Tag: raspberries

Death traps

Mornings at this time of year are dominated by harvesting fruit. From mid-December it was boysenberries – and we have the most abundant crop ever of these wonderful juicy and slightly tart long black berries. They’re still going a month on, although have slowed, thank goodness. There are only so many one can eat after all – for breakfast lunch and dinner at the moment – and the freezer is well stocked already. Friends and neighbours have also benefitted. As have the birds. The decision was made not to net the boysenberries this year. Too hard. I was sceptical but in fact this year’s crop has been so huge the few berries the birds have taken has almost been a relief!

As well as boysenberries though there are now raspberries to pick. These vines are covered and it is rather a jungle in there despite our best efforts to keep them under control. The nets keep the birds out, but not the bees, other insects, or tiny tree frogs. The latter are attracted by the shady cool environment, and a regular supply of moisture. So there are small risks and to avoid them I need to navigate some fragile barriers as I make my way down the row. Three delicate, finely spun and ecliptic structures greet me every day. They’re a silent, sticky and visible klaxon strung across the path, their owner stretched out and waiting in the middle, shimmering in the dappled sunlight, a warning to the unwary. But I know they’re there so I’m prepared. I flicked a morsel to one of them once, by way of an apology for the daily destruction I cause to their handiwork. Or should that be legwork? I was stunned at the speed that tiny creature was wrapped, bound and suspended. Talk about deadly efficiency.

By now the iridescent proprietors of these deadly traps must know I’m coming. Perhaps they sigh with irritation at the knowledge they will have running repairs to do again when I’ve gone. I like to think they realise I’ve had the decency to disturb them as little as possible, by trying not to wreck the whole web. I can only admire their patience and resilience since they’ve yet to give up in disgust and abandon this real estate. It must be lucrative, because tomorrow those three webs will almost certainly be strung across the narrow walkway separating the two rows of raspberry canes.

 

Growing pains

It’s been a strange summer so far as growing and harvesting vegies goes, and I know from speaking with others that we’re far from alone in wondering if and when the tomatoes are going to ripen. Ditto the raspberries. We have two varieties of rasps, one is early, the other late – even into May/June if the weather is kind. This year though both are proving frustratingly tardy.

Despite lush green growth and looking fabulously healthy, the former has limped along providing us with meagre fare. The other teases with literally masses of fruit that’s budding up well, but which stubbornly refuses to reach the pickable stage.

It should be noted that I absolutely adore raspberries so to potentially have so many sitting there refusing to ripen is driving me nuts!

Tomatoes are also proving incredibly slow to show any hint of colour; although I did pick the first couple yesterday. The vines are loaded and John is moaning that summer will be over before the tomatoes are ready. Personally I doubt it given the changing climate means warm summer days now extend well into March, and even April even if the nights are cooler.

I just look at both crops and think, Oh my goodness, when they do actually ripen they’re going to do so all at once, and in a rush, and for a few weeks my life will be dominated, both by picking them, and then – in the case of the tomatoes especially – processing them and cooking up a storm ready to freeze for winter soups, casseroles and pasta sauces.

This is of course a good problem to have, and I’m not complaining, but it makes me wonder how the commercial growers of our fruits and vegetables are managing since their crops must be similarly affected, and with climate change it’s a seasonal production situation likely to become ever more challenging.

As for me well I’d be naturally much happier if these two crops could have sorted their growing and ripening styles a bit more conveniently. But at least they are growing, and they do look like ripening soon, and that’s a good thing. I just need to be patient and wait for nature to do her bit. Which she will of course, but in her own good time.

In the meantime there’s an abundance of cucumbers and thornless blackberries, a steady supply of capsicums, a second crop of peas to anticipate, and what currently looks like considerably more pumpkins than we managed to harvest last year, so we’re unlikely to starve. Always a plus.

Berry Opportunist

Chooks usually get a bad rap when it comes to intelligence, and I’ll admit they’ve never struck me as being the smartest of birds – although there is evidence to suggest that, like sheep, which also have an unfortunate reputation when it comes to intelligence – chooks are a lot smarter than they seem. But over the years we‘ve kept chooks there have been a few who have stood out as definite personalities, and some can certainly have distinct characteristics. There have been some that proved permanently flighty, and overly protective of their chicks, while others have been pretty laid back about the whole mothering experience. Interestingly these are often the ones who prove to be the most successful mothers, as well as the ones whose offspring tend to be the most laid back. Nature or nurture?

A surprise this season has been witnessing the cooperative approach to motherhood displayed by two hens who decided to share the nest and so were both involved in hatching the very few eggs we left them. Of the two chicks that hatched, only one has survived – we think the other was probably inadvertently squashed by one or other hen – and parenting duties have been shared, resulting in what I think is a ‘smothering’ and it will be interesting to note how this chicken develops once the mothers abandon it, which they eventually will do.

This season we have a population explosion resulting from several chooks going bush to lay their eggs, and our failure to find them in time, but among the crowd Sandy Chook stands out. At least she does at the moment as the berries are ripening. She just loves berries, and is wise to the time when I start picking them. Needless to say the boysenberries, strawberries and raspberries are all covered so neither she, her feathered cousins, or the tiresome, invasive and determined blackbirds, can get in to nick them, but she always has her eye to the main chance and would be in like Flynn if she could. As would the blackbirds who are cunning personified when it comes to locating the smallest hole in the netting in the hope of sneaking a feed. I do give Sandy Chook the ones that have been half-eaten by the expletive blackbirds, and naturally enough she’s wise to this too so hangs around in daily expectation of such largesse.

For the rest of the year she’s mostly indistinguishable from all the other chooks when it comes to personality, although she always stands out due to her colour since most of our chooks are predominantly black, but come summer and berry time I can guarantee there will be a loyal, hopeful and expectant follower on morning berry picking tasks.

Summer is berry nice . . !

By the time March comes around all the daily harvesting of produce does become a bit tedious and rather a grind, but there are compensations. One of them is having a steady crop of raspberries and strawberries for weeks on end.

The strawberries have been into their second fruiting for a week or so now and are producing well, while we have two varieties of raspberries; one an early fruiting variety, and the other that produces in autumn. Despite the weather being far from autumnal so far this year, the latter variety is going gangbusters and there are loads more berries to come. Which is lovely, and I’m definitely not complaining, but at the same time I’m rather over having to devote time to picking them each day, and the scratched arms that go with the territory and are an occupational hazard.

I was in the UK last year from early May, but for almost the entire month John continued to enjoy a generous handful of raspberries for his dessert each evening, something he gleefully told me each time we spoke, and the way things are looking this year will be no different – unless the weather changes dramatically of course which isn’t looking too likely at the moment.

As for the tomatoes, still they come, although they are slowing up rapidly. I’ve chopped, sliced diced, and cooked them up with the usual onions, garlic, chilli, capsicum and zucchini; made relish, and given masses away, and once again the freezer is chockers, so the pressure is off when it’s time for winter-warming casseroles and pasta dishes.

This year though we also have more than a few containers of raspberries and boysenberries jostling for freezer space, which is of course a very satisfying position to be in as we head towards cooler weather, darker days, and the inevitable colder nights. In the meantime the Tomato Cookbook has pride of place on the bench as I seek out new recipes to keep pace with these fabulous fruity vegetables while they remain so abundant.