Monday, September 9, 2019

A Peachy Blog Post

Photograph courtesy of the
Ohio Department of Agriculture 
Right now, peaches from local orchards are a must-eat food treat.

From California’s Central Valley, up the coast into Washington, across the Great Lakes and throughout New York and New England, it’s now relatively easy to find a peach that is ripening naturally. This is in delicious contrast to those months when retailers set out peaches that are hard, sour and green - - and then rot in seemingly hours or minutes.

Of local peaches, Mark Gade, at Gade Farm Store near our home, said, “There is nothing like the taste of a fresh peach in season.” Mark gets local peaches from Klein’s Kill Fruit Farms in southern Columbia County, in the Hudson valley.

Peaches at Gade Farm
 At one point while researching this post, I thought a fun opening sentence might be,  "Peaches are the greatest Chinese food in America that is hiding in plain sight." According to Cornell’s CooperativeExtension website, peach cultivation “began in China as early as 2000 B.C.” Traders brought peaches to Europe. European settlers brought peaches to the Americas, where, the website continues, “peach cultivation thrived on the east coast.” “By the mid-1700s,” the website concludes, “peaches were so plentiful in the United States that botanists thought of them as native fruits.”

Worldatlas, an online atlas, shows that China is the world’s largest peach producer, growing over 14.2 million tons of them in 2017. Spain was the second most prolific peach producer that year, growing nearly 1.8 million tons. The United States follows China, Spain, Italy and Greece with a nationwide crop of over 750,000 tons.

The ton is a major measure of peach output. This is paradoxical.

Eating a peach is such an individual, intimate experience. Each has a snowflake-like individuality in its coloring. Even two ripe peaches can taste just a little differently or have a slightly different firmness or juiciness. A “ton” is an industrial measure, more appropriate to cars or steel mills.

These two peaches weigh one pound.  If a ton is
2,000 pounds, how many of this size peach are in a ton?

But by what Bertie Wooster might call their peachiness, peaches subvert this measure. Bill Shane, a Michigan State University researcher and peach specialist, advises “there is not a firm number for how many peaches are in a ton. The number varies based on size and size varies by peach variety, crop load, time of year and growing conditions.”

Summer peaches from local orchards have an intense flavor. At the same time, their fruit and flesh are more delicate than apples or oranges.

The delicateness of a peach suggests that special growing conditions are required so that you can bite into a perfect peach on a warm summer day.

Photo courtesy of Jim Bittner
I assumed orchard fruits required river valleys or large lakes like the Great Lakes or Finger Lakes to buffer temperatures. But when Steve Lyle from the California Department of Food and Agriculture sent me information on where peaches are grown in California, I saw that much of the Golden State’s peach production came from the landlocked Central Valley where freezing temperatures are rare,

Thanks to Jim Bittner of Bittner Singer Orchards in Niagara County, New York, Bill Shane and my friend Bob LaRoche, I now better understand the delicate, balanced dance required to put that marvelous peach into your hands this month. In an email, Jim wrote, “Peaches cannot be grown where temperatures get below zero degrees Fahrenheit very often.” “Temperatures of 5 below,” he continued “will start killing next year’s flower buds; temperatures of 15 below will kill the tree.” Jim’s orchards, he writes, “are protected by open water all winter” on Lake Ontario.

Peach trees in bloom at Bittner-Singer Orchards. 
Photo courtesy of Jim Bittner
Although peaches cannot stand extreme cold, they need cool temperatures. Bill explained that peaches need “chill hours,” days during the winter months when air temperatures range from 34 to 42 degrees, to bloom properly. A Michigan peach, depending on the variety, needs about 700 or more chill hours. Bill said that southern peach growers use peach varieties that require fewer chill hours or use varieties requiring more chill hours if local climate permits. There is some controversy about whether varieties needing fewer chill hours taste as good as those with a longer chill time.

