Saturday, August 31, 2013

End of August Harvest

Labor Day weekend always seems to mark the unofficial end of summer. Vacations are over, students and teachers are back in school, leaves are turning. Usually by the last day of August, the lawn has turned brown and the garden has begun to fade if not faded.

As I've written before, the tomatoes in our garden were a bust, except for an excellent daily yield of Sun gold tomatoes. At nearby New Roots Farm where I volunteer, Farmer Renee is an expert tomato grower and her yields are just kicking into high gear. She grows many varieties of heirloom tomatoes. Perhaps my favorite is the "blush." I get to bring home the seconds, including the lovely batch in this photo. The tomato in the middle--a blush--weighs about two pounds.
Our garden is still carrying on pretty well. Today I wandered the rows and picked the following: green beans, okra, yellow and red sweet peppers, one zucchini, a Beatrice eggplant, a red jalapeƱo, and a handful of red grape and Sun gold tomatoes. The delicata squash (whitish with green stripes) was harvested a few weeks ago when the vines died.
We planted our first peach tree--the old peach--more than 10 years ago. At the same time we planted what was supposed to be a Cortland apple. It materialized into a crabapple with lackluster production. But it provides some shade in the front yard and has lovely apple blossoms each spring. This year fruits of all kind were heavy producers, and for the first time, the crabapple was "loaded." 

Last week I filled a gallon-size ziplock bag with walnut-sized crabapples from our tree and used about half to make a crabapple crisp. It was tasty, although could have used a tad more sugar. We've thought many times about cutting down the crabapple, but it may have saved itself this year with its good crop of fruit.
The young peach has been picked nearly clean now, although a raccoon visits the tree at night in search of the last few overripe peaches. We find its scat beneath the tree in the morning. Perhaps that is why Kodi sometimes barks during the night. The old peach, which ripens a few weeks later, has survived another year of disease, storm damage, and thoughts of replacement with a younger tree. We don't yet have the heart to chop it down, especially since it keeps producing delicious peaches.

So, we celebrate this last day of August and give thanks to all the good fresh food coming from our own yard and from New Roots Farm.

And another cause for celebration today: my Mom's 92nd Birthday. Happy Birthday Mom!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Middle Sister

So many times we've driven up Route 16 through Ossipee and Tamworth and on north for hikes in the White Mountains. Until recently, we never stopped to hike The Piper Trail or Carter Ledge Trail to Mt. Chocorua and the Three Sisters, trails that begin a stone's through from Route 16. Finally, we stopped and hiked. Last Saturday Srini hiked the Piper Trail-Carter Ledge Trail loop with Henna and Kodi. Today we parked at the White Ledge (National Forest) campground and hiked the Carter Ledge-Middle Sister Trails. Srini promised spectacular views based on his hiking experience a week ago.
We chose the White Ledge campground trailhead and purposely avoided hiking the Piper Trail and doing an ascent of Mt. Chocorua since that is one of the most popular hikes in the White Mountains. We opted for something quieter but that still provided great views. Although I might be remiss in telling this little secret, we had spectacular views along the Carter Ledge Trail and atop Middle Sister and on the entire 8.6-mile, 6-hour hike we crossed paths with only 8 people on a Saturday in August. And Henna and Kodi had a great time.
The Carter Ledge Trail passes through an uncommon stand of Jack pine and the ledgy outcrops offer spectacular views of Mt. Chocorua along the way.
Looking up at Mt. Chocorua (left) and the Middle Sister (right).
Henna and Srini heading up the Carter Ledge Trail.
A view of the southern spine of Mt. Chocorua and a peek at Chocorua Lake just beyond.
Henna and Srini on the Carter Ledge Trail (Mt. Washington in the distance)
Henna is still in training. On this hike we let her off leash for more than half the hike and she did well. Fortunately we did not see a moose or other big animal as she still likes to chase them. She is fairly well-bonded to Kodi so does not stray too far from her pack now.
Kodi is now more than 4 years old and moves slower than Henna. Plus he likes to stick close to the treats that the humans carry. Atop Middle Sister we paused to take in the 360 degree views and to enjoy a lunch break.

Srini, Henna, and Kodi atop Middle Sister
Mt. Chocorua as seen from Middle Sister
A view west from Middle Sister: Mt. Passaconaway
 and the Tripyramids in the center of the photo.
The Carter Ledge Trail from the White Ledge campground to the top of Middle Sister provides one of the most spectacular views in all of the White Mountains and few people opt for this route. Just keep this secret between us.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Garlic and Potatoes: 2013 Bumper Crops

A four inch long and thick as my thumb tobacco hornworm devoured my green zebra tomato plant this week. I neglected to monitor for this voracious caterpillar. That was just the last in a sad story of my tomato crop this year. Only the sun golds are producing their sweet fruits, providing a little bit of cheer in the tomato row.

The younger of the two peach trees is full of fruit on the verge of ripening. Unfortunately we also have brown rot, a fungus that turns perfectly beautiful fruits rotten very quickly. So, we are improving sanitation in and around the tree by removing spoiled fruits and picking healthy fruits even if they are not fully ripe. Despite the brown rot we have plenty of juicy delicious peaches to eat.

