Monday, September 30, 2013

The Long Awaited Apple

 The apples grown from the tree, which I sent away to be grafted in 2009, which I hand pollinated, and waited for Four and a Half Year to sample, are finally ripe for the picking.  Today when I went out to check, one of the apples was lying on the ground undamaged and unmolested.  I picked the other remaining apple.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that a bird had bit into the third one.  I picked that and found it to be not quite ripe.  I ate it anyway.  I was determined to let the last two ripen all the way.

So the question is:  Is it or Is it Not?  An Astrachan that is.

Had I believed my elderly neighbor, and trusted that we were speaking of the same tree, and that she had good information to begin with, I would have simply ordered an Astrachan sapling and planted it.  But my faith wavered and instead, I took a graft from the tree and sent it to Big Horse Creek for grafting.  That was in March 2009 and  November 2009 they sent back two grafted saplings.

 So let's examine the facts.  The Red Astrachan is a Russian variety described as such "Fruit medium sized and distinctly lobed in appearance. The thin, pale yellow skin in nearly covered with bright red and crimson splashes and stripes. White flesh is often tinged with red streaks and is coarse, crisp, moderately juicy and briskly subacid in flavor. Ripens late June to early July, depending on location." Well, maybe and maybe not.  It looks close enough to some of the pictures I'm finding on the web.


But, here is how I would describe this apple. "Fruit medium sized Very Large and distinctly lobed in appearance. The thin, pale yellow skin in nearly covered with bright red and crimson splashes and stripes (agreed). White flesh is often tinged with red streaks and is coarse, crisp, moderately juicy and briskly subacid in flavor (agreed). Ripens late June to early July, depending on location . Late September" I've also seen estimates for August, but this is NOT an early variety.  Even the original tree.  Tim would climb it to get the few apples from it in late Sept/early October when we were picking our Cortlands.  But I have no clear memory and no photos of those apple's appearance.

Now, the Very Large could be explained by the fact that only three apples grew on this tree.  Selective pruning of fruit does promote larger fruit.  However, no one is ever going to tell me that this is an early apple.

Does it matter if I know what variety it is?  Sort of.  But most importantly, it is an apple that appeals to Tim and I.  We both like hard apples, and we both agree that these have a good taste.  Secondly, it is a child of the last of those old trees which made up the orchard that his grandparents and father picked from all those decades ago.  Maybe in my apple eating this fall I will find a variety to compare it to, and thereby narrow it down.  If not, we'll think of a name for it.  Until then, it is simply "our apple".

Now, the next question:  will the other tree produce the same apple?  It did not bear fruit this year.  I sent 3 or 4 scions taken from different parts of the tree.  I don't know if these two trees came from the same scion.  And I don't know if the original tree had a graft or not.  So they could, conceivably, be entirely different apples.  The mystery continues....

Friday, September 27, 2013

Raised Bed Maintenance

This is the end of the fourth season with the raised beds, and they have required virtually no maintenance.  But the gravel has settled and migrated leaving areas where the stabilization mat is showing through.  So today was gravel renewal day.  It sounded like a big job, but with three people it was done in a jiffy.

The gate was designed to be juuuust wide enough to drive the small tractor through.

Mike and I used shovels to direct the gravel into each wheelbarrow as Tim dumped the loader.

Then we wheeled it down each path dumping as we backed out, concentrating on low areas.

And raked it smooth. All Done.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Fried Green Tomato Recipe

This summer, our Aunt came up to visit from South Carolina and she always brings peaches.  This year she also brought a jar of Peach Pepper Jelly she had picked up at a fruit stand.  Oh My but that is yummy over cream cheese!  I've had the leftovers in the fridge and now and then I dip a spoon in for just a little taste.  Peach is my favorite flavor and this stuff has a wonderful bite.

I like it so much I was looking on Pinterest for a recipe for when I run out and I stumbled on this idea.  Use the peach pepper jelly as a dressing for fried green tomatoes.  I know what I'll be trying this weekend.  I can already feel the heartburn!

Fried Green Tomatoes with Peach Pepper Jelly

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Lantana: Tough but Beautiful

Now and then I get tired of one of my old stand bys and go looking for new untried varieties. This is true of vegetables, perennials and annuals. A year ago we took a long weekend trip to Cooperstown NY to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Farmer’s Museum. At the Farmer’s Museum, along the walk to the parking lot they had whiskey barrels full of gorgeous plants with deep green foliage and flowers that were budding out yellow and deepening through orange to red.

