Monthly Archives: July 2014

Raccoons: The Garden Thieves

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There are few animal pests that cause me to curse out loud.  Mice?  Nope.  Rabbits?  Nope.  Deer?  I may think about it, but nope.  It’s Procyon lotor.  And for those of you who are not up on your Latin, it is the common raccoon.  Some of you may know it as a ringtail or simply coon.

These nocturnal beasts are well-known in the gardening world.  They raid bird feeders, strip grapevines of their fruit, demolish a sweet corn patch in a single evening, and snack on a variety vegetables and fruits that you had hoped to harvest for yourself.   Do they raid your garden in broad daylight, when you might have a chance to scare them away?  Usually not.  They generally wait for the cover of darkness to forage for food.   While they are common in rural settings, raccoons have made their way into cities, living in urban forests (or your large Cottonwood in the backyard).  And with no natural predators in an urban setting, they are becoming quite the pest.

aftermath of raccoons in a protected strawberry bed

aftermath of raccoons in a protected strawberry bed

If you are uncertain that raccoons are visiting your garden at night, there are clues.

Clue number one: are there small holes in your lawn?  And by hole, the grass has been stripped away, leaving just bare dirt and a hole approximately 2″ across and 1″ – 2″ deep.  Similar holes may be dug in your mulch.

Clue number two: if you are growing sweet corn, stalks will be bent over and the ears will have a few bites taken out of them.

Clue number three: if you have raspberries, canes will be pushed over when the fruit is ripe.

Clue number four: bird feeders will be emptied at night.

Clue number five: paw prints that display longer, slender ‘fingers’.  Raccoon prints are very distinctive and are not similar to dog, cat, or squirrel.

Clue number six: hearing growls, chatters, hisses, or snarls.  The growls, hisses, and snarls usually are emitted when they perceive a threat, such as a dog or a strange raccoon.

Club number seven: are there broken branches on small trees that are close to the ground? This can often indicate a raccoon has climbed the tree in search of fruit, but they are too heavy for small branches to support.  (We have lost three cherry trees this way).

raccoon damage to cherry tree

raccoon damage to cherry tree

While there are many suggestions across the internet on how to best deal with raccoons, there are just a few truly effective methods.  And to best provide the best possible information, these methods have been tested out by yours truly.

 Methods that Did Not Work

  1. Place a radio in the garden and leave it turned on all night.  Sorry, the raccoons that visited us didn’t seem to mind rock and roll.
  2. Hanging streamers and/or placing pinwheels around the garden.  Again, this did not work… at all.  It just dressed up the produce buffet the raccoons saw in front of them.
  3. Growing a taller variety of sweet corn.  This failed as well.  A determined raccoon will still knock over the stalk or if sturdy enough, climb it to reach the ears of corn.
  4. Placing human hair around the yard.  Nope.  This didn’t work either.
  5. Setting up a light in your garden at night.  Our raccoons didn’t mind this at all.  They just bellied up to the produce.

Effective Ways to Keep Raccoons out of Your Garden

  1. Live traps – yes, they work and they are humane.  This allows you to relocate the raccoon in a different area.
  2. Electric fencing (or electric wires at the bottom of the fence placed at 5″ and 10″ above the ground).  Raccoons can easily climb fencing, but if electrified, the shock will startle the raccoon and they will leave.
  3. Have a dog in the yard.  Raccoons will opt for a garden that is not protected by man’s best friend.  NOTE: a barking dog in the house is not an effective deterrent.  For best results, keep the dog outside.
  4. Harvest produce as soon as it is ready.  True, you may lose some to the raccoons, but at least you eliminated tasty treats from subsequent night raids.
nocturnal raiding raccoons

nocturnal raiding raccoons

NOTE: for those living in an urban environment, check your municipal code to see if live trapping is allowed.  If you are a renter, check with your landlord.

So while you may have to contend with raccoons in your garden, you have options.  But above all else… harvest as soon as you can so you and your family can enjoy the fruits of your labor.  Your persistence may cause these wayward creatures to seek out other gardens for a quick meal.

