Wednesday, August 11, 2010

She Rants for Ants

I want to say a good word for ants. I do.  You know, by August every year, it seems that folks develop a mob mentality toward ants. They want ants killed, preferably in large numbers.  Ants are in the garden, in the splits of our tomatoes, all over the ripe figs.  Death to ants!  But, wait!  I have noticed, around our farm, that the tiny ants, measurable only by dozens and hundreds, are an important clean-up committee for our environment.  Where do I find ants?  Well, there's a hundred of the teeny-tiny little black ants manfully carrying off that dead grasshopper from the porch I meant to sweep yesterday. I left it, the ants came to help.  And there's a dozen or so brown ants, each carrying off a tiny bit of cracker from the crumbs I let fall around my lawn chair while eating lunch.  They clean up, they carry off - the debris of my world becomes the food for theirs.  Off it goes, out of sight, to be stored and used over the lean months to come. 

There is a truly horrible radio commercial out now, promoting some national exterminating company, that has a "requiem" sung in praise of killing as many ants as possible.  How miserably sad.

When we began weaning our household off poisonous chemicals, one of the hurdles we had to face was the onslaught of ants.  Following them backward, we discovered tiny cracks and entrances around the farmhouse where the ants could get in.  We were not successful in stopping all of them and eventually stooped to small "ant traps" (poisonous bait traps) in two locations, attempting to deter the ants without blanket spraying of everything in sight.  Must have been successful, meaning we committed a pretty thorough genocide, because the interior ants disappeared.  We still have lots and lots outside.... so I have hopes that perhaps "the word" went out (ants are fabulous communicators as entomologists have observed) that the inside of the house was bad news.  And I now clean the counter tops carefully with a good herbal cleaning wipe - not water, which only dilutes the sugar molecules and spreads the invitation.

Meanwhile, do they adore and crave the sugar of my ripe tomatoes and figs?  Yes, well, of course they do. So do I. They move in on any garden goodies that I've missed or allowed to get overripe or damaged.  It is always interesting to note that those species most hated by humans are the ones that either we fear or that compete with us for food.  Or that are icky looking.  Or that aren't where we want them to be. Or.......

The Ant by Ogden Nash
The ant has made himself illustrious
Through constant industry industrious.
So what?  Would you be calm and placid
If you were full of formic acid?

Munch, munch -- Sybil

PS - Yes, I really did find a determined crew of little black ants trying to carry off this dead Hercules beetle.....  a bit like me trying to cart off a 747 airliner.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Let the Fig Harvest Begin!

As the hot, humid days of August move in, the fig trees all over the farm are bending with the weight of figs - green figs, gold figs, black figs, brown figs....

I'm in my usual race against the ants and wasps, dashing out to pick all the ripest ones before the rains split them or a mockingbird ruins their perfection with a well-placed, greedy couple of pecks.  You should hear the resident "Mocker" grousing as I move through the bushes picking figs.  I feel like the interloper and perhaps -  certainly in his eyes -  I am.

Not all of the figs ripen at the same time.  The small, brown Celeste came on early this summer, in July, along with the Italian Golden Honey.  Now some Alma Gold are fattening up and the dark Natalina, Chicago Hardy, and San Piero all are ripening.  The true greens, like the Strawberry Verte, and the beautiful striped Panache are still pretty hard.  I'm grateful to have an extended harvest. The trusty Almas will continue to set and ripen figs, more and more brown and golden, well into October. Even so, right now we are overwhelmed and so the dehydrator (best $5 I've ever spent at a garage sale) is on the counter top loaded with drying figs.  Deeeee-lish!

Rob makes this Chicken Marbella recipe using the dried figs in place of the pitted prunes.  We always demand that more dried figs be added because they are soooo delicious and figs hold up much, much better than prunes during the cooking.  Although I no longer eat chicken much, if at all, I can put the sauce for this dish on anything and adore it.  You could probably eat shoe leather made this way. 

It's fascinating, isn't it, how we wait and wait in anticipation of each kind of harvest... and then feel almost overwhelmed when all of the fresh foods suddenly ripen.  I am not my grandmother's woman, I find it difficult to station myself in front of a hot stove canning and preserving all these figs and tomatoes and peppers and beans.... but I do try to dry many fruits and vegetables and freeze some of the others.  We are not sugary jam/jelly/preserve eaters, so our harvest must be stored in more practical ways.  My biggest regret is that the figs tolerate so little handling - it's very difficult to bring them in for the Food Bank or any other venue where they have to be packed as fresh fruit. Ah, well.  At least we and our friends and family are eating very well.  We'll pine for this abundance of fresh produce next winter... but I"ll be ready with my plump, sweet dried figs to make the holiday Figgy Pudding!  ( I should save this for December, I know, but who can resist this recipe? Think cold thoughts and start humming "We Wish You A Merry Christmas"!)

"Oh, Give us Some Figgy Pudding......."