Saturday, June 27, 2009

Life is just a bowl of cherries

I think cherries must be the most generous of fruits. They give and give and give...and ask for very little in return.
Friday was a perfect day, and Chuck and I went over the mountain into Adams County to pick cherries. Last year, cherry season was very short, and we missed it entirely- in fact, I stopped at the orchard on a Wednesday to see if they were still picking, and when we got there on Friday to pick, the cherries were gone. We worried that while we were out of town to celebrate our grand daughter's first birthday we would miss the season again this year. Turns out we had no need to fear- this was the first week of picking. The trees were laden with fruit- a million rubies hanging above our heads. I suspect the season will again be short- it looked like everything was ripe already.

We picked at Boyer Nurseries and Orchards, just outside of Biglerville, PA. When you check in, you are given a bucket- I think it must hold about 2 or 2.5 gallons, and for $21, you fill them as full as you can. Chuck picked the big, black sweet cherries, climbing a ladder to get ones from the top of the tree. He filled 2 buckets from just one tree. I picked sour cherries, although the ones I ate right from the tree, warm from the sun and juicy, were sweet enough for me. I filled 1.5 buckets from one tree, and then topped off my second bucket with sweet cherries.

Chuck got a good deal on a flat of seconds black cherries for making wine. We brought along these ginormous zip-lock bags to bring the fruit home. Once we got back home, we remembered that, back when our second refrigerator had broken over the winter, we had no money to repair it, and thus we had no room to store this abundance of fruit*. As a stop-gap measure, we packed the Ziplock bags in coolers with ice.

We spent Saturday and Sunday evenings washing and pitting. I froze 10 quarts or so for use in smoothies and baking during the winter; we dried some, and then Chuck ground most of the rest for wine making. And, of course, we kept some to eat fresh. Our grand-daughter, here visiting her mom's family and having her SECOND first birthday party certainly likes them!
Boyer also has pick your own blueberries. Since we had never picked blueberries before, we thought we would give them a try. They are also a generous fruit!

In just a few minutes after picking the cherries we got about 5 pints of blueberries. I like to wash them in my salad spinner, and then carefully spin off some of the water. When we moved to Pennsylvania, one of my sisters gave me a blueberry bush that, probably due to my neglect, failed to thrive. I was sad about that since it had been a gift from my sister, but now I am REALLY sad, having seen the huge amounts of berries on just one bush.
I wish this was a better picture of the bush. Chuck took it with his phone. Below are the berries in the salad spinner. Not a rotten one in the bunch. Some are a little on the green side- you get this when you take a color blind person to pick blueberries!

*storing abundances of fruit is of course, the main reason we have a second refrigerator.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tanking straw bale beds

Eggplant, badly damaged by flea beetles
I had great hopes for the straw bales, but so far they have not met my expectations. Had I read the directions and then had Chuck read the directions before the bales got placed in the yard, maybe they would have been better. One reason I wanted to try the bales was to see if I could avoid the flea beetles on the egg plants and the squash bugs on the squash. The picture above shows the eggplants, lacy with flea beetle damage, so that part was a bust.

We should have set the bales so that the straw ran perpendicular to the ground, and then covered the bale with an inch or more of compost. As you can see, I didn't do that. I did feed everything with a fish emulsion, both foliar and then by pouring the rest into the straw bale. I am going to try adding the compost now, but it may be too late. It certainly is for these poor Thai and blush eggplants- the ones I started from seed. They weren't doing well in the house, and they really aren't doing well here. Most have simply vanished, and the others are there, but barely visible. I feel like a seedling murderer of the worst sort.
Desperate Thai or Blush eggplant in a peat pot
click to see a very unhappy bunch of peppers in a peat pot.
The squash are doing marginally better, but still not thriving.
sad Red Kori squash in foreground, equally depressed zucchini in back

On the other hand, the tomato seedlings I set out are looking terrific- still small, but we have had a long, cool spring.
tomatoes, red cabbage in back

The pepper seedlings I started and put in the ground are also looking good, again, small but they were minuscule when they went out there.
peppers- the tag with the name got lost, so these are surprise peppers.

The sweet potatoes are also doing well. A little heat and some sun and they will take off.
sweet potato hill
We planted the beans a week ago, and they are already above ground. Beans are miraculous in their rapid growth- like corn, you can almost see them grow before your eyes. We planted 3 varieties of crowder peas- black eyed peas from saved seed from last year's crop, 6 Week Purple Hull, and Black Jet, along with pinto beans from saved seed and purchased limas.
bean plants- 10 days old.

The spinach, tatsoi and pakchoi started to bolt, and I pulled them all out to free the area for the next crop. I am not sure why the bolted, because it has not been that hot. It could be because I seeded too close together and didn't thin adequately. We got lots of salads from them, and by supplementing with a couple of bags of locally grown purchased spinach I was able to freeze about 12 cups in half cup portions to use in pizza and stir fry in the winter. not too bad from approximately 8 sq feet of garden. I put 4 purchased amaranth plants to replace the tatsoi and pakchoi- we will eat the greens, but I am not sure if we will let it go to seed or not. Kale will go into the spinach area, and also into the garlic spot once it's pulled in July. I also have amaranth seed I may try to put in someplace.

I am co-gardening with a friend this year, but her garden went in late because she was abroad for more than a month during April and May. Last week we went to purchase plants. For some inexplicable reason we bought an entire flat of celery. We also got okra and a lot of herbs. I tried okra here 2 years ago, and got 1 pod, but it was a pretty plant. I had 3 tomato plants for her- something called Black Velvet that I had never heard of, a German Johnson, which is a large, striped yellow and red tomato, and something whose name I don't remember. I also had 6 white eggplants, 1 Anaheim pepper and a mildly hot pepper called Mexibell, along with seed for an Italian bush bean to send over to her house. I sent along some floating row cover to see if we can beat flea beetles on eggplants and bunnies on bean plants. In past years here, the bunnies don't bother the pole beans for some reason, but scarf down the bush beans. I know it seems like we put in a lot of beans, but my co-gardening friend is a vegetarian, Chuck and I eat a lot of beans and we decided that there just couldn't be too many dried beans for our two households. In the picture below, the ENTIRE first bed is celery, except for a couple hot cherry peppers and some volunteer onions; 6 white eggplants, Italian bush beans and okra in the second bed, and Black Velvet, German Johnson and Goliath tomatoes in the last bed, along with Mexibell, Giant Marconi, Anaheim, jalapeno and pimento peppers.
We covered the eggplants and the bush beans with a floating row cover in an attempt to foil the flea beetles and bunnies.