Letter from Birdland: Drying fruit and hoping for rain

Letter from Birdland: Drying fruit and hoping for rain

I'm sitting on the front porch in the diminishing shade pitting the cherries that I picked with my sweet neighbor, Megan. She has a whole grove of sour cherries in her yard, and we spent a pleasant afternoon reaching up into the tree to fill our baskets.

My hands are dripping and sticky with juice, and the chickens and turkeys were at first enthusiastic about the cherry stones I was tossing over the edge of the porch, but I think they have had their fill and now they only get excited when a whole cherry bounces into the grass instead of into my bowl.

They are also pecking at the burdock, which may save me some weeding. I'm going to try my hand at drying fruit, which I learned about a few months back at an Extension workshop.

At the workshop I learned about "conditioning." No matter the method (sun/air-dried, oven-dried, food dehydrator) the fruit will dry unevenly, and we need to put it loosely in a jar for a few days to even out the moisture. Put an airtight lid on and shake the jar a few times a day to redistribute the fruit.

You have to keep an eye on it too — if it's too damp, condensation will collect in the jar, and that's a signal that it needs more drying. After a few days of conditioning, the fruit should be uniformly leathery. Before I heard about conditioning, I lost a lot of dried fruit to mildew and took to freezing the already-dried fruit in bags until I was ready to eat it.

The white mulberry tree next to the chicken coop is dropping its pail fruit, and the hens and turkeys call in the morning to be let out to glean the berries from the grass. They root around gathering their prizes and then sit in a sunny spot to digest. Or they take a dust bath in the shade of the ornamental quince bushes, where the dust is dry as talc, even protected by the sun.

Oh, we need rain. This time of year the rain is spotty. We might see dark clouds gathering, curtains of gray rain falling a few sections over, but for the past few weeks none of those clouds has pushed over here to water my garden.

My path is rock hard, and I had to give up weeding. I love weeding when the ground is soft and damp, and clumps of grass and pull out smoothly with moist earth clinging to their roots. But now I can only manage to tear the stems, the roots still clinging mercilessly to the graying soil.

I also notice that some of my plants — garlic, sedum, a few of the lupine seedlings I planted, are turning a pale yellow. I think it is a nitrogen deficiency, and I will start scattering some of the chicken-enriched dirt I have been digging from the coop around the yellowing plants.

Normally, chicken manure is too strong to put directly into the garden, and I have been piling it up with weeds and other dross to culture a bit before spreading it. But I also put weeds in the coop, and the chickens are very good at stirring everything up as they scratch in the pile for bugs, so it is not really pure manure like I used to scrape off the floor of the old chicken tractor. I'll let you know whether side dressing my plants with enriched soil helps them.

We are between blooms. The black-eyed Susans are promising some lovely golden color sometime soon, but the earlier abundance of purple and pink in the yard has all turned to green, swelling seed cases. In my corner between the paths blooms some white top and a few day lilies, but for now the main color is green everywhere I look.

The earlier floods have carried the grasses and the crops through. Except for a few patches here and there of brown in the yard, the grass is all green and the field have begun to ripple in the wind, though I think the crops are growing a lot more slowly than usual. I sit on the porch with one lazy dog and hope for rain.

Plant in beauty; wait in peace; blessed be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in how observing the daily changes in her yard and the wide world increases mindfulness. You can follow her at @BirdlandLetters on Twitter. She can be reached at letterfrombirdland@gmail.comor via snail mail care of this newspaper.

Sections (1):Living
Topics (2):Environment, Pets

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