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Mary Cook

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since Jan 27, 2015
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Recent posts by Mary Cook

I was just looking at that...but the tree cover is continuous above the orchard. I'd have to cut down so many trees for that...and they could probably still leap from the roof of the chicken coop. Since I have free range chickens, I'd rather leave the trees for the cover (from hawks). I need another solution. Also--two weeks? Those $%$%^  took apples at least a month under-ripe. I thought it might have been the moisture, as we had a severe drought July-September last year, and we're on a ridge...but I've been seeing squirrels running from the coop roof into the apple trees lately. I throw rocks at them, from the adjacent garden...I did try spraying with pepper solution, as well as putting socks over the apples last year. Neither helped.
1 month ago
On squirrels: none of our hybrid filbert-hazelnuts has ever produced a nut, but one wild one growing under a persimmon tree right by my greenhouse door (attached to the house) has produced nice crops twice, that the squirrels seem to have overlooked. I'm afraid if our grafted pecan-hickory hybrids/improved hickories ever get big enough to produce nuts the squirrels will take them all. We call this place hickory ridge and it's squirrel heaven. But last year, for the first time, squirrels swiped all my apples before they were mature--I finally picked a few well before they were ripe so I would get any at all. This may be because we had a drought, but I'm afraid of a repeat. I would think you could use what has worked well for my blueberries: I built a square structure around them, with metal fenceposts in the corners and one-inch mesh chickenwire six feet tall around, and then I throw bird netting over the top during the season when they're ripening. That won't work for my fruit trees which are ten feet tall--I think I may have to take up squirrel hunting.
1 month ago
I just want to note that several years ago, my neighbor bought 40 hazelnut-filbert hybrid seedlings, distributed among several takers locally. This was the result of an effort by the Arbor Day Foundation and others, to come up with a cross that had the size and nut size of the European filbert, but the blight resistance of the American hazelnut. They sold several named cultivars. But apparently they declared success too soon, because most of the plants didn't even live, some declined, got sick and never grew, and a few actually thrived--one is in my orchard, but it has yet to produce a nut after five years or so. Perhaps the problem is that there are lots of wild hazelnuts in this area, and the hybrids can't withstand the disease pressure of that situation. Perhaps it's all moot anyway given the density of grey squirrels here--last year they stole nearly all my apples. We also tried grafting hardy pecans and improved hickories onto our wild hickory saplings, but so far the pecans especially are so slow growing my neighbor will be dead long before they reach bearing age, and that may be the case with my hybrids and improved hickories too. We have lots ofwild  hickories but none that let the nuts out of the sinuses of the shells, unfortunately.
1 month ago
I'm in zone 65, WV. I read that seaberries can be invasive, and I have terrible trouble with multiflora rose and autumn/Russian olive so I don't want to introduce a new problem. But every source I consulted said goumis would not be invasive--despite the fact that they are eleagnus, autumn olive relatives (and by the way those may spread only by fruit but they also will come back from the roots unless you dig up every bit of root. Even multifloras will usually die if you dig up the crown). So I now have two, the usual improved pair, Red Gem and Sweet Scarlet. They grew to be about seven feet tall and began producing in two years--I harvested 12# of fruit a week or so ago without getting quite all of it. They do have thorns but they are large and few, easy to avoid. The berries are like the autumn/Russian ones, only much larger. Goumis come from east Asia. They have a soft pit, for which reason I have found only one thing to do with them--simmer and strain out the juice and make a syrup. I give some of the juice to my sister as it is reputed to be a cancer fighting agent. These plants have been perfectly happy in the middle of my orchard for four years now with virtually no care. I did prune them this February to reduce their density.
1 month ago
Side note first, on the cost of growing potatoes--the only cost is for the seed potatoes (and your time, but it isn't a particularly labor intensive crop). You can get seed potatoes from seed catalogs at a price I find shocking--but I buy a 50# bag locally for about $23, and if I don't plant them all I eat some. Potatoes are full of nutrients and store easily all winter in a root cellar--and we eat a LOT of them, so I grow as much as I can, usually running out about planting time in March. I do buy sugar, which is after all cheap--but we also boil down maple sap, and every three years I grow sorghum. Here are a couple of points on sorghum: there are three or four kinds. Some are short and intended mainly for the grain; some get nine to thirteen feet tall, with grain on top but plenty of sugar in the canes; some are for making brooms. So be sure you get seed for the tall sugar-growing kind. The plants need a fairly long growing season but tolerate drought and poor soil well. Cultivate like corn, which it strongly resembles until the corn makes ears and a tassel on top, while sorghum makes only a big plumey tassel on top, which turns from green through gold to a deep red and is indeed very pretty. In the fall you whack off the canes and the seedheads, using the latter as chicken feed or grinding it for gluten-free flour. But here's the catch--I don't believe there is any practical way of extracting the juice from the canes unless you find someone with a mill. I did, and he lets us bring our cane and run it through on the days he's doing a much larger amount (it's wonderfully romantic, all his kin are there and a few men are pushing the canes through a chugging 1920-era mill while down the slope more people are running the sap through a big evaporator pan, fed with wood, and the smell of woodsmoke and sorghum syrup is in the cool October air). Then you take the pails of sludgy green liquid and boil it down. With maple sap, you just tap the tree, while you have to grow and cut the canes for sorghum; but maple sap is boiled down at 40 to one while sorghum is about nine to one, However it takes a lot of skimming to get rid of the green foam--eventually it becomes clearish and a reddish gold. It looks like molasses (and here in WV people call it molasses) but it has a very distinctive flavor of its onw, a flavor that suggests mineral nutrients to me.
