Friday, July 31, 2015

Flower Friday: July 31, 2015

I only have one bouquet today, and this one I only barely managed to bring in before the sky opened up yesterday. It's super-pretty, though:

Snapdragons, rose, Chinese forget-me-not, astilbe, and yarrow.

It's a little hard to tell in this photo, but those snapdragons at the bottom are a deep, velvety red-purple, which really sets off the delicate pink of the rose. So much pink this year! It's definitely growing on me.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Peach Tree Problems

About a week ago, we noticed that we had a problem in the orchard. One of these things is not like the other:

It's not just the leaves of our (formerly) best peach tree that are having trouble. Check out the (former) fruit:

A couple weeks ago this tree was covered with peaches just waiting to ripen up in August, but now they are shriveled down to the pits. It looks more like an almond than a peach. They all look like that.

No peaches this year.

So what's the problem? 

Well, it's clear that the tree isn't taking up water, but we've had decent rain, and other trees are fine. As I was looking at the damage and trying to figure it out, I saw a funny bug fly by. I couldn't get a photo, but it was unforgettable. It looked like this:

This image is Image Number 1435199 at Forestry Images, a source for forest health, natural resources and silviculture images operated by The Bugwood Network at the University of Georgia and the USDA Forest Service.

That's not a bug you forget easily—it looks like a giant wasp with a bright orange belt. So I hit the books (specifically The Backyard Orchardist, our go-to guide) and double checked online to see a color photo of our bug.

It's called a peach tree borer, and they are a menace to young peach trees. 

These aren't wasps, but moths, and they burrow under the bark of peaches, nectarines, and plums near the soil line. They lay eggs there, and when the larvae hatch they eat. A lot.  That's what causes the damage:

It's a little hard to tell in the photo, but that's where the trunk of our peach tree meets the soil. You can see that a good deal of it has rotted away, and some of the damage is fairly fresh (the reddish, sawdusty holes).

Sometimes the tree oozes gummy sap at the site of the wounds. This is what that looks like on our nectarine tree:

Yup—our nectarine is also in trouble. This explains why it hasn't really grown in the past couple years.

Because the trouble is that we've had peach tree borers for years but didn't realize it. I had seen some of that sap at the roots of our trees pretty much since we planted them, but didn't connect it to an insect problem. And since we had amazing crops, I never gave it another thought. 

But…looking back, it hasn't been all peachy. (Sorry.)

One of our peach trees died and had to be replaced in its second year, and the nectarine hasn't put on much growth in the past couple years. Our inability to recognize the problem has cost us big-time, because peach tree borers come back to the same spot year after year, making a small problem explode into a big one as the roots of the trees suffer increasing damage and the tree can't take up enough water to set fruit. Or survive.

We were already talking about giving the orchard an overhaul next spring after we saw how some things recovered (or not) from winter damage. Now it looks like we will be removing two peaches, a nectarine, and the broken Granny Smith apple. It's unlikely that these trees will recover, so we'll take the opportunity to replant half (!!) of the orchard with more spacing. We'll also be much better prepared to deter those peach tree borers and protect our trees while they are young and vulnerable. 

I'm putting a nice spin on that, but I'm really crushed about losing what had been by far our most reliably productive fruit tree. I'm also sad to miss out on peach pie and ice cream and chutney

And peaches. I'm really going to miss juicy, delicious peaches.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Bonus Peas

Usually by this time of year, our pea vines are long gone. We typically pick garden peas through mid-July, and the vines turn brown and die back as temperatures rise. We've never had much luck replanting them in the fall, so we usually just freeze a year's worth of peas in the spring and call it a season by the end of July. You can see the die-back starting here:

But…what's that bit of green down there at the bottom? Let's take a closer look:

New growth on the old vines! This has never happened to use before—maybe because we pulled out the vine before they had a chance to get to this stage? I'll be honest: that's exactly what I was planning to do when I noticed the new growth. There's even a pea pod or two!

So to see this unbidden (but welcome) experiment through, I clipped the old vines just above the new growth and threw them in the compost pile. I left the new growth behind to see how big they'll get, and if we'll get a second harvest. My guess is that we'll get a little bit of growth and a few extra pea pods, but nothing like the big vines that grow in the cool, wet weather of the spring.

Here's a closer look at how the new growth popped up on the vines. The old, dying vine is to the left of the above photo, but you can see new green shoots bear the bottom to the right. Those new shoots are so close to the ground that at first I thought maybe peas had dropped and self-sown, but they're definitely attached to the original vine.

We've never seen this before. Have you? Let me know in the comments if you have any experience. For reference, the variety is "Penelope," and we bought them from Johnny's.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Black Raspberries

Though we still haven't reaped many blueberries from our new stock, the raspberries this year are awesome. We even have black raspberries for the first time, since this spring we remembered to prune them properly. Black raspberries grow differently than red ones:

The canes are more silvery, and when they arch over and touch the ground, they'll set new roots and form a brambly hedge. If you prune them back, they'll send out more side branches instead. We'll get to this one after the fruiting is done. 

Black raspberries also spend a good portion of their lives looking an awful lot like red raspberries:

If you aren't paying attention and think that those pretty red berries are ready to eat, you will be disappointed in a particularly face-puckering way. Unripe black raspberries are almost inedibly sour.

If you are paying attention, though, you notice that black raspberries grow together in upward facing clusters, and this bit of knowledge will keep you from eating terrible fruit by mistake. None of the berries in that cluster above is ready to pick, by the way. The one that looks almost ripe is still a little purple instead of really black, so it too will be terribly sour. You really have to wait until they're totally black with no translucent bits of purplish light shining through—then they're delicious. 

For contrast, real red raspberries hang down downward when they're ripe, and they're not as tightly clustered:

We have only two black raspberry plants, and this is the first season we've had any black raspberries to speak of. It's not enough to make a jam or anything, but they taste so good right off the vine (when they finally are ripe) that we just eat them right up any way. It's been a great season for raspberries, one of our fruit success stories.