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Previously in Patti's Garden

Patti on the farmSeptember 20, 2011

Happy Harvest Season to One and All!

Sorry this message has been so long in coming, we've been chasing after all kinds of fruit since I wrote.

For the big news - Sound the Trumpets - Raise the Banner - and Let the Joyous News Be Spread - We harvested 300 pounds of Damson Plums!!!

Triumphing over plum curculio, a determined porcupine and the 1-2 punch of Irene and Lee.

We first planted four Shropshire Damson Plum trees in 1987, but it was 1992 before they began setting fruit. And what fruit! Tiny and tart, with a skin full of spicy flavors and almost too intense to eat fresh, they made outstanding preserves.

The trees are beautiful too, with spreading boughs that reach to the sky and lichen-covered grey bark. When laden with the small dark fruit, they look more like olive trees than the plums most people know, and several visitors have been impressed that we grew such beautiful olives in southwestern New Hampshire! (No, my horticultural prowess is not so grand - they're not colossal black olives, simply tiny damsons...)

We planted a couple dozen more damsons over the years - sadly, some trees had been mislabeled at the nursery - and harvested plums roughly every other year (heirloom tree fruits tend to be alternate-bearing when grown organically without heavy fertilization).

Always in danger of late frosts which kill the fruit buds, the damsons next face danger from plum curculios which nibble and lay eggs into the young fruit. Kaolin clay (used in making porcelain,) sprayed on the trees discourages curculios, and also helps protect the fruits from diseases and rots. Most orchardists shun it because it is a bear to apply, but it's ideally suited to a small organic orchard, where we know each tree by name.

The greatest threat, though, arrived six years ago - porcupines that climbed into the trees, clawing at the bark, chewing tender leaves, and destroying branches and twigs. They devastated the trees, weakening them and leaving them vulnerable to black knot disease.

We met that threat, defeated it, pruned out the black knot damaged limbs, and watched the trees put out a spectacular bloom in Spring 10, only to suffer at a snow storm and freezing temperatures a week later.

This spring, the valiant old trees put on another spectacular bloom. They set fruit. Kaolin clay protected the fruit from curculios, then from the June rains. Then on a beautiful morning in late July, Ralph came in looking insane. A porcupine was about 15 feet up in a tree hanging over the fence between us and our neighbors. Our orchard is fenced from deer, but fencing from a rodent is exceedingly difficult.

His solution? Ring each damson with its own fence. Using chicken wire, chain-link, or whatever he could find, he fenced in each of the dozen trees with a ring of 10-15 feet in diameter, about four feet high.

Unbelievably, the porcupine climbed these individual fences to get to the plums (even though the peach trees and pears were unfenced and so laden with fruit that it was nearly touching the ground!)

Ralph tried motion-detecting lighting and music. He strung the trees with lights. He set a Havahart trap and built his own larger version. He tried to assess where the creature was entering the yard from and built a tunnel with old metal roofing to lead the creature into a box. He tried to stay awake at night - until we realized the futility of that plan. How could an aging primate, diurnally active and visually oriented, hope to succeed in vanquishing a nocturnal rodent in the prime of its life, with nothing better to do all night than find a way into the plum trees?

He draped a tarp over one fence ring and noticed that that tree stopped being damaged. We learned that porcupines don't see well and reasoned that perhaps the tarp kept the porcupine from seeing the silhouette of the trunk. We draped the other fences with every piece of tarp he could find, then we looked for big pieces of fabric.

The orchard took on a bizarrely festive appearance as the plum fences were draped with tablecloths, curtains, sheets and whatever else we could find. We interplant the trees, so peaches and pears, loaded with their own fruit, looked naked and undressed next to their garishly attired plum sisters.

In late August the plums darkened and began to plump. Our neighbor's beloved hound lost his life to the porcupine.

Ralph had pretty much been sleepless for a month, but harvest was at hand. Hurricane Irene was forecast. We picked every fruit that was ripe, about 30 pounds. The hurricane came and went. We lost power for a couple of days, the road was out for a day, plums continued to ripen and we continued to pick, 100 pounds or so. Then tropical storm Lee came and lingered, unforecast. Lee did cause some damage by bursting fruit that ripened during its four-day visit - a sad harvest of about 50 pounds into the compost. Luckily, most of remaining fruit continued to ripen nicely over the next few days, bringing the usable harvest to about 300 pounds.

Did we put up some immediately? You bet we did - about 96 jars in a marathon!

More from our 2011 Fruit Harvest, in order of Abundance

Raspberries

It was a banner year for our favorite berry this summer! Not a drop of rain dampened the harvest and we brought in about 500 pints of perfectly lovely Taylorsand Killarneys for perfect preserves. Our September crop of Carolines and Heritages have seen some rain and we'll put them into Raspberry Vinegar.

Peaches

Our best peach year, ever, with basket after basket of beautiful peaches filling the kitchen in August!

Black Currants

An avalanche of these amazing fruits! Like the Damson plums, they're almost too intense to eat raw, but make an outrageously flavorful preserve. Ralph cut a pie slice out of a child's wading pool to more easily harvest these berries. By sliding the pool under the spreading canes, he could tickle the fruit off the canes into the pool......It's ever so much faster than my way of picking into a basket! We picked nearly 200 pounds!

