This summer I am engaged in war with the local squirrel population. We are competing for the apples and tomatoes I am growing. So,far I am not winning. Thinking of other gardens and epic battles with nature's creatures of the past, I went back in the archives to remind myself that occasionally I do win a battle.
Last Fall we enjoyed our first crop of apples. We had planted the tree years ago and had grown several crops. Every year we saw the branches fill with apples. We watched as they got larger and closer to ripeness, our mouths watering at the thought of the yummy treats a tree full of apples could produce. Every year just as we had begun counting down the days until harvest, we would go to bed one night with the vision of a luscious tree of fruit in our heads only to wake the next day to empty branches. No sign that there had ever been apples remained. Apple, core, stem, all were gone along with our dreams of homemade apple sauce and the crunch of a sweet juicy apple.
This was an affront we could no longer tolerate. So, we became detectives looking for clues. Chief suspects? A yard full of squirrels, the mama possum who brazenly scaled the back fence each and every night, and most likely the pair of raccoons that we fought to keep out of the chimney.
Each growing season saw a new plan of attack. We researched natural repellents for each of the suspects. We sprayed the tree with hot pepper spray which might as well have been pure water for all the repulsion it provided. We covered the tree from top to trunk in netting. That became problematic when both a bird and squirrel found a way into the netting and we couldn't figure a way out for them without placing ourselves within striking distance. We covered the trunk in an attempt to make it impossible to climb, but apparently our thief used the fence to jump into the tree rather than climb. Each growing season began with high hopes for our latest battle plan only to end with a stripped tree.
Last spring my husband had had enough. He came home one night wild eyed a live trap in tow. When I asked what would happen if he actually caught anything, he grinned and said we would figure that out if and when we had success. Up the trap went to the roof of the sleeping porch. It was fortified with cat food which was reportedly irresistable to raccoons. Every night my husband scaled a ladder to the rooftop and the trap was baited. Every morning back up he went to find the trap sprung and the food missing. This was our routine as the high school prom approached.
When my daughter and her date arrived home in the wee hours they startled a humongous raccoon who scurried away from them almost as quickly as they scurried from him. The enormous creature attempted to shinny up the downspot but awkward and portly (apparently from eating trees full of fruit), he lost his balance somewhere near the roof. He scraped along the uneven rocks of the second floor as he tumbled down the side of the stone house. The kids hurried inside wide eyed as a thud sounded in the bushes. The next morning there was no sign of the raccoon himself but the side of the house was covered in a trail of raccoon blood. War is hell.
One villain down-literally-the trap and the battle moved to the back fence area. To our surprise it captured not one but two opossums. There is a trick to removing these unattractive creators from the trap as they really do "play possum" and convincingly so. You can be completely convinced you are removing a corpse when you suddenly face a mouth filled with tiny spiky teeth and a spitty sounding hiss issuing forth. The details on this stage of Operation Apple Recovery are too ugly to share. Suffice it to say the opossum family no longer resides out back.
While Man vs. Wild played out on Westwood the tree silently produced its best crop yet. Picking time approached. We were optimistic but not overly confident. The yard still teemed with dozens of squirrels who had not been eliminated as suspects themselves. They seemed to taunt us with their chipper scampering around the tree, but each morning we awoke to branches still brimming with apples. Although we still don't know who the real culprit was, when harvest came last fall the apples were ours for the picking.
We enjoyed apples in the fall until we could eat no more. I made some simple syrup and added lemon juice to cover and freeze apple slices. Now from time to time I pull out a container of those apples and cook them on the stovetop with some cinnamon. I run them through the blender and have yummy homemade applesauce for lunch and a house that smells absolutely wonderful. Also, it is a healthy treat which is important. We need to be in tip top shape because apple growing season is just around the corner.