Saturday, March 23, 2019

Grin and Bear It, aka Bears Invade the Orchard

When people ask if we have bears at our place, I’ve always said, “We know they’re around, ‘cause they leave lots of ‘presents’ in the road. But bears have never come into the yard.”

With all that bear scat dotting our woodsy lane, I assumed the bears were perfectly content to limit their explorations to the wilder parts of our neighborhood. But I recently learned I was wrong: bears did indeed get inside our yard. I also learned that if you don’t keep up with pruning your apple trees, the bears will do it for you.

This past apple season was another bumper crop, partly because the fruit set had been phenomenal. But mostly because John and I had gotten really relaxed about pruning our trees. With our 14 overly tall, long-limbed trees, we were overwhelmed with hundreds upon hundreds of apples…even our smaller trees, like the two Honeycrisps, yielded over 175 apples each. That’s a heck of a lot of fruit for two people. Adding to our problem, we’d allowed the trees to get so tall we couldn’t reach the fruit at the top, even with a ladder.

We gave bags and bags of apples away to friends and family, which hardly made a dent; I shared dozens of pounds more with my sister’s three horses. In desperation, I even contacted some pig-raising 4-H groups, to see if their porkers could use some apples! With far more fruit than we could store, we allowed the apples to ripen on the trees way too long.

Our north orchard holds 9 blackberry plants, 2 hazelnut trees, and 3 of our biggest apple trees, surrounded by a six-foot fence. This area includes our last tree to bear, the Florina, a late October apple, and like all the other trees, it was dripping with fruit. By now, 3 months into the harvest, our fridge was full to bursting. We had no place to store the Florina’s bounty—so we had to leave it on the tree.

I left Berryridge Farm for a few days to visit the grandkids in Astoria, Oregon—and when I returned, I noticed something…odd. Our Florina tree seemed to have fewer apples on it—the lower branches looked emptier. Oh, well, I shrugged, and made a mental note to ask John if he’d picked a few. We had so many apples I’d sorta not only lost track of them, but lost interest. Then, busy helping him process firewood for winter, I pretty much put the missing Florinas out of my mind.

Until two days later. When I went outside to take a bikeride, I glanced at the orchard and stopped, shocked. The Florina was completely bare—not one bloomin’ apple left on the tree! I hurried into the orchard and found something even more bizarre: bucket-sized piles of what looked to be partially digested apples. The piles of apple “mash” were so very large that the culprit could only be…yep, a bear. He’d eaten an entire tree of apples in one night!

I rushed to John’s study window and rapped on it. “Honey, you’ve got to come into the orchard!” He threw on his work duds and out he came.

“Only a bear could have done this.” I showed John the piles of apple mash. “I can’t tell which end of the bear this came out of,” I added, “but I don’t think I want to know.”

“Me neither,” said John, and went to fetch a shovel to clean up the “stuff.”  After he was done, he examined the Florina tree. “Would you look at this?” he exclaimed. “That darn bear really did a number on our tree.”

The damage was fairly extensive: the two main branches were broken, and claw marks scarred the bark. The marks wouldn’t kill the tree, but one branch had to be completely removed. John attempted to mend the other break, saying, “This probably won’t heal, but at least I gave it a try.”

“But how did the bear get inside the fence?” I wondered aloud. Although our fence was pretty stout,
Bear under the fence
the tree was even stronger—so you’d think that a bear climbing the fence would have broken that too. However, our fence was intact. Then I looked at the ground and found a four-foot section of loose fencing. Beneath it, the grass and weeds had been scraped away. John and I could draw only one conclusion: the bear had wiggled under the fence.

John resolved to fix the fencing, but I decided then and there on a different approach: the best way to have fewer predators in your garden is to make it less attractive to critters! Meaning, to cut way back on our apple production. “Next spring,” I vowed to John, “we are going to prune these trees hard.”

John and I kept that promise: we’ve spent the last three days pruning all our apple trees more thoroughly than we’ve ever done before. He did end up having to cut off the other broken branch on the Florina—more pruning than the tree really needed. As for all the other trees, after the fruit sets in May, I plan to thin the apples within an inch of their lives!

We are realistic enough to know we can’t build fences high enough or strong enough to keep out the bears. Nor can we depend upon Mr. Bear remembering the bellyache he got stuffing himself with our fruit before he went into hibernation. But we can pick our apples early and often…if only to make sure that next fall, Berryridge Farm isn’t surrounded by the aroma of ripening apples! 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Free Irish mini-ebook!

