June 4, 2012
Welcome Strawberries! Welcome Summer!
Sorry it's been so long between newsletters. It's not that I haven't written any, it's that I write them, then edit them so relentlessly that nothing remains. So that this message actually gets out, my new rule is NO Editing - short and sweet from the start.
After the most mild winter anyone can remember followed by an exceedingly dry spring, early warming followed by frost scares, summer is beginning to unfold before us.We've planted long beds of heirloom tomatoes, chili peppers and sweet Italian peppers to put into preserves, and melons, cukes, squash, pumpkins and chard and kale for our friends and ourselves. We punctuate the beds with bright and beautiful zinnias and nasturtiums (to help protect the melons & squashes). Our only remaining planting tasks are the basils - Genovese for pesto, lemon and purple ruffles basil for vinegars and preserves.
The most exciting news - our Fruit Forecast
With blessings from Pomona, it looks like a great strawberry year! Honeoyes, a mid season variety, have come on early and I've already picked 2 quarts. We're all set to cover the strawberry beds with netting to protect the fruit from the birds and will put it up when the rain stops. The bulk of our planting is the old, heirloom variety "Sparkle" - tiny and dark and the best berry of all for preserve-making. The Sparkle plants are LOADED with fruit, and as long as we're not beset by floods or hail, we should have a wonderful year. This is especially rewarding because in the last two years weather conditions were tough on strawberries and we didn't harvest many. It will be great to have Strawberry Preserves back in the lineup for a whole season.
Frosty weather in May took out some of the fruits, but there's still an abundance of currant berries - long strings of green pearls that the birds adore - green or red. The lines are up around the currant planting and we will lay the netting over the lines as soon as the rain stops. We use the Red Currants not only in Rosie's Red Currant Preserve, but also in our new Seedless Raspberry and Red Currant Preserve so it will be helpful to have a good crop.
Another hit! Bushes are now way taller than me (OK, I understand you are underwhelmed!) and exploding with fruit. Last year was an off-year for blueberries too so we're grateful to see the promise of a good year ahead. We put blueberries into both Blueberry Sauce and Blueberry Preserve.
Sadly, the brambles all took a hit with the October snow storm that dumped nearlytwo feet' on to the canes, burying them. Usually, bramble canes have lost their leaves by the time heavy snows come around. This time, the stress killed or weakened the canes that produce the fruit the following summer. Whole sections of our Taylor Raspberries (the finest flavored of all) have no fruit. The Killarneys, shorter and stouter, look a bit better. One thing's for certain, summer raspberry harvest, normally the busiest - and hottest - time of our year, will be pretty easy this summer. Blackberries Like the raspberries, the blackberries took a big hit with the October storm, about 80% of the canes dying. Unlike the raspberries, the damage was obvious immediately and we pruned out the broken canes. The remaining canes are blooming valiantly, an explosion of blooms really, so all is not lost. Now if we can just keep the Cedar Waxwings away..........
These beautiful, graceful plants have filled out so completely we had intended to move every other one to new beds we'd prepared in our lowest field. The dry spring nixed any thoughts of moving any plant that was happy in its place, and the elders have rewarded us by booming with new growth. Blossoms are just starting to form and I have great hopes for our elderberry crop. Since our apples were frosted, the elders will all go into Elderberry Syrup (no Elderberry-Apple Preserve this year, I'm afraid). Like the blackberries, the elderberries are way too tall (7' - 9') to net from the birds, so we just have to share. "How do YOU pick them, Patti?" you ask? The canes are very supple and bend easily down to my height. (I need a step-ladder for the thorny blackberries, though.....I'm not grabbing those guys to pull down to my level!)
Last year's yield on these aromatic beauties was spectacular. This season yields will be down considerably, but again, that should just make July a little easier to handle. As with the Red Currants, the strings are up and we're ready to lay down bird netting when the rain stops.
