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COLUMN: Facing falling apples, angry wasps, wily raccoons

Having a gathering on a rural farm property poses many challenges ... as our outdoors columnist has discovered this week
20220811_Valk Valley_skunk in lawn (Hawke) (1) fix
The family farm will be bustling with friends and relatives this weekend and will have to deal with this skunk who had decided to put down roots in the area.

Event planning and preparation these days can be challenging, what with supply chain issues, travel challenges and severe weather events all conspiring to thwart your best laid plans.

As I write this we are the throes of pulling together a “Celebration of Lives Well Lived” for my late in-laws, Matt and Jane Valk.

We are hosting this on the family farm, so it’s a bit outdoors and a bit indoors. As we are consummate collectors of all things family related, the indoor part has turned our buildings into mini-museums of photos, clothing, certificates and awards, art work and publications. Seems Matt and Jane were quite accomplished in their many interests.

Of course any indoor event these days is subject to COVID restrictions, especially as much of the attending audience will be fairly elderly. So in addition to finding, labelling and displaying all these really cool artifacts there is the challenge of allowing for distancing.

Outside it’s a very different story. Both Matt and Jane were very proud of their vegetable gardens and we have attempted to continue to replicate their immaculate management of all things weedy.

Crab grass? Oh yeah we got crab grass. And purslane and sorrel and lamb’s quarters and mullein and goldenrod and creeping Charlie… so far about 15 wheelbarrows worth of ‘tidying up’ between the rows of carrots and potatoes.

As with most family events, there are those who will be travelling and requiring accommodation. Luckily we have large lawn areas and even better, some of the attendees are used to being stuck in a tent. To create a livable space in the great outdoors means that maybe we should actually mow that grassy area… several times, to get it clear enough to walk through.

Bordering the edge of said lawn area are a row of apple trees that Matt planted back in the 1970s. They are quite gnarly with their 50-year-old twisted branches and in springtime the blossoms are artistically spectacular. However, apple growers we are not and the trees seldom produce much in the way of fruit.

Except this year. The apple trees that will canopy the guest tents are laden with apples. With most apple varieties the fruits would be best picked in late fall. But these seem to be an early variety and are dropping about two bushels a day with a regular THUMP-bump-bump emitting from the soon-to-be tent sites.

Of course I felt that the provided fruit should be collected and either stored or processed immediately. No problem here with a supply chain issue, other than finding time to collect and handle these fruits. But wait a minute, why are they all rotten?

Seems these are a soft-flesh variety and that simple gravitational pull from branch to lawn surface is enough to smush all semblance of apple flesh inside the skin. I picked a few directly from the tree and was disappointed to find they are tart and the apple flesh mealy. Yuck. Off to the compost pile you go! Two bushels a day. Hand-picked. From the ground. Right where the tents are to be set up later today.

These fruits are, however, sought out by wildlife. Yellow jacket wasps and bald-faced hornets are desperate for sugar these days and the sweet smelling apple corpses are a magnet to these winged warriors. And also to the deer, raccoons, coyotes, red squirrels and meadow voles that we share living space with in our valley.

Really hoping our tenting guests will see the humour in their tent sites.

Back to the vegetable gardens. We have built and installed raised beds over the last couple of years, which has worked out fairly well. I filled the base with large branches and then a layer of small branches and then topped it off with garden mulch.

The spaces between the base branches have attracted chipmunks, garter snakes and toads. Okay, we can live with that. But now another species has taken to using these raised beds as a home base.

A rather prosperous yellow jacket colony has settled in and uses the bean patch as an entrance cover for their underground nest. Makes for lively bean picking on our part. But as a garden tour is big on the day’s agenda, this situation had to be dealt with. So a midnight raid with boiling water, soap suds and vinegar has been conducted by our daughter and I. Results yet to be determined.

As Erin and I were conducting the above Putinization of the hornet colony, the acrid scent of skunk wafted across the lawn.

Over the past few nights a skunk family has been ridding our lawn of grubs, and in doing so has rolled back a noticeable area of sod as they zero in on the sweet-smelling beetle larva. A sweep with the flashlight reveals a pair of beady eyes just a few metres away!

The skunk, an adult, was quite unconcerned about us and went about his business of ripping up the lawn and gorging on the lovely grubs found within. Good to know this particular critter has a tolerance for people walking by in the night, as our soon-to-arrive tent dwellers will have to negotiate themselves around him as they dance over smashed apples and stay clear of wayward homeless hornets.

Yes indeed, event planning these days is a challenge and a half!