Wednesday we had an idyllic Grand Cheese Tasting with twenty guests on a perfect evening and I left about 8:15 pm to go home. I had been watching the weather for a week and I knew we were right on the edge. Rain was forecast to return in the middle of the night. Rain again. When you have repeating rain cycles like this during bloom in a bramble, organic agriculture has to go into overtime to hold on. I grabbed a drink of water, looked mournfully at the cold beer in the fridge and headed out to spray.
Fungi need water droplets. They ride them from the parent fungal colony to the next potential infection site, and then use an enzyme stew made possible by the rain drop to drill into the host: our developing berries. Once they hook in, you cannot stop them from persisting. But before a rain comes you can fight.
The basic strategy is to cover the parent colonies with something that will suppress them, and at the same time coat the developing fruit with something hydrophobic or mechanically antagonistic to fungal stew. Enter our players: neem oil, elemental copper and Bacillus Subtilis. These three are used in rotation between rain events to keep covering the parent colonies, and they coat the small berries to prevent infection. On this particular Wednesday it was neem oil, since I used copper last Friday, and I used Bacillus Subtilis (a bacteria antagonistic to these fungal invaders) the Friday before that.
Driving a tractor sprayer through narrow rows at dusk while flipping triggers on a sprayer is like sailing a small boat in heavy wind. You hold on tight for a 30-minute ride of white knuckle attention-grabbing spectacle while you blast emulsified neem oil into the canopy behind you watching moths and dead leaves go flying as the air pressure rakes the canopy. I have to say that after eight years, I like the rush. I could live with a better schedule in which to get it, but part of agriculture that lures men in is dealing with highly variable environments at speed. Off to the south lightning was playing across the sky.
When I finished and washed up it was about 10:30, and after a shower I sat down to a cold beer and leftovers from dinner. The dull nutty smell of neem oil hanging heavy on the air filled my consciousness and gave me a peaceful night as rain gently moved into the area overnight.
This year if all holds, and there is no surety of that, we will have one of our better if not our best blackberry year to date. We are very excited to keep tending and keep holding on in order to produce a crop that adorns and makes lively the summer in Kansas. We hope to begin picking on June 22nd or June 29th. Reservations will open seven days before picking, so check in around the 15th to see where we are.
Out in the Creamery Keri Jacobs is doing fantastic and exciting work. We have Caprino Fresco and Feta in stock, wonderful cheeses from other vendors, as well as fresh boules and Linzer tarts from the kitchen. We cannot wait to share our first bloomy rind cheese with everyone starting 5/31.
Through the summer the Creamery is open and ready to sell cheese, gelato, and fine accompaniments, to prepare a picnic for you and your family, or prepare an aperitif spread you can take home for special occasions.
We look forward to sharing the summer with you at Elderslie.