Peaches, Pears & Damson Plums
In an organically-managed orchard where fruit is not heavily fertilized, yields tend to be alternate bearing. Trees put on vegetative growth one year, fruiting growth the next. This gives the tree a chance to recuperate from fruit-bearing and rebuild. In a year whose harvest appears to be the mirror-image of last season's, it's not surprising that Peaches, Pears and Plums would be lacking or absent. Half of the peaches have some fruit, there are a few pears, but almost no Damson Plums. Luckily, last year's Damson plum harvest was so good (in spite of the porcupine) that we should still have Tweedledum's Damson Plum Preserve for a while longer. We're nearly out of last year's Dancing Bear Peach Preserve and Spiced Pear Butter. Hopefully, we'll harvest some peaches again in August. We'll pick pears in October if they make it.
This mountain is covered with wild grapes (and other wild fruits like strawberries, blueberries and blackberries - in case you got the mistaken notion that I'm some kind of great gardener, I'm not - I just help grow things that want to grow here anyway). We've nourished some of them by providing trellis support, and also planted a row of mixed wild grapes and concord grapes. Last fall, Ralph picked about 30 pounds or so of wild grapes and we experimented with them. We love the preserve - the wild grapes have a spiciness and flavor notes in the skin that is absent in the concords. It reminds me of our Damson Plum or Black Currant Preserves with the depth of flavor. This year we see lots of blooms on all the grapes, and we hope that translates into a good harvest. We're so enamored of the flavor of the wild grapes over the concords, we expect to use the concords for juice for ourselves and use the wild grapes exclusively in the preserve.
Great news here! Carolines, our autumn raspberries, look spectacular! As soon as we had our first harvest of these beauties two years ago we knew we had the key to extending our harvest into the fall with a fruit that is nearly as perfect as summer's Taylors. Last year we extended our Caroline planting another 250 feet and this coming September, we should have our hands full of sensational fruit. (Have I mentioned how much easier raspberry-picking is in September than July? Imagine 93 and humid, day after day in July. Now imagine crisp, clear 75 in September. Get the picture?) Pomona willing, September looks pretty busy around here.
There, I think that's it for fruit.
Garlic - awesome, no other word for it! Lavender and Tarragon for mustard? Likewise!
Paypal! We converted to this easy-to-use system for handling credit card payments when our old service became usurious. We should have made the change long ago, but we're so busy in the day-to-day farming that studying various options for credit card payments is at the bottom of our to-do list. Thanks so much to our web guru Steve Lionel and Jen Risley from The Hannah Grimes Center for their help with the conversion. The good news for our customers is that in addition to MasterCard and Visa, the Paypal system also works for American Express, Discover, and Paypal cards as well.
News of our four-legged family
Barley had his 6th birthday on Friday so Ralph grilled an especially big steak that night for us all to share. Our world is focused on Rosie, though. My dear girl's rear legs have become nearly paralyzed with "Old Shepherd's Disease," also known as Degenerative Myelopathy - a condition where the myelin sheath around the nerve's axon deteriorates and the nerves can no longer talk with each other. Her right leg went first, then her left. She needs to be carried on and off the couch, and out doors. Since she's 90# or so, only Ralph has the strength to lift her. The rest of her body is still fine, though, so we still play with toys and bark for chews every day. I don't know how much longer she has - In March, I would have said, maybe until April. Now it's June, and her spirit is still strong. She doesn't feel pain and she's pretty good at commanding us. We've been joyously indulging her every whim, Ralph cooking her favorites, me sharing handfuls of granola I make for her while we listen to her favorite music - Mozart's horn concertos (actually, she loves all horns). She's nearly 12, which is a decent age for a shepherd/doberman/hound/lab sprung from a rough house in Springfield by the animal rescue Goddesses. I'm sure that Lady Rosie Barksalot wouldn't have fared well in most neighborhoods, but she's a first class farm dog - Queen of my Heart, Sister of my Soul, Sharer of my Mind. Auggie the fluffy kitty is also an old girl at 15, but she still rules all, teasing Barley and providing company to Rose.
Around the Farm
Baby birds are everywhere! Owls hoot at night, frogs sing, the moon waxes full tonight - the strawberry moon. Wishing you the blessings of summer in your gardens, homes and hearts!