Wild Food Crops

Wild Food Crops

My initial take on the wild food crops looks like this. EVERYTHING is running late this year. You name it and it is true.

Apple Crop

Slightly more than half the trees have apples. The trees that have them have a lot of them. Those trees that have a good crop are also producing small apples.

J.E. Apple Tree With Blossoms in 2015

J.E. Apple Tree With Blossoms in 2015

Most of the apples are now smaller than a quarter in size. What’s my guess as to why that is? This spring’s heavy rains took down many blossoms on some trees, but late blooming trees benefited from those rains. The trees that produced fruit produced so many that it is limiting the size. Many orchards actually pull off excess apples to enable the trees to produce bigger fruit.

Another two or three weeks will tell us much more about the size of the crop and the fruit.

Acorn and Beechnut Crops

It’s too early to draw any conclusions about the acorn and beechnut crops. I have seen both very small and some larger acorns along with some trees that have no crop at all. Again, mid-August will be a better time to assess things.

Berry Crop

The good news for the bears in particular is that the blueberry crop is both big and late. The rains have made the berries big but ripening late by (you guessed it) about two weeks. The field at J.E. is loaded with low-bush blueberries. Wild red raspberries are also in great supply now.

That did not stop a bear (or bears) from hitting John’s feeders again last night, which he forgot to bring in. Which makes me renew my question: Did they smell the seeds, or do they check his yard every night in hopes of finding food? I think it is the former. Although birdseed does not have a very strong scent, it certainly is strong enough for them to smell it from great distances. They ALWAYS show up the night that you forget to bring in the feeders.

The rains produced a bumper crop of many kinds, including bulb plants, like iris that bears also love. Remember my video of them eating iris at the swamp?

I have not come across much mountain ash yet to assess that crop.

The highbush cranberries appear to be having a good year as well.

WLAGS

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The J.E. Apple Tree

The J.E. Apple Tree

Most of you that will be reading this will remember back about 15 years ago, when the primary apple tree at J.E. was on its last legs. It was almost completely engulfed in maple saplings, had few leaves, and no fruit. I made it my mission to do what I had done hundreds of times before in three states—to liberate and rehabilitate it.

After World War II, hundreds of farms in New England were abandoned for economic reasons. Almost every farm had apple trees, as they were a staple of life here for 300 years. For a time, wildlife benefitted from these now unprotected trees, but in no time at all they started dying from the crowding of native trees.

Some state organizations, including Fish & Wildlife departments, took it upon themselves, on land they controlled, to make an effort to liberate them, as did I and my friends. So it was natural for me to take up that mission here in my own back yard.

I started by cutting away the saplings with my pruning saw every time I went there. In a couple of years, the tree came back to life slowly. First with healthier foliage, and later with a few blossoms. Those blossoms produced a few small, wormy apples. Then John M. jumped in, and with some machinery from Charlie, eliminated the saplings entirely and enlarged the open area to allow more sunlight. It worked, and now most years we can count on 100 to 200 apples.

J.E. Apple Tree With Blossoms in 2015

J.E. Apple Tree with Blossoms in 2015

Each year, I fertilize the tree in the spring and fall, and I prune it in late winter when I can reach the upper branches by standing on the snow rather than climb the tree. I put the wire mesh around the trunk when the beavers decided to try to take the tree down.

Wire Mesh I Put Around the Trunk

Wire Mesh I Put Around the Trunk

My best guess is that the tree is 50 to 75 years old. I believe it is a New Hampshire heirloom variety that might be almost 200 years old. I hope to have it analyzed next year.

Most of you are familiar with our own Johnny Appleseed, Mr. Jones. You are probably aware of the dozens of trees that he has planted, starting 50 years ago, on his property. What you are probably unaware of, is that he has planted hundreds of trees on every hilltop and slope for miles around. He goes out in the woods with a 5-gallon bucket filled with root stock and a spade, picks likely spots, and plants them.

