Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Did Melania Trump Plagiarize?

The news media as well as social media are discussing whether Melania Trump plagiarized Michelle Obama in her speech last night at the Republican nominating convention. As a retired professor with more than 45 years of full-time classroom experience at the university level, I know something about plagiarism. Every university I taught at had a plagiarism policy, as well as a series of procedures for determining whether something that seemed like it actually was plagiarism. Plagiarism means claiming someone else's ideas are your own without giving proper credit. Usually two types are distinguished: plagiarism by paraphrase, and plagiarism by word-for-word copying. The former is more difficult to determine; the latter is relatively easy because the words correspond, either exactly or almost so. In the instance of Melania Trump, the passages from her speech both paraphrase Michelle Obama's and also copy several phrases word for word. If Melania Trump had submitted her speech as a paper or exam at one of my universities, she would have been brought before the plagiarism board or committee, and there is very little doubt in my mind that she would have been found guilty. The punishment for plagiarism varied at the universities where I taught, depending on whether it was a first offender, the source plagiarized--as for instance copying an answer on an in-class exam, or buying a term paper on the Internet and submitting as one's own--and the amount of plagiarism in the text. The minimum penalty for someone guilty of plagiarism was not a slap on the wrist and admonishment never to do it again, but rather failure in the course; and in a severe case or with a repeat offender, suspension or expulsion was the normal penalty.
     The day after the speech, the New York Times ran an investigative report that concluded Melania Trump had drastically altered the speech her speech-writer had prepared for her, and that it was she herself who plagiarized. She had admitted as much to the Times reporter. A few days later, one of the speech-writers claimed that she had done it instead, and this revision seems to have been accepted. In a sense, it does not matter who was responsible; the issue is that the speech was plagiarized. It is bad enough that our public officials have speech-writers; there is a sense in which I admire Melania Trump if she decided to write her own speech instead. Perhaps in Slovenia her schoolteachers did not impress upon her the importance of not plagiarizing the way they do in the US. I can understand how someone new to the game would have looked at what previous nominees' wives said at these Conventions, just as a guide. My guess is that she did write it, because a speech-writer ought to know better--and if she had one, the speech-writer probably did know better and would not have plagiarized. 
    What is most interesting about this incident, of course, is that the wife of a Republican nominee who's been highly critical of President Obama, uttered words and phrases Obama's wife spoke. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Late spring report 2016

   After a stretch of cool, damp weather it has turned pleasant and dry and sunny. Oddly, although the light red kidney, black coco, and kenearly dry beans that I planted on June 3 emerged in good stands, the provider snap beans emerged poorly and I had to replant yesterday. The levi robinson snaps also required replanting. I say oddly because provider is noted for good early, cool soil emergence. The seeds were grown in 2014, though, so perhaps they don't keep well. The dry bean seeds all were grown last year, as were the levi robinson.
    Levi robinson is a rare variety, grown (as far as I can tell) only in Maine. I got my seeds from the Waldoboro school seed project many years ago, and have been saving them ever since. Their chief good attribute is their excellent flavor. They are strong growers, as a rule, also. They have a smaller second (post-picking) crop than other beans, and they are not as prolific as some; also, they are only average-tasting after freezing. Good sized, stringless, and delicious when fresh. There is a variety called levi that is commonly available as a shell and dry bean, but it is different from this one. Back in the pre-internet days when I belonged to the Seed Savers Exchange, I offered levi robinson but the Exchange mistakenly listed my offering as levi. That was one among a few reasons why I dropped my membership.
   The mild weather has been kind to the broccoli, which requires a cool June if it is going to head up well. A hot spell will result in premature, small heads and a short life.
   The white-throated sparrow, which had been a permanent resident in this part of the island, seems to have been displaced, in the past three years or so, by the song sparrow. These latter behave much as the white-throats, even to the point of nesting in the tall grass by the porch at the rear of the house. Although phoebes had nested here, in the eave of the porch two years ago, and inside the barn last year, they are not nesting here this year. Fewer hermit thrushes are singing at dusk, perhaps because the weather has been so cool in the evenings--almost no nights above fifty degrees F. More bluejays than in past years, slightly fewer crows, and about the same number of warblers. The raucous cry of the pileated woodpecker can be heard from time to time, but I hear fewer downy and hairy woodpeckers knocking on the black locust trees than in past years. Robins, chickadees, nuthatches and goldfinches, the major songbird species here, are ubiquitous as usual.
    I've been doing some outdoor chores in the afternoons in the mild weather. I reserve the mornings for writing, but the afternoons are variable and recently I've been repairing things that I had installed or built or repiared in earlier years. One thinks on making a repair that it will last, and it is unnerving to find out that occasionally it needs to be re-done years later.
Golden Russet apple tree in bloom, May 30, 2016
    This was a good blossom year for the apple trees, and it appears as if the bees were busy pollinating. Depending on what happens during the rest of the season, this could once again be a good year for apples. It's unusual to have two good years in a row. Last year there were more apples on the trees even than in 1995 which was the previous record year, and when we pressed more than a 55-gallon oak barrel could hold.

Monday, June 6, 2016

LePage versus the Natural Resources Council of Maine

     Paul LePage, Republican governor of the state of Maine, bragged on the campaign trail that he would bring business solutions to the state's problems. He had been the chief executive of Marden's, a salvage outlet store known for the deals on cheap merchandise it offered its customers. Maine, of course, is known for its merchandise outlet stores. The competition is cutthroat. No doubt LePage viewed governing the state in the same way he governed his business. Certainly, his tactics show what happens when the people elect a businessman to high public office. A little more than a year ago he came under fire for threatening the Board of Trustees of the Goodwill-Hinckley School that he would withhold special state funding for the school if they chose Mark Eves as their next head, as they had announced they would do. LePage's motive? Eves was the Speaker of the House in the Maine State Legislature, a Democrat. Goodwill-Hinckley caved, and Eves sued the Governor--and lost. LePage claimed Executive Privilege and the courts bought it.

   LePage's latest tactic against his opponents was to send a letter to the top 200 donors to the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), an environmental group. LePage had previously gotten up a "Wanted" poster (right) depicting a NRCM staffer above the words "Job Killers." LePage's letter attacked the NRCM and intended to intimidate the donors, but of course it had the opposite effect. The NRCM publicized LePage's gaffe, noted that the letter was financed illegally by taxpayers' money, and last week announced that because the flap over the letter was resulting in more donations, not fewer, the NRCM was going to copy LePage's letter and send it out to all 20,000 of its donors.

     Thankfully, the Governor will be termed out in a couple of years, but for now the state of Maine is stuck with LePage, who has shown its citizens what it's like to be governed by a businessman, not a public servant.

