July 14, 2010
Rain, Glorious Rain!
Everybody's happy - the fruits and vegetables are drinking in the water, leaves opening widely to take advantage of every drop. This is our second rain in two days after three weeks with none. That taxed even the most resilient crops as well as our well which ran dry twice while I was trying to keep up. We moved the sprinkler hose from bed to bed trying to keep everybody alive and happy, logging the length of time in each bed so we'd know who to water next. (I've always been a relentless note-taker and now my old noggin relies on it...)
It's been a crazy year with almost everything happening ten days to two weeks earlier than usual and I keep feeling like I'm holding the reins to a runaway horse. As I had feared, the early warming in April led to no good in the orchard and strawberry bed in May when the blossoms were nipped in the bud. We lost about 90% of our strawberries and almost all of the pears. There are a few Damson plums and probably enough peaches (as they swell in size, the limbs are looking more full than I had originally thought).
Red and Black Currants also took a hit that night. The long strings of red currants were reduced to short strings of a couple of inches; the fruits that had already formed closest to the stem survived; those in bud lower along the string failed to develop. Something similar happened in the Black Currants, but those plants had grown so terrifically in size since last season that they still produced more black currants than last year, even though at least half were frozen. (Thank goodness for bird netting! Since we've been growing fruits organically here for 25 years now, all the birds in the area know that this is the place to come for their favorite feasts.)
Raspberries, later flowering and fruiting, came away fine (although there may have been some cane damage). We began picking the Killarneys in June, earlier than I have ever recorded. Beautiful fruit! About a week ago, though, I noticed that the canes had dried out considerably in just the two days between pickings. We quickly set up sprinklers in the Taylors and Killarneys and were able to save them from becoming raspberry-raisins. We began picking the Taylors in earnest this week. This is the best harvest we've seen in years and the quality is superb!!!
Blackberries are on the verge....! Once we knew we'd saved the raspberries, we moved the sprinklers into the blackberries. They are loaded with the greatest fruit set I have ever seen. Two have already turned black! We've been out of Teddy Berry Blackberry Preserves for a while now, but I suspect we'll have them again by the end of the month.
Blueberries are coming on as well. In fact, we may need to start picking as early as tomorrow. Lara and Ralph were quick to move the bird netting off of the sad strawberries onto the blueberries - just in the nick of time. We probably won't have the blockbuster harvest we had last year, but they look nice and full.
Elderberries are plants of such great beauty that if they only produced berries for birds' delight, they would still be worth growing. Luckily, since we have LOTS and LOTS of elderberries, there are plenty for all of us. The huge umbel flowers are in every stage throughout the plantings, from their lacy beginnings to huge hands of baby berries. We ran out of Barley's Elderberry Syrup during the holidays last year. I'm feeling lucky about this season and expect we can keep Elderberry Syrup in the lineup throughout next winter.
Peppers look great! We had trouble in the greenhouse this spring with our own pepper starts, and I had to pick up some seedlings from friends, so we have lots of varieties to trial this year. My friend Jenny from Picadilly Farm here in Winchester gave us a great selection of her organic cayennes, serranos and jalapenos, as well as some bells. From friends in the valley we got some habaneros, Hungarian hots, chilies and some other bells. And, we have our own Italian Corno di Toros and Giant Marconis. Making our Mad Hatter's Pepper Preserve should be lots of fun this year with all the different varieties to experiment with.
Tomatoes also look great! No trouble with them in the greenhouse (I suspect it was tomatoes' greater resilience to colder temperatures that accounted for their success compared with the peppers.) Planted, fertilized, staked, pruned, mulched - all the work has been done, now we just have to wait for the fruit to ripen - not long though, we picked the first one yesterday.
Winter squashes, cukes and melons all took a hit during the dry spell/heat wave double whammy. We didn't have water to spare for these crops we grow to give away. Some flowers blasted in the heat, but I'm sure we'll have some of all these (well, maybe not the melons...). This is in our new garden that Ralph began last year, alongside the old beaver pond. It's a beautiful site and the soil is richer than most of our land, and will evolve into a new location to rotate strawberries and raspberries into once we can set up a watering system. The weeds that pop up in this garden are groundnuts - a staple of the Native indigenous people who lived here for many centuries. I love working in this garden and wondering about those who came before us.
The dogs are having a wonderful summer. Barley has had his long mane trimmed twice already and loves his cool 'do. He loves summer and visits from everyone who comes to help pick fruit. This is his adoption day (4 years ago!) which is one of the happiest days of Rosie's life. She's been better than ever, her gimpy rear leg much stronger and her energy level much higher after treatment for Lyme disease. She's always barking at the night sounds - dogs or owls or foxes or coyotes - who knows?!?! The funniest is the duet she sings with the owl. Owl calls "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you? OO oo, OO OOOO! OO oo, OO OOOOO!. Rosie calls back, ROO rroo, ROO ROOOO, ROO rroo, ROO ROOOO! (It's really hard not to laugh!)
The wild birds all seem happy except for being foiled by the netting. (Hey, the raspberries, blackberries and elderberries are all too tall for netting and they get their fill there!) The elderberries are especially enjoyed for their trampoline-like quality and good eating in one convenient location. Silly little cocky robin, beautiful grosbeaks, cardinals and orioles, funny finches and our noisy phoebes all hang out around the house and gardens. Cat birds think they own the raspberries and blackberries. Thrushes thrill me with their calls, especially near the woods' edge. Wild turkeys visit often and like to perch on the old greenhouse frame over the autumn-bearing raspberries. Our incredible population of frogs and toads adds to the cacophony and they bring smiles every time we see them.
And Auggie the fluffy golden kitty ventures no farther from the house than the elderberries whose drooping boughs of flowers provide cover from circling hawks. She's certainly not the cleverest cat we've known, but her cautious instincts of self-preservation have given her 13 summers now, far longer than our smarty cats Merlin and Pippin. Only Rita, the gardening cat of our label, outlasted Auggie at 20 years.
Ralph still does the lion's share of the work around here, although I seem to get the credit. "Planting is easy; it's the soil prep that'll kill you!" is my friend Roger's saying. Ralph does all the soil prep, plus compost moving, mulch moving, mowing, tilling, frame- to- hold- up -the- bird- netting building - well, just about every kind of building that can be done, Ralph does - as well as sea-weed spraying, clay-spraying, irrigation set-up and trouble-shooting, oh my, the list goes on and on.
The poor man didn't know what hit him when I moved into his tiny house on 10 hillside acres some 25 seasons ago and began planting berries....
Happy Happy Summer! Enjoy the Beautiful Rain.