“Air drainage,” can allow people to grow peaches in cooler regions, away from large water bodies because - - at least on still nights - - warmer air is at the top of hills. Bob explained that air drainage is key to peach production in southern states. Bill said that in Michigan, it is possible to grow peaches in the vicinity of Grand Rapids, many miles from Lake Michigan, because air drainage provides good growing conditions on ridges, the so-called Peach Ridge growing area.

Once an orchardist determines if the temperatures are right , that peach is still not in your hands. Bob grows peaches in Maine; if frost comes too early or before harvest, he loses the crop.

My friend Joe Freda lives in the southern Catskills and wrote the following about another peach growing peril:

“We had a bumper crop this year. The peaches were so sweet we had them every morning for breakfast. In previous years the squirrels and crows got them before we did. This year we took pre-emptive action: started harvesting as soon as they looked good, at the end of July. We’ve been so pleased with them. Elise (Joe’s wife) was eager to harvest the rest of them, and I’d been waiting for the last full-growth day. A risk, a game of poker with the crows. Elise ate the last harvested peach for breakfast this morning, and asked me to go get the rest.

“As I walked up to the orchard, I could hear crows laughing at me: “Haw! Haw! Haw!” And when I got to the peach trees, there wasn’t a single fruit left! Those little suckers got me again, and they broke a couple of limbs in the process. Oh well, crows gotta live, too. And if they can dine on peaches as sweet as these, I’m sure we’ll be in competition for quite some time.

Marc Fuchs, a professor at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in New York’s Finger Lakes, advises that, in addition to Niagara County and other counties on Lake Ontario, Columbia, Dutchess and Suffolk Counties are big peach producing counties. For as long as possible, I plan to chase fresh local peaches - - before the frost lowers the boom.

You're right!  It's not a peach.
But this sunflower was so beautiful
I had to share it.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

A Garden Interlude

My next post was intended  to be an appreciation of local
peaches, but the research is going slowly.  Until it's
finished, here's a gardening update.

After a late, wet and cold spring, a bout of seasonal
allergies, and three weeks away in July because
of medical issues, the garden is shaping up!

My fellow gardeners have had their triumphs and setbacks.
Some had corn that did not mature, or things that
did not grow because of the wet and cold.

But lots of things are finally starting to ripen.

So far, we have picked and enjoyed more sweet corn
than the five, misshapen ears which grew last year. 
Two people in the Guilderland Community Garden have
gigantically tall corn stalks and I hope to meet them and
learn their recipe for success.

This ear of corn looked better in the camera view finder
than it did in the above photograph
But it tasted pretty good in the end

In the early 1980’s, Hurley’s tavern in downtown Albany
served delicious chicken wings and a wide assortment of
beverages.  One of our favorite past-times was to order
wings and small, “pony” bottles of Rolling Rock.  

Each bottle of Rolling Rock has a “33” on the back of the
bottle, representing the number of words in product’s slogan. 
“33” is also a symbol used by journalists to signal to printers
that an article has ended.  

After picking plum tomatoes for two days, I was reminded of
both of these facts when I learned that I had picked “33”
tomatoes.  More green tomatoes are on the vine. I hope the
“33” in the number I picked does not mean the tomato sauce
I made will taste like beer - - or the tomato harvest is over.

33 plum tomatoes

I pulled these carrots in early July. 
From the size of the carrot tops , I thought the carrots were larger. 
One of my favorite crops  is carrots. When I was growing
up in Bloomington, Indiana, my mother encouraged the family
to plant radishes and carrots.  The radishes always worked
well, perhaps because they could fill out at a shallow depth
in the ground and the carrots did not work well. 

It’s been nice to finally succeed with a favorite vegetable.

I like a variety called Scarlet Nantes.  The first year in the
garden, I tried a variety called Danvers.  Although friends do
well with Danvers, mine were woody and not as tasty as
the Scarlet Nantes.

