Friday, June 22, 2012

Hunting. . .

I found this little mantis trying to get out of my house by way of the window in the back door.  I scooped him up and put him on my pineapple sage.  I chose the the sage plant because something has be nibbling on its leaves.  The other day I found a small, green cave cricket on my deck near my herbs, and as I bent to release the mantis I saw another on a large leaf of the plant.  So, I put the young mantis on that leaf.

He made short work of moving up the leaf and attacking the small cricket.  He had to reach up to a smaller leaf above as the cricket tried to make its escape, but he snatched it up effortlessly.  I let him be, but kept an eye on him from afar.  After all, how often do you get to watch a praying mantis eat?  

After a bit, I went back to check on how my little mantis was doing.  A tiny portion of his meal remained in his grasp, but he turned to look at me.  In that moment a silent thank you exchanged between human and insect.  I thanked my mantis friend for eating the pest on my plant.  He, in turn, thanked me for releasing him from the confusing entrapment of the window, and then for offering him a tasty meal.

While examining the progress of my wild raspberries, I discovered a surprise hiding under a particularly berry-filled portion of the bush.
Black raspberries!  These beauties are growing on a small wild bush at the edge of my raspberry patch. I was surprised to find them there because I thought black raspberries were a cultivar--meaning that they are a type of plant created by humans through selective processes.  But these are definitely wild black raspberries.  They even have the textural qualities of the wild red raspberries.  I'll let you know how they taste later.

The red raspberries are doing great, too.  My first harvest yielded a dozen of each type.  There are probably hundreds of red raspberries ripening to please my (and my family's) palate with their melt-in-your-mouth sweetness.  I love wild raspberries for that reason:  they truly melt in your mouth.  Other strains or cultivars have a fuzzy, peach-like texture, and you have to chew them.  When you pop a wild raspberry in your mouth, you can suck the juices, and thus the berry, to oblivion in seconds.  No chewing.  No fuzz.  Just pure sweetness.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sweetening Days. . .

While they may not be sweet yet, I am fulfilling my promise to bring my fruits to show-and-tell.  I must admit that these are not all mine.  Some of them belong to my neighbor with the chickens, but I enjoy his harvest, too.

To get it out of the way, I'll relate the sad story of my plum tree.  It came with the property but didn't produce fruit until two summers ago, and then the plums were small.  They were oblong and only about as big as blackberries when they turned purple and either rotted or were attacked by ants.  It was all very sudden, a matter of a couple days, and we never got a harvest.  Not even one plum.  

Now the tree had issues we were aware of, like the ants.  The ants seemed to reside either in the tree or directly under in within the root system.  There was also sap steadily seeping from the trunk.  I'm not sure if the sap was from wounds caused by the ants, or if the two were entirely separate situations.  Either way, the tree is dead now.  It never bloomed this spring, and I missed seeing its blossoms forming their white bowl shape at the end of the tree row.  So I went to check on it.  It looked like a tree in winter, but when I bent a branch my suspicions were confirmed with a sharp SNAP.  

My poor plum tree.
 I have my concerns about the peach tree as well.  I removed several small branches that had sap seeping from them.  The peaches on those branches were also weeping a sticky substance.  But I'm not going to give up on it.  It is loaded with peaches, and hopefully this year we can beat the deer to them.  Those greedy beasts will literally strip every last peach in a single night.
A couple peaches on our tree.
(Several have holes in them like the one on the right.)
The pear tree is nice and full this year.  Maybe a little bit too full.  I didn't prune it when I did the others because I've never had any issues with it.  Well, it does get little branches growing out of the middle of the trunk, and I cut those off, but nothing else.  So now it's pretty bushy.  That bushiness seems to have the benefit of allowing for many more pears.

While it is still young--maybe younger than it should be--I also have a Fuji apple tree.  I bought it as a sapling, but after it was planted weeds grew rampant around it.  Even though it had a neon green tag on it, my husband didn't see it when he was mowing down the weeds.  Needless to say, the tree was mowed over, too.  But the little stump with the shredded top survived and is thriving in it's second year.    It's not producing yet, but my back road trips through the orchards of Motts and Knouse showed me that even very small trees can produce fruit.  I know, too, that trees such as mine are grafted so they produce fruit alone (don't need pollination from another tree).  I learned--from a children's book called Life of an Apple--that the grafting is done at the roots, below the ground, so my tree should still be alright.  I have high hopes for my little survivor in the coming years.  
My Baby Fuji Apple Tree

I discovered my neighbor's cherry tree this year.  While the fruits aren't edible now because of the birds, I just might take advantage of this beauty next season.  There's nothing quite like cherries fresh off the tree.  I grew up in a cherry tree right down the road from where we live now.  I spent countless hours in the branches of the old cherry tree near the well house up until my fifth year when we moved.  I don't recall if I ever picked and ate the tree's fruit, but cherry trees are special because of the one that was my childhood friend.
Mr. Bob's Cherries
(not exactly edible)

Along the lines of fruited bushes and vines, we have several between us and the neighbor.  

Last year I had a small wild raspberry bush (or vine, whichever you prefer) pop up in one of my "flower" beds.  (I don't do flowers well, so it's more of an overgrown jungle than a garden.)  The bush that provided a minimal harvest last year has tripled in size this year.  The harvest is promising to be astounding for a second-year plant--as long as I can keep ahead of the birds.  I can't wait to start pulling the ripe, red berries off it.  I prefer wild raspberries to most of the cultivars.  They don't have that fuzzy, peach-like fur sported by most cultivars, and I love the way they melt in your mouth.

Raspberry Bush Close-up
Raspberry Bush

Raspberry Flowers

Future Raspberries
(these are actually flower buds)

My neighbor has blackberries.  Tons of blackberries.  The leaves of the vines were one of the fist signs of Spring.  Now the growing berries are a promise of Summer.  A great thing about these plants is that, unlike the raspberries, they have no thorns, so Bug can help with the harvest.  Last year he had a blast walking the rows with Mrs. Joan, helping her pick the fruit and getting all dirty like a good little country boy.
Mr. Bob's Blackberries

Mr. Bob's Blackberries

 Bob and Joan also have concord grapes.  I had never tried to eat these until a couple summers ago when I discover exactly why they use them for making juice: they are so very sweet and juicy.  The bigger ones do have seeds, though.  This year I'm going to use them for jam.

Mr. Bob's Concord Grapes
Between the two of us, there are three or four blueberry bushes, too.  While Bob's are baring bluing fruit, mine is just now coming back to life.  I thought it dead last year because it didn't even turn green.  There were two, but only one decided to rejoin the living.  Hopefully I'll get some berries from it next year.  It's still in the pot, but I plan to plant it along the back line of my veggie garden.

Mr. Bob's Blueberries

Mr. Bob's Blueberries

Returning-to-Life Blueberry Bush

 And just a quick note about my first harvest of lettuce.  It was so rewarding to make a salad with greens I grew myself.  And so delicious.  I'm anxiously awaiting the day I can add my own tomatoes to my salads, too.
First Lettuce Harvest