Sunday, May 22, 2016


A near miss--toppled white spruces, one day after
    It’s been more than a year since I’ve updated this blog. In early November of 2014 I heard the sound of climate change, embodied in a horrific snow and windstorm that came while the ground was soft and wet. Trees all over the island split in half or toppled from the snow. The sounds of the snapping and falling trees were ominous. Many spruce trees fell, and some apple trees did as well, including the oldest tree on the property, one that according to a pomologist was about 150 years old. 
Toppled Milding apple tree after some limbing
One that was not much younger than that (an old variety called Milding) also toppled over, but after I limbed it back severely while it was on the ground, with a neighbor and his backhoe we managed to right it and prop it back up, and last fall it bore fruit. Another apple tree, not so big or old, a Stayman Winesap that I had planted 30 or so years ago, also fell over, but this one was not so hard to push back and prop. 
Stayman Winesap on the ground after the storm
   The electric power was out for seven days, and I lost a lot of vegetables that I had frozen from the garden, for winter use. The following year, the spring, summer, and fall of 2015, was very busy for me with a great deal of travel. Before retirement, while teaching during the academic year, I could not get away nearly so often. In 2015 I counted eleven trips, some for public lectures, conference keynotes, and other presentations of my still-developing ideas concerning sound and ecology. Some of these ideas have been published (see my other blog, Sustainable Music, for links, as well as my academia.edu page, for some of the essays). But because I was so busy, I neglected a number of things. Not the vegetable garden; but this blog. 2015 also was an outstanding year for apples—the trees were heavy-laden—but I did not have time to pick and press them and make cider wine. 
     I had another excuse as well; early in the summer I wrenched my back trying to lift a window in a motel room that had been nailed shut, and instead of resting it I continued to do the physical work required around this place until I had to see a doctor, who told me in mid-August to stop everything that involved twisting or lifting  anything heavier than a bag full of garbage. After consulting the doctor, and doctor Google as well, I opted for a course of physical therapy rather than back surgery. I have been doing these exercises twice daily ever since, and although my back still hurts from exertion, I am resilient and able to recover quickly and thus able to do what needs to be done around this country house, whether wrestling with the two-wheeled tractor, wielding the chainsaw, and so forth. 
     Besides, in the spring semester of 2016 (January through early May) I emerged from retirement to go back to teaching, holding the Basler Chair at ETSU, giving a series of public lectures, hosting a symposium on music, sound, and environment, and doing a number of other things in Johnson City, Tennessee and environs. One unexpected pleasure was meeting some outstanding musicians, Roy Andrade and Corbin Hayslett, who played guitar duets and trios with me, on the fiddle tunes I’ve been adapting to slack-key guitar. With the end of the semester in early May, I was able to return to New England and experience a second spring. 
Row of onion sets after one week
     Here now for about ten days, I’ve been in the usual opening up mode, moving things in and around, cleaning inside and out, repairing winter damage, making the garden ready, working in the orchard, that sort of thing—nothing out of the ordinary. Because I was in Tennessee for so long, I could not go in time to Fedco to buy the usual onion sets and seed potatoes, so I had to settle for a different variety of potatoes (Red Norland instead of Red Gold), from a local vendor, and a different brand of stuttgarter onion sets.  I’ve grown Red Norland before; they are good early red potatoes but they don’t have the exquisite taste as Red Gold, nor do they size up as well for fall harvest. Local knowledge suggests planting the tubers when the dandelions are out in full force; I was able to follow that advice but I couldn’t plant the onions as early as I like (early May). Onions are day-sensitive; they grow best when the days are longest. Cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi, and various greens are in now, some transplants, some seeds. Brussels sprouts should be transplanted out later, so say the garden books; but very local knowledge (my own records) indicates that they do best when transplanted out at the same time as cabbages and broccoli, so they are in the garden now. It has been fairly dry, but also rather cool. The moon will be full in a few days, and (again) local knowledge suggests that it is all right to transplant tomatoes and put in bean seeds after the last full moon in May. The soil is still a little too cool for bean seeds, though not wet (their worst enemy); tomatoes are set back by nights that are below about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, so I will be monitoring the temperature and checking my weather apps (which seldom agree exactly on high and low temperatures).
   Apple trees are blooming surprisingly well after such a good prior year; usually they are biennial, and besides, this past winter was mild, which usually means fewer blossoms. But the trees apparently did not listen, and have bloomed as if expecting another season of harsh weather. The Prima is in full bloom now, others earlier or (like the exquisite-tasting Golden Russet) later. 
Prima in early bloom

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Coffee notes

    Coffee is one of my can't do-withouts. It wasn't until college that I became a coffee drinker, but I haven't looked back. Forty years ago, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, The Coffee Connection, a combination coffeehouse, roasting and retailing operation, opened, and I became a coffee connoisseur, sort of. Buying gourmet coffee by the pound, carefully grinding the whole beans and putting just the right amount into the drip pot--in those days, Chemex pots were favored. I understand they're making a comeback today, but I went over to Melitta drippers long ago. At first I liked the stronger-flavored, darker roasts; but as I've grown older the delicacy of the lighter ones appeals more. The Coffee Connection is long gone from Cambridge, and so am I; but gourmet coffee beans have been one of my very few luxuries over the years. And so it was delightful to learn, a few years ago, that a coffee roaster had set up shop here on the island. I've been a patron ever since.
    Coffee is in the news periodically because of fluctuations in wholesale prices and coffee futures, and because of the fair/unfair trade aspects of the operation with its residues of colonialism in third-world corporate capitalism. Recently, a disease (coffee rust) has reduced production drastically in South America, particularly Brazil (which produces more coffee than any other nation). Prices are rising, and a story in a not-so-nearby city paper featured an interview with some of the purveyors in the state, including the one on this island. After noting that Dunkin Donuts, the chain that pours the most non-gourment coffee in the northeast, was upping its prices by ten percent, the reporter asked a couple of the best-known roaster/retailer/pourer shops in Portland what they were going to do, and each said they would raise prices. But the one on the island is going to hold the line, the owner said--which is good, because the prices there already are higher than in Portland (just like gasoline and most everything else on the island).     

   The island roaster sells coffee for $14 per pound. These are first-rate beans, especially the ones from Middle and South America. $14 per pound is near the high end compared to other gourmet roasters in New England, but the retail prices have stayed pretty much the same over the past decade or so, while the cost wholesale to the roaster fluctuates. I supposed they thought by keeping the price constant they would make up in good times for the smaller profit margins in bad, but I had no idea how much the wholesale prices were. The newspaper article mentioned that the gourmet beans cost the roasters on average $3.50 per pound, green, before roasting. Of course, they add value, but it struck me that by charging four times as much for the finished product as they paid for the raw material, this would be a good business to be in. And that is just for beans; the per-cup price of poured gourmet coffee is about one-fifth of the retail cost of a pound of beans, whereas that pound of beans will make many more than five cups of coffee--more like forty than five. I'm not going to feel sorry for the roasters and retailers, but I do wonder about the unkind practices that must have resulted in the spread of the coffee rust.
    Brazil, I wrote, produces more coffee than any other nation; but when I was there, I found it was not so popular a drink as it is in the US and Europe. In fact, it was sometimes difficult to find coffee, and when I did I had to specify that I wanted it in what to North Americans is a normal-sized cup. The usual size there holds only about four ounces, but the coffee they pour is quite ordinary, and the effect is like having Dunkin Donuts coffee in a tiny cup. There were no coffee chains like Starbucks; and relatively few cafés in João Pessoa, where I went for a week about a year ago, staying to give a keynote at a conference of Brazilian ethnomusicologists. Nor was the coffee particularly tasty. In that regard, it reminded me of the state of Maine, whose raw products (fish, pulpwood, blueberries, potatoes) are mostly exported rather than consumed at home.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Apple buds at green tip stage

