April 20, 2010
Happy Earth Day!
Here on this small farm, every day is Earth Day, but I wanted to pay tribute to the movement that began 40 years ago. I was a 16 year old high school junior, and the message that we CAN do something to help save the planet helped lift me out of my adolescent anger and angst. When I began studying at UMass the next year, classes in botany and plant and soil science helped ground me as well as cultivating my mind and spirit, transforming me into the person that I am today. Ultimately, I studied insect behavior in the apple orchard ecosystem, both in graduate school and for a decade as a researcher, heeding Joni Mitchell's call "Hey Farmer, Farmer, put away the DDT now, give me spots on my apples, but leave me the birds and the bees, pleeeeaaaasssse!"
Ralph is a master builder and master recycler, using salvage materials whenever he gets the chance, like our soapstone fireplace made from broken sinks, our clawfoot bathtub and our slate roofs taken from broken barns in Leyden (thanks to Dancing Bear Tom) and Winchester. (We actually met and became friends on my first day at UMass in 1971, but it took us until 1986 to establish our permanent pair bond.)
In the Orchard
On a lovely rainy day, we planted eight new fruit trees - four hardy apricots, two more peaches and two more Damson plums, bringing the total number of fruit trees to about 50.
Our older trees are budding out two weeks earlier than I have ever recorded and I'm concerned. Temperatures lower than about 27 will sound the death knell for many of the fruits. The sweet cherries and some of the pears are now at full bloom. Peaches and Damson plums are at first pink and first white respectively, although some flowers opened up completely today. Conventional wisdom states that loss of 50% of stone fruit isn't much of a problem since they often need thinning anyway, but I have my fingers crossed (especially for my beloved Damsons which were lost to a late frost last year and badly scarred by porcupines for the 2 previous years.)
Pollinators have been busy - the huge Emperor Francis cherry in front of the house (it was supposed to be a semi-dwarf but is now taller than our two-story house and almost as wide) is buzzing with hundreds of honeybees. The Ulster cherry is equally loaded with blossoms and bees. We probably won't see a single cherry. If cold weather doesn't get them, the birds will. Their botanic name is "Ceres aves" - meaning "cherries for the birds," so I guess it's meant to be....
Bumblebees are working in the blueberries and both red and black currants. Most of these fruit buds are still tight, but the hard-working bumbles have found the open ones.
Raspberries and blackberries, luckily, are still leafing out slowly. I think it's going to be a banner year for the blackberries. The summer raspberries look a bit thin but the autumn ones are shooting up vigorously, especially the Carolines, now in their second year.
We uncovered the strawberries two weeks ago when temperatures rose into the high 80's - the earliest I have ever needed to remove the straw mulch. The beds are filling out well except for the end of one row into which I transplanted some volunteers from last year's bed.
The grapes are just beginning to grow and we should be able to weave them into their trellis soon.
Elderberries are leafing out slowly. The Sambucca nigra (European varieties) are solidly leafed out; the Sambucca canadensis (Native American) are behind.
In the Greenhouse
We planted ten trays of tomatoes and peppers the last weekend in March and all are doing well. I've moved them off of the propagation mat and started the first round of basils (Piccolo, Lemon, Genovese and Purple Ruffles). I'll start another round next week, then start the flowers, squashes and cucumbers around May Day.
In the Kitchen
We've been putting up preserves and mustards as we need them (keeping in mind that the mustards need to age for a month before they're ready). We're now down to just two freezers (from five) and have put up the last of the 2009 blackberries. We are also low on Lavender Mustard and won't be able to make more until we can cut this year's lavender (and wait for the mustard to age). I think we'll have blueberries and peaches until the 2010 harvests roll around. We might just make it with raspberries, black currants and red currants. We've also put habaneros into vinegar for chile pepper mustard and raspberries into vinegar (trying to balance what we need for vinegar with what we need for preserves).
The four-legged family are all fine. Barley and Rosie are a little pokey today having had their tick-preventative medicine this morning. Rosie has rejoined Barley and me on our hikes up to the top of the mountain. She's still a bit gimpy so we just go to the top, then back down (about a 40 minute trip) rather than take the long hikes I love. Since they were out-of-sorts today we tricked them with a treat and I got a nice long hike in - but, sadly, without my pals. Auggie makes us laugh every day, usually by teasing Barley and playing with her toys. It's hard to believe that this silly little stray kitty will be 13 soon.
Markets and Shows
We've just picked up an Earth Day themed event - The Sustainability Fair - in beautiful downtown Amherst. It's this Saturday from 10-4 and offers workshops and music as well as vendors with alternative energy, green building, holistic health products and other organic farmers. Check it out, then enjoy all that Amherst has to offer!
Keene Farmers' Market begins on May Day! Saturdays from 9-2 behind The Colonial Theater - The Jewel in the Crown of Keene's Downtown! We'll be there on sunny Saturdays in May, June and July.
Newton Farmers' Market begins on Tuesday July 6, from 1:30 - 6:00; Cold Spring Park on Beacon St. We plan on attending regularly in September and October, but hope to make it for one market in July and one in August.
That's all for now! Happy Earth Day to all - take some time to enjoy this beautiful planet - small is beautiful!