Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | October 3, 2015

Baffled

Eight years ago I bought three five-inch-tall end-of-the-season baby grapevines for $1.29 each and planted them in pots on the deck, hoping to train them onto the arbor. Nothing much happened for several years, although one grew tall enough to peek over Bea’s shoulder in the photo below.

So I transplanted them into the ground beneath the arbor surrounding our patio.  They liked it there, and began to make themselves at home.

Time went by, and over the last few years we’ve had a few sour grapes, but didn’t mind because the leaves were so beautiful.  They might’ve been more productive if I’d pruned, but we loved the shady greenery.

This summer Seattle was unseasonably hot, and we had bunches and bunches of grapes.  All summer we anticipated the harvest. Thom brought in the first bunch to test for ripeness.  Almost ready

We harvested ripe juicy pears.

A few apples.

 

Tomatoes.

 

And wild blackberries…

…by the handful.

Then came the raccoons.  It wouldn’t be the first time.  We let them eat their fill of Italian plums, just to keep them occupied and away from the grapes.  But in the wee hours one night, they got into the arbor.  I chased them off with the jet hose and stood guard. They growled. They snarled. They organized.  It was intense.  They adapted to the water, so I rattled a deck chair to scare them off.  Once they became immune to the rattle of the chair, I had to bang on the chimes with a stick, which I’m sure the neighbors didn’t appreciate.  While I was occupied by one, another approached from the other side.  Finally, at first light, before disappearing into the trees, the biggest one curled its lip and said, “I’ll be back.”

We had to draw a line, and it was right in front of our first decent crop of grapes ever. Thom designed a “raccoon baffle” from metal sheeting to keep them from accessing the grapes from the south side arbor. He installed a little electric fence below to prevent their climbing up the base of the arbor.  It worked for a couple nights. But the night before harvest day, we heard loud rustling just outside our bedroom window.

The dam! dam! dam! broke.  Thom and I hurried out with bowls, flashlights, and scissors to power harvest everything within reach.  I don’t know how, but they found their way past all the barriers to those grapes. Raccoons are the Borg of the natural world; so smart, expert at teamwork, and they adapt.  While we snipped grapes, they kept creeping up from all directions. They look cute, but are wild and can be dangerous.  It was illogical to take a stand there, when I could buy Safeway grapes for two bucks a pound, but I can’t deny it: I’m very territorial when it comes to my garden.  Ask any slug.

We processed the grapes like we grew them–haphazardly, making it up as we went along.  My sister Constance helped boil them into a thick syrup.

The crock-pot works well for this too, and you don’t have to stir constantly.

When the mixture turns purple and thickens, throw in a bunch of sugar.  Please don’t ask for proportions.  A bunch of grapes and a bunch of sugar.  Strain it a couple times with cheesecloth, coffee filters, or a clean dishtowel (we used them all), and pour it into a container.

Heat the syrup in the microwave, mix it with a little brandy.

 

Or Vernor’s ginger ale. Here too I must draw the line. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: only Vernor’s will do.

 And don’t forget the cocktail umbrella.

What you end up with is grape-flavored liquid Sweet Tart, best savored one sip at a time.

After we harvested enough grapes to call it a day (or a desperate last stand of a night), we surrendered the remainders to the raccoons, squirrels, and one particularly noisy possum.  They are smarter than we are, and we figure they earned it.  Now sometimes at night we hear them munching, run for flashlights, and watch them feast at eye level from our cozy raccoon blind.  That’s not sour grapes talking.  In fact, I’d call it a win-win situation.

All words and images copyright 2015 Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Boundaries.

The Weekly Travel Theme: Intense.

If you want to learn more about raccoons, watch this PBS program on urban raccoons titled Raccoon Nation. It will shock and amaze you!

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Responses

  1. We watched our grapes grow and every year just as they were ripening wild things got them. We’ve since given up and moved.

