Trees, dogs, beans, and salt

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Our shade trees are demonstrating their importance during the increasingly hotter summers the Vineyard is experiencing. The temperature differential between areas of shade under trees and the sunshine outside the canopy is enough to generate a pleasant breeze on the stillest, 90-degree-plus day.

The root flare of shade trees, where the trunk disappears into the ground, is a particularly vulnerable spot. Where trees are grown in lawn, already stressful since trees and lawns require different soil conditions, they are injured over and over again by contact at the root flare with mowers and string trimmers. Few trees can remain healthy when stressed by the continual soil compaction and nicking/bruising of their bark in that critical area. Create an unobtrusive mulch circle, or otherwise clear area, around your trees’ root flares, and exercise extreme care when mowing, for their continued good health.

The owners of lawns populated with stately old trees, indisputably a grand look, might plan to incorporate a planting program of selected saplings, which will then be in place to heir-condition (heh-heh) your premises for decades to come.

Heedlessness

A needless tragic accident resulting in the death of a valuable Jersey dairy cow occurred in late July when a truant husky dog chased and stampeded cattle at Mermaid Farm on Middle Road, causing a breach in their fencing, and the subsequent fatal collision with a van. WHY? I want to shout, do people indulge themselves in ownership of large dogs with specific traits that make them highly unsuitable as pets?

Most of the Island problems with keeping livestock involve dogs. A large dog, or pair of dogs, on the roam is a dangerous situation waiting to happen; I must acknowledge that small dogs, too, create their own forms of mayhem. However, very few dog owners can provide the specific conditions that permit large working breeds such as malamutes, Siberian huskies, akitas, Dobermans, rottweilers, chows, and others, to achieve their breed potential. Get rid of them! Get a canine pal suitable for sharing society with other beings.

I should know: I once owned a malamute husky, Magnus. Unwittingly I failed, or was unable, to provide the very particular conditions this working breed requires, which resulted in many incidents, mostly involving the death of another animal. After buying the neighbor’s purebred buck goat (dead, of course) and nearly losing our own sheep, we gave him up. I cried and cried for days, but no amount of tears could reverse my naïve mistake in thinking I could manage that beautiful wild creature.

While I am in rant mode, I might add that farming on the Vineyard is not a cute lifestyle choice upon which the rest of us can romantically project our notions, including “My Murphy needs (this beautiful meadow, beach, conservation area, bike path) to run free!” The Island farmer’s commitment to farming, whether livestock or crops, contains an investment far greater than is visible to non-farmers: Whatever the form, whether in financial, time, or emotional capital, it is a considerable pledge to the future on the part of an individual, a couple, or a family. “No farms, no food.”

In the kitchen garden

There seems to be little choice in zucchini cultivars that are resistant to squash bugs and squash vine borers. We must fall back on “eternal vigilance,” which can be quite difficult to practice, given the forest of stems and stalks a zucchini bush generates. By the time the plant starts to flag and wilt, it is late and difficult to locate the borer’s entrance spot, which the usual advice says is to be reamed out with a wire, killing the larval borer. Vining forms of zucchini that root at each node, like a pumpkin, might be an answer if the garden has space. Search Seed Savers’ Exchange and Baker Creek. Other advice for non-pesticide control: Spraying stems while young with Bt, and use of secured row covers until flowering stage, effective against squash bugs also. As the season turns, many people seem to feel that, by the time their zucchini succumb, they are tired of eating it anyhow and are perfectly content to let them go.

I sowed two different pole beans this season, “Kentucky Wonder” and “Fortex.” The flattened “Kentucky Wonder” has lost most of its lower leaves to rust and just started to bear, despite having been sown and planted out earlier. Long, thin “Fortex” was sown in-ground and has achieved less height on the poles; however it is covered in blossoms and appears destined to bear more heavily than “Kentucky Wonder.”

The bush beans have been a trial too. I planted out the first row, only to lose one entire row and most of the second to nighttime attackers, probably earwigs earlier and beetles later. I planted a second row, cannily started indoors, only to have them disappear one by one when planted out; by now all saved seed of romano-type beans was used. I combed garden centers but came up only with wax and purple bush beans. I started them indoors — and they are now in the ground and beginning to bear.

July’s Avant Gardener contained information on making tomatoes tastier. Dry-farming is one approach which involves drought-stressing the plants. In cooler areas they are watered only for the first week or two after transplanting, then never again. In hotter climates they are watered up until flowering time. Yields are lowered but color remains the same; skins become less tough.

In Italy, salt added to water has been shown to improve taste. Tests conducted at Rutgers University showed that taste-testers preferred tomatoes that had been watered just once with Atlantic Ocean water. This sole application of salty water is done when transplanting.