This year, the weeds overwhelmed the carrots and fewer
came up.  But the ones that did were longer and wider
than in previous years.  

I pulled these carrots in early August.
What a difference a month makes!
During our first year in the Guilderland Community Garden,
I planted pumpkins.  Our garden there is 25 by 33 feet and it
seemed to have more than enough room for pumpkins.

But by July that year, the pumpkin vines overran everything. 
We have planted pumpkins in the backyard ever since.  

Last week, three green pumpkins started filling out.  Now,
we are in a mad race between the pumpkins ripening and
assorted animals who want to eat the vines and the fruit. 
Last night, something got the smallest of the three. 

Let's hope the feasting ends there.

As of mid-August, more corn, carrots and tomatoes remain
to be picked.  And waiting in the wings are cauliflower,
Brussels sprouts, broccoli, fennel, peppers, eggplant and beets.

I hope that you are having gardening success too!

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Seeing Things: Elephants, San Francisco Subway Cars and Upstate New York

In Oh Albany!, William Kennedy describes an "elephant crisis" in 1950's downtown Albany.

I thought Oh Albany! had a story about an intoxicated Times-Union reporter telling his newsroom colleagues he saw elephants on Broadway and having his announcement dismissed as a hallucination.  When someone went downstairs, there were elephants - - walking from a railroad siding to the circus.

When I returned to the book, I found the elephants, but not the reporter.

In the 1950's, before construction of a riverfront Interstate paved over most railroad tracks, the Ringling Brothers circus unloaded on sidings in downtown Albany.  

Before one circus, Kennedy wrote, "the elephants got loose and wandered around Downtown." "An intrepid Times-Union photographer," Kennedy continued, "snapped them on their spree."  Imagine, being an office worker and coming out of your building to see elephants at large.  

The paper ran a publicity photo of elephants the day before.  When Barney Fowler, the city editor, asked news editor Ed Nowinski to run the "spectacular photos" of the elephants on the loose, Nowinski did not run them, saying "We had elephants yesterday."

On a recent afternoon, driving on Route 20 in suburban Guilderland, NY,  I was reminded of Kennedy's elephants. 

The Sunday evening before the afternoon, my wife Dorothy and I watched an episode of Michael Portillo's Great American Railway Journey, on  WMHT, our local PBS station.  In this episode, Mr. Portillo was riding a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train from downtown San Francisco to a stop near University of California - - Berkeley.  

The BART system is one of several wonderful rail-based transit systems in San Francisco.  It allows a hassle-free trip from the region's airports to downtown and its trains are pleasant to ride.

Given how integral BART is to the Bay Area and given how I had seen one of its trains on television the night before, you can imagine my surprise and amazement when I saw a BART coach on a flatbed truck, driving west on Route 20!  It was such a surprise that I half expected to see elephants next. 

After seeing the car, I contacted BART and spoke to Jim Allison, the agency's Media Relations Manager.  Jim told me that BART "has contracted with Bombardier Transportation to build 775 new cars to replace our aging rolling stock."  "These new cars," he continued, "are called 'The Fleet of the Future.'"

A BART car being loaded on a flatbed truck in Plattsburgh, NY.
Photograph courtesy of M. Roberts

When Jim and I spoke, Bombardier was building the cars at its plant in Plattsburgh, New York, near the Canadian border.  A few days later, Maryanne Roberts, Bombardier Transportation's Spokesperson, advised me that Bombardier is moving its assembly line for The Fleet of the Future to Pittsburg, California over the next several months.  However, Bombardier will continue to undertake rail work for other customers in Plattsburgh.

A week after seeing the BART car on Route 20, I saw another truck carrying a BART car, ready to make the turn onto Route 20.  Then, yesterday, I saw a flatbed with a BART car - - this time traveling east!

This is not the first time I have seen rail cars from elsewhere in the neighborhood.  My fishing friend, the late Bryce Butler, loved to fish the West Branch of the Delaware River and the ride there included Route 20 and Interstate 88.  