Prima apple buds at green tip stage, late April, 2014
The blog entry title is meant to invoke the slow growing season, not the slow food movement. Pictured above are Prima apple buds from my orchard here on this island, at the green tip stage, in late April. The season then was about 2-3 weeks behind where it's been for the past few years, though over the course of the last 30 years I'd say it was only a little later than normal. If you look closely at the tops of the reddish bud cases you'll see the green tips emerging. By now they have leafed out, and it's too early to judge whether this will be a good blossom year. The Prima seems to be my most photogenic tree, for some reason.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Birds are back but the season is slow

     After returning from a short trip to southern New England last week, I noticed that more summer bird species had taken advantage of my absence to move in. In the past five days I've now heard the hermit thrush, the bluejay, the black-throated green warbler, and the oven bird. The goldfinches are much more numerous now. Even the phoebe has made a few cameos. But no white-throated sparrows yet. Warblers are here but other than the black-throated green I haven't identified any yet. It's been raining almost continuously for four days, keeping me inside most of the time. Tomorrow it will stop, but then it's supposed to rain again for another three days. This has been good for indoor work but not so good for outdoor. This afternoon between periods of drizzle I managed to get out and finish planting broccoli, brussels sprouts, and a few lettuce transplants. It's too wet to plant seeds. The snow peas are a few inches tall and soon I'll need to drop a woven threaded mesh where they can climb, for this year I'm experimenting with a snow pea variety that grows to five feet, instead of the usual dwarf sugar snaps or podded peas. The onions that haven't washed out are starting to grow their tops, but the potatoes have yet to show themselves. It's way too cold and damp to plant beans, tomatoes, peppers or cucumbers. About ten days ago I managed to get a Garden Royal heirloom variety apple tree into the ground, and today I fenced it against the deer, cutting some saplings and pounding them into the ground, then stretching fence to encircle the whip, which is taller than the usual ones that come from Fedco, about five feet and already beginning to leaf out. The trees in the orchard and other parts of the property have been in leaf for a week now, though with all the rain there should be some issues with scab later on in the season. It's hard to tell at this point what kind of blossom year it'll be.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Slow birds

     In this cold, wet and backward spring, the birds have been slow to migrate to the island. Today I heard ospreys whistling aloft, then looked up to confirm it. Four were circling, lower than usual. A couple of days ago on my afternoon walk I heard a downy woodpecker knocking a tree. Usually they are a week earlier. No white-throated sparrows yet, though the song sparrows are around. The phoebe that visited earlier has seldom been back, so I don't suppose a nesting pair will be here as they were last summer. Robins abound, singing more often just after a rain, or as it comes to an end in drizzle. Haven't yet seen or heard bluejays. Goldfinches are scarce and should not be. The hermit thrushes I thought I heard a while ago have not sounded since. Soon, I hope. I did hear a Nashville warbler three days ago, out by the camp. They are rare visitors here. I didn't recognize the song and had to consult Donald Borror's recordings to identify it. As usual, the chickadees are most numerous. I've always hoped to see a boreal, but it's the black-capped that is here, there, and everywhere. They are the first here to sing a spring song, their fee'e-bee, sometimes a little earlier than the calendar arrival of spring.
     Twelve days ago I planted peas, and they're just beginning to push up out of the soil. Today onion sets and potatoes went in--the usual Stuttgarter sets (seeds take too long) and two varieties of potatoes--red gold for the early, and satina for the late keepers. All later than usual on account of the wet soil. The deer having decimated the rhododendron in front of the house, I read in a pamphlet on "gardening in deer country" that Japanese flowering quince are not to their liking, so planted two small ones near the rhody and will have to cut the rhody back severely. We'll see if the deer leave it alone. They are bold enough to come right up to the edge of the house. In a couple of days I'll plant some more vegetables and hope also to get an apple whip into the ground in the orchard where another had a rough go--same variety, Garden Royal. The town truck came up the dirt road today and spread some dirt into the places where it had washed out last fall and earlier this spring. Unaccountably, more often than not they time this road work just before a rain and this was no exception as the forecast is for a storm tomorrow. But the forecasts aren't always accurate and one can hope for a light rain or none.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

More birds, and skunk cabbages

   The weather finally started turning last weekend and more birds began arriving. In the past four days I've heard song sparrows and, faintly, hermit thrushes. I thought I saw a myrtle warbler. But the forest is too silent still. I still haven't gotten out on the gardens because they are too wet and cold. Next week, I hope. The new batteries I bought for my small solar energy system are working well. The ground is warming, the water in the vernal pools going down, and the skunk cabbages are showing themselves nicely now, the spadix observable in the most advanced. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

First phoebe

     This morning the first phoebe of the season paid a visit. As usual, he sat on a black locust tree branch and sang for a while, then moved about to other branches on other black locust trees, and then after about a half hour of circling from one tree to another, flew off. Every season phoebes visit, but seldom do they set up a nest nearby. Last summer, though, they nested in the eaves of the porch roof. They built two nests over the course of the summer for two successive broods. One day in August I heard the male phoebe crying his heart out, possibly because his mate had been killed. Shortly afterwards, they all were out of the nest. I'll be watching to see if they nest here this summer.
     Because of the cold, late spring, the season may be a little backward, as they say around here. Apple blossoms, and the arrival of the warblers, had been a week or two earlier than usual in recent years; but this one may be back to the old schedule. I don't have a record to tell me when phoebes have arrived in past years. Around this time of year crows are abundant and loud, as if having conferences in the woods, and flying about in the mornings, sometimes dropping down to walk about and feed on the ground. The purple finches are showing themselves and beginning to sing, their song somewhat like the robin. The ground is thawing, and the vernal pools are iced on the bottom, soon to melt and in June or July to dry up. The ice storm that hit this part of Maine just before last Christmas was less kind to the mainland; some trees, particularly birches, are bent while others are broken. A good deal of ice formed here as well, on the tree branches and wires; but probably the slightly warmer temperatures helped melt it sooner. A couple of days ago the ground finally showed some green shoots poking up through the matted thatch. Only in the shadiest forest places is there still ice on the ground now. In another week it and all the ice on the bottoms of the vernal pools will be gone. "Ice out" day on the rivers and streams used to be an important time marker in these parts, but not many notice it any more.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Coldest March on Record

    Tonight the radio brought the news that this was the coldest March on record. The weather station at Caribou recorded an average temperature of 15 degrees Fahrenheit for the entire month. And as if to put on an exclamation point, the wintry mix of rain, sleet, ice and snow that's fallen all day has turned to snow in the night. The roads, also, are feeling the harshness. I've never seen the frost heaves so high. Cars must go twenty miles per hour or slower in the bad spots. And if you don't pay attention, or don't know where the bad spots are, you risk bottoming out and a bill for new shocks and struts. I've read diary entries from 100 years ago complaining about the roads at this time of year. Imagine bouncing along in a wagon. Not for nothing were they named jolt-wagons. But April will bring some warming along with its usual showers. With any luck I may be able to get my peas in.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The intensifying storms of winter

