Picking Up Pears

We have two pear trees on the property. Two very large pear trees. An arborist, who recently visited, pegged the age of each tree at between fifty and seventy years old. In talking with one of our neighbors this spring, it was mentioned that much of the land through this sliver of St. Paul, was once part of an orchard at the beginning of the twentieth century. Depending upon how you look at it, our trees could have been planted toward the end of the orchard’s formal existence, or these trees (the pears and the old apple trees) are from happenstance seedlings.

Last year, we had just moved in at the beginning of August. I am not recalling that we had as many pears (or apples for that matter) as we have this year. It might be a combination of a couple things – (1) we fenced in much of the yard for the hounds; (2) we have four stacks of expensive pollinators at the back of the property – honeybees.

With the fence in place, fallen fruit is not being eaten by the herd of whitetail deer that live in the forest that covers this part of St. Paul. This means that we maybe seeing a more accurate account of the volume of fruit from the trees. Secondly, we have the honeybees. This spring, just prior to my epic Yukon road trip, the pear trees were in bloom. The trees were buzzing with honeybee activity.

Whatever the mainspring of the volume of pears is, it is kind of irrelevant at this point in the season. We have a lot of pears. We have cleaned up the yard four times, and I suspect we will be picking up pears at least once more before the snow flies.

So, I picked up the pears, again. This time, I did what I like to do with videoing things: recorded it, and then sped it up. Enjoy. The variety of pear, at least those that I am picking up, as far as I can tell, are Seckel pears.


Rouge Vif d’Etampes (Fancy Pumpkins)

The last week leading into this weekend and then through this weekend, weather-wise, has been on the extreme-side of pleasant.  I would call this goldilocks weather. It has been not too cold and not too hot.  Cool in the evenings and into the nights and cool in the mornings with just the right amount of sun and warmth with partly cloudiness throughout the day.

It’s good sitting-around-weather.  Good outdoor-project-tinkering-weather. Great reading-a-book-while-sipping-lemonaid-weather.

Minnesota Public Radio’s chief meteorologist, Paul Huttner, remarked both on-air and on his Updraft Blog that…


It doesn’t get any better than this folks. This may be the best weekend of summer. Lazy high pressure drifting east brings a return southerly flow and gradual warming trend.  Plenty of sun and highs in the 80? Cue the brass band, beach-goers and lemonade stands.

But with the cool mornings and equally cool nights, I can’t help but think that fall is just over the horizon.  The kind of tinge to the air that reminds you that the amount of time you have worn shorts this summer is greater than the amount of time remaining to wear shorts this summer.  Driving home from Zumbrota this afternoon, we saw a truck hauling ears of corn – it’s getting to be harvest time – maybe hauling to a farmer’s corn crib to dry out for winter cattle feed, or maybe to a wet-mill.

Here at the house with our small garden, we are growing a bit of corn.  It is an heirloom bi-color sweet corn.  The ears are small, and the stalks are short.  We might just end up feeding partially developed ears of corn to the chickens.  We have also had mixed success with peas and beans.  The first patch of peas was small – we ended up with a only a single bowl.  The garlic that we grew was small, but has been very tasty.  Dill, thyme and basil have all been abundant and flavorful.  The few varieties of tomatoes that we grew this season, like Burpee’s Northern Exposure, have been doing well.  I am starting to not mind tomatoes in salads, but I am likely being spoiled with the slow nature that our tomato production operates under.  Instead of forcing the tomatoes to grow and instead of picking them too early, we can pick them when we want and more on their own schedule.

But, of all the things we planted, the one that has left me gobsmacked, is the Rouge Vif d’Etampes.  It’s basically a fancy pumpkin of French origin.  According to our garden plans, we planted five mounds – with roughly a few seeds to each mound.  In the U.S., it appears these pumpkins are often colloquially known as Cinderella pumpkins.

As I mentioned, previously, these Cinderella pumpkins are growing with the vigor and perceived determination of Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors, just without having to resort to bringing bodies to the pumpkins.  At last count, there were 18 to 20 pumpkins, in various stages, growing in the garden.

So, what is so special about these pumpkins?  It is an heirloom variety that was first introduced to the United States from France in 1883 by Burpee.  It is a variety of Cucurbita maxima (this is the same species as butternut or hubbard squashes).  Among its characteristics, it is supposed to have sweet, orange flesh with a strong flavor.  But, I think its most endearing characteristic is its whimsical shape.  Squat like a short-stack of extra wide pancakes, these pumpkins simply stand-out in the garden.

