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Welcome to My Jungle

Welcome to My Jungle - December 2017

The medlar (Mespilus germanica) project was a success. I had enough bletted (very ripe but not rotted) fruit from one tree to make a small batch of jelly and try a new dessert bar recipe featuring medlars and walnuts. Having never tasted medlars before, I was worried I would hate the taste and had wasted my time, but I really enjoyed the unique, stewed-apple-like flavor created in both recipes. For the bar recipe, I pushed the whole bletted fruits through a screen sieve with a wooden spoon to separate out the skin and seeds and create a smooth fruit purée. I used the purée immediately in my bar recipe but I could have also frozen it for later use. The jelly was made following a standard recipe and methodology for low-pectin fruit. My English muffin in the morning has never tasted better. All in all, this medlar tree has been a nice addition to my jungle. It appears to be relatively resistant to common pome fruit diseases, most importantly scab, rusts and fire blight; and to date, it has not suffered any significant insect damage. The tree is self-fertile (doesn't require cross-pollination) and is quite attractive, maxing out at maybe 15 feet. I planted the tree in the spring of 2009 and by 2012 I had my first crop of fruit, which until this year, I let the wildlife enjoy. If the fruit didn't need to be bletted before eating, I'm quite sure this would be a much more common backyard fruit tree.

I did experience one crop failure this year. I had noticed a lot of new chipmunk tunneling in my raised bed garden this season, but it wasn't until my husband and I harvested the peanut plants in the raised bed this fall did I understand why. Although the plants remained looking green and healthy, chipmunks had secretly snatched everything from below except for two full sized peanuts, three medium peanuts and three small peanuts. I can clearly remember now, seeing chipmunks with stuffed little cheek pockets, and thinking they were pretty cute. Not so much now. Naturally, the mice had to be in on the heist too because the few measly peanuts the chipmunks left me have now since disappeared from the garage where they were stored. No matter how old you get, the lessons just keep coming.

Winter is a great time to identify woody perennials. I was reminded of this after recently catching pieces of a seminar being conducted in my office on winter tree identification. For beginners, trees and shrubs have distinct shapes to their buds and twigs that allow them to be classified reliably in winter without the benefit of leaves. A dichotomous key is a very useful tool, which by a series of choices leads the user to the correct name of a woody perennial. There are a number of keys available online and in book form, but most beginners will find them frustrating if they don't have a firm understanding of plant anatomy and terminology. Before proceeding with a key, make sure you have access to definitions of horticultural terms, either online or a dictionary of horticulture at your side.

I took a moment from outdoor work recently to just enjoy the sound and visual spectacle of a colossal flock of blackbirds migrating over my house. The wonder I felt at being able to hear the sound of thousands of wings beating in the still of the afternoon will stay with me always. My wish is that you all experience the wonder of nature as I do. Happy holidays!