What’s for Dinner?

Mr. Muscle came this morning and whipped my three raised beds into shape in time for planting. You can almost see the food sprouting out of them already–peas, beans, carrots, kale, zucchini (ONE plant only), pumpkins, spinach, lettuce, beets,  and radishes. Three long boxes, each divided in half–it’s like six blank canvases. My fingers are just itching to paint-plant.

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Three raised beds crafted by the Potter many years ago.

But I have other diners at my table to consider. Because the rabbits also relish my lettuce, spinach, carrots, beets, and peas, those seeds get planted in the one box that has a low fence around it. One year I was able to plant a “spicy lettuce mix” in an unfenced area and they didn’t touch it–but it was too spicy for me, too, so that was a lost effort.

For years the peas mysteriously disappeared every spring–every single seed–and sometimes before they had even sprouted out of the ground. I suspected the rabbits of hopping the fence, but nothing else was touched. Eventually I noticed a Stellar’s Jay methodically working his way down the row of peas. Now I also cover the whole fenced area with a berry net.

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Crocuses nestled up against some hyachinths

I found another mystery last year when I noticed many of my beautiful purple crocuses ever so neatly clipped off. Already this year, the bed is looking like a bridal path of scattered purple petals. The culprit? Rabbits again. Turns out their tastes run beyond veggies. Some of the crocuses are eaten right down to the ground.

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No way could I blame the disappearing little green figs on the rabbits. Every fall, after the fig tree drops its leaves, it holds onto a second crop of small, hard green figs that never develop. Later we rake up a lot off the ground, but I’ve noticed squirrels in the tree making off with the rest.

After the peas are up several inches, I can move the netting onto the blueberries. Small birds still figure out intricate, secret routes underneath the netting, but I manage to save some for myself this way.

The August a flock of crows was slashing their way through my beeautiful juicy yellow pears was also the month a crow died in my neighborhood–by sheer coincidence, I swear. When we hung the two wings in the tree, the crows shrieked for a time, and then left. I hange those two wings each summer and I’ve never seen a crow in the tree since.

One summer I saw signs from a bear underneath an old apple tree that had several broken limbs. Every few years a few beautiful deer wander through and sample from the different apple trees. I figure they’re comparison shopping.

The wildlife and I exist side by side. I love seeing them all, even the crows. We enjoy trying to outwit each other, making life entertaining for all of us critters.

Orchard on Stage

My fruit harvest this past summer smashed all previous records for the past 40 years. The orchard, on a slope facing the bay, also faces south–a magical direction for trees and gardens. Perhaps the early heavy rains of the summer followed by unusually warm weather contributed to the heavy harvest?

The new raspberry plants which began bearing this year were first on stage and stole the show. I’ve wanted raspberries ever since visiting Grandma Hannah’s big patch some 50 years ago. I soon adopted the grandmother of my then husband as my own, and watched her nurture her long rows of raspberries. She kept them weeded and supported by wires strung between big wooden posts. In August, she carried up bucket after bucket of seaweed from the beach to fertilize them, which may also have helped hold moisture. They loved her–and produced enough for all of us to pick. She canned raspberry sauce and gave us a box of quart jars full of the ruby red sauce every fall. At some point we made a half-hearted attempt to get some started in our yard, but never followed through. Last year I found just the right spot, and this year the plants rewarded me for it. My grand-daughters and I nibbled for several weeks, and I put a full bag in the freezer.

The yellow transparent apples raced out onto stage next, fast and furious like they do every year. Neighbor Sally loves them for baking, as well as book group friend Chris. I took four bags of windfalls to a friend’s horses. Not a “keeper,” transparents go fast. They never hang around for a curtain call.

My new little peach tree, so shy, hid its fruit behind leaves so well that even the crows missed them. Then, with some coaxing, they finally danced onto the stage in their bright orange outfits. A new tree, it bears more peaches every year. This year we had 15 or 20. It tickles the little bone in my green thumb to be growing big peaches so juicy that they drip down my chin when I take a bite.

The three gravenstein trees (two yellow and one red) were loaded. Some were huge! An eco-friendly spray, Spinosad, applied once, and apparently at exactly the right moment, kept them largely worm-free–a first for those trees. I hauled several bags to the food bank, several friends picked, I dried some and made a few jars of apple sauce. They produced a delicious duet with a gambozola cheese that my friend the Potter brought me. I composted a bunch of windfalls, even though they may harbor apple pests.

Yellow and red gravenstein apples. Both trees produced some big fruits.

I picked the last of the apples and they went with us to an apple-pressing afternoon recently. A group of us gathered on friend Melissa’s big deck in Port Ludlow two weeks ago and washed, crushed and pressed apples for 30 gallons of juice. What an operation! We’d brought fewer apples than the others, but even so, I canned six quarts of juice and we had another gallon or two to drink fresh.

My very favorite tree, although it took a few years to develop an appreciation for it, is the fig tree, so it took a slow, deep bow as it made its stage entrance. I made the mistake of fertilizing it several years ago. The tree exploded into wild growth, stretched way beyond its allotted space, and quit bearing fruit for a couple of seasons. It came back this year with a flurry, much to the delight of the Potter, four friends from book group, and myself. We all inhale them.

The Potter loves to buy me fruit trees, and he added the green gage plum. I’m not so fond of them as he is, and this year much of its fruit fell on the ground and rotted–the first time I’ve let that happen with a fruit tree. None of us could keep up with those plums. And then it scampered off stage.

The blue Italian plums were next to show up, another of my favorites. We have a new tree that has finally started bearing, plus a sickly old tree that refuses to die–or to quit bearing fruit. What a trooper! I dried several trays and shared with friends.

The pear tree is also a favorite and bears heavily every year. The big pears are yellow, with a lovely pink blush. They usually take the prize for Most Beautiful on Stage. The branches bend low with the heavy fruit, but never break.

One of our last trees to give up its fruit to a curtain call is the persimmon. A bright orange fruit that looks like a tomato, it is not a fruit that is easy to like. The tree doesn’t bear many fruits, thankfully. The crows take all the fruits that are out of our reach. After many years of trying I have learned to like them sliced in flat rounds to go on top of greens in a salad. I’ve seen lots of recipes for sweet breads and cookies using them, but haven’t found any I’m fond of.

One more apple tree produces late, but it’s a small one. A grafted tree, it produces two entirely different kinds of apples–and I don’t know the name of either one. These mystery apples last me into November.

The grapes come on the very last, as the nights get cold, usually close to Halloween. I will make seven or eight jars of juice and call it good, then call a friend to two to finish them off.

This season’s performances are drawing to a close. I’ve cut down the old raspberry canes and made sure the new ones are supported for the winter storms. I’ve pruned just a little on the trees, although the big pruning event will happen in January or February. I’ll soon be raking leaves from the stage and planning for next year’s performances.