Do you love Irish words and expressions?

When I discovered the novels of Marian Keyes and Maeve Binchy, I was entranced by the Irish idioms and expressions they used, and quickly fell in love with books by Irish authors. As I began writing my own novels and stories set in Ireland, I started a list of the Irish expressions I particularly enjoyed, so I could include a few in my books. To help out my readers, I’d add a brief glossary of Irish words at the front of my books, with an emphasis on “brief.”

As the years went by, and I read even more Irish literature, I amassed more and more loose pages of my handwritten glossary. Then I had an epiphany…instead of including only a short list of Irish words in my books, why not type up all the expressions I’d collected and share them with other fans of Irish books!

You might have seen lots of these expressions in books by English or Scottish authors as well—the people of the British Isles share lots of the same language traditions. Keep in mind that with some words, I’ve had to guess a bit with the translation, but I’ve given all my interpretations my best shot. In any event, I extend a big thanks to all the Irish authors I’ve read for their inspiration, and helping me “flavor” my stories with Irish speech!

Here's a start:
A head on someone: hangover
Arse: impolite terms for backside
Article: sometimes a thing and other times a person
As the humor takes a person: as the mood takes them
Away off: don’t be stupid
Banjaxed: damaged, injured
Barney: fight
Be a number: dating someone
Bin it: throw something away
Blagger: faker, blusterer, braggart
Blarney: silly or useless talk
Blether: useless talk or annoying speech... for the full glossary, click here

You'll find more fun Irish stuff, including a list of Irish books and movies and other resources, at  www.susancolleenbrowne.com !

Friday, March 8, 2019

St. Patrick's Day Celebration...Fun Facts about Corned beef...and Vampires?

With St. Patrick's Day just around the corner, I'm inspired to share some fun Irish stuff!
John and me at St. Patrick's Mt. in Ireland

For instance, lots of people in the U.S., whether of Irish ancestry or not, recognize this big day of all things Irish by going for corned beef and cabbage. I recently discovered corned beef is not a traditional Irish dish!

After the English colonized Ireland, they started raising beef...only to export it out of the country to England and beyond. For exporting, the beef was salted and pickled with peppercorns and other spices, i.e., "corned." As a result, back in the olden days, beef became too expensive for most native Irish to eat.

With the Irish potato famine, and the hundreds of thousands of Irish emigrating to America, many of them settled in U.S. cities, in immigrant neighborhoods. Irish folks found themselves living near Jewish delis and butcher shops. With many Irish getting higher wages and standard of living, they could now afford the corned beef they found in the local deli. Naturally, they prepared the beef with familiar foods from the old sod, spuds and cabbage,  and a new
Irish Flag Food
Irish-American delicacy was born!

John's daughter Sasha likes to celebrate St. Patrick's Day in a big way...last night, she created a festive corned beef dinner with green, white and (sort of) orange to represent the flag of what country?!

Now, about those vampires...while vampires definitely have nothing to do with the patron saint of Ireland, did you know lots of vampire lore originated from Irish authors? Bram Stoker, the creator of "Dracula"  was born in Dublin. While "Dracula" is pretty much the definitive vampire of literature, decades before, an Irish writer, Sheridan Le Fanu, penned "Carmilla." Featuring a female vampire, "Carmilla" is the first vampire story I ever read (I go for romantic women's fiction over horror!). But the novella's sense of dread, building suspense, and just good 'ol spookiness was utterly riveting! You can find the story in the QPB Book of Irish Literature.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Hen Attack Update

An update to my last post, "Chicken Molting Madness," is some good news! Buffy has finally rejoined our flock of laying hens.
Buffy (blond hen) feeding with the other "girls"!

The four laying hens that ganged up on poor Buffy, our 5th hen, during her molting process, have apparently decided that Buffy is indeed one of the flock. After more than two months of attacking Buffy on sight, meaning our persecuted chicken had to take refuge in the coop all day long, the Gang of Four are now allowing her to freely partake of the feeder. And hang out with them! This change seems to coincide with Buffy laying again...her eggs are much smaller and lighter in color than the eggs the other four lay, so when these little eggs showed back up in the next boxes last week, we knew Buffy was doing her hen thing.

Interestingly, now that Buffy is part of the flock, she's returned to being skittish with John and me. Not as frightened of us as she was before the attacks began, but now, when we offer her a nosh from the feed container, she won't eat from it like she did before.

I miss that. But in any event, it's a huge relief, knowing that Buffy is once again safe, eating, drinking and regaining her chicken mojo!