Friday, September 9, 2016

Gobsmacked in the Orchard

“Come here!” John hollered from the other side of the yard. “I just saw the strangest thing!”

John is not one to call me to come running. Or exaggerate. So what in the world could “the strangest thing” be? I hoicked a pile of wild spinach into my weed bucket and hustled over. “What is it?

“I never would have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes,” he said, heading for our biggest Asian pear tree. “A rabbit,” and he pointed to a pear on the ground, half its flesh exposed by bite marks. “Was eating that!”

Half-eaten fruit with bunny bite marks
I stared at the pear—okay, that really was the strangest thing. All though this crazy apple season, our trees were bearing so heavily that despite our best efforts to keep up with picking, they were dropping fruit all over the place. I’d seen half-eaten fruit on the ground for weeks, and it had been hard to keep up with picking up this wasted fruit and composting it too. And to be completely honest, I figured that whatever was eating them was…um, I hate to admit it, but…rats.

Still…rabbits? If you’re familiar with the Tale of Peter Rabbit, you know exactly what Peter Cottontail eats, starting with Farmer MacGregor’s carrot tops. He’s certainly eaten ours when he’s snuck past the chicken wire. I sure was convinced that rabbits ate only greens—and the way our place is overrun with bunnies, I’ve had plenty of chance to observe their eating habits.

They eat every tender annual flower you ever dare to put in the ground. And that’s just the beginning. They eat beet greens, spinach, kale and asparagus. When it comes to berries, they love strawberry plants and make mincemeat of cranberry plants and blueberry shrubs.  They bite off the tops of cultivated caneberry shoots. They don’t eat rhubarb (someone gave them the heads up that the leaves are poisonous maybe?) or squash, but that’s pretty much it.

Back to the pear-thief: John’s presence had scared him away, so I moseyed over to Queen’s Cox apple tree nearby. And what do you know: there was an apple with bites taken out of it. Our bunny was not only stealing pears, but apples.

I guess I can’t blame him. This year, every tree in the yard has been dripping with fruit, even the ones that have been parked in our orchard for eight years and never produced a single apple. Two trees were so heavy with apples, a main bough completely broke off both of them. A Foothills friend said she has two little apple trees that never had fruit before, but this year were completely loaded.

Back in August, as the first fruit was ripening, John and I stared at our orchard, totally gobsmacked. We had three trees that were ready at the same time, including a small crabapple tree that must have had a thousand apples on it. Problem: there were two of us, and hundreds of them. How many people in our circle would actually want apples?

We brought a basket of apples to three different potlucks, and several family gatherings, but that hardly made a dent. John brought a grocery bag-full to the local Food Bank, but their irregular hours made it challenging to contribute. He made three ginormous batches of applesauce, I’ve given fruit to all my friends, and both of us are eating at least an apple a day. But our fridge already had two giant boxes full, with hundreds of apples still to pick. What were we going to do?

Then I saw an article in our local paper about a cider brewery in the city an hour away, and ran excitedly to John. “Look, honey,” I said. “We’re saved!”

The article was about a place called the HoneyMoon brewery asking the local community to contribute to a new cider project. You could bring your apples—pears too—to the brewery, to be made into locally made hard cider. In return, you’d get a coupon for a free glass!

Well. You’d better believe John was on board too. We couldn’t wait to get rid of some apples! Less than a month since picking our first apple, on four different trips to the cidery we’ve brought in about a dozen grocery bags full of apples, plus two large boxes. One guy I talked to there said the unseasonably warm temps in May, during blossom time, meant there was lots of fruit set. I like to think there was a bit of Mother Nature’s pixie dust at work as well, but that’s just me.

We’ve harvested nine trees, with six more to go. Needless to say, we, all our friends, and our apple-eating bunnies will be well fed this fall!