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August 21, 2009

Hawthorn Hill: The Infamous late blight

This has been quite a summer. Up here on the hill we have been doing battle with all sorts of elements:

rain, cool weather, relentless Japanese beetle sorties aimed primarily at our newly planted raspberries, grapes, plum and cherry trees, moles gnawing away at our potatoes, poor seed germination rates, a growing rabbit population, unprecedented deer nibbling and, worst of all, the infamous late blight. With respect to the latter, we returned home several weeks ago after being away just two nights to find all of our paste tomatoes afflicted with blight. They now rest, I hope uncomfortably, under several layers of black plastic. So far our other tomatoes seem to be holding their own. We check them several times a day. As is the case with anyone growing tomatoes and potatoes, one can only hope for the best. Chatting with a gardener friend the other day, mostly an effort at buoying up one another’s spirits, we agreed that nature always wins these battles. Especially when one is committed to organic approaches, there can be times that are quite frustrating and one feels rather helpless in the face of nature’s unwillingness to tow the human mark. I have come as close as I ever have this summer to breaking my organic vows and spraying some trees and the raspberries with chemicals. Fortunately, there is always a little voice deep down inside that puts up quite a fight and, at least for now, wins those battles.

I do not know how many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Japanese beetles we have scraped off our raspberry and grape leaves thus far.

The good news is that we have been able to cut our losses rather substantially by making regular beetle collection runs. The other up side is that our chickens love the little buggers. They have become so used to being served up little mounds of squirming beetles several times a day that every time one of us even comes close to their outdoor pen they race to the door in anticipation of fresh protein. In a month or so twelve of them will end up in the freezer. I trust the added protein will have a flavorful effect. At that point, the remaining more or less permanent residents will have the run of the place.

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