 I’m a sucker for this hot color range and use it to dress up the vegetable garden and surrounding area usually choosing Marigolds, Zinnias or Nasturtium. But I didn’t recognize this plant. It sort of reminded me of Verbena or a Viburnum shrub. I didn’t remember ever having seen it in a local nursery. I didn’t even know if it was annual or perennial.

 Not to worry, I thought, when the spring catalogs arrive I’ll probably be able to pick it out. Sure enough I did. It was the annual Lantana. And not surprisingly, it is related to both Verbena and Viburnum. The annual Lantana is actually a tender perennial. In an annual application it is very tough and hardy. It is said that it thrives on heat and neglect. 

 Perfect! That’s just what I needed for my own whiskey barrels and pots which are in full sun and which I seldom bother to water or fertilize. I have a long list of annuals that have failed in these tough spots including Portulaca, Calibrocha, Wave Petunias and Nasturtium, and I’m getting tired of replacing them halfway through the season. Since I’d never noticed it locally, I asked my friend Sandy if she carried Lantana in her nursery, and she said she would have some. I also found a second local source on my greenhouse prowls.

There are many color pallets to choose from. The ones I had to choose from were Red, Cherry, Pink, Yellow and White. It also comes in Rose, Peach, Orange and probably a few more. If you can’t find it locally, several mail order nurseries will ship it. Red was my choice although the Cherry was very close. I bought a white one for a hard to fill spot in our front landscape.

 Then I found them in hanging baskets at a local grocery which fit beautifully in one of my old chair pot stands.

A month or so after first planting my furthest afield whiskey barrel, I pulled out some tired and unhappy Nasturtium in the wash basin planter and put some small Lantana in there.

 They quickly filled out and as a bonus, when the seed heads mature, they are a lovely blue. Who knew?

Ripening Seed Pods


The season is almost over and I have a new standby for container plantings. Butterflies and Hummingbirds are attracted to it. It is true that the plant loves hot spots and is not insulted if you forget to water it although the overcrowded commercially potted hanging basket did require regular attention. I’ll plant just one plant in a pot there next year which should make it as low maintenance as the rest.

I like Lantana just as much as I thought I would.  It's here to stay.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Potato Harvest

The main potato harvest is in.  Last year I planted three sixteen foot rows which yielded 50.5 #.  This year I planted two sixteen foot rows, used potatoes from them after I ran out of stored potatoes the end of June, and I still harvested 40#s.  Not bad.

They have been hosed off, dried in the breeze, and sorted by size.  The damaged ones go in my hod so I will use them first.  I had very little wire worm damage this year, and I scraped up three of them while digging.

I still have the three eight foot rows planted late in the new bed.  When I was watering them today I accidentally uncovered some.  They look gorgeous.  Today as I was digging these jewels and tallying my harvest I actually felt bad for people who don't have a chance to grow their own potatoes.

It must be a pretty good year in general for them.  Friends of ours are getting a bumper crop as well.  They had so many they brought them to our neighborhood pot luck wine tasting yesterday.  They cut them into fries, fried them in a turkey fryer, and served them hot in large paper cups.  Just add your own malt vinegar and salt to taste.  I think that has to be the best usage I've ever seen for extra 'taters!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Of Course I Can

Towards the end of the summer I tend to feel like the housewife above.  Armloads of work can be overwhelming at times. Now and then I go back and read my blog "I'm Tired" to remind myself that this year is not as overwhelming as the year I decided to can tomatoes and make sauce all summer.   Thursday evening, as I drove home from a hectic day at the office, all I could think was "I don't want to freeze corn, and I don't want to make Jelly."  Of course corn won't freeze itself and jelly sure as heck won't make itself...  All I really wanted to do was go home, kick off my shoes, and collapse on the bed.  Instead, I was up until 9pm cleaning sticky plum goo and stray corn kernels up from the kitchen.

It has been several years now since we've bought a canned vegetable, store bought pickle, potato or onion.  Now and then I'll buy something fresh, particularly those pretend baby carrots, and Tim loves fresh cauliflower and my horse loves fresh celery in the winter.   Making sure a year's worth of corn and beans and peas and potatoes (and onions and garlic) are "put by" takes a lot of your leisure time.  And then there is my aversion to letting things go to waste.  Like the wild plums.

Once again there was a bounty of them to be picked.  The past two years there wasn't enough to bother with.  This year I noted that there are three distinct varieties in the bush.  The ones above are fairly large, oblong, and dark almost like Damson plums.

