Posts Tagged ‘blackberries’

Cumulus clouds September.

As we edge toward autumn, change is in the air. The heat of summer slowly dies away, replaced by crisp, foggy mornings and cool breezes. Clouds roll in, sometimes huge, fluffy white mountains, other times layers of gray filled with rain.blackberry jelly and green beans

Leaves begin to turn color. We harvest the garden—plucking the last few ears of corn, a few fat cucumbers hiding under the leaves, red and golden cherry tomatoes, and, of course, zucchini, which is not yet ready to call it quits. Apples redden on the tree. The pantry shelves hold jars of beans, the freezer bags of corn. Blackberry jam and jelly await winter breakfasts. Our garden has done well.

Liberty applesA hush settles over the street, as children head off to school. I drink in the quiet and let it settle into my soul. September. Even the sound of it is soft and flowing, like the afternoon breeze as it rustles through the treetops. Like a treasure you hold, not in your hands, but in your heart.September sunset

And in the evening we stroll down the street as darkness falls earlier and the sun sets in a bright sky.

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Blueberry muffins! I never thought I would actually taste a homemade blueberry muffin this year, but the time has finally come. The wild blackberries are ripening, giving those starving birds something else to devour besides my shrinking blueberry crop. Yesterday I slipped under the almost useless netting to pick the few blueberries still clinging to the bushes. Most years I would come away from a picking session with several quarts of berries. Last night I was happy to find enough for one and a half small containers–perhaps 3-4 cups total. Enough for a batch of muffins, with a few left over to toss atop our cereal.

Such berries could not be wasted. I searched online for a special muffin recipe. Blueberries and lemon sounded good. Perhaps some sour cream, too, my housemate suggested. After several minutes, I came across the perfect recipe, including all three requested ingredients. Next into the kitchen to mix it all up. I stuck the pans in the oven and waited, while enticing aromas began to fill the air.

Finally the buzzer went off. Out came the muffins, creamy colored with dark purple patches of berry goodness. Delicious! Maybe even worth the long wait.

There will be no more blueberry muffins this year. Only a few straggling berries remain on the bushes. However, the wild blackberries have gone crazy, growing high and wide and filled with fruit. Soon, very soon, blackberry pie will be on the menu!

Recipe for Lemon Blueberry Muffins

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The annual Battle of the Blueberries is in full swing–and the birds are winning. Every July it happens. My blueberries begin to ripen, and the bird hordes arrive to strip them from the bushes at the slightest hint of blue. And every year I fight back, but my efforts are not always successful.

The first few years we lived here, all was peaceful. The berries ripened, I picked them, we ate them–and made wonderful pies and jams and sauces–without incident. For some undetermined reason, the birds left them alone. Then one year, it began. My first clue was that the berries did not seem to be ripening. I would go out to check and see just a few slightly red berries. A couple days later, still just a few reddish berries. I was a bit slow, but I finally realized that those red berries were not the same ones as before, and that little empty stems marked where other berries had been. Birds! Now I happen to be a birdwatcher. I love birds and don’t mind sharing my berries with them. But they were eating ALL my blueberries. And so the war began.

Note the partially eaten berry on the right.

I read that shiny things would scare birds away, so I hung can lids from strings, dangling where the wind would move them and the sun glitter off them. The berries continued to disappear. I tried hanging the lids in pairs, so they could bang against each other in the breeze. No luck. I bought shiny ribbon made especially for scaring birds away and festooned my berry bushes with it. The robins and sparrows and starlings–especially the starlings–seemed to enjoy the new party decorations right along with the refreshments.

Finally I went for the netting. The only sure way to keep birds out of the berries, I was told. Expensive, yes, but it would be worth it. And for a while, it worked. I couldn’t afford enough to cover all my berries, but I covered 3/4 of them and left the rest for the birds. Everybody was happy–except maybe the starling flock that couldn’t get enough from those few open bushes. But I’m not a big fan of starlings anyway. Once again, I made blueberry pie and jam and cobbler, and I was content.

My netted blueberry bushes

Until this year. For some reason–perhaps because the cherry crop was light and the blackberries are late ripening–the birds seem particularly voracious this year. Not just the starlings either, but robins, sparrows, and a new family of black-headed grosbeaks. All are out to eat my berries. And the netting no longer works. It may be partially because the bushes have grown. The netting isn’t long enough to go from the ground on one side to the ground on the other side, so there is an open space under the netting, and it seems to be an open invitation to the birds. Today I set out to battle, armed with a stack of twist ties. I fastened the netting together underneath the part of the bushes where the berries were. I worked until only small gaps remained, gaps that could not be closed due to the shape of the bushes. Yet surely it would be enough. An hour later I walked out to the berries to discover one sparrow, one juvenile robin and two juvenile black-headed grosbeaks inside the netting. Of course, they had more trouble getting out than getting in, so I had to herd them gently toward the largest opening I could see. Finally they were out…for the moment.

Note bird droppings inside netting. sigh.

I fear the Battle of the Blueberries is lost. This year is unlikely to see even one blueberry pie. My only hope now is that the wild blackberries will suddenly ripen and draw away the starving birds. My rather weak consolation: with all the antioxidants they are eating, we should have the healthiest birds in the neighborhood.

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Blackberries. When you hear the word, what is your first thought? If you are a techie, you may think of one of those portable computer/communicator things that so many now use. If you are older or a non-techie, you may recall the delicious sweetness of blackberry pie or jam. If you live in an area where blackberries actually grow, you may have different thoughts.

When I was a kid, my brothers and I would pick blackberries at the edges of our property, and our mom would bake a pie. Homemade blackberry pie is still my favorite, and I make it every summer. I make blackberry jam, too, and cobbler, and sometimes syrup. You see, blackberries grow well on our two acres. In fact, they grow too well.

The Himalayan blackberry is the plant equivalent of the house sparrow—a non-native species that has moved in and taken over. Blackberries are quite good at taking over. The ones on our property grow in masses reaching well over my head and stretching out in all directions. Overall, they must cover at least half an acre. My husband and I wage a perennial war against them. He likes to hack them down with a weed whacker (the non-power kind), pushing them out of the path and back from the garden. I, on the other hand, prefer poison.

Organic gardener that I am, I abandon all such principles when it comes to blackberries. I haul out the sprayer and fill it with Round-up or Crossbow, depending upon the season. Lugging it from front yard to back yard to garden edges, I cover the blackberry leaves with mist. The ones I can reach, that is. Then I watch over the next few days as the plants slowly turn brown and die. It is quite effective. If I had time, I might actually conquer the beast. However, I also must spend time cooking, cleaning, sleeping, and earning a living. And while my back is turned, the plant strikes back.

A few days away, busy with other things, and I return to see blackberry vines snaking out across the lawn and into the garden. New shoots push into the path, ready to trip the unwary. Much to my embarrassment, they have launched an attack on the neighbors’ yards as well, exposing my failure like a naughty child throwing a public tantrum. The realization sinks in: this will not be the year I conquer the blackberries.

However, hope springs eternal, no matter what the season. There is always next year. Next year I will keep the blackberries in line. I will stay ahead of the weeds in the garden. I will keep the house clean and get my office in order. Maybe I will even sell that children’s book I have revised so many times. I don’t know what I would do without the hope that next year provides.

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