The Extreme Gardener

Experiments in permaculture and
other gardening adventures in northeastern Vermont

Archive for ‘Wildlife’ category

Pruning grapes

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

grapes on the rocks

If you are looking for good advice from me about pruning grapes, forget about it. I don’t know what I’m doing. When we originally planted our Swenson’s Red grapes, we provided a fairly normal kind of wood and wire trellis, which served its purpose for a while. However, there were a few chaotic years which included graduate school and heavy equipment to install a modern septic system. A large pile of very large stones, salvaged from the foundation of what was once a barn, ended up next to Swenson’s Red.

With the combination of my neglect and its exuberance for the extra heat held by the rocks, it covered the rock pile; and it started bearing quantities of grapes that would actually get ripe, and are nice to eat.

Grape blossoms

So, I hack away at it a few times a year as time allows to try to keep it in bounds, and to get more sun on the fruits as they ripen. Recently I was clipping away at the new growth, lost in my recurring grape pruning fantasy.

Kemosabe in ginseng

Kemosabe in the Siberian ginseng

My recurring fantasy is this: I am wantonly snipping away at the vines, when suddenly a man bearing an uncanny resemblance to Gerard Depardieu yells “MERDE!!! Stoopeed woman! Zat ees no way to treat a grape!!” and he whisks me off to the south of France to show me how it should be done…

Lost in this revery, I was working my way around the grape behemoth. Out of the corner of my eye I thought I noticed Kemosabe, one of our loyal and trusty cats, who likes to spy on me from the shrubbery. Black and white fur, right?

Kemosabe in grapes?

Kemosabe in the grapes???
NOT Kemosabe in grapes

NOT Kemosabe in grapes. Time to go, folks!!!

Don’t share your pears and why I’d gladly give up moose turd pie.

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

A little over a week ago, I was picking the last of our pears off the trees, and thinking about what a really worthwhile fruit pears are for us. Unlike apples, which we have in extreme abundance, pears seem to have no insect or disease problems, a big plus since we do not spray. Unlike plums, they are very long lived trees, and even self-pollinate pretty well.

We have two pear trees, a Nova we planted about 25 years ago, and a Luscious planted about 15 years ago. The Nova has been bearing pretty well for more than 10 years, the yield increasing nearly every year. The fruit is good enough to eat out of hand, the skin is a little thick, and it goes from delicious ripeness to mush really fast. Some grit cells, but not bad at all.

Nova, left; Luscious, right

The Luscious tree has been bedeviled by deer. It was chewed down nearly to the ground twice, fortunately not below the graft. It took nearly 10 years for it to build up enough of a root system to send up a tall strong shoot to above deer reach in one season. I pruned it lightly to encourage height for many years, and finally last year we had our first crop, about a dozen pears… and they were indeed luscious! Almost no grit cells, a nice red blush, thin skin, sweet and fairly firm textured.

This year, Luscious fruited amazingly well, considering the size of the tree. Nova had a moderate crop (I think it may tend toward biennial bearing). We like to hold the pears in cold storage, then bring them into room temperature for a day or two to come to full ripeness. Theoretically we should be able to hold some into December like this, but up to this point we’ve eaten them all well before that time. Figuring out when to pick is tricky because if you wait too long, when a lot of the fruit is showing ripeness, you’ll have to do something with all the fruit at once (or compost). But, if they are picked too green, they’ll never ripen.

So, daily I did the ripeness watch, and noticed someone else was doing the same thing. I wasn’t finding many ripe drops, only a handful, max, on a given day… and I found some very large teeth marks in some green fruits, which evidently had not passed this someone else’s ripeness test.

We have been living with a moose in our yard on a regular basis for 2 years now. A few weeks ago, she came up to the kitchen window while we were preparing dinner. She has tromped through the newly planted garlic beds, but usually keeps to the paths when she strolls through the gardens, and hasn’t been eating out of them. She has even contributed to the compost pile. However, she evidently discovered the pears this year, and got quite a few of them.