Climate change, they say, is making weather events more intense. Winters are now colder, summers warmer, snowfalls bigger, rainstorms more violent. More tornados, more hurricanes--although last fall the US saw very few hurricanes. One of the dramatic winter events going on at the moment is snowfall in the southern US, which is unprepared for it: no equipment to get the snow and ice off the highways. It came on suddenly, and many were trapped at work, at school, wherever they were; and if they tried to drive home, they became trapped on the highways in a gridlocked traffic jam. Here on the island snow is a regular occurrence, although ice is not so common. When we get an ice storm, the risk of a power outage is greater. In January of 1998 we experienced a severe ice storm; electricity was out here for three days, elsewhere anytime from one day to two weeks. Late in December of 2013 we had two ice storms only a few days apart, and once again the electric power failed, this time twice, for a total of three days. Temperatures fell to near zero fahrenheit (minus 16 celsius). It was bearable, as long as the woodstove could be kept burning--and it could. (The newer pellet stoves, which we don't have here, require electricity to operate, so they'd not be any help.) A week without electricity and the more remote sections of the house would risk frozen water pipes, which would then burst when thawing. But the outages didn't continue that long. Water usage was the main problem; with an electric pump, the only fresh water available is what you've stored when preparing for the storm. I've written here before about the irony that 50 and 100 years ago people were less dependent on electric power and therefore they could handle these extremes better than most today. With my snowshoes, the ones with the metal grippers on the bottom, I could walk around with my camera outside in the cold and wind. In the right frame of mind, it was very beautiful. Enjoy the pic and don't think about the power outages!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A pileated woodpecker

Pileated woodpecker holes in spruce trunk
Out walking at noon, I was down looking at the skunk cabbages, which, at this time of year, are of the variety that sends up stalks that will stay thru the winter. I heard a knocking behind me, and looked into the spruce trees. Soon I saw chips of wood falling to the ground, so I traced the source high up around 50 feet or so and saw what was making the sound: a pileated woodpecker, making holes and looking for bugs and such to eat. The large woodpecker didn't notice me, so I crept around to get a better look and then observed it for about two or three minutes before heading on. The chips kept falling to the forest floor as the woodpecker worked away at the hole. Possibly it's the same bird that pecked the large holes in a dead tree (see pic) not far from that one, a bird that I saw there two years ago at about this time of the year.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Fall Vegetable and Apple Harvest Report

    One of the better garden years in this island spot is ending, with only some greens, cabbages, and brussels sprouts left to harvest. Rains at just the right time, and in just the right amount, combined with the sturdy new tall fence to keep out the deer, resulted in better yields of most vegetables. It was, also, a good year for apples.
The bean field, 2013. Close rows fill intervening spaces.
Among the successes were the General Lee cucumbers, and the Yellow Crookneck summer squash, a newer and an older variety. These cukes are never bitter, and sized up to the standard American slicing shape. A longer harvest season—more than six weeks—would have been welcome for these. The bush snap beans did well; Black Valentine are surely the tastiest green beans and freeze well, although the second harvest is not nearly as plentiful as the first. I have yet to find an outstanding wax bean. This year I planted Golden Rocky, which are vigorous with heavy yields; but unless picked young, the texture turns rubbery in cooking, and they don’t freeze well. The dry beans also did well; the best were the Light Red Kidney variety. Others included Black Coco, Jacobs Cattle Gasless, and Kenearly Yellow Eye, along with Tongue of Fire for shell beans (and dryu) and Black Jet Soybeans. The Black Jet are a dry soybean and something of an experiment. All the dry beans are hanging in bunches in the barn loft, waiting for more complete drying. This year, because I could dry them inside the garden fence, I strung twine between posts and dried the plants off there after picking them; I think this will speed the drying overall, never easy in this coastal climate.
    Tomatoes were better or worse depending on earliness and susceptibility to early and late blight. Tomato hornworms also were a problem. Celebrity, usually a reliable variety, was hit by hornworms and blight; Sungold came in early enough to escape both. Juliet was too small, and Mountain Magic has lasted till now, immune to late blight—although small in size, very tasty and worth replanting. I wasn’t able to get paste tomatoes to grow from seed this year, so they were absent in the garden. The Ace peppers did better than they usually do.

Broccoli was fair, troubled as usual by mid-summer heat; red cabbage has done very well. In the photo to the left, the green growth between the rows is tilled in to add organic matter to the soil. Beets, spinach, radish, arugula, and lettuce all did well as expected. Onions were smaller than I thought they would be, given the rains. Of the potatoes, the Dark Red Norland’s tops died in August but the potatoes had already sized up; yield was smaller than expected. On the other hand, Satina did very well, the plants lasting well into September, and the yield larger than in previous years. It’s hard to beat Satina for taste. I had to pick off the potato beetles almost daily during some parts of the summer.
    This year’s apple crop was good. The old tree in the orchard that at various times I’ve thought was a variety called Duchess, and at other times Shiawassee, is—I am now convinced—Fameuse; and it did well, supplying many apples for cider wine. The Liberty tree is not as vigorous or bearing as well as it did ten years ago; it has suffered some damage to the trunk over the years. The Winesap, as usual, bore well but the apples were very mild (aka tasteless). An old tree which for years I thought was Gravenstein has turned out on further consideration to be a variety much planted in these parts called Milding; it is indeed mild but not too mild and in fact is quite delicious, particularly to those whose taste buds, like Marta’s, don’t like tartness in an apple. The Prima yielded very few apples, but the Sheepnose did well. The Baldwins in the orchard also did well, and in a week or two they will be ripe for picking. I had grafted Fameuse onto two other trees in various parts of the property and they, also, did well this year. The Greening behind the house, like the Prima, was on its off-year during the biennial cycle. Next year I expect they will both be full. Fred, along with Nathan and Clara and their family, came over and helped Marta and me pick and press the apples over Columbus Day weekend, and afterwards we played old-time string band music as we do whenever we get a chance and not as often as we’d like, these days. Cider is in one carboy now, fermenting, and this afternoon I added sugar to bring up the alcohol content which will help to preserve it in the bottle, as well as sweeten it a little to the taste.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Garden Update, early summer 2013

