Tuesday, July 31, 2012

U Pick

The raspberries are ripe in Cap-Pele but there are no pickers.  At Vienneau farm, it's self-serve only, with pint boxes available to anyone who is willing to venture out to the berry patch and help themselves.   A pint of U Pick berries costs $2.00, while the same amount sells for $4.49 at the supermarket.

We spent a pleasant hour at the farm this morning working our way along the thick row of old growth raspberry bushes, selecting fruit for freezing and jam-making.  The task requires patience and discernment.  There are no shortcuts in the painstaking one-berry-at-a-time plucking method.  Each cluster includes some under-ripe pale berries that cling tenaciously to their green caps, unwilling to let go prematurely.   Right next to those are the over-ripe maroon berries that have a tendency to explode into juice or drop to the ground at the slightest touch.  The premium berries - the ones you should aim to collect - have the healthy blush of a red rose, release from the stem with a gentle pull, stay intact when dropped into the box and do not stain your hands or clothing during the harvest.  You have to hunt high and low for the best berries, moving into keyholes cut at regular intervals along the row.  These prickly, intimate niches allow the picker access to the very core of the bushes where, surrounded by protective vegetation, the perfect berries hang hidden from view.

Berrypicking is used as an analogy for research methods, particularly when describing how people go about finding information on the internet.   Experts who understand the dynamics of search engines suggest that programs designed to encourage a meandering style of research are the most effective and most user-friendly.  The terms of a search naturally follow a winding path, adapting and changing as we gather information, picking up facts and ideas one delicious tidbit at a time.   Marcia J. Bates, Professor of Information Studies at the University of California wrote a paper on this subject entitled "The design of browsing and berrypicking techniques for the online search interface." 

Discernment is a crucial skill for anyone relying on the web as a library substitute.  Some questions to ask as you wade through layers of rumour, folklore, urban myth and creative writing looking for straightforward answers:

Accuracy - Can you verify the facts?
Authority - Who is writing and what qualifications do they have?
Objectivity - Is this personal opinion, biased reporting, or propaganda? Is the information presented in order to sell something?
Currency -  How up to date is this info?
Coverage - Is this an in-depth analysis or a superficial gloss-over?

Search engine meandering has a definite appeal for people who like to find unexpected things en route to valid information about a specific topic.  The internet gods not only smile on distraction, but pardon a dose of deception, too.   One can easily be misled when the path to information is neither straight nor narrow.   Just look at the quote I found while researching this topic!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Power of Patchwork

Some of the patterns have names that suggest the pioneer era - Log Cabin, Churn Dash, Bear's Paw, Rail Fence, Flying Geese, Weathervane.   Others come directly from Bible stories - Solomon's Temple, Crown of Thorns, Star of Bethlehem, Job's Tears, Jacob's Ladder, Garden of Eden.   There are names that just have a certain charming poetic ring to them -  Steps to the Altar, Apple Hexagon, Boy's Nonsense, Whirlwind, Hither and Yon.  

 The annual Lupin Quilt Fair at Port Elgin, NB is an exhibition of home made patchwork quilts that showcases the skill and artistry of Maritime needlecraft.  It is a fundraising event with proceeds from the sales of quilts supporting the community projects of PEDVAC Foundation.  The charity is involved in maintaining a local Food Bank, working as tutors for youth at risk, and providing programs and services that assist low-income residents. 

 Among the historical quilts on display I was impressed by this piece, made from a collection of prize ribbons won at local country fairs during the early 1900s.  How resourceful the maker was, to think of recycling small scraps of saved cloth that marked achievement.   What a wonderful way to preserve family pride and document repeated first place winnings over a number of years.  Growing the largest pumpkin, making the best dill pickles or raising the finest draft horse team were important, quilt-worthy accomplishments.  

Quilt made from prize ribbons circa 1910
Quilting fabrics
Contemporary quilt-makers have the advantage of a whole sub-section of the sewing industry that's devoted to making the work easier and the creative part more enjoyable.  The craft has been enhanced with a huge selection of colourful polyester/cotton blend fabrics, precise rotary cutters, acrylic stencils and sophisticated long-arm computerized sewing machines.  Many quilters avoid the new technology, preferring good old-fashioned hand-stitching over automatic methods.  Traditionalists consider eight to ten even running stitches to an inch the mark of a good hand.  Some include a deliberate error in their quilts, as a humble reminder that only God can produce perfection.   
Here are some photos of quilts from the Port Elgin show.  

