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Nectarines!

We did it!  We grew nectarines!  The first harvest is in.  Fifteen fruit.  They are delicious, tree ripened and juicy.  The flavor is reminiscent of peach combined with apricot, a touch of some sweet, fragrant flower and honey.  I had to toss out almost as many as I kept.  The bugs seem to really like nectarines, too.  Since I grow everything organically, I didn’t apply any sort of bug killer this year to see how well the tree would produce without any help.

The five-year-old baby nectarine tree set its first fruit this year.  It had an abundant crop.  In June after the tiny fruit were showing, I stripped more than half off the limbs.  Removing any fruit trying to grow toward the ends of the young limbs and thinning so no limb had a lot of fruit, I hoped to aid the tree in ripening a decent crop without putting too much strain on it.

The photo above was taken after I had harvested most of the fruit.  I made sure the heavy nectarines would all be supported around the central, stronger part of the tree.  The fruit only reached the size of large apricots.  I’m not sure if that is their normal size, or if they are small because there were still too many for the tree to handle.

I noticed early in the summer that some insect was biting the fruit and causing it to bleed.  Whatever did that didn’t leave any lasting impression.  There are no tunnels or misshapen places on the nectarines.  After the fruit was ripe, the bugs really closed in.  A small black beetle with yellow stripes busily chewed little holes.  The fruit wasps and fruit flies were quickly attracted to the open wounds.  While I was harvesting, a white admiral butterfly kept landing on the nectarines.  Butterflies like the juices of many fruits.  At least the deer don’t seem attracted to the tree.

Even with all the competition, we have a very satisfactory first result from this tree.  If we’re lucky, the tree with continue to thrive in our chilly, short season northern climate.  I’m hoping next year there will be enough fruit to make some nectarine jam.  Yum!

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Baby Nectarine

Anyone with an orchard full of nectarines, please have patience with me.  This is my first nectarine.  These trees are not common in the northern clime of central Maine.  My baby nectarine has now survived four winters and appears to be thriving.  This is the first year it’s had flowers.  The variety is from Stark Bros, a Stark Crimson Gold, self-pollinating, heat tolerant, cold hardy and ripening fruit in July.  I can hardly wait to eat them!

The tree is about eight to nine feet tall.  The branches are covered with blooms.  Not sure how many of these will turn to fruit.  I suspect the fruit may require thinning. It is especially hard on a young tree to have a heavy fruit burden.The blossoms are large and have a light musk scent.  I thought they’d smell like apple flowers, but no.  Such a gorgeous pink display for the orchard!  This tree is attracting ruby-throated hummingbirds.  Soon the pears, apples, cherries and blueberries will all be in full bloom, plenty of food for hummingbirds. I stopped providing sugar feeders for hummingbirds due to the threat of the feeders becoming infected with fungus that can kill the birds.  If feeders aren’t cleaned religiously they can get contaminated.  I realized I couldn’t keep up with the necessary cleaning schedule.  Luckily, there is a good natural food supply for the birds here at the farm.

News From The Farm

Spring is in full swing here at the farm.  The primroses, daffodils, narcissus and hyacinths are all blooming.  It must have been a fairly mild winter compared to the winter before last.  I do remember some bitterly cold weather in December of 2017 before we got snow cover.  The flowers were not so impressive last spring as they are this year.  The bulbs are strong and both the star magnolia and the forsythia are in full flower.  Last year there were only about a dozen flowers on the forsythia.  This year it’s gorgeous.

One of the two baby mountain ash trees I planted last spring survived the winter.  It’s looking pretty happy about its spot on the side of the hill that supports our driveway.  Luckily the voles and field mice did not nibble the mountain ash over the winter.  The same can not be said for the expensive crabapple tree I planted two years ago.  Even though I wound a plastic tree protector around it last fall, after giving it a good covering with white paint, the voles still got at it.  They pushed the plastic out of the way and gnawed off large amounts of bark from the first 2 feet of trunk.  I don’t think the tree will live.

