Isn’t it interesting how the summer months seem to fly by in comparison to the interminable winters, which begin too soon and linger well into spring. According to my journals the gardening season of 2017 is nearly a month behind schedule. Only now are my cucumbers, tomatoes, squash and beans beginning to produce, when last year I was already eating and giving them away.
Overall, everything I’ve planted (and re-planted) is weeks late, even the few things I started indoors way back in March. Just this week I began to see the first morning glories, marigolds and daisies that I’d planted months ago from seeds. I had to re-plant all of my squash, corn and cucumbers due to the incessantly cold spring conditions, and from the looks of things I’ll be lucky to gather anything from them before frost hits again in a scant few weeks.
Oddly enough the “natural” plants that provide fruit for the winter are doing quite well. I see apples on most of the wild trees I have found and it will be time to pick blueberries (high and low varieties) in just a few days. Most of my local bushes have produced enough berries for me to have a handful of them at breakfast every day but the main crop is still a few days away. It’s fun to pick a ripe berry here and there as samples but when it comes time to fill the freezer I like to come away with a fistful of fruit every time. We’re getting close – far closer than anything I planted, watered and weeded myself.
There’s no doubt that a corner has been turned en route from summer to autumn. While having my morning tea on the deck I noticed that the stone wall bordering the pasture was festooned with upturned mushrooms, a sign that the squirrels and chipmunks have been busy gathering the burgeoning crop of fungi in the neighborhood. I’ve been observing this phenomenon for decades and was quick to look into the trees where, sure enough, there were dozens of whole white and red mushrooms stashed in every nook and cranny. This led me to the wood shed where, sure enough, the beams and rafters were covered with freshly-gathered mushrooms.
I should not be surprised because I have a troop of red squirrels (the small, noisy variety) in my yard that keeps busy all day nibbling, gathering or foraging for anything edible. I was lucky that they did not find the long-gone crop of strawberries to their interest, and so far they have left the green tomatoes, squash and cucumbers alone.
I have more trouble with chipmunks than I do with squirrels as far as crop damage is concerned. For the most part the squirrels (red and gray) are content to eat what’s in front of them without bothering to collect anything for future use, but the chipmunks stay busy night and day digging for, nibbling on or stealing anything they can get their little paws around. Several of my potted plants have had holes dug into them where pods of sunflower sprouts show up every now and then.
This year I’ve fallen into an interesting rotation where I feed the birds by dumping sunflower seeds and cracked corn in the yard in the morning. The birds and squirrels work on the piles all day and then, just at sunset, a trio of gray foxes comes in to devour what they can before the nocturnal raccoons show up and take the remainder.
The foxes are especially entertaining to watch because they come in slowly and suspiciously, but when they decide the coast is clear they lie down and gobble up their fill just as any domesticated canine would do. Gray foxes are alert, nervous animals that don’t stay long and don’t eat much – they seem to use my seed piles as appetizers, and then head for the woods for a real meal of mouse, vole or some other bite-sized prey.
Not to be the one to say that summer is coming to an end but hunters will be enthused to know that they can begin pre-baiting for bears beginning July 29, which is this coming Saturday. Without getting into or rehashing another bear referendum, the 2017 Maine bear baiting season begins Aug. 28 which, in itself, is not that far off. Many of the guides and outfitters I know have been booked solid with bear hunters well into 2018, and some have filled their camps for the 2019 season as well. The popularity of bear hunting over bait continues to grow in Maine partly because Maine is one of the few states where fall baiting is allowed, but also because the use of bait is the most productive method for reducing the every-increasing bear population. Fully 70 percent of the bears taken in Maine each year are tagged by bait hunters – no other methods are as productive, efficient or effective as baiting. Some bears will be taken by stalking, still-hunting, hounds or standing over natural foods (corn, apples, blueberries, wheat, etc.) but none will ever reach the 70-percent level.
Anyone planning on setting out baits for bears this week should consult the most current bear hunting regulations (available online at www.mefishwildlife.com). The rules governing bear baiting are broad but complicated, with permits, licenses, permission slips and all sorts of restrictions included. The laws are liberal for those who bait and hunt on their own property but once you step onto privately-owned or state land the real fun begins. All of the current bear-hunting regulations can be digested after a quick read of the applicable stipulations, and then it’s a simple matter of acquiring the pertinent permits and licenses and proceeding to establish bait sites as provided by law.
There is also a September-October bear trapping season coming up with accompanying restrictions, permits, licenses and laws, all of which make for some great late-summer reading. Study the regulations, purchase the necessary licenses and permits, and get ready for another great Maine hunting season. Nothing to it!