Monday, December 15, 2008

It's nearly Christmas and snow is covering the orchard and gardens. In fact a generous snowfall over the weekend guarantees insulation for the vines and herbs through the winter.

Ron's been busy in the vinegary. He's bottled new flavors: horseradish, habernaro and catnip. They're amazing to which visitors on Saturday will attest. We only tasted drops of the habernaro but in any quantity it's apt to knock your socks off. The horseradish is as horseradishy as can be. It would be the perfect accompaniment to sushi. Most people have never tried catnip in any form; thinking it's only for cats. Well, cats are stimulated by it while it's said to have a calming effect on humans. We don't know for sure about that but we think it will make vinegar lovers purr!

We've had some delightful press coverage recently. Country Home magazine had a little promo in the November issue which has generated orders from all over the country. We really appreciate that. Last week the Minneapolis Star Tribune called and will have an interview with Ron in their food section one day this week.

We had lots of visitors this summer with buses and cars spilling enthusiastic visitors onto the lawn, orchard, garden and vinegary. The tours of the outside have concluded for the season but we'll still welcome vinegary guests. We're planning for lots of visitors next year. My winter project will be to finish my book about this little enterprise, Leatherwood Vinegary.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

And now it's October

It was spring. Now it's fall. Things at Leatherwood Vinegary go just that quickly! We planted. We reaped. We're making wine and vinegar.

If it only were really that simple! Yes, we planted but it wasn't a good growing season. Too cool and wet in the spring. Then hot and dry. Now as frost is nearing, we have plenty of moisture and great growing conditions, but time is running out.

In a normal growing season the cherries, plums and apples blossom in succession. The rhubarb comes next, then the grapes blossom. All of that happened except the grapes were really late in leafing out. Because of the cold wet weather when the plums and cherries were blossoming, they didn't set on well. In fact, we had no cherries and only enough plums for fresh eating. Some of the apple trees are heavy with fruit while others only have one or two. This isn't a problem since off years help break the moth cycle and give the trees a rest. Last year's grape crop was glorious. This year we had four, yes four, clusters.

When our crop is poor we're especially appreciative of those who have and share a bountiful harvest. Conditions vary throughout the area and the crop isn't consistently good or bad. We're using the abundant rhubarb and apples that we have along with plums and grapes from others in the area. No cherries so there'll be a dearth of cherry vinegar next year.

We've had lovely herbs so have abundant herbal vinegars. Ron bottled a generous amount of French tarragon vinegar. The garlic is infusing now as well as an experimental batch of catnip (it's stimulating for cats but calming for humans). We dug the horseradish just a couple of days ago so we'll taste the first horseradish vinegar in a couple of weeks.

Tour groups have been wonderful this summer and continue coming as we move into cooler weather. We've enjoyed sharing the vinegary and gardens with mystery tour groups, veterans' reunions, girlfriend groups, families, couples and individuals. Amity came from North Carolina to write a story for AAA Living magazine. Jeff and Inese came to celebrate their fifth anniversary. An opera singer from Australia stopped in on his trip around the world.

We cooked another vinegar themed dinner for a school fundraiser, hosted a large family gathering, and Ron has shared his wine making expertise with classes. We've also learned from our visitors and now know how to grow bigger onions (hoe the soil away from the bulb and let it sit on top of the ground), better garlic ( mulch with six inches of leaves and top with plastic to winter over), jucier tomatoes (trench between rows and fill the trenches with water, let it seep in, repeat).

Now with winter on its way, the plan is to write a book about our experiences as the first vinegar proprietors in Minnesota, and perhaps update this blog more faithfully. But first I want to transplant the strawberry bed, plant the garlic and shallots, make some beet pickles, get two bushels of tomatoes from a generous person who has an abundant crop, make tomato wine and vinegar.......and so on it goes.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Pruning in the orchard

Yesterday was a glorious day to spend in the orchard, pruning the vines and trees in preparation for the upcoming growing season. With temperatures nearing the 70s, I wore a light jacket but could have hung it on the grape arbor instead.

Last year the professor took charge of the grape vine pruning and did a spectacular job of tying up the vines. Grape production was good. The vines appear to have wintered well. Some of them are over 25 years old, have thick gnarly trunks and tendrils that attach securely to the arbor and to other vines.