    • One can only do so much. In England and in Michigan my cousins are dealing with deer in their gardens. It’s always something. I’m fortunate it’s a hobby, and I don’t depend upon my crop yield for a living because, between the raccoons, squirrels, and slugs, we’d starve! I hope that your move was a good one.

  2. They are persistent little devils aren’t they? I suppose their need is great and at least you got some fruit!

    • Hi Gilly, They ARE persistent and SMART. I was happy to have harvested enough to make my syrup, and didn’t mind sharing the leftovers–just not my whole yield.

      • The syrup isn’t alcoholic, it just mixes well with brandy?

      • Oh, yes. It is non-alcoholic and is good by itself, or with a little ginger ale.

  3. Wonderful post! We can certainly relate!

    • Thank you, Michael. After The Apocalypse, I’m sure the world will be populated and run by raccoons. Maybe they will do a better job of it than we have.

  4. Our grapes keep succumbing to some kind of mould. They start out with healthy leaves and miniature grapes, then the leaves go all dusty and white and the grapes so all dark and shrivel up. One year when they were okay, the wasps got them instead. I love your tale of the raccoons, Naomi. Around where I live, it’s the squirrels that can’t be hoodwinked for long!

    • Hi Sarah, I sympathize! We’ve got aggressive gray squirrels here too and they are quite clever. I’ve never had to deal with wasps, though. I don’t think grapes like Cool and Moist–in that way your climate is pretty similar to ours. It was an especially hot summer that made our grapes so happy and productive. Of course, I’m convinced that it’s due to Global Warming. Unless we take action, both our grape crops will be thriving. Last year in our temperate climate, Seattle had a record number of days in the 80s–really unusual. This summer we had a record number of days in the 90s. I just hope we don’t go into triple digits next summer.

      • We’ve had a few hot spells, but also record rainfall and grey skies just at the wrong time, when everything was meant to be ripening up. Our root vegetables were crud and rotten inside, apart from the potatoes, and we lost most of our tomatoes. The only things that thrived were the snails and slugs.

      • Here in the Pacific Northwest, slugs and snails are some of our more robust natives. Tomatoes generally need more sunshine than they get here, although last summer was good for them. Best wishes for the crops that do not slither!

      • That will be potatoes, onions, marrow, and courgettes! Nothing much else.

  5. Gentle, tender care and feeding plus nature taking its course. The grapes love you.

    • Dear Richard, Thanks for making me smile! I hope you and your family are all well!

  6. Wonderful story! I knew I could trust your family to come up with a win-win balance with neighboring nature. Urban scavengers are quite the bafflement. We had a squirrel that had chewed through the plastic lid of our landlord’s garbage can. We’d see him on the fence eating chicken legs, Eggo waffles or Cheetos. We were baffled indeed!

    • Thank you, Priscilla! Squirrels are also so quick and clever! I am going to have to use my wits to figure out how to keep them from harvesting my spring bulbs before they have a chance to bloom. One year I planted 100 fall crocuses–the squirrels got 97 of them!

  7. I remember sitting in among our father’s rows of grape vines in Detroit as a child and eating our fill. He made a sweet, sticky, cloudy wine from those grapes that a few brave grownups choked down in small doses to be polite. When we were old enough to drink we tried it again, but still it was no better. Years later after Mom died, we found a few bottles in the basement and were amazed to discover that after 30 years or so, it had aged to perfection, a clear mead-like sherry, to be sipped with family memories.

