Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Berry picking places

In answer to Bridget's question about where to pick berries with children, Amy writes:

We were told that this place (at least in the past) does not spray their berries, just the flowers (is that possible?). I'd call to clarify how ecologically gentle they are... http://www.sussexcountystrawberryfarm.com/home.asp
We love the fun of going to pick enough that I forgive any chemicals they might have on them, for one day... they're about 45 minutes from Caldwell.

And for real organic, just about 90 minutes from here there's Emery's Berry Patch is just 10 minutes down the road past the huge theme park Great Adventure-
They have organic blueberries- wonderful! Love them! In July they come in...
It can be very warm, so we try to get there early in the morning, and then head over to the shore to swim for the afternoon... a long, but fun day.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

1st tomatoes, raspberries, sad aphids

I ate my first two fresh tomatoes of 2009 today! They were sun golds, started (I believe) at the same time as sweet 100's, which are slower this year. Renee's January tomato is turning red, so I suspect next year I will have earlier tomatoes, following her example of starting seeds in January.

I ate my first two raspberries yesterday, and 3.5 raspberries today. I'm not sure who ate the other half, but I doubt he has the flu. My human neighbor and I are beginning to nibble on blueberries, hoping to eat more than the birds. It looks like there will be enough for all.

When I surveyed my collards on Wednesday, I saw they had completely capitulated to the black aphids. I salvaged some leaves to be carefully washed when I'm listening to "Democracy Now," and pulled out the plants. This is early to give up on collards; I should have cut away the aphids earlier. Alas, now the woodchuck apparently has nibbled on the carrot tops and downright gobbled some volunteer greens, both of which apparently had been protected by the nearby collards.

On the other hand, the aphids were beginning to live on the tips of the grape vines, so maybe taking away the collards was prudent. Not to repeat my collards error, I clipped the aphid-ridden parts of the vines and took them to the compost heap.

Several of you observed that lady bugs eat aphids. Yes, I think that's true. Someone wrote they are available at Plochs. Good idea! One year not long ago I was almost overridden with ladybugs, but I haven't seen one this year. Maybe I didn't feed them enough aphids last year. I don't ever remember having so many aphids before. Their effects are not so dramatic as the woodchucks', but...

Think about tomatoes and raspberries, Pat!


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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Thinning, 2 questions, woodchucks again

Someone asked, "What is thinning?" We all know there is jargon in every human endeavor, and I guess I assumed more than I should have. You have all heard of thick woods and thick hair. If you scatter carrot seeds, you may get a think crop of carrots. Then you need to "thin" the crop by pulling out the excess. We speak of "thinning to one inch" when we are pulling out enough carrots so that the remaining ones are all one inch from their nearest neighbor. The tradition was to thin to a half inch in June, to one inch in July, and to two inches in August. My tradition was to throw away or compost the thinnings, but this year I've been transplanting them to fill in the empty spots and to expand the carrot plot. The moist weather has been conducive to success in this project.

Someone asked what to do with aphids. Some folks suggest spraying soapy water on them,
and I've found plain water just as successful. It's a lot of time and effort, however, for each leaf, and this year I have settled with going on a guilt trip for not removing the aphid-ridden leaves from the plant before they spread. This is not a very useful approach. Any other suggestions? This tropical weather is good for aphids.

And for mushrooms. Several people have asked what I do about mushrooms. Don't eat them! They are probably deadly. My own approach has been to kick them in the lawn, and to mulch over them with grass clippings in the garden. I'm not sure I recommend either. Any other ideas? Most years they aren't a problem, but this year is surely "special."

When I first had woodchucks, we invested in an electric fence. This worked, but is expensive. Worse, the battery died over the winter, and we couldn't find any replacement battery the following spring. So that was one very expensive woodchuck-free year. An electric fence is less invasive in your yard than a "real" fence that goes a foot underground and four feet over. I put it about one foot above the ground so I could step over it easily. Our neighbor found it upsetting in the yard next to where he was raising children, but verified that electric fences are legal in Montclair. A friend told me her two sons liked to annoy her by touching the fence. One is now a professor of mathematics at Columbia University, so I gather this
repeated prank did him no short or longterm harm. I touched mine once by mistake, and wouldn't do that again just to annoy someone else! However, the discomfort stopped as soon as I jumped away from the wire, which was quickly. If anyone knows where they (or replacement batteries) are available nearby, that might be of interest to readers, perhaps even me. Yes, you can turn off the fence whenever you like.

Our woodchuck infestation continues. My main defense is to think of Marie-Antoinette as I say to myself, "Let them eat tomatoes." Thank you all for the cages. I am going hog-wild with supersteak tomatoes and eggplants. The woodchucks don't eat tomato plants, but they will take a bite out of a large tomato. I'm not above cutting around the bite and including the remainder in sauce. They don't seem to find tiny tomatoes worth their time. They take occasional bites off the tops of eggplants, peppers, and zinnias, but they aren't speciescidal with these, as they are with broccoli, and the plants seem to grow back or around the bite.

I ate my first sugar snap pea today. Yum, but sigh. There won't be many this year. The ones I have grew up in the protection of early tomatoes or overwintered volunteer pak choi. Pac choi (for the reader who asked) is a kind of chinese cabbage that does very well in the NJ climate. I think I may plant its seeds along the main fence this fall to protect more peas as they climb the fence next spring. Also, I'll follow Renae's lead in starting tomatoes for my circular fence in January, so they will protect the peas around that fence.