   A garden update is long overdue here. The first thing to note is that last fall I erected an 9-foot fence to keep out the deer. They had gotten increasingly bold over the past few years, to the point that despite my efforts to discourage them (noise, repellent, hair bags, and the 5-foot fence) they were jumping in and eating the vegetables, usually starting in early August. Their boldness was not limited to the garden, as they could be seen any morning or evening grazing in the fields, and when the house was not occupied for a few days they would graze on the bushes surrounding it, particularly the rhododendron. Last summer they chomped on the flowers in the window boxes right next to the house. 
   Why were they getting bolder? Some of my neighbors have been feeding them, and despite my efforts (and the efforts of some of the other neighbors) to convince them to stop, they have continued. Although feeding deer is illegal, it is not something that the game wardens feel is a serious enough offense to make much of an effort to stop; besides, the offending parties must be caught in the act (photographed, for instance) in order to provide sufficient evidence to fine them. I'm not going to stalk my neighbors with a camera. But deer are no longer afraid of people around here, and they have gone on a rampage in everyone's garden.
   Deer will not get into the vegetable garden now. After obtaining potato seed and onion sets from Fedco at the end of April, and cutting the potato seed and letting them harden back up a few days, on May 3 I planted them out: 2 rows of stuttgarter yellow onions, one row of Dark Red Norland potatoes, and one row of Satina potatoes. Each row is about 25 feet long. On May 6 I planted out one row with three varieties of beets: Detroit Dark Red, Early Talltop Wonder, and Red Ace, along with one row of Tyee spinach finished by Easter Egg Radish, and one row of lettuce (Red Sails, Anuenue, and Black Seeded Simpson). I transplanted out a row of broccoli and another one of cabbage on May 12. On June 5 I planted out several rows of beans: two rows of light red kidney beans, one row of Kenearly beans, and half rows each of Jacob's Cattle Gasless (an heirloom variety obtained from a seed saver a dozen or more years ago, who bred it for alleged gaslessness), Black Coco, Tongue of Fire shell beans, Black Jet soybeans, Black Valentine snap beans, and Golden Rocky wax beans. On June 6 I added a half-dozen brussels sprouts plants, and a dozen Ace peppers and a couple of dozen tomato plants (Celebrity, Sungold, Mountain Magic, and Juliet), as well as summer squash (Gentry and Saffron) and cucumbers (General Lee and Ministiro). I didn't plant paste tomatoes this year, as I thought to use Sungold for that, skins and all, as an experiment. The beans and squash survived the cool weather and heavy rains the following week, but the cucumbers washed out, so I replanted them on June 20, along with an additional half row of Black Valentine and Golden Rocky, and a quarter row of New Red Fire lettuce.
   Thus far the weather has been variably cool and hot, dry and rainy and foggy, but the moisture has come at the right times (if anything, too much of it) and as a result all the crops are doing fairly well, even though they are all a little slower than usual, except for the onions and greens. The broccoli heads will be ready any day now. Spinach was harvested and frozen last week, and a final harvest will occur in a few days. All the rest are coming along, with the first tomato and pepper blossoms showing now. Colorado potato beetles have been attacking the potatoes, but I pick them off once or twice a day and when I leave for a few days, I dust with an organic chemical that is supposed to kill them but doesn't seem to do the job. For some reason, the Norlands are more affected by the beetles than the Satina. 
     Last evening I heard an author on the NPR radio program, Fresh Air, who claimed that experiments have revealed that certain vegetables contain more phytochemicals than others, ones that are important for good health; and that except for root crops, they quickly lose these during the days after picking, so they should be eaten soon after harvest--preferably, right out of the garden. The leaf lettuce contains more of these good chemicals than head lettuce. Of course, we knew that vegetables were healthier the fresher they were, but the author's new book, Eating on the Wild Side, indicates that certain fresh vegetables are much better than others. The radio program may be heard at http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/07/10/195592468/Eating-On-The-Wild-Side-A-Field-Guide-To-Nutritious-Food

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Springing to life

Ferns emerging from the ground, May 2, 2013.
What a season! The skunk cabbages are leafing out, and the ferns are just beginning to emerge from the ground. Soon they will unfurl their fronds. The robins and bluejays were the first birds to arrive anew, joining the ubiquitous year-round chickadees and nuthatches. Soon followed the phoebes, and then the white-throated and song sparrows along with the hermit thrushes. Downy and hairy woodpeckers began making their hollow-sounding knocks on the dead trees, and I could hear the pileated ones in the distance. They have made great holes in the dead spruce trees, looking for bugs to eat.
Pileated woodpecker holes
The yellow-rump and magnolia warblers were next, and then the parula. Today I saw the purple finches for the first time. It's been warm and dry.  

To thwart the deer and keep them out of the garden this year, I extended my fence to more than eight feet high. Because some of my neighbors have been feeding the deer, they have become bold and relatively tame; and for the last few years around early August they have made it into the gardens--not only mine, but other neighbors who grow vegetables, some as extensively as I, eating up everything we can't protect. I clap my hands and the deer just stare at me as if I may have a morsel for them. I move toward them and they hold their ground. I shout, clap, and move, and they saunter toward the woods, turning at the edge to look at me again. Always it is the does and their children, very nice to look at even though they harbor the deer ticks with lyme disease and eat up most of the shrubs surrounding the houses, not to mention the vegetable gardens. Did I mention them? But not this year, not right here, I am hoping.

The neighbors are not near--I cannot see them--but within a mile there are about a dozen houses. Most of us have gardens and shrubs and although many of us have talked to the two families who feed deer, these families persist. Needless to say, it is against the law to feed them--it is unnecessary here, and it encourages their foraging, not to mention lyme disease. Did I mention lyme disease? Well, we shall see what happens in August. Right now the deer are very bold at dusk and dawn, grazing on the new-growing grass and so forth. We shall see what happens to the gardens come August. Meanwhile I am having to re-landscape around the buildings with rosa rugosa bushes (the deer leave these alone, possibly because of the thorns). 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Skunk Cabbages Melting the Snow

Skunk cabbages bring up the warmth from underground. Parts of them are as much as ten to fifteen degrees fahrenheit warmer than the surface earth. As a result, in early spring where they poke up from the ground they melt the snow, like this:

Skunk Cabbages Melting the Snow.
Photo by Jeff Todd Titon, 2013.  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Bottled Up

Bottling cider wine
Today I bottled up half of last fall's harvest of cider wine. It had been in the 5 gallon oak barrel since early August, when I noticed that it had stopped fermenting in the carboy. Bottling is relatively simple. I wash out a couple of dozen used wine bottles and let them dry, and then about a half hour before bottling I submerge a couple of dozen #9 corks in a cooking pot, bring the pot to a boil and then let it cool to lukewarm by bringing it out the porch. I then bring the barrel up from the cellar and set it on the edge of the porch, take out the bung cap and insert a piece of plastic hose that serves as a siphon into the bottles which I place in containers on the ground below. After the barrel empties into the bottles--it's important to stop filling each bottle at about the place where the neck just begins to widen, so there's enough air for the cork to displace when it's inserted--I bring the bottles up to the porch. I have a hand-operated corking device that compresses each cork and inserts it into a bottle placed on a platform for the purpose. Cork about a couple of dozen and it's all over for now. I did taste it--last year's batch was flavorful and more alcoholic than usual, which means that among other things it will keep longer in the bottle. 

