Just a short 7-mile drive from our home will find us in the state of Massachusetts. One more mile takes us to Cider Hill Farm, a fruit and vegetable farm along with some great eggs from Red Star laying hens. We learned about their method of growing delicious ripened tomatoes before field tomatoes were ripe anywhere nearby. We had to check this out…
The first things we noticed were solar panels in fields and wind turbines high above the buildings. As we drove in, we could see though a colorful border to another solar panel on the hen and goat house where families were visiting and children were feeding the chickens and swinging on tire swings. Renewable energy! So far we were feeling good about this farm operation.
After making our purchases, the gals at the register urged us to follow the path to see more of the farm. It’s blueberries and raspberry picking season but we could see apple orchards and strawberry fields… but we really wanted to check out their method of growing tomatoes in hoop houses.
The blueberries were completely enclosed in a wall and ceiling of nets to keep out the critters. The berries were plentiful and plump! Raspberry fields were occupied by pickers and strawberries in interesting troughs looked healthy.
Ahhh… the hoop tomato houses. Tomato plants begin here in April, heated with sides rolled down like a typical greenhouse. Plants have a good start when the sides are rolled up and exposed to sun and breezes… but not rain. The foliage is kept dry by watering plants at the roots. No diseases! They have 10 greenhouses for tomatoes, planting them every two weeks so they can harvest past frost.
While we were poking around, a team of workers pulling a trailer of vegetables drove by. These weren’t just any workers. Cider Hill Farm provides opportunities for international exchange students in agricultural universities to become interns for one year here. They are housed on the farm. I don’t know where they are from this year but they stopped to chat and were happy and delightful young men.
That night we enjoyed the bounty of Cider Hill Farm and declared it delicious. Tomatoes had the perfect amount of acidity. You would never know they weren’t grown under the summer sun… not like awful hothouse tomatoes we tolerate all winter. The corn was beyond perfection and we’ve returned 3 times for more! How divine!
On hot, dry days at Rolling Green Nursery, overhead sprinklers can buy us a little time in the morning until we can get the hose on plants that flag first in the July heat.
I’ve discovered another insect in New Hampshire that I never met in Virginia. At first I thought it was an unusual Japanese beetle but, no, it’s a relative… same size but different markings. According to UNH Cooperative Extension, this is the invasive Asiatic garden beetle or Oriental beetle (Exomala orientalis) that was first discovered in the US in the early 1920’s. It is found in most of New England although it has moved as far as South Carolina and west to Indiana and probably still spreading. It feeds off the roots of grasses as a grub and the adult can attack garden plants.
Click to enlarge photos.
I think it’s actually kind of a cute looking little beetle… and “about the size and shape of a coffee bean,” says cooperative extension. Cute looking, but does damage as a grub to the lawn, then in June and July, it emerges from the soil to mate and eat. Adults generally eat little but stick around all summer nibbling in the garden.
After mating, the females burrow into the soil to lay eggs that hatch in about 2 weeks. UNH states that rarely are chemical controls needed for these grubs in New Hampshire. Japanese beetle grubs in this state are more destructive than the Asian beetle grubs, however the USGA says it’s the most important white grub species in turfgrass in New Jersey, southeastern New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island and causes major damage in ornamental nursery stock.
I do not see damage on many leaves or blooms in our little gardens. I’ve read that favorite foods are leaves and the petals of daisies, hollyhock, roses, phlox, petunias, sugarcane, and blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, peaches and sweet potatoes. Whew! I don’t have any of those!
Often overlooked in the yard because they are not good flyers like Japanese beetles and are nocturnal, doing all flying and mating at night. An Integrated Pest Management system that traps and disrupts mating with an in-ground pheromone lure for the adult male beetle may be my solution if it gets worse. The lures are good for 6 weeks but must be emptied weekly.
I wonder what new insect I’ll meet next….
In Virginia, the migrating flocks of mixed blackbirds (grackles, red-wing blackbirds, starlings and cowbirds) would descend on our bird feeders during spring and fall migration. One moment we could have finches and cardinals eating at the feeder and the next minute, the yard would be filled with hundreds of blackbirds clamoring for bird seed. Migration lasted for about 2 – 3 weeks and the birds were gone.
We think we know where they were all going in the spring… to New Hampshire where we now live. Experts say that as food becomes more plentiful in the warmer months, feeders account for less than 25% of most songbird’s diet. But it must be 90% of the grackles’ diet. We took the seed feeders down early but continue to feed our hummingbirds and the woodpeckers with suet feeders pictured below….that is, until the flocks of grackles found the suet. In numbers, they could tear apart a suet cake in two hours.
My daughter showed us her grackle-proof suet feeder that worked for them so mister gardener got to work to build one for us. He crafted the new feeder to fit the suet cage, which he fixed horizontally beneath the structure, pictured below:
The suet is caged just inside the structure to allow clinging birds to hang on to the bars of the cage. The grackles (and squirrels!) try their hardest but so far have been unsuccessful in hanging upside down. The birds we enjoy have no problem hanging on to the horizontal cage. The noisy chickadee families, the nuthatches, several kinds of woodpeckers and the titmice visit our new feeder and entertain us…. all dining upside down.
Being responsible caretakers of our environment, we removed a 12-ft. tall invasive burning bush (Euonymus alatus) from our foundation after buying our home a year ago. It is illegal to sell them in New Hampshire. The seeds are scattered by birds and the plant is out competing native plants in the wild.
The burning bush was replaced with a native arrowwood viburnum, one of which grew in my Virginia gardens. It produces lacy white flowers in the spring and berries for the birds in the fall. I thought I tackled the right questions about this beautiful shrub at the nursery but we already knew a bit about their versatility. The shrub is tolerant of sun or shade, all soil types, wet or dry areas, and is pest resistant. It sounded like a perfect addition to our shrub border…. that is, until this week.
It seems the shrub isn’t so resistant to insects. Japanese beetles love this species of viburnum! Never in Virginia, but here each morning, it’s a mating and dining Japanese beetle playground. And there’s evidence of a more sinister insect at work, the Viburnum Leaf Beetle. This is a beetle that I have not encountered before. Now I’ve spotted a couple of the insects and witnessed their telltale pattern of holes in the leaves.
I’m watching and speculating what our next step should be. Sadly, this beautiful shrub may need to be removed in the fall and replaced with a more insect resistant variety of viburnum. Sigh….