2 months ago
I haven't succeeded recently with brined pickles, but make some every year with vinegar. I save the juice after finishing each jar, and use it  every few months to soak my five-gallon stainless steel pot which has hot water in it on top of the woodstove all winter, then is used to heat water for dishes and showers and also used for making tomato sauce and water-bath canning. We have hard well water, and minerals build up on the pan, especially in the winter sitting the stove. It's hard o scrub that stuff off--except after letting it soak a few hours in vinegar water. Then it comes right off.
2 months ago
Yes, they will attack all cucurbits but I believe they prefer squash and may not bother other things if they can keep finding more squash. You look for small clusters of tiny orange globes usually on the underside of the leaves but sometimes on top (pinch out the cluster rather than removing the whole leaf); brownish black adults running around which do stink when you squash them; and little whitish or greyish nymphs, in bunches, where you didn'ty get rid of an egg cluster in time. And at the end of he season dispose of the mulch that had been around the squash as they will overwinter in it and hot your squash next spring with great ferocity.
I'm not so good with pictures but I will name two. One has happened multiple times and I think I'm not the only one on this: many times I decided to try an experiment. Either two or more varieties side by side to see which I liked better, or the same variety with different treatments to see which works best. Do I need to label them somehow? Nah, I'll remember which is which. NO I WON'T and neither will you. Either put indelible labels on the ground, or record the difference on a map.
Others' story reminded me of my squash bug problem, particularly my first year here. It got kinda bad by the end of the year, but I still had decent harvests. I left the mulch in place, figuring cold would kill the bugs. The following spring the squash bugs completely killed my winter squash, summer squash and melons. The next year I waited till July first to plant squash in that garden and never saw a bug. Maybe the little cucumber beetles, which don't do significant damage but one year they brought in mosaic disease that ruined my zucchini. I don't use foil and get good squash nearly every year--I just spend a little time, as much as every other day, investigating each leaf of my plants and removing egg patches. I squash any nymphs or adults I find. And throw the leaf bits with eggs into the wood stove. If you grow a great deal of squash this isn't practical of course.
I have some advice on carrots. I don't know why they wouldn't germinate, except that they take a long time, aren't planted deep and require moist soil, so you may have to water every day for a couple weeks. But I have found two tricks that really helped me with carrots--I'm still eating last year's carrots, which spent the winter in my root cellar. First, I have clay soil so I plant Danvers or Red Cored Chantenay, and I add sand as well as compost where carrots will go, and work the bed finely. The other thing--I read somewhere that planting alternating rows of onions and carrots, the carrots repel the onion fly and the onions repel the carrot fly. True? I dunno but I've been getting much bigger carrots AND onions so I keep doing it. I plant onion sets in rows a foot apart across my bed in March, and then in April, when the onions are up and easily visible, I plant a row of carrots down the middle of each gap, for rows six inches apart. (Also I finally realized that onions need a lot of water, and that thinning the carrots earlier would make for more big ones).
Blueberries turning yellow likely don't have sufficiently acid soil; this causes chlorosis because they can't utilize the iron in the soil if it isn't acid enough for blueberries, which is very acid. I had a blueberry bed that did poorly probably because I rimmed the bottom with concrete blocks, which may leach alkalinity. I moved the blueberries to a new bed with no blocks at the bottom, in a hugelkuture, and they are doing better. Someone also told me to toss my coffee grounds in there, as they are high in nitrogen and acidic--that seems to have helped. I used a lot of peat moss in the hugelkulture as there isn't much else that's acidic; I read that a study showed that pine needles and oak leaves, once fully composted, are neutral.
4 months ago
First of all, note that there are three kinds of blueberries: tall rabbiteyes which grow in the south (of the US), highbush which grow in middle latitudes, and small ones which grow in the north. I have highbush blueberries, and I'm posting to note my experience this spring. When I pruned my plants, I poked a couple of the nice vibrant red stems into a bucket of half composted leaves and put it in the shade. I brought it inside a couple of times on cold nights. When I saw tiny leaves sprouting on the larger one, I moved it into its own small bucket and discarded the little dead one. I put a plastic bag over it for humidity, but when I checked it only three or four days later I saw it had more sizable leaves so I removed the bag and put it back outside in most shade. Now I'm looking for someone to give it away to, as i don't have room for another in my blueberry enclosure. But since this worked so well with no rooting hormone, no trimming of the stem, no misting, I may try this again more seriously next year. I think it worked because it was early, the shredded leaves were half composted and very wet, probably still acidic...so, FWIW.
4 months ago