August 24th, 2011, by Laura Beth
August 22nd, 2011, by Rachel
There’s something about working in the tree nursery that’s really exciting.
Witnessing trees in their earliest stages and growing so quickly provides a perfect complement for the more consistent work of picking.
Earlier this spring, we grafted hundreds of pieces of scion wood from desirable varieties to rootstocks that determine tree size, and since then I’ve been intrigued by the whole process of raising young fruit trees.
Maybe it’s the rows of fluttering nametags for all of the pears, peaches and apples that I’ve never heard of before, but which have stories behind them. (The picture here shows apple trees on the right and peaches on the left in the nursery)
Or, it could be the different types of grafting, like T-Bud grafting, where next year’s flower buds are placed under the bark of peach rootstocks which were previously planted and already looked like small trees.
Even weeding seems so rewarding when you expose the contrast between rows of young vigorous trees stretching toward the sky and the dark and crumbly soil in which they are anchored.
As we dealt with weeks of hot and dry weather earlier this summer, a lot of the newly grafted trees did not make the sensitive union to begin growing together, and several withered.
However, some of the grafts which looked snapped or bent way beyond hope have taken hold and are growing to heights over my head, even with a 90-degree bend where they were grafted! The 5-foot tall bamboo stakes that support the trees seemed like overkill at first, when the trees were a knee-high, but are now steadily being outgrown.
While it takes a lot of time to work with so many tiny trees, grafting is often the only means for accessing a lot of different varieties.
Many of the varieties of scion wood selected come from smaller orchards and nurseries during the spring, so when they don’t graft successfully, it can be a frustrating wait until new wood can be ordered for another try the following year. Still, for every tree that didn’t make it, a bunch did, which means we are well on our way in an exciting several-year journey to taste even more untried (for us) fruit varieties and flavors.
August 15th, 2011, by Lisa
You know the story; Shakespeare lines up yet another mixed up tale of love and judgment, in which somehow in the middle of the confusion all ends up “right”, or at least dead.
For the first few weeks of growth, I thought that our delicious yellow beans were called Merchant of Venice and thought, “Hmm. Interesting. I wonder why they chose that for the name.” But I was wrong, instead we have Marvel of Venice beans. A name much more fitting because although they do not contain a secret potion for wooing a lover, they are lovely and abundant!
Venice is a city known for its amazing water navigation systems, for its beauty, for its extravagance. You might expect a bean named to be it’s marvel would have gothic scroll work on the leaves or tiny cathedrals on its flowers. But alas, no. But if you’ve eaten these beans you know why they are named such. Such flavor, such freshness!
I’m proud to say that we picked last Monday nine baskets of beans! I think that’s a record, at least for this year, from these bean vines. We are also trying a new trellising system in that looked like a giant harp before the beans covered it. Rather than the plastic netting we usually have, we put up a tight zig zag of sisal twine for the beans to grow up. The hope is that when they beans are done we can cut loose the twine and put the whole “wall” of beans into the compost. Anyone who has grown pole beans (or any vine) knows how tightly they can coil themselves around whatever they grow up. It can take hours to unwrap their tiny curls!
I loved watching them grow up and up the twine. As the wind blew across, it made a sort of slow moving wave, like someone slowly playing the harp. We could almost hear music! Just kidding! Wouldn’t it be great though if vegetables were also musical? Carrot clarinets anyone?
I hope you have gotten to enjoy some Marvel of Venice beans. If so, I think you’ll agree that even Portia, Shylock, and Antonio would have enjoyed these buttery, prolific legumes!
August 3rd, 2011, by Laura Beth
Really…just look at them. With nifty patterns of variegated brown symmetrically arranged on its back, it could be the model for a new variation on hunters’ camouflage gear or other apparel dye patterns. It’s really pretty neat….beautiful in fact, if you don’t think too much about what the patterns and colors are attached to.
And the smell of the stinkbugs? Well, scratch and sniff. For some folks, the smell is downright revolting. For others (like me) it smells kind of like paper. Some people smell cilantro. So it’s weird, but not always completely offensive (unless you think about it).
The brown marmorated stinkbug (BMSB), as you may have heard, is wreaking havoc all over the midAtlantic states, and is spreading further. Florida is very worried about its arrival.
BMSBs are an invasive pest which are native to the Japan and China. They were first discovered in Pennsylvania in the late 90s, and have multiplied in such numbers that they’re invading homes and destroying crops. Their native predators, alas, did not travel with them, so they are pretty much on their own here and having a grand feasting party.
BMSBs love all kinds of fruits and veggies. Fruits like peaches, nectarines, apples, and Asian pears are very tasty to them (and hey, why not?). Their favorite vegetable around here seems to be edamame soybeans and sweet corn, but they’ll dabble in other veggies as well. They literally suck on the fruit in question, and leave a dimpled area. Sometimes (like if their dinner was interrupted), that’s all you’ll see is a dimple. Other times (when they can feast uninterrupted) the interior flesh may be discolored a bit or even a little ‘corky’. It’s not harmful to eat it or eat around it, thankfully.
