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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Mysterious things go on


We have two filbert trees; one of them bears no nuts at all and though we haven't tried to identify it, suspect it is male. The other bears nuts copiously; but whenever I have picked up a batch, more than four fifths of them have already been ruined by filbert worms, for which we have never been inclined to spray, especially with insecticides.

Either resistant to, or far away enough from orchards not to get eastern filbert blight, this tree has been healthy, to say the least. It was grown as a standard with the suckers cut away, and I took over and continued the practice for seventeen years, and it became a giant among filberts. Unfortunately it stands right by the garden, and both its shade and its roots have become an issue.

This year we let the suckers grow out and they are about eight feet tall; so we went after the main stem, about a foot in diameter at the base, and firewooded it -- coppiced it, in other words -- to see how the suckers, now more properly called rods, would do. The crop had always been out of reach unless fallen, and perhaps getting to them sooner, on the shorter branches, would make a difference. We might lose a year, or never see a crop again, but hazel rods are a crop in their own right, so the tree would not be a total loss.

There was a fine-looking crop on the fruit-bearing branches of the main stem as it lay on the ground, and I absent-mindedly cracked a few while taking a break. There was a good nut in each one. Eureka! Earlier picking is the key.

After piling the slash and putting away the firewood, I beat the slash pile with a baseball bat, forked it over, and picked up the nuts with a basket at hand. This operation took four evenings, and each night after the quickening September dusk came on, I cracked filberts with my mom's heirloom nutcracker and bagged and tagged them for the freezer. It was quite a haul.

I did find filbert worms from time to time, just getting started on their long meal, and let them fall among the shells that would be nightly carried out to mulch the grape vines.

A few days after, Beloved and I took a weekend lunch break in the garden between the compost barrel and the arbor, commenting on the quality of the grapes and the numerous signs of Autumn. One of those signs was right next to us -- an orb-weaver amid the grape leaves. Most years we mostly see the large greenish-yellow-and-black argiope aurantia; this year I've seen only one of those, but many of the pale yellow ones (eriophora transmarina?) with the reddish leg joints (does a spider have knees?). This was one of those. She was busy with something -- we assumed a fly -- at the center of her web. As we rose from our chairs to return to our chores, I looked closer at the victim being wound round and round with the silken threads.

"Oh, hey!"

"What?"

"Y'know what she's got here? A filbert worm!"

"How would she come up with that? They grow inside the nuts, don't they?"

"Mm-hmm. Very odd."

Then I remembered my late-night mulching, and pulled back the leaves to show the heap of broken filbert shells. It was four feet from the orb.

"The worm couldn't have made it that far overnight, could it? To get caught in the web?"

"I think she must have gone hunting and found it. Treasure!"

Mysterious things go on in the garden while we sleep.

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