A Really Wet Spring

It doesn’t seem possible that I was complaining about drought last year, but I did (see Unexpected Drought Consequences for details). Our spring has been incredibly wet with rain coming every other day (or, more often, several days in a row). It has been so wet that even trying to cut the grass has been a chore. I finally resorted to using a hand mower and a weed whacker to do the job—the garden tractor was hopeless, it either lost traction and got stuck or the deck would become filled with grass and refuse to do anything more. At least we’re not flooding (yet).

Our main concern at the moment is that the garden still isn’t planted. Yes, it has gotten quite late and some items wouldn’t have a chance of producing anything at this point, but many other items will still produce something for us. The problem is trying to till the garden to loosen the soil. The other day I took out my spade to see how things were progressing. The soil in one part of the garden simply stuck together as a mud ball. Digging in another part showed water in the bottom of the hole. Obviously, any attempt to use the tiller will be futile until the garden dries out a little.

At least one reader has heard of our predicament (possibly being in the same state himself) and chided me about my comments regarding global warming. I stand by what I have said in the past—global warming is a reality. Global warming doesn’t necessarily mean things will be hot (although, the global average temperature is increasing a small amount each year). What it means is that we’ll see more extremes in weather, such as this year’s really cool and wet spring.

As with anything, I try to find the positives. I reported on one of those positives recently, our woods produced a bumper crop of mushrooms. Those mushrooms sell for $25.00 a pound if you can obtain them directly from someone who picks them. Morels are in high demand because they’re delicious. If you pick mushrooms to help augment your income, this is your year. We simply enjoyed them in some wonderful meat dishes, which is a treat considering we usually make do with the canned variety.

However, for us the biggest plus is that we’re going to be buried in fruit. The apples, cherries, plums, and pears have all produced bountifully this year. The trees are literally packed with fruit. I imagine that I’ll need to trim some of it off to keep the branches from breaking—an incredibly rare event. It has only happened once before in the 18 years we have lived here. So, for us, this year is the year we pack the larder with good fruit to eat, despite the fact that our garden will produce dismally.

Of course, we really do want a garden. At this point, my only option is to go out there and dig it up by hand and then smooth it over with a garden rake. I’ll this task right alongside of mowing the lawn using the weed whacker. We’re talking some heavy duty hours of some incredibly dirty work. Well, someone has to do it. At least I’m getting my exercise, which will help improve my health.

So how is your spring going and what do you expect from your garden this summer? Are your fruit trees literally bursting with fruit as mine are? Let me know what is happening with your orchard and garden at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Enjoying the Flowered Woods

I always find the springtime woods inviting. All of the flowers are amazing! Unfortunately, I don’t know the names of every flower out there, even though I’m sure that someone has named them at some point. Every spring does bring back a few friends, such as the cranesbill geranium:

WoodlandFlowers01

The berry brambles produce a riot of flowers too. The gooseberries, black caps (black raspberries), and red raspberries have already bloomed and set fruit. However, the blackberries are only now putting out blossoms and the initial burst of flowers portends a wonderful summer of berry picking.

WoodlandFlowers02

I can taste the berries now. Our entire woods is packed with berry brambles. There are times when I can pick two or three gallons of berries in a single day. In fact, the limiting factor is usually the amount of time I have to pick, rather than the number of available berries. Everyone eats the berries during the summer months, including both birds and squirrels (oddly enough). There is no doubt in my mind that other forest creatures benefit from the berries too.

Sometimes the woods offers up something special. In times past, I’ve encountered bloodwort (bloodroot) and mayapples. Both plants were used for medicinal purposes in the past. The mayapple fruit is edible in small quantities as long as you know when to pick it. The fruit must ripen on the plant and must be completely yellow. The leaves can be used to make an effective insecticide when boiled, allowed to cool, and then sprayed.

This year we were treated to something special, a jack-in-the-pulpit. It showed up right above the rock garden at the very edge of the woods, so Rebecca was the first to spot it. I must admit that it’s a bit hard to see. We’re fortunate that this one came up so close that we can enjoy it each year. In fact, Rebecca plans to extend the rock garden to include our new addition.

WoodlandFlowers03

Of course, there is a lot more to see in the woods and I hope to be able to take time to enjoy it all. Do you have a woods near to you? If so, do you ever get to enjoy all of the beauty it contains? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Berries in the Woods

Many people see a woods and think about the trees. In fact, that’s all they think about. However, a healthy woods is more than just the trees. A healthy woods has a significant biodiversity of all sorts of plants and shrubs that rely on the woods for cover and environment. Along the ground you’ll see interesting plants such as the bloodroot shown here:

BloodRoot

There are a number of sources that tell you what a useful plant bloodroot is. Of course, the woods are also the source of foods such as the morel mushroomnot that I was particularly successful in finding any this year. When I do find them, they cook up nicely in a stew or simply sauteed in a bit of butter. The woods provides this amazing bounty without any effort on my part, except in preservation efforts I take on the wood’s behalf.

Keeping the woods happy is incredibly important. One food source (and the reason for today’s post) is the humble berry. My woods is simply packed with berry brambles. A personal favorite is the gooseberry shown here:

Gooseberry

The gooseberries have already blossomed and set fruit. I won’t pick them though until mid-summer. I prefer a mix of dark black and green gooseberries for use in preserves (jam) or pie. We have both European and American gooseberries. Even though the European gooseberry is larger, the American gooseberry doesn’t suffer from mildew problems and produces more fruit per bush. I’ve found that the American gooseberries are a bit more tart than the European variety and that they’re better a bit on the green side. Mixed, the two kinds of gooseberry produce a delectable treat you won’t find in your local store (at least, not without a lot of looking). Gooseberries are terribly hard to pickthe long thorns will rip up your arms, even with long sleeves. Gingerly picking up the individual canes and picking the berries underneath works best.

A berry that ripens earlier is the blackcap (also known as a black raspberry). They also flowered and set fruit quite some time ago. I keep a watch on them because they tend to ripen quickly and don’t last particularly long on the bushes. Blackcaps are the easiest berries to pick and have an amazing flavor that differs from their red raspberry counterpart. They’re a bit smaller than red raspberries. We have a few red raspberry canes in the woods, but not enough to do much, so we mix them with the blackcaps. Because we don’t have a lot of blackcaps, we tend to use them for preserves.

The last berry of the season is the blackberry. It’s larger than the other berries. In fact, in a good year, a blackberry will be about the diameter of my thumb and about half as long. The blackberries are still in bloom and won’t set fruit for another week or two as shown here:

Blackberries

In a good year it’s nothing for me to fill two or three gallon buckets with blackberries in an early morning picking session. We’ll use them for pie, preserves, wine, and just eating. The thorns of the blackberry are a bit longer than those of the blackcap. The longer canes make it harder to maneuver amongst the plants. In addition, our blackberries tend to grow on the sides of the hills, making them a little inaccessible at times. Of course, the taste is worth all of the effort.

I’ve only touched on a few highlights of the woods in this post. The biggest reason to maintain a healthy woods is that the majority of our pollinators live them. Every spring I count the number of different pollinators that visit our fruit trees. This year I counted eleven. Some I knew, such as the bumblebee, mason bee, black bee, and sweat bee. There were also a number of wasps and a few other varieties of pollinator that I haven’t researched as of yet. The point is, the majority of these pollinators come from our woods, so a healthy woods is essential to our health. Interestingly enough, the berry brambles in the woods are an important food source for pollinators in the early spring, so my delicacy is their delicacy too. What sorts of berries do you like? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.