My favorite are midsized and very round, the color of Queen Anne sweet cherries.
A brief history on the plums.  I first spotted them while riding my horse along the cornfield in 2010.  A couple of weeks later, my mother and I went back to investigate them.  Mom picked about five pounds of them and declared that due to their varied sizes, they would be perfect for making jelly.  And then she put them in my car!    This led to my first attempt at jelly.  

We don't know where the plums came from.  I've wandered this farm for all of my 40+ years and I'd never seen them.  My mother has wandered the farm for her 60+ and she'd never seen them.  Our best guess is this:  up until about 40 years ago when this half acre lot was turned into a horse paddock, so that my grand mother could watch her horse out the kitchen window, this site had been the farm garden.  Sometime, mid century, either my grandmother, or her mother-in-law before her, or some earlier occupant that we don't know as long as 200 years ago, probably walked out the kitchen door and threw a bunch of plum pits and skins out in the edge of the field on the other side of the garden.  There they hid in the fence row, keeping a low profile, undiscovered and undisturbed and took hold.  Eventually became large enough to produce fruit.  Then one day along came a woman on a horse...

So, back to hard work and my aversion to letting things go to waste.  Last Thursday evening I made a lovely batch of wild plum jelly.  By the next evening I had given away half of them.  This convinced me that I needed to make another batch.  So Saturday morning I was back out in the plum bush picking plums.  It wasn't as easy the second time.  I had to push further into the branches, poking myself in the head and scratching my arms to reach the next layer of plums.  But all those beautiful plums... such abundance and beauty makes me greedy.  I want every last one.  I scoured the grass for the ones that dropped, and I pulled down the branches so I could reach every one of the beautiful "Queen Anne" plums.  When I got out I warned my mother than while there were still plenty to be had they were passing their prime and getting harder to reach.

Later that evening, I got an email from her outlining how she managed the latest victory in her battle to prevent fruit wastage...  it seems my step-father had a cow that was avoiding capture, so Mom headed into Amish country to get reinforcements "who understood cattle".   She returned with Mosey and Irvin and Irvin's two sons Levi and Reuben.  The cow was quickly cornered and penned up.  But Mom now had a willing crew, plucked out of their evening routine, and as usual, ready to get into anything Mom suggests.  Time to pick those plums.  Amish can work circles around most English folks, and they're not afraid of getting dirty, scratched up, and otherwise mauled.  They are expert pickers.   Mom sent them into the plum bush.  They came out with an estimated 40 pounds of plums.  That's about 8 batches of jelly.  Mom sent them home with their share for their wives to process, and the plums have not gone to waste.  Hurrah!

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some beans to blanch...

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Web Log Log Jam

I am so behind in blogging I don't even know where to begin.  It has been a busy gardening season.  Currently, it is pouring rain, Tim is wishing he'd taken the cover off the potatoes, and I'm so tired it didn't even cross my mind.  There is a batch of plums for Wild Plum Jelly simmering on the stove, and a batch of beans just cooling in the freezer.  I have photos still on the camera, blogs in half finished stages, and loads of garden thoughts crowding my mind.

Let's start with the potatoes:

The deer were munching on my second batch of potatoes so we used the greenhouse panels to cover them.  This means I have to water them every couple of days... .  But the benefit is, besides thwarting the deer, is that it gives them a few degrees advantage.  This has been a cool summer, so these late potatoes are loving their greenhouse.

And do you remember these very sprouty potatoes I planted this spring?  I was wondering if they were too far gone to do anything....  perhaps the shock of planting them at this late stage would shock them into rot...

Nope.  We're getting record sized potatoes.  I've been stealing from one row since the end of June, and I'm still about a week away from actually digging them and bringing them in to store.

So, pertinent blog catching up:  August is now over.  We had under 3" of rain.  About 2.75" I believe.  It was very cool, and the bugs were awful.  On the up side, powdery mildew has been late and minimal.  Tomatoes are a bit scarce, and I think the bulk of the harvest is over.  

Beans are doing awesome, and the black beans are finally "beaning".  They are thick, luxurious and healthy, but this rain is finally knocking them down.  It will be a race for them to mature and dry before the first frost.  Also, the fall lettuce, both iceberg and leaf is doing well.  The iceberg is huge (started indoors) but is not "berging".  Hmmmm....  It came straight out of an "Iceberg Lettuce" seed packet.  The "Head Lettuce" transplants I planted this spring were very curly and formed heads immediately.