berries


This is high season in my garden, it’s hard to know what to write about.  For all my loyal readers, I have to let you know that I’ve been having computer problems for the past couple of weeks, plus DH has been home in the evenings a lot for the past 3 weeks, which is unusual.  Thus my posts have fallen off a bit.  But I haven’t given up, we have an appointment at the Genius Bar this weekend, plus DH is back to his usual schedule.   I thought you’d all like an update on Robin’s Nest 2.  The above photo is of one of the current clutch who fell out of his nest this morning.  I heard flapping from the hops early in the morning, but didn’t get a chance to investigate until around 3 pm.  And there he was, although he was gone by the time my almost 10-year got a chance to check it out at 7:30.  He wondered where the baby Robin could have gone, and we can only hope that he finally got his wings and is in a tree somewhere.  He might have found a better hiding spot low down, or heaven forfend, a cat got him.  It was really hard to just leave him there, but that is what the experts recommend.

Today was also the first day that raspberries were ripe.  I probably could have left them for another day, they were a little tart.  That raspberry patch is probably the best thing I have done in the garden.  Every year around this year I get the most amazing raspberries, and there is nothing like the flavor of sun-ripened raspberries eaten off the brambles.  Because of how I have them planted, along a fence, most of the birds have a hard time getting them, so I have little competition.  The catbird is most expert at eating raspberries, and it really is a specialized skill.  We had one catbird who was here for years, enlivening our yard every summer with his charming song.  He was quite fearless of us, swooping in over our heads to gobble up raspberries.  I think he’s passed on, though he’s left behind some progeny.  We have a beautiful, young catbird now in residence, but I don’t think he’s quite mastered the art of eating raspberries.  Last summer I recall a baby catbird who tried really hard to eat the raspberries, but wasn’t too successful, and I think it may be the same bird.  Raspberry brambles are a lot of work to manage, plus they are very prickly.  For 2 weeks of summer bliss, I think it’s worth it, but be forewarned.

At the end of last summer I had moss growing in my main veggie bed and was concerned that I may have had a pH problem.  In February I got a pH and nutrient (NPK) test kit, and tested all of my veggie beds.  It was a huge project, but I discovered that the acidity was in the right range (6.5 to 7.5).  However the tests showed that the nitrogen was nonexistent and through further research I discovered that low nitrogen can cause moss.  So I went on a campaign of fertilizing my main be, adding all of our kitchen compost, plus Steve Solomon’s Complete Organic Fertilizer.  It wasn’t until later that I read that you can’t test soil for nitrogen too early in the season, because before the microorganisms kick into action with the warmer weather, little nitrogen is released.  Well, the fertilization seems to have done the trick.  That bed is simply out of control, everything growing in it is supersized.  I just noticed today that I already have beans forming, and each bean plant has about 40 blossoms.  And the squash, holy cow!  For those of you interested in the great sqash borer campaign, I will tell you that I have been spraying them religiously, after every rain.  It’s getting to be really hard, though, as the squash plants get huge.  I found myself hugging them today, those prickly devils, wondering if there isn’t a better way.  Maybe getting all my squash needs met at the farmer’s market?

One of my most cherished childhood memories is of finding wild blueberry bushes in the woods surrounding our campsite in New Jersey when I was about 8 years old.  I was already a lover of blueberries and to find them just a step away from our tent was a real thrill.  As an adult it has always been a dream of mine to have my own blueberry bushes.  My mother planted some (3, as recommended for cross-pollination) about 7 years ago, and they are 6 feet tall and provide all the blueberries she could want, with plenty left for the birds.  Birds love blueberries, especially bluebirds.  I know when my berries are almost ripe because they start hanging around.  If you don’t want to share your crop with the birds, you can easily net them since they do not get too tall.  However, I think their benefit to the wildlife is so important that I don’t mind sharing with the birds.  Right now my bushes are too small to produce much, so the birds are getting most of them.  But I can envision a future when there will be more than enough for us to get a share.

It took me a while to figure out where the best place to plant blueberries was in my yard, since they do get very big.  I discovered the variety, Northland, though, that only grows to 3 – 4 feet tall, which I am using in my foundation planting.  In addition to their culinary, wildlife value, blueberries also have fantastic fall foliage.  The different varieties have different colored foliage.  My favorite for fall color is is Jersey.  I’ve read that the flavor of the berries isn’t the best out there, but the color of its leaves are spectacular, rivaling burning bush.  In fact, it is recommended that one replaces their burning bushes with blueberries, since burning bush is actually a non-native and invasive.  Blueberries, on the other hand, are natives, and honestly, we can’t have too many!  Blueberry bushes are also easy to care for.  They do not have thorns and do not need much pruning.  Special care should be taken at planting to incorporate plenty of humus and amendments to the soil.  Blueberries thrive in acidic soil, so you may need to add sulfur to your soil to acidify it.  I did not do this, and I had some yellowing of the leaves until I added it.  You can also use peat moss when you plant your shrubs.

Ever since I started eating the fresh, local, in season blueberries from the Farmer’s Market I have not been able to eat supermarket blueberries.  Our Farmer’s Market is on Saturday, and yesterday I woke up with the need to go and get the blueberries.  I’m glad I did, it is high season and the farm I buy my berries from always has perfectly ripe, beautiful berries.  I bought 8 pints, and have frozen 6 of them to use offseason, especially in winter.  There’s nothing like them in blueberry muffins.  I like to think I make excellent blueberry muffins, and I know it’s because of these blueberries (oh, and a stick of butter).   I freeze the blueberries in a layer on a cookie sheet, and then transfer them to a ziploc freezer bag.  Last June I froze a lot more than I used this year, so I have a lot of left over now.  We’ve been talking about making smoothies with the extras, and I am contemplating jam.  I won’t just keep last year’s, though, because you have to figure the quality will suffer after a year.  I am looking forward to the day when I will have enough of my own blueberries to freeze for winter muffins.