Urban Chickens:Death and Disposal

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As urban chickens keepers, there is a universal issue that we will all face at one time or another.  A dead chicken.  This raises the question, “What do we do?”   While there are several options, it is generally best to have a plan in place before this event happens.  Keep in mind that city and county ordinances may dictate what can and cannot be done.

urban chicken

urban chicken

If your chicken is ill or wounded with no chance of recovery, consider taking it to your veterinarian.  Schedule an appointment for him to euthanize your bird.  This allows you time to come to terms with the inevitable and provides you with mental relief knowing that your chicken will no longer be in pain.  Once your pet has passed, you can have the vet dispose of the remains.  They may also offer you the option of cremation.

If it was a beloved pet, you may wish to bury it in your backyard.  Select a spot that is away from the chicken coop, your house, and natural water sources (such as a pond or stream to reduce the risk of contamination).  Perhaps under the shade of tree or near a flowering shrub?  Given that it is not uncommon for city dwellers to bury their four-legged pets, burying a chicken is not out of the question.  Just be sure that you bury the recently deceased at least 2′ deep (to help prevent neighborhood dogs, raccoons, or foxes from digging up your pet).  While it is not necessary, you may wish to cover the chicken with lime as it will help reduce the odor and chances of attracting a predator to the remains.

Use caution when handling the remains as death may have been caused by illness.

Precautions

  • Wear disposable gloves
  • Wear a respirator or disposable mask
  • Wash the clothes worn (while handling the remains) immediately after burial
  • Follow good hygiene (specifically washing your hands)
  • See a doctor if you feel ill after handling the remains

If you are uncertain about how to dispose of the remains, consult with your city’s municipal code.  If your city does not cover how to deal with a dead animal, review your county landfill ordinances as they typically allow animal carcasses.  Thoroughly read the policies as they may require double or triple bagging the remains.

One thing to keep in mind is that if it will be a few days before the remains can be dealt with is the odor.  Consider wrapping the remains in an air-tight plastic bag and/or container and placing them in a refrigerated area or freezer until such time as they can be buried or sent off to the landfill.

While none of us like the thought of losing a chicken from our flock, it will happen.  Find out what is allowed by your local ordinances as that may dictate what you can or can’t do.  By knowing your options, you can make a decision that works best for your situation.

 

 

 

Marvelous Mascarpone Made at Home

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When I think of creamy, spreadable cheeses, the first one that pops to mind is the Italian classic, Mascarpone.  It has a luscious texture that our conventional cream cheese just can’t replicated.  (I first heard of Mascarpone when I watched the movie Kate and Leopold.  Hugh Jackman’s character, Leopold, prepared breakfast for Kate (Meg Ryan) by spreading Mascarpone on toast and then topping with blueberries.  It has since become one of my favorite breakfasts.)  If you are a fan of Mascarpone from the store, you will absolutely love homemade Mascarpone cheese.

mascarpone curd is set

mascarpone curd is set

Don’t worry, this is a very easy recipe to prepare.  You will amaze your friends and yourself with this creation.

My favorite recipe is from  Home Cheese Making Recipes for 75 Homemade Cheeses by Ricki Carroll.

Mascarpone with Culture

  • 1 quart light cream (or half and half), avoid homogenized
  • 1 packet direct set crème fraîche starter
  1. Gently heat the cream to 86F in a pot placed in a water bath (can fill the sink with water that is 10 degrees warmer than the desired temperature of the cream or can place the pot of cream in a larger container partially filled with water on the stove top).
  2. Add the starter and mix thoroughly (I generally stir for one full minute)
  3. Cover the pot with cream and culture and let set undisturbed for 12 hours at room temperature (remove from heat source) or until coagulated.
  4. If you want a thicker curd (and I do), ladle the cream curd into a colander lined with butter muslin and drain in the refrigerator for 1 – 4 hours.  Check periodically for the desired consistency.

    curds draining in butter muslin

    curds draining in butter muslin

  5. Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 4 weeks (though in our household, it never lasts that long).
  6. Recipe makes approximately 1 pound of Mascarpone.

If you are not certain where to buy crème fraîche starter, New England Cheesemaking carries it.  Though some specialty stores are now offering cheesemaking cultures/starters.  For this recipe, I used one packet of starter from New England Cheesemaking.

creme fraiche starter packet

creme fraiche starter packet


So friends, that is it.  Simple.  Easy to prepare.  Delicious. Marvelous Mascarpone is something you can make at home with just two ingredients.  Who knows, maybe this spreadable cheese will be a new breakfast favorite?

mascarpone with blueberry

mascarpone with blueberry