February 25, 2016
Afternoon sun floods the bay window, and the baby micro-greens and sprouts drink in the light. These aren't for the gardens, just for salads for Ralph and me, and sandwiches, and smoothies. Mostly they're here because I just need to be growing something now. I need to inhale the aroma of soil that's released when the watering can sprinkles its droplets over the flats. I need to see that exhilarating shade of green that is worn solely by the first sprouts that open when the seed coats split. I need to taste the life of spring that's inside....
My seed orders have come in and I'm playing in the flower, vegetable and herb beds - in my mind's eye...and tasting summer's salads in my mind's mouth, forgetting that in summer berry season we're often so busy we forget to eat anything more than a cucumber sandwich.
It's been a pretty easy winter, mild and manageable. Last winter was the polar opposite, with frigid temperatures that reached negative 18 a couple of times, and snow storms that started early in the season and dumped a couple of feet, several times, taking down power lines and our energy as well.
That winter was so brutal, and spring so long in coming, that I skipped writing this newsletter for the whole year, always feeling overwhelmed, like the white rabbit, always running late....
But as the year unfolded things got better and better, so I'll begin at the end and work back...
In December we were amazed to get stellar news from Hollywood, that actress/activist/feminist Cameron Diaz had included us among eight holiday gift recommendations for cooks and chefs in her blog, Our Body Book. Wow! How in the world did that happen?!?
In November, Yankee Magazine, the beloved bedside companion of my family for 80 years named our Lavender Mustard as one of the Top 20 New England food gifts for 2015. Mum was beside herself with pride! So are we......
During the spring, our 2 local papers, The Keene Sentinel and The Monadnock Shopper News published results of reader's polls which awarded both our preserves and mustards!
In the Orchard
By October when the pears were ready, we were already overwhelmed with work so for the third year in a row, we donated them to our local community kitchen. We are so happy that in the last two years in the Monadnock region the gleaning project made donating so easy - volunteers came right here and loaded up hundreds of pounds of fresh, organic pears to distribute.
The Damson Plums had a pretty good year. Although we needed to severely prune our oldest Shropshire Damson trees due to black knot and porcupine damage, four young trees named Blues Jam and Jam Session put out their first good harvests. I'm not sure that we will go all the way to September on their yield, but at least we have a hundred pounds or so remaining.
Even though we grow "Reliance", an extremely hardy peach variety, the harsh winter of 2014-5 killed about 90 percent of the fruit buds. We did manage to fill about 1/2 a freezer, so we do have peach still available for preserve-making for awhile yet.
Our summer was super, with perfectly timed rains and no hot, humid weather to wilt us, and our yields were high. Our autumn bearing Carolines bore long into the fall since frost held off til late October.
Blackberries and Blueberries
The heavy snows of winter flattened the blackberry canes and most could not recover. Likewise, many older, larger blueberry branches broke under the weight of snow. Our yields of these black and blue beauties were severely diminished. We still have about 30 pounds. Luckily, July is just 5 months away...
Red Currants, Black Currants and Elderberries
Black currants and elderberries both lost vigor in the winter freeze, but red currants, for some reason, put out a splendid crop.
It was wonderful having these beloved berries back! Buried under deep straw mulch, they were protected from winter's wrath. We have 3 varieties, our favorite heirloom sparkles, dependable honeyoye, and a new Italian variety from the institution "Fruitticultura" (really, how could I resist that name?). Yield was good for a first year, and we're looking forward to a really good harvest this season.
In fact, everything looks good for harvests all around for this 2016. Plants that take a year off production-wise usually put on a great show the following year. This winter has been mild and as long as we keep getting adequate rains, we might just see a lot of fruit this coming summer.
We had lots of fun last summer interplanting vegetables, flowers and herbs - nasturtiums with cucumbers, zucchini and squash; marigolds and dill with tomatoes; Italian white sunflowers with Italian red peppers; zinnias with chili peppers, celery with lemon verbena, you get the picture.
"We" means earth-mother/daughter team of Elisha and Asha, rejoined this year by golden girl Lara who returned after several years and immediately began telling us what to do - which is just what we need sometimes. Since we had a couple of crises with my mum in 2015, we were really lucky that the A team was on hand.
Mum is doing better now, and I'm going to have to pry her spade fork away from her, she's so eager to get into the garden ( at 94!).
The saddest news from 2015 was the passing of our beloved Barley Bear, our enormous golden-Pyrenees, 150 pounds of sheer love, with not a molecule of meanness in his whole body. Barley became ill in October and waxed and waned throughout the awful winter, passing in March.
So now it's Abbey and us. Elisha's Moki and the neighbor dog visit and play with her and she seems to be ok being the only dog, at least for now. She's got a crazy sense of humor, loves to play and tease and chase and be chased, but she's also happy rolling her own balls down the slope and chasing them. And she wants everyone to know that she can carry 3 balls - 3 balls - 3 balls - in her mouth!
I'm having fun doing the Farmers' Market of Keene which runs on Saturdays downtown during the main season and at The Colony Mill Marketplace October-April. I began making organic berry pies for market last winter with great success, and in the summer debuted our Frosty Fruit Pops. It's been so much fun, and I love offering something new and watching people's reactions. It's all been, "Wow!" "Wow!" "Wow!" Again and again.
Since I've been able to do markets year round, I've begun pulling back from wholesale business. I never did much wholesaling anyway; it's hard to compete on shelves against colorful glossy packaging and everybody calling themselves "artisan" and "small batch" even when the "small batch" is 30 gallons or more! (60 jars is the most I put up in a day!) Wholesale orders often would throw me into a tizzy as I'd scramble to fill the order, especially during the berry season when there are already too few hours in the day and the last place I wanted to be in July was in a steamy kitchen.
Oh and I do plan to revive this newsletter and get it back on a monthly track. And they will be mercifully shorter.....
So that's where I am. Cozy on the couch, drinking in the sun's rays along with my sprouts. Ralph's making a pizza (our Tomatoes Rustica is back in stock!) and Abbey is frolicking with her companion. Temperatures are expected to reach an unheard of 60 today, so as soon as I finish this sentence, I'll grab my boon companion and take off into the woods.
Springs a coming, my friends!