Last year we suffered from an over population of field rodents.  They attacked grown apple trees, killing a couple dozen, and chewed up large regions of grass roots in the hayfield leaving bare patches.  I read that painting the lower parts of the fruit trees with white latex paint will repel rodents.  This past winter the rodent population must have been down.  We’re not seeing grass damage like last year, nor as much tree chewing.  But several apple trees that I sprayed white with paint were chewed.  Looks like the rodents just scratch away the bark until the paint is gone then proceed with devouring the tree.  They sure devoured my crabapple.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained is the old adage, but I spent over $100 on paint for the trees, plus my time and effort to apply it, to no avail.The horses, Vista and Maddie, are happy to see green grass!  Especially since their hay is almost gone.  The weather has been quite chilly, slowing the growth of grass and causing us to use more hay than usual.  It’s great to finally have enough grass to sustain two hungry horses.

Vista (on the left) is now 30 years old.  It is possible this is her last summer.  She is really beginning to show her age.  We may have to put her away in the fall to avoid having to deal with a down horse next winter.  A sad time for me.  Vista has been with me since she was 10 months old.  She has always been a loving, loyal, hardworking and willing animal.  A wonderful saddle horse, we have spent many memorable hours together including two trips to the carriage trails of Acadia National Park.  I will sure miss the old girl.

Apple Trees and Rodents

For the last few days I’ve been busy painting fruit trees before the cold weather arrives.  I bought 18 cans of flat white latex spray paint, a sizable investment.  My fingers got sore from all the spraying.  Most of the trees in the orchard got a coat of paint from the ground up at least 2 ft on the trunk, the average snow depth.

Painting the trunks is supposed to deter the ravages of rodents who crawl through the snow and gnaw on the trees for sustenance during the winter.  Last winter we had a glut of rodents and they killed several adult trees by chewing the bark off the roots, and girdled a bunch more.  This past spring I made bridge grafts over the worse rodent attacks to try and save the trees.  During the summer many of the grafts seemed to take hold.  They are full and robust.  The grafts that failed are shriveled.  The tree below has several healthy grafts.

To protect my work and, hopefully, the trees, I gave them all a good coat of paint.  Rodents are rumored to not chew on trunks covered with paint.  White paint is used because it reflects the winter sunlight, preventing the build-up of excess heat that can damage the bark.  After all this money and effort, my fingers are crossed that the paint does its job.  If not, we may need to say goodbye to our apple orchard.  The majority of the original trees have died over the years, many killed by rodents.  I hope we can save the hundred or so remaining trees.

 

Monarch Chrysalises

This morning I was stacking wood from a large pile that was split during the summer. The pile was about five feet high before I started, and fifteen feet wide, at least.  It is made up mostly of oak and apple wood that has aged for a year.  I was just working along, grabbing pieces of firewood and stacking them in neat rows on top of pallets, when I turned over a stick of wood and nearly crushed a monarch butterfly chrysalis.

All summer I’ve been scouring milkweed plants in search of monarch caterpillars, eggs and chrysalises.  I’ve had plenty of luck with finding the caterpillars, but no eggs or pupae.  So I was greatly surprised to find this green case just lying in the woodpile!  Dumb luck saved the insect from destruction.  At any moment the stick of wood could have rolled or been jammed into other hunks of wood.

I checked the chrysalis carefully and found no evidence of damage.  Since the woodpile is not a safe place for baby caterpillars, I wedged the stick of wood in the branches of a crabapple tree.  There the butterfly will be out danger and protected from rain.  Then I returned to stacking wood, thinking what an unusual find I’d just made.

About ten minutes later it happened all over again!  I came much closer to squishing the second chrysalis.  Just a whim of fate lay between life and destruction for the baby caterpillar as I grabbed several sticks of wood and tossed them together to make an armload.  Once again I checked the pupa and found no damage.  So I carried the second over to join its brother in the crabapple.

Both caterpillars chose to pupate in close proximity within the woodpile.  For the rest of the morning I used greater care when moving the wood, especially in that area.  No more monarchs were found.  As I finish stacking the pile, I will be on the lookout for any more silly monarchs!

This species truly has the most beautiful chrysalis.  It really looks like metallic gold dotted around the ends.  Why nature expends energy to create a beautiful exoskeleton for a pupating insect is beyond me.  It must serve some evolutionary advantage or it wouldn’t exist.

The caterpillars in these chrysalises are still in the early stages of metamorphosis.  They need ten to fifteen days to change, depending on the weather.  The warmer it is, the quicker they develop.  Temperatures are forecast for the 60sF-70sF during the day and no cooler than the mid-40sF at night for the next ten days.  The baby insects should be able to grow.  They will need to move out of this region quickly and head south.  The frosts are on the way!

