Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Battle for the Harvest Begins... #Texas #garden

Texas is a wonderful place to set a crime novel. Not just because we locals are such characters, but because the epic struggle for life takes place at all levels, and the weather often plays a role. The Cass Elliot crime novels begin in 2011, the year of Texas' worst drought in nearly a century, and the weather plays a role in the series; in one case, helping uncover a crime that occurred decades before.

For now, my struggle is all about crime in the garden. These aren't words you'll often read, but it's been a fabulous spring in Texas and our summer is off to a gentle start. Our garden is bursting with tomatoes and onions, the potatoes are huge, and the strawberries are coming along. The masked thieving critters are out in full force, and I don't mind sharing as long as they share back. Unfortunately, they love the garden almost as much as we do, and I'm desperate for fruit protection solutions. This is serious business, folks, because who knows when we'll have weather like this again?

I planted five peach trees in January 2011, the winter before this terrible drought began. Not very clever on my part, but who was to know? Some friends gave us a fig tree that spring, and it's struggled ever since. We also have a pear tree that's as old as Methuselah and adored by the cows - it's their favorite scratching post.

We've struggled so much with the weather over the past four years that I haven't expected much from the fruit trees, and they've reliably not delivered, with the exception of the pear tree. That thing puts on pears every year, and every year my husband walks out and squeezes the pears, saying, "A couple more weeks." And "Maybe another week." And "Tomorrow's the day!"

Trouble is, every year the thieving raccoons have their own very reliable ripeness testing routine. Without fail, we've woken on "the day" to major disappointment: the raccoons have called in their buddies and worked overnight to steal every pear from that old tree. Those pears they didn't outright eat, they took a nice nibble from and tossed around the pasture so the fire ants can have a go. Needless to say, hubby's bummed every year, because it'll be another year before we get a shot at the pears!

This year, we have peaches to protect in addition to the pears. Yes, we could kill the raccoons, which would be in keeping with the whole crime novel thing, but my husband's determined to beat them at their own game. This year, he's gone on the offensive and wrapped the trees with six strands of electric fence wire. He's linked the cages to our electric fence, which holds enough charge to pop a cow hard enough that she won't go near the fence again. So far, so good. He's testing the fruit every day, but neither the peaches nor the pears are quite ready for picking. We won't know if the electric fence works until we win and the raccoons and fire ants go away disappointed.

I'm draping bird netting over PVC hoops to protect the strawberry plants, but I hate the stuff. Birds get caught in it, one rat snake got tangled up in it (I was most unhappy to have to cut him out, even though he had strangled himself), and this morning a red-headed woodpecker was fluttering around inside the hoops. He was easy to release, but this stuff is a pain. It's saved the strawberries, but I'll need a better solution for next year.

As irritated as I am with the crime prevention that goes along with gardening, the experiences will come in handy. Goober, a gentle soul who manages to stumble into the most gruesome crime scenes in the Cass Elliot novels, is a wonderful gardener. I think he'll have the benefit of my frustration when it comes time for him to plant his next garden, and who knows? Maybe somebody will have a nasty run in with a thieving raccoon or get tangled up in some electric fence...

photo credit: lovecatz via photopin cc

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