Skip to main content

Welcome to My Jungle - August 2017

Did you know grape berries reach physiological maturity well before they taste good? Grape berry maturity occurs when seeds are able to germinate, which is immediately after véraison, or initiation of fruit ripening (start of color change). Try tasting a grape berry at this stage. I can guarantee the experience will pucker you up. Grapes are actually harvested at what is termed their technological maturity, which brings together a good balance of major components like sugars, organic acids and pH. Whereas commercial growers taste and sample with laboratory precision, home growers usually rely on tasting regularly until the "yum" factor occurs. One piece of advice, don't make the mistake of harvesting grapes too early; thinking you will ripen them off the vine in an attempt to avoid problems like ravaging birds and mammals or damaging weather. Once picked, grapes do not improve in flavor, color or sugar content.

One thing very distinct about grape chemistry is tartaric acid; grapes are nearly alone amongst fruit with this compound as their major organic acid. Organic acids are important to food preservation because they reduce pH, which discourages the growth of many spoilage organisms. If you have ever made grape jelly, you probably have experienced tartrate crystal formation, either during preparation or in the finished product. Though harmless, you can prevent tartrate crystals developing in the finished product by refrigerating the prepared juice for 24 to 48 hours (cold stabilization) before further processing. Refrigeration creates a favorable condition for crystals to form. Following refrigeration and without mixing, pour off the top of the grape juice through cheesecloth or a coffee filter, being careful to leave the bulk of crystals behind. The resulting clear juice is now much less likely to develop crystals in the finished product.

I have had a real treat this summer. A queen bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata) chose to build her nest at the top of our bedroom window and my family has been watching it grow over the summer. Totally fascinating! Our last nest was built high up in a pine tree so we could not see it near as well.

Interestingly, the bald-faced hornet is not a "true" hornet but rather an "aerial yellowjacket." Because bald-faced hornets feed on many pest insects and pollinate flowers when searching for nectar, they are considered beneficial. We chose to leave the nest alone for that reason and just remain on high alert when working nearby in the yard or on the house. So far, so good. Bald-faced workers will sting when provoked (i.e. poking their nest with a stick) but are not as aggressive in defending their nest as yellowjackets. Unlike ground-nesting yellowjackets, they seem totally unconcerned with the lawnmower, even if it passes just under them. I still have trust issues though. I continue to station my husband as a lookout when I mow and I in turn played the lookout when he was installing an antennae above the nest. And from experience, bald-faced hornets are not near as nasty as a paper wasps. I think they were born mad.

I should have taken a picture! Just recently I was disheartened to see a beautifully maintained stand of Prairie Cordgrass (Spartina pectinate) had been renewal mowed before I got around to capturing it on film. It runs almost the entire length of Horseshoe Lake Road between Eastport Plaza Drive and North Bluff Road (between the road and the bike trail). I won't make the same mistake twice.