Bottled up
Bottles are back down in the cellar now, awaiting hand-made labels, while I took the fermented cider out of the second carboy and re-filled the oak barrel, again using the plastic tube siphon, capped the barrel, set it on its crade in the cellar, and will wait a couple more months for it to age in the oak and then bottle another couple of dozen, getting altogether about four cases. The bottled wine can be drunk now, but it's tastier if you wait about six months to start in on it. I can't wait to share it with those who helped pick and press the apples in the fall of 2011. Luckily there are two cases instead of one, because this year there were so few apples on my trees at harvest time that there was no point in trying to make wine.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Apple Report--2012

This was an unusual year for apples, and the result was no fall harvest or cider-making. In September the trees did have some apples on them, but not as much as usual. Somehow by early October most of them were off the trees, which looked about as they normally do a month or so later, the leaves drying up and falling. There had not been a frost or freeze, and yet the year was a month ahead of itself in tree behavior. Besides, ravenous whitetail deer and a few porcupines took care of the remaining fruit and by Columbus Day, the usual time for harvest, the trees were almost bare.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Skunk Cabbages Reborn 2

New skunk cabbages grow from the old, Sept. 13, 2012
On October 11, 2011 I posted an entry showing the re-birth of some of the skunk cabbages, a puzzling affair in which new growth appeared out of the old, not in the spring as one would think it would, but in the fall after the old growth had died. Today I observed the same thing, a few weeks earlier than I had done last year. Above is a photo of the new growth, which is green. The decaying old growth is purplish brown, and the blackish spadix can be seen near the center of the photo, decaying as well, the white center open to the air.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A late August update

August is drawing to a close, and once again garden stock-taking is at hand. As last year, this year the deer made an incursion into the garden by the old store, even though this year beans, which most attract them, were not growing there. The tomatoes attracted a doe to jump over the 7-foot fence and browse, around the 10th of August. Soon after discovering the damage, I covered the tomatoes and cucumbers with agribon, and after that the deer left the garden alone. They will not push the agribon aside to get at the growth underneath. This would have caused a problem with mildew had the weather been damp and rainy, but for most of the past few weeks it has been dry, very dry, to the point that once again I have to be careful with the water in the well. The tomatoes, planted late, have been harvested for a couple of weeks now, chiefly the Jetstar variety. The late blight on the tomatoes has been exacerbated by the dampness under the agribon, for although it has rained little, this remains a humid environment especially at night--the humidity is around 85% even when the days are dry. Later this week I intend to harvest and process the first batch of paste tomatoes--all Roma this year. The summer squash have been in for a few weeks now, and are still going strong; the deer left them alone. Lettuce and other greens have gone by, cabbage has headed up and I've started lettuce for a fall harvest and for wintering over once again, under the agribon, where it sits under the snow cover and then revives and grows in early spring for an early harvest in April and May. The cucumbers, also under the agribon, are suffering some from the mildew and, of course, the lack of rain. The apple crop is below average but if the usual September rains come, enough will size up for eating, if not cider wine. Half of last fall's cider wine is aging in an oak barrel now, while the other half will go in when that comes out to be bottled, in early October. Because of a full fall schedule this year, and the small apple crop, I doubt that I'll do a pressing; but if my friends in Brooklin want to harvest the apples here for their cider-wine making enterprise, as they've done in the past, they'll be welcome to do it in mid-October. 

Skunk cabbage spadix in decay, August 2012
The birds have begun their fall migrations, and during the next six weeks or so most of those species who visit here in the spring and summer will be off for warmer lands. The skunk cabbage leaves have at last decayed, leaving the stalks and exposing the spadices. This is a time of browning in the fields, as the grass falls over, and is a bed for the deer who forage for apples that have dropped to the ground. As usual, I have seen only does and fawns, never bucks. And yet the fawns multiply; the bucks do not show themselves, while the fawns and calves evidently forage with their mothers and each other. For the most part, they come out shortly after dawn and at dusk; but I have seen them foraging in the fields at any time during the day, and I've heard them snort and stamp in their movements at night. They seem to know that they are safe in this season, while in late October through November they retreat, as that is hunting season. In some parts of the state of Maine deer are scarce, I'm told--the central and western parts--but here they are abundant and, for the gardener, troublesome. I've seen them come right up to the house here to eat fruits and leaves off bushes. 

A few weeks ago I saw another young hawk perch in the hawthorn tree in exactly the same spot as two years ago when I took a photo of it and posted it to this blog. The cries of ospreys and the chick-a-dee-dee of chickadees are the chief noises from birds at this time of year, while the clucking of the red squirrels is a constant whenever they are disturbed or excited. I have heard the pileated woodpecker a few times in the last few weeks. No owls yet--they don't seem to hoot until the cold weather. Listening to the recordings made in Maine by Donald Borror, I've come to realize that one of the warblers I've heard often but seldom seen here is the parula warbler--but have not heard one for several weeks now.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A sea of mown hay

I mow the fields here chiefly to keep them in hay rather than let them grow up to woods. Most years I spread the hay as a mulch and poor man's fertilizer below the branches of the apple trees, out around the drip line. Mowing here is difficult on account of the rough and hilly terrain, and the large rocks in the fields. A four-wheel tractor would tip over, but a two-wheel, walk-behind tractor is relatively stable and, with a sickle bar attached, does the job, although it is jarring and tiring. 

In some years when I want more hay I mow twice: once in mid-June, and once in late August or early September. Lately I've been mowing once, in August. It's best to do this on a relatively mild day, but one does it when one can; and so over the next few weeks I will mow when I get the chance. I started today on the field in back of the house. Although it was relatively mild, in the high 70s, it was also very humid, and by the end of it I had perspired through my t-shirt and my long-sleeved shirt over it. (Long pants and long sleeves prevent the hay from rubbing the skin and irritating it, which is much more uncomfortable than sweating through the shirts.) One of my colleagues at Brown remarked to me this spring that she imagined I never sweat. I may be cool in the classroom, but not mowing in the fields.

The sea of mown hay, July 28, 2012
The grass was up to my waist in most spots, and up to my eyeballs in a few, on account of the spring and early summer rains; but the recent dry spell, coupled with the natural tendency of the grass to dry out, made much of the grass into straw for the mowing. If it doesn't rain tomorrow I will do more. The photograph I took today shows what it's like to be in the midst of the sea of mown hay. And after the mowing comes the raking into wind rows, and then into stacks, and then the spreading around the drip lines of the apple trees. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A late July walk

The recent hot, humid weather has caused me to take a different route on my walks for the past couple of weeks. Besides, I had some visitors last week filming me as an expert for a documentary they were shooting, and then earlier this week I visited some friends in Eastport and Indian Township. But today, having re-grouped some, I went back on my old route through the woods. Birds were singing as they had for the last couple of months; I heard the black-throated green warbler, the white-throated sparrow, and the hermit thrush. Deer flies and mosquitos were flying around making it a bit unpleasant. A small tree had fallen across the path. I pulled it back into the woods on the right side.

Last year I remarked on the heal all self-heal plant that is common along this walk. It has been in bloom for at least six weeks now, and the flowers are in a diminished mode at present. I photographed a little patch, and then a closeup of one of them, from the top. A photograph of the plant in more abundant bloom is in my blog entry for June 8, 2010. 

Heal all is a remarkable medicinal herb, wild-growing throughout temperate climates in Europe, Asia, and the Americas. It is antibacterial and can be used in a poultice on a wound, or as a tea for internal infections such as gingivitis. It shows promise in treatment of AIDS and allergies. The whole plant may be used. It may also be eaten in salads, raw.

The skunk cabbages at this time of the year remain large-leaved, with some leaves as much as two feet in length; but the insects have eaten and damaged parts of the leaves. The skunk cabbage grove now shows the other plants, especially grasses, that have grown in while the rains have slowed down and the swampy area has become much drier. 