    • Dear Lee,
      I remember helping Mom clean out her cellar on Trinity when she was ill, and finding a big ceramic jug she thought was photography chemicals that she had hauled around for twenty-five years after Daddy’s death. I opened it up expecting that bitter odor I recall from when Daddy developed his photos, and a heavenly fragrance floated up. It was crystal clear ambrosia, the sherry he had made from the grapes vines growing at the side of the garage. Were you there when we took out Mom’s crystal wine glasses, and even she had a sip as we all drank a toast in Daddy’s memory? I had no idea that exquisite sherry had started out as such a sticky cloudy disaster! May we all age so well!
      Thanks so much for sharing this story–it brought back such memories.
      Love,
      Naomi

  8. I don’t blame you for being protective of your garden! But, it is also fun to watch the critters enjoy, isn’t it? Where we live, there are a lot of deer. We have to put up a fence so they can’t get in. Still, they manage to get some of it. And, don’t even think about trying to grow tulips or lilies. They do leave the grapes alone, though, and your post is reminding me that ours are probably ready to bring in as well. We wait as long as we can, because, even though they look ready, they usually aren’t. Our grapes are so dark they are almost black – the opposite of yours.
    I love your photos of the harvest!

    • Hi Naomi,

      Now that the harvest is gathered, or as much of it as I could save, I have been enjoying watching the wildlife. For the first time in the 26 years we have lived here, our neighbor saw a deer in his yard. I think it must be fascinating to have such large creatures so close by, but I’ve heard that they do wreak havoc in gardens. Do you live in the country?

      Our grapes were not quite ready to harvest, although they looked ripe, and that’s why we made the syrup to sweeten them up. Are you raising Concord grapes? They are quite flavorful.

      Thanks so much for sharing your story. Wishing you a bountiful harvest!

      • I’m not sure what our grapes are called, actually. Only that they are the ones recommended for growing Nova Scotia.
        We don’t live in the country – we live in town. But, the deer are all over the place, for some reason. A lot of people have been grumbling about it, but I don’t mind at all. It makes me feel like I’m in the country. 🙂

      • If I knew you were from Nova Scotia, I’d forgotten. When I was a child I went to Expo ’67 in Montreal, where I had my first buffalo burger. We lost the top of our little tent trailer on a steep busy street in Halifax, and I have strong recollections of Angus McAskill, the gentle giant! It is a beautiful province you live in!

  9. When I had my vegetable garden, chipmunks ate my tomatoes and quail ate my greens – then there were the surprise frosts that ate everything. The one year my peach tree produced fruit, it was war between the magpies and me. I admire your determination to get your share of the crop, but – no oak barrel for some of those grapes?

    • Hi Carol,
      I think I must have felt the same way about my first crop of grapes that you felt for your peaches.
      I might consider making sherry, but haven’t so far, as it would entail reading the directions. If we get a good crop next year, and can hold off the raccoons long enough, I might go for it!
      Thanks so much for the visit–I loved the stories you shared.

  10. You are a s.c.r.e.a.m., Naomi. Glad you got as much of your grapes when and how you did. Those raccoons are single minded and smart. Glad this all worked out, but you know they’ll be back with more aunts, uncles and cousins next season, right? Hope you’ve a Plan B or C in place before then. Thanks so sharing. 😀 😀 😀
    I’ve had my share of raccoons swaying in the wind on the farthest reaches of my Italian plum tree and in a chair tree before that. Ha ha ha.

    • Dear Tess,
      I’m afraid we’ve already used Plans A, B, C, and D! And anyone with an Italian plum tree knows exactly what I’m talking about! It’s great to hear from you–thanks so much for stopping by and making me l.a.u.g.h!

      • Now I’m laughing too.
        I loved that plum tree, but couldn’t take it with me when I moved. 😦 Ha ha,

      • 🙂

  11. I’m sure all the animals thought they had found the green of Eden! With your great photographs and dialog I felt like I was right in the action with you. At least you got to enjoy some of the harvest. I loved the little glasses you used; it made it look delicious.

    • Hi Gloria,
      I will serve you a little glass of warm grape juice and Vernor’s in one of those little glasses when I see you next week!
      Thanks for stopping by the blog! It’s always good to hear from you.

  12. Naomi, just brilliant … thanks for the big grin!!! Brilliant post … and so funny, maybe you’re not going to be the most successful grower, but I’m sure you are enjoying it and what comes with it. Blackberries!!! This year none here neither … plenty flowers, then cold summer and when the heat come, they just disappeared. Just crumpled up to nothing. I think a brandy was a good choice. Love this.

