Odd and interesting things make up our memories. When I was a teenager, I listened to this gravel voiced guy do the Farm Market Report on the radio while I was getting ready for school. His name was Jake Brofee and he’d give us the current price for everything from pullets to medium brown eggs, to milk. While the numbers didn’t mean much to me, aside from egg prices (I lived on a working poultry farm, after all), listening to Jake became a part of my morning routine. When I got the idea for this column, I looked Jake up and found he had an interesting career. Born in Madison in 1904, his full name was Linwood Jake Brofee. He graduated from Madison High, Hebron Academy and the University of Maine. After teaching and coaching baseball and basketball at Gorham high from 1931 to 1945, he became farm director for both WCSH TV and radio for the next 30 years. Today, I’m channeling Jake and bringing you the Farm Market Report from 70 Pleasant Street in Hartland, Maine.
After a particularly cold and nasty winter here in Somerset County, the garden season dragged its heels. Generally I don’t plant anything before Memorial Day weekend because I’ve been bitten too often by late frosts. This year, it was looking like we might have to wait a couple weeks after the holiday to put anything in the ground because it remained cold and very damp. Mother Nature relented at the last minute and allowed enough sun to poke through cloud cover so the garden plot got tilled on the actual holiday.
Even so, seeds tend to respond to soil temperature and that doesn’t rise nearly as fast as air temperatures do. One of the hardest things to do when you’re a gardener is to leave seeds alone once they’re in the ground. Just because they haven’t broken ground when YOU think they should, doesn’t mean they’ve rotted or that the crows have dug them up and scarfed then down.
Growing things tend to catch up quite nicely given optimum weather conditions. Take our raised bed flower garden, for example. When the snow melted, it looked pretty bleak, but aside from a couple finicky perennials that turned toes up, most of the plants are threatening to outgrow the boundaries. We’ll be doing some serious dividing come fall, with astilbe, delphiniums and primroses to give away. The Mexican sunflowers, zinnias and four o’clocks I started from seed are all on their way to fabulosity and one of my favorite annuals, the calendulas are starting to show their rich orange blooms in the center garden by the red gazing ball.
Not everything survived the harsh winter. The two peach trees which gave us a few delicious treats last year have just a few scattered patches of leaves, but so much of each is winter killed that there’s no way they will make it through another winter. Unless a miracle happens, they will be cut down next April and new fruit trees of a hardier type will take their place.
Our raspberries, however, are gearing up for a banner season. I pruned off the dead ends and canes last month and weeded as much as I could to give them elbow room. Bees and hummingbirds have been busy pollinating them and last week I started picking the red variety. We have about 50 everbearing plants, thirty red and twenty gold. After supper, I head down and pick. The daily return right now is about a quart and they’re extremely large this year.
I’m not the only one attracted to the raspberries. Japanese beetles, something only found in insect books in the days when I was listening to Jake, are now a major problem in the back yard. They love roses, grapes, plums and raspberries, but aren’t so fussy that they won’t devour astilbe and primroses along with the very promising crop of wild blackberries. I’ve heard numerous gardeners say that putting up a Japanese beetle trap simply invites the neighbor’s pests to come over to your place. Instead, I have a glass jar that’s 1/3 full of water and beetle killer. I wander about, tapping them into the mix. The body count is scary. On day one, I nabbed 1006, day two netted 856 and day 3 garnered another 300. We’ve just endured three days of mini-monsoons, so it will be interesting to see how many are caught tomorrow after supper. Two years ago, I tried applying milky spore to see if it would have any effect. I didn’t see one, but will apply it more vigorously this year in an effort to reduce the stress inflicted when hundreds of oversexed beetles chew holes in every available leaf.
We have two Stanley plums. The smaller one has never produced anything, but this year it seems to have gotten a second wind. The foliage is thicker and much greener and there are a couple dozen plums ripening. Most of the seventeen apple trees on the property or close to the boundary line are loaded with green apples. Near the raspberries is a very old and wide early Macintosh. Its apples ripen and go soft very quickly, but they have the best Macintosh flavor I’ve ever experienced. I’m hoping I can make both cider and applesauce this year.
The vegetable garden has really come into its own in the last two weeks. After buying a six-pack of broccoli plants, I planted a row of seeds that were kicking around in the storage building. I think every one came up and as you can see, we’re on our way to having enough broccoli to supply all of Pleasant Street.
Two rows of corn are really cranking. On hot sunny days following rain, I can see visible evidence of fast growth. Some days, the plants shoot up four to six inches. Our three types of beets are doing well. We’ve already thinned the golden beets and eaten a nice mess of greens. Kale shares a row with summer squash and cucumbers. The kale is ready to be used, sparingly at first, but will be available until the first hard frost. One of our favorite uses for it is to bake it in cider vinegar and then top it with blue cheese. It’s a very healthy dish with amazing flavor. Another good way to use it came from sister Kate who gave us a recipe she calls Power Soup. It’s kale, cider vinegar and hamburger simmered with a few other ingredients. I’ll leave it to her to share the full recipe.
Red and green cabbage, along with cauliflower are holding their own, despite repeated attacks by hungry woodchucks. I’ve killed at least five this year, but every time I think the scourge is over, more of my set plants disappear. They’ve left the three rows of lettuce, my two rows of onions and the beans and peas alone. Lettuce is ready, summer squash will be big enough to eat by Saturday and beans by the first of next week. Two years ago, I found a jar of huge bean seeds while cleaning out my late father-in-law’s woodworking shop. Last year, I planted a handful and discovered they were scarlet runner beans. The flowers are beautiful and the pods twice as wide as a regular bean. In fact the pods are so big they give the impression that they’ve gone by. Cook them up and you’ll find they’re tender and extremely tasty. This year, I planted a fifteen foot row of them and the flowers are already beautifying the back yard.
Add a row and a half of snow peas, two small raised beds of carrots, three kinds of basil and three kinds of tomatoes and the only thing left to report on is the annual Clark winter squash plantation. I’m no purist, so whenever we raise a particularly healthy winter squash, I save some of the seeds. This year, we have about 150 plants, comprised of acorn, butternut, buttercup, green hubbard, pumpkin and cantaloupe with some complete mystery seeds mixed in. As you can see from the photo, it’s taking off across the lawn already. If we’re lucky, we’ll have plenty for the winter as well as a goodly amount to share through the Tri-Town food cupboard. I’ll be back in the fall with a followup report.