Friday, August 29, 2014

Sad tomatoes

This is, I think, what tomato blight looks like. Our wet summer has been particularly cruel to the home gardener's tomato crop. We've heard from a lot of people about how their tomatoes are pourries (rotten) this year. Many gardeners have destroyed their whole crop to keep the fungus from spreading. Still, I see some gardens around the neighborhood with gorgeous tomato plants, probably part luck and part diligent preventative care.

You can see how the blight affects the stem and leaves of the tomato plant. Yuck.

We've still got some healthy tomatoes, so we're hanging in there and destroying infected fruit. I dumped a 20-liter bag of rotten tomatoes into the garbage can last week. So sad. The blight shows up in the leaves first, then moves into the stems. When fruit forms, the fungus quickly infects it as well.

Two infected tomatoes before I removed them. The stem to the left is completely brown.

I read about blight and there's not a lot a home gardener can do once it sets in. The best measures are preventative: remove infected plants at the first sign of the fungus (I didn't  do that),  bag or burn infected leaves, plants, and fruit, and spray bouillie bordelaise (a copper sulfate mix) on the plants before blight appears (I didn't do that, either).

I usually rotate the crops around the garden plots so that I'm not growing the same thing in the same place every year. That will be especially important next year. I will also have to be vigilant about removing volunteers and removing excess leaves from the plants to allow a good air flow. I will also use bouillie bordelaise or some other anti-fungal treatment early in the season to help keep the blight at bay.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Throwback Thursday

When I was a kid in the 1960s and 70s, my family did a lot of camping in the summertime. We never went too far from home, usually to campgrounds in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. After I left home I stopped going. My first apartment out on my own was camping enough, I suppose. It wasn't until the late 1980s that I started to go camping again, this time in California. Ken was reluctant at first, but he got into the spirit and came to enjoy sleeping in a tent on the ground. We did a lot of camping in Northern California, in the mountains, on the coast, and in the Southern California deserts (including two camping trips in Death Valley). We also ventured into Nevada and Utah at one point.

The truck belonged to a friend of Sue's from Nevada who came along with us.

It was our friend Sue who got us into it, at first letting us borrow her old tent and sharing her camping supplies. It wasn't long before we had our own tent (which we still have) and collection of camping gear for our trips. This photo is from around 1988 or 1989. We were with Sue in the Tuolumne Meadow campground at Yosemite. The mornings were chilly up at that altitude (about 2,600 meters or 8,600 feet) and we enjoyed warming up with our morning coffee next to the campfire.

We did a lot of hiking on that trip and spent a day down in Yosemite Valley. We also enjoyed cooking dinners and eating and drinking (we always took a good supply of wine on camping trips) and star-gazing late into the night. Good times.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Make tracks, part two

This small field was mowed a few weeks ago. Now the grasses are growing back, but you can clearly see the tracks that the tractor made when it pulled the mower over the previously tall growth. The grasses, wildflowers, and small shrubs were waist-high before they were cut down.

Tractor tracks in the grass.

Our temperatures are on a slow upward trend. I'm really hoping that as we move into September we'll get better weather. Of course, the south of France is having sunny skies with highs in the 80s F. That must be where summer is spending it's vacation this year.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Make tracks

Certain sections on the edges of certain vineyard parcels have a tendency to collect water and drain slowly. Consequently, the ground can be a little soft and the growers' tractors leave deep ruts between the rows of vines. When the ruts finally dry out, the clay mud starts to crack.

Deep tracks made by heavy tractors on soggy ground.

Today, however, this track will have become a puddle once again. It's rained most of the night; not torrential rain, but a steady light rain. With the damp weather, I'm not hopeful for our tomato crop. The blight has taken hold and we're losing fruit. It seems to be affecting the large tomato plot much more than the smaller one, so we may get some more good tomatoes. There's nothing we can do now but wait it out and remove infected fruit. The fungus is destroying the stems as well, so they'll also have to go. Not into the compost (where the fungus can survive), but into bags for the dump or into a burn pile. Still, we had enough ripe tomatoes to make five containers of tomato sauce for the freezer yesterday.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Release the hounds!

On Sunday morning I went out with Callie for our usual morning walk through the vineyards. As we made our way, I started hearing some serious dog barking off in the distance. It got louder and more raucous as we walked. Callie heard it, too, and was interested. Then I heard men shouting and horns blowing down in the ravine next to the vines. It sounded like some kind of medieval battle, but there was no clanging of swords.

If you look closely, you might see a single strand of a spider's web between the stem and the tendril.

Turns out that it was une battue, an organized hunt. I could see hunters' cars stationed along the road through the vineyards in the distance and the hunters standing by with guns, waiting for the pack of hounds to flush their prey from the woods. Callie and I turned back and headed for home. The hunt went on for a couple of hours and eventually the hunters gathered right outside our back gate. We've seen them let the hounds dip in the pond to clean off before they get loaded back in their trucks. It's quite a sight -- those dogs are huge! But this time they got a call from another hunter and sped off to pick up the pack on the other side of the woods.

The season for foxes and roe deer opened back in June, but from what I can tell, they can only be hunted by organized, licensed groups, not by individuals. I suspect that this was a fox hunt because I recognized a couple of the guys from a previous fox adventure a few years ago. The regular hunting season (for rabbits and game birds) doesn't open until later this fall.

Here is another grape vine tendril. This one hasn't found anything to curl around yet. It's still reaching. It's been a while since the vines have been trimmed and the tendrils are doing their thing. We're supposed to have rain again, so I doubt any trimming will be done in the next few days. It's more likely that spraying will happen (again) to help prevent mildew. I wouldn't be surprised, however, if there's one more trim before harvest time.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

August blahs

We're trying to make the best of this lousy August weather. I blanched a sizable harvest of green beans on Saturday and packed them into the freezer. Ken incorporated what may be our last zucchini into our lunch; the plants have more or less stopped producing. The vegetable garden thinks it's fall. I'm keeping it watered (between rain events) in the hope that the pepper and eggplant blossoms will become fruit. We've picked tomatoes, but there are many more green ones still on the vine. I'm hoping for some sunny weather to help them along. And while the corn stalks have developed ears, they're still pretty small.

Colorful grape vine tendrils. As fall approaches, there should be some nice color developing out there.

The cucumbers seem happy, as do the green beans, and there are a number of winter squash on the ground. Add to that the beautiful crop of chard that we're about to start picking and we can say that we've had a successful season. But it certainly doesn't measure up to some of the better gardens we've had in the last ten years. I find myself planning for next spring's planting.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Wild thing

Here are some more of the ubiquitous carotte sauvage (wild carrot, or Queen Anne's Lace) that is the dominant wildflower out around the vineyards right now. This pink one is growing up through a more common white one. I don't know if the pink one is a different variety or just a newly opening flower head that hasn't turned white yet.

More wild carrot. They're everywhere! Too bad they're not very good to eat.

Summer vacations are ending for schoolkids and adults alike. The television news is filled with stories about people packing up and heading home this weekend, sad little faces saying good-bye to summer friends, the start of another school year, and people readying themselves to head back to work and to the gray skies of Paris. Not to mention all the predictions of horrible traffic in all of the usual places.

None of that for us retired folks. We just keep puttering in the garden, continuing our harvest and processing the produce. We're hoping for une belle arrière-saison (indian summer) since the actual summer kind of petered out at the beginning of August.