For large commercial farms which sell to wholesale markets, any amount of BMSB damage on the crop makes it completely unsaleable. Some reports show that $37 million in crop sales were lost last year due to BMSB nibbling. Ouch. And it’s only going to be worse this year. Since the wholesale (ie. grocery store) market demands perfect, farms which rely on wholesaling are getting hammered.
Meanwhile, lots of studies are being conducted looking for ways to control the problem. Importing the BMSB’s natural predator is being considered, new chemical sprays are being studied and developed, and other less invasive means are being considered. Here at the farm, we are currently talking with a company which is trying to develop a solar-powered BMSB trapping system for commercial application. We’ll keep you posted on developments!
In the meantime….what is the beauty of stinkbugs?
1. They do look kind of neat (if you don’t mind antennae and creepy-crawly legs)
2. We’re all in the same boat here: you’ve got them in your houses and I have them on my farm. So, we can commiserate together (the ties that bind and all).
3. A little dimpling is just that….a little dimpling. Adds character perhaps?? We’ll keep the fruits the BMSBs really feasted on (like those pictured here) at home, but we trust that the occasional dimple in your fruit will be tolerated.
We’re all in the same boat on this one, and until a (hopefully non-toxic) solution is found, the BMSB will just bring us closer together. Complaints about them can continue now!
August 1st, 2011, by Rachel
When introduced to a guest at a party recently, I shared that I work in an orchard. He seemed surprised and responded, “You mean, like, picking fruit?” We chatted briefly and since that conversation I’ve been thinking about everything that leads up to the iconic, but brief, moment of picking fruit within the context of the entire growing season.
Looking back nearly 6 months to frozen ground and blankets of snow, it’s strange to think of the trees as leafless holdouts waiting for their time to shine. With comfy boots and layers of warm clothing, I embraced winter as the time for pruning and learning about all of the different growth habits and training systems for the trees. It was hard to imagine these naked branches being weighed down with clusters of fruit and trying to prune accordingly – they didn’t even have leaves yet!
But before long, the trees burst into bloom and the orchard transformed from bare-boned rows of trees into stunning blocks of pink and white flowers. With spring under way, we focused on tying and training the trees to desired shapes and growing habits: “V’s” for peaches and nectarines; central leaders and open centers for apples, pears, Asian pears, and plums.
With the time for tying and training passed, thinning continues to be the main task, especially among the Asian pears. At first, it seems terrible to snip off so many tiny fruits, but after seeing (and tasting!) the size and quality that the remaining fruit achieves, the hours devoted to thinning are definitely worthwhile.
In the middle of everything, we found time to graft dozens of different apple, pear and peach varieties, notching together rootstocks that control the size of a tree, with scion-wood of the desired tree varieties. The grafts and hundreds of apple trees grown from seed were planted in two new on-farm nurseries.
Watching them bolt into waist-high trees has been exciting sign that there are still so many new and antique varieties of fruit to grow and try – it just takes a few years. I’ve already been so impressed by the Purple Heart and Early Golden plums, Pristine and Redfree apples, Eastern Glo nectarines, and GaLa peaches that were new to me this season!
So in response to my fellow party guest’s earlier question about working in an orchard, in addition to pruning, tying, grafting, planting, weeding, thinning, tasting, and all of the surrounding tasks, my condensed answer is “Yes! – Picking fruit!”
A Field Full for Fall
It is amazing how quickly all the available spaces in the garden are filling up with broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and the like.
Hundreds of seeds sown into soil blocks in the greenhouse looked like trays of chocolates in Willy Wonka’s factory. And now, as they are maturing into young seedlings, they stand proudly in their tidy rows, filling up dozens of beds we haven’t used yet this year – and dozens more that have held lettuces, beets, and carrots. It’s funny to find bits of carrots and parts of dill plants as we make our furrows for planting these fall wonders.
The cruciferous or brassica family includes mustards, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, kale, collards, pac choi, and many others.
I love the little, almost perfectly spherical seeds, especially the color variation from brick red to golden yellow to dusty purple. All these colors can exist within a single species and so as we plant them its like getting to know a class full of children. They are all the same age, around the same size, and love to grow! Each has its own personality though, and will have a few variations – sometimes three “seed leaves” develop and sometimes the edges of the leaves are tinted white. By the time it’s time to go into the field they are all essentially the same, but if you look closely you can see these distinguishing characteristics. Thank goodness we don’t have to remember their names!
In my own garden at home, I usually forget about sowing cruciferous seeds until September and by then it’s too late. Last week, my daughter Jaden and I planted short rows of each type of seed. We will transplant them as soon as they are big enough, probably in around 3 weeks. Today when we were harvesting corn we she said, “Mom! Come see this!” She was delighted to see that our seeds are growing well, each one a little different from the others.
We look forward to watching them grow and harvest them in October and make broccoli soup, cauliflower curry, and sauerkraut!