BERRY, BERRY GOOD — August 2018

By Diane Lockspeiser

My husband Steve grew up in New York City, but his parents brought him to the Catskill Mountains for many summers of his youth. I grew up on Long Island, but both my parents were New Englanders. Since my dad was also very involved with the Boy Scouts, the summers of my early childhood were spent in the mountains of New Hampshire, where he directed a Boy Scout camp. That Steve and I both have idyllic mountain summers among our fond memories is probably the main reason we have chosen to retire here in beautiful Andes.

My favorite part of being at the camp was wandering the hillside in search of wild blueberries. One of the women at the campsite where we stayed would give me a little bucket. If I could manage not to eat all of the berries I found and put enough in the bucket, she would make me treats like blueberry pancakes or blueberry muffins. Once she even made me my own little personal blueberry pie. Yum!

Fast forward many years, and I made those last few of my years living on Long Island more to my liking by helping out at a local organic farm. I was put in charge of maintaining their pick-your-own herb and flower garden. There were raspberries and blackberries in that area also, and many of us would refresh ourselves on summer days by picking a treat of ripe juicy berries. Often they were so sweet there would be small sugar ants on them, so I would always check them carefully before eating them. One day, one of the farmers came by and popped a few berries into his mouth with hardly a glance at them. “What if they had ants on them?!!” I exclaimed. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Extra protein.”

With the blessings and best wishes of the farmers, I was allowed to dig up a few shoots from those raspberry plants to bring to Andes. They have spread to cover a good-sized area and have been producing really well. I also bought blueberry bushes and strawberry plants, which are coming along fine as well. I just LOVE my berries!

One of the pests I encounter is Japanese Beetles and they love the raspberry plants. The easiest non-poisonous way I have found to deal with them is to put some soapy water into a container. I sneak the container into position below the bug(s) and then cup my hand lightly over the bug(s). Their natural reaction is to drop to the ground and that is when, hopefully, I catch them in the container. The soap makes them unable to swim to safety. They are most easily caught while mating. I must confess to a rather perverse sense of pleasure from reducing their numbers while they are distracted by their attempt to multiply.

Last summer I was alerted to a new pest. It is a type of gnat that injects its eggs into the developing fruit, where they hatch into larvae. The thought of accidently eating berries full of larvae had me so distressed that I pulled apart an awful lot of them in order to learn how to recognize which ones were infested and which were safe. I also started making extra sure that the areas around all the berry plants and bushes are kept clear so that the larvae don’t get a chance to hatch into more gnats.

All the infested or even just questionable fruit goes to my chickens, who eagerly gobble them up. They seem to be happy to get all that “extra protein”!~