Jack-in-the-pulpit is widespread along the path. Not all grew large or well enough to form seed pods, but this one did; this pod is still in the green stage and in a month or so will turn red. A red pod from an earlier plant is barely visible at the upper left in the photo.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Heat wave? What heat wave?

The massive thunderstorms coupled with the heat wave that has struck the mid-Atlantic coast and the Midwest return me to an old theme of this blog: how unprepared for disaster the modern way of life has rendered the so-called developed world. There is irony but no comfort in realizing that one hundred years ago rural Americans were not so dependent on electric power for heat, light, and the many electric appliances that keep our food cold, keep us from sweltering in the heat, cook our food, and so forth. Those who were hell-bent on development and modernization promised, along with the electricity with which we would power our lives, prosperity from a rising tide of unlimited growth that would lift all boats--improve everyone's living standard. But, as Enrique Leff pointed out recently (please see my other blog, on Music and Sustainability, at http:sustainablemusic.blogspot.com), the environment, nebulous as the concept is, resists rationality; and it resists our attempts to control it.

I have written here earlier of how the ice storm of January, 1998 knocked out the power to rural Maine. Many were without power during that period for a week or even longer; we lost ours for three days. If you have no other source of heat for your dwelling than something dependent on electricity--and that means not only direct electric heat but also oil and natural gas heat dependent on electric motors and thermostats (which covers most of the developed world)--when the outside temperature goes below freezing you are in peril. In rural New England one hundred years ago folks heated chiefly with wood in stoves and fireplaces, and some with coal and kerosene not dependent on electricity. Today the wise rural New Englander in an older dwelling maintains a wood stove capable of keeping the house above freezing should the power go out, along with a supply of wood, even if one heats with oil or gas most of the time; and in a newer dwelling passive solar is the wisest choice. Others keep electricity generators at the ready, though these are rather expensive to install properly. 

This summer, though, the complaints from my friends and acquaintances in the mid-Atlantic states emphasize how uncomfortable it is with the temperature near 100 degrees and no air conditioning. One government official, angry at the power companies' inability to restore electricity quickly, declared that the length of time it was taking was "unacceptable," as if electric power somehow were the natural order of things. That government official might have wondered how Thomas Jefferson must have fared at Monticello without air conditioning, or how Abraham Lincoln could have managed to stay in the White House during a heat wave. Possibly that official's ancestors owned slaves during the antebellum period. Imagine a slave coming up to one of that official's ancestors cooling off with a mint julep on the veranda, and saying, "Master, it is too warm, whether my family is chopping cotton in the hot sun or sweltering in the cramped and stuffy slave hut. We find these conditions unacceptable." Fat chance.

Another one of my acquaintances writes, "Alas, I am without power and my house is sweltering. It is hard to find a quiet place to communicate and the libraries are closed and the cooling centers are jammed… We are in quite a disaster down here in [Maryland]." I would like to believe that someone who writes "Alas…" would have backup heat in winter, and be aware of the irony of the current situation; but irony is, as I say, no comfort. Given the effects of global warming, on which this and other increasing weather-related disasters such as the High Park, Waldo Canyon and other wildfires in the West are blamed, we can only expect situations like these to occur more frequently. NPR's Morning Edition excerpted an interview with a climate change expert who affirmed that although global warming is the cause, it is impossible to predict exactly when and where these events will take place--only that they will do so more often, and with more severity (please see my blog entry on complex systems for July 27, 2011, at http://sustainablemusic.blogspot.com).

Of course, it gets quite warm at times here in East Penobscot Bay, but very seldom does the temperature go above the 80s. For the past three days, while the temperatures in the Atlantic Coast and Midwest have ranged around 100 degrees, plus or minus five, and in southern New England it's been in the 90s, the high here was 82. But that, too, may be changing. Certainly there's been an increase in the number of violent storms here, summer and winter. As Yogi Berra once said, "Boys, the future is all ahead of us."

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Baby Sparrows in the Grass

This afternoon while mowing the lawn I noticed that a couple of baby sparrows (white-throated sparrows, I believe) were hopping about in the as-yet-unmowed portion of the grass. They had gotten out of a nest that was hidden on the ground inside the rose bush near the back of the porch. Whether it was the noise of the lawnmower that scared them out of the nest, or whether they had gone out exploring before the mower started on its rounds, I don't know. But the noisy lawnmower caused them to hop away (they could not yet fly) whenever it came close, though I kept my eye on them and would not have run the mower over them if they had foolishly gotten in the way. The thought crossed my mind to stop mowing because the noise must have been at best unpleasant for them, and possibly worse than that--so I did; and after a while I got back to mowing, thinking they must have gone back into the nest in the meantime. But not so--the mower went round and they hopped about whenever it got close. I have sometimes seen toads do the same thing, but they almost always hop away. These babies stayed on the island of tall grass that was gradually shrinking as the mower kept on around the perimeter. I was going to stop again, when one of them figured it out and, instead of staying in the taller grass, where there was presumably more protection from predators, moved onto the shorter, cut area and then hopped back over to the nest. Soon afterward, the other baby did the same.

Although it's possible that the mower shook the ground some, I'm fairly sure that it was the noise that scared the birds and agitated them. The noise disturbed the natural soundscape they were used to, and it upset them. That is another reason to use a hand mower, besides the carbon usage and exhaust in the atmosphere, but with a lawn this size--it takes an hour and half of steady mowing to complete it--that would not be practical. Better to find something other than a lawn that needed cutting and plant that instead. I know some people have deliberately done that sort of thing, and so I think I'll investigate the possibilities.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Garden Update, Mid-June

For the last month the weather has been cool and damp. I was able to get tomato and pepper seedlings planted on June 2, but the ground was too wet until a couple of days ago to get my dry beans in. The tomato seedlings that I grew this year were set back too far by the cold weather (and my carelessness in keeping them outside in temperatures around fifty degrees), with the result that for the first time in as long as I can remember, I had to purchase tomato seedlings and be satisfied with what was available. For paste tomatoes I prefer Bellstar, but the only paste tomato seedlings I could find in the places like Agway were Roma, which are subject to late blight here--and which all ripen at about the same time, which can be inconvenient. For slicing tomatoes I was able to get Jetstar, which I grew last year from my own seedlings and which did well. I'm nursing along a few my own seedlings of Sungold and Polbig in hopes that if I plant them this weekend they may grow large enough to bear and ripen before blight or frost. 

This year's tomato seedlings were a double embarrassment. First, I'd agreed to swap some with a friend; and when I gave him my puny little Cosmonaut Volkov a month ago, I had to make many apologies, especially as I received a large and healthy Black Krim in return (sitting in the garden now). Second, I was embarrassed in the Agway store buying the seedlings, but somehow the clerk who took my money didn't notice. I trust they won't be a triple embarrassment going forward--we'll see.