    • Hi Viv, I think we got your summer heat on top of ours–hottest on record! I loved Seattle as an escape from the summer heat back East, but at least the fruit is happy. Thanks for the visits and for sharing your story–I love to hear about your part of the world.

      • Naomi, I love Seattle … Everybody is raving about San Francisco … but nothing compare to Seattle. Lived for nearly a year on Vancouver Island .. and spent many interesting nights in Seattle .. on their blues clubs. Was back 3 years ago .. and it was like I never been away. Amazing.
        I join in with you … at least the fruit was happy. *laughing.

      • How interesting! What brought you to Vancouver Island? Did you like it there? The next time you come to Seattle, you must get in touch, and I will wine and dine you!

      • Sounds good to me … planning to go back. My work … Stena Line that I worked for bought BC Ferries .. and the route Seattle – Victoria. That was on the old Maggies time *smile
        Loved living in Victoria … but all the fun was in Seattle. Did a post about it … in the beginning of my blogging. http://wp.me/p293Pw-Db

      • I loved your post. Brilliant solution to the Meatball Situation! Recently there was an article in the New Yorker about the inevitable earthquake that will devastate the Pacific Northwest sometime in the next 50 years. Thom and the kids and I tried to think about where we would go if we couldn’t live in Seattle, and there was nowhere else we could imagine ourselves living and loving as much.

      • Still when living in Belfast I saw a BBC program about what will happen in Seattle one day.They showed how all the old buildings just collapsed and how the modern ones was swagging, It was both earthquake and tsunami … and how schools are training out on the islands in Puget Sound – if a tsunami is coming what chance have they.
        Hopefully they will have some can of system in place to warn you people buy then.
        Seattle is a fantastic city … and the nature around it .. and all the island and water. I understand you.

  13. Best laugh of the week Naomi as Raccoons break the boundaries of the grape harvest – absolutely fabulous read, (I can sense a book in the making or if not, there should be one!) – that recipe is a sip too far for me though!

    • Dear Laura,
      Not a book00just one more half hour episode of my own private little “I Love Lucy” show! Thanks so much for sharing your response, which made me smile too!

      • Looking forward to the next episode 🙂

      • 🙂

  14. I could just imagine the ‘war’ with the raccoons, Naomi. Sometimes trying to outsmart the enemy can get overly loud and somewhat comical at times. I could see this situation unravel as a short film! 😀

    • The things my poor neighbors have to put up with! Hose in one hand, stick in the other, and rattling the chair with my foot! Also, I have learned to growl like a wild thing–so I can talk to them in their own language! Now THAT’S scary. Now that the harvest is in, I’m back to watching the wildlife, rather than living it.
      Thanks for the visit and for taking the time to comment.

  15. We battled the raccoons too, Naomi. They broke into three suet feeders and devoured the blocks of seed. When I rigged the feeders with wire, so they couldn’t get inside, they took the entire feeder! Great photos and story. 🙂

    • Oh, Jill, that is a perfect illustration of the cleverness and adaptability of raccoons! They are worthy adversaries and I have great respect for them. Thanks so much for the visit, and for sharing your story.

  16. Looks great! You fought a good fight. I might have tried making jam– just boil with sugar– no need to strain, etc.

    • Hi Lisa,

      Perfect! A recipe that doesn’t require reading directions! Next year, if we can harvest before the raccoons do, I will branch out and try jam.
      Thanks for the tip and the visit! I hope your autumn is going well.

  17. […] Baffled | Writing Between the Lines […]

  18. That’s quite a raccoon tale (or should I say tail)? I never knew raccoons were such stinkers!

    • If you ever get a chance, do watch the PBS program, Raccoon Nation. It is a fascinating look at a creature that you could base a sci-fi novel on.
      Thanks for the visit, Britt. LOVED your last post!

