September 12-25, 2016
Mt. Washington — One early evening as August turned to September, we were sitting for dinner looking out the open window to the garden when a skunk appeared, ambling between the blueberry and herb beds that flank the path to the garden gate. It was a beautiful individual, its white fur fluffed up as if just washed and brushed, but my attitude toward my guest was prejudiced by its reputation. I imagined every open window in the house filling with the sulfurous odor that seemed about to be sprayed. The skunk, its small body covered with an ample fur coat that reached to the ground, disappeared under the electric fence wire and overarching, large butternut squash leaves.
We quietly shut the windows and observed the charming visitor come out of and re-enter the fenced-in vegetable and flower garden. It wasn’t long before it seemed that Mephititis mephititis (Latin for “double foul odor”) had left the yard. Tentatively, I opened the garden gate and noticed that a vole trap was turned over and, beside it, a basil plant was flattened. The scent of the peanut butter bait had lured the skunk into the garden as it has, over the years, attracted chipmunks, squirrels, an opossum and even a bear. Nearby, a recently shaped bed planted with radish seeds had small holes dug into it where the skunk may have found worms, grubs or insects to eat.
In early fall skunks scout for their winter dens. Accessible crawl spaces under buildings and porches offer prime accommodations. To deter skunks, screen the perimeter of structures built on piers and repair damaged foundations.
There’s nothing charming about Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum), an invasive weed that is spreading along Berkshire roadsides and is jumping fences into our gardens and wild lands at an alarming rate. I’ve discovered it in my gardens and have begun to feel that I’ve weeded out our familiar weeds only to open the ground to marauding stilt grass (among the other articles in “Resources,” see “Least Wanted” at https://www.nps.gov/plants/alien/fact/mivi1.htm). For gardeners and landscapers, intercropping and cover crops are essential, along with mulch, to minimize weed pressures and a host of other benefits (for the long view, see http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/intercropping-cover-crops-zbcz1507.aspx. For winter cover crops, go to http://www.johnnyseeds.com/t-library-farm-seed-winter-cover-crops.aspx).
A few temporal tips:
— Preserve surplus snap beans and cucumbers in a simple brine (see “Resources” for recipes).
— Allow the developing seeds in overgrown, tough snap beans to mature for a fresh bean harvest. Remove beans from the pod, as you would for shell peas, and cook until soft.
— If the pods of snap beans have begun to shrivel, allow to dry thoroughly on the vine; when dry, remove beans from pod and save for seed or soup.
— Pick dill and cilantro plants that have gone to seed and brush/pull the seeds off their stems to save for planting and flavoring food. Cilantro seed is coriander.
Invasive Plant Atlas of New England (IPANE) http://www.eddmaps.org/ipane/
Preserve by pickling: