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Posts Tagged ‘Fruits’

Compared to previous years, it has so far been a summer free of bears here in the valley. Friends visiting have been disappointed to see none on the hour long drive from the foot of the hill down the valley to our community, and I’ve heard of no home or chicken shed invasions since late spring. One theory is that this summer’s forest fires have spooked them all back up the side valleys; if that’s the case, maybe we should organize for a controlled burn every spring!

Not that there haven’t been close encounters. My own was in July, when my dog was more than usually vocal one night. Usually she’ll bark off an intruder once or twice a night, while I lie in bed judging the size of the attacker by the distance Tui moves away from the house towards the perimeter fences. If I hear her echoing against the forest in the distance, it’s a fox, while if she stays close to the front porch and whines, it’s a cougar.

This night it was an in-between barking distance so I knew it was a bear, whose size I didn’t know until dawn when I went out to free the turkeys, laying chickens and meat birds from their respective barns. The stucco wire fence and gate adjoining two of them had been broken down, probably with one swipe of a massive paw, dragging a rail along with a six inch nail away from a wall (see photo).

Fence rail smashed down beside meat bird run.

Fence rail smashed down beside meat bird run.

He or she (I suspect it was a she as each year I meet a mama grizzly in our yard with her cubs at some point) was probably excited by the smell or sound of our turkey flock, several of whom perch on the open window sill behind stucco wire, to take advantage of some cooler night breezes. If the bear had been insistent (as we had seen on other properties) our plywood walls would not still have been standing, but they were. I walked thirty meters along the fence line to the forest edge, the bear’s normal trail and entry point into our property, and sure enough, there was the flattened trail in the same place as previous years.

Fence smashed beside turkey barn.

Fence smashed beside turkey barn.

I began taking my windfall apples and dumping them there as peace offering, but they haven’t been touched in three weeks. This hot summer has meant a good year for wild berries, and now the creeks are full of writhing salmon, so we may be spared any bear predations this fall.

Bear path into my yard where I leave apples for her.

Bear path into my yard where I leave apples for her.

Nevertheless, it would be foolish to give myself or you the impression that the bears aren’t around. My friend Clarence told me just the other day that his daughter, who lives across the highway from his place ‘on our side’ (as he put it ominously) stepped out from her back door last week midmorning to confront a grizzly only meters away. And when I went to pick blackberries in Clarence’s patch last week in the last of our heat, I was un-nerved to come across a maze of flattened vines and grasses. I suddenly felt I was in the middle of a vast alfresco restaurant, with various intimate nooks where bears had lain in the shadows and feasted on the berries hanging off the ‘walls’ in all directions. It was strange to think that a giant paw may have recently brushed over the very berries I was now tenderly plucking. Clarence confirmed the fact by complaining that there is a mama black bear and cub that have been frolicking in the blackberry patch “flattening it and making a mess”.

While picking I was always on the lookout for the mama ‘just in case’. My theoretical ‘bum-per’ sticker says ‘I brake for bears.’

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The Noble Grape

Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by Gina

The homestead we recently purchased came with an established grape vine. It was one of the major attractants when I first looked at the property. This summer we were blessed with our first large grape harvest. I have made several half-pints of jelly, preserved quarts of juice, baked two concord grape pies (recipe coming soon!), and there are still pounds to be picked. My next project is wine.

One of the things I am learning is how to care for an established grape vine. Over the years and at two other properties, I’ve planted grapes. All grew well and I actually harvested a small amount off one of the planted vines this year. In fact, it was a vine I had given up on. However, I have never had such a mature vine and I have never had to prune one back in the winter.

Reasons I have planted grapes

1. Shade on chicken yard
2. Permaculture landscaping
3. Food resource (berries and leaves)
4. Wildlife attractant
5. Easy to grow & tend
6. Nostalgia (my father grew Concord grapes on the suburban property I grew up on)
7. Wine
8. Natural decoration (the trimmed vines)
9. Medicinal properties
10. High (for domestic fruit) pest resistance

Grapes are easy to grow and care for with only a small amount of gardening knowledge. In fact, I think they are one of the easiest and fastest growing fruit sources to plant on either an urban, suburban or rural homestead. The main thing to keep in mind is to pick a variety suited for your geographical location. Here in the Eastern half of the U.S., Concord rules, but it also does pretty good everywhere else too. Those of you residing out in the Rockies and beyond westward will like the vinifera varieties. Knowing the type you are planting will help you provide ideal conditions and the proper training. I won’t go into great detail about variety types here (because that would be a post in itself), but I’ll give you a few examples.

Mediterranean-types
Merlot
Pinot Noir
Chardonnay
Zinfandel
Ok, you’ve probably guessed these are the traditional wine grapes

American-types
Concord
Fredonia
Catawba
Niagara

I’m partial to the American types because I love the strong “wild grape” smell. I have no experience with growing the viniferous types (as they do better in a warmer climate), but I do know they need to be started low and trained to grow upwards along a trellis. The Concord-types, on the other hand, grow in a more droopy fashion and need to be allowed to grow in this pattern. Concords are distantly related to the wild grapes you can forage around this time of year (here in the Midwest anyway), also called ‘fox grapes”. The wild types look, smell and taste like the typical purple-skinned Concord (only stronger tasting and smaller berries). In fact, Vitis labrusca (the common Eastern North American wild grape) gave us the Concord and Niagara.

One common misconception is that you cannot eat wine grapes and you can’t make wine from table grapes. This stems from the fact that table grapes will develop a different sugar and acid content when ripe than the wine grapes. However, many homemade wines were made from table grapes and plenty of people eat wine grapes. However, that being said, wine grapes tend to be seedy and table grapes don’t make a superb wine. This is something to consider when choosing a preferred variety to plant.

When grapes start to turn color (called verasion), many people begin harvesting them right away. Sometimes this is a mistake. Generally the color develops before the sugar content reaches its maximum. This is one of the reasons people can become disappointed in their grape products.

Grapes offer more than just a food source for the self-sufficient wannabes. They are high in antioxidants and flavonoids which are used for anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-allergic effects. The skins and seeds are used to make an extract with multiple health benefits. Historically, the leaves of the red skinned grapes were used to treat heavy menstruation, diarrhea, and uterine hemorrhaging. Current research is showing the positive benefits of grapes in treating cancer and heart disease. Phytochemicals in the grapes have shown to have both anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties.  

In future posts, I will go into more detail about pruning, fertilizing and general care. We can learn together! I just wanted to introduce the topic and encourage a discussion on growing grapes on the homestead. Meanwhile, I encourage you to do a little grape research this winter and consider planting a vine or two somewhere in your landscape this spring. They are inexpensive depending on your source (in fact, you can take cuttings from someone else’s vines). Before you know it, you’ll be making too many half-pints of jam, quarts of juice and the sweet & sour grape pies.

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