Moose damage to Luscious

Damage to Luscious

Under this pressure, I picked all the pears a tad earlier than I would have preferred to. I don’t mind sharing a little, but, hey, it’s been a lot of years of care and waiting to get to this point. These are MY PEARS. Anyhow, we got about 3/4 bushel from the two trees, and they are good. And they’re MY PEARS…

Next morning when I went out to hang up the laundry, I noticed a, well, severely broken Luscious pear tree. This was hard for me to grok immediately. I first thought “wind??”, but there had been none… and then I knew. Ms. Moose had showed up for pears, there were none, so she mauled the trees trying to find them.

Only one, albeit large, branch was broken off Nova. Luscious was badly damaged, but will survive.

My husband’s electronics fetish has come in handy. We’ve posted infrared detectors at the trees, and whenever the signal goes off in the house, we run out and blast ultrasound squeals towards the pear trees.

Moose damage to Nova

Damage to Nova

For three nights after the mauling she returned to the scene of the crime, but we screeched at her each time and she seems to be staying away from the trees now. We’re not so concerned about her totally destroying Luscious at the moment; however, this is not a long term solution. My experience with deer and bear is that once an individual discovers a particularly delectable food source, they will return for it year after year, and normal deterrents won’t work when they can smell the pears/carrots/honey ripening.

Now, I’ve been a vegetarian most of my life, but I’m ready to shoot her myself. Unfortunately we don’t have a high enough caliber firearm to do this. Instead, I’m calling in a hit on her. I spoke to the game warden, and asked him to point someone with a moose permit in our direction. She’ll be easy to track…

MY PEARS!

Very large garden pests, or where is Sarah Palin when she could be helpful?

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

moose cow

As I stumbled out of bed, I couldn’t help but notice a very large brown creature within 15 feet of the front door. I grabbed the camera and did what I could through the window. This is a moose cow, the trellis she is standing beside is 6 feet (2 meters) high. Moose were a rare sight here until the past 15 years or so, but their population is increasing as former hay fields and pasture have become overgrown. Up till now they have been shyly co-existing with us, mostly staying back in the cover of the woods. We regularly see their tracks and occasionally hear them huffing and stamping, hidden in the thick trees. They are becoming more bold, as you can see, and seem comfortable about being very close to a human habitation.

They hadn’t previously lingered in our yard and gardens, and the only damage we’d had was from them walking through garden beds. That said, they can really wreck a newly planted bed of onion sets, for instance. Their hooves are big, and they sink deeply into the soil.

Now, I don’t really mind about the poplar shoots they stripped – those were slated for cutting anyway. However, the next morning I caught one of them just before sunrise, eating our snap peas. It was too dark for the camera. The moose just watched me as I came out the door. I actually had to yell and jump up and down to get her moving. It’s time like these that I almost wish I wasn’t a vegetarian!

Where the wild things are

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

My take on permaculture is that before you bring in the heavy equipment and start carving out gardens, orchards and waterworks everywhere, it’s a good idea to get acquainted with what’s already on your land. Here are some photos from a couple of weeks ago of some favorite northern Vermont natives.

Fiddleheads…

Fiddleheads

The ones on the left are ostrich ferns, and delicious raw or cooked. Notice the smooth dark brown papery stuff around the emerging fronds, and the dark green color. On the right is the toxic interrupted fern, which has fuzzy stuff both white and brown on the emerging fronds.

My favorite patch of wild leeks…

Wild leeks

Allium tricoccum. Actually I prefer them at a slightly earlier stage. They have a woody bulb at the base of the plant, which I pulled up for the photo. When foraging, I normally just pinch or cut them off a bit below ground level and leave the woody bulb in the ground, and use them like other green onions. The season for eating coincides with black fly season.

One of the precious few bits of plant lore handed down to me by my grandfather was that the Cowas (the native Americans in this area, my ancestors) would eat lots of these leeks, and rub their sweat all over their bodies and clothes to keep the black flies away. My grandfather also said I wasn’t allowed to do this.

Anyway, the city of Winooski and the Winooski River are named for allium tricoccum.

And the morel of this story is…

morel mushrooms

These and several more large morels appeared under one of our apple trees. I suppose we could have been good little ants and dried or canned some for winter, but they all got sauteed at once in a little bit of olive oil, with asparagus fresh from the garden, and some chopped winooskis thrown on top at the end of cooking. No regrets.