Blackberries

We didn't expect much of a blackberry harvest after winter temperatures dipped into the negative double digits, but somehow these valiant plants managed to put on a late crop (we're still picking). We won't get a lot, 75 pounds or so, but we will have enough to get through the holiday season.

Strawberries

Picking from a bed whose big year (2010) was thwarted by frost, we didn't expect much this season. The 75 pounds we picked are perfect tiny Sparkles that are setting into a perfect preserve, but we know we'll be out soon. We're not putting these jars in stores or even sampling at markets. If you know you love our peerless strawberry preserve, please order soon! Our new strawberry planting - destined for harvest next June - looks amazing! Plants are lush and healthy, and if we escape a late frost, 2012 should be a wonderful strawberry year.

Elderberries

These beauties were coming along just fine until the 1-2 punch of Irene and Lee came through. Those storms seem to have brought up some bacterial disease from the south that spotted the elder leaves and sapped their vigor. We have only enough elderberries for 50-60 jars of syrup, so once again, if you love it, please let me know!

Blueberries

Our weakest year ever - only about 45 pounds. I can only surmise that our incredible banner years of 2010 and 2009 wore the plants out and they need a year to recover.

Oh yes, the vegetables.....

Garlic

Never better, never bigger! It's almost a shame to chop them up for Farmhouse Garlic Mustard!

Peppers

Tremendous yields of Giant Marconis, jalapenos and chilies. We'll have plenty for Pepper Preserve, Chili Pepper Preserve, and Chili Pepper Mustard.

Tomatoes

OK, now, I know some of you are going to shed a tear here......They were doing fine, really they were, all through August, and Ralph and I put up about 62 quarts of tomato sauce for our own needs. Then, in late August, those storms blew in, bringing with them plant diseases from the south.....The tomatoes never recovered, so, sadly, I have to say that there will be no Tomatoes Rustica this year. What's especially sad is that the GARLIC was sooo spectacular, and you know how well garlic loves tomatoes.........

Gardens in a Bottle

We grew plenty of herbs this year - lavender, rosemary, basils - as always. Unfortunately, supply problems hit me every month, from bar-top caps, to the bottles themselves, to local apple cider vinegar, unavailable because the 2010 apple crop was so small. By the time everything I needed was available, I was up to my neck in raspberries and couldn't possibly detour to vinegar-making. I was short-handed all summer long, and never could carve out the time to make them. (Now that I have a minute, I'm putting up a couple of batches for ourselves, but the herbs are woodier this time of year and not lovely enough to craft Gardens in a Bottle that I would offer for sale.) I am still making Queen of Hearts Raspberry Vinegar!

Harvest Festivals and Farmers' Markets

North Quabbin Garlic & Arts Festival - Orange, MA, October 1 + 2. The most fun you can have with Garlic, this festival is put on by a bunch of friends and neighbors who are clearly energized in reverence for the stinking rose, including the good folks at Seeds of Solidarity Farm - the "Grow Food Everywhere!" people who nourish and teach school children how to grow their own food. Garlic games, garlic eating contests, incredible food (I'm choosing Pen Yew's pad thai on Saturday and Lone Wolf's salmon cakes with remoulade on Sunday), beautiful art and truly artistic crafts, healing arts, alternative energy and rocking music. Oh and of course, local heros of the agricultural scene, like Dancing Bear farm and Chase Hill Farm. Free parking; biodiesel shuttlebus from nearby lots. $5.00/day or $8.00/weekend.

Tower Hill Botanic Garden "Shades of Autumn Festival" Tower Hill Botanic Garden, Boylston, MA, Oct. 8, 9 +10, 10-5. The lush grounds of central Massachusetts' premier botanic garden, bathed in autumn's golden light, is the setting for this harvest festival. Lots of family activities like hayrides, pumpkin painting and scavenger hunts; beautiful crafts, and the bounty from local farms are all reason enough to visit. The apple tasting - more than 100 heirloom varieties - makes this an extra-special gem of an event.

Farmers' Markets

I'll update our holiday and winter markets as soon as the dates and locations are set

Keene Farmers' Market - I LOVE this market and the outstanding farmers of our region and hope to make the late October markets on Saturdays, downtown. We will be at all the winter markets - Dates and location to be revealed shortly....!

Newton Farmers' Market - Dancing Bear Tom is bringing our preserves and mustards into our long-time friends at Cold Spring Park on Beacon St. Some sunny Tuesday in late October, I'll join him!

Brookline Farmers' Market - Carolyn of Enterprise Farm, a goddess-daughter from my Leyden days, brings our preserves and mustards into Coolidge Corner on Thursdays. (This is the market that started it all for us - back in 1980 when we first brought our strawberries in from Leyden!)

Our gang

We're all well if a bit tired after the busy summer. All in all the weather cooperated and the harvests wove together well. In May we moved our bed onto the porch because Rosie could no longer climb the stairs to the second floor, but it's been wonderful sleeping surrounded by the dark New Hampshire night. So many robins nested all over the farm this season that they actually displaced the catbirds and they're still making us laugh. All manner of birds from hummingbirds to turkeys are thriving in numbers higher than I've ever seen, and the ducks and geese are splashing and playing in the ponds.

Once again, we feel so blessed and thankful for every berry, every fruit, every gift Mother Nature bestows.\

Happy Harvest! Take a hike! Eat an apple!

Love,

Patti (and Ralph!)

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