He does this out of a love for wildlife, even though—like almost all the great conservationists in history—he is a hunter. The only animals he distains are moose and bears. I bet you can guess why. They kill his apple trees. A fate that will happen to this tree someday.

I came across an extremely agitated Mr. Jones one day. He was looking at three apple trees that he had nurtured for several years that a bull moose destroyed. The bull had eaten the apples, then the branches, then probably in a rush of passion, had obliterated the trees with his antlers.

I, like Mr. Jones, have undertaken this mission for the benefit of wildlife. There are at least 20 mammals that have direct benefit of this tree, from moose to mice. Then there are the pure carnivores that benefit as well from the dozen or so rodents that frequent the tree. Our increasing bobcat population, mink, and three varieties of weasels are among them. It might surprise you to know that one of the larger members of the weasel family loves to eat apples. I have personally witnessed on two occasions, fisher cats first hunting the apple trees and failing that, then climbing the tree to harvest apples. One I witnessed making several trips to cache the fruit just like the foxes (both red and gray) do.

Fisher Cat with Apple on Our Trail Camera

Fisher Cat with Apple on Our Trail Camera

Then, of course, our raptors—goshawks, sharp shinned, Cooper’s, and broad-winged hawks, and barred and great horned owls—greatly benefit from the rodents that live off of apples.

The Resident Barred Owl at Stand #2

The Resident Barred Owl at Stand #2

Then there are the song birds—too many to list, but during my last trips to the tree, there has been an ovenbird each time, just for an example.

Ovenbird

Ovenbird

Migrating birds, particularly Canadian robins and waxwings feed on the frozen fruit in winter.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

Turkeys benefit greatly from apple trees, especially in winter. Many times I have seen a bird fly into a tree and knock the apples to the ground for the rest of the flock. Fish & Game will supply you with a list of late ripening crab apple trees to plant for wintering turkeys.

Ruffed grouse (“partridge” here in N.H.) not only eat the fruit, but love the leaves as I first witnessed that day in 1967, in my Deer Story blog post.

Partridge

Partridge

The ground under the trees is fertile, attracts worms, and migrating woodcock. On several occasions in my life, I have been privileged to see flights, as they are called, of woodcock. Sometimes 50 or more come in to spend the night in an abandoned orchard.

Woodcock

Woodcock

WLAGS

Supreme Effort

I had the best night sleep that I have had in weeks last night. With that, I knew that today would be a good day to take on a major scouting trip.

I went to Smith Pond to scout the area between Kingsbury, Jones Hill, and the Jones property. I know that that area has had ongoing logging operations for the last five years or so.

When I arrived, my friend Robbie was running a logging operation of his own there. I asked whether he had seen any deer recently. He said he had seen his first two sets of tracks that morning. He said that he thought that the best places to hunt would be the oaks, like the backside of Kingsbury or Lovewell. He asked me to check in with him on my way out, as he was taking his boy out this weekend for Youth Weekend.

He told me to avoid the cutovers on the right because they were a mess with debris. He was right, but I went through them anyway, not wanting to leave any stone unturned. I forgot how steep and boulder-strewn those hills were. You realize these things more at my age. It was uphill all the way for a mile and a half. I was glad it was 36 degrees, or I would have sweated to death.

My mission, besides finding deer sign, was to reach the dozen or more apple trees that were scattered about the top. Robbie had told me that the small orchard nearer E. Washington Rd. was void of sign yesterday. To top things off I forgot my compass, and now with the terrain all askew, I would need my sense of direction to be on its game, and it was. I found the first tree with some difficulty because a bear had snapped the top off. No apples.

I call the next spot 7AT (seven apple trees) in my GPS, but with the leaves down, I actually found a dozen trees there. There were a handful of apples in total and no sign.

If I were 20 years younger, this place would be on my radar every year for bow hunting. It is obviously very secluded. There are trees of varying age and variety. Most however, ripen fairly early in the season, and bears are frequent visitors. There are many places to put up a permanent stand or a climber (a climbing tree stand). I love this spot.