Most other garden crops are holding their own. Lots of peppers, but few are turning red due to the cooler days and nights of August. I love the weather, the peppers and eggplants are not so good with it.

Two crops were splendid this year: potatoes and garlic. I planted three 100-foot rows of red norland and kennebec potatoes at New Roots Farm -- about 35 pounds of seed potato. Farmer Jeff and his assistant Ben cultivated the soil before I planted in May, leaving me deep, rich soil. That was a good start. In June and July I weeded and removed lots of potato beetles. Farmer Renee gave them one treatment of organic spray to control the beetles. Although they got lost in the weeds a bit in the latter part of July and early August, I easily hand dug one row on Thursday.

And what a crop. The haul from that one row weighed in at 135 pounds. Assuming the other two rows are just as productive the total harvest will be more than 400 pounds from the original 35 pounds of seed: more than 10 to 1. One of the white kennebec potatoes was twice the size of my fist: big enough for two servings of baked potato.
My sister and I are visiting our parents this weekend. We spent the morning on final trimming and cleaning of our garlic harvest. Thanks for your help too Mom. We ended with 485 bulbs, about average, but nearly all were in good condition and in a range of sizes. We saved out the biggest 100 bulbs for the fall planting. The rest are destined for many meals from now until next summer.

Friday, August 9, 2013

A Snake Among the Tomatoes

A water snake is hanging out in tunnel 5 at New Roots Farm. Renee was excited to show Jo and I the big snake. It was thick around the middle, lying quietly on the black plastic among the tomato plants. Water snakes have an undeserved reputation for being aggressive. As one herpetologist I read said, they are no more aggressive than a chipmunk or a bluebird. If you attempt to pick up any of them they would try to bite in response.
The tunnel 5 water snake appears docile. It is living a little ways from the pond, perhaps because the tunnel offers warm basking habitat and a source of food: mice, voles, salamanders, frogs. Maybe that is why this snake is chunky and docile. It is well fed. If it is a female -- and females are bigger than males -- then she will give birth to live young soon. So, there might be more water snakes among the tomatoes soon. Fortunately this is not the high production tunnel, so human visits are infrequent and the snake can bask in peace.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Vistas and Views

Early August - Jackson, NH.

We spent the weekend at a friend's place on the lower slope of South Doublehead Mountain. This was our first trip to the mountains with both dogs, Kodi and Henna.

We adopted Henna on April 13th of this year, when she was barely one year old. Her high spirit and most recently a bout with Giardia and coccidia kept us from any long hikes. Henna is still in training - she likes to chase after wild things, including grasshoppers, chipmunks, snakes, birds, and larger mammals. So she remains tethered to us when we are outside. Thus, we opted for short hikes this past weekend, which were just as enjoyable as a long trek to the top of a high peak (and apparently we had far better weather at lower elevations as friends that hiked Moosilauke reported winter-like conditions!).

One such hike we chose was to the Hall's Ledge Overlook on the Town of Jackson's 500-acre Prospect Farm. To reach there we drove to the very end of Carter Notch Road and parked near a Forest Service gate. From there we walked up a logging road to a network of cross-country ski trails that are part of the Jackson Ski Touring Foundation trail network.
We followed the Wildcat Valley Trail -- which resembled an old, grassy logging road -- for about 2 miles, then another 1/2 mile to the overlook. Along the way we flushed a female hermit thrush from her nest with two blue eggs nestled beneath a canopy of lacy ferns on the edge of the trail. Not far from the thrush nest we flushed a female turkey with her brood of pint-sized turkey poults. Despite their small size, the young turkeys flew to the tops of spruce saplings. At the edge of a clearing we sampled red raspberries while admiring a view to the south of Mt. Chocorua and the Sandwich Range.
The woods were just beginning to take on a slight hint of the coming autumn. Yet this summer's rain has kept the vegetation lush into August, a time when plants usually begin to wither from hot, summer days and droughty conditions. Instead, we waded through knee high ferns and grasses moist with dew and recent rain and noted lots of delicious-looking plump fruits on woodland wildflowers -- most of which (except for the red raspberries) are actually toxic to humans or bitter tasting.

A sampling of the beautiful, but best not to eat wild fruits:
red baneberry (highly toxic to humans),
Clintonia or blue-bead lily and bunchberry (both have unpleasant tasting berries),
although other animals seem to eat them all with no ill effects.
Our destination for this 5.0-mile round trip hike was Hall's overlook that offered a narrow, but superb, view of Mt. Washington, which was best observed by standing on the large picnic table to see above the spruce and fir saplings.
Sometimes we seek the exaltation of hiking to the top of a 4,000-footer and sometimes we relish the shorter hikes with vistas of those higher peaks and sightings of things close at hand. Our friend's place in Jackson offered the latter with stellar views of Mt. Kearsarge, trails through fields of goldenrods and black-eyed Susans, garden fare, and spiderwebs.

Winterberry Bird Scat

A week ago--on a coldish January day--a small flock of robins ate all the berries from one winterberry shrub in our yard. They flew off as q...