Along with their stand-out nature, the vines being produced seem to have a mind of their own.  Depending upon what source of information you assume is canonical, the spread can be anywhere from 6 to 20 feet; we are seeing a spread just above that upper bound.  And, since we have fencing around the garden, we are seeing the spread in all three dimensions.

But, as with many things in the garden (or, sometimes life), things can quickly turn in a different direction.  With this coming week, we are supposed to have a bit more summer-like weather.  My thoughts on the onset of fall may temporarily be put the side, but they will still be there.  And when fall finally does show up and we get that first frost, I am sure I will write again about these magnificently shaped pumpkins and how they turned out.

Lawnmowers & Vespidae

Before leaving for Portland, I had been putzing with the lawn tractor and its mower deck.  The mower deck has a Rube-Goldbergian pulley system from taking power from the engine and directing it to the mower blades.  For a while (prior to traveling to Portland), I have been trying to get the right belt for the mower deck.  The mower itself is a Sears.  Its green color is not original, nor is the yellow mower deck.  The belt that was on the machine when my father-in-law was cracked and worn and continually slipped off. Amazon.com has been stellar with their selection of belts.  Props to Amazon for having belts listed by size and not simply the model of the machine they will fit.  I have bought several – different circumferences and different thicknesses.  Except for the last belt I tried, the others keep violently vibrating and slip off of the pulleys.  The last belt was simply too short.

With the far-back garage closed and the not-mowing-mower in said garage, Melissa was not able to get the grass cut while I was in Portland.  The grass also did not get cut the first week back from Portland.  This was more than nerve-racking for Melissa, and she had had enough.  We bought a new self-propelled push mower yesterday.

Melissa is a tomboy.  She likes things with engines – lawnmowers, tractors, fishing boats.  Whenever I would get the lawn tractor out to mow, inevitably, Melissa would wander out and ask if she could take over.

Like a kid with a new toy, I could barely get the few things I was carrying out and into the house; she wanted the new mower unpacked and working.

With the jerrycan of 92 octane gasoline empty after filling the new machine, I headed to a gas station; Melissa buzzed around the front yard with the new mower.

When I returned, she had moved into the backyard.  She had mowed in front of the entrance to the vegetable garden and was now mowing lengthwise in front of the chicken coop.

I had noticed a mole hole near the entrance to the garden several days ago.  I had made a mental note to fill it with dirt, but had since lost the mental note.  Walking to check the expansive Little Shop of Horrors-like squash plant (I have not had to feed it bodies, yet, but the plant is enormous, and, in the hot weather of several weeks ago, it was growing nearly 12″ per day) that had been looking dehydrated earlier in the day, I noticed activity around the mole hole – insects, flying insects, black and yellow flying insects.

A closer inspection revealed wasps.  Depending upon which entomology camp you follow, you call them Vespula alascensis, or you might call them Vespula vulgaris.  Either way, they are wasps.

Melissa had apparently, and unknowingly mowed over the mole hole that now contained the wasps.  Before I inevitably had to put wasp spray into their home, I set up a video camera and videoed them cleaning out the grass clippings that had landed at the entrance.

Garden & Trees

Melissa planting seedsWe finished getting the fruit trees in the ground this evening. These trees arrived from Fedco Trees at the end of March.  Apple trees, cherry trees, plum trees, and one peach tree that is supposed to be good to zone four (the USDA zone we are located in).  When the trees arrived, the snow had nearly melted but that would not last. It snowed, it melted, and so on.  We had our last snow a couple weeks ago; the daytime air temperature went into the low 70s F for a couple days only to seesaw back to having frost at nights.  But, we seem to be modulating back into a range with its low end above freezing at night; tomorrow the daytime temperature, unfortunately, is forecast to be in 90s.  As an aside, Greg Laden had an interesting blog post titled, “Why is winter not ending?” It is a semi-sciencey read; and the reason for completely bizarro weather is, with little shock, climate change.  (cue music; maybe the Scorpions)

Over the weekend, Melissa and I more or less finished up the vegetable garden.  I had started last Friday with getting fence posts into the ground around the garden; luckily, we had had a late snow (early May) that was wet and heavy.  I say luckily mostly joking because it meant a lot of cleanup work for me.

We had several larger trees get taken down, but this allowed me to repurpose the tree trunks.  Instead of bucking them up into logs for burning this next winter, I cut them into eight feet long lengths – a relatively standard length for fence posts.

The trees that fell with the heavy snow fall – poplar, pine and buckthorn – are green and fresh, but they will eventually rot.  If we can get three to five years from these tree-posts around the garden, the bit of effort that went into getting them into the ground will likely have been worth it.

Along with getting the vegetable garden seeded this weekend, we headed to Racine, MN, again.  We have four beehives down there, and I wanted to make sure that the bees looked like they were doing their bee-things around the hives.