You can see I'm settling into the possibility of life with woodchucks. I hope Jean's plants will do their thing and evict them, or someone will find a battery that can reactivate my electric fence. No children live next to me now. However, I just harvested my fifth zucchini of 2009, the volunteer greens will provide stir-fries when the Hakurei turnips are finished, and the basil is almost ready to provide dinner pesto, so eating is still mighty good INSIDE the house here.


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Saturday, June 6, 2009

It's fertilization time for corn -- in the sense of making sure male meets female. Corn in fields fertilizes by wind; the pollen drifts along and meets thejavascript:void(0) grain. In gardens it merits some human help. Those tufts at the top of the corn now have easily removed grains of pollen. The books say to collect it in a paper bag and carefully distribute it. I've found over the years that I get complete ears if I merely scoop it into my hand(s) and empty my hand on the silken threads that are on top of the incipient ears. I find myself remembering that old Thanksgiving hymn, which didn't make sense to me until I began raising corn.

"First the grain and then the ear,
Then the full corn shall appear.
Lord of Harvest, grant that we
Wholesome grain and full may be."

When I first learned that, my teachers and parents were busily cultivating me to be "full corn," as I did realize even in those days.

The actual corn ears are barely descernable now, but need the pollen on the silken threads before the full corn will appear.

Trina telephoned this morning to say that THREE stags were sighted on her property on Elm Street (across from Lexington Road) this morning. Each had three pointed antlers, indicating that it was three years old. Life must be getting tough in the "woodlands" for them for be foraging on Elm Street!

She also tells me she has caught fifteen (!) woodchucks this spring WITHOUT any bait in her cage. She merely puts the cage where a woodchuck has gone into a hole and plugs up all the other entrances. I found this technique fine until this year, although I always included bait before. This year the tops of my Jeruselum artichokes are gone, so I don't have good bait. Perhaps I don't have my hole accurately investigated, but it is also possible that "my" woodchucks live on nearby properties. Anyway, the only one to enter my cage was back in April. My raspberry plants are so thick around the garage that it is difficult to see where the woodchucks go as they scamper along the garage - right by the alleged anti-woodchuck plant!

I continue to eat very well. "Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow..." oops, more reverently, "Give us our day our daily bread." Mine is abundant.

I keep finding amazing vegetative clutter in my back yard this year with goodies underneath. One young mother wrote apologetically that her garden has gotten very messy, but it's hard to believe that anyone's isn't in this year of continual rain!


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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Zucchini triumph!

Would you believe? A few minutes after I sent my appeal Monday for a zucchini male, Renee, only a block away, made an offer. Some of you may remember visiting her open garden on April 25. She had one reservation. She has no zucchini, just yellow squash.

Oh, well. I'm not against mixed marriage. Off to Renee's garden I hurried. There was one lonely male with no female companionship. I picked him, and introduced him to both my females. I can now report that at least one of those unions was successful, possibly both, but the one he met second is not growing as fast. We will have a squash dinner this weekend (and maybe Renee's family too if the other continues to grow at an only slightly slower pace).

Judging by the responses, many of you don't know much about the sex life of zucchinis. I will now explain that titillating subject. Someone wrote regretfully he had "only one." I doubt this. Zucchinis don't have male plants and female plants like holly and kiwi. They don't even need two to tango, like earthworms, who must snuggle together in a symmetric way to generate babies. (Have I told this list my earthworm love story?)

Each zucchini plant has male flowers and female flowers. You can tell which are which when the buds are little. The buds with a tiny (quarter inch in diameter) zucchini fruit behind them are female. The ones with skinny stems are male. When the flowers open, it is more obvious which is which to anyone who knows the Facts of Life, as I suspect all readers do. Anyway, flowers open about sunrise (at least they are open by the time I get up and out in June), and they close about noon. All activity must happen during that brief time. I was overjoyed that Renee responded so quickly. If nothing happens, the small zucchini behind the female flower doesn't grow. We had the one who was not satisfied on Sunday with our salad this evening,
small but quite nice.

Nature's plan is for bees, as they accomplish their own purposes, to pick up some pollen from the male flowers, and rub it off on the female openings. The pollen has to reach the female in order for her to grow into a full-sized zucchini that a human would like for dinner. Suspecting that the bees aren't as motivated to accomplish this as I am, I often pick a male and make sure the females benefit from his services.

Most years the male flowers start in early June, followed by female flowers much later. Until two years ago, I ate my first zucchini on June 26; zucchini was the most punctual vegetable in the garden. Two years ago it was June 25 and last year June 24. This year's probable June 7 is a dramatic sign of climate change -- with its nice twists in the temperate region. Since the woodchucks have eaten the second crop of broccoli seedlings that we bought after devouring the ones I raised from seed, it is something of a consolation to have zucchini so early. Still...

I suspect that our dinner Sunday will be actually zucchini and the yellow squash would have had its impact only if we had allowed the seeds to germinate instead of being eaten. I'll let you know after it is picked.


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Monday, June 1, 2009

Male zucchini needed urgently

I suspect you never received an email with that heading before. I have a gardening problem that is absolutely unprecendented in either my 34 previous years of gardening or my reading. My female zucchinis are thriving EARLY and my males appear to be... uhm... castrated.

Can anyone bring a healthy male zucchini flower to 56 Gordonhurst in the next couple of hours?

He will have TWO opportunities to promulgate his genes. Of course, humans will eat the product of his efforts, but who knows what will happen then? I habitually help my male flowers get acquainted with their female flower friends in case my bees don't notice the opportunity, but never (can that be?) have I had females with no healthy males having matured yet. One female was unsatisfied the day before yesterday, so this would be three if I get no help.


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