Patchwork was once used as a method of reform.  In the early 1800s social activist Elizabeth Fry provided patchwork materials to female prisoners as they boarded British convict ships headed for New South Wales.  She believed that quilting was a means of salvation, a habit of industry that was both therapeutic and edifying.  The act of stitching allowed a prisoner a period of focused contemplation, a mental state that in Fry's Quaker viewpoint facilitated divine revelation.  Doing something creative was better than idleness and a quilt produced during the long sea passage could become a saleable product upon arrival at the Australian destination harbour.

The National Gallery of Australia has a fine example of a convict quilt in its collection.  A ship named "Rajah" left Woolwich, England on the 5th of April, 1841 carrying 180 female prisoners.  It arrived on the 19th of July 1841 in Hobart, Australia, where the passengers presented a commemorative patchwork quilt to Lady Jane Franklin, wife of the Lieutenant-Governor.   This amazing quilt with its intricate design composed of  2,815 pieces, has these embroidered words in the border:   
‘To the ladies of the convict ship committee, this quilt worked by the convicts of the ship Rajah during their voyage to van Dieman’s Land is presented as a testimony of the gratitude with which they remember their exertions for their welfare while in England and during their passage and also as a proof that they have not neglected the ladies kind admonitions of being industrious. June 1841.’ 
Rajah Quilt 1841
There is a sense of gestalt in the design and construction of a pieced quilt.  The whole is indeed greater than the sum of the parts.

NB:  If you're inspired to start a patchwork project, here are simple directions for the beginner.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Ravenous and Resistant

The day after a hard rain the temperature climbed, the wind died down and the backyard micro-climate became steamy semi-tropical.   I attached a new plastic bug repellent device to my belt and headed out to the vegetable plot to work at weed removal.   Without the annoying distraction of buzz-slap-buzz, the clean-up moved along smoothly. I was just thinking how marvellous applied science is, how wonderfully advanced we humans are in eliminating small, everyday annoyances through technology, when I noticed that a new guest pest had arrived in the potato patch. Overnight my rows of healthy plants had been turned into an entomologist's textbook -  An Illustrated Guide to the Life Cycle of the Colorado Potato Beetle.

Mature Colorado Potato Beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata)



The striped adult beetles are hardy types who overwinter in the soil at the margins of the field and emerge from the ground at the same time that the potatoes begin to sprout.  They lay clusters of yellow eggs on the underside of the plant's leaves.  Larvae - in the form of dark red caterpillars with black spots - hatch and start eating, using the potato plant as an inter-generational salad bar.  In four weeks, the fattened, roly-poly larvae fall off the plant, bore into the ground and pupate.  They come back in a month's time as "summer adults" and the cycle begins again.  When the plants play host to the Colorado beetle clan's orgy of eating and reproducing a destructive pattern is set in motion.  

Scientific literature about this species indicates resistance to 41 active ingredients in chemical pesticides.   On nearby Prince Edward Island, where potatoes are the mainstay agricultural crop, large-scale farms are using imidacloprid, a pesticide product marketed by Bayer as "Admire 240F".  This may effectively kill the beetle when applied to the soil, but not without adverse effects on the eco-system.  The bee population has been severely reduced by residual amounts of imidacloprid in clover pollen and nectar, and without bees, the blueberry farmers have noticed a sharp decline in their yields.  The toxin also causes thinning in the eggshells of wild birds and decreases the numbers of beneficial insects such as earthworms and ladybugs.  

The helpful home gardeners here in Cap-Pele shared their low-tech mechanical method for controlling the Colorado Potato Beetle.  They advised me to hand-pick the insects and drop them into a container of gasoline to finish them off.   I plucked hundreds of creepy crawlers and their hungry offspring from the plants for two mornings in a row, and still found plenty of bugs on Day Three of the program.  By Day Four it was time to admit defeat.   The plants were removed from my garden, along with eggs, larvae, and beetles.  It wasn't a total loss, as the marble-sized, red potatoes from the pre-emptive harvest are the sweetest ever.  

Next year, I'll buy my spuds at the farmers' market .

NB: Here's an interesting artifact from the 19th c. that proves the ingenuity of farmers in an era prior to toxic chemical pesticides.

Read about two other gardens I have tended - one in Alberta, the other in Argentina.