The hives looked good.  There was activity at all of the hives.  Bees also appear to be leaving the horses to their own horse-business and not bothering them.  The hives Racine, are in the corner where horse pasture and a field which will be planted with hay (this year) meet.  Behind the hives is a small fenced in run with a small stable; this is where Trigger the miniature pony resides.

In addition to the hives in Racine, we have four hives at the house here in Saint Paul.  We laid the groundwork for them this last winter.  Saint Paul allows hives, but requires a rather time intensive permitting process.  If owning beehives had been enshrined in the constitution, it is almost guaranteed there would be little if any bumps-in-the-road to having them.  Luckily, our lot is large, as is our neighbors’ lots.  This reduced the number of neighbors we had to get signatures from to only five of the six.  While we were getting the permit for honey bees, we tossed in a permit application for keeping chickens.  The hens have been hanging out in a brooder, in our basement, for a little over three weeks now.

Back on the farm in Racine, while we were there, we dug up flat of strawberry plants and two large rhubarb plants.  These, subsequently, ended up in our new vegetable garden.  The strawberries will likely need some active curation, else we will eventually end up with a large patch of strawberries and little room for vegetables.

Perhaps, someday, we will opt for an enormous, un-curated patch of strawberries, but, not at this time.  I am quite pleased with the how we were able to get the garden plot carved out of the yard; it was no small feat.  It started with a stretch of mild weather in the last November – we were able to get the grass and moss that had been residing there turned over before the snow landed and before the ground froze.

This was also the time when we got a variety of garlic cloves into the ground.  Now, in the spring, seeing the garlic begin to sprout, it makes me smile.  Prior to leaving Proctor and even prior to the general idea of possibly leaving Proctor for a new life in the big cities – late fall of 2011 – we had carved out a nice patch of garden space next to the house, and we planted many, many cloves of garlic.  Sadly, for that garlic, we sold the house several months before it would be ripe. That, likely, will not be the fate of the garlic this go around.

All that said, with the new fruit trees in the ground (and our existing fruit trees nearly ready to flower), the vegetable garden is nearly complete (we have a flat of celery sprouts, broccoli, tomatoes and peppers that need to be weather-harden slightly more), the honeybees (with the exception of the hives we over wintered near Duluth) all set for the beginning of the season, and the project I work on for my job is in a good place for break, I am ready for a short vacation.

And, I nearly forgot to mention, this fall, I will officially be a graduate student at the University of Minnesota.  Something to do with that field that is closely aligned with my profession, but rarely is written about here on this blog.

Fedco Tree Catalog Arrives

I will take a break from my string of otherwise pithy posts to say that the 2013 Fedco Trees catalog arrived two days ago.

Melissa, my wife, made fun of the catalog, “the layout and the pictures are weird.”

I like it.  The black print on unbleached paper.  The quirky single color clip art, I just like it.

The physical catalog brings back memories of a bygone era for me.  When I was about fourteen, the idea of trapping piqued my interest.  I had grown up with firearms and with a culture of hunting, but trapping was somewhat foreign.  My grandfather had told me tales of running snare lines and hunting predators.  It fascinated me and stuck with me.

When I was fifteen, I received an issue of Fur-Fish-Game, a magazine for outdoorsmen/women; as the title suggests, it covers topics of trapping, fishing and hunting.  It was (and I imagine, still is) a very down to earth, matter-of-fact companion for those who partake in pursuing things-wild.

Among the articles and stories there were simple advertisements; advertisements for trapping supply companies, shooting supply companies, and bowhunting supply companies and things in between.  These were (and having recently checked, still are) relatively small outfits.  You would not find Cabela’s, Gander Mountain, or Bass Pro Shop in the advertising section.

I picked a little company from Martinsville, Virginia – for reasons that I cannot recall.  The company, which is still in business, was Southeastern Outdoor Supplies.  They specialized in trapping, muzzleloading and raccoon hunting supplies.  I dropped a postcard in the mail requesting their catalog.

A couple of weeks later, a light blue covered, unbleached paper catalog arrived.  The pages were filled with headlamps and dog collars for raccoon hunting, turkey calls for turkey hunting, and dozens and dozens of trapping related items.

Eventually, I ran a very small trap line; mostly trapping beaver in and around the area in which father had hunted whitetail deer.  And, eventually, my penchant for trapping (and hunting) faded.

The things that bring me back to an era before I was of the age to drive a vehicle (legally) always amuses me.  In this case, it is an unbleached paper catalog of trees, herbs and perennials; nothing to do with the pursuit of fur-fish-or-game.