April 26, 2011
Happy Spring! Shoots are shooting, buds are swelling, herbs are greening and the sun is trying to break through the heavy mist. When it finally does, the bank of forsythia between the garden shed and the pond will explode into golden bloom and it will finally feel like spring has arrived.
It's been a long time coming, as anyone in New England knows.....
The good news about a late spring though, is that we had plenty of time to prune and care for our many plantings. There's an enormous pile of raspberry and blackberry canes, blueberry and elderberry thinnings, and old limbs of pears and plums awaiting the right moment to be lit and burned. It will be a May Day fire no matter what the day - we'll choose a day with no wind - dry enough to burn, yet wet enough not to spread.
The orchard needed the most work. We hadn't pruned the Damson plums much in years. After the porcupines had tried to establish residence in these beautiful trees about five years ago, shredding the bark and tearing off limbs, we wanted to see if the trees would survive at all. Two summers ago (an extremely wet season) black knot, a disease of plums, set in to the weakened trees and spread. Last winter we carefully pruned out every bit of black knot we could find (cleaning the pruning blade after each cut) and were fairly successful in curtailing the disease, although the resulting shape of the trees was decidedly whacky. This winter, we tried to get the trees back into some regular shape while removing any black knot that had recurred. We also completely removed seven trees that were supposed to be Damson Plums but were not (grrrrr!).
It takes years to discover that a nursery has sent the wrong trees, and four pears that were supposed to be small seckels are actually large trees bearing a lovely red fruit - probably an anjou - that look pretty silly in the front row. These were quite top-heavy last year (we had never expected them to grow so high) and we cut them back dramatically once we knew that we had lost that season's crop to frost. That sent up many sucker shoots - not only are those trees big, they're vigorous - and we pruned, selected and shaped so that they look a lot better too.
Elisha and I pruned and thinned the blackberries on a perfect day - warm enough to want to be working outdoors for five or six hours, but cool enough to be bundled against the tangle of thorns. The frogs woke up while we were working and immediately set to singing, although it sounded more like they were laughing at us.
We removed old fruiting canes from the elderberries and blueberries, and followed the melting snow to the raspberries where it took several days to remove the old fruiting canes, thin them back to six canes/running foot, and top them at 4-5' or so.
In February, looking ahead at this season, pruning always seems daunting to me. There is a choice to be made with every cut. I don't want to hurt the plants, I don't want to cut off potential fruit - but, as April's gentle rains soak the soil, I feel really happy about what I see out there now - buds swelling on sturdy limbs and straight canes. In the herb beds, French tarragon and Greek Oregano are shooting up from the earth, unhindered by last year's remains. Lavender is greening and little tiny dill seedlings are growing.
This afternoon, when the sun breaks through, we'll remove the straw covering the sleeping strawberries so that they can take in the light and air and begin to grow.
On the verge of planting.....
Ralph was able to till our uppermost garden beds just before this rainy spell, and tomorrow, Elisha and I will begin transplanting new strawberries. 200 Sparkles (our favorites for preserves) and 50 Honeoye (delicious and dependable) into it. I'm also really excited to expand our plantings of the delicious Caroline raspberries - an autumn-bearing variety related to good old Heritage, but earlier and even better. I think it pairs perfectly with summer-bearing Taylors in our preserves, and harvests more easily in the cooler air of September. We also are putting in a couple more elderberries (a sixth variety) and some gooseberries.
In the Greenhouse
I waited and waited for the weather to warm to begin spring planting, finally choosing a warm April 6th to sow the peppers and tomatoes. It's been so cold and damp though, that germination is still very low. (Fortunately, Swiss chard, basil and onions sown two weeks later are up happily so I know I'm not completely incompetent - heat-loving seeds are just waiting for more promising conditions before they'll emerge.)
In the Kitchen
We've been busy as beavers all throughout the winter, thanks to winter farmers' markets in Keene and Greenfield, and to you, our wonderful customers and our bakeries, farmstands and shops! It's such a wonderful way to spend a winter's day, stirring fruit simmering in a kettle, taking in the intoxicating aroma of summer, warming my heart and soul as well as our house.
