Mary Cook

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since Jan 27, 2015
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Recent posts by Mary Cook

Many of the varieties named which I have tried, I consider bland. Okay I'm in West Virginia; I think location affects both climate and seed availability. Tomatoes are important to me but mostly for sauce, and yes, here in the Northeast where we have plenty of sun and usually plenty of rain, the disease pressure is intense--but bugs are no big deal. Anyway, because of this my top criterion is disease resistance. But I like to grow a selection of varieties. I no longer grow cherry tomatoes because I ate them like candy and it was too much roughage--much more skin to pulp ratio. Before that became a problem I tried and liked several kinds but Sungold was my favorite. In bigger tomatoes sweet isn't enough--I want some sour tang and that seems to have become harder to find. Pink Berkeley Tie Dye is highly rated and I have grown it several times, finding its flavor exceptional--it makes beefsteak types, striped dark red, fairly early but then gets the disease and maybe manages to eke out more tomatoes slowly...which was my experience with Persimmon. I tried that for the first time this year. It's a big yellow tomato and I didn't think its flavor exceptional but it produced heavily midseason, was slow to get the diseases (early and late blight)...but then succumbed entirely. In the past I've liked Kellogg's Breakfast but it produced almost nothing this year. That's another big yellow (or orangey) one with sweet flavor. For flavor and long yield of small tomatoes, I recommend two very similar black and red tomatoes, Cosmic Eclipse and Chestnut Cherry (?) It seems to me if you like strong tomato flavor, with acid as well as sugar, the blackish reds tend to be among the best--but I wasn't real impressed with Black Plum or Black Krim. I always grow paste tomatoes since sauce is my prime object--this year I tried Striped Sausage--okay but Opalka (a sausage shaped one without stripes) probably yields more and tastes pretty good for a paste tomato. I have also grown Giant Garden Paste a couple of years, it makes sortof beefsteak or purse-shaped tomatoes, of which the first ones are very large. And I've been growing Glacier just for one plant a year--it produces small round red tomatoes that are entirely unexceptional, but does so a few days earlier than any other tomato (and then continues producing lightly for a long time).
I never bothered to chill my butter--but maybe it doesn't matter so much because I always use 50/50 whole wheat/white flour. I think it looks and tastes better as well as being more wholesome. But I might try that trick of cutting the butter into smallish pieces, chilling, then grating them; I break it up with a fork which is tedious. The one trick I haven't seen mentioned here is that I use whole wheat PASTRY flour when I remember--that works better for pastry than bread flour.
2 months ago
I grow a purple one which is a deep beautiful purple inside and out, before and after it's cooked. It doesn't soften when fried like the orange ones do and is a little denser when baked, same flavor. I decided I like the orange ones better but keep growing lots of purple ones because they're much more vigorous sprouters. I grow lots because they provide a lot of calories per square yard of garden space,  inhibit weeds once they're established, and keep all fall and winter on a pantry shelf, even healing over cuts. I throw a sweet potato, butternut squash or white potatoes in when I'm running the oven; if we don't want the sweet potat o I can feed it to my chickens, and raw, scrawny or damaged ones are good goat food. Mostly we eat them baked with butter, but I throw some cubed bits in with chopped potatoes for home fries, and I have a peanut butter and sweet potato soup recipe I like.
3 months ago
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.
5 months 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.
5 months 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.
5 months 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.
5 months 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.
5 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.
5 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.