I pruned more severely than in the past, leaving only the main trunks and a few branching vines. The Italians, Germans, French prune back to an ugly stump with a knobby top and some of ours have some semblance to those, and an opportunity to sprout new growth and produce as those European vines do. I'm tempted to describe the vines as calligraphy against the green backed orchard hill but they really look more like black chicken scratched lines clinging to the arbor with little white flag ties.

It doesn't matter what they look like since how they produce is more important. Yet it does matter to me, the pruner, when I look at the tidy row and feel satisfaction in time well spent.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Nine kinds of blue cheese

Since this is a vinegar blog it's important to mention vinegar with each update: yesterday I washed the windows with diluted white distilled vinegar. I half filled a five gallon bucket with warm water, sloshed some vinegar into it and set about washing windows. I have to say I've become disillusioned with commercial spray window cleaners. The no-streak claims seem to be unsubstantiated. But I was amazed at the streak-free cleaning powers of plain old vinegar!

Now to the blue cheese. My son-in-law, the professor, visited over the weekend. He brought an assortment of blue cheeses, fruit and port with which to celebrate spring. He had no fewer than 18 small china bowls on a large oval tray. In these he placed samples of the nine kinds of blue cheese he found in twin cities' markets along with black berries, Asian pears, apples, plums, grapes and strawberries. There were crackers, too, but to appreciate the more subtle variations in the flavors of the cheeses we just nibbled them in pure delectable nuggets.

What a delightfully intimate way to try new flavors while celebrating the change of seasons!

The Nine Blues:
Cachel Irish Blue
Societe French Sheeps’ Milk Blue
Rossini Italian Blue
Roaring 40’s Australian Blue
Rogue Creamery Oregon Blue
Maytag Iowa Blue
Black River Wisconsin Blue
Big Woods Iowa Blue
Gorgonzola (Italian Blue)

Friday, April 11, 2008

April eleventh snowstorm

April tenth and there’s so much snow on the ground, and on my satellite dish, that I shoveled the walk instead of accessing the Internet and checking for mail. Each step of the entry walk had a foot of shape-holding marshmallow-like snow. I can just imagine the snow men that will arise from this spring-Friday-no-school-because-of-the-snow morning; unless other kids are like my twelve-year-old who is cuddled up on the couch, well into a good book. Since my Internet isn’t working, I’m blogging on my word program and will upload it when the snow slides off my dish.

The moisture that this snow bestows will seep down and add to the supply of water deeper down. The spring melt has already dissipated the frost layer and allowed the puddles to disappear. It’s good for the soil but very hard on the trees. The two arbor vitae sentinels at the front of our house may not recover from the distortions of the snow load. After shoveling the snow off the front steps, with frequent rest periods to relax my arms’ muscle spasms, I shoveled a path to these trees that have been in their regal positions for twenty-five years. Striking the branches with my shovel, I succeeded in knocking much of the snow off. Though the branches sprang back somewhat, the distortions of the major branches are likely to remain but the one that broke will need to be trimmed away.

While other pine trees suffer, too, from the way the heavy wet snow clings to their bracts and branches, the grape vines and fruit trees are feeling no ill effects. The moisture will be good for them.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Planning for Spring

We anticipated a post-holiday respite and yet the phone is already ringing in the new year.

January is nearly half gone and the tour groups are scheduling for February and March. Of course we think the best tours are in the other three months of the year. We'll do our best, though, to accommodate visitors who won't be able to take advantage of the sights and sounds of the orchard and gardens. Maybe the scents in the vinegary itself make up for the other sensory lacks.

In mid March we'll be doing our vinegar talk at the East Ottertail Horticultural Day in Perham. We were presenters in this fantastic garden themed day last year. It was a terrific event; one to get the sap flowing in gardeners' veins. Joe Bergeson will be the keynote speaker, sharing his thoughts on combining annuals and perrenials. Call the East Ottertail County Extension Office for more information 218-385-3000.

As to the vinegar production: Ron's been harvesting vinegars and making wines to eventually convert to vinegars. Our supply is up and the forecast looks good.

Hampton Market in St. Paul now carries Leatherwood Vinegars as does LaRae's Coffee and Gift shop in Long Prairie. The Cooks of Crocus Hill (St. Paul) have been tasting, and smacking their lips. Negotiations continue. As always, the Whole Farm Co-op continues to sell our vinegar through their drop sites.