Thursday, July 22, 2010

I'm So Berry Happy

That's because I've picked 32 cups of wineberries in July.

It's a brief season, so I've been making a point to pick at least 2 cups nearly every day. I always save a quarter cup of so for my breakfast cereal, but I freeze the rest and anticipate enjoying organic, homegrown berries all winter long.

It's a simple three-step process. After picking about 2 cups of berries, I put them in a screened basket and rinse them well under the faucet. A colander would do just fine. Then I shake them so they're evenly covering the screened basket and I put them, with a tray underneath to catch drips, in front of one of my floor fans which are constantly running in this hot weather.

Once they're dry, I gently drop the berries into the tray, making sure to wipe it dry before doing so. Then in it goes in the freezer. After a few hours, I'll take them out and store the frozen berries into zip-lock sandwich bags. This way, I only need remove a small amount of berries at any one time. When I use them for my breakfast cereal, there's no need to dethaw them; they warm up quickly.

In other news, I found the large, plump woodchuck near one of the burrows, dead as a doornail. I think it likely, given the recent sighting of the coyote pup, that a coyote, perhaps the pup's mother, killed the woodchuck. I should have buried it, but it smelled pretty bad, and flies were buzzing around it. In fact it was that dead animal smell that led me to look for the source of that odor. So I've just avoided the spot. Pretty soon it'll be history.

I must admit to feeling some relief, as I hoped I could perhaps now be woodchuck-free for at least the rest of this season. I was relaying the news about the woodchuck to my father yesterday on the phone. Just  a few hours later, I spotted a baby woodchuck in the backyard. That's a really big disappointment. Maybe the coyotes will return again, since I've seen their scat, with wineberry seeds, in prominent spots in the side yard, including on top of a rock under the hemlock tree.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Thinking About All the Lovin' Spoonfuls to Come

 Spaghetti Squash on the Vine



Current garden pickings include zucchini and wineberries, which grow in abundance in the back of my property. How much I pick is limited only by my energy level on a given day. Of course, I always don my hip boots, acquired for me by my sister as a (requested) birthday gift, as tick protection as I wade into the brambles.

I've picked about 12 cups of wineberries so far, rinsing, air drying and then freezing most of them for winter use on my breakfast cereal. The season is brief, lasting only a few weeks.

I believe I'm up to about 8 or 9 zucchinis picked, with many given away.

There are 4 or 5 spaghetti squash like the first image above forming like fat loaves of bread on the hay. They can't be picked until they mature in the fall and turn yellow. Right now, they're a virginal shade of white.

I'm waiting (not so patiently) for tomatoes, string beans, acorn squash, cucumbers and potatoes.

Like last year, I'm tracking everything I harvest so that I can ultimately estimate with a fair degree of accuracy the retail value of my organic produce, based on what Shop Rite would charge for the equivalent in the store.

Thank god for today's rain; it was so needed. My soaker hose, which allows water to trickle into the ground slowly instead of splashing the leaves, inviting disease, burst a small pinhole into a much bigger hole. I bought a repair kit but haven't gotten around to using it yet. I also had a plumber over here today to fix a leaky fitting on my water tank, which supplies the well water for my outdoor water use. (It doesn't supply drinking water anymore as it's a shallow well and i have since hooked up to municipal water supply.) The bill was $192. Ouch. But now I can water my garden again without that well pump cycling on and off every 2 minutes.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Are Coyotes Denning in My Yard??

It's not quite 10:30 a.m. It's an overcast, dank and humid day.

I just saw a coyote pup in my yard.

As is often the case, my cat Luther's behavior as he looked out the window caught my attention. I thought it was perhaps a catbird in the mulberry tree, but when he jumped off the bench in front of one window and jumped on a chair at the other window, I knew it must be something good.

As we both peered out the window, I caught sight of a very small coyote pup grabbing a green apple that had fallen from the apple tree. He gnawed at it a bit, then hurried on, looking like he was exploring/foraging.

See his head in the grass, to the left of the thick mountain laurel trunk?

But where was Mom? And should he be exploring on his own? How far had he ventured from his den?

I lost sight of him after he trotted over to a brushy area on the north side of the house, not 10 feet or so from one of the three woodchuck burrows I'm aware of on my property.

