September 29, 2010
Rain, Glorious Rain!
Yes, friends, that's how I opened the July newsletter, but we've had little rain to speak of in the interim. I hope that today's showers will help nourish the fruit trees and berries for next season.
It's been a challenging season, between late spring frosts and midsummer drought, a season where I suspected Pomona was displaced from her cornucopia throne and replaced by the Trickster Coyote in disguise, snatching even berries that looked abundant (yes, I realize that I not only mix metaphors, but heros of pagan and animistic religions....!)
Here's a brief rundown of what's been happening. First, the good news....
Raspberries have been terrific, beginning with Killarneys, peaking with Taylors, and finishing nicely with Carolines and Heritages. Our favorite fruit has been plentiful and of excellent quality (since there was no rain) and I expect we'll have enough to carry us through to next year's harvest.
Blueberries, likewise, have been abundant and delicious. We've changed the name of our Blueberry Preserve to Blueberry Sauce, to better describe the product, whole berries swimming happily in thick, blueberry sauce. Having little natural pectin of their own, blueberries never set up into a gel-like product, and we like these most often for topping French toast or waffles and spooning into yogurt or hot cereal. It also makes a great PB&J sandwich, but only if you "first make a peanut-butter dam." according Ashley who likes it the best.
Elderberries are also bountiful this year (even though I spied Cedar Waxwings feasting on them in early September - those birds don't know when to stop!). We've made the first batches of Elderberry Syrup (all organic, even the sugar) and hope to put up some Elderberry Preserves before the end of October. (Like blueberries, elderberries have virtually no pectin, and set up only when I add our organic cortland apples.)
Blackberries started with a big bang then disappeared before our very eyes.....I can only suppose that the extreme dryness in July kept the later fruit from developing normally. We'll have enough to get through the winter holidays, then it will probably sell out.
Tomatoes have been fantastic, plentiful and delicious. We've put up Tomatoes Rustica (our Tomato/Garlic/Herb pesto sauce) as well as lots of sauce for ourselves. I realized this year that my parents gave me my canning equipment for my 22nd birthday, making this the 35th straight year that I have put up all my own tomatoes. Whew! (Thank goodness I now do it on a gas stove and not a wood cook stove like I used to do.)
Peaches fared better than I had expected, and we harvested about 1/3 of last year's crop. Dancing Bear Tom had some too from his ancient Elberta tree, so I think we'll have enough until next August.
Peppers were a mixed bag, with all the chilies doing well (especially the habaneros - I really don't know what to do with so many - I think I could make Chile Pepper Mustard for a decade with this season's harvest). We've also put up our wildly popular Mad Hatter's Pepper Preserve in the "pleasantly zippy" version. "Jalapeno Hot" should be available by the end of October (because I'm so neurotic about using RED Jalapenos because it's so much prettier than when made with green ones). I suppose I could make a Habanero preserve, but who in the world could ingest it?
Red Currants and Black Currants both were hit hard by the May frosts. We have very little Red Currant, hopefully enough to get through the winter holidays. Luckily, the Titania Black Currants grew so much in the wet season of 2009 that they flowered heavily this spring, and even though ~80% of the flowers froze, we still harvested more than last year. It's a good thing too, because Auggie's Black Currant Preserve just flies out of here anytime anyone tastes it!
Pears and Damson Plums were nearly wiped out by the May frosts and sadly, will be absent from our line-up this year.
Strawberries tell the saddest tale - about 90% wiped out. We have about 25 pounds, enough to put up ~40-50 jars that will go to our family and friends (and a couple of little girls from the Farmers' Market who I simply cannot face empty-handed). In 2009 we put up more than 650 jars, so you can imagine just how sad we are. (Of course, we could make about 100 jars of strawberry jam with lots of sugar and pectin the way most people make it, or stretch it even more jars by making strawberry-rhubarb with lots of sugar and pectiin. But of course, we won't. One customer kept pressuring me to buy strawberries, not understanding that we are a farm not a food processor. I finally told her how to make it and she headed off to Whole Foods, but I doubt she's happy with the result.) But, the strawberry bed is in excellent shape, and like the Red Sox fans, we'll say "Wait 'til next year!"
Herbs were splendid, loving the heat and dryness, and we've put up lots of vinegars and don't expect to run out until late spring. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to locate bartops for the smaller bottles and therefore have only French Tarragon and not Lavender nor small bottles of fruit vinegars this year. The bumper crop of chilies means that we were able to bring back Italia Piccante - piccolo basil, chile peppers & garlic in the 375 ml bottles.
In the Kitchen, we've been busy putting up Preserves, JazzBerry Raspberry Salsa, Tomatoes Rustica and Farmhouse Mustards. We are going to take a hiatus from putting up Strawberry Honey Mustard (for obvious reasons) and Raspberry Maple Mustard until next summer. The lack of strawberries has meant that the raspberry products are flying out of here even faster than ever, so to be sure I don't run out of raspberries, we'll make neither fruit mustard for the rest of the season. (This was also a rough season for maple producers in NH.)
In the Gardens, there's still lots of work, with raspberries, elderberries, tomatoes and peppers still coming in (we finally lifted the netting off of the blueberries so the birds could feast), not to mention fall chores like clean-up, raking, putting the beds to bed, and garlic planting.
The Four-legged family (and Ralph!) are all well. Rosie still keeps us up much of the night singing with her coyote cousins, Barley just wants all the love he can get, and Auggie the fluffy kitty keeps us laughing as she stalks and attacks twist-ties and wooly bear caterpillars. Life is good, and I often feel that our bed, filled with dogs and cat is like a magic carpet carrying our funny little family through life. Rose simply can't make the climb up the mountain anymore, but is happy none-the-less and we patrol the perimeter of the gardens together several times a day to make sure those damned bunnies, squirrels, chipmunks and other assorted vermin (her word, not mine) stay away. Barley doesn't want to hike without Rose (and she would be devastated if he went without her), so my hikes are sadly solo. When the chipmunks start chattering when they hear me coming, I can reply "yes, I know you're there, but she's not with me and I couldn't care less" they seem a bit frustrated because teasing her is so much fun. The mountain is teeming with turkeys this year and I enjoy them tremendously.
All in all, a good season (really, as long as I have raspberries, I am a happy girl) and as ever, I am truly grateful for every berry, fruit, herb and vegetable, and that I get to live this wonderful life in a garden, with an orchard, carved into a hillside, surrounded by a woodland. And grateful, beyond measure, for Ralph, who makes it all happen.