of July. People are already waiting for these preserves - the distinctive taste of currants is one that can't be substituted and the extra-intensity of our preserves has created instant fans. About 3 weeks ago, Ralph noticed that the green berries were being plucked off the long strings of red currants and we scrambled to get the bird netting over them as the catbirds screamed at us in anger. (They headed into the strawberries for spite so we quickly covered them too.)

Blackberries don't look quite as bad as I had originally thought, but will probably be down 50% or 60% from last year. In the woods, the stout wild blackberries mocked me with prolific blooms and mock me still with fruit that's already set. We'll leave those for the wild animals and birds, though, because they are so very seedy. The outstanding variety that we call "Teddy Berry" (a cultivar of unknown origin) has a long (12-14') cane and fruits bigger than my thumb and a high ratio of sweet, juicy flesh to seeds. We discovered it in an abandoned orchard in Massachusetts and suspect that this is the farthest north it can survive and produce fruit. The December ice storm weighed heavily on the extra long canes, and took out much of this year's crop. The roots survived, though, and are shooting up new canes for next year. Ralph's brother Johnny did us the huge favor of cutting out all the sad, dead canes, giving the new shoots plenty of room to move.

Peaches, Pears, and Damson Plums all struggled in the winds and rains of spring. In spite of full blooms, neither Damson plums nor pears set very many fruits. There will be some to harvest, but no more than 100 pounds of either, I suspect. Peaches, which bloomed later, set very many fruits - far too many in fact. Strangely, many limbs of the peaches sported fruit but no foliage. I'm afraid that this sounds like the peaches were also damaged in the ice storm, far more than they appeared. Lots of times when plants are most stressed, they produce lots of fruit - a final shot at eternity before they pass away. We're going to cut back the limbs bereft of foliage and thin the peach fruits repeatedly and prop the bearing limbs and hope for the best. I do think we'll have a fair harvest this year and hope that the trees recover.

Tomatoes and Peppers are really happy with all the rain. They have all budded or set fruit and are taking off. We've mulched the beds and begun the tomato trellising.

Grapes are also happy with all the rain. Rich set posts for the grape trellis and ran the wire and now that the plants have something to grab ahold of, the planting looks pretty impressive. (It would look a lot more impressive with some weeding, but the new planting, halfway up the hillside above us, isn't a place I'm used to checking on so it often falls off my radar screen.)

Herbs and Garlic are flourishing in the wet weather. We've made the first French Tarragon Vinegar, Blenda d'Italia Vinegar and Herbes de Provence Vinegar already, and the garlic scapes and lavender flowers are ready to be cut as well.

Pumpkins, Squashes and Melons are all thriving in a new field that Ralph has been working on bringing back for 2 seasons. It had been old pasture when he bought this place almost 30 years ago and too far from the house to keep under control. Apple trees, wild strawberries and grapes all pointed to old habitation but fast-growing pines and poplars took over. When the beavers turned the stream into a pond several years ago, they chewed off some trees and flooded the area, drowning others. They've moved on and the receeding waters left a clearing that Ralph exploited to reclaim the old field. It's some of the best land we have - flatter and more stone-free than anywhere else on the farm.

Since it's a new field, I decided to plant pumpkins, squash and corn - they are what I always recommend to gardeners planting a new field or a field that's far from the house since these big plants can out-compete weeds more easily. We decided on an Abenaki flint corn for making cornmeal in honor of those who came before us. Unfortunately, the blackbirds have pulled out each and every corn that's sprouted so I replanted the corn patch to dill. All of the squashes and pumpkins and melons are heirloom varieties that are already flowering and so far are free of any damage from bird or insect. We like buying most of our vegetables from our friends at farmers' markets, but decided to grow these storage vegetables for Lara and Elisha and their families and ourselves, but also for the local food bank. We had delivered a couple of cases of mustards this spring and with their thanks, we got a challenge to "Plant a Row for the Hungry." This is about seven rows of ~70' so we feel sure we'll have plenty to spare. I've always adored pumpkins and squashes and melons and love growing them.

Groundnuts, the original "North American potato" is the other plant sprouting up in the new field, ironic because we were going to plant potatoes there - beyond the pumpkin and squashes - and never quite got around to it. "A plant in the wrong place" is the definition of a weed, but Ralph and I were thrilled to identify this wild edible. It was a mainstay of the diet of the Amerindians who lived here, and in fact kept the natives alive during the war of 1675-6 when their foodstores had been destroyed. Groundnuts later helped English colonists survive, and Henry David Thoreau sang their praises almost 2 centuries later. Along with the other wild edibles that are abundant on this mountain, along with the arrowheads, scraper blade and corn-grinding stone that we've discovered right on this farm, the presence of these groundnuts simply adds to the body of evidence that this area has long been settled. Rather than seeing this plant as a weed, we are honored to discover a venerable food source.

Animal Affairs

Garden work has kept me from my daily climb up the mountain and Rosie is none-too-pleased. Somehow, tagging along when I go back and forth from greenhouse to garden with trays of seedlings isn't much fun. Nor is hanging around while I hoe or mulch. She prefers to watch us work from the comfort of the chaise lounge (and gets to enjoy that chair more than any of the rest of us). Barley's just sort of big and goofy and, though he's always up for an adventure, doesn't feel slighted when we stay home. (He loves to join her on the adjacent chaise lounge, watching the humans at work.)

Auggie the fluffy kitty ventures out into the gardens to commune with the flower fairies but never wanders as far as the long beds of fruits and vegetables. The bird life around here is spectacularly varied with bluebirds and cedar waxwings and Baltimore orioles visiting as well as our resident robins, catbirds, finches, phoebes, warblers and more. One very funny adolescent robin has really been enjoying the easy-worm-picking brought about by all the rain - he fills his beak with as many as 4 worms at a time before flying off with them, reminding us of Barley filling his great maw with Ralph's shirts, jeans and socks and carrying them around proudly.

Preserves in Paradise

For many years we had no interest in selling our preserves in stores. They are so very limited in number by what we can grow, and the personal contact I have with customers at farmers' markets and through mail order means so much to me that I didn't want to lose it. The great relationship we've forged with the good folks at Henrietta's Table changed my thinking. I'm really glad that we're featured on the menu and in the marketplace, and that our many customers and friends in the Boston area can pick up our preserves so easily there. It's because that relationship has worked so well that we have now sent out our preserves to a few carefully chosen places where I know we already have friends and customers. If you've been frustrated by my spotty attendance at Farmers' Markets, try our list of select retailers.

Update June 25 - Hey, the sun's coming out!

That's all for now.....I've got work to do!


Patti (and Ralph!)



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