Yes, there are three burrows: the oldest one is behind a thicket of overgrown forsythia on the south side of the house. I went to considerable trouble in April to severely cut back the forsythia, and now that I see how quickly it's recovered, I regret not pulling it up completely, but of course there was the question of what to do with that space so it wasn't simply overtaken by weeds or brush.  The second burrow, the newest one, lies six feet from the north side of the house (!) in another admittedly overgrown area bordered by a waist-high picket fence. It's the area that always comes last on my list because of its large size.  The third burrow is also on the north side of the house, about 25 feet further from the house.

The north side, it seems, has become a little Shang-gri-la for critters, as it contains a productive apple tree that drops fruit from June through fall, a gooseberry patch and a mulberry tree.

But back to the woodchuck burrows. In an effort to get the woodchuck moving on somewhere else, I threw used cat litter into each of the 6 burrow holes. (There's always a front door and a back door for each burrow.) I did that the day before I left to visit my father in New Jersey, and I haven't seen the woodchuck since.  It's possible it's still around, as I haven't been outside much due to the extreme heat.  But now I'm wondering if a coyote discovered the abandoned burrow and adopted it as her own.

Some quick research on coyote ways told me that coyotes will den in a rock pile or hollow tree, but sometimes enlarge the burrow of another animal. And that there are usually three to nine pups to a litter. I am going to have to go outside and look for scat.

Much as I enjoy wildlife, I feel more than a little uncomfortable at the thought of coyotes possibly living so close by.  I've always known they were in the neighborhood. They killed the dog of my neighbors who live behind me.  Maybe once a week I'll hear them barking and yipping late at night, but they seemed to stay up higher on the hillside behind my house.Well, there was that time (noted on this blog) about a month ago that I spotted an adult coyote, during daylight hours, passing through the extreme rear of my property in back.

My other neighbors, next door, just acquired a goat.

Every once is a while, you hear a news story about a coyote attacking a small child or pet. I just started berry-picking at dusk along the perimeters of my yard. The wineberries have begun to ripen. I stand 5'4". I hope I'm big enough to dispel any coyote thoughts of an attack. I think now I'll limit my berry-picking to daylight hours.

UPDATE: An hour after I posted this, I went downstairs to make myself an early lunch. Guess who had returned to eat more apples? The coyote pup. He ate a lot of them. I watched him for as long as he was out there, until he walked past the burrow and up a narrow path. From there, his travels were lost to my view.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Arboretum at Georgian Court University

My dad and I had occasion to visit the arboretum at Georgian Court University yesterday. Located on the grounds of the former winter home of George Jay Gould, millionaire son of railroad tycoon Jay Gould, the school is located in the Pine Barrens town of Lakewood, New Jersey.

The style of the buildings, grounds and statuary is that of an English estate of the Georgian period.

This is the Apollo Fountain, a birthday gift from George to his wife, Edith Gould.The statue depicts Apollo riding a chariot amid sea horses, cherubs and fish. Water for this fountain and others on the school campus are turned on only for special occasions and is drawn from nearby Lake Carasaljo.

This ornate, marble bench is in the Renaissance style. It's a copy of ones found at the Vatican Gardens.

The sunken garden and lagoon, which is fed by the lake, features four eight-foot marble urns on either side of the road. A pair of lions flanks the entrance.

Dear old Dad strikes a pose.

The statuary and grounds distracted us for a while, but what we really came to see was the dimunitive Japanese Garden. Just one acre in size, it featured some lovely, bonsai-like Japanese maples (Acer palmatum), weeping Higan Cherry and paperbark maple (Acer griseum) to form exquisite views at every turn.

A small footbridge with Japanese yew.

These Japanese maples have leaves with a fern-like appearance.

A Japanese teahouse can be seen in the background.

Careful pruning encourages a gnarled look to the branches and an ancient, windswept appearance.

On the way out, the local population of geese seemed unfazed by anxious drivers.

With school in recess, we had the place to ourselves and came away with a colorful booklet detailing the history of the arboretum. There is no charge for admission. It was a great trip and an unexpected find on the New Jersey shoreline.