Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Fall's Harvest and Invasion

Fall is long and warm in the hills this year. Though some were predicting a dearth of colors, due to a prolonged dry spell in late summer, the season has again come on in all its glory. I’m looking out now at a landscape ablaze with reds and orange, yellows and fading greens.

What’s most noteworthy about this fall, however, is the bountiful harvest of nuts and fruits. The limbs of apple and pear trees in the area seem overburdened. I’ve never seen as many walnuts on the black walnut in our yard. I’ve already raked a full season’s worth and as many, if not more, still cling to the branches.

Theories run all directions on why this is so. Some say the bountiful harvest is nature’s way of protecting itself against a pending harsh winter. By spring we’ll know if there’s truth to that. The other notion holds the abundance of fruit and nuts is survival instinct at work in the forest. The drought of last year, its lingering effect and the prolonged dry period of this summer, have no doubt stressed the trees, Here in the ridge several long-standing hickories and oaks succumbed to the lack of water by late August. Under such conditions, proponents hold, trees go into overproduction of seeds as a way of ensuring their survival.

Whatever the case, the harvest is ours to enjoy. With the abundance of apples, a friend retrieved a borrowed cider mill from 12 years in storage, and hired my son. The novice cidermeisters spent a couple of days mashing and pressing bushels of apples into gallons of fresh juice. I’ve never tasted better, and have a bucket of apple mash fermenting in a half hearted attempt to make some jack.

They’ve had to shut down the cider mill for a while with arrival of what has become one of the autumns most unwelcome events: invasion of the Asian ladybugs. Now out in full force, buzzing clouds everywhere in the afternoon sun, leaving a trail of orange stench on windows and doors, and on your hands should you try to brush one off. Were just one to fall into the vat get pressed with the cider, they fear the batch would be ruined.

I read these ladybugs were first brought to the U.S. in a government effort to control aphids. But without any natural controls in place, the Asian variety proliferated, becoming a seasonal nuisance all the way north. That’s what I heard, anyway.....another well intended government cure.

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