State of the Farm, Fall 2017


(Picture from here.)

You recall last year when we had the worst drought I’d ever seen since I moved out here. Parts of our garden just twisted themselves out of the ground and we lost a couple of trees. Sections of grape arbors died and never came back. The birds, in their desperation, stripped one whole arbor of every grape that was there. The hornets and yellow jackets fought each other over left over orange rinds.

Everybody prayed for rain.

You recall that old adage, be careful what you wish for?

Well, it’s been a wet 2017. I mean, we’re not in hurricane class, but we got all the rain we needed. It was a cold rain, too. None of the melons set at the right time. The grapes came to fruition but they never got enough light or heat to really sugar up.


 It was a good year for some things and a bad year for others. This was the best year we’ve ever had for apples. However, that’s not a high bar. Some folks would say that the measure was more a paint strip on the road than a bar. We got a bout thirty of the ugliest Granny Smith apples you’ve ever seen. I mean, these made those ugly dried face looking cabbage patch kids look positively handsome.

They made good apple tarts, though.

Back to the grapes.

I held off harvesting as long as I could, hoping against hope, they’d sugar up. We harvested the Concords and got an adequate harvest—maybe 15 pounds or so. Not much for that vine. They had a Missouri interesting flavor. (“My. What an… interesting looking baby.”) Not bad but not too sweet, either.

Over the years I’ve moved to freezing the grapes before I press them. This has the interesting effect of making more of the juice available. But, since it ruptures the cells, other things come out in higher concentration. It gives a little something extra to the flavor. Sometimes it works as a wine. Sometimes it doesn’t.

So I froze the Concords and started up primary fermentation. I’ll get a hint when I rack the batch.

To make room for the Concords, I had to pull up some frozen peaches from earlier this year. (We had a good peach harvest.) That’s just finishing up primary so I don’t know how it came out.

We have two primary grape producing vines: Concord and Marechal Foch. The M/F was the arbor that got nailed by the birds last year. Like the Concords, I held off as long as I can. Until I saw the birds paying too much attention to one corner. Okay. I attacked it last weekend. We got about 30 pounds of grapes.

It was interesting. The birds didn’t bother me but yellow jackets know no fear. I’d be working on a section when two wasps would decide that they wanted that bunch. No problem. I’d go working on another section. It reminded of a Leonard Wibberley quote from (I think) The Mouse that Roared.  It went something like this: “The pen is mightier than the sword but the sword is mightier than the pen at any given moment.”

I coexisted with the yellow jackets as the total amount of grapes gradually decreased. They flew near me once or twice but more as a sheathed threat than an active menace. Until the last bunches at the very top of the arbor.

I started pulling at the bunch and got seriously buzzed. This time one of them bounced off my head.

I figured I could do without that last bunch of grapes.

As I said, we got a good peach harvest earlier in the summer. Ditto the pie cherries. I hoped to get a few sweet cherries but, as always, the birds got there first. We did get a few plums.

The apples are always the last fruits of the season so we’re talking about what to do next year. We planted several new bushes and small trees: blue berries, sea berries, some paw paws. The nectarine has never produced well. The fruit is prolific but it splits and tears up the tree. It’s a dwarf. We got a volunteer nectarine across the yard. (Thank you, squirrels.) Its fruit didn’t split but the chipmunks got to them first. So I think it might be the base graft upon which the fruiting tree rests. Likely we’re going to tear it out and put something else in.

Ditto the prune plum and the pluot. Both appear to be reservoirs of black knot. We’ve been tip toeing around the problem for years because the prune tree has been with us for years. But no longer.

Likely, we’ll save the wood. We’ve been doing that this year. We had to cut down a birch and lopped the limbs off a cedar. Instead of just burning the wood, we coated them so they wouldn’t crack while they dried. When they’re dry enough, I’m going to pull out the lathe and see what I can make.

Musn’t waste things.




State of the Farm, Fall 2017 — 2 Comments

  1. Have the leaves fallen enough at the arbor to see if there’s a yellow jacket nest up there? When the ladies are that aggressive, I’ve seen them warning people away from a wasp nest. They won’t sting badly but they will nick you to stop your advance.

    Only Granny Smiths, or are any other apples coming in? (I hope to plant a couple of heirloom trees wherever I end up.)

  2. To answer the first question, there was no wasp nest in the arbor. The arbor in question is one I built last year. (See here: It is open in a sort of house shape so that any part of it can be seen from multiple angles. That’s not to say there’s not a wasp nest nearby– just that there isn’t one in the arbor itself. Also, the yellow jackets weren’t really that aggressive until I actually bothered them when we were going for the same bunch of grapes.

    On the other question, we got apples this year from some trees and not from others. The Granny Smity was the last one of the year and important to me because it’s been a continuing source of frustration. The tree is quite robust but has not been producing. This year is the best year it’s ever had.

    We did get some apples from the others. Notably, from the Sops in Wine. ( We haven’t had much luck with apples in general but the heirloom variety haven’t been as frustrating. They’ve produced but the trees are much smaller and less robust so I have lower expectations.

    We *didn’t* get apples from the crabs. Other years we’ve gotten nothing from the apples except the crabs. Go figure.

    I’m convinced we’re not pruning correctly. There’s a tree down the road that produces well and the next pruning I’m going to try to emulate that.

    On planting heirloom varieties: It’s very nice that people are doing this but there’s a hidden aspect that many do not appreciate. Modern varieties of apples have a much, *much* lower time to bear than the heirlooms. Often, an heirloom variety might take eight to ten years to bear. A modern variety might take two. So bear this in mind when you’re picking a tree. I’m at the age that I’m not willing to plant a tree that takes all that long to bear.