Friday, February 26, 2016

Spring is (Almost) Here

My wife and I have the joke "p ing is he" because there was a property on Rt. 320 in Villanova, PA, where the people had spelled out "SPRING IS HERE" is crocus on a grassy bank by the side of the road and that is how it read in the 1960s. Today, for the first time, I noticed lots of clumps of snowdrops showing buds- the buds were still pointing up, rather than already becoming pendant but they were showing white. Most of my small fruit trees are already pruned-- so I am way ahead on that score. Right now I am making juice from last season's frozen berries. I keep thinking, every July and August, when I'm hot and exhausted, that if only I had enough freezer room, it would be so pleasant to make juice and can it in the winter, when I can't be outside and my house appreciates heat from the stove. So, I'm doing some now.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Hydrangea paniculata

Now that I have computer capability here at my house, I'm figuring out how to put photos on my blog: these are some I took last fall of my Hydrangeas- which are my newest pet plant.
'Pinky Winky'
'Mystical Flame'
'Pink Diamond'
'Mystical Flame'
'Brussels Lace'
'White Moth' (presently my favorite)
'Big Ben'

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


I spent yesterday at an all day workshop sponsored by NOFA called Growing Elderberries in Vermont for Conservation, Health and Profit. It was held at the UVM. Here are some of my gleanings from the many talks. Apparently, after the hurricane Irene, when vegetable crops were ruined by the possibility of being contaminated by flood waters and made unsaleable, people started working on other crops for some of those areas and they came up with Elderberries. There is already such a program in Missouri--elderberries are a new experimental crop. They are a superberry, easy to grow, can thrive in heavy soils, and are only surpassed by Aronia in their antioxidant content. There is much folklore about elderberries, also known as danewort, sweet or American elder. If you sleep under an elder , you can meet the king of the fairies and, by the way, European elder is more tree form than our native species- with a trunk up to 10 inches in diameter, living as long as 50-75 years. Native Americans have used the plant somehow ceremonially. Canes have been used to blow into fires to get them going, for arrows and quivers. Besides using the berries for juice and food, the flowers for teas, cordials and tisanes(sp??), the bark and in fact all parts of the plant can be used medicinally. An herbalist, Guido Mase, spoke about all these medicinal properties but I'm not very versed in that sort of thing so won't go into it here (and I might it garbled). John Hayden from "The Farm Between" and David Fried of "Elmore Roots Nursery" both shared alot of their experience with elderberries--they have both been growing them for many years,and like and use them, Hayden now has 240 bushes and has been growing them successfully for 10 years, getting up to 10 pounds of fruit per bush. He started with a diversified farm with chickens, hogs, sheep, and rabbits is into perennial polyculture. The fruit is not so good right off the bush and they have to be de-stemmed. The varieties he mentioned are: 'Johns', 'Nova', 'Adams'(the earliest),'York'(one attender of this conference likes this variety above all others), 'Scotia', 'Wyldewood', 'Bob Gordon', and 'Marge' (a Sambucus nigra cultivar). By the way, several people I talked to have found the varieties of European elder not successful here. They haven't done too well for me- have never fruited but one is still alive. From planting (a 2 or 3 gal. size bush) it will take three years to produce fruit. Birds bother the ones with more upright bunches more than the ones with drooping fruit clusters. They can ripen overnight after harvesting. It may be best to pick at least some of them right away as soon as some drop when the bush is shaken or you might lose them all to birds( they need to netted. David Fried plants them in wetter area by setting the unpotted but well established plant on top of the sod, anchoring it with a stake and mounding up compost, etc., topping it off with mulch. They should be planted in rows 12 feet apart, 6 feet apart in the rows. Hardwood ramial chips are the best mulch--these are chopped twigs and leaves of branches under 3" in diameter- they don't steal nitrogen from the plants as sawdust would and aren't too acid as softwood chips are. One method Hayden uses for mulching is 2' wide strips or weedbarrier, on either side of the new row--using landscape staples to anchor it (it needs to get rolled up at the end of the season--and never mulched over). David Fried likes cardboard covered with mulch. Weeds are the worst pest for three years but then the bushes shade them out. Mowing and blowing and chopping and dropping need to be continued, also compost and these ramial woodchips--what one wants is a diverse microbial population in the rhizosphere. The spotted wing Drosophila (SWD) is the main insect pest which has just gotten to our area and attacks soft, late season fruits such as elderberries, late raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and mulberries. If one diversifies, one is better off as certain crops are better in certain years. There are other insect pests but the SWD is the only one I have. To succeed, elderberries need good, well drained soil, ammendments, weed control and irrigation. I make mine into juice with a mixture of Dolgo crabapples--one quarter cup of sugar to one quart of juice. I don't think it tastes so good on its own. This conference went into the economics of growing elderberries which I also won't go into. In pruning, we have found one can be quite brutal--taking them way down and they still bear very well and being shorter are easier to net from birds. It's easy to lose them all in one day from birds.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Maple Grove Farm in the winter

In the winter, I help out at the Carletons' farm- in fact my "little house" was their farmhands' house 100 years ago. We do the normal dairy farm chores in the mornings and usually split wood in the 'forenoon. Most of their maples are now tapped- we're waiting for sap to run.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Fresh Vegetable Omlette and Tapping Maples

Believe it or not, I was able to harvest and use kale, Italian parsley and scallions from my vegetable garden today for lunch. I guess they were covered by enough snow to protect them when we had -10 degrees F. Hopefully this means we'll have an early spring which in turn means the Nursery will get going earlier than other years. At Maple Grove Farm in West Newbury where I live and help out in the winter, we finished tapping the main sugar bush on Friday (3600 taps). Never before have I been able to notice so many wildflower plants as this year. There was Hepatica and Tiarella foliage, Indian pipes from last year and maidenhair fern leaves. Other than being in the woods we spend alot of time in the barn tending the red and white Holsteins. Best Wishes for 2016!