One one trip with Bryce, I saw a flatbed trailer in a safety parking area with a New York City subway car on it.  On another trip, I looked out the passenger window and saw a Canadian Pacific (CP) freight train, hurtling south on the right of way of the former Delaware and Hudson Railroad  In the middle of this train was a consist of Amtrak's new Acela electric locomotives and coaches.  Perhaps Bombardier was moving them to Amtrak's Northeast Corridor with the freight cars as protection on the way to Amtrak's busy Northeast Corridor.

Seeing three San Francisco-area subway in upstate New York is a marvelous, magical sight.  It's also a reminder that even on what a person thinks is the most routine of drives that something new and wonderful may be coming around the next corner.

Unexpected sights such as elephants on Broadway, a BART coach in upstate New York, or large dinosaurs along "The 10" in Cabezon, California are gifts to lift people from the drudgery of travel.  I hope that you have a magic moment of this sort - - with no traffic safety problems  - - sometime soon.

[Thanks to Paul Grondahl and William Kennedy for squaring away my imperfect memory of elephants and Albany!]

Friday, July 12, 2019

New Wild and Scenic River Stamps

Recently, at the Guilderland, New York Post Office the staff told
me about  a wonderful new pane of commemoratives, celebrating
the Federal Wild and Scenic Rivers program.  

Ever since I can remember, I have loved rivers.  Some of them
have been working rivers, others have been wild and scenic.

My father used to read to me about the New York Central’s
passenger trains rushing down the east side of the Hudson River
on the way to Grand Central Terminal.  We lived for several
years on Grand Island, New York, with the Niagara River
flowing inexorably towards Niagara Falls. And I’ve enjoyed
fishing and boating on countless rivers ever since.

The Federal Wild and Scenic Rivers system includes river
segments with outstanding fish and wildlife, geology, recreation,
cultural or historical values. They flow freely through natural
settings without man-made alterations.   

According to Marti Johnson at the U.S. Postal Service,
“Some 200 river segments — 13,000 miles of approximately
3 million U.S. river-miles — are in the Wild and Scenic Rivers
System, launched in 1968.”

“With this pane of twelve stamps,” Johnson continued, “the
U.S. Postal Service honors these American treasures, represented
in a portfolio of exquisite river photographs.”  The photographs
in this series were taken by Michael Medford, Tim Palmer and
Bob Wick.

The Postal Service chose Wild and Scenic Rivers from across the
United States and from Alaska. The rivers and photographers
are listed on the Postal Service's website and the stamps may be
purchased there if they are not available at a local post office.

After using up an entire pane of the stamps, I became curious
about what it was like to  photograph a river. 

When I asked Marti about this, she introduced me to Bob Wick,
a photographer and Wilderness Program Manager at the Federal
Bureau of Land Management.  Three of Bob’s photographs are
in this pane: Steelhead Falls on the Deschutes River in Oregon,
the White Cliffs on the Missouri River in Montana and an early
morning view of the Clarion River in central Pennsylvania.

Bob shared great anecdotes about nature photography generally
and the photographs he contributed to this stamp series.  

His most important photographic secret weapon “is a loud
alarm clock. “ Bob scouts locations during the day and 
photographs “before dawn and again in the evening to
capture the golden light.”

“Rivers in canyons,” he continued,  “are a bit tricky; if
they run north and south, one side of the canyon will be
in shadow in morning/evening.  I usually look for stretches
that run east-west and use a sun angle table to determine when
and where the sun will rise and set.”  

Here are some specific observations Bob shared about each of
his three photographs:

“In situations like the Deschutes River at Steelhead Falls, I had
no choice about picking an angle of light. I just made sure
I was out early in the morning when most of the canyon and the
entire falls would be in the shadows so the light would be even. 
This also allowed me to take a very slow exposure on a tripod
(about 2 seconds) so that the moving water has that
blurred, silky moving look.”