  19. Marauding racoons! What a life you have. Glad you got your harvest in. Sounds like a lot of fun and a lot of determination – you and the racoons!
    Alison

    • Dear Alison,
      Thanks for the visit, and for taking the time to share your response. It was, like most my experiences, an adventure in my own mind!

  20. Dear Naomi,

    What I love about your real life stories the most is the humor, love, and great time you and the rest of the family have while being their willing or unwilling participants. Your photographs always capture the feeling. Thank you for your posts that are like jewels!
    Dorota

    • Dear Dorota,
      You are too kind! Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your very sweet thoughts. I am still glowing from lunch last weekend. A perfect day in the best of company–so good to catch up.
      Give a hug to Rick and the girls for me.
      Love,
      Naomi

  21. What a lovely and informative and yummy entry. I’d be dazzled by these creatures if I had something to steal and they lived near by. But so I only have nutrias, who stay away, and toads. And mice, but they are not invited.

    • This made me laugh. I have a friend in Australia who has big invasive toads, and she puts them in her freezer as directed by the government. There is no shortage of wildlife to observe around here, and I am happy to say that most of it is still outside the house, with the exception of a few spiders who are abruptly shown the door!
      Thanks for the visit, and taking the time to share a story.

  22. Once again, I didn’t breathe ’til I got to the end. Great post, Naomi. How I’d love a grape or two …..

    • We had to hurry to harvest them before the raccoons could get them, so they were still a bit tart, but pretty tasty as syrup with a little sugar and brandy!

      • Sounds divine!

  23. Brilliant story, well related. A study in Darwinian survival and, ultimately, both sides compromising. Me – the local fruit & veg market.

    • Thank you, Roy. I love your fruit market on Jersey–I’d shop there too if I could!

  24. Naomi, absolutely loved reading your narrative of the battle of the masked interceptors. Delightful!

    • Thank you, Rita! It’s great to hear from you–hope you are well!

  25. your raccoons made me smile!

  26. I lose half of why I grow to critters and neighbors. One year I went out to pick the 20 or so tomatoes I knew were there and ripe. I was planning a sauce. And they were all gone. Every ripe tomato was harvested. No rinds around. No nibbled rejects. That had to have been human. It’s frustrating. You were sure brave to go out and harvest in the presence of raccoons. Campers are warned to stay far away from them.

    • That is really a shame about the tomatoes, Brenda. Much harder and sadder than losing a crop to wild things. As for the raccoons, I KNOW it was not very prudent of me, but sometimes I get a bee in my bonnet…it was the principle of the thing!

      • My kids loved your story. My daughter wants to be a raccoon for Halloween. 🙂

      • I had a stuffed toy raccoon when I was a kid. It was never the same after I cut his bangs–I was sure they would grow back, but they never did! Thanks for the kind word, Brenda. I hope you will post a photo of your daughter in her costume.

      • I can’t believe how soon Halloween is! Time is going by much too fast.

      • No kidding!

  27. How fun. It was the birds that got ours this year before we even had a chance to try them…but that was good because the dogs were showing interest and they are poisonous for them. Nice photo montage.

    • Thanks, Victoria. We’ll just have to cross our fingers for next year!

  28. Fabulous story, Naomi. And you created one of my all-time favorite quotes: “Raccoons are the Borg of the natural world.” Bwahaha! 🙂 As an avid camper I’m used to doing battle with raccoons. Alas, resistance is futile. ~Terri

    • Thanks for the kind word, and for replying with one of my favorite quotes, Terri. “Resistance is futile!”

      • Naomi, I come from a family of 4 girls and all of our husbands/brothers-in-law refer to the four of us as “The Borg” because they know “Resistance is futile!” 🙂 ~T

      • I LOVE it! May you all live long and prosper!

  29. Too funny! I never thought about raccoons harvesting grapes! I’m glad you had enough to share.

    • Thanks for the visit, Patti. I’m glad there were enough to go around too.


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