To form the chrysalis, a fully grown caterpillar seeks out a sheltered spot and hangs upside down by its two hind-most legs.  It spins a small anchor of silk to keep it hanging securely.  Then it sheds its skin to reveal the green exoskeleton.  As the butterfly develops, the chrysalis will turn transparent and the lovely colors of the monarch wings will be visible within.  Here is an adult monarch I saw recently in a butterfly garden on Mt. Desert Island.

I’m hoping the insects continue to develop and I’m able to get some photos of the transparent stage and of the emergence of the butterfly.  I’ve read they emerge mid-morning on a warm day.  So, I will keep a close eye on these baby butterflies.

 

Red Pear Jelly

The red pears are ready during the first part of September.  These early organic pears are delicious, fragrant and sweet, but they don’t hold long.  They must be picked when they are still a little crunchy and ripened under close monitoring.  In a couple days they can go from perfect ripeness to all brown on the inside.  The ones that survive my appetite for fresh pears are turned into jelly.

My pear jelly recipe was developed through trial and error and adapted from the apple jelly Sure-Jell recipe.  Pears have a similar pectin content to apples, but they contain more juice and are sweeter.  To make perfect pear jelly, select ripe fruit that is still slightly firm, not gone too mushy.  The skin and cores contain pectin, so they are retained.  The low sugar version of Sure-Jell reduces calories and allows more of the fresh fruit flavor to come out in the finished jelly.

Pear Jelly

4 lbs pears to make 4 cups pear juice

1 cup water

3.5 cups sugar

1 package low-sugar Sure-Jell

Wash pears well, remove stem and blossom end.  Cut the fruit, with the skins and cores, into approx. 1″ cubes.  Place in a large saucepan with the water.  Simmer, covered for 20-30 minutes, until soft.  Mash the fruit, place in a jelly bag or within several layers of cheesecloth and drain off all the juice.  I like to put the juice in a covered pitcher in the fridge overnight so any pulp that makes it through the cloth will settle to the bottom.  Then I pour off the clear juice, leaving the sediment.  You should have 4 cups of juice.  Add up to 1/4 cup water if you are a little short.

Place the juice in a large stock pot that is at least four times the volume of juice to allow for expansion during cooking.  Mix the Sure-Jell with 1/2 cup sugar then add to the juice.  Cook on high, stirring, until the mixture boils.  Add the rest of the sugar all at once.  Continue to stir and return the mixture to a full rolling boil that can not be stirred down.  Boil for one minute.  Remove from heat.  Skim off any foam.  Immediately pack in hot containers.  Process in a hot water bath for 5 minutes.  Cool out of drafts.  Check for a seal before storing.  Makes about 6.5 cups of jelly.  Yum!

Russian Knapweed

So this is what I found in my hayfield last week.  There were about a dozen plants in one small area.  This is the first time I’ve seen it in my fields.  Russian knapweed is a pernicious invasive weed.  It is toxic to horses.  A marvelous find in my horse hay field.

The first time I saw this stuff was last year in a mown field on the coast.  It had taken over large portions of the field.  The weed is a perennial that spreads mostly through the roots.  It also produces plenty of seeds.

Knapweed is native to southern Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Kazakhstan and Mongolia.  Its roots even grow in the winter.  The weed produces poison that kills other plants so that it forms dense monocultures.

Eradication is difficult.  The roots can cover six square yards in a growing season.  The recommended way to control it is to kill it with herbicide then plant grasses that can survive its poison to out-compete it.  Repeated manual removal to stress the roots, along with encouraging grass growth through irrigation is an organic control method.

My farm is organic.  I pulled all the growth as soon as I found it.  The field will be mowed in the next few weeks.  That will make it easier to spot re-emerging growth.

I plan to stay on top of this weed and stress the heck out of the roots.

Who knows how Russian knapweed got in my field.  I suspect it was brought in on haying equipment used by the farmer who cuts my hay.  That’s how yellow rattle invaded my fields.

By manually removing all the rattle before it can seed, I nearly eliminated it.  Unfortunately, the farmer brings in more each year.  I have to patrol my fields every spring looking for rattle and ripping it out.  I spotted the knapweed while I was looking for rattle.  Patrolling the hayfields has become an essential part of farming for me, it seems.

I hope one day soon to own haying equipment.  Cutting my own hay will make my life easier in many ways, including reduction in the numbers of invasive weeds.