Who’s been eating my pears?
One of the attractions of FAoI was a small but seemingly productive orchard area. The plan was simple; plant a few cider apple and perry pear trees to extend it, spend the summer building a scratter and press, and come autumn I’d be making cider from the existing trees until the new ones added to the bounty. Sounds pretty straightforward, eh? Well, that’s not how things panned out. I’m guessing you already knew that.
As the first batch of windfalls hit the ground, I hadn’t planted any new trees, and to be honest I hadn’t built a scratter or a press either. In fact, I’d managed to read half a book about cider making and that was that. Not wanting to waste the fruit I went on a well known auction website and acquired a second hand chest freezer. I was already aware that the freeze/thaw cycle ruptures the cellular structure in fruit, so I knew that freezing the apples and pears hard and then thawing them would eliminate the need for a scratter this year. It would also buy me the time to finish work in the brewery and build a press.
As I did the morning rounds of the orchard collecting windfalls, I noticed a number of apples and pears – mostly pears in fact – that had been partially eaten. They had teeth marks and some were significantly devoured. Something was eating my pears. Now, I’m not about to get all snotty over the odd piece of fruit, but this was on a scale akin to a debauched medieval feast, and that meant only one thing: war!
We considered the various options. First our thoughts turned to squirrels, only because I’ve seen a few loitering in the orchard. I really hoped it was the tree rats as they only appear on the odd occasion, and I really fancy a squirrel and pickled walnut stew. However, I knew that the elusive squirrels weren’t nocturnal, and the feeding sessions only happened at night. It was wishful thinking to be truthful.
Next suspect was Farmer Giles next door! Maybe he was crawling through the hedge at night and snuffling up my windfalls. The idea of him rolling around under the trees in his underpants, howling at the moon and scoffing my fruit did make us smile, but also was unlikely. Badgers also crossed our mind.
The truth was that we didn’t really want to think about the most obvious pear goobler: rats. The orchard is next to where Gilesy keeps his hens. Chicken feed brings in rats, and if he’d put in some extra protection those hungry rats would be looking for food elsewhere, even apples and pears would be a treat for them.
At the back of my mind I saw sleepless nights out in the cold, picking off the rat population one by one with some hollow points. Okay, the odd night ratting is good fun, but when it comes to holding back the tide of hungry vermin on a daily basis, it can become a chore. There was only one thing for it. I had to know my enemy. (By that I mean I had to find out what was eating my pears, not that I had to introduce myself and ask one of their daughters to a dance.)
I often awaken during the night. It’s the by-product of being so caring. I worry about world peace and the plight of orphans and the habitat of the lesser spotted twat. My first attempt at identifying my foe was leaning out of the bedroom window in the middle of the night with a fuck-off bright torch. This taught me nothing more than that Mrs IG doesn’t care much for me crashing around late at night trying to spot vermin. I needed a better plan.
In the immortal words of Barry Gibb, we have the technology! I resorted to that device most beloved of policemen chasing criminals in a helicopter (that’s the policemen being in the helicopter chasing criminals on the ground, not criminals in a helicopter obviously): thermal imaging. I am dedicated to finding out what goes on in the orchard at night…