The spinach and lettuce is growing well; if slowly; the early broccoli plants I set out in mid-May caught a hot spell shortly after I set them out and immediately brocolated, sending up edible but small shoots which I harvested earlier this month. I set out others a couple of weeks ago and they've been growing more normally, along with cabbages. No brussels sprouts this year--the deer were too much attracted by them last year. The potatoes practically drowned in the rains and cold, with a spotty stand--only about 2/3 of the seed potatoes came through the soil a couple of weeks ago. It's possible a few more may pop through in the coming week or two, but soon it will be time to hill them. The onions and shallots are growing well. The Progress #9 peas did fairly well, but the Sugar Sprint had a very poor stand. They are blossoming now. 

This weekend, with the weather warming, I'll plant squash and cucumbers. It's about two weeks later than usual for that, but the soil wasn't warm enough before now. And a couple of days ago I managed to get in the dry beans, after rototilling the soil even though it was still damper than I'd have liked. For a main crop I'm growing the usual Black Coco, Jacob's Cattle (the so-called gasless variety), and Light Red Kidney. In addition, to keep the seed going I planted out partial rows of Red Mexican, Maine Surprise, Dot Yellow Eye, and Montcalm Red Kidney. For snap beans I planted partial rows of Black Valentine, Slenderette, Provider, Indy Gold, and Masai. I had a few Levi Robinson seeds left over and planted them as well, hoping to keep that fine variety of snap bean going. About four years is as long as I can keep a bean seed before it will not germinate. 

The smaller apples in the cluster will
drop off this Liberty apple tree 
And as for the apples, the blossoms have long since fallen and it's time for the June drop, which I've written about here before. The rains and damp weather probably induced more scab than usual, and usual is not much. I receive email bulletins from the University of Maine's Extension Service for apple growers, and these are given over chiefly to strategies for combatting insects, scab, and other disease. I am content to live with the little damage that these antagonists do here, and I truly believe that the more one attempts to kill the insects with poisonous sprays, or to set back the scab and other diseases with other poisons, the more one needs to spray in the future. That is because the killing sprays unbalance the ecosystem and while they may temporarily prevent the bad in so doing they also kill the good; and the following year the bad is back tenfold. It is the same with mowing the tall grass in the orchard. Leave it alone, I say, and let the bugs dwell there instead of in the apple trees. Which they are content to do. Then mow in mid September when the lifecycles of the insect pests are in a more dormant stage. 

Now ready for the June drop, it's the same
cluster shown with its blossoms, just below
Each year some of the vegetables do well and others not so well. But different ones do well in different years, which is why mixed farming is a better bet, a hedged bet, than specializing in a single crop--unless, of course, the government pays you not to grow it, or rewards you with a lump sum if your crop fails. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mid-May Garden and Orchard Update

Liberty apple blossoming out, May 12, 2012
The apple blossoms buds have started to flower out. In the orchard behind the house planted by George Eaton many decades ago, the Rhode Island Greening is full of bloom. In the orchard by the road into the woods, the Liberty and Prima that I planted some 25 years ago, and the old mystery tree that most recently I've called a Shiawassee, also are filled with bloom. The Liberty (pictured above, two days ago) buds were then just out. The Baldwins are bare of bloom; the Golden Russet is late as usual and so it's impossible to tell what kind of blossoming it may do; the same is true with the Winesap and the Kingston Black. A few of the unidentified old trees also are full of bloom. Overall, it now looks as if it may be an average year for apples--not nearly as poor as I'd originally thought. The cider pressed from last fall's apples has gotten back to fermenting once the cellar warmed up above fifty degrees. I must keep an eye on it and see when the fermentation stops so that I can put half of it in the oak barrel to age for a few months before bottling. And that reminds me that I must get the bottles ready also. If I do it gradually instead of the day before, it won't seem to take me away from other pursuits.

The Shiawassee apple tree was identified as such first by the pomologist Herbert Wave about 25 years ago, based on a couple of ripe fruits and a description of the tree. But a few years ago John Bunker, the apple expert who works at Fedco, tentatively identified it (based on a few ripe fruits that I took to the Common Ground Fair) as Fameuse; and again last year he made the same identification. Looking over the descriptions of Fameuse and comparing them with Shiawassee, I agree with John and from now on will refer to that tree as Fameuse. About 20 years ago I grafted a couple of "volunteer" trees over to this Fameuse variety, with the result that I now have three of them. 

As usual, the vegetable garden is very slow at this time of year. The heavy rains last week washed a dozen or so of the onion and shallot sets out of the ground, and puddled up in the trenches where I'd planted potatoes. When the ground had dried out enough--yesterday--I stuck the sets back in. A few of the other sets had already started so send up their green shoots. The peas are growing, and the greens continue--slowly, with the spinach the most advanced. Three lettuce plants that overwintered under Remay (deliberately this year after last year's accidental discovery) have started to grow again and should be ready to eat in a few weeks. The tomato seedlings I planted are growing very slowly in the cool, damp weather. 

My neighbor Ken Kraul returned the pole saw I loaned him last winter. I saw him trying to dig out thistle from his lawn and we spoke a little while about such efforts. It's good to see such optimism in a young man. Next week I'll have to start reinforcing the fences. This year I may try some rebar as fenceposts to get added height against the deer. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

First Pink

Pomologists name the various stages of budding out for the blossoming apple trees. Today I noted the "first pink" stage in the most advanced cluster of Liberty blossoms. In a year that still looks as if there won't be very many blossoms, Liberty's annual bearing habit is welcome. I took a picture of the "first pink" stage (left) and predict that despite the warm early spring, the blossoming (such as it is) will come at the usual time, on account of the recent cooler weather. I did find a few blossoms on the Prima tree, but it's an off-year for this one, as it is for most of the ones on this land. I recall reading somewhere, years ago, that after a winter unkind to producing blossoms, the trees had a tendency all to go on the same off-on biennial cycle, which was not desirable--it meant a large harvest one year (too large for me) and then a paucity the next.  

In the orchard at this time of year, before the grass and weeds grow up, wild strawberries blossom. Some years I can find them before the birds and other creatures do, and they are quite delicious, confirming what Thoreau said about the superior taste of wild fruit over the domesticated kinds. In the photo at left, the yellow pollen is visible; in the background, another strawberry blossom (blurred in the photo) is just opening up. The earliest flowers, Thoreau wrote in his journal, were the simplest or most primitive in structure, blooming (he wrote) in the least likely places; but apart from the skunk cabbages that is not the case hereabouts. On my daily walk I saw one or two quaker ladies (the flowers), the vanguard of what will be a ground cover for a few weeks along the road soon enough. Leaves of other flowering plants are pushing up now, also. The warblers seem to be in retreat at the moment--the cooler weather may be holding them back. I'd hoped to hear the hermit thrush this week but will probably have to wait until Sunday when it's supposed to warm up. I'm hoping to get a good recording--and Sunday evening is a good time to try, as there'll be less noise from motorboats and other vehicles in the far distance.

The skunk cabbages continue growing in the night (photo above; compare with the photo from April 30). Thoreau remarked in his journal at the end of April in 1852 that he saw skunk cabbage leaves six inches across. Most of those that I see are not that far advanced, but I did take a picture of one that had flattened out from its curl and was about nine inches across, this afternoon (right). 

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This work (all photos) by Jeff Titon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.