Winter is our season to have fun in the kitchen - making pies in the wood cookstove of our home kitchen - playing with our ingredients and trying new things in our professional kitchen. This winter Ralph blended French Tarragon Vinegar with his master mustard recipe, tweaked here and there, and created a wonderful new herb mustard that we're calling, simply, "Tarragon Mustard." Like all of our mustards, it has a lot of layers of flavor. The aroma is heavenly and we've already enjoyed it with sandwiches and in deviled eggs.(I can't wait for asparagus season!) We're having labels printed and it should be ready in early May. We are going to retire our fruit mustards, Raspberry Maple and Strawberry Honey, reserving all that fruit for preserves and pies.
I usually dismiss as hodgepodge jams and jellies made of blended fruits. That said, I LOVE the combination of luscious red raspberries with bright red currants in our new preserve. It takes just 1/4 red currants (a berry with lots of natural pectin) blended with 3/4 raspberries to produce a preserve that sets up almost like a jelly. (We strain the fruits to remove seeds and skins.) The overwhelming flavor is raspberry, with currants contributing a light, tart, flavor note. (As with all our preserves, organic sugar makes up less than half of the recipe.) This will replace our Seedless Raspberry Preserve. (If that's your favorite, please try this new flavor!!! I promise you won't be disappointed!)
In the Pantry
Add Herbes de Provence and French Tarragon to the vinegars that are now sold out until mid-summer. Tomatoes Rustica is also all gone until late August. JazzBerry Raspberry Salsa, Mad Hatter's Pepper Preserve, Elderberry Syrup and Blackberry Preserve are down to a handful each. Raspberry Maple Mustard is low, and will be retired when it runs out.
Farmers' Markets & Shows
We'll be at the Keene Farmers' Market on Sunny Saturdays behind the Colonial Theater, off Main St., from 9-2 in May and June. Once strawberries start coming in, followed rapidly by currants, blueberries and raspberries, we'll need to stay home to get all the fruit picked and put up. We hope and expect to be back in Keene in September and October.
North Quabbin Garlic & Arts Festival October 1 & 2 and Tower Hill Botanic Garden "Shades of Autumn" festival October 8, 9 & 10 are not-to-be-missed events on our calendar, as is Dublin Yankee Craft Fair on September 10.
At this point I don't expect to be at the Newton Farmers' Market until late Autumn, if at all. I know I always said I'd not give it up until I was at least 70, but the distance is wearing on me and the markets take their toll on my stamina. (I've been doing this market for 30 years and I feel like I grew up there, but it's time to step aside and relinquish my space to someone younger.)
Winter Farmers' Markets
We've been so lucky to have these new winter markets. Not only are we delighted to be there as farmers, we are exceedingly happy customers. We've enjoyed turkey, duck, chicken, lamb, beef and pork, all grown by friends - local farmers who give their animals a good life and good food. (We don't eat a lot of meat, but when we do, we want it to have been raised with tender loving care.) Storage vegetables like squashes, beets, potatoes, onions and garlic provided us with energy every day. Winter greens, grown by farmers dedicated to growing food in spite of winter's relentless darkness, dazzled us with their vitality. We are blessed to have such an abundance of real, true, wholesome food in our region.
1 - 150lb Golden retriever + 1 - 80lb Shepherd-lab + 1 9lb very fluffy kitty + 3 wood stoves = Spring Cleaning (not an option at this house!) Besides shedding, the animals have had a pretty low-key winter. Barley adored all the snow, rolling and playing and making snow angels. He sometimes accompanied me on my treks snowshoeing up the mountain, but more often remained home keeping Rosie company. At 10 1/2, my dear girl gets around the farm just fine, but long treks are too much for her. Now that the woodland animals and birds are moving around noisily, she has a lot of work to do barking and singing her duets with the owls. Auggie the fluffy kitty continues to dominate the household ("though she be small, she be mighty!") - determining that Barley, and therefore Ralph, rises at 4:30. They all enjoyed the remains of farmers' market meals, Rosie being especially enamored by the lamb and Barley by the lucky ducky.
It was Shakespeare's birthday, April 23, 1986 when I invited my old college friend Ralph over to my apartment at the Greenfield poor farm (I kid you not!) for a dinner of Wild Leek Pesto I had made from the wild leeks (ramps) I had gathered along the Green River. Who would think such strong food would elicit such a loving reaction?!?! One thing led to another, and by the end of the next month I was planting strawberries and raspberries in his garden. That was 25 years ago. This begins our 26th growing season!!
The ducks are quacking a racket in the pond and we're planting strawberries!
Get out and enjoy it!
Let your heart dance!
Let your soul sing!
We were meant to revel in spring! I think there's a biological imperative....!