Brad Using His Climber

Brad Using His Climber

There was no fresh sign though, so I headed north to check out a couple more spots—first a single tree, and then a grove of five more. That grove had apples in two trees that amounted to a couple of dozen. No sign.

So now I headed for a spot that bordered the Jones property that used to have a ladder stand that overlooked a nice tree. The stand was gone, thankfully, and the tree looked great, with 50 apples in the tree and 50 more on the ground. I ate one, and I understood why they were uneaten. They were very tart. The deer won’t eat them until they have been frozen and are then sweetened.

Frozen Apples

Frozen Apples

Behind the tree is about a full acre of red raspberry bushes, which deer love, and was littered with many historical deer trails. Nothing fresh.

I tried to take a photo of this spot, but my camera batteries were dead. I wasn’t very well prepared today, I thought to myself.

At this point you might think I was discouraged. Instead I was quite pleased with myself to be able to pull this off at all, and I was very encouraged that these trees were doing well. If I were only 10 years younger, I would take full advantage of them.

I decided not to torture myself on the way out and try to avoid the cutovers, which were a half mile below me. So I went further north before cutting west. It worked beautifully. The last time I was in here (a couple of years ago), I took a serious header, and I don’t need to be doing that again. As I was heading downhill, which my orthopedic doctor told me just Wednesday to avoid, I heard a thunderous crash as a tree toppled over 20 yards to my right. It scared the hell out of me. I also came across a fresh set of moose tracks. The only fresh tracks I saw all morning.

Moose Track

Moose Track

As I reached the logging road, it became obvious that the other side of the road, that had been logged a few years ago, was now at prime deer/moose growth stage. There were openings through the select cut where you could see for more than a hundred yards, and the understory was covered with raspberry and blackberry bushes. I could see myself tracking a buck through there, snow or no snow.

I would like to be telling you that I found the mother lode of deer sign, but for today I was pleased enough to just do the job and know that I have the good fortune to live in a place where there are so few boundaries that I can walk for hours and not concern myself with other people or posted signs.

WLAGS

J.E. in Late July

I have not been into J.E. for weeks largely due to the fact that Tony’s dog Angie went missing on Father’s Day. An all-out effort has been put forth by an army of friends and family. One of my contributions to the effort was three of my cameras that I pulled from J.E.. So between my granddog missing and the lack of cameras, I had little inspiration. She is still missing, and Tony thinks that she might have been taken by someone who has decided to keep her. You can help by “liking” and sharing the Help Bring Angie Home Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/HelpBringAngieHome).

It was as good a morning as you can get in late July, weather-wise, for a hike–seventies and low humidity. The first thing I noticed was the water levels. Due in part to last night’s rain, there was water everywhere. It was within 2″ of the bridge leading to the apple tree. The apple tree looked good, but no apples for the second year in a row. I think that is due to a lack of a nearby pollinator. I hope to change that next year or even this fall.

The rain has been awesome for the fingerling brook trout. I saw some in every pool. It has also made for an unusually strong mushroom crop for this early in the season. However, the dominant varieties were the “Rosy” Russula (Russula rosea) and the Russula paludosa. They are the large, red-capped ones. They are edible, but many people cannot eat them, so I am not recommending that you do, also because they look a lot like the Russula emetica, which is poisonous. There were many other varieties popping up everywhere.

Rosy Russula

Rosy Russula

 

Russula Paludosa

Russula Paludosa

 

Russula Emetica

Russula Emetica

 

 

 

 

The low bush blueberry crop is a bust in the woods. There are some in the fields. I twice came upon a man picking some, and he was so intent on the task at hand that he was totally unaware of me. I didn’t make my presence known for fear of startling him as I passed within a few feet of him.

I still had one camera out at Buck Knob, and I got some great daylight and up-close photos of a bull moose with his antlers just starting to grow.

Moose Growing Back His Antlers

Moose Growing Back His Antlers

I also saw moose track, presumably his, at Stand #1.

WLAGS