Continuing Tales from an Urban Oasis
In our 16 (or so) years of Home Orcharding, fruit predation by birds has increased steadily, beginning around 2000, when a pair of catbirds decided to nest on site. I was excited to have new birds attracted to Barefoot Permaculture’s developing polycultural diversity.
It became quickly apparent that catbirds specialized in fruit consumption, following the ripening progression: cherries, mulberries, currants, gooseberries, raspberries and blackberries. We chased them away whenever we were around, yet they took their toll. With the idea that we should plant 10% extra for the non-humans, the catbird’s predations were tolerable.
The fruit bounty was so good for the catbirds that, the next year, 3 nesting pairs appeared. We had to net the cherry trees, and scramble to stay ahead for the other fruits. Fruit disappearance was high, and in addition, the free-for-all action attracted the attention of cardinals, bluejays, and brown thrashers. A feeding frenzy was underway: fruit disappeared at an alarming rate!
Three years ago, our chicken yard Russian Mulberry tree had a bumper crop. Since mulberries ripened over a six – eight week period, most of the fruit-eating birds spent their time in the mulberry, and mostly left alone our other small fruits. The mulberry bonanza has not happened since.
We are now used to heavy bird predation, knowing it is going to happen and be heavy. But we have never before experienced noticeable animal predation.
Sure, we’ve had a bear nibbling apples and blueberries, yet not so many and not very often. Squirrels our site has plenty of, since the western area of our site is planted (by squirrels years past) in mature Black Walnut trees. Squirrels are always visible and about. Never before has there been noticeable fruit damage from these somewhat intelligent, bushy-tailed tree rats.
This year (2011) the game changed! Mammal predation was off the chart! For instance, our Chojouro Asian Pear was loaded with fruit (somewhere around 5 bushels worth). I was licking my lips, planning to sell some through our local food co-op, eat as many as I was able, put some in cold storage for later, maybe make some mead or cider, and give some to friends.
The furry ones changed all this into fantasy, pulling the rug out from under my hopes. I began to catch glimpses of squirrels in sneak mode; slinking close to the ground, moving furtively under cover of vegetation, with asian pears in their mouths. When I moved to get a better look, they would disappear. Within a very short period of time, the magnificent bounty was reduced to around 40 fruit.(about half a bushel). So much for counting one’s pears before they ripen!
So it has gone with other large fruits: European pears and apples. The drought has affected the apples and pears by causing the stems to be very brittle. A light brush against a branch will drop unripened fruit to the ground. Every morning I am picking up unripe fruit, some with bird pecks, other with rodent teeth marks. Raccoons raid the pears at night, and I had to pick them a little earlier than normal, in order to have any pears left.
For the Moonglow (European) pears, in spite of the heavy loss, I was still able to pick around 3 bushels, which are now in cold storage. Pears need to be picked before they appear ripe, because they ripen from the inside outward. By the time they look ripe, they are starting to rot in their middle. For the Moonglow pears (and many others too) the fruit will turn from green to yellowish, and when gently lifted upward, the upper stem will snap cleanly off the branch. This is the field test for when to pick!
Once picked, many pears do best with some cold storage. The cold retards the ripening process, stretching out the perishability factor. After a period of time ranging from a few days to a few months —mostly relative to the stage of ripening prior to cold storage — room temperature will finish the ripening process, and the pears can be eaten with a spoon!
I could live happily off fruit, and almost nothing is better than our own pears and apples!
With drought, some disease, animal predation and damage, and poor fruit set (on the six Goldrush trees), we will not have heavy apple harvest this season. We’ve been gleaning the damaged fruit, cutting out the good, albeit unripe parts, making cider, crisps, and just eating.
Use of Serenade (an organic biological fungal and bacterial protectant) has worked moderately well keeping last years’ disastrous Glomaria (summer rot & bitter rot) minimally present, as has been removing the fruit at first appearance of disease. Since I don’t have a hot compost pile going, the diseased fruit have been going into the trash instead.
I dislike removing organic material from our site, yet without a hot (active) compost pile generating temperatures hot enough to kill the disease organisms, I don’t want to spread the organisms around in the finished compost: so into the trash they go!
Last week, after a month of waiting for our honeybees to cap their honey (something they do when the moisture content is at a certain level) we took our share, harvesting 5 & 1/2 gallons of a delicious wildflower blend, which included Black Locust, our orchard fruits, Crabapple, Serviceberry, other berries and Tulip Poplar (first time in 3 years), as well as other local flowerings.
Every beekeeper thinks their honey is the tastiest, and so it is. Ours is too! This will be the first time we have some excess for sale. Chiwa (my wife) designed the label, proclaiming the honey was produced under conditions of BioDynamic, Organic, and Permaculture Design. We cannot claim that the honey is as listed above, since bees can range up to 3 miles collecting nectar, yet the conditions under which our bees live, and the honey is produced, is indeed described as listed.