Tag Archive | fruit orchard

And a Porcupine in a Pear Tree

This would not make a great Christmas present, but it’s what you get here at Phoenix Farm:  a porcupine in a pear tree.  This little guy is quite young, still growing its big quills.  There have been several porcupines feeding on the fruit dropping from trees in our orchards.  Most of the critters stick to the apple trees.  This one is braver.  The pear trees are the closest to the house.  Pears must be really delicious for the porcupine to risk contact with humans and dogs to feast on the fruit.

Porcupines remind me of sloths.  They seem almost in slow motion most of the time.  Their eyesight is poor, as well.  It is no wonder so many dogs go to the vet to have quills removed.  The only defenses these animals have are quills and the ability to slowly climb trees.  Every time I take the dogs out in the orchard I have to check for porkies on the ground.  Often, there is one sitting and munching fruit.  I talk loudly, sometimes have to clap to be heard, and the rodent ambles to a tree then hauls itself ten to fifteen feet up where it sits and peeks down at intruders.

Here is the working end of the rodent, the back end and tail.  Porcupines lash their tails to implant quills.  Older porcupines have backs bristling with long whitish quills.  When I worked as a vet tech, I spent many hours removing quills from the mouths of hapless dogs.  Sometimes we’d see the same dogs two or three times in a row, and they still didn’t learn to leave the porkies alone.

So far this fall our dog Max has gotten a few quills in his nose while trying to smell a bristling rodent.  Luckily, they were easy for us to pull out. I’ve seen dogs with hundreds of quills embedded in their mouths.  They need to be put under anesthesia to remove the quills in a time consuming operation that can get quite expensive.  One vet I worked with used to joke that he kept a porcupine ranch and released a new batch whenever he needed extra cash flow.

If you have a fruit orchard and find piles of chewed up fruit chunks lying around, you have a porcupine at work.  How the rodents get any sort of nutrition out of their method of consuming fruit is beyond me.  They seem to just enjoy slicing the fruit into piles.  Maybe they are after the juice?  The fruit wasps (at right center above) appreciate the porcupine’s work.  The wasps have been gorging themselves on pears until they fall into stupors, too full to fly away.

This has been such a good fruit year that even after I’ve harvested all we need, there is still plenty on the trees and ground for the wildlife.  The fruit attracts deer, bears, coyotes, turkeys, various rodents and several species of song birds.  And I must not forget how my flock of chickens hurries to eat under the trees every day when they are released to free range.  The abundance is short-lived.  In a few weeks all the fallen fruit will be consumed.  It’s nice that I never have to rake drops in the orchard.


Red Pear Jelly

The red pears are ready during the first part of September.  These early organic pears are delicious, fragrant and sweet, but they don’t hold long.  They must be picked when they are still a little crunchy and ripened under close monitoring.  In a couple days they can go from perfect ripeness to all brown on the inside.  The ones that survive my appetite for fresh pears are turned into jelly.

My pear jelly recipe was developed through trial and error and adapted from the apple jelly Sure-Jell recipe.  Pears have a similar pectin content to apples, but they contain more juice and are sweeter.  To make perfect pear jelly, select ripe fruit that is still slightly firm, not gone too mushy.  The skin and cores contain pectin, so they are retained.  The low sugar version of Sure-Jell reduces calories and allows more of the fresh fruit flavor to come out in the finished jelly.

Pear Jelly

4 lbs pears to make 4 cups pear juice

1 cup water

3.5 cups sugar

1 package low-sugar Sure-Jell

Wash pears well, remove stem and blossom end.  Cut the fruit, with the skins and cores, into approx. 1″ cubes.  Place in a large saucepan with the water.  Simmer, covered for 20-30 minutes, until soft.  Mash the fruit, place in a jelly bag or within several layers of cheesecloth and drain off all the juice.  I like to put the juice in a covered pitcher in the fridge overnight so any pulp that makes it through the cloth will settle to the bottom.  Then I pour off the clear juice, leaving the sediment.  You should have 4 cups of juice.  Add up to 1/4 cup water if you are a little short.

Place the juice in a large stock pot that is at least four times the volume of juice to allow for expansion during cooking.  Mix the Sure-Jell with 1/2 cup sugar then add to the juice.  Cook on high, stirring, until the mixture boils.  Add the rest of the sugar all at once.  Continue to stir and return the mixture to a full rolling boil that can not be stirred down.  Boil for one minute.  Remove from heat.  Skim off any foam.  Immediately pack in hot containers.  Process in a hot water bath for 5 minutes.  Cool out of drafts.  Check for a seal before storing.  Makes about 6.5 cups of jelly.  Yum!