August: All about abundance
Going Nature's Way
August is all about abundance. I know I’ll soon be seeing tons of photos on Facebook of the bounty coming from people’s gardens. I wish I could post some of the same, but I am not a dedicated enough vegetable grower, which I blame on our poor sandy soil, as much as my own lack of energy. I prefer to enjoy other people’s hard won efforts by visiting the local farmers markets. We do grow potatoes because they produce with so little effort and this year has been even easier since the regular rains have replaced time spent watering. What the crop will be like, we won’t know for some weeks, but we remain hopeful.
Two other items are plentiful right now around our place — blueberries and chipmunks. The first is a delight, the second, not so much.
Because we live on this abovementioned sandy soil, with lots of pine trees creating an acidic environment, wild blueberries thrive. Just across the road is the state forest and it, too, has large patches of blueberries. Each year at this time we see cars parked on the side of the road and people out scouring in the bushes for these tiny, but tasty treats. You have to be a committed fan of this fruit to brave the mosquitoes and black flies that seem to love the same patches of ground. This is why you will never find pint containers of wild blueberries in the grocery stores. I saw one woman this morning walking back to her car with a mixing bowl partially filled with the dark blue berries and lots of leaves in the mix. A cup’s worth can take well over 20 minutes to gather.
It is rare to find a wild berry as large as the ones you buy in the grocery store. This afternoon, I am going to pick some more from our field and put them in a banana bread recipe, to add an extra bit of wild sweetness. We do have some true cultivated highbush blueberry plants and they are loaded with lots of green fruit that I check each day. I keep hoping they will all ripen about the same time, but that may not be the case, and in the meantime I watch with jealous eyes to make sure no four-legged creature harvests them before me.
Just such a creature could very easily be the chipmunks. Who doesn’t love these “darling cute,” as my friend Cindy might say, little rodents? It’s true, they are charming creatures to look at, but in abundance they lose a bit of their winsome charm. Their Latin name is Tamias striatus meaning "striped treasurer." The second word refers to their habit of gathering nuts and seeds from any source and building up a stash in their burrows for the coming of winter. Conveniently, they have cheek pouches that can expand dramatically as they stuff the bounty as fast as possible. As many as 60 to 70 sunflower seeds have been recorded in these built-in totes.
The food is carried to burrows that can stretch out for 30 feet with branching tunnels, extra chambers and additional exits. In the autumn, usually by October, the chipmunks will retreat to these underground dens where they go into a form of hibernation that is not as deep as others, since they do not put on extra fat before winter. Instead, they wake up at intervals and eat some of the food they have put away — a midwinter snack — and then go back to sleep.
By March or April, depending on the winter, we are likely to see the first one emerge into the early spring sunlight. Soon afterward, courtship begins and 32 days later four or five young will be born. A second litter may be born in late August. Based on these numbers, we must have had several pairs of adults living close by, because we have had so many chipmunks running around our feeders that we finally took to live trapping them and giving them an all-expense paid vacation to another area of forest. And still they abound.
This afternoon, over a five hour period, I caught six of the little buggers, but two escaped before I could transport them. We have considered putting a dab of paint on their tails, to see if they’re actually making their way back. I have not been able to find any information regarding their territorial needs, but we know that "nature abhors a vacuum," and so the slots for chipmunks seems to be always full. It reminds me of the Disney film "Fantasia" when Mickey tries to control the mops. The more he whacks them, the more they grow in number.
Besides their taste for seeds and nuts, chipmunks in the summer months like to eat berries and other easily-accessed fruits. I gave up growing tomatoes on our deck, after finding one after the other partially eaten. I never caught a chippie in the act, but I’m sure they were the culprits. And so I watch the blueberries, wondering if I’ll get up one morning and find the just barely ripe fruit gone. I may be the larger mammal, but that does not mean I will be the victor.