Another bonus of photographing rivers early in the morning or
towards evening is that fog and mist are often present and, Bob
observes, this gives “the image more interest .”   The mist adds
realism, as many river lovers have been on the water at a time
when the mist is rising. 

There’s a trick in the Clarion River photograph.  The reds in the
trees may cause the viewer to think this photograph is an autumn
view.  However, Bob revealed, “The shot is actually a cool spring
morning -- everyone thinks it’s fall but the red is from early buds
on the trees.”  

“This photo of the Upper Missouri,” Bob said,  “is quite orange;
there were fires burning in Western Montana at the time and they
created a haze.”  “By taking the image looking towards the sun
(compared to having the sun behind me),” he continued, “I was
able to maximize the diffraction of light through the haze.”

“The Upper Missouri River,” Bob said, “is one of my favorite
river segments.  There are several stretches that you can float in a
three to four-day canoe trip where the canyon is entirely roadless.” 

“Lewis and Clark wrote about the White Cliffs in their journals
and it is easy to become immersed in the landscapes they
experienced, since the corridor is undeveloped.  The big
difference is that they were working their way upriver
while most people today float downriver with the currents!  

“Their voyage of discovery also led to the designation of the
Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, which overlays the
wild and scenic river designation on this part of their route.  

“About 50 miles from the White Cliff,  at a place called Cow
Creek, the Nez Perce Tribe crossed the Missouri just 70 years
after the Lewis and Clark expedition as they fled from the
pursuing US Cavalry. They made a fateful decision to stop and
rest after crossing, which led to their capture and surrender north
of the River.  

“This area truly represents an amazing slice of US history with
ambitious western expansion side by side with Native American
loss and sorrow.”

The Federal Wild and Scenic Rivers program has inspired many
states to create their own programs to protect rivers that are
considered wild, scenic or recreationally significant.  Finding
these programs is a hit or miss proposition. On some state
websites the program is easy to find. On others, it’s not.  

There's many ways to enjoy America's rivers, from putting
one of these stamps on a letter to a wilderness whitewater
trip. However you experience rivers, I hope you can
get out there and enjoy them soon!

Thursday, July 4, 2019

USS Missouri: An Update

My last post was about a new postage stamp celebrating the
commissioning of USS Missouri.  

After the post was up, my friend, Bob LaRoche, wrote and
said, "My dad served on the Missouri during World War II." 
"He was," Bob continued, "on it when Japanese surrendered."

Bob's father, a Seaman First Class, served in Missouri’s fire
control team and "was at the top of the ship, giving
coordinates to the big guns for shore bombardment."

Missouri was built in the US Navy Yard New York, also
known as "The Brooklyn Navy Yard."  In a variation of that
amusement park rule, "you must be this high to take this ride,"
the naval architects who designed Missouri and her sister ship
Iowa. were constrained by the height of the Brooklyn Bridge,
which spanned the East River, between the Navy Yard and
the ocean.

As a work around, the antenna array atop the fire control tower
was hinged so the ship could pass under the bridge.  Of this
design, Bob said, "My dad told me he was up in the tower when
the ship went under the Brooklyn bridge, not much space." "He
was," he continued, "also in the tower when the ship went under
the Golden Gate Bridge, lots of room under that bridge!" 

Bob's father "owns a plank" on the ship and he had a yearbook
covering the years of his service on Missouri. 

Bob LaRoche shared this head-on photograph of Missouri from
a copy of the ship's yearbook that his father had.

According to Bill Gicker, my Postal Service contact, when Dan Cosgrove, the stamp's artist, was researching Missouri, he could not find an image of the ship steaming straight on.  Bob found such an image in his father's yearbook and shared it.  In addition to finding an elusive image, Bob's research confirms the accuracy of  Cosgrove's artwork.

If you would